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Review: The Art of Attacking Chess

The Art of Attacking

(Zenon Franco, translated by Phil Adams, Gambit Books 2008. 252 pp. Index of players; index of openings; bibliography; $31.95 in the US.)

Does this title sound somewhat familiar to you? Yes, I thought so too, as it immediately recalls that classic work of Vukovic, The Art of Attack in Chess. It's hard to believe the author and/or publisher were unaware of the similarity in title between the two works and the cynic might suspect that there is a deliberate attempt to capitalize on the well-deserved success of the earlier work. But reading the current volume, I was surprised to note that there was no mention of the Vukovic work nor is it listed in the fair-sized bibliography though The Second Piatigorsky Cup is included (from 1968, three years after the publication of the Art of Attack in Chess) so it's obviously not an issue of chronology or ignorance of the earlier era. There should be no confusion between the two books however- they are entirely different animals. Vukovic's work was a virtually encyclopedic collection of tactical middlegame positions from which general attacking motifs and patterns were dissected along with a number of "rules" and guidelines for dealing with attacking various structures i.e the castled king, the fianchettoed king etc. Although complete games were cited, the focus in the older volume was on positions that were, in the main, ripe for tactical exploitation and the successful prosecution of the attack. This current work is considerably less informationally dense, though there is quite a lot of information between its covers, focussing primarily on complete annotated games. The games are arranged in themed chapters such as "The Horwitz Bishops", "Exploiting Temporary Advantages" etc. The annotations, happily,do not feature overwhelming labyrinths of variations and subvariations, nor are they disappointingly lightweight either but strike a good balance for players below master level (such as myself) in the amount of detail covered, with sufficient diagrams (usually two or three per page) to make it possible to read the book without a chessboard.

Though I note the lack of similarity between the two books, I do not mean to suggest at all that Franco's book is without merit. On the contrary, this work, with its focus on how attacking positions can arise from the opening and manifest themselves through positional considerations, astute timing and carefully prepared buildups fills something of a gap left by Vukovic. The older work was less concerned with how attacking positions evolve organically from the preceding play than Franco's book is, though that aspect was certainly not completely ignored by Vukovic.The games themselves, featuring many recent efforts from Carlsen, Topalov, Short, Polgar and their ilk, are uniformly excellent as are their annotations. Since I am below master strength, it would be foolhardy for me to judge the quality of the assessments given by Franco but he is apparently a respected GM and I see nothing to indicate that there is anything amiss. On the contrary, (and based on my limited experience), Franco's instructive annotations seemed quite sensible and did a good job of illuminating the relationship between the positional and tactical aspects of preparing an attack. One nice feature of the book is the inclusion of several supplementary games to the primary 33 games that form the meat of the book. These games are also well-annotated and follow the same openings as the stem games. This allows the reader to see how the principles of attack change (or are reinforced) in similar but differing positions. Another plus is the inclusion of several exercises, a feature that would have been welcome addition to Vukovic's book, allowing the reader to think for his or herself and apply the lessons from the games. Although translated from Spanish (I assume), the prose flows nicely and there is nothing to suggest that this book was penned by a non-English speaker. All in all, I found this to be a worthwhile book especially for intermediate players, though perhaps stronger players can learn something too. If I had to pick between the two books I've compared here to accompany me to the proverbial desert island, I would definitely choose Vukovic's masterpiece, but if it was a roomy enough boat, I would certainly try to squeeze in Franco's book too. Recommended.

David Kane