Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane
The Greatest Ever Chess Strategies
By Sam Collins
Everyman Chess, 2012
The series title (‘Greatest Ever’) is a misnomer, and a change of mindset is needed to get the most out of the book. Rather than get hung up on the clear disconnect between its title and contents, I’d recommend you take the tack that each section (there are several in each chapter) is a self-contained essay on a specific aspect of chess strategy. And all of a sudden it will become a useful, enlightening and interesting book.
To start with, Sam Collins introduces the notion of ‘playing by analogy’, something which, in a sense, all players do. We have a stock of strategic ideas, derived from our study of master games perhaps, and when the appropriate position or positional feature crops up (whether it be a backward pawn, an open file, a bad bishop, etc.), the related stratagem kicks in (restrain, infiltrate, exchange, etc.). What has worked before, we use again in a significantly similar position.
In the principal chapters (entitled respectively ‘Pawns’, ‘Bishops’, ‘Material’ and ‘Dynamic Factors’) Collins focuses on a select few interrelated topics, rather than aiming for an all-embracing but possibly superficial comprehensiveness. And he writes about a topic only when he has something new or interesting to say about it, or when the strategic idea is little known or (in his view) underappreciated. For example, the idea of repositioning of an apparently already well-developed piece: the section ‘Fresh Pastures’ on pages 83-89.
There is a personal angle to the book also, as Collins has acquired his knowledge through often bitter albeit rewarding experience. Of the 76 games here, a fair few are losses he has incurred or draws he really should have won. And even where Collins wins (he has included a few) he is candid about any errors, imprecision or shortcomings on his part.
It’s a personable book and it’s interesting to see how a modern player, a current competitor, views these various strategic devices and factors. Don’t expect a sheath of masterpieces by Lasker, Capablanca, Botvinnik and Karpov though; that’s not what the book is about.
The publisher’s description of the book can be read here: http://www.everymanchess.com/chess/books/The_Greatest_Ever_Chess_Strategies
About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org