I've come to the conclusion that only retired GM's should do book reviews
and then only review the book they read 40-50 years ago.
Who better to tell you if a book did them any good or was a waste of money.
Maybe that would be a better idea for a thread.
Players over 60 who can name a book they read as a youngster that they know
inspired them over the past 40 odd years.
I think Ian Marks reviews on The Scottish Site are always worth reading and very good.
He is a book reviewer one can trust for an honest opinion.
(he also actually appears to have read the book he reviews and not just flicked through it.)
Here is just sample of his style on an opening book which Ian, on the whole, gives a thumbs up.
THE FRENCH WINAWER
by Steve Giddins, publ. 2013, 287 pp.
Another â€˜move by moveâ€™ title, same format as other publications in the series:
a collection of games (25 in this instance) covering the nuts and bolts of the opening,
with lots of questions and answers.
Before I get on to the book, I wondered about the eponymous begetter of the opening (pr. Vee-nÃ¡h-ver).
Iâ€™d have thought that a major criterion for bequeathing your name to an opening would be a solid back
catalogue of games, but a quick glance in ChessBase turned up a mere 10 Frenches with Winawer
on the black side, of which only four featured 3 Nc3 Bb4, three of them continuing 4 exd5 with a
solitary 4 e5 c5.
Winawer actually seems to have been a 1 â€¦e5 man (96 of those). So how come he gets paternity rights?
Anyway, to the book. You might be wondering: Giddins isnâ€™t a top GM, but an FM rated 2188, so what
can he tell us? Quite a lot, actually. Peers, or those closer to us, often make the best teachers, for the
simple reason that they better understand the problems and difficulties. Think Oxford don in front of a
1st year high school class and you get the idea. Also, on the assumption that the Move by Move series
is aimed primarily at less experienced players, Giddins is still way higher rated than, presumably, 90-
odd% of his target readership, plus heâ€™s been playing the Winawer for 25 years, so presumably heâ€™s
picked up a thing or two along the way. (Kasparov once wondered of Peter Wellsâ€™s book on the Semi-
Slav â€˜how such a weak player could write such a good bookâ€™. Wells was a 2500 GM!)
The games. It would be unthinkable to study the Winawer without looking at the games of Uhlmann,
Botvinnik and Korchnoi, and nearly half â€“ 11 of the 25 â€“ are by them. Toss in the two by Petrosian and
thatâ€™s over half. (It crosses my mind that there will be newcomers nowadays for whom these giants are
just names. I must be getting old.)
The games span the period 1944-2011, a good blend of historical and contemporary.
The notes and variations are backed up with lots of prose, which is always welcome.
Giddins has a smooth, gently explanatory writing style well-suited to this sort of work.
Balance. Black wins 24 of the games, and the white win was a jammy escape by Karpov. OK,
I suppose the Winawer is a â€˜blackâ€™ opening, and thatâ€™s what Giddins is trying to sell,
but White is the one who allows it and often the one who decides which path will be taken,
so a bit more parity would have been welcome. When White does well here, he tends to do so in the notes.
Sidelines? You spend ages mugging up on 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5, and the other guy
plays 4 exd5, 4 Bd3 or some such. Giddins deals with some of these pesky sidelines in the context of
two illustrative games.
While I was checking up on these I noticed an unfortunate typo. The index runs 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3
Bb4 4 e5 Ne7 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7. Clearly that first â€¦Ne7 should be â€¦c5, but if youâ€™re hunting for
the variation 4â€¦Ne7 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 b6, itâ€™s confusing. In fact that variation doesnâ€™t appear. Also, if
memory serves, Uhlmann considered 4â€¦Ne7 the more accurate move order (e.g. it cuts out the 4â€¦c5 5
Bd2 stuff for a start). Giddins should really have discussed this on p.45 in game 5, Suetin-Uhlmann,
Berlin 1967 (the first time 4â€¦Ne7 is played), but only gets round to it nearly 200 pages later on p.234,
and that in relation to 4â€¦b6.
Normally it wonâ€™t matter much, but surely this was the ideal opportunity for a â€˜questionâ€™?
Computers? Nobody writes chess books nowadays without the machine switched on, and Giddins is no
exception, although thereâ€™s a touch of good and evil about it. Iâ€™ll take game 10, Bogdanovic-Uhlmann,
Sarajevo 1965, as an example. In his note to move 14, Giddins suggests that Blackâ€™s move was not the
best and quotes three possible improvements from a previous work, adding (without further analysis!)
â€˜all of which may offer reasonable chancesâ€™. Thatâ€™s a cop-out. In a book aimed at players less well-
versed in the French, a little elucidation would have been helpful. In the next line though he
says, â€˜However, the computerâ€™s suggestion 14â€¦Qxd2! 15 Bxd2 e4 may be best of allâ€™.
Now thatâ€™s a potentially decent use of the machine, so you have to wonder why he didnâ€™t use it to put
some flesh on the other suggestions too.
Later in the same game though Giddins canâ€™t resist the seemingly obligatory computer-inspired pot-shot
at great players of the past. Referring to one of Uhlmannâ€™s original lines, he tells us that â€˜the computer
shows his analysis to be full of holesâ€™. First, this isnâ€™t that relevant within the context of the opening
(itâ€™s on move 22) and second, much of Giddinsâ€™s commentary is based on Uhlmannâ€™s original analysis,
so it seems pretty low-level to use the guyâ€™s material, then have a pop at him when the machine finds flaws.
Summary: Overall a well-produced, solid piece of work, worth a look if youâ€™re interested in, or thinking of taking up, the French.