Reviews | January 28, 2010 19:38

Review: Revolutionize Your Chess

Revolutionize your chessHere's a confession: I've had Viktor Moskalenko's latest book Revolutionize Your Chess in my possession for weeks already, but I've been reluctant to review it. The reason, quite simply, is this: I don't like it at all.

I loved Moskalenko's previous work, The Flexible French, hands down. I positively reviewed it back in 2008, and I also rather liked his book on the Budapest Gambit. This time, however, Moskalenko has written a completely different kind of book - a much more ambitious kind of book, to say the least. On the cover we read that this book is 'a brand-new system to become a better player'. Now, I don't know about you, but whenever I hear the word 'system' together with the words 'to become a better player', I tend to turn sober right away and put on my most sceptical glasses. Haven't we heard such claims before, and haven't authors learned from the past? Apparently not. Well, as the saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, so let's just see what Moskalenko's got up his sleeve.

By the way, what's with all these 'improve your chess' books recently? It's almost as if all modern chess titles focus on the improvement of the reader, of you, rather than on providing amusement and interesting stuff. I think this is a misunderstanding of many reader's motivations to buy books. I, for one, am not at all primarily interested in improving my chess by means of chess books - I read them because they tell me something interesting, not because I want to score points. The most important thing is to enjoy chess, no? Improving is only of secondary interest to me, but hey, that's just me of course. More importantly, I think improving one's chess can be achieved by studying any chess book seriously. As far as I'm concerned, this doesn't have to be mentioned in the title time and again.

Anyway, back to Revolutionize Your Chess. First, I would like to invite you to read the first few paragraphs of the book's foreword in full. Then, I will comment upon it.

Thanks to decades of research and the development of computer programs, chess theory is quite well developed as far as the opening and the endgame are concerned. Still, once they have reached a certain level most players fail to make real progress. They focus their study on openings, a limited amount of strategic themes and classical tactics in the middlegame, and a collection of standard endgame themes. Which means that they do not understand much of what they are doing when they are sitting behind the board themselves, facing real chess problems.

How can this be? The answer is quite simple: the general rules of the game have not been discovered yet. Famous chess researchers have developed various systems which have been universally accepted in the chess world. But these systems are highly theoretical and often not very realistic. We need a modern, dynamic system. And I intend to offer you one in the present book.

Frankly, I find this introduction amazing. Amazingly silly, that is. If, as Moskalenko claims, the general rules of the game have not been discovered yet, how come there are thousands of grandmasters adopting them, tens of thousands of IMs who play well above the level of the 'most players' Moskalenko intends as his audience? How did all these very strong players acquire their current or past level of play without these 'general rules of the game'? Apparently, they're all doing fine without Moskalenko's new system! Even if we grant Moskalenko the idea that these players, too, have still not grasped the 'right' system, or that they somehow 'intuitively' acquired it, how to explain why some players did 'get' this intuition and others didn't? I hope you see the logical trap Moskalenko has set for himself on the very first page of the book. It makes his task for the other 340 pages considerably more difficult.

But let's not waste time with this introduction, which may, after all, have just been a commercial stunt. (Disappointing all the same, since I expect a more honest approach from the New in Chess editors.) More interesting are Moskalenko's ideas about the history of the present 'general rules of the game', even if they, too, are hopelessly flawed. After introducing the well-known Elements of Steinitz (and, later, of Alexander Kotov), with its 'permanent and temporary advantages', Moskalenko mysteriously writes:

These elements are in general quite useful in practical play, and the list has not changed much in chess literature until today. However, I think that the main problem of Steinitz's theory is that there is not much of a mention of dynamic chess, where the key rule is: to give checkmate! In fact, in dynamic chess, many permanent advantages become temporary, and temporary advantages may become permanent at any time.

I've puzzled over this statement for quite some time, especially the part about temporary advantages becoming permanent, but I failed to understand it. My conclusion is that it's either truly brilliant or truly stupid. I mean, isn't it a characteristic of a temporary thing to be able to change into, well, something else - say, something permanent? For instance, according to Moskalenko, one of Steinitz' temporary advantages is 'bad piece position of the opponent'. Surely Steinitz understood that if the position of a bad piece didn't change during the game, it could become a permanent disadvantage? Shouldn't we give that credit to the first World Champion? I think we should.

Of course, I acknowledge it's entirely possible that it's just me who doesn't understand what Moskalenko is up to here. Perhaps his theory makes perfect sense to grandmasters and not to amateurs. Or it makes perfect sense to people who don't like to think things through that much. After all, I like to see myself as a philosopher, too, and perhaps I'm just looking for problems that really aren't there? But in that case, what kind of audience did Moskalenko have in mind, and shouldn't he have done more effort to be a little more explicit in what he means, especially given the ambitions he has clearly expressed? 

And it gets worse. While describing Emanuel Lasker's six general rules of attack and defence - based upon Steinitz' - in Lasker's Manual of Chess, of which the first rule is: 'In chess only the attacker wins', Moskalenko writes: 'My problem here is that what Lasker explains are philosophical concepts. What can you do with these ideas concretely, when you're sitting at the board?'
This sounds fair enough (if still a little vague), but look at what Moskalenko wrote just a few paragraphs back: 'the key rule is: to give checkmate!' How is this more practical than Lasker's rule that in chess only the attacker wins? Also, what to make of Moskalenko's previous statement that 'Steinitz' elements are 'quite useful in practical play'? If the rules work in practical play, how can they be too philosophical? I don't get it.

In the last paragraph of the foreword, Moskalenko promises to 'make an attempt to systemize this dynamic approach to our game'. But in fact no such systemization is made in Revolutionize Your Chess at all. What Moskalenko does - and, fortunately, often quite well - is explain what chess skills a complete player needs, and what elements may play a role in determining these chess skills, and the ability to make good evaluations during practical play.

First, there are the 'Chess Skills'. Moskalenko mentions opening knowledge, endgame knowledge and middlegame knowledge (which consists of strategic and tactical skills) and then mentions tactical and strategical skills again as separate skills. The sixth skill he mentions is 'Basic Knowledge of the Chess Rules'. This 'chess rules knowledge', Moskalenko explains, again include tactics and strategy. Rather confusing, if you ask me.

Of slightly more interest are Moskalenko's six 'Personal Skills': memory, disposition (the will to win), psychological skills, physical condition, discipline and concentration. Indeed these are useful and very important skills; still, identifying such skills is hardly original, let alone 'revolutionary', since it's been done many times before by authors like Mark Dvoretsky, Jonathan Rowson and Alex Yermolinsky, to mention just a few recent ones. 

In the next chapter, Moskalenko elaborates on the 'general chess rules' mentioned before. He introduces his 'dynamic system with Five Touchstones', the core of the book, as follows:

This 'pragmatic style' [by the Soviet School, led by Botvinnik - AWM] considers the classical chess laws in a more dynamic way. Advantages may change during a game, or may even be overruled by an endangered position of the king, or by the factor which has thus far been neglected in theoretical works: Time. This dynamic factor should be included in any chess system if we want to call it conclusive.

And sure enough, the author lists 'Moskalenko's Five Touchstones' of dynamic chess as follows:

  • T1 Material
  • T2 Development
  • T3 Placement of Pieces and Pawns
  • T4 King Position
  • T5 Time

Again, Moskalenko stresses that a chess player should especially 'sense when the factor time (T5) is prevalent, in order to get a firm grip on the key moments of the key moments in the game.' But doesn't this all sound very, very familiar to you? Fans of Jonathan Rowson will no doubt recognize the five 'dimensions in chess' from chapter 7 of his book Chess for Zebras (material, opportunity, time, quality, psychology). Note the inclusion of 'time' in Rowson's list. Tellingly, Moskalenko's bibliography does not include Chess for Zebras, but we could forgive Moskalenko for this were it not for the fact that this talk of 'dimensions' - including a 'Time' dimension - in chess is not at all Rowson's invention but ... Garry Kasparov's.

As Rowson had already discussed in an even earlier book, The Seven Deadly Chess Sins (talk about listing elements of chess!), Kasparov thinks of chess as a game of three dimensions: Material (piece value), Quality (positional features) and Time (initiative). In The Seven Deadly Chess Sins, Rowson even adds another 'Time' dimension to this list: time on the clock, or 'ticking time'. The details are of no concern to us now - what is, is that Moskalenko is apparently unaware of this discussion, nor of the fact that Robert Hübner has discussed (and demolished) Kasparov's dimensions theory as well (in ChessBase magazine, 2003). Particularly, Rowson writes in Chess for Zebras:

Hübner argues, convincingly, that Kasparov's tiradic conception is incoherent because the three different dimensions collapse into each other: 'Time' and 'Material' are relevant only in so far as they are 'Quality'. Hübner expresses this by saying that time is a dynamic factor, while material is a static one, but the only way the importance of these dynamic and static features can be assessed is by their relevance to quality, and then cease to operate as distinct dimensions. (...)

Time is sometimes absolutely vital, and a single tempo can make a decisive difference, but sometimes Time is completely irrelevant, and having lots of extra tempi doesn't matter at all. So 'time' doesn't exist on the chessboard in any unitary way, because the value of one move varies enormously.

Rowson discusses the various aspects of these concepts in great detail, agreeing with Hübner as saying that 'the significance of these expressions for the description of chess structures has been overestimated because they can be applied in every situation', but at the same time conceding that such an approach can have 'considerable pedagogical weight'.

Again, let's not go into too much detail - what's important to note is that Moskalenko's discussion on his own elements is extremely simplistic by this standard. (What about Moskalenko's touchstones 'collapsing into each other'? Can't they, too, be applied in almost any situation?) And this is especially painful because Moskalenko boasts that 'in most books about chess rules the concept of Time is simply ignored, and in practice their chess laws do not work - or do not make much sense - for this precise reason.' He fails, however, to see that perhaps they fail in practice precisely because concepts like Time and Material (and indeed all other 'touchstones') are such tricky philosophical ideas in the first place.

Summing up my problems with the theoretical part of Revolutionize Your Chess, I conclude that:

  • Moskalenko attacks a strawman when he says the current models do not work well in practice;
  • the suggestion that previous models were 'too theoretical' is demonstrably untrue;
  • the concept of breaking down chess into five dimensions or 'touchstones' is not 'revolutionary' at all;
  • Moskalenko's model (and just about all other theoretical concepts he introduces) invites a host of philosophical questions not addressed in the book;
  • while accusing others of failing to provide a 'theoretical framework', Moskalenko's system, too, is just a list of basic elements that can mostly be found in any good book on how to improve your chess.

Let's now turn to the practical application of Moskalenko's theory in analysis and game situations. Moskalenko is a great chess instructor and, as always, he chooses his examples well.  No doubt they are interesting, as was obviously the case in his previous books. But in the current book, the comments are often needlessly confusing because Moskalenko wants to include his touchstones all the time. Consider the following typical example:

Moskalenko-Barria, Bilbao (rapid) 2005

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Na6?!

Revolutionize your chess

Black develops his knight in a strange fashion. The idea ...Na6-b4 must be wrong, as it wastes two tempo (-T5 and a delay of T2) in the opening.

6.e4 Bg4 7.Bxc4 Bxf3 Black spends two more tempi (-T5 and -T2) to trade B x N.

8.gxf3 But in exchange he gets a better pawn structure (-T3 for White).

8...Nb4

Revolutionize your chess

The key position of this opening. Now White can choose.

9.d5!? The signal for dynamic play! I chose this ambitious advance in order to fight for space, hindering the development of the black kingside at the same time (T3 versus T2). Of course, after the natural 9.Be3 White has better chances, but after 9...e6 the position is quite blocked, and it will not be easy for White to exploit his lead in development.

9...cxd5? This might be the decisive mistake, since it weakens b5 (threat Bb5+) and therefore the king's position (-T4). But what to play? The best solution was the dynamic counter 9...e6 10.dxe6 Qxd1+ 11.Kxd1 fxe6 12.Be3 +=.

First of all, all these T-numbers look extremely distracting. I kept leafing back to the page where the touchstones are listed to see which T is which, disrupting my concentration. Moskalenko himself admits this on the following page when he says that 'keeping score on all the touchstones throughout the game is hard, if not impossible', but then assures us we will acquire an intuition for it in due course. (By the way, recall what I said about having fun reading chess books. Did you enjoy all these T's?)
However, I seriously wonder how it helps me to know that the manoevre Na6-b4 is a minus T5 and T2, if I know it's such a common way to develop the knight in many other Slav lines? What makes the current situation different from, say the line 5....Bf5 6.Ne5 Na6!? as played by Kramnik? Indeed, isn't 6.Ne5 in this line also a -T5 and a -T2, since after all it 'wastes a tempo', and why, then, is it the main line in the Slav all the same?

Another huge problem in just this one example is Moskalenko's use of the word 'dynamic': he considers both 9.d5 and 9...e6 to be dynamic, but fails to give any reasons as to why he thinks this is the case. And wasn't this precisely his problem with older methods - that they failed to define and realize the concept of 'dynamics'? And even if we would have a definition, what use is dynamic play when the alternatives, such as 9.Be3, are sometimes better objectively? Shouldn't we learn to play the best moves first?

Okay, perhaps I'm reading way too much in this one example. To be sure, there are better examples in the book, but they all suffer from the same illness: too much focus on the touchstones for the sake of the touchstones only. I'm sure you can improve your chess if you study the examples closely - but then again you can also learn a lot from studing the examples of any other good chess book that offers good explanations.

On top of that, there are numerous other flaws in the book. Moskalenko's big chapter on the Opening features examples from 1.d4 openings only - bummer for 1.e4 players who thought they were being 'dynamic' by opening with the king's pawn! (In fact most examples from the chapter on the middlegame are also taken from 1.d4 openings.)

Finally, it struck me that, unlike an author like Lars Bo Hansen, Moskalenko mainly uses his own games as illustration to a specific topic when he's winning them. For me, this was the final nail to this book's coffin. Don't get me wrong, Viktor Moskalenko seems like a sympathetic author and he sure is a respected and very strong grandmaster, but in this book he comes across as a bit of a show-off who pompously presents his 'revolutionary' ideas whithout any kind of self-reflection and knowledge of chess-philosophical matters. The book does contains good stuff, but I liked the Viktor Moskalenko of The Flexible French much, much better. I hope he returns soon.

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Arne Moll's picture
Author: Arne Moll

Chess.com

Comments

Markus Domanski's picture

First of all, I do not know the book in question. Nevertheless, after this review it feels like I have read it already. There is another book that claims to provide a systematic approach to chess and that is "The Method in Chess" by Josif Dorfman. He also lists factors in the order of importance. Those are:

1. King position
2. Material
3. Endgame with queens off the board
4. Pawn structure

This is a book that I used to recommend, and I have written many reviews on books myself, but now it dawns to me that it suffers from a similar problem. If the position of the king has the highest value and can overturn all other factors, then you need to know positively if you have attacking chances (?!?!) or not. This opens the door for playing in an irrational way like Tal and making "sacrifices" only when you can see the forced win like Botvinnik.

In the end maybe these factors are not meaningless after all. Evaluating them correctly equals playing strength. Better players make better evaluations and that is what chess is all about. These factors are a guideline what to think about, but you still have to find the best moves and make the best evaluations all by yourself.

Finally, I want to mention a russian IM who claims to have found a "method" and that is Alexander Shashin. He even has it down to a point count (remember the old book by Horowitz/Reshevsky?) We have to wait until Shashin puts his ideas in print...

Rick Massimo's picture

I only browsed the book in a bookstore, so I can't comment as thoroughly as this review does, but it did strike me as a collection of well-annotated games with a huge terminology hastily constructed around it in order to call it a "system." I didn't see any principles of chess that I didn't already know (although of course my ability to execute these principles is sorely lacking).

erevnitis's picture

@Arne Moll

As I said I 'm waiting for the book to arrive, so I don't know if it is good or not.

But for the specific moves in our example, a knight maneuver Na6-b4 loses time, while Nf3-e5 does not! This is because in the second case white plans to occupy the center with f3-e4 gaining a tempo back by attacking the Bf5.

Maybe you 're right that the explanations are insufficient though...

EJ Wagenmakers's picture

@Arne,

I don't speak any Spanish, but I hazard to guess that you take issue with the phrase "idiotas y marionetas"? I agree this wording is a bit strong , but it should not come as a surprise. Surely you realize that harshly criticizing someones book is like insulting someones baby: clearly a much bigger deal than calling someone an idiot. You can argue that your insults are reasoned; in other words, you explained exactly why Moskalenko's baby is ugly. But this is little consolation for the father.

Let me add that I like your writing a great deal.

Cheers,
E.J.

Joeri's picture

I completely agree with this review!
I got this book as a christmas present and started reading it enthusiastically especially because of the supposed revolutionary content.
I put the book down a bit disappointed after about 100 pages.
It's a bit pretentious. Talking down about other playes systems or openings including GM Prié, while not giving anything concrete about how to play dynamic chess.
The book is ok, but definitely no revolution to be found in here. Also I think it is strange that this book has been shortlisted for the chesscafe book of the year.
Sounds a bit like the king's clothes fairytale.

Jo's picture

ouch!

Antichrist's picture

Revolutionise your speed reading might be a more apt title.

Can I have ketchup with my chips, please? I'll salt it with some philosophical gibberish, too.

Howard Goldowsky's picture

Excellent review, Arne. I'm so glad you had the balls to expose this book. You obviously did your homework. We got insight into other authors and related works. Fantastic job! I'm sure they do not pay you enough to write these things. :)

johnnyqb's picture

This is an amazing review. I agree completely, and returned this book for a full refund after spending a couple hours with it. It is baffling that it is a finalist for chesscafe.com's book of the year award. This does not seem possible.

erevnitis's picture

"Indeed, isn’t 6.Ne5 in this line also a -T5 and a -T2, since after all it ‘wastes a tempo’, and why, then, is it the main line in the Slav all the same?"

You 're joking right? If this is a genuine question then maybe you are not qualified for reviewing this book. Maybe the book, is bad I don't know, I have ordered it and I am waiting for its arrival. We 'll see!

Arne Moll's picture

No, it's not a joke at all, erevnitis, why do you think so?
The question was simply trigged by the quoted comment in the book, not (as you may think) by my lack of understanding of these moves. To elaborate a bit (I thought it was obvious, but apparently not): Nf3-e5 is a normal move in the Slav, of course, but so is Na6-b4 in many Slavs! Both knight moves 'waste a tempo' in that they move a piece for the second time in the opening. So what's the difference? Why does Na6 get a ?! and is Ne5 the main line? Well, the difference is specific, not general: the reason why Na6 is dubious in this particular example has specific reasons, not general ones as the author wants us to believe (by referring to his 'touchstones').
This is what Hübner and Rowson mean when they say such general 'rules' can be applied in all circumstances and are therefore meaningless.

British fan's picture

"Both knight moves ‘waste a tempo’ in that they move a piece for the second time in the opening. So what’s the difference?"

@Arne Moll Agreed. I like the Czech Variation, Krause Attack (D17) the best for Black, but it does the same thing with 6. ... Nbd7 and 7. ... Nb6. Rock on, Arne!

ron's picture

I hope that Kramnik will write a book about understanding chess. That would, at least during reading, provide us with some clarity in the mess of chess,

JM's picture

When the book was announce, I first wanted to buy it. However, for some reason I hesitated. There was not many information about this book, and I couldn't even find what the 'Touchstones' were. I decided to wait until there were some (p)reviews available on the web. Some time later, I found a preview. Unsurprisingly, my intuitive hesitation turned out to be justified. Your review accentuates that I made the right decision not to buy this book.

JM's picture

*announced

test's picture

I also cannot believe how this book was a finalist for chesscafe.com’s book of the year award. What does this say about the books that didn't make it to the list? Mind boggling.

I understand your reluctance to make a bad review, maybe preferring not to say anything if you cannot say anything positive.
But based on your review this book looks like it's a scam so there is much value in warning possible buyers, I don't see anything wrong with that.

Quote: "This is what Hübner and Rowson mean when they say such general ‘rules’ can be applied in all circumstances and are therefore meaningless."

That's not how I or most chess players that I know interpret these rules and it befuddles me why Hübner wants to make a big deal out of it or why he chooses to interpret them wrongly.
"A knight on the rim is dim", "Rooks belong on open files"; these are rules of thumb everybody knows, just like everybody knows that there are exceptions to these rules of thumb and that they don't apply to every single situation.

Even if the rule does not apply to every single position it can still be useful.
Example: when you have the choice between moving the rook to an open file or to a closed one and you cannot decide between the two; when after calculating many variations both moves seem completely equal: follow the rule of thumb; your chances of actually making the objectively better move are greater.

Or in other words: when in doubt: follow the rule of thumb, you'll have a better statistical chance of making the right move.

Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong; after all I'm not the world champion, so what do I know. (I'm not being sarcastic. ;))

CAL|Daniel's picture

very nice review. I was wondering what the differences between this book was and Rowson... you touched on that perfectly! it has persuaded me not to invest.

Coco Loco's picture

Arne,
Your articles are amazing. Amazingly opinionated.
Perhaps by "the general rules of the game have not been discovered yet," Moskalenko just meant that the "rules" that have been found are only approximations to the actual rules/laws governing chess. Think Newton's laws, only further from the truth.

Arne Moll's picture

That would be very well possible, Coco Loco, were it not for the fact that Moskalenko links his claim directly to the fact that a lot of chess players can't make progress in practical chess. Hardly the theoretical Newtonian point of view you want it to be.

Serdal's picture

I've got a question about the 'dimensions' of chess and it hasn't got to do with the book review (that I liked, thanks). It struck me already when I read it in Rowson's book but is the '3d model' of chess really an invention of Garry's? I feel I had read something pretty similar in Tarrasch's 'Das Schachspiel' (I don't know the English title, probably something like 'The Game of Chess'). Does anyone know something about it?

Arne Moll's picture

@Markus, Serdal: the idea to divide chess into different dimensions is indeed quite old already. I do not know who was the first to do this (it may well have been Tarrasch) but the concept is at least 50 years old: in 1956, R.N. Coles wrote a book called Dynamic Chess: the evolution and development of the modern game in which he mentions the following four dimensions: material, time, space and position. (Again, we see that time is included.) You can read something about it here. I do not know the book myself but the title is striking don't you think? To me, it is further evidence that Moskalenko really didn't have a clue when he wrote about these concepts.

Will's picture

The amount of books lately peddling a "method" or "system to improve is becomign a JOKE. When good authors result to these types of books it is a terrible sign.

I do wonder what Mark Dvoretsky thinks about this book since he was particularly unimpressed with Dorfman's effort. I guess publishers are playing on the general wish to improve within chess players to peddle recycled work and flawed "systems".

Will's picture

@Coco Loco

Newtons laws are of measurable and predictable effects. The value of gravity on earth do not vary depending on the mood of the earth nor some other body. Chess simply has variables that cannot be computed easily and hence no general formula that is always correct possible.

Onno's picture

I agree with the review of this book completely, it is as pompous an effort not seen since Iosif Dorfman's fruitless Chess System or some similar title I 'recycled' at the 2nd hand book store. Maybe the success and quality of his previous books has gone to Moskalenko's head and he's just out to reaffirm his status as a chess trainer, his main stream of income.

As a minor anecdote and perhaps illustrating lesser known side to Moskalenko's personality making him less ,,sympathetic'' than he previously appeared to be.

During last summers Catalan Open Circuit, a yearly series of ten or twelve open tournaments where the winner is decided on a series of results, Moskalenko tried to have GM Vladimir Burmakin disqualified for not playing the first round of the Sitges Open. Not disqualified from the Sitges Open itself, but from the whole 2009 Catalan Open Series. This might have resulted in serious financial damage to Burmakin, to the advantage of who else than Moskalenko.

As Burmakin had asked and was granted a bye in the first round of the before mentioned Sitges Tournament, Moskalenko's petition was denied, but it seemed to me a pretty sick thing to do to try to inflict damage on a competing Grandmaster on the ground of a technicality that is not even under the players' responsability but the arbiters or the organizing committee.

Anyway, Booo Moskalenko on both the book and his behaviour.

Arne Moll's picture

Another thing that bugs me about the Newton comparison is that it is very unfair to Newton. His physics is absolutely sublime and even without Einstein and quantum physics, Newton is an absolute hero. Steinitz and Nimzowitsch can really be compared to him! Yes, it's true Newton's theories didn't predict very specific physics but in general his theories of gravity were spot on and were useful to 99,99% of the world population. Moskalenko, on the other hand, seems to claim that Steinitz and Nimzowitsch didn't understand the general nature of chess and that this is the reason why so many people fail to progress beyond a certain level. This is of course total nonsense, similar to saying people in Newton's time 'didn't understand gravity' because Einstein and Bohr hadn't been born yet.

Joeri's picture

Well Arne, I'm glad you're an honest and critical chessbook reviewer. We need you!

Sometimes I get the idea that some people just put up a blog or website to get free chess books and then write something positive about a book without actually reading the book.

For example : the site of John Elburg is really disgraceful
http://chessbooks.nl/

Just some endquotes from reviews

Conclusion: Impressive read!
Conclusion: This book is a gift for every chess lover
Conclusion: This book offers you a lot of end game knowledge for your money!
Conclusion: Very important reference work on open lines!
Conclusion: A great read!
Conclusion: Extremely interesting also for the more experienced club player!

I just read the review of Moskalenko of Elburg. Nothing new there ;-)

This guy basically gets 25 books and dvds a month from chessbook/dvdpublishers and just puts up a load of positive BS on his website.
I myself have enough trouble getting through a chessbook in a month's time!
I don't get it why publishers still send books to these reviewers. They want to make money ok, but you want to release some good quality books as well I'd say? So why waste books on people who no matter what praises your book into the high heavens?

So again thx for the good work here at chessvibes!

Onno's picture

@ Joel

Elburg is a notorious idiot as far as chessbook reviews are concerned. I am pretty sure you are right and he just does these ''reviews'' to get free chess stuff.

Mark Hannon's picture

When I browsed the books , to my eyes the Moskalenko book looked a lot more interesting and well presented than the Improve Your chess With The Champions that Arne liked so much in his previous review. Maybe it would seem different on a deeper read.

Re. Jon Elbug's book reviews - yes he always gives everything a 5 star rating , so take that with a pinch of salt,but often the reviews are useful in describing sme of the contents.

octoberowl's picture

Very good review. I had a look at this tome at the bookshop the other day and having read the intro quickly put it back. It is indeed another one of these 'self help' books for chess (7 ways to get rich now!) etc. which are total tripe. Attempts to come up with a synthesis for someting like chess, a perfect system for improvement etc, are simply doomed from the outset. And entirely pompous.

If you are the sort who enjoys self help books, long on euphemisms and short on concrete value, then this is certainly for you. Long may it roost on your shelf. If you want to improve your chess, get a book of tactical exercises like Polgar's, and spend 30 mins a day on it for 3 months. Guaranteed improvement, and no 't's.....

octoberowl's picture

PS I am also shocked this thing found itself on the best 3 for the year at chesscafe!!!! Dearie me... The other two were not that great either though...

bird's picture

It seems Moskalenko dislikes this review:

http://www.zonadeajedrez.com/miscelanea/indeterminado/823-el-concurso-me...

He writes this about the review in a comment:

Estimado anónimo BlackAdder, he visto todas las criticas y son mucho mejores de la que indicas. Algunos puedes verlo desde la Web New In Chess.

La única crítica que indicas, ha sido una jugada provocativa por la Web Holandesa ''ChessVibes'', para perjudicar mi libro y ganar más votos a favor de mi rival de concurso, su paisano holandés. Típica jugada durante la temporada de ChessCafe, mejor libro del año. El hombre que hiso este vergonzoso review ha sacrificado su honestidad para ser patriota del país. No pasa nada, entiendo la postura. Ha publicado su escrito justo el día siguiente, sabiendo los finalistas de ChessCafe...
Desgraciamente, dicha critica ha provocado opiniones de marionetas tipo: '' yo no he leido libro de Moskalenko, pero estoy totalmente de acuerdo con reviewer''' etc.

Yo publico mis libros para los lectores intelegentes, con una mente abierta. No para idiotas y marionetas.
Para que sepas, cada semana recibo mensajes, agradecimientos los lectores de mi libro, desde todo el mundo. Son mejores criticos de libros, mucho más honestos!

Le doy uno de país Holanda:
‘’Firstly a big compliment for your new book Revolutionize Your Chess. It’s a wonderful book in my opinion. And this is not the most important, because there a lot of other wonderful books, but after reading this book I have the impression a learned a lot, which make me better as a chess player and strangely this is rare…’’ – a great Moskalenko’s fan.

Otro de miembro de Chesspublishing.com:
‘’Victor Moskalenko shows 3 important categories for an improving chess player:
1) chess skills
2) personal skills
3) evaluation of the position (solved by his “5 touchstones”)’’
‘’Finally with improving your skills you have to become better at evaluating positions – Moskalenko’s “Touchstones” is a nice and simple method.’’

Por último, pido a los admiradores de mis libros no caer a ninguna trampa y seguir con la mente alerta. Viva la Revolution!

Viktor Moskalenko

In conclusion he thinks his book is wonderful and the review gives a bad score because there is a book of an author from the same country as the reviewer, competing at chesscafe as the besk book of the year.

Arne Moll's picture

Hi bird,

I've debated with creationists, cranks who think you can get autism from a flu shot and other folks with little capacity for reason, but I can honestly say that this is the least founded, most ad hominem comment from anyone I've ever seen directed against me.

If my Spanish is correct, Moskalenko gives absolutely ZERO arguments why he doesn't agree with me and focuses instead on some ChessCafe competition of which I had absolutely no knowledge until someone in the comments drew my attention to it. Moskalenko apparently doesn't know that ChessCafe has nothing to do with ChessVibes and that, though I liked Herman Grooten's book a lot (assuming this is the book he means), if anything my vote for best book 2009 would go to Jesus de la Villa's book 'Dismanting the Sicilian', which regrettably isn't even included in the shortlist. (Perhaps it gives you an idea of how seriously I take this competition.)

Let me finish by quoting what I wrote myself in this review about Moskalenko: "In this book he comes across as a bit of a show-off who pompously presents his ‘revolutionary’ ideas whithout any kind of self-reflection."

In retrospect, I guess in this sentence I should only regret the words 'a bit of'. The rest is self-explanatory.

Alfiliito's picture

Imagine a review of a pizza joint written by a food critic who begins by admitting that he hates cheese, garlic and tomato sauce.

By stating in his opening that he reads chess books for "entertainment," the reviewer is disqualifying himself from reviewing what is obviously intended as a textbook.

The biggest general flaw in most reviews of chess training materials is in assuming that one such item is intended for all chessists: this is like reviewing one shoe for its usefulness as a dress shoe, a work shoe, and as footgear for an alpine trek.

"Revolutionize Your Chess" resembles the works by writers like Watson and Aagaard that demand an investment in hard work by the reader: if chess did not require effort, we would all be grandmasters.

For those of use who put in an hour or so a day training with tactical exercises, analyzing our games (especially our losing games!) with Fritz/Rybka, and developing an effective opening repertoire while investigating the ideas that are still just beyond our reach, this book is a valuable resource if -- for no other reason-- stimulating creative thought about matters we tend to take for granted.

If, however, one is in pursuit of the equally valid goal of entertainment (after all, I seek to improve my game because it entertains me to win against the players who used to beat me!), there's plenty of books like "The Weird World of Chess" and other non-technical anthologies. But reading about Morphy's idiosyncrasies, Nimzowitsch's headstands or Fischer's foibles will do little to make one a stronger chess player.

The Chessvibe review reads --at best -- like a review of a World Cup match by an enthusiastic Foosball player.

Alfiliito's picture

I should have mentioned that I bought the book about a week ago and have found Moskalenko's articulation of the idea of Time as distinct from the concept of Development to be enormously useful.

Arne Moll's picture

@Alfiliito, your long argument is based on one simple confusion about the two states of mind any reviewer must have: his personal reasons for buying and reading any book, and his objective assessment as a book reviewer.
A reviewer may personally prefer reading John Grisham novels in his spare time, but that doesn't mean as a professional reviewer he can't do a proper review of Paul Auster and Jane Austen, as long as he's not prejudiced against those two authors, focuses on the book and not his own taste, and he knows his literature.

Amos's picture

The Moskalenkos statemant ("many permanent advantages become temporary, and temporary advantages may become permanent at any time) that puzzled you seems like a deepity (don't worry if you don't know this word, it's quite new):

"Deepity" (a word coined by Dan Dennett) - a statement that has two meanings, one of which is true but trivial, the other which sounds profound but is false.

Dennett talks about deepities here:
Short version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rg-4fmbpZ-M
Long version (I know you will like it): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_9w8JougLQ&feature=related

Alexander's picture

@amos: I don't think the statement in question really is so puzzling. If I understand him correctly, Moskalenko is trying to say that material and positional advantages, which are usually understood as pseudo-permanent, may dissolve into advantages of tempi. And the other way around: a good player can convert time advantage into a permanent one (he can capture a piece or set up a better pawn position).
I wouldn't say that this thesis qualify as a deepity (as strange as it seems, Dennet, Dawkins and evolution cannot explain everything), but it certainly is trivial to some extent.

Amos's picture

@Alexander I agree - in your interpretation the statement is trivial. Moskalenkos idea that seems to have puzzled Arne is that Steinitz somehow didn't understand this triviality and therefore Moskalenko has said something deep. Although, he hasn't. If you attempt a literal reading, you will notice, that what he says does not make sense. "Permanent" by definition is not "temporary" and vice versa. In fact, the statement, as written by Moskalenko, is meaningless. Moskalenko attemted to hide a trivial idea behind a poetic language, that allowed it to sound like a deep idea ("Wow, permanent is actually temporary and temporary can be permanent! Wow, how clever!").

Onno's picture

Moskalenko evades discussion of the matter at hand, i.e. the quality of his book, by calling the reviewer a puppet and a marionet and accusing him of ulterior motives, namely trying to influence the Chess Cafe Book of the Year award. All mr Moskalenko achieves with this is showing his pettiness and total lack of knowledge of normal colloquial proceedings, where people excange opinions based on arguments.

Instead Moskalenko just shouts ,,You don't like my book because you are a corrupt idiot!!" Really, really pathetic. Almost just as pathetic as trying to have GM Vladimir Burmakin disqualified from the entire 2009 Catalan Open Series for playing in the Sitges Tournament with a bye, for which not even half a point was awarded. But I'm sure mr Moskalenko is too busy manipulating the Chesscafe book of the year award with bogus votes now to respond here.

Icebreaker's picture

For some reason my previous comment was not posted, but nevertheless i'm posting another one.
I have actually read the ENTIRE book, i'm going to say that this book is quite excellent which includes Moskalenko's discussion of the touchstones.
First of all, it seems that Mr Moll has only read a portion of the book, which is perhaps why he avoids commenting on the later sections. As far as the touchstones go, i can see why Mr Moll dislikes this section. Despite the fact that i don't agree with him, i don't think anyone should not buy this book simply because of this section. Personally (as someone who is actually trying to improve their chess), i found it interesting that Moskalenko includes Time into his evaluation of the position. Whether or not his list of touchstones is entirely correct, he presents a new way of assessing the position something which he knows (and i know) improving players simply forget about (especially the TIME factor).

More importantly, the other sections are quite well presented. I personally think a discussion of the entire book is a precedent to actually reviewing it, since the touchstones part takes up a small portion. I believe this is a fairer review of the book:

1. The Middlegame section is quite interesting. I enjoyed the london/trompowsky section however i was a little annoyed that Moskalenko didnt decide to include more material on 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 e6 3.e4 h6 4.Bxf6 Qxf6.
2. The endgame section is good. It is a nice collection of his personal endgames which will serve club players well (some of them are even theoretical endgames).
3. The opening section is interesting. However, i think in order to include many chapters i believe the best option was to actually remove the chapter 5 with the botvinnik system since most of the analysis was printed before in Schandorff's 'Playing the Queens Gambit' and 'Dangerous Weapons the Queens Gambit' which covers the most theoretical lines. This was a bit annoying since i had seen most of the analysis before.
4. The chapter on the dutch defence is pretty good for explaining the trendy ideas. However, there is one important omission. Moskalenko doesn't present the plans revolving around 8.Qc2 and 9.Rb1 in the stonewall. This is interesting because he played a game with it, in Novikov-Moskalenko 1994 which includes this plan. Perhaps this was because the subtitle to the chapter is 'the authors best games'. This clearly wasnt a best game of his in this system, which is probably why he didn't include it. Also, you have to be prepared to play the french after 1.d4 e6!? (Moskalenko's choice) 2. e4!. Or, you have to do individual research on 1.d4 f5 since neither of these are presented in the book. That leads me to wonder whether he is embarrassed or he simply didnt have enough space (which is the reason i think he should have deleted the botvinnik chapter even though its interesting), or he is simply not good at covering the dutch. But i believe it was a combination of the first two since his books on the french and budapest were really quite good.
5. The chapter with 'attacking fragments' should have definetely been presented as puzzles. The 'exercises' in the explantory games beginning this chapter are not really exercises as the answer is literally right under the diagram which is the first place everyone looks.
6. The last chapter with the four pawns attack is really the best in the book. His inclusion of 8.dxe6 in the mainline is really useful, as this contrasts to semkov's work in 2009 with the crtical 8.Be2 exd5 9.cxd5 Re8 10.e5 dxe5 11.fxe5 Ng4 12. e6 fxe6 13. d6!? So, both can be used as your mainline or either mainline/sideline combination since you will be getting this position often against the KID.

In conclusion i give this book a 9/10. There are some annoying omissions as i pointed out earlier, since i don't really see the point of not including one of the mainlines against the trompowsky or what i now suspect is going to be the mainline against the stonewall dutch. Also, the dutch chapter doesnt include repertoire against 2.e4 or 1.d4 f5 2.Nc3!?, Bg5!?, g4!?, h3!? (since 1...e6 is his choice) so you will either have to buy his book on the french defence, or vitiugov's, or do some independent research which will take a lot of time. I think that he should have not included the botvinnik chapter (and presented more material on the dutch, trompowsky and possibly even transpositions in the four pawns attack after say 1.d4 d6!? or 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 d6!?)
However, this book is fairly useful in the sections it presents but i recommend the reader not to rely solely on this book. They really need to buy it in conjunction with other books perhaps his flexible french work and semkov' KID.
As for the discussion of the touchstones part, i think you should read it, but don't get too hyped up about it. Take it on board if you wish, or don't.

Jaanis's picture

I had a look at Mr. Moskalenko's bio - he is turning 50 in December! No wonder, friends want to congratulate him, give him an award or two. That is completely understandable... Such reviews are just spoiling the celebration! :)

JP's picture

I have studied many chess thinking systems and reviewed them at my blog http://chessthinkingsystems.blogspot.com/. The problem with any system in chess is that it works in some openings and against some players and fails against others. Moskalenko system of the five touchstones is easy to apply, looks comprehensive but can we calculate quantitatively and bring out a single (or two or three) best moves is the question. The criticism of greats like Steinitz, Lasker and others in the book was uncalled for. Those systems were developed in absence of computers and books at that time. So Arme Molls harsh criticism is justified. However, the book looks good and I have found the system easy to apply practically though results will come out later.

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