What is it? A collection of 90 middlegame exercises that present a critical position and challenge the reader to find the proper continuation.
Ideal audience: Improving players with strong self-discipline.
Pros: Stimulating exercises, clearly explained solutions.
Cons: The system that awards points for various answers could have been better developed.
When I started The Ultimate Chess Strategy Book: Volume 1, I was reading casually, figuring I'd scan the early problems, studying each for a minute or two, before quickly identifying the proper middlegame plan. I was especially confident since this book, volume one in a series, focuses on problems involving middlegame planning from closed positions - my specialty. I studied the first question, which featured a position in the symmetrical English. The authors provide several possible answers, and after analyzing the position for a few minutes, I found the answer. Or so I thought. When I retrieved the answer from the back of the book I realized I had things wrong. The explanation of the correct continuation was concise and illuminating. I realized that it wasn't a particularly tough problem, I just needed to focus a little more. I moved on to the next question, and found the answer in a couple minutes. Wrong again. Apparently, the problems aren't as easy as I thought.
The Ultimate Chess Strategy Book: Volume 1 is designed for intensive study. If you're looking for serious chess improvement, open the book, set up a problem position on your board (or computer), and analyze it for five or ten minutes. Once you've studied the position and settled on an answer, compare your thoughts with the authors' explanations. Resist the urge to check the answers before you've thought about the position! It might be more fun, but you will not be getting the most out of the book. The Ultimate Chess Strategy Book is for serious chess study.
Once you check your answer, you'll discover that the solutions are in-depth. Best of all, the games from which the exercises are taken are provided, with annotations. This is especially nice since the reader isn't left wondering what happens after the move the authors identify as correct. You actually see what happened in the game.
While I've stressed that the authors aren't spoon feeding the reader, I've come up with an enjoyable way of skimming the book. You won't get nearly as much out of it, but you'll have a good time. Since the authors have provided fully annotated games in the solutions section, ignore the exercises and head for the back of the book. It subverts the authors' original intention, like reading a choose-your-own-adventure book backwards, but it's perfect for the lazy reader.
The Ultimate Chess Strategy Book: Volume 1 is much cheaper than private lessons, and if you're willing to put in the work, it's just as rewarding!