I’ve written a few posts about the wrong chess books: books which are popular and often recommended by well-intentioned but ill-informed posters on social media. They might be the only book the poster has ever read, or the book he read several decades ago when he was learning chess.
But the world has moved on. Older chess books, for the most part, are no longer the best choices. They are out of date, were written before the advent of modern engines, and they fail to take into account our ever increasing knowledge about how we learn and process information.
Take, for example, Irving Chernev’s Logical Chess Move by Move. An outstanding book in many ways. Chernev was a great and inspirational writer, but not an amazingly strong player and didn’t have access to Stockfish.
How well does the book stand up today?
Let’s have a look at the first game: von Scheve – Teichmann (Berlin 1907).
1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 Bc5
4. c3 Qe7?!
‘Very good!’, according to Chernev. But Stockfish 14, which gets very excited on seeing a spatial advantage, much prefers the usual move Nf6 here. You have to know what you’re doing, though, so Qe7 isn’t a bad choice if you don’t know the theory and want to play safe.
5. OO d6
6. d4 Bb6
Tricky but illogical, according to Chernev. Stockfish 14, on the other hand, thinks it’s White’s best move, closely followed by 7. d5.
Chernev points out, correctly, that 8.. Bxa5 loses a piece to 9. d5. He then suggests that 8.. Nxa5 would be met by 9. Rxa5 Bxa5 10. Qa4+ winning two pieces for a rook.
But this is a mistake on Chernev’s part: 10.. b5 would leave Black the exchange ahead. So 8. a5 was just an oversight which should have lost a pawn.
Chernev is very scathing here, describing it as a coffee-house move and quoting Tarrasch and Alekhine in support of his view that you shouldn’t voluntarily move pawns in front of your castled king.
Stockfish disagrees, thinking h3 is one of White’s best moves here along with Re1. With a space advantage it can be good to restrict your opponent’s pieces in this way. It considers White to have a potential 70% score here.
This is the cause of White’s problems: Chernev is quite rightly critical. White’s potential score drops from 70% to 40% or thereabouts.
Again, neither Chernev nor Stockfish is impressed. White’s potential score is now about 20%. I can’t imagine why anyone would choose White’s last two moves: conceding a space advantage, opening up a diagonal for the black bishop on a7 and trading a kingside defender for a queenside piece. But von Scheve was, by the standards of his day, a master player. EdoChess gives his hypothetical 1907 rating as 2385, and he’d been above 2500 at his peak. It just goes to show how far chess has developed in the past century or so.
Now he’s totally lost, because Black’s obvious sacrifice should be determined: Qf3 lost a pawn, but would at least have kept him in the game.. Von Scheve was clearly having a bad day at the office.
Obvious and strong, although the winning lines are perhaps not that easy to find.
13. gxh3 Qg3+
14. Kh1 Qxh3+
15. Kg1 Ng4
White wants to defend with Bf4: Black can deal with this in two ways. He can play 16.. OOO! 17. Bf4 Ne5! to open the d-file, or 16.. g5! meeting 17. Bxg5 with Rg8. The instructive lesson here is that Black needs to open a file in order to get another piece into the attack. Chernev, who mistakenly thinks White’s winning anyway, doesn’t mention any of this at all.
17. Kh1 Bxf2?
Black could have repeated moves with Qh3+ and then decided one of the above alternatives, but instead played a move which threw away his advantage. It’s also worth mentioning 17.. Nxf2+?! 18. Rxf2 Qxf2 19. Bxf7+! Kf8 20. Bb3, which looks pretty unclear, but Stockfish slightly prefers Black.
And White, in return … resigned! Or rather, 18. Resigns??!
Both players had missed 18. Bxf7+! Kf8 (18.. Kxf7 19. Qd5+ leads to a perpetual) 19. Bf4! Qxf4 20. Bh5! when White is holding on.
In the annotations to this game, Chernev missed two important tactical points (his annotation to move 8 and in the final position) as well as misjudging the position after 9. h3. You need to ask yourself whether you’re happy with this standard of annotation before reading or recommending the book. In many ways it’s still a fantastic book, but let the buyer beware!
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