Four Exercises From Polgar’s Chess Middlegames

I got Laszlo Polgar’s “Chess Middlegames” as a birthday present from my girlfriend this January. As an introduction, I will give a short review of it, then we can move onto solving puzzles. The book itself is collossal: the book consists of 4158 positions, sorted out by themes. Honestly, it feels like more than enough of middlegame madness I would need for a long time. The positions presented are instructive, complex and cover a lot of your typical middlegame ideas. After all, Laszlo Polgar, the author of the book is notorious for presenting the chess world three undoubtedly genius chess players: his daughters Judit, Susan, Sofia. For this reason, the book actually reeks of professionalism as it displays the same method which was used to train his daughters. Without a doubt, if a player manages to study the book in a detailed fashion, it would have a great outcome. The only problem here lies in the fact, that for that all to happen, it is actually necessary to go through that book!

Starting to work with the book seems not to be all that easy either. Basically, it definitely need some sort pre-given self discipline and other traits, such as being able to work on positions independently. The book consists of chess and nothing but chess: diagrams, solutions, references, themes. Deciding where to start, how to work with the positions, in which manner – it’s all up for the reader. The book itself can be regarded multi-purpose, it is a great tool for chess coaches, and a great tool for the improving player. It is especially good for trying to deliberately work on weaknesses, given that a theme presented in the book addresses the problem. As I mentioned earlier, it presents a carcass for the complexiety which resides in the dreaded middlegame. To add even a secular dimention to it, on the back cover, there is one of my favourite chess quotes, by Tarrasch: “God has placed the middlegame before the endgame”. Indeed, it gives the book even a biblical feel.

So far, I haven’t really used the book yet, more like gone over a few puzzles. Curiously, there are a lot of themes in the book which I can regard as weaknesses in my play, so I have a lot to choose from, which makes the book very attractive for me. With this post, I am actually trying to establish a more structured way of working with the book. I have already done a post on Panchenko’s “Mastering Chess Middlegames”, so I thought I would follow it up. I have decided to regard the books of Panchenko and Polgar as the backbone of my middlegame training.

Similarly to the post on Panchenko’s “Middlegames”, I will now present the reader with four exercises from the book. For the exercises, I advise the reader to spare some time, at least one hour (with no disrespect to players able to solve them faster!). Scrolling even further down, there will be diagrams with the solutions with my own annotations of how I went though them.

I will also mention that these type of sessions consisting of four exercises has become my main method of going through more difficult puzzles. I have also found it a good tool in increasing the depth in my play.

The theme of these puzzles is liquidation, which is chosen because a) training these types of is always useful, b) it is something I need to work on. Anyway, here they are:

All are White to Move!

For me, the first one proved to be the most difficult. Overall I think I did better than with the Panchenko’s exercises (one reason would probably be that Panchenko gave a study for one exercise!). I managed to find the right idea three times, but of course I missed many subtleties. However, this is in my opinion what makes these puzzles worthwhile. As in a real game, even if you manage to find a nice idea, the following play could still pose practical problems. This is probably one reasons why these positions are piled up in a book!

The first position set up on my board.

Here are the solutions and my thoughts:

The first proved to be the most difficult for me.

The second one:

The third featured some very nice technical liquidation.

The fourth I had trouble with too, especially the assessment of the final position.

I hope you enjoyed reading my post. Until next time!

How I Started Playing the Spanish

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I have a peculiar story to offer on how I picked up the Spanish as my new main White opening.

I used to play the Scotch Gambit, with 5. e5. It served me very well, and took me to about 1800, but at some point, I started to dislike my positions. My opponents knew more and more theory and I felt I was being way too committal in my opening play. At last, I thought I should give some other opening a try. First, I wanted to venture into the Vienna with g3. Now, a lot of my openings feature g3 or g6, so I was thinking I could brush up my understanding of the fianchetto by adding a the Vienna Mieses variation into my repertoire. But this didn’t last for long, as I found Vienna Mieses a bit dull, especially as I play similar structures as Black in the Three Knights defence – as Black, it is very thrilling to defend g6, but as White it felt I could perhaps aim for some more. Of course my initial decision employing the Vienna had to do with the typical “I don’t want to learn loads of theory so I pick a sideline” approach.

So after some more thinking, I thought that I shouldn’t pick a quick fix, but a ‘friend-for-life’ opening. And of course my thoughts wandered towards the Spanish – the ‘one’ for the e4 player, as many grandmasters suggest. But how to start off by learning such a colossal opening? After doing some online research and asking a couple of friends to explain some of the ideas in the Spanish, it did start to see a lot of work. Now, I don’t have anything against work, but there are a lot of different views concerning the necessity of openings for the sub 2000 player. And I too agree that opening training should be done in a very careful fashion lest one finds oneself studying nothing but openings.  But then an unexpected find left me no doubt about picking up the Spanish opening.

After deciding that I should at least try learning the Spanish, I took to acquiring some reference books. So far, I had mostly used an Estonian book from 1962 to get to know openings that are new to me – a book by Nei and Rozenfeld “Avangute teooria” (“Opening Theory”). I have added a picture of the book as I find its design very appealing.

Now, Nei’s and Rozenfeld’s book offers a good, compact presentation of the Spanish opening and overall it’s a great, informative book written in the golden era of dynamic chess. But as I have an antiquarian bookstore that occasionally sells chess books right next to where I live, I thought I would go and have a look. Luckily, there were some new chess books on sale (technically old books, but new for me as I hadn’t looked into them before), and one of them was Paul Keres’s “Spanisch bis Französisch” (1969) (“From the Spanish to the French”) and as it cost 6 euros, I decided to buy it. I also bought some more Soviet-time chess books, as I have an inkling that I should buy those before they become deficit, though right know there are still fairly many of them available. I will probably write a post about those books soon, as I believe the English speaking chess community is be fairly unfamiliar with them. Also, they might provide some interest to chess book collectors. They are perfectly fine books for training too. So I went home with my books.

Upon arriving home, naturally, I started going through the books right away, focusing on the book by Keres in greater detail. The first thing  I noticed was that there was some writing on one of the pages in front:

The dedication is for the winner of the “12th radio-simultaneous”, by Jüri Randviir, Tallinn, 28th May 1970. Now I knew who Jüri Randviir was – he is a well-known chess player and author here in Estonia. However, I had no clue what a “radio-simultaneous” was. Luckily I have a friend, also an Estonian chess player, who I thought might know what it meant. So I asked Jüri Eintalu and he replied that “Jüri Randviir gave simultaneous tournaments on the radio. He was mailed moves that he sorted out and replied to on a radio-show.” My friend also added that he would sometimes fell asleep with the radio on, going “Berta two takes on Caesar three” through his sleep. So, after having realized I had got my hands on some peculiar piece of Estonian chess history, I proceeded to look further. On the next page, I found this:

The signature down below belongs to Iivo Nei, an Estonian chess legend. Iivo Nei has done a lot for Estonian chess – not only was he a great player, but he has also written books, organized tournaments, been involved in chess coaching etc. He even had a chess TV-show called “Chess School” which they aired during the Soviet times. The beginning melody sounded like this: IIVO NEI CHESS SCHOOL

And honestly, I thought that the scribbling besides Paul Keres was just the result of trying out the pen! However, at some point I started thinking logically – who would randomly scribble on such a book? Well, turns out, it was Paul Keres! For making sure the signature was legit, I did some research on the internet and found confirmation.

So, long story short – without having realized it, I had bought a signed book by Jüri Randviir, Iivo Nei and Paul Keres. Surely this was a sign that I should take up the Spanish as White, and perhaps use some better lines in the French as White. The book itself is, of course top quality. Also, as I have been thinking about brushing up on my German, the book is fitting for that purpose too. Now, after having played the Spanish as White for more than a month, I find it fascinating and I am very satisfied with it.

NB! I will be writing some theoretical posts about the Spanish opening as well. Therefore, this post can be regarded as an introduction to my upcoming series of posts on how to start with the Spanish.