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A Treat for the Chess Mind
Steve Goldberg
Secrets of Spectacular Chess, by Jonathan Levitt & David Friedgood, 2nd
edition, 2008 Everyman Chess, Figurine Algebraic Notation, Paperback,
287pp., $24.95
Chess has variously been described as art, science
and sport. Authors Levitt and Friedgood, at least
in this book, clearly look at chess the way an art
connoisseur might examine a Van Gogh. Youll
find positions described in terms such as depth,
breadth, negative depth, optical logic, switchback,
rundlauf, echo, Novotny, and something called a
Loshinsky magnet. For the chess is art crowd,
this is your book. In fact, it seems to this reviewer
that the title Secrets of Spectacular Chess may be
a bit misleading in that the reader might expect to
find little-known opening traps or a best-games
collection. Instead, the book offers a pleasant look into surprising,
sometimes paradoxical moves on the board. Just as a pictorial coffee table
book offers a treat for the eyes, Secrets of Spectacular Chess provides a
treat for the chess mind.
It is a great pity that the majority of competitive players have not
become acquainted with the worlds of problems and studies. They are
missing out, write Levitt and Friedgood. As they further state, It is the
authors unashamed intention to overwhelm readers of this book with a
wealth of dazzling and magnificent examples.
The Table of Contents includes many subchapter headings, and even
more chapter divisions appear in the text itself, but here are the primary
chapter headings:

Part One: Background and Context

Ch. 1: Introduction

Part Two: Elements of Chess Beauty

Ch. 2: Paradox

Ch. 3: Depth

Ch. 4: Geometry

Ch. 5: Flow

Part Three: Sampling the Spectacular

Ch. 6: The Poetry of War: The Aesthetics of Practical Play

Ch. 7: Tactical Fantasies: The Charm of Studies

Ch. 8: Art for Arts Sake: The Delights of Chess Problems

Ch. 9: The Weird and the Wonderful: Unorthodox Problems

Ch. 10: Further considerations on Chess Aesthetics

Ch. 11: Solutions to Exercises

As a simple example, the concept of domination is illustrated in the
following problem:
The goal is for White to move and draw,
despite his overwhelming material
inferiority. He does so with 1.Kg2!,
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dominating the black rook. White will
capture the rook on his next move, and is
left with a well-known theoretical draw
with his opponent having a rook pawn
and a wrong-colored bishop.
The reader should understand, however,
that nearly all the problems in this book
are significantly more complex than the above example.
The authors are passionate about their love of chess problems and studies
and are a bit exasperated that a good part of the chess world doesnt quite
share their enthusiasm. They spend the bulk of the first chapter working
to convince the reader of both the aesthetic and the practical benefits of
spending time with problems and studies. I wonder, though, if the effort
might be a bit counter-productive. It feels a little like your mother
repeating over and over, Try this, its good! A child quickly learns to
expect that the more hes told its good! the worse its likely to really
However, the authors readily acknowledge that different players have
different tastes, and what appeals to one may not appeal at all to another.
Furthermore, the authors have taken upon themselves a difficult task an
attempt to identify what makes a given chess position interesting. As they
admit, this is much like trying to define what makes a piece of art
Levitt and Friedgood identify four independent elements to describe the
chess positions they present what they term paradox, depth, geometry
and flow. Any given position may have strong elements of all or none of
these, or may contain one or more of these descriptors to varying degrees.
Briefly, these elements are defined as follows:
Paradox: Surprise, outrageousness. The response to a paradoxical move
might be, How can this be possible?
Depth: Subtlety, complexity. A deep move is one which is not obvious
(though not necessarily paradoxical) and for which the point is well
hidden. Initially one does not understand it, and later the response is, Ah,
so that was the point!
Geometry: Patterns, repetitions. The response might be, Oh, what a
pretty pattern!
Flow: Smoothness of movement. It relates to the length of the sequence
of moves for which the tension is dynamically maintained. The response
to flow might be something like, Whoosh! Im being carried along!
To be honest, this reviewer has never been particularly attracted to the
world of chess problems and studies. Too many unrealistic positions tend
to reduce the entertainment value, at least for me. But even I enjoyed the
following mate-in-17 presented in Chapter 8:
Whites main plan is Rf8 followed by
Rc8#, but Blacks stalemate must first be
relieved. The foreplan is like walking a
tightrope, allowing Kc5, then
checking the king back to c6, all the
while regrouping the forces to make the
main plan possible without giving Black
the opportunity to unravel.
1.Bc1 Kc5 2.Be3+ Kc6 3.Bf4 Kc5 4.Rf5
+ Kc6 5.Be5 Kc5 6.Bh2+ Kc6 7.Rf6
Kc5 8.Bg1+ Kc6 9.e3 Kc5 10.e4+ Kc6 11.Bh2 Kc5 12.Rf5+ Kc6 13.e5
Kc5 14.Bg1+ Kc6 15.Rf2! Kc5 16.Rf8+
Finally, the move White has been building up to all along. The foreplan
has made it possible to play this move with check.
16Kc6 17.Rc8#
For the most part, however, the authors have avoided those positions that
are virtually impossible to find in a real game. And Chapter 6 includes a
nice collection of well-annotated complete games, including Kasparov-
Topalov, Wijk aan Zee 1999, described in the books Preface as featuring
probably the greatest combination ever played.
In fairness to our readers, heres that game (but without Levitts and
Friedgoods notes); pay special attention beginning with 24.Rxd4!:
Hoogovens Wijk aan Zee (4), 20.01.1999 [B07]
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Be3 Bg7 5.Qd2 c6 6.f3 b5 7.Nge2 Nbd7 8.
Bh6 Bxh6 9.Qxh6 Bb7 10.a3 e5 11.000 Qe7 12.Kb1 a6 13.Nc1 000
14.Nb3 exd4 15.Rxd4 c5 16.Rd1 Nb6 17.g3 Kb8 18.Na5 Ba8 19.Bh3
d5 20.Qf4+ Ka7 21.Rhe1 d4 22.Nd5 Nbxd5 23.exd5 Qd6
24.Rxd4! cxd4 25.Re7+ Kb6 26.Qxd4+
Kxa5 27.b4+ Ka4 28.Qc3 Qxd5 29.Ra7
Bb7 30.Rxb7 Qc4 31.Qxf6 Kxa3 32.
Qxa6+ Kxb4 33.c3+ Kxc3 34.Qa1+
Kd2 35.Qb2+ Kd1 36.Bf1 Rd2 37.Rd7
Rxd7 38.Bxc4 bxc4 39.Qxh8 Rd3 40.
Qa8 c3 41.Qa4+ Ke1 42.f4 f5 43.Kc1
Rd2 44.Qa7 10
In later chapters, the authors present
helpmates, selfmates and problems of
retrograde analysis. While the helpmate/selfmate concepts have never
appealed to me, the retrograde analysis seems to be an interesting
exercise. As the authors state, The field of retrograde analysis is all
about the presentation of positions whose history has to be unravelled. In
other words, the reader must make a series of logical inferences to
determine the moves that produced the given position. The approach here
reminds me of the logic problems I enjoyed as a kid.
For example, the following position is given, which we are told was
reached after Blacks twelfth move:
The task for the reader is to deduce the
moves that led to this position, in the
correct move order. As the authors state,
How does one tackle such a problem?
With careful, painstaking logic. And
they proceed to do just that, determining
how each of the white pieces must have
reached their current squares. They also
show how Black must have been able to
capture Whites missing d-pawn and end
up with each unit on its starting spot. Its
an interesting piece of detective work,
but sadly, the only one of its kind in the book.
Nevertheless, even for readers such as this reviewer who are not
especially problem-inclined, Secrets of Spectacular Chess has much to
offer. Surely every chess lover at heart enjoys the beauty and mystery of
shocking, unexpected moves, and this book provides no shortage of these.
And perhaps, as the authors adamantly insist, there is a practical benefit to
studying positions such as those included here. But ultimately, Secrets of
Spectacular Chess is a book to be enjoyed just for the love of the game.
Secrets of Spectacular Chess
by Jonathan Levitt & David Friedgood

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