Saturday, August 25, 2012

Silman's Complete Endgame Course review: Endgames 1

This is just an opinion, but I think I'm not too far off: chess endings are the most difficult phase of the game. Paraphrasing from the back cover of Polgar's Chess Endgames: "'Fewer pieces, fewer problems' Endgames are proof that this is not the case". Minefields abound, proper tempo calculation is needed, apparently few players bother. This is an opportunity! If one could master, or at least get hold of the ropes, one could confidently, safely anchored in theory, steer the game to an endgame and just watch the opponent flounder and sink.

There is yet another obstacle to be surmounted. To use the theory, one must learn it first and many of the books and software out there are beyond even reasonably rated players. I think I have found the book that can get us over the hump.

Silman's Complete Endgame Course is one of the most popular endgame books nowadays and with reason. Mr. Silman is a US player, coach and an International Master. Also, he has a clear and very agreeable writing style. His Understanding Chess  column in Chess Life was one of my favorites back in the 90s. His endgame course book is very unlike others in the field. Instead of starting with pawn endgames and then moving on to minor and major pieces endgames, he rather organizes his material according to player's strength. This is the key of this book. You only have to read when it's appropriate for your level and then move on as your strength increases. Why is this important? First, as said, endgames are very tricky. Starting off at pawn endgames, which are the trickiest of all, can demoralize the reader and even if he somewhat manages to go through the material, it is unlikely to help him much if his strength is not on par with what he just read. Second, lower rated players are the least likely to survive into an endgame. They will probably blast or get blasted in the opening or middlegame, and so need the least amount of knowledge. Better start modestly: If one perseveres, one can learn a little more, and then a little more; all according to what one may need most at any given time.

Chess is meant to be fun, and it is no fun when you have to go through reams of variations which do not relate to you. That's another aspect of this book. Only what is relevant is given. Other manuals and books seem to be easily waylaid by beautiful variations or artistic concepts, which ultimately have little practical value. All these are nixed here. The concept is explained and the main line plus two or three relevant variations are given; not more. So, at the end (wink) what must be remembered is very compact.

At the conclusion of each rating section there is a chapter summary and some problems for the reader to solve and check his grasp on the concepts. The last two sections do not have problems and are somewhat different than the rest. The first one is geared to master level players and explains some useful strategic ideas rather than concrete configurations. The other one gives chess endgames to enjoy from the greatest endgame players according to the author and some funny tactics & situations. An always useful further reading section is also included at the very last.

Having read the whole book, I can say that it really encourages progress. I find it hard to find anything wrong with it. The book size is a minor problem. Two or three positions are scarier than what the author reveals (these are #279, 287 and 291). Does the course  really work? Effort and time wise I would say it really does. You just skip all other alternatives and get directly to the juicy parts. Performance wise, in my experience, I have better results now, but still feel I need refreshers, either by rechecking the material or looking for more exercises elsewhere, but my guess is that this would also be true for other books.

Best endgame instruction I've seen so far

The Table of Contents can be found here


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