One normally associates Gary Lane's literary output with books on openings and puzzles, but here is something different.  He sets out to explain and lead club, congress and county players through a course of improvement that touches on all aspects of the game.  He is well equipped to deal with such a subject having followed that route himself culminating in winning an International Master title and an Australian Championship.

Before looking at the contents of the book, I would like to comment on the format.  The publishers are Batsford and one can always anticipate a high standard of production from this house.  However, they have deviated from their norm by publishing in single column rather than the usual double column format.  This supports the role of the book in that it is designed to be a pleasant Sunday afternoon read rather than a study involving intensive and stressful days in front of a chess board or computer.  In addition, to make the contents reader-friendly, humorous and well drawn cartoons have been introduced.  These are the work of Gerrald Oswald a chess player from Edinburgh studying illustration at the university.  Unfortunately an error in the publication omitted to state this attribution and hopefully this reference will come to the attention of readers. Below is an example of his work.

Batsford are to be congratulated on introducing these changes.

The book has been written in a rather light-hearted style, but that does not disguise the fact that Gary is making serious comment in a practical and common sense manner.  Even the title is given rather tongue-in-cheek, but the idea is to make one think about means of improving one's game.  To support the title the sections are entitled "Days", rather than chapters.  Thus we have:

Day 1: So You Want to Improve your Chess?

Day 2: Understanding the Openings.

Day 3: Strategy versus Tactics.

Day 4: Creating the Attack.

Day 5: Avoiding Blunders.

Day 6: Mastering the Ending.

Day 7: The Art of Swindling.

Each "Day" begins with item of chess trivia such as:

"The first computer to play in the U.S. Open Chess Championship was called Sneaky Pete."  (Day 2)

For the first Day, Gary lays out his stall.  Here he précis the elements that will be examined in more depth throughout the remainder of the book and by way of common sense tips and rules the basics one should follow when looking at ways of improving.  One interesting observation he makes is that playing on the internet is a very suspect way to improve.  He even advised a friend of his who was wanting to improve, to stop playing chess altogether and spend some time studying the game. No doubt everyone has experienced watching a fellow club member improve because he has taken a bit of time to study theory. In this section we come across for the first time a concept of "predict-a-move."  This crops up several times in the book and is an apt phrase to remember when trying to sort out candidate moves.

The second Day is taken up with a subject that Gary has written thousands of words on - the opening.  There is no author more qualified to advise on methods of dealing with and improving this part of the game. Again, his advice is practical and based on common sense.  Initially, he recommends that a player should select a repertoire that suits his style of play and gives examples of master praxis where players are true to this dictum.  His choice of a Michael Adams game to demonstrate the choice of an opening by a positional player, is interesting and the game he played against Spraggett at Hastings 1989/90 is very well annotated.  As an example of attacking players he cites the Norwegian wunderkind Magnus Carlsen.  However, he is not satisfied with these two broad categories of style, he proposes the title of "Cavemen" - Mikhail Tal and Alexei Shirov - and "Pirates" - those players who adopt esoteric openings.

Now follows more practical advice that has no doubt been culled from Gary's vast tournament experience.  Know your opponent and prepare to play against his weaknesses.  There have always been two schools of thought on this matter.  Some great players declare that they play the pieces whereas others blatantly play the opponent.  Gary's advice is not placed in either camp but rather at mid-point.  He shows the worth of knowing one's opponent by citing a game he won against John Nunn at Stroud in 1980.  After the diagrammed position where he playing White has just moved 10.Qc5, he gives this note: t  



"When I played this queen move I could see from Nunn's expression he was not impressed because he knew I was happy to head for an equal endgame.  But Black doesn't want an equal endgame nor does he want a draw.  Being the tournament favourite, he feels obliged to win in order to make sure of first prize.  However this is a hard task in the present position and he will have to take risks to unbalance the game.

Just for the record, Nunn's displeasure was aroused because he recognised the position as one reached in the Goring Gambit Declined. A pet line of mine which normally occurs after ................................................. . Here we have the same position as the game but with colours reversed.".

An astute piece of play that allowed the author to win the game and bears out the advice given in this section.

The message that comes across on this section is aptly put in the adage "fail to practice then practice to fail."

This epitomises the strength of the book. One knows that the advice and tips given are delivered by someone who has been there, done it and got the T-shirt.

On the subject of strategy and tactics, the author extols us not to rely too heavily on either mode of play.  He suggest that a fine understanding of each is needed to make a rounded player. Again we come across the phrase "predict-a-move".  Here this is applied when one is aware of the opponent's plans and predicts how he intends to pursue his objective.  In predicting the next move to pursue his plan, it may be possible to set a trap should the opponent not deviate from his intentions.  The following example from a game played between two amateurs in Yugoslavia, aptly demonstrates this possibility:



"In reaching this position, Black knew that his opponent would never be able to resist playing 1.Rc7? "winning the queen" - because if she moves then Rxg7+ mates in two - but when he did so he was rocked by the prepared trap 1.....Rc5!! which completely turns the tables.  Black threatens a back rank mate: 2.dxc5 Qd1 mate or 2.Rxd7 Rc1 mate, while 2.Rxc5 is met by 2....Qxb7 when Black's material advantage wins easily."

This is just one of the many gems of play contained in this section.

Remarkably the next section suggests the following general rules that could (apart from the third item) by set out in a book on the art of negotiation:

1. Exploit the opponent's weaknesses.

2. Eliminate the opponent's strengths

3. Detect typical mating patterns and combinational motifs.

4. Remove your own weaknesses.

5. Promote your strengths.

These are the basic considerations to take into account when preparing an attack.  Gary shows how to identify and apply such concepts, but I fear that this lesson cannot be learned in one day.  One day is sufficient to become acquainted with the basics but a lot more time is necessary to be fully acquainted with the nuts and bolts of the application of these ideas. 

Blunders in one form or another effect all our games, but how do we avoid them?  Gary gives us some pointers and it is useful to be aware of the possible origin of our blunders.  The guiding principle he offers is "be aware".  He suggests that we look for and identify simple threats, search for forced moves, avoid time-trouble, catch up on development and, first and foremost, don't rush your moves.  How many of us have thrown away a game by rushing a move just before the tea-break in a match? Prior to the new rule, when confronted with such a situation, the old remedy was "write your proposed move on your score-sheet and then sit on your hands before making it."  Gary's advise is in effect "sit on your hands first!"

It is also very easy to blunder when your opponent is in time-trouble.  One tendency is to rush one's moves, so that your opponent has very little time to consider the implications.  Unless the move is forced, Gary recommends "take your time" and cites the example of Bob Wade who, in a particular game, had an hour and half on his clock, when his opponent had two minutes for 18 moves.  Bob Wade stood up on his move and went to get a cup of tea!  Gamesmanship?  I think not, nor does Gary.  The strain of time-control effects both players and it is sensible not to rush one's play if you are the one not suffering from time restrictions.

End game technique has either won us many games or the lack of endgame technique has contributed to our losses.  Again, Gary extols us to be familiar with the basics of end game play and gives us many examples of sound technique in this phase.  Some examples are familiar, but they are worth reiterating in the interests of completing the task that he has imposed upon himself.

The final Day's study is highly amusing.  Introduced by a cartoon by Gerrald of the Norwegian artist Munch depicting the "Scream" with the subtle change that the screamer is sat in front of a chess board, this section sets about informing us of the subtle possibilities that exist in many positions where we might give up the ghost.  Perhaps the greatest exponent of the "swindle" was Frank Marshall who succeeded in either winning or drawing from a position that otherwise seemed completely lost. 

The following excerpt from the game Burmakin - Ivanov, Seville 2007, illustrates a type of swindle involving a stalemate theme.

  "In a lost position Black has started checking - to make his opponent work for the full point.  And remarkably it paid off when White decided on 58.Kc3? rather than the obvious and good 58.Qc2 - blocking the check and remaining a couple of pawns up.  Then came the sensational 58. .....Qf6+! whereupon a draw was agreed because 59.Qxf6 is stalemate!

To round off there are lists of the authors' advice on the most useful books, computer software, websites and  chess federations, together with a glossary of chess terms.

To illustrate the quality of the analysis one of the author's own games can be seen  HERE

This has been taken from the "Strategy versus Tactics" section and makes one hope that Gary will carry on to produce a book of his own games.

This book presents good, sensible and practical advice from an experienced tournament player and coach setting out ways to improve your game and can be thoroughly recommended to club and congress players.  If you have a young son who is interested in chess then here is a good idea for a birthday present.

Batsford have produced a very attractive cover that holds 205 pages. 

Recommended price : £12:99

Bill Frost

July 2007