Wednesday, August 22, 2018

On the Coffee Table: Winning Chess Strategies

Title: Winning Chess Strategies
Author: Yasser Seirawan
A chess game is a story, protagonist and antagonist in a struggle both brutal and elegant.  Over the years, I have learned strong openings, the beginning of the narrative.  I can build a solid pawn structure, get my pieces to effective positions and protect my king.  But in every game, I tend to reach a point where I must ask myself: what do I do now?  I'm good at satisfying conclusions, too.  Give me an endgame puzzle and I can probably solve it.  But how do I get there?  The middle game has always been the source of greatest mystery to me.  I always marvel at superior players who know exactly what to do and how to do it.  Naturally, that's why they beat me.

The answers lie in strategy.  If one can understand the basics of strategy, and when to apply which appropriately, one can win the middle game.  Fortunately, Syrian-born American chess champion Yasser Seirawan is ready to help.  In Winning Chess Strategies, Seirawan builds on the force, time, space and pawn structure concepts he introduced in Play Winning Chess (reflection here).  New and expanded principles include making the most of a material advantage, stopping enemy counterplay and the creation of targets.  In general, positional play requires paying attention, formulating clear objectives and limiting the opportunities available to your opponent.

It struck me that winning a chess game is all about controlling the narrative.  After all, if your opponent is always forced to react to what you're doing, s/he stands no chance at furthering his/her own cause.  We see the same game played politically all the time.  Of course, it's one thing to know this, quite another to understand how to do it.

Seirawan, a positional player himself, includes a lot more of examples from his own games than he did in previous books.  While this could come across as arrogance, he humbly includes a couple of his games where his strategic errors led to his downfall and also admits when he failed to capitalize on early-won advantages.  Once again, I thoroughly enjoy the personality he projects as a writer.

I have to admit that I have not played much chess over the past several months.  With the school year about to begin, it's difficult to imagine that changing but I'd certainly like to get back to playing more.  Reading baseball books makes me want to watch more baseball.  Reading chess books makes me want to play more chess.  In the end, all I really wish for is more time to read.  Alas, summer is nearly over.


  1. Chess suffered the same fate as many games did when I was a kid: No one would play it with me, so I eventually lost interest. And I rarely have time for any kind of games/gaming, now, so it's not something I'm ever likely to get into.
    More time to read, though... That would be good.
    Summer ended here a week ago.

  2. I haven't played chess much recently either- but I do have an ongoing game going on with my roommate. We move our pieces periodically but don't actually sit and play. I could benefit from reading this one. I need to work on my strategy. I start off strong- it's the end that I don't plan for enough. Thanks for the recommendation. :)

    1. Seirawan's books are great. I discovered them practically by accident but have thoroughly enjoyed all of them.

  3. My husband John loves chess. Loves it so much that he has a large collection of chess sets, so of them quite amazing. Right now, he is into bridge, so the sets are gathering dust. He'll put one out soon, though.

    Happy school year! We are retired teachers, but I still get that sense of anticipation each August.

    1. Collecting chess sets is a fine hobby! Such a beautiful game.

      I have never learned bridge - definitely on the bucket list.