Black Knight Look Left

This excellent book from International Master Jeremy Silman is the perfect entry level chess strategy book, whose concepts and insights will be useful to any amateur player throughout their chess playing life. It is written with great clarity, with wit and with a large helping of humour, and will keep you reading, studying and laughing as your chess improves long after many other drier tomes have been discarded. Silman's style is very engaging, and is based not only on a love of the game but also on a real desire to help the amateur player improve. Many authors try to share their knowledge with amateur players, but as experts they really don't seem to understand the issues that the average player has in getting to grips with the game. They are unable to really put themselves in the place and mindset of a lower rated player and grasp that those players don't see chess in the same way. Jeremy Silman is different, and in this book he attempts to find out what amateurs of all levels are thinking in any given position, and the resulting insights are highly instructive.

Silman again introduces the method of analysing any chess position by means of examining the fundamental imbalances that he so comprehensively and successfully describes in his positional chess masterpiece “How To Reassess Your Chess 4th Edition: Chess Mastery Through Chess Imbalances”[1].. In “The Amateur's Mind” the same positional concepts are discussed. He takes instructive positions and after examining the imbalances within them gives them to players of various strengths from ~1000 to 2100 Elo to play against him, sometimes allowing a student to repeat a position several times to learn from previous mistakes if he feels it instructive. In doing so he requires his students to think out loud before each move, and describe how they see the board positionally, and why they are making the moves they choose.

The resulting move-by-move assessment and commentary on the positions, and detailing of the ongoing thought processes of the various players is an invaluable examination of what factors players of all ratings are considering, and how well they have taken on board the lessons in imbalances which Silman has given them. This process quickly dispels the myth that all highly rated players are born with a special insight into the game, and will give you encouragement and confidence that by learning, practising and employing the principles he teaches, you should be able to compete positionally in future with players currently rated much higher than yourself.

It becomes very clear that players of all levels can focus on the wrong aspects of a position, or get scared about non-existent or easily prevented threats, or they may even find the right positional assessment but simply shy away from the hard work required to think of a solution to the problem. Often it is the frame of mind that a player has, and their willingness or not to acquiesce to their opponents wishes, that proves to be a significant factor in the resulting play, and Silman's method of assessing the imbalances logically and deriving a coherent plan from this is an attempt to bring clarity to the subject of making and following a successful positional plan.

The requirement to play way the position itself demands is a common theme running through the book, as are the ideas in respect of strength of mind, of aggression, of driving the game in the direction you rather than your opponent wants, and of forcing yourself to put in the mental effort necessary to make your plans work. This is summarized in an interesting chapter on mental toughness, and it is also highly instructive to see the examples infused throughout the whole book of when a player slowly begins to bend to the will of their opponent and to go off track with their own plans as a result.

The various chapters identifying and explaining the various imbalances to be found on a chessboard are filled with illustrative examples, with rules in bold type to be taken from the various situations, and with excellent tips effectively summarizing each section and sub-section succinctly. There is very little given in the way of unnecessary variations, making it a very focused and easy book to follow. Diagrams are used liberally, so it is possible to read and understand the principles even without playing them through on a board in front of you, and the 115 pages or so of tests and detailed solutions to the problems serve to amply reinforce the material explained in the earlier chapters.

In the end, this book really is like having a Master level teacher with you to explain the realities of deep positional understanding, and to comment on your choice of moves in a language you can understand. Studying the principles it contains will allow you to gain the confidence to take on players with higher ratings, as you can see that their positional understanding and assessment is definitely not flawless. What you can take away from this book, aside from a rock-solid foundation in positional chess concepts, is the realization that players of all ratings have significant room for improving their thought processes and positional understanding, but that this improvement is an achievable possibility. Overall, this is an extremely enjoyable, instructive and very entertaining read.

The Amateur's Mind: Turning Chess Misconceptions into Chess Mastery
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(price as of Nov 3, 2015)