Saturday, November 26, 2011

Book review: Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy reprise

I have finally completely finished Watson's Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy. My earlier review is still valid, but I have a few warnings about the conclusion.

His conclusion implies that studying middlegame strategy books is a waste of time, and that memorization of openings, games and endings is the way to improve. That may be true for master strength players, who already have a good (or intuitive grasp) of middle game features, but as long as Watson's admonition not to take "principles" too seriously is followed, I think these books are good for class players. Especially, Silman's treatment of them. His focus on "imbalances" rather than "principles" sets the right tone, and he often deals with the good and bad of features.

As I have said before, I think the memorization of opening lines is a waste of time for class players. Watson points out that is what Grandmasters spend much of their time memorizing openings, implying that would be good for the rest of us. This is just nonsense. There is no point to spending time memorizing lines, when basic ideas like on what files to place rooks are still a mystery. (This is currently one of my struggles. I get open/half-open files, files that are likely to become open/half-open, and opposite the enemy queen, but why in some lines it's Rac1 and in others its Rfc1 is puzzling me)

Watson does not really touch endgames in this book. He mentions them in passing, and implies memorizing endings is useful. I agree to a point. For winning games, again I like Silman's method (his book Complete Endgame Course, which I highly recommend). But memorizing rare endgames can teach one much about chess that will help in other areas. The B+N checkmate for instance should help with seeing knight moves, even though Silman does not include it in the book, because it is so rare (twice in tournament games for me in my life, once on each side)

Watson's book is important, and a good read, but wait till you are knocking on the door to expert to read it.

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