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Book Review: Studying Chess Made Easy

Studying Chess Made Easy (Andrew Soltis)

Most chess books are opening manuals. Why? They sell. Tournament players--myself included--perpetually believe that they're one monograph on the Najdorf, Alekhine, or Ruy Lopez away from chess mastery. After all, memorizing a new variation is much easier and more fun than than annotating games, reviewing thematic pawn breaks, and grinding through repetitive tactics training. In this sense, opening books are win-win: authors don't have to deal with the difficult question of improvement and readers can scratch their chess itch without worrying about the fact that they've had roughly the same rating for three, five, or even ten plus years.

Worse yet, there's not much new to say in a chess improvement manual. It all boils down to hard work, and the vast majority of guides cover the same bases: study tactical and positional patterns, intensively analyze your own games, and study master games. While these points are by now a bit stale, they're also true. The question is how a book can help the reader enjoy often painful process. Rarely does a book as inventive as Jeremy Silman's Reassess Your Chess or Jonathan Tisdall's Improve Your Chess Now come along.

Andrew Soltis' Studying Chess Made Easy is one of those books. Soltis provides practical advice for implementing the standard theoretical approach to chess improvement outlined above. He doesn't just tell the reader to analyze master games and provide a few annotated examples, he explains how one should select a book of games to study; he stresses the importance of books that provide verbal annotations rather than endless lists of sub-variations. He even provides questions players should ask as they go through top-level games. Soltis doesn't just tell you to study tactics, he provides a list of useful tactics books and pieces of software. Even Soltis' discussion of opening study is useful. While I think that an improvement book should de-emphasize the importance of studying openings, lest we never escape the "I just need to memorize one more line of the Richter-Rauzer before I'm a master" mentality, Soltis' provides a pretty good practical guide to opening study. Again he stresses the importance of books that describe the themes and ideas of an opening rather than providing an avalanche of analysis. Also, if you hate endgames, read Soltis' endgame chapter. He agrees that most endgames go down like cough-syrup, but has some great advice on how to make them bearable.

In emphasizing concrete steps players can take to improve, Soltis has produced a real gem. While studying chess isn't exactly made easy--there's still a whole lot of hard work involved--Andrew Soltis has certainly made studying chess more practical.