Multiple choice chess II - Buckley

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Multiple choice chess II - Buckley




Multiple choice chess II - Buckley
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The idea behind Multiple Choice Chess II is a very simple one: British IM Graeme Buckley has selected twenty games and challenges the reader to walk in the footsteps of giants such as Keres, Smyslov, Bronstein, Korchnoi, Kasparov, Adams, and Leko. Repeatedly you have to select a move from the four possible continuations that you are presented with. Each answer will earn (or loose) you points according to a scoring system devised by Buckley, and by the end of each exercise (game) you can use your accumulated score to see how well you did. Multiple Choice Chess II is a decent workbook containing some highly instructive games with notes suitable for the beginner and intermediate players. The author, apparently an experienced chess teacher, has a well-developed sense of what troubles the improving player, but unfortunately the multiple-choice format does not work altogether well. As indicated by the title, this book is a follow-up to Multiple Choice Chess, which was published January 2002.

The author has done a fine job of carefully selecting some highly instructive games for Multiple Choice Chess II. With today’s more or less instant access to thousands of recent games, this task has in many ways become both easier and more difficult at the same time. The exercises in the book are mostly based on contemporary games (more than half were played in 1999 or later), but a few older masterpieces have also found there way into the book. The games are all fairly balanced so you should not expect to have the game handed on a silver plate through a decisive blunder - of course this gives you the childish satisfaction of finishing off your grandmaster opponent by virtue of your “own” clever play.

The games are organized in five chapters based on strategic themes:

Mating Attacks
Attack is the Best form of Defense
A Crossfire of Bishops
Rooks and Pawns versus Minor Pieces
Endings Made to look Easy
Buckley should be commended for dealing with imbalances that are often difficult for the improving player to grasp. In A Crossfire of Bishops, there are five exercises that revolve around bishops versus knights. In Rooks and Pawns versus Minor Pieces we are presented with three games featuring this frequently occurring material imbalance. In my experience, many lower graded player tend to shy away from entering a rook versus minor piece material imbalance, simply because it is a difficult judgment who has the upper hand. Worse still, the decision may be evaluated entirely based on a rigorous count of piece values. After all, every beginner knows that a rook equals 5 pawns, a bishop is 3 pawns, etc.. Multiple Choice Chess II will not teach you to master these difficult judgments, but if you spend time going through the games there is plenty of food for thought.

The thorough study of master-level games is one of the best ways to improve your chess, so from that perspective there is no doubt that Multiple Choice Chess II, with its selection of instructive commented games, serves a purpose. However, I do have some concerns about this book, as I cannot help feeling that Buckley is constrained in his explanations by the multiple-choice framework. In particular at the critical stages of a game, it can be quite awkward to explain why you should opt for a particular continuation without spoiling the fun by giving away the moves to follow. Think of it, as if you are being told a puzzling story, where the point that puts all the pieces together is left out! Of course, the idea in this book is to figure out the point on your own (decide on the strongest move). However, the instructive value does suffer and game annotations are often kept in very broad terms, which does not always correspond well with the concrete nature of the strategic considerations in the games.

There are a few other problems with the multiple-choice concept in this context. In spite of a nice effort by Buckley, who guides the reader in a witty and comprehensible way, the strict adherence to the multiple-choice format does turn the book into a somewhat monotonous read. But then again this is a workbook not a novel. Also, in my opinion, there is very little to be gained from the scoring system used in the book, and I fail to see how it contributes much towards assessing your playing strength (as it boldly says on the back cover). However, this is merely a matter of taste and others may appreciate the scoring system as an additional motivation – I am fully content with finding the same moves that Kasparov did.

So what audience is the book intended for? This is actually not stated explicitly in the book, but it seems a reasonable assessment that beginners and intermediate players with playing strength less than approximately 1800 will gain the most. Stronger players will probably not find the book worthwhile. Albeit, in the introduction it is stated: ”In this book there is more emphasis than in the first book on looking ahead, anticipating the next move and on calculating variations. In this way, I hope the book continues to cater for the more elite player”. This sounds very ambitious, considering that a weaker player will benefit the most from being shown the big picture, while in comparison a strong master will be looking for annotations that reflect a much deeper level of analysis. If I had been able to read Buckley’s mind to see what he understands by “elite”, I probably would not be writing chess book reviews. However, using any widely accepted understanding of “elite”, it is my opinion that the book fails to live up to the abovementioned noble intentions.

Finally, a few practical comments on the layout of the book: It is typeset with a rather small text font size, which may prove a challenge to the eyesight of many readers. On the other hand it means more bang for the buck, as Everyman has been able to squeeze more material into the 160 pages. There are plenty of diagrams used throughout the book, so that most people should be able to do the exercises without a board (e.g. while traveling). Using a board is certainly recommended though. The book is typeset in a double-column format that is slightly inconvenient when you need to cover off part of the page to hide the answers.

In conclusion, Multiple Choice Chess II presents a selection of instructive grandmaster games with comments geared towards the intermediate player (rating approximately 1200-1800). The choice of topics is interesting and Buckley empathizes well with the above mentioned target group. Unfortunately, the book is hampered by a multiple-choice format that does not work well in this context, for which reason I cannot recommend it wholeheartedly.

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