My Favorite Books of 2020
My favorite books of 2020
In many ways, this year has been a year, unlike any other, the worldwide pandemic being the most significant when you look at it broadly. But for us chess fans, it has been a great year: the cancelation or postponement of traditional events helped online chess see phenomenal growth, helping it to enter the rank of mainstream esports, with several massive events featuring the best players in the world; a Netflix miniseries about a chess player is currently #1 across countless countries, and for chess book fans, there have been numerous genuinely excellent books. Below, I will go over my ten favorite books from 2020 that are available in the chess.com store. The books are not in order of preference, and with the year not quite over yet and several major releases still pending, the list is more a reflection of the best thus far than for the entire year. Finally, I should mention that I have abstained from including my own books in this list, even if I have had four new books released during 2020, but I will humbly suggest you check them out in the store.
1.The Match of the Century - USSR vs. the World - 50th Anniversary Edition by Tigran Petrosian & Aleksandar Matanovic
Individual world championship matches may have been more memorable. Still, this encounter between the cream of the crop from the Soviet Union facing the best of the rest of the world was entirely different and some truly extraordinary. The Soviets showed up with the reigning world champion on board 1, with former world champions Botvinnik, Smyslov, Petrosian, and Tal as well as Geller, Stein, Keres, Taimanov, and Bronstein. It looked like a murderer's row of chess talent. The rest of the world saw Larsen claim board 1 due to his dominating results over the previous few years, where Fischer had been inactive. Fischer took board two, and they were supported by an impressive cast of characters: Portisch, Hort, Reshevsky, Gligoric, Najdorf, Uhlmann, Ivkov, Matulovic and Olafsson. It was not as impressive, perhaps, but the match was very competitive, in part because Larsen won board 1 against Spassky and Stein, while Fischer destroyed Petrosian on the second board.
This book features the players' own annotations to all of the games, not just from the original tournament book, also pulled from annotations found in various game collections and chess magazines, all expertly edited by the Scottish chess historian Douglas Griffin. The book also includes countless pictures, both historical and from the match itself. It is a hardcover book and beautifully printed and will provide days of reading and study material.
2.Rewire Your Chess Brain by Cyrus Lakdawala
One of the most productive chess book authors is Californian International Master Cyrus Lakdawala. Last year, he and Australian Grandmaster Max Illingworth founded a Facebook group called "Chess Endgame Studies and Compositions," discussing endgame studies and problems (frequently mate in x number of moves). After being encouraged to join by the founders, I came on board out of curiosity. So has more than 13,000 other chess enthusiasts, including several of the world's leading composers and many titled players in "normal" over-the-board chess. The group is very active with many people, particularly Lakdawala, posting positions to solve and many trying to solve.
Through the work with the studies and problems, Lakdawala discovered many benefits of solving such positions and felt that if he only had picked up on this facet of chess much sooner, he may have been able to increase his rating by as much as 150 points! Not a small claim. He very capably and enthusiastically discusses the different types of studies and problems and how they work in the present book. In addition to showing the reader a great selection of compositions, Lakdawala goes through his thought process when trying to solve them, which is educational in itself. This book will not only inspire you to pick up studies and compositions, but it will also make you a better chess player.
3.My Chess World by David Navara
One of the most surprising releases of the past year has been this volume by Czech super grandmaster David Navara. Autobiographies in the chess world are usually written when players are a bit older, yet Navara is only 35 years old but has written a 600+ page book about his life and career thus far.
The account is brutally honest, often reflecting on his short-comings, but also celebrating triumphs, describing exciting encounters, and annotating games, all of which would typically not make into a book of this kind because there are losses, including some bad and painful ones, and draws, mixed in with some of the more traditional brilliancies. Like the rest of the book, the annotations are refreshing, honest, thorough, and very interesting. This book is possibly my favorite game collection of the year, in a year with many excellent game collections.
4.Petrosian Year by Year - Volume 1 (1942-1962) by Tibor Karolyi and Tigran Gyozalyan
Of the past champions, my absolute favorite is Tigran Petrosian, world champion from 1963 to 1969. While there were some biographies about him, most of them were written a long time ago and didn't contain much about the person who became world champion and who belonged in the world elite until his death in 1984, but finally, we are now seeing more books come out. Last year, Russell Enterprises released a phenomenal book about his games in the King's Indian (and related systems), which I will also recommend everybody to check out.
The present book is volume 1 of 2 that takes a traditional approach to biography, detailing his life and tournaments with lots and lots of details, photos, many of which have never previously been seen. The book covers up to 1962, which includes his win in the 1962 Curacao Candidates tournament and the period which I always recommend to players who want to see the best of Petrosian, from 1959-1962, where he was yet unburdened by title. Still, his powers were growing, and his understanding was immense. In this volume, veteran biographer and analyst Tibor Karolyi, along with Armenian Fide Master Tigran Gyozalyan in a detailed fashion, 484 pages, discussed the first part of Petrosian's career. This is a very new book, but I wholeheartedly recommend it to those wanting to learn more about this fantastic player.
5.The Complete Chess Swindler by David Smerdon
This book is easily the most entertaining chess book I have read in a long time! For all of us who have gotten tricked in the opening or played poorly and therefore ended up with a bad or outright lost position, this book will be a revelation. Normally, we try to fight, occasionally stubbornly, but frequently the fight is mostly in vain, and we end up losing miserably. This happens while some other players seem to walk on water, always seeming able to trick their opponents and save their terrible position. How do they do it? This phenomenal book teaches us everything we need to become grade A swindlers in our own right, as well as what to look out for when we are better to avoid ending up on the receiving side of a swindle.
The book is split up into six parts: 1) What is a swindle?, 2) The Psychology of Swindles, 3) The Swindler's Toolbox, 4) Core Skills, 5) Swindles in Practice, and 6) Exercises. Each part is crucially important in taking us from average players to swindling scoundrels. In my youth, I had read "Chess for Tigers," which also covers swindling or rather the art of being lucky in chess and therefore had a thorough introduction into this fine art. In this book, Australian Grandmaster David Smerdon amply illustrated that knowledge and understanding of swindling was merely the tip of the iceberg; there was much more to learn and implement.
6.Technical Decision Making in Chess by Boris Gelfand
This volume is the third book in the series on decision making by Gelfand. While the subject doesn't sound as exciting as the previous two volumes (on dynamic and positional decision making, respectively), this volume is easily as necessary for ambitious and strong players. I want to stress that this book will not be ideal for the average player because it is very high-level material procured by one of the world's best players and structured into a book together with Jacob Aagaard, who is easily one of the premier coaches in the world. An average player will likely feel overwhelmed by the material, put the book on a shelf, and probably never open it again. However, for serious players, there is a lot to be learned and extracted from this book, covering essential topics such as "Turning Points," "Passive or Active Defence," and "Choosing the Right Transformation." If you are unsure whether this book will be something for you, the publisher has made a sample available on their webpage. Nevertheless, those who fit in the target audience and who will invest the necessary time and effort will be bountiful from studying this book.
7.Emanuel Lasker - Volume 2: Choices And Chances - Chess And Other Games Of The Mind by Michael Negele, Raj Tischbierek, & Richard Forster
When volume 1 was released two years ago, my mind was blown, which doesn't happen very often. The attention to detail is incredible. At first glance, you will see a beautifully produced book, hardcover, excellent paper quality, precise reproduction of photographs, and a long list of contributors that raise this book well above the many biographies' ranks. Still, the content is just of outrageously great quality. On the chess side, Mihail Marin and John Donaldson examine some of Lasker's most important encounters of his chess career, starting with the crucial tenth match game against Schlechter and ending with his celebrated victory in New York 1924. Swiss International Master and historian Richard Forster examines the aftermath of this important event, partly responsible for Lasker's protracted withdrawal from chess. This volume also features in-depth articles on Lasker's achievements and contributions to the games of Go and Bridge, as well as a detailed essay of Lasker's own board game, called Lasca. I find these interesting and fascinating subjects, but I realize that it may not appeal to all chess fans. Compared to volume 1 in this series, there is less chess in this volume, so if you are unsure if this is something you should be shelling out money for, I recommend checking out volume 1 first. Alternatively, "Emanuel Lasker - A Reader," edited by Taylor Kingston, is also a phenomenal read at about half the price.
8.Timman's Triumphs - My 100 Best Games by Jan Timman
Through the 1970s and 1980s, the Dutch grandmaster was considered one of the West's best players and has written numerous genuinely excellent books on a variety of subjects. In this volume, he returns to have a look at his own games. The result is a marvelous collection of one hundred fascinating games, spanning from his entire career. Stylistically, it is very different from the book by Navara that I recommended above. Still, it is similarly fantastic, but with the difference that Timman took part in most of the top events for some time, and that included playing a match for the FIDE world championship against Karpov. While Timman is recognized as a fabulous analyst, the book is well-balanced with plenty of narrative and only occasional analytical deep dives when the positions warrant it. This book will be an excellent read for any chess fan, and his battles against the creme de la creme of the chess world will undoubtedly remind many of us what the chess world used to look like.
We will round this overview of with my two favorite opening books of the year:
9.The Caro-Kann Revisited - A Complete Repertoire for Black by Francesco Rambaldi
Thinkers Publishing publishes many books, and a lot of them are on openings, notably the "Modernized" series, which already has an incredible amount of volumes. Many of them are somewhere between good and excellent, but my favorite opening book from them this year is Italian Grandmaster Rambaldi's above repertoire book. He has taken an opening that he plays himself and delivers the goods. It is thoroughly analyzed and seems to get out in all the tiny nooks and crannies of the Caro-Kann Defense. It is jam-packed with new ideas, re-evaluations, and explanations of typical ideas and such. The Main Line part of the repertoire is based on the 4...Nf6, 5...exf6, which has become the main alternative to the Classical 4...Bf5 (which is the variation of choice in "The Modernized Caro-Kann" by Daniel Fernandez from 2018).
I'm very impressed by this work and the effort that has gone into it. So, if you play the Caro-Kann or plan to take it up, this book should be one of the first to consider.
10.Opening Repertoire: The Modern Benoni by John Doknjas
Most chess fans will not have heard about Canadian Fide Master John Doknjas. Still, he recently came to my attention when he and brother Joshua penned another book in this series, "Opening Repertoire: The Sicilian Najdorf." In this volume, the first on his own, he takes on the Modern Benoni, a complicated beast for several reasons. Most of all, some lines are just unpleasant for Black, particularly the Taimanov Attack and Bf4 systems, which my computer engine loves for White. The opening is strategically very complex, and the nuances are complicated to both understand and explain to the uninitiated. However, Doknjas manages not only to handle all the theoretical hurdles impressively with a serious amount of hard work and ingenuity, but he also puts considerable effort into explaining typical ideas, themes, and tactics to put you in a better place when you play this opening as Black.