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28a_Korchnoi's "Practical Rook Endings"
Compiled by whiteshark

I own the German edition only, thus this collection is less detailed...

Practical Rook Endings By Viktor Korchnoi
98 pages, Edition Olms 1999

Reviewed by John Watson

"I'd like to begin by mentioning two not-so-old endgame authors and some references that the reader might do well to be aware of. Some years ago, Jon Speelman wrote two brilliant books called Analyzing the Endgame and Endgame Preparation. I should also mention Edmar Mednis, whose books on endings are the best thing he does. For general references, the Informant people have The Encyclopedia of Chess Endings; and ChessBase has several endgame resources, including tablebases which generate and work out every possible ending with a specified number of pieces. There are also a number of theoretical works, e.g., Averbach's 5-volume set on endgames. Finally, I really like Batsford Chess Endings, an older compilation which I hope you can find a copy of.

Having done that, it's time to get started! Korchnoi's Practical Rook Endings is short but fascinating. He begins with a review of "basic" rook-and-pawn endings, and then shows a number of practical endings from his own praxis, with incredible depth of analysis. In fairly small print and with few diagrams, he uses 4 pages on an apparently simple ending, 7 pages on an Adams-Korchnoi ending, and a colossal 25 pages on just one rook ending, his incredible struggle versus Karpov in their Baguio 1978 match. I should mention Olms' typically high production value, which justifies the book as a collector's item. Clearly, this is a brilliant book, to be treasured by lovers of the game, but one that is well beyond the understanding of the average player. As usual, such real treasures can't possibly sell as well as the mediocre popular works. This one deserves to, although its $20 price for 98 pages will justifiably discourage potential buyers."

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Checkpoint (review) by Alex Baburin

Practical Rook Endings by GM Victor Korchnoi, 1999 Edition Olms, Softcover, Figurine Algebraic Notation, 98pp., $19.95

"We don't usually see too many books written by the world's leading players and when they do write, their works tend to be of a biographical nature. This makes this new book rather unusual, as Korchnoi concentrates on just one particular aspect of the game - rook endgames. Such endgames can be notoriously complicated and it's interesting to see how a player who has been among the world chess elite for decades tackles this subject. An extract from Korchnoi's preface will help to explain what this books is about: "I am a practical player, and what attracts me in chess are not the rules, but exceptions to them, which, fortunately, occur very often... Therefore I decided not to write a new textbook on rook endings, but rather to share my experiences with other players." This is a pretty clear statement. Now let us see how Korchnoi implemented his task and what a reader should expect from his book.

Although the book isn't thick, it has plenty of material in it, as its physical dimensions are considerably larger than those of the standard Batsford or Everyman offerings. Korchnoi starts with a part called 'An ABC of Rook Endings', wherein he gives 17 positions, which, in his opinion, readers should know well before they proceed further into the book. These examples are well-chosen and range from the well-known positions by Lucena and Philidor to the rather complicated endgame in Capablanca-Tartakower, New York 1924. The speed with which Korchnoi moves from fairly simple endings to very complex ones suggests that this book is not suitable for beginners. In fact, even experienced players may find it difficult to navigate through the mountain of chess analysis which Korchnoi provides in the subsequent six chapters. They are based around 14 endgames from author's own practice. I particularly like the ending Korchnoi-Antoshin, Yerevan 1954 Korchnoi vs Antoshin, 1954 (after 39...Rxa3), which Korchnoi discusses in Chapter One (See Diagram):

White: Kg2, Rc2; pawns - e4, f2, g3, h4
Black: Kg8, Ra3; pawns - f7, g7, h6

click for larger view

White to move. Such endings are very common and therefore many readers would benefit from analysing them. Here Korchnoi states that Black needs to play ...h5, while White should prevent it. Then he gives two diagrams which illustrate White's winning chances when he manages to play h4-h5. One comes from the game Capablanca-Yates, Hastings 1930/1931, while another is from Botvinnik-Najdorf, Moscow 1956. Two pages later Korchnoi shows how Capablanca's game ended, but he actually never gives the rest of the Botvinnik-Najdorf ending. I think that this kind of presentation is not good and that it will leave many players rather confused. Another difficulty with reading this book in general is the author's tendency to swing between the actual game and occasionally very lengthy analysis. The fact that Korchnoi sometimes goes on for a couple of pages without a single diagram does not make reader's life easier either.

At any rate, returning to the endgame Korchnoi-Antoshin. White posed serious problems for his opponent after 40 h5. Korchnoi shows that after 40...Ra5 41 g4 Black had to play 41...f6!, reaching a relatively easy draw. However, in the game Black defended poorly and eventually lost. Korchnoi devotes six and half pages to the analysis of this ending, producing a very nice piece of work from which many can benefit. I only wish that he would have presented his analysis and conclusions in a better structured manner.

My other favourite example from this book is the ending Ribli-Korchnoi, Baden-Baden 1981 Ribli vs Korchnoi, 1981 (See Diagram, after 33...Rxa4)

White: Kf1, Ra7; pawns - e2, f2, g3, h2
Black: Kf6, Ra4; pawns - a5, e6, f7, g7, h7

click for larger view

White to move. This is another very standard endgame which is of great practical importance. Korchnoi claims that with correct play White should be able to draw this position and suggest 34 h4 as the best move to start with. Later he provides a very interesting and deep analysis of this ending. There are over eight pages of in depth analysis of this ending! This would certainly appeal to many readers. Another attractive point is Korchnoi's highly critical attitude towards his own play - he does not try cover up his mistakes. For example, commenting on this endgame after 41 Ra6? Korchnoi writes: "Black's position - at this precise point - is won. I am ashamed to have to confess that during the break of one and a half hours I failed to find a win." Despite this, I again wish that author's presentation would be clearer and more methodological. I have a passion for endings, but even I find it difficult to follow this analysis.

To conclude this review, I would say that those readers who appreciate deep chess analysis in general and rook endings in particular would probably enjoy this book, despite all the "navigational" difficulties. For example, the endgame Korchnoi-Karpov (Bagio 1978, m/31) takes almost 22 pages in the book! However, be advised that if you are looking to improve your endgame technique and want to learn rook endgames in a systematic way, this book might be too difficult to learn from - the analysis is often too heavy, the explanations are not systematic and the presentation is not always clear. Korchnoi himself said in the preface: " is only born pedagogues and scientists who are able to write good books on chess." Korchnoi is a great player, but judging by this book he was not born a pedagogue! Thus, I doubt that this book will become "a masterpiece in chess literature", as its publisher 'modestly' claims on the book's back cover.

My assessment of this book: ***. ""

<My assessment of this book: *****. <<<<>>>>>

I added a few games from... <Learn from the Legends>

1. Kapitel, 1. Partie
Korchnoi vs Antoshin, 1954 
(E04) Catalan, Open, 5.Nf3, 70 moves, 1-0

1. Kapitel, 2. Partie
Korchnoi vs Tal, 1968 
(E50) Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3 O-O 5.Nf3, without ...d5, 59 moves, 1-0

1. Kapitel, 3. Partie
Korchnoi vs Miles, 1981 
(A15) English, 57 moves, 1/2-1/2

2. Kapitel, 1. Partie
Korchnoi vs G Borisenko, 1961 
(D28) Queen's Gambit Accepted, Classical, 71 moves, 1-0

2. Kapitel, 2. Partie
P Nikolic vs Korchnoi, 1984 
(E16) Queen's Indian, 54 moves, 0-1

3. Kapitel, 1. Partie
Korchnoi vs Van der Wiel, 1984
(D55) Queen's Gambit Declined, 49 moves, 1-0

3. Kapitel, 2. Partie
I Platonov vs Korchnoi, 1969 
(C05) French, Tarrasch, 65 moves, 0-1

3. Kapitel, 3. Partie
Polugaevsky vs Korchnoi, 1985 
(E21) Nimzo-Indian, Three Knights, 69 moves, 0-1

4. Kapitel, 1. Partie
Simagin vs Korchnoi, 1952 
(D91) Grunfeld, 5.Bg5, 66 moves, 1/2-1/2

4. Kapitel, 2. Partie
Ribli vs Korchnoi, 1981 
(A13) English, 57 moves, 1/2-1/2

5. Kapitel, 1. Partie
Korchnoi vs Karpov, 1978 
(D35) Queen's Gambit Declined, 71 moves, 1-0

5. Kapitel, 2. Partie
Korchnoi vs Csom, 1984
(D35) Queen's Gambit Declined, 87 moves, 1-0

5. Kapitel, 3. Partie
Karpov vs Korchnoi, 1986 
(D02) Queen's Pawn Game, 59 moves, 1/2-1/2

6. Kapitel, 1. Partie
Adams vs Korchnoi, 1993 
(C07) French, Tarrasch, 64 moves, 1-0

Marin: Learn from the Legends
Korchnoi vs Portisch, 1983 
(A17) English, 55 moves, 1-0

Marin: Learn from the Legends
Rubinstein vs Lasker, 1909  
(D30) Queen's Gambit Declined, 40 moves, 1-0

Marin: Learn from the Legends
Rubinstein vs Alekhine, 1911 
(D15) Queen's Gambit Declined Slav, 76 moves, 1-0

Marin: Learn from the Legends
Rubinstein vs E Cohn, 1907 
(D00) Queen's Pawn Game, 56 moves, 1-0

18 games

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