Test Your Chess Assess and Improve Your Chess Skills

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IM Steffen Pedersen, 2000, Gambit,
Pages: 160 pp.
Rating: 8

There has been a explosion of Chess puzzle and testing books of late, and it’s easy to lump and dismiss them altogether, but some have redeeming teaching value, and Test Your Chess does, indeed, provide a good mechanism to do just that. Unlike some puzzle books that present row upon row of puzzles or tests, the author has chosen to present two different types of exercises to utilize. This is a good idea – some players are better than others at finding examples from specific positions, while others are better in general in finding plans and carrying them through. By blending differing types of exercises, players are more likely to find material that fits their study and exercise needs.

In the first three chapters (dealing with the opening, middlegame, and endgame), Pedersen provides a diagram, some general discussion about what is going on in the position, and then asks the student to find a plan for one side or the other. This is a normal sort of puzzle exercise, but the author has done a nice job of selecting interesting positions that are not easy to solve and provide much instructional value.

In the openings section, for example, Pedersen focuses on utilizing a development advantage for five of the chapter’s 11 positions. He justifies this by explaining that it is his observation that many club players find this subject difficult to handle. From my work on these problems, I believe that many players will find this useful study.

The middlegame’s twelve positions start with four on the stock sacrifice with Bxh7+ (or its black counterpart, ….Bxh2+). This “Greek gift” arises in many openings and middlegame positions, and both the attacking and defending side must be able to determine when it is (and isn’t) appropriate. The rest of the examples deal with typical attack and defense positions and concepts.

The endgame section actually has the most tests of any of the chapters – something of a welcome change from many puzzle books. Its 18 tests are split among the concepts of pawn endings, opposite colored bishops, rook endings, and technique. As with many of the examples in this book, these are not easy – in one instance, with rook and four pawns versus rook and three pawns with the pawns all on one side of the board, the defender is asked to improve Kasparov’s defense (in a game that he lost to Piket).

The solutions to the problems provide lots of useful explanation and analysis. Unlike some books, where the solutions are more or less cut and dried, the author has plenty of explaining to do, and he delivers. Most of the solutions require a page or more of text and moves, and there are multiple points that can be scored on each test, based on follow-up questions and just how far into the solution the reader was able to see.

After these first three chapters, which comprise about a third of the book, Pedersen presents 16 games in the solitaire method of chess study. Here, the player takes one side or the other, covers up the following moves, and is asked to select that side’s next move when prompted to do so. This is a useful exercise because the player isn’t clued into a “white to move and win” sort of move selection. They must analyze as in a normal chess game, and, when they do not select correctly, move on, become reoriented with the resulting position, and make a selection again. This is, of course, what a player must do in their own chess play.

The selections here are good examples of chess at a very high level. World champions and world class players the likes of Tal, Karpov, Korchnoi, Spassky, Topolov, Kramnik, Gligoric, Yusupov, Short, and Leko are among the contestants, but these aren’t all the same old chestnuts that can be found in other games collections. In that respect, I think most players will find new ideas and games worthy of study.

As with the earlier chapters, the author does a nice job of blending discussion into the given solutions, and he also provides additional bonus points for players who have selected the right move for the right reasons. Conversely, there are also consolation points awarded for other moves that, while not perhaps the best, are at least worthy of consideration.

Steffen Pedersen is a serious chess author whose previous works had been limited to books on specific openings. These were generally well researched and written, and this book continues that trend. The author’s serious approach suggests that this is primarily a book geared toward reasonably strong amateur players (or those hoping to reach that level). The book also includes the typically reliable production values from Gambit Publications – the paper and binding are good, the diagrams clear, and the lay-out appealing.

In conclusion, this is a useful teaching book that blends differing types of exercises to give the maximum amount of teaching value. It should prove helpful for serious players seeking exercises to help them improve their calculating and analytical ability.

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