Book Review: Modern Chess, From Steinitz to the 21st Century

Hello again!

Awhile ago, I posted several games and exercises from a great book by Thinkers Publishing: "Modern Chess, From Steinitz to the 21st Century." I never actually posted a review, so I'd like to do that today.

The author, Craig Pritchett - featured in the image for this post - is a Scottish International Master. His distinguished chess experience includes nine Olympiad appearances and a gold medal on board 1 for Scotland at the 2011 European Senior Team Championship. He is also a well-regarded writer and teacher.

In this ambitious book, he aims to trace the development of chess from the early 19th Century to the present day. At first, it seemed to me that the early years were somewhat overrepresented, but this is by design:

"It takes in the revolutionary Wilhelm Steinitz's early summation and establishment of a firm positional basis for chess and the considerable contributions made by all of the subsequent world champions and certain other great players, including the contemporary computer phenomenon, Alpha Zero."

Rather than reading the book from start to finish, I dipped in and out of various sections, studying the games in a couple different ways. Sometimes I simply played through a game several times, with a view towards using some of the key moments later in lessons. In this respect, I greatly enjoyed some of the games in the section on Emanuel Lasker, entitled "Chess as a Principled Fight."

The 11th game of the 1894 Lasker-Steinitz World Championship, where Lasker prevails in an offbeat (early e3) Queen's Gambit, was an impressively played positional game. But it was the second game from the 1896 rematch with Steinitz that made the biggest impression on me. Lasker takes awhile to get going in this one - at some point there was a maneuver in the opening I didn't understand, and I think it just ended up being a waste of time. However, when it was time to strike, Lasker played the critical phase of the game with computer-like accuracy. The way he set up the attack was no less impressive. I thought this position made for a very instructive exercise:

I'll post a link to the solution at the end of the review!

I also found Lasker's one-sided positional win as black over Chigorin (London 1899) very instructive. It reminded me of the oft-repeated suggestion that by studying the great masters of the past, who faced less resistance in implementing their plans, you can identify positional ideas more clearly.

I also studied some of the games "Solitaire Chess" with my good friend, National Master Max Schwartz. We really enjoyed the two games Pritchett selected by Tigran Petrosian: Game 5 of the 1963 World Championship match against Botvinnik (1-0 in a Grunfeld) and the Petrosian classic over Spassky in the 1966 World Championship, when Spassky unwisely essayed Petrosian's old favorite, the Torre Attack. We were impressed by Petrosian's 23rd move in the former game:

 Petrosian played 23.b4!. I'll hand it over to Pritchett:

"With this very fine move, albeit near impossible to analyze precisely, Petrosian takes advantage of White's temporary pin in the c-file, to force either the 'actual' isolation of Black's c-pawn (after an exchange on c5) or its 'artificial' isolation, as in the case of the game (after 23...c4 24.b5). In both cases, Black's c-pawn, while passed, is likely to come under serious long-term attack, should it advance (if it doesn't, White will control the c4 square).

The whole game is a tour de force, culminating in a mating attack in the endgame. Terrific stuff, and Pritchett is an excellent guide.

The question is, who is this book for? Well, lots of people.

1) Fans of the game's intellectual history, especially the early World Champions

2) Anyone looking for a "one stop shop" covering the World Champions

3) People who like to study classical games with instructive, primarily verbal commentary

4) Chess students looking to add ideas from famous games to their own play

5) Chess teachers seeking alternative sources of instructional material

It is a pleasure for me to strongly recommend this book! You can find it on the Thinkers Publishing website.

Finally, here is the solution to the Lasker exercise earlier!