Saturday, February 19, 2011

Book Review - The Alterman Gambit Guide by Boris Alterman

If you want to learn how to be a swashbuckling chess player, you need to get The Alterman Gambit Guide by GM Boris Alterman. As the subtitle informs, this book is written from the point of view of the risk taking White player. This isn't a repertoire book. It doesn't claim that on the cover of the book, but you might assume so nevertheless. What it covers is very thorough, but what it omits is something you certainly have to deal with.

In the Danish Gambit, he doesn't cover the vastly most popular Declined Variation with 3... d5 (except to mention that it is best in the Theoretical Overview). Now this omission exactly suits the purpose of the book, how to play gambits, not so much how to deal with those players so unchivalrous as to decline a popular 19th century gambit. But if your expectations are different when you buy the book, you'll surely be disappointed the first time you try out your new gambit and your opponent introduces you to something you've never read about on the 3rd move. Alterman assumes that you can sew up your own repertoire. But he doesn't assume you know that a lead in development is a reason to offer the Danish Gambit, and he mentions it the first time by page 9. As we learn, a gambit is a great laboratory for discovering the general principles of openings.

In the Urusov Gambit, he doesn't cover what to do if you are move ordered into the Two Knights Defense. He clearly reminds you more than once that this is in fact the most common idea that you'll meet. So get yourself a book about that before trying this gambit on for size. But if your opponent accepts the gambit you'll have every tool you need to slaughter the guy.

There aren't many books around on the Evans Gambit. It is arguably the most sound of any popularly reached gambit. If you are interested in giving that a try, I'd call this book absolutely essential reading. But of course, you'd better make yourself ready for everyday things like Italian Game positions before giving it a try. A book such as the Italian Game and the Evans Gambit by Pinski can help fill in those gaps.

You will find a section on the Panov Attack, though I certainly didn't expect it. It's really not a gambit, but as Alterman explains it's a line that certainly must be played in the spirit and honoring the principles of a gambit. And it is popular stuff nowadays which is reached by a few different move orders.

There is also a chapter on the Cochrane Gambit! I'll admit it. I'd never heard of it until I saw it in this book. I dare you to find me another book with a whole chapter on the Cochrane Gambit! Ok, you can probably come up with one, but if it isn't already on your bookshelf then I'm sure it's going to take you a lot of research to find it.

Other opening lines included are the Philidor, the Morphy Attack, the Max Lange Attack, the Morra Gambit, and the Milner-Barry Gambit.

Of particular value are the What We Have Learned lists. Here you'll find things like a summary of a proper middlegame plan for the gambit, or mention of a common trap that you'd best not forget. Also, many chapters include a theory section that summarizes much of what is otherwise spread among the many games analyzed. And here you'll often find mention of transpositions that are possible and may not have been noted elsewhere.

Like me, I'm sure that the majority of potential buyers will be attracted to the book based on the author's great videos about gambits for the ICC. And they really are great videos. They are great to use alongside the book and many more gambits are covered by the videos. But I must tell you that some of the book is really a transcript of his videos. That's certainly good news if you aren't an ICC member. But even where this is true, he has added to the text with games he has played on the ICC which are not in the videos. So I don't see this myself as an issue at all, but again it is important to set your expectations.

In a few words, this book is great! Just at a glance, this book contains more words than chess notation, and it reads all the better for it. Boris strongly believes that learning to play the material and development tradeoffs of gambits is essential to the development of a player, and this book gives you plenty of that. And who can argue with the Russian school of chess? (Though Boris now lives in Israel, he first learned what every Ukranian schoolboy knows.)

Read an excerpt from the publisher here.

Find all of the book reviews on this blog here.

1 comment:

  1. Let me stand corrected about transposing from the Urusov Gambit to the Two Knights Defense. Most lines will transpose directly to the Morphy Central Attack in the Two Knights Defense and sometimes from there to the Max Lange Attack, both of which are in fact covered in other chapters of the book.