Reviewed by Paul Kane
How Good Is Your Chess?
by Larry Evans
April 2004, Paperback: 144 pages, ISBN-13: 978-158042126
This is a chess puzzle book which consists of 100 positions with accompanying solutions. The reader’s task is to choose the best move out of the three alternatives given by the author. By solving each and every position, the reader will eventually be able to work out his Elo rating.
There are quite a number of good things about the book. The positions are well chosen and fairly recent (most date from games played in the 1990s) and are of a good mix: mostly middle-games, it has to be said, but there are some endgames (a few of these are studies) and some late-opening positions too. Tactics predominate but positional decisions are required also; and on occasion the best move is not the spectacular combinative shot, but a quiet consolidating move. The solver’s task in this latter case is to spot the flaw in the tempting option by being aware of the resources the opposing side has available. No position is exactly easy and they vary slightly in their level of difficulty; quite a few are tricky and complicated: a good thing! Finally, Evans’ explanations, though pithy, are often instructive; and he uses the word “sockdolager”: cool. The solutions are generally accurate; for an exception, see below.
There are a couple of problematic aspects to the book. First off, the multiple choice format. It presents the reader with an artificial situation: in an actual chess game you are confronted, often, with more than three alternatives. And on occasion here one of the three moves offered is clearly inferior. Evans advises that one “use a process of elimination” (page 8) to arrive at the best move; well, this won’t help you during a real game. And one wants to simulate an actual game: to choose the best move by looking deeply into the position, by analyzing and exercising judgment. Ironically perhaps, the multiple choice format can inadvertently breed bad habits (by promoting a kind of tunnel vision) and this limits the book’s use as a serious training tool. On the plus side, it gives a focus to Evan’s explanations. Second, Evans’ rating system has a spurious validity: all one can say surely is that the more solutions one gets right, the better one is as a player. And, indeed, why should one need more?
Finally the exception mentioned above. This is position No. 91 in the book and the solution appears to be incorrect.
On page 136 Evans gives this as his solution: “In the game White prudently decided to swap pieces by 1.Bxf6 Qxf6 2.Nd5 (inviting 2 … Qxb2? 3.Rb1 Qa3 4.Rxb4!; or 2 … Qd6? 3.Nb6!) Qh6 3.Nxb4 Qxh3 4.Nxc6 bxc6 5.Qxc6 winning a pawn. Sweet simplicity!”
The problem with this is that after 1.Bxf6 Qxf6 2.Nd5 Qd6! 3.Nb6? (my punctuation) axb6! Black has won a clear piece; White’s queen is now en prise too. Neither 4.Rxd6 Rxa4 nor 4.Qxa8 Rxa8! (but not 4 … Qxd1? 5.Qxf8+!) 5.Rxd6 Bxd6 changes matters. Perhaps White can try 3.Qb5!? instead after 2 … Qd6 (e.g. 3 … Rab8 4.c3 Ba5 – if 4 … Bc5 5. Nf4 wins – 5. Bd7!?), but anyway the solution as given seems wrong.
To make a reckoning: How Good Is Your Chess? is an enjoyable and challenging collection of chess puzzles. The solutions are generally accurate and Evans’ comments are often instructive. Working through the book and making a stab at solving the positions will undoubtedly help you improve as a chess player.
About the reviewer:Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org