If you have ever come to feel that others were simply born with a better chess understanding than you will ever possess, then think again. Unlike many other chess books which aim to teach positional understanding but fail to do so due to being infuriatingly complex or a mess of incomprehensible variations, this book is readily accessible to the average player, and is very clear in its concepts and presentation. Silman understands that you are an enthusiast and love the game, and that you may have become frustrated with your lack of improvement. Rather than show you how different you are from the Grand Masters and their otherworldly powers of analysis, he demonstrates that you too can view the board, analyse the position, and create the plans that the great masters do.
Silman's teaching method uses the concept of determining the imbalances present in a position as a means of analysing the situation methodically in order to form a clear mental picture of what is actually going on in any given position. The further analysis of these imbalances then leads the player into forming a plan to make use of the advantages and disadvantages inherent in the positions of both sides. This plan involves actually doing what the position itself demands of the player, and thus finding the best moves, rather than the player simply pursuing his or her own plans without any real justification for them. The various different imbalances are each described and treated in their own chapters, with excellent summaries and test examples given at the end of each. Additional sections of the book look at how to deal with the combination of imbalances found in a given position, as well as other important themes such as the usage of space, passed pawns, dynamic versus static situations, weak squares, and the various common openings etc.. All are treated using the same idea of imbalances leading to plans, and this unifying theme binds the various concepts of the book into a congruent whole.
His approach of giving you a way of looking at a game or position, a way that is not simply a set of moves to be memorized, but rather applying a clarity of thinking that should become habitual, is exemplified in the section on target consciousness. This is a theme which can be practised until it becomes second nature, and developing the habits of looking for imbalances and targets by continually consciously applying these principles both within games and in study positions should eventually lead to a deeper positional understanding as a whole.
There is so much material here. Silman includes a large section on the subject of psychological toughness and mental attitude: imposing your will and plan on the opponent and not acquiescing instead to the their wishes for what future course the game should take. He has included excellent self tests for all of the concepts discussed, and there are examples to suit all levels of player. The stepwise move by move commentary and discussions of the solutions to the test problems posed (179 pages worth) are an excellent resource for those willing to devote time to studying and testing themselves.
The way Silman writes also makes it very easy to retain the information presented, even though there is a large quantity of it. This is not a short book, but it is worth the effort required to truly work through it. The author imparts his knowledge in such a way, using humour, wit and excellent examples, along with a lightness of touch, that you almost don't realize you are learning, such is the pleasure of reading the advice given. Unlike other books where the positional instructions and concepts are often as rapidly forgotten as the positions which illustrated them, here the method is so simple to understand and to begin to apply for all levels of player that the information is much more easily retained. Moreover, it can be used to assess any position and help find not only the best plan, but also the best moves required to achieve it.
The book is intended to be read from start to finish, but it is so well written that it can be opened at any page at any time, and there will always be some advice of value that can be immediately implemented. The reader would do well to read and reread this book on an ongoing basis as their chess proficiency increases, as they are likely to always find more information of value contained within its examples and tests.
This book is not a magical panacea that will instantly transform you into a GM level player upon buying it, but if you are willing to work hard, structure your thinking and implement the concepts described, you should see real improvement in your play. Silman imbues you with the feeling that it is possible to understand the game and play it well regardless of your starting point, be you a complete novice or a long time average player who has struggled to improve. His advice, lessons and methods give you a means of critically evaluating your play, and he clearly demonstrates that mastery is attainable for the average player. It will require hard work, study, practice, mental toughness, and an ability to critically assess your mistakes but it is not beyond anyone.
If the size and content of this book is just too daunting (it is nearly 700 pages), then Silman's slightly less weighty companion book “The Amateur's Mind”covers the same principles in an extremely accessible way ideal for beginners, whilst looking at eradicating erroneous thought patterns or preventing them from developing in the first place.
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(price as of Jan 8, 2016)