Review: Modern Chess Miniatures - Neil MacDonald

Modern Chess Miniatures by Neil MacDonald

ISBN 1 85744-166-4 Cadogan ?[[sterling]]9.99. 150pp inc. openings index

This is a most enjoyable little book. Miniatures are the most tempting of chess fare, tasty without being too rich, and MacDonald's collection includes a splendid variety. I imagine, in this database age, it's quite easy to collect and scan through umpteen miniatures, the added value coming only in the selection and commentary. Here MacDonald shines: he is keen to enthuse about what he likes and to explain what he understands. The games are arranged by themes, like play with rooks and typical mistakes. We are thus offered both entertainment and instruction, which (despite the evidence of our grades) many club players seek in a new book.

  There is more: Neil MacDonald is clearly a busy and interested young man, and throughout the book shares with the reader his anxiety about things that bother him, and his views on issues that engage him. So we have MacDonald's views on game annotations as moral fables, his discovery of Rubinstein, why "!!" moves don't always win, and a disputation with Plaskett on chess as a sport.

  I suppose inevitably there are flaws: the inclusion of two games from the 1890 Steinitz-Gunsberg match in a book called 'Modern', the abundance of Kings in the diagram on p.106 (not the only typo.), and the use of one too many chestnuts without checking the details. For example, the authenticity of the Gibaud-Lazard game ("Paris, 1924": 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nd2 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.h3 Ne3 0-1) is at least open to question. Also, one of Steinitz' losses to Gunsberg is called a "blunder" in the book, when, according to the account in The Middle Game by Euwe and Kramer, Steinitz was actually the victim of gamesmanship. Perhaps I'm doing here what MacDonald did, in relying on a secondary source I think authoritative. But other reviewers have had their own little lists of nitpicks, and it doesn't reassure the reader.

  I found more difficult to accept absence of a player index and the inclusion of so many part-games (e.g. giving a diagram and only moves 22-29). The book is attractively laid-out but to have so many without an opening in a book on miniatures is a definite loss, particularly when the complete games are set out with one move to a line, and so the space could have been made available.

  The two Gunsberg match games are in a section headed "a counterblast in favour of greed". All four games in this section are quick White wins in gambit lines, which go some way to weigh against everything he has just said about siezing material! I actually forgave him this: I remember reading Bronstein's 200 Open Games, in which he described the Italian Game as being "for players with fantasy, imagination, a thirst for adventure and a love of the unknown", then trotted out four games in the Giuoco Pianissimo, boring enough, as my grandmother would have said, to give your arse the toothache. You forgive this in Bronstein, because he is a pleasure to read, and to indulge him his views is no chore. And in the end, I decided, MacDonald's opinions are also worth it.

  A game that MacDonald might include in favour of his 'counterblast' in a second edition: Ackerman-King, Bern 1992. 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 Greedy? 4.Nxc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 d6 6.Bc4 a6 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Qe2 Bg4! 9.Rd1 e6 10.Bf4 Qb8! 11.h3 Bxf3 12.Qxf3 Be7 13.Rac1 0-0 14.Bb3 Rc8 15.Qe3 b5 16.Bg5 Na5 White is tempted to an over-aggressive line in order to justify the Pawn sacrifice. 17.f4?! h6! 18.Bh4 Ng4! 19.hxg4 Bxh4 20.g5 hxg5 21.f5 Nxb3 22.axb3 g4 23.fxe6 fxe6 24.Qf4 Bf6! 25.Qxg4 [25.Qxd6 Qxd6 26.Rxd6 b4] 25...Re8 26.e5 Bxe5 27.Ne4 Qb6+ 28.Kh1 Qe3 29.Rc7 Qh6+ 30.Kg1 d5 0-1


Dave Regis, 12-May-97