GMs Lev Alburt & Nikolay Krogius, 2000, Chess Information and Research Center,
There aren’t many endgame chess books that seek to make its study practical and even somewhat enjoyable; Just the Facts is filled with color, interesting commentary, sidebars, and more than enough useful information to give it great value for the aspiring beginner to intermediate player who wants to get better at chess. Written by two experienced teachers (Lev Alburt, Nikolay Krogius profile), the book stays away from dry technical positions – the type that are often labeled “white to play and win, black to play and draw with the following exceptions” – and concentrates instead on the key concepts that a player must grasp to begin to make headway toward properly assessing and playing endgames.
The book starts with an important discussion of just what constitutes an endgame. The point of this discussion is to get the player to understand that the endgame is dictated by quite different rules than the middlegame and opening. Before one can begin to apply those new rules, one must determine that they do indeed apply. While this discussion may seem rudimentary to the stronger player, the authors are correct that this is a key building block for endgame knowledge that is often lacking in beginning to intermediate players. This chapter becomes a foundation upon which the following material can be placed.
The book then proceeds to discuss each of the pieces and the typical endgames that arise. It is notable that the authors start with pawn endgames. As they correctly explain, most endgames are decided by the ability (or inability) of one side to queen a pawn. Understanding this, it becomes clear that this is a logical extension of the beginning chapter on what is an endgame – once we’ve learned what an endgame is, we need to learn how it is generally decided.
The book’s method of dealing with chapters is sensible and well considered. After the chapter on pawns the authors discuss endgames with pawns versus pieces, which is a natural extension. Often endgame books group these endings with all others involving each respective piece. I think they share more of the characteristic of pawn endings than piece endings, and this is the best way to present them for this caliber of player.
There then follow chapters on the rook, knight, bishop, bishop versus knight, and queen endings. Also included are chapters on multi-piece endings, transitions, and miscellaneous endings. The book is rounded off by a short conclusion and a brief endgame glossary.
There are many things that I liked about this book. The authors cover a lot of important endgame topics in a way that will get the key ideas out to a broad audience without boring them or losing them in the details. One of the tools that they use is color. Unlike the typical black and white chess book, this one is liberally sprinkled with blue – type, diagrams, sidebars. The authors use the color to highlight key ideas, concepts, and positions, and I think it works. It is one more tool that the average player can use to determine what is most important within the book.
The book is also very appealing in its overall production. The print and diagrams are clear, and there’s a spacious feel to the book. Sure, the authors probably could have jammed the text closer together and cut down 50 pages, but I think the white space works for this particular book. There are also some nice pictures and commentary about endgame greats of the past. Coupled with some exercises, quotes, conclusions, and an occasional fascinating digression into a topic (such as the page on fortress building and maintenance 101), I think the authors have produced a book that will keep most players interested and engaged in learning about the endgame.
While I think this book works best for players of strength up to about 1600, I think there is value here for all class players. In comparing it to another highly touted book, Soltis’ Grandmaster Secrets Endings, I would prefer the present book for younger players and lower rated players. Soltis’ book, with its Socratic dialogue and humor may appeal more to older players or those a bit more advanced.
There are a few minor quibbles that I have with the book. First, this publisher has continued a trend found in the books of at least one other major U.S. publisher by placing material more akin to advertising or promos within the body of the work. We are treated to full page biographies on both authors, including the fact that Alburt provides various forms of lessons (complete with addresses and phone numbers; I almost expected to find a price list attached). While these pages are a bit much to take, I found it truly amazing that another entire page was spent on a biography of executive editor Al Lawrence. What’s next – full page bios of the typesetter and proofreader?
My final quibble is with the bit of hyperbole found in marketing this book. This (and others in Alburt’s seven part series) are heralded on the back cover as “the once strictly guarded and time-tested Soviet training methods, the key to the 50-year Russian dominance of the chess world. The Comprehensive Chess Course can take you from beginner to master.” I think that’s a pretty big oversell. I doubt that a beginner could make master with just the endgame material presented here. The book is good, but I don’t think it helps its cause by making such claims.
In conclusion, Just the Facts is an enjoyable, useful book that should make endgame study more accessible for the average player. It presents important concepts in a logical, thoughtful fashion while taking care not to overwhelm the reader. It is a good basic primer, and it can form a reasonable foundation for endgame study for most class players.