[This review first appeared in Westward Ho!]
The Modern Chess Self-Tutor
David Bronstein, tr. Ken Neat
ISBN 1-85744-136-2 Cadogan, 1995
I buy chess books for instruction, for reference and for entertainment. This book I judge falls most neatly into the last category.
Readers will recognise the usual Bronstein style - unconventional, entertaining, chatty; if you enjoyed the 200 Open Games anthology this will also suit you. However, I doubt if the author had a very clear idea about who he was writing this book for, since the topics and examples range from the trite to the magnificent.
The blurb on the back says that this book "is not a self-tutor in the conventional sense, where the basics of the opening, middlegame and endgame play are drily explained. Instead the author engages in a frank conversation with the reader..."
It's all very interesting but can appear loose and self-indulgent. For example, Bronstein takes a page (17) to muse about why, after 1. e4 e5, it is most common to play 2. Nf3, without really answering his own question to my satisfaction. There are even places where Bronstein just wanders off into anecdotes about, say, buying second-hand books with Spassky in South America (p.108).
Obviously, most of the text is a bit more focussed than that - Bronstein is usually both eloquent and engaging - but although the Chapter headings are enticing (The Strengths And Weaknesses Of The Position, Coordination Of The Pieces, etc.) they are not given a lot of analytic bite. The many examples given are all nice, but occasionally fit the text poorly, in my view.
For example, on page 51 Bronstein offers: "Everyone knows which piece so frightens the Black King - the White Queen's Rook, awaiting its hour in the corner." This is a pleasing aphorism. However, the next example given was:
1...Rxa1! 2. Rxa1 Bxd4 3. Rxd4 Nxb3 4. Rxd6 Qxf2!
since 5. Qxb3 allows a choice of either
5...Qxg3/6...Qxd6 or 5...hxg3+ mating.
It's a fine achievement from the youthful Bronstein but does it really clarify the point about attacking with Rooks? Recently I showed this game down at the club:
Whiteley - Agnos [A52] 1994
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 Ng4 4. Nf3 Bc5 5. e3 Nc6 6. Be2 O-O 7. O-O Ncxe5 8. Nxe5 Nxe5 9. Nc3 Re8 10. b3 a5 11. Bb2 Ra6
"A hacker's paradise" - CHESS magazine
12. Ne4 Ba7 13. Qd5 Rae6 The Rook pauses to support the Knight on the half-open e-file 14. Qxa5 Bb6 15. Qc3 Qh4 16. f4 Rh6
We all knew that's where it really wanted to go.
17. h3 d5 18. Ng5 Qg3 19. c5 Bxh3 20. Nxh3 Rxh3 21. Qe1 Qh2+ 22. Kf2 Bxc5 Resigns 0-1 23. Bd4 Qxf4+ 24. exf4 Bxd4# 1-0
It's a poorer-quality game but in my view better instructional material.
In short, there is no sense that the book has been edited with sufficient vigour. You can probably get better instruction for your money from other books, whatever your standard, but if you fancy an interesting chat over some striking combinations with your favourite uncle, this is fine.