Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chess Endgames by Polgar review: Endgames 2

If you have been playing chess for a while, you might probably have come across Laszlo Polgar's huge volume Chess: 5333+1. At least one member of any chess team or club seems to have one at hand. Unbeknownst to many, Polgar released similarly sized volumes on the middlegame, reform chess and the endgame. When I finally found the latter in a bookstore, there was a big stack of them. I promptly bought three copies for around $20 each, and would have bought more, had I had an extra chance.

Endgames is an absolutely beautiful book. Hardcover, sewn spine, attractive dust jacket, cream-colored pages and so on. I even like the smell. Like its siblings, it has six diagrams per page and encourages solving.

It is also very large and heavy book, weighing over 3 pounds and that's its downfall. If you only want it to ogle over it, it's fine. It looks superbly on the coffee table or on a shelf. But if you really want to sit down and go over the problems, it is a hassle. The solutions are at the end of the book and you have to turn several hundred weighty pages to find the one for the problem you're working on. And the solutions are not single moves like most from 5333+1; these are full-fledged, sporting variations and sometimes sub variations, some so long, that can fill a whole column  making it also easy to lose your place. Annotations are in the universal informant sign language with no other clarifying text. In view of this, you have to set the position on a chessboard and somehow fit the book on the same table at the same time. This arrangement is not limited to this volume as it also applies to the middlegames book. An accompanying electronic version would solve many of these problems, but there isn't any; and I have checked thoroughly on the net. I had to make do with preparing my own digital versions (positions and chess engine support in Chessbase format and solutions on PDF) for the first two sections and I am plowing through these now.

The contents are diverse and range from the very basic to the odd. In fact, there are 171 themes all told. No endgame enthusiast would be disappointed in the selection. Most of the problems lean towards hard.

Nowadays, this is a rare book. I think the publisher, K├Ânemann,  has gone under. The few copies that can be obtained at sites like Amazon or eBay start around $80 and it is not uncommon to see them over $100. As far as I can tell, no republishing is in the works. Cheaper units can still be purchased at Amazon's French site, http://www.amazon.fr/, and shipped to America (this is in fact what I did when I got the middlegames volume around 2004).

Wrapping up: As an object or as a collectible, this book is not really a must have, but it is certainly very attractive. If you happen to find it in mint condition and at a respectable price, snatch it. For challenge, look no further. For instruction, look somewhere else.

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