Review of The Complete Manual of Positional Chess Volume 2

The Soviet School of Chess has morphed into the Russian School of Chess.

As should be quite clear by my nom de plume of Patriarch Fan, I am an avid admirer of the so called Soviet School of Chess. In fact, a sizeable portion of my not inconsiderable book collection covers exactly this topic.

Of course, since the collapse of the Soviet Union more than a quarter century ago the Soviet School must be on it's last legs, right? Well, not so fast. The Soviet School of Chess has morphed into the Russian School of Chess. While they may not have tasted Olympiad gold for quite some time now, the fact is that Russia still dominates a sizeable portion of the chess world, and by extension, their trainers often provide some of the most important and topical material.

So what should one expect from a book calling itself a manual of positional chess? Perhaps some information on how to extract the most out of dry, technical positions? In order to disavow oneself of that notion you need look no further than the subtitle of the book, which is Middlegame Stuctures and Dynamics.

Wait - dynamics? Shouldn't that be in some sort of tactical work? As it turns out, to try to think in this way is quite restrictive. Much like the outdated maxim that "1.e4 players are tactical, while 1.d4 players are positional" thinking of tactics as being somehow separate from positional play is simply wrong thinking.

In fact, a few years back Alexei Shirov made a DVD which touched on the fact that tactics are the crown of positional play.

This book is divided into two sections, each of which has several chapters.

The sections are:

  1. "Pawns are the Soul of Chess"
  2. Dynamics

Before getting into the content of the book I should point out that the book (and it's companion volume, The Complete Manual of Positional Chess Volume 1) were developed for use by chess teachers at DYSS, which as the back cover says is a "special sports school for young talents in Russia."

A rather interesting feature of this book is that in the introduction GM Sakaev gives an outline of the plan of study that he believes that students should follow. It boils down to more or less the following:

  1. Studying games collections.
  2. Studying good textbooks.
  3. Watching live coverage of current super tournaments.
  4. Solving different types of puzzles.
  5. Careful analysis of ones own games.

GM Sakaev gives quite detailed examples of each of these points (including recommending books to study!), which also covering topics such as psychology. At this point in my mind the book is already worth owning, and we haven't even gotten into the actual content!

The first section of the books "Pawns are the soul of chess" covers numerous important aspects of pawn play. Passed pawns, blockades, attacking pawn chains, etc. To be totally honest these are topics that it is rather easy to find material about, and so if this was where the book ended my thoughts would be that it was good, but not great, and that it would be suitable for anyone who didn't already have material on these subjects.

Luckily for disciples of Caissa the book in fact continues with a wholly unique second part, which covers how positional play and dynamics intersect.

I was quite curious to see how this manual would cover the many topics in the chapters, which read like a list of tactical motifs. Pins, forks, intermediate moves, etc. It soon became quite clear what the intentions where.

Take a look at this position from the game Sakaev-Yakovic 2005. This is in the chapter called "The king in a mating net."

The winning move, which caused Black to resign on the spot was 30.b6. As the reader can easily ascertain, Black must now either give up a lot of material since his king is now caught in a mating net.

As noted by the author, it's generally common to see many of the positions in tactics books but only at the denouement when the killing blow is played. The majority of the examples given in this book are not like the above, which shows only the final move which fully constructs the motif in question, but rather are designed to show the last several moves which allow for the concluding shot to appear on the board.

This work makes the effort to show how to maneuver to achieve these types of positions rather than just what to do once you get there.

One more feature of this text, which should be copied by every serious author ever, is that at the end of each chapter additional study material is given in the form of a list of additional games to look at. Sometimes the specific move of the game is referenced as well.

Overall this book is one of the more useful serious texts that I have seen in the past few years. I highly recommend it.

Best Chess to You,

Patriarch Fan