The Illusion of Control

I was asked recently by a friend about how to avoid/limit time pressure. Rather than answering him personally, I thought I would answer him in greater detail; but share it with you guys.

From my perspective, time trouble is to a great extent a philosophical problem.

A common problem is that we try to calculate as far as possible or in other ways aim to be in control. We do this because we do not fully understand the nature of the problem we are trying to solve. If we try to keep control, to look for certainty, we will certainly over-think, over-calculate and so on.

On the other hand, if we understand that we need to solve a particular type of problem in a limited amount of time, we are better off.

In STRATEGIC PLAY I divide chess into four different types of decisions:
1) Automatic decisions – can be played within seconds

2) Simple decisions (Positional Play) – decisions that do not need calculation, but might still require some deep thinking to determine positional factors

3) Critical Moments – Positions where accurate calculation is needed and positional considerations are of limited value (often there are not too many of these in a game)

4) Complex decisions – what we also refer to as strategy. Where deep positional and tactical considerations intertwine.
I was talking to a famous grandmaster about his battles with the clock and he immediately recognized his problem as being in Category 4. This is where he spent too much time.

His problem was simply that he hesitated in making decisions.

For my friend, I think he was looking too much for control. I think he is calculating too much; trying to put lines on positional questions, where we instead have to trust our feeling, make our moves and save time for making more complex decisions later on.

I have played a few games in my life that were perfect; but obviously I made the right decisions for the wrong reasons along the way. There is no way we can solve all the problems we face during a tough fight at the chess board.

Calculating too much is a control issue – basically we seek to control things we cannot. And as a result we have too little time to calculate the critical moments that tend to come later in the game; and, ironically, then we cannot control the controllable either – because we have wasted our time…

124 thoughts on “The Illusion of Control”

  1. Jacob, thank you for this very significant contribution. I realized that for me somehow all decisions fall into class 1, 3 and 4. So I’m kind of ignorant of category 2. As a result I get into time trouble early on. Most likely a combination of perfectionism, lack of knowledge (i.e. insufficient study of transition from opening to the middlegame and lack of middlegame patterns). I’ll go over my past games and consciously try to assign each move to one of your four categories. It will be interesting to see how many category 2 moves I’ll detect.

    Thank you again for this wonderful series of training tips!


  2. “I have played a few games in my life that were perfect; but obviously I made the right decisions for the wrong reasons along the way. There is no way we can solve all the problems we face during a tough fight at the chess board.”

    This sentence should be imprinted in stone. It’s the most important sentence a chess player should read. You have to be very honest and very brave to admit that even your “perfect games” derived from “imperfect decisions”. Thanks for saying that Jacob.

  3. @wok64
    This is undoubtedly a good way to look at your games; but I would recommend that you go over them without analysing them deeply for this analysis. The point is how you see the positions, not how they look once a computer gets to them.

    Decision type 2 is the ones described in Positional Play. I already said that, but I really want to emphasize the value of this book. Maybe it is even my most useful book.

  4. @garryk
    “We should not forget that the opponent is also afraid,” is a great quote from Jonathan Rowson. We are all human and will not find rejection when we share our human experience…

  5. I would like to ask an off topic question. How viable do you think the repertoire of Marin’s 3 English books is right now(being 3-4 years old)? I’m thinking of taking up the English and studying them but would it be enough to just study the books or should I also do a lot of independent study with the database to support to repertoire and make necessary changes? Thanks very much.

  6. Reading these books will definitely do your chess a lot of good. There are some lines that have moved on; but the question is what your level is. If you are a GM or strong IM, you need to add something to this. If weaker, then probably you could play most of this without anyone knowing it. The main thing would be that you would understand the positions and the decisions you need to make from having read the books.

  7. Thank you very much for this series!

    I just started with the Calculation book and I like it a lot. It will take me a while to go through it and according to you even 25-50% longer than that. I was wondering if I should start with the Positional Play book too in the hope to improve both aspects of play simultaneously. Or do you recommend to tackle the books one after the other?


  8. @garryk
    If everything was online, we would do so. But destroying a few thousand paper books is not sensible business. And if we are not a business, we cannot do chess books.

  9. @Jacob Aagaard

    I’m reluctant to give away my best weapon against Marin’s repertoire but if you make a quick search on ICCF database you find out easily which variation is being crushed continuously in correspondence chess (I bet you already know the problem…)

    I understand your point of the paper books but why don’t make an update to sell together with the three (or two in case of Avrukh’s repertoire) original books? Fifty pages should be enough to cover the holes…perhaps you already did that in newsletters but I’m too lazy to integrate books and newsletters.

    Perhaps for Marin’s book the holes are big enough to dismiss any chance of theoretical edge…but I think nobody plays the english to claim an edge so this should be no problem.

  10. Talking about Avrukh’s two books on d4, which I like and use, would you then also recommend Schandorff’s two books on d4 as well? It is very tempting to order them for the autumn holiday as it looks as if the latter’s ideas are more aggressive and not mostly based on a bishop on g2. Furthermore, I very much like Lars’ book on the caro-cann. Does anybody have both sets of books and are they good if you like to vary your d4-repertoire?

  11. @Paul Brondal
    I have both sets of books (in fact I have the whole GM Reportoire series :-)). I think they are both great! I started with Avrukh’s books and thus started to study the Catalan. But I soon found out that the Catalan-type of positions don’t suit me well (not concrete enough for my taste), so I switched to Schandorff’s reportoire. I would adbice you just to pick the pline that suit you best. E.g. you could use Avrukh’s recommendation on the QGA and Schandorff’s on the QGD. Or Avrukh’s recommendation on the Slave (it’s much less theory) and Schandorff’s on the Grunfeld. Et cetera. I also use parts from Kaufmann’s book (especially the Benko with 12.a4). Against the Dutch, in my opinion Schandorff’s recommendation (2.Bg5) is both more aggressive and much more practical – much less theoretical) than Avrukh’s recommendation who follows basically the main lines with Bg2.

  12. @Ray
    Thanks, Ray. Just like you, I had thought of combining the two. Against the Dutch, I love Avrukh’s recommendations but against the KID, it would be nice to use for example the Sämisch variation sometimes. I will have to buy the Schandorff books too!

  13. Mr Aagaard, could you please tell me which lines need more independent work in Marin’s English books? No need go into detail since it would take too much of your time but more like “most of symmetrical English is fine and 1.c4 e5 needs work” etc(made that up as an example). Thanks very much.

  14. I too recall Marin assessing a certain position as strongly favoring White when in fact White is completely busted. Strange, since I believe that Houdini needed less than a second to realize this!

  15. @Daniel Peter
    Positional Play is positional, not strategic :-).

    They work in the way that once you have been through these two books, you are ready for Strategic Play. They are very different indeed, but we are used to making different types of decisions in chess when we play, so I think it should be ok. (trust me, its safe!).

  16. Wow I forgot about the “Updates & newsletters” section of the website. I’ve also found an update about the line that garryk mentioned. Thanks.

  17. @Jacob Aagaard
    I’ve checked the updates and newsletter, no mention of the line I’m speaking about. Very good, my secret weapon is still well hidden! 😉

    PS I give you a little hint, the problematic line is 1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Nc3 Nb6 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.O-O Be7 8.a3 O-O 9.b4

  18. @Jacob Aagaard
    Ahah! It’s not so easy…if the problematic line is so well conceived to escape Marin’s attention it will not pop up from a quick computer check…doesn’t Marin really know this hole? If he continued playing the english I’m sure he had to face it already…

  19. I am also prozd owner of all gm-Rep. Books and my favourite is still gm 1 avrukh. This
    Is simply the best opening Book ever written and the novelities
    There where played at the highest level.

  20. Marco van Straaten

    I have quite a bunch of GM Rep’s. My favourite is the Caro-Kann one. It seems to have more explanatory prose than the others and seems to be more thematically linked. Two features that I appreciate in repertoire books.

  21. @Jacob Aagaard
    You look sincerely puzzled…let me think a few hours if it’s wise to reveal it…it constitutes a significant part of my repertoire against the english…honestly I’ve already in my hand also the improvement from White side (and this I’m sure it will not be found by houdini as it’s not in his first 5 or 6 choices…). Just a question…if I reveal it to you, will you share with all the other readers? 😉

  22. Today I bought Chess evolution fund, beyond the basic and first book of fundamentals. I wanted to buy complete serie but local bookstore didnt have all the books :(.

    After first checking the books I must say its great to have them because there are some gaps in my basic knowledge of some positions with which I had problems to repair. Quality chess rules! Not interested in openings yet, first understanding, get to 2300 and than serious studing of openings :). Keep on good work.


    We will see where will it take me. In next month, my Elo will grow up tu 2080 thanks to Aaagards book Positional play combining it with McDonalds book Chess giants of strategy, performance aprox 2250, 7 from 9 games were against National and Fide masters :).

    One year plan – to study books from quality chess that are on this picture. Ohters like, Bologans Catalan and Chebanenko arent here on this picture because they arent Qulity chess but are also a part of studying plan.

    Thank You mr Aagaard for good work, the biggest minus is that the books that I bought at local bookstore is that they arent hardcovers :(.

  24. Jacob Aagaard :My favourite is GM 13 – The Open Spanish. It really is a wonderful book; very high level of analysis.

    I completely agree, and I have most (though not all) of them. I’d even go so far to say this is probably the best book on an opening I have ever had in my hands. Analysis is both deep and excellent, novelties and improvements right where they have to be (the critical lines are full of them), and also the coverage of the sidelines is very nice – having played the Arkhangelsk before I enjoyed the way Mikhalevski treats the boring 5.d3.

    I have taken up the Open Spanish also on corr play (2400+ level) and enjoyed the games and positions resulting from it. I really hope for more books from Mikhalevski.

    The quality of GM13 is a lot higher than Avrukhs Initial 1 and 2 and than Marins books, but these were excellent for another reason – they set the scene for a wonderful series at a time when such high-level repertoire books were not around.

  25. Hi Jacob,

    I wanted to ask you a question with out posting it for everyone to see. I am under master strength and am dealing with a chronic illness so I can not study chess as in depth as I would like at the moment. hopefully this will change very soon! I have 8 of 9 Artur Series along with Positional Play and Calculation from your Grandmasters Prep series. I would like these books to be the back bone of my chess training, I was going to get the next book Strategic Play, but was looking at the contents of Attack and Defense and realized that I don’t know much about attacking play but consider myself a attacking player, so I thought about what you said in your blog about studying what makes you happy or what you enjoy, at this moment being sick that is especially true. The parts of the game I find the most Fun to study right now are Openings, Tactics, and probably Attacking Play. I then decided I should probably also get your Attacking Manuals and for now study some openings, tactics( I have chess tactics from scratch and one other book that I like for this) and possible add some study of attacking play with your manuals. I was going to skip them and wait for the Grandmasters Prep Attack and defense, but I am starting from scratch with attacking play and a Grandmasters Prep book on the subject may not be the place to start. Although I will eventually get the book.

    So it is probably a very good idea to get your Attacking Manuals before I get Attack and Defense Grandmasters Prep, if I am new to attacking play yes?

    I thought that Attacking manual 1 with Positional Play and Tactics from Scratch would be a good place to focus my non opening study for the moment, do you think just studying these 3 books could give me actually improvement in my practical play. I am looking to improve of course but can not push myself to hard at the moment…And Calculation already looks very difficult so thought I might pause here and purchase your Attacking Manuals first, learn the material and only then move on to Strategic Play which I think I remember you saying was pretty challenging book, if not he most.

    Thanks for your time and wonderful books, blog and overall support for us chess players around the world!

    Best Regards

  26. I just copied and pasted the above message that I sent to Jacob privately but forgot to remove the first part of the question, oh well for all to see!!!

  27. @Jacob Aagaard
    Difficult choice… Quality has many aspects. If it comes to quality of the analysis and completeness, I think I’d have to go for the Open Spanish, but it’s a close call with Avrukh’s books and your and Nikos’ book on the Tarrasch. If it comes to verbal explanations I think it’s hard to beat Marin. So you could maybe argue that the 100% perfect book has not been written yet :-). Maybe if you look at both quality/completeness of the analysis and verbal explanation, the book on the Tarrasch is the best ‘ all-round’ book. But my personal preference is for quality of the analysis and completeness, so I’m voting for Mikhalevski. I hope he will write a companion on the remaining open games. Also, a co-production between Marin and Avrukh / Mikhalevski could be very exciting indeed!

    PS: I also like Schandorff’s book on the Caro-Kann, but to me it more fits the profile of his other books so in hindsight could have been published in the GM Guide series.

  28. @Michael Wilde
    Hi Michael,

    Thank you for posting this here rather than email me, as the question is relevant to many and the answer should be shared.

    Attack & Defence is a workbook. It does have quick explanations of the topics, but really, the understanding should come from Attacking Manual 1. So if you read the topics in AM1 and then go through the exercises in Attack & Defence, you will have a winning match.

    And yes, these books have a great potential to do you good if combined. It is a good selected and you can learn a lot from these books. This always depends on the effort put in by the student of course.

    Finally, and this is probably a little bonus point for you.

    Your illness does not have to be a hindrance for serious improvement. The importance is actually how concentrated and focused you are when you are training. One hour of quality training is far more important than four hours of half serious training. Look out for the blog post next week; it will be about one of my favourite topics – bending.

  29. A common error I make is after analyzing a long line, with a nice result, I ignore alternative options and play the move, thereby forgetting about candidates of the opponent on say move 1.

    As if I want to commit the analysis to disk by playing it.

    It could be I saw the candidate before I started the analysis of the long line, but by the end of it, I forgot (or think I do not have the time anymore) that I still had to check alternatives.

    Does this sound familiar to you guys?

  30. @Daniel Peter
    Again the number of positions is really not the important thing; the important thing is the level of concentration, the focus on removing consistent weaknesses you find in your calculation.


    Will GM Rep French Defence vol 1 and vol 2 be definitely out in October, and Playing the French also? I can’t wait any more!

    Besides, how come that in coming soon section there isn’t cover of volume 2 nor excerpts for this book and Playing the French also?

  32. @Jacob Aagaard
    Thank you Jacob for your reply, and especially the encouragement that my illness does not have to get in the way of my chess ambition as long as the training is done right. This gives mw much hope! And I look forward to next weeks blob on Bending as usual.

    Again thanks for your help in all of our chess development!!!

    I have the Attacking Manuals on their way, and am excited to dive into this topic!

  33. Someone posted earlier in this thread asking about which GM Repertoire book we think is the best one.

    I can’t say I have all of them. I have 1 thru 7 and 10. Here’s my take on them:

    1 and 2 – High quality, though I prefer the 3 books by Dean Ippolito. Yes, I’m well aware I’m comparing 1.d4 to 1.Nf3, but the Catalan is better explained with a lot more novelties in the Ippolito book.

    3, 4, and 5 – Very high quality books. Explains ideas better than 1 and 2. A number of sketchy lines, however. The sideline at the bottom of page 27 and top of page 28 of GM Rep 3 still bothers me. He acknowledges that computers don’t think highly, and that White is better, practically winning. With super-duper exact play, White can equalize. Otherwise, White loses if you ask me.

    6 – Probably the worst of the 8 books I have. It seems to be a mix of lines, and doesn’t really explain which ones mesh well together, and for someone like me that still to this day can’t make heads or tails out of the Najdorf, that’s not good.

    7 and 10 – I’m torn between these two as to which one is the best. 7 seems to be a little less in depth than most of the others. 10 is one of the best opening books I have ever seen. However, I’m not 100% sure how much I can trust it. Specifically, many of the 9.dxc5 lines. I know all the sources say Black is fine, but the system as a whole just doesn’t seem to “feel right”, like there must be something there for White that I’m missing. I’d also say the 10.a3 lines scare me more than the 6.dxc5 lines that they claim Black should be afraid of. I have played the Tarrasch a good 2 or 3 dozen times over the board as Black, but I’m still questioning myself about 9.dxc5. After 9.Bg5 c4, most of my games, even against players up to 150 rating points above me, for the most part, have been a joke. I mop them up off the floor, whether it be in an endgame with a passed c-pawn, or pulling off a …Nxd4 trick.

    So I’m torn between GM Rep 7 and GM Rep 10 as to which is the best. I think GM Rep 10 is the best written, but I trust GM Rep 7 the most.

    As for the others, I might get 11 and 13 at some point. Highly unlikely that I will ever get 8, 9, or 12 as I really have little to no interest in playing the Grunfeld or Benoni as Black. Not my cup of tea. I’d much rather play 1…d5, the Dutch (Stonewall/Classical, not Leningrad), or the Modern.

  34. @ Jacob / Ray / All
    I also like Mikhalevski´s The Open Spanish. I agree that his analysis withstand the engine evaluations (e.g. in comparison to Marin or Kotronias). Still a lot of variations are very critical.
    What I´m questioning myself is if it really makes sense to add the Open Spanish to my opening repertoire?
    Is it a repertoire to win against weaker players – as you have to in open tournaments? When I think about some of the resulting endgames – for example Bologan´s suggestion (Chessbase DVDs, see also top game Bologan-Giri, Bundesliga 2013) – I doubt that. I also think that Nakamura has used the Open Spanish as an ‘Equalizing weapon’ in his current game against Safarli, Tromso 2013.
    And then I also have my doubts if I´m able to defend some of the critical – perhaps still slightly, slightly better positions for White – against a stronger opponent.
    I should have added these thoughts to the ‘elements of surprise’ blog as the answer might well be to use the combined strategy and use different main lines in the Ruy Lopez (like the Breyer or Keres).
    I like Artur Yusupov´s way he selected the Open Spanish: “Every player chooses a repertoire that suits him. I like positions with an element of blockade. I am happy to fight against the strong e5-pawn; I blockade it and try somehow to ‘by-pass’ it.” (Secrets of Chess Training, Karpov-Yusupov, USSR Championship/1983.)
    Your thoughts?

  35. Patrick Sorry i agree ippolitos Book is Good but have you read gm 1 +2 ? In 2008 Most of avrukhs recommandation Were New and many of Jos novelities where played later by strong gm.
    I also think that gm6 was the weakest in the Series

  36. @Boki
    Maybe I’ve missed something, but who the **** is Ippolito? Is he by any chance the writer of Wojo’s weapons? I agree with you that Avrukh has been trend-setting in his books (fianchetto against the Grunfeld, revitalising the Catalan). I also think it’s not the number of novelties that count, but the quality of them. With today’s strong engines just about anybody can come up with novelties.

  37. Here is my take on to which GM book is the best. I own all the GM Rep books except 8 & 9.

    I actually agree with a lot of what Patrick said about the earlier books in the series.
    GM 1 and 2 are very good but felt it was very hard work getting to grips with the repertoire (tried it OTB for about 2 years with awful results), maybe just didn’t suit my style.
    GM 3, 5 & 5 I really liked but I wasn’t to keen on his recommendations against the Slav,Queen’s Gambit and KID, where I feel White should just enter Queen’s Gambit and main line KID positions, but obviously thus is no fault of the author as his repertoire is with the English.

    I very much like book 7, and really like all the lines the Lars recommends although I believe he neglects to mention a topical line in the Advance that is played by Shirov? However that aside I believe it is a very well written book with an excellent repertoire!

    As a Sicilian player 6 disappointed, many lines omitted, and compared to the rest of this excellent series was well below par IMHO, hopefully the 2nd series will rectify some of the earlier problems?

    GM 10 was very well written but I agree with Patrick again, my opinion is Black must play very accurately to maintain the balance (this maybe just my style).

    I actually really like GM 12 Modern Benoni, well written a chapter on lines where White doesn’t push the d-pawn and transposes to the English would have been nice, but i can completely understand this was left out.

    GM 13 seems very good with lots of detailed analysis, but the one I haven’t looked at in great detail.

    I am sure the French GM Series will be another milestone in chess literature as all the other GM Series seems to be.

    I really believe that QC has raised the bar in terms of chess literature and it is up to all other publishing houses to catch up. The have a lot of catching up to do!! Keep up the great work!

    Here is my wish list for future GM Rep’s (I know it’s a dream and customers have no right to ask for requests, it’s just a bit of fun!)

    GM Rep – Nimzo Indian/Queen’s Indian – Tiviakov
    GM Rep – Classical Sicilian – Kozul or Dubov
    GM Rep – Open Games – Marin
    GM Rep – Ruy Lopez Breyer – ??
    GM Rep – A QGD maybe Tartakower – ??
    GM Rep – Sicilian Dragon – Gawain Jones

    Hey Jacob, any of these on the cards? 🙂

  38. @The Doctor
    I’m missing a GM Reportoire book on the Slav :-). Personally, I thought the recommendations of Marin in his earlier book on the open games were a bit to passive to my taste, so I would prefer a GM Reportoire book on the open games by Mikhalevski. And why not aim higher for the book on the Nimzo and ask Kramnik :-). A GM Rep book by a top-10 player would raise the bar still higher!

  39. @The Doctor

    “I very much like book 7, and really like all the lines the Lars recommends although I believe he neglects to mention a topical line in the Advance that is played by Shirov? However that aside I believe it is a very well written book with an excellent repertoire!”

    In this book I like sidelines on Fantasy variation and others. In advance I play 3. …c5! which is considered like good alternative to Bf5. In classic variations I like sidelines but not so much the main with 0-0 for black, rather 0-0-0 and in Pannov I had problems not playing main line with Be7 or Bb4, positions with Nc6 dont suit me :(.

    As Im studying Bologans Chebanenko Slav, I miss something good for white in this variation. Thinking of playing 1.e4! because find Chebanenko harder to crush than Caro Kann.

  40. @The Doctor

    Kozul was European champion, and its funny that he plays with white openings, like Catalan, positional and with slight advantage, but with black the sharpest variations like Sicilian and KID. He is really a great player. To bad that he didnt had chance when he was younger to try to get to elite.

  41. @The Doctor

    If you play caro I suggest you to prepair 3….c5! as a surprise now and than. Study Khenkin and Zelcic games. They are very good practical players of this system. For me, if white plays
    “prophylactic” game in 4.c3 variation I find very amusing this variation which nobody played in megadatabase with black 🙂 A lot of fun in 3….c5! variation.

    1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Bd3 cxd4 6. cxd4 Nxd4 7. Bxh7 Qc7 8.
    Bf4 g5

    Today I bought last book for prepairing for next tournament next year in july. Againg quality chess :). Beat KID. I like positional chess so the Krasenkow variation will be very nice opening preparation for me :).

    As considering Chebanenko – exchange variation for white, Im playing this exchange variation with white only because of Jacobs Positional play and very good annotations on game Kramnik-Aronian. But unfortunatly must dig more into this opening, Im playing it with black and feel very unpleasent when somebody plays it against me.

    How to deal opponnents that play similar or same systems You do? This is the question that bothers me :(.

    French 1 is off to the printer a bit early; will be out in September unless something goes wrong (which it might).

    French 2 will be out a bit later. There was some problems; mainly relating to Andrew being off with a bad back.

    Playing the French is getting closer to completion, but is still some weeks from going to the printer. It should be out in October.

  43. @Michael Wilde
    Notice that book 1 related to Attack & Defence. Book 2 is a more traditional with typical patters; a great book, but not with the same emphasis on typical strategic patterns.

  44. @Ray
    The Slav is not that far away. 4-5 months maybe?

    Kramnik: Your donation is very welcome :-).

    Mikhailevsky is doing another book for us at the moment.

  45. @Daniel Peter
    Maybe the book is a bit too difficult for you? Train with some easier books first; I am sure there is already something on your shelves; otherwise Quality Chess Puzzle Book is an excellent book. You can still read the articles in Calculation and get a lot out of them, but the chapters are very difficult.

    Another strategy is to solve as many as you can, and then move on to the next chapter, with the idea to return later on.

  46. @k.r.
    Playing against your own openings have always been considered unpleasant. Sometimes you were bluffing with Black – but most of the time you were playing as you were playing because you had nothing against this line. Time to bluff with White!

  47. @k.r.
    I wouldn’t switch from 1.d4 to 1.e4 just because yiu have problems against the Chebanenko. Firstly, how often do you get the Chebanenko on board? I hardly ever get to play against it. Secondly, there are several promising lines against the Chebanenko. Sakaev gives two lines with advantage for white, and Kornev in his recent reportoire book also gives a promising line for white. So I really would consider these first before switching to 1.e4.

  48. Gilchrist is a Legend

    @Jacob Aagaard
    No problem, probably DeBesteZet are right, they had it for 30/09/2013 last time that I had checked. This I think is correct since it went to printer two(?) days ago–simply add 21 days and there have you the publication date. Add 24 days and there have you the websales date. I know from experience about this formula. Maybe I am the only one who buys birthday presents for myself (since no one else does), but surely these French books shall definitely be in wrapping paper for me..

    Speaking of languages, instead of “Gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag” as they say in the Netherlands, it shall be “Gefeliciteerd met je nieuwe Fraansverdedigingboeken krijgen”…

  49. I find Avrukh’s GM repertoire books great but my favourite is GM7 because Schandorff many places shows complete games which really appeals to me.

    Have you considered writing a complete book on the KID for black? In my opinion, Bologan’s book, King’s Indian: A Complete Black Repertoire, is great and at the same level as the GM repertoire books but this book doesn’t either have complete games. Furthermore, it would be fun to see other ideas for black. It is fine with me if it is in two volumes, I ‘ll gladly buy both of them.

  50. Gilchrist is a Legend

    Hopefully the guess is true though..I find that the majority of games one probably plays with the Winawer do not involve 7. Qg4. 5. Bd2 is surprisingly popular, and in the seventh-move altneratives, probably 7. Nf3 and 7. h4.

  51. @Gilchrist is a Legend
    I don’t mind playing against the alternatives; Black has easy play against most of them. I only find 4.exd5 annoying because it’s difficult for Black to generate winning chances if white is unwilling tot complicate the game.

  52. Gilchrist is a Legend

    True, probably, they are more intereesting than playing against the anti-Sicilians. 4. exd5 is essentially a strange Exchange Variation. The seventh move alternatives to 7. Qg4 are actually quite enjoyable, since one gets interesting games. I remember studying Jussupow’s games for 7. Nf3 b6 with the strange set-up where Black has a Qh7/Ba4/Kd7/Na6 and other oddities. And then there is the Classical in Playing the French to be a nice complement.

  53. @boerni
    I used to play the Sveshnikov Sicilian against anyone about 15 years ago. It is a draw if a strong player wants to force a draw. But against weaker players, it was often just equal. And then I won. Knowing the opening well was all I needed in order to profit from it. I did not need desperately unclear positions.

    This is my instant thought.

  54. @Jacob Aagaard
    Thanks, Jacob. I could be so stupid that I buy the books on e4 by Shaw 🙂 In 92 I changed playing style trying to be aggessive and opening with e4. Within a year I had lost 150 rating points and also quit chess. Seriously, I will probably buy them and sometimes open with e4. It will definitely make it even more fun to play.

  55. @Jacob Aagaard

    Since this is coming up anyway, I wonder what the future for the Kotronias series is. I only just started playing the KID and I mostly have Bologan’s book on it, which isn’t really suited for starting out in that opening. I still have no idea, for instance, why he sometimes recommends c5 and sometimes e5 as a break and when that is a matter of taste and when a matter of necessity. So I really look forward to Kotronias take on it, although I really don’t know how to handle books of that magnitude.

    But what will the series look like? To compare: the Bologan book treats the fianchetto variation in 40 pages. Kotronias needs 720 (maybe the system he suggests is more thoeretical?). So 18 times as long. If that is any indication, the series as a whole will be 355 (Bologan’s total) x 18=6390 pages. Which is roughly seven lifetimes worth of reading. I especially look forward to the, let’s say, 3 book subseries of 1672 pages on the Mar del Plata variation.

    I wil probably buy the whole series and circle around it for years, but to play actual chess the “understanding based” book will be very useful.

  56. Gilchrist is a Legend

    More pages is not a bad thing, Berg shall write three volumes, but even four volumes would not bother me. I think Psakhis wrote for in 2003 or so, although they were not repertoire books. The Winawer is quite a heavy amount of work, so two volumes for it does not surprise me.

  57. @Mathijs
    My discussion with Kotronias was whether or not Kasparov and Carlsen could remember the material in the book if they tried. Looking back at how Kasparov at times forgot his analysis, my guess is that he would not be able to :-). But I will ask him next time I see him.

    The future for this project is bright. Sales have not been fantastic of the first volume, nor did we expect them to be. But what follows will be more interesting and less scary in length. The point is that Kotronias decided to analyse everything in a non-forcing position. The sharper the position, the fewer possibilities. Ergo will 7.0-0 Nc6 not need more space than the Fianchetto Variation, as a random example.

  58. @Ray
    This was the general idea. There are still writers who have made more from Quality Chess than I have. So have our employes. The fact that we go for a small profit should be an offense to no one…

  59. @Jacob Aagaard
    I’m glad to here that it will be more manageable from here on out. Although that 6390 page book set would look really cool on my shelves.

    But since this now comes up too: can I ask what constitutes good or bad sales for a book? Or is this private information? (I have no intention of setting up a competing publishing house and I would surely lack the requisite skills and connections to do so. I’m just curious how deep the market is. How many people actually buy a book like Kotronias’? Or a more friendly book?

  60. Hi Jacob,

    thanks for your nice blog. Good work!

    I have worked with the books Positional chess, Calculation and Strategic Play. Nice books.

    The book Positional Chess is for me very useful. It helps with making decisions, and also helps not to start calculating in positions where this is useless (and spending to much time).
    Doing the exercises, most of them i have the solution, but of course some of them where to difficult for me.
    These three questions, these are of great help, very practical.

    Calculation is to difficult. First chapters work, but later on, I find it to difficult. Chapters on Profylaxis and Imaginations are on to high level for me. And i am missing such a lovely guideline like the three questions…..

    Stategic Play, in the beginning was also to difficult. But when i realised that also in these complex positions the three Questions can be a useful guide it was easier. Although i did not Always look to far in a variation, i went on the right track. And maybe for my level this is enough, hoping that later on after making a move i will also find the solution in the sequence. But not working it all out at the beginning positions.

    On the moment i am working most of the time on positional chess, and sometimes i make some exercises of Strategic Play to make it a bit harder(!).

    I saw the pdf excerpt of Pump up your rating. Looks nice, and a usefull book where also the three questions help (as can be seen in the manouvre Bd7-e8-g6, page 104, in the excerpt).
    When is this book being published?

    1. In a few weeks.

      Grandmaster tactics are difficult. It takes time to get to this level. If Calculation is too hard for you, start with an easier book, but do the same work. Tactimania, Quality Chess Puzzle Book and especially Chess Tactics from Scratch comes to mind. The latter has 360 “easy” exercises at the end.

  61. Personally I have been very impressed by Kotronias’ book and absolutely love it. I will obviously never come close to remembering the material, but from my perspective it provides a huge repository of interesting openings and middlegames that I can study and improve.

    While I won’t “remember” much of it, I can confident I can learn a lot from it!

  62. Gilchrist is a Legend

    @Jacob Aagaard
    Although I prefer the big book, like a university-level science textbook, splitting the books has the advantage of earlier releases, and secondly, more coverage, so this is not a bad thing. I anticipate receiving GM14 soon, there have not been many books that dedicate two volumes, and especially, over 600 pages, solely to the winawer, and also in a repertoire format instead of the overview format.

  63. Jacob

    Looking forward to Playing the French and I am planning to get the Open Lopez book. I like the idea of a book that explains the ideas in the KI.

    Hopefully you will provide guidance for keen amateurs how to study opening books in general on this website or in a future book. I suppose the point is to play through examples and build a library of ideas which one could employ in games. It is also helpful to include exercises in the text because they force readers to engage with the material- and the solutions should ideally go beyond giving an answer and identify typical mistakes which amateur makes. You could also identify some key positions to play out against Fritz or Houdini for training purposes.

    Keep up the good work.

  64. @Gilchrist is a Legend
    I guess the problem with a big book from a publisher’s point of view is that customers are not willing tot pay twice as much as for a book of normal size. This is kind of irrational, because the same customers more often than not are willing to pay the same amount for two seperate books. Personally I wouldn’t mind paying 40 euro’s for a book with 600 pages, but unfortunately most people do mind.

  65. Gilchrist is a Legend

    I am not sure if this is truly related, but I like the big book because all of the material is in one, and I tend to carry chess books around on holiday, travel, etc., which is easier for me than carrying two books. I also buy the hardcover versions, so two hardbacks is heavier than one 600-page hardback. And no, no technological things like iPad, or mobile phone, or whatever to read chess books..

    The price is fine for me, I also do not mind €40 for the 600 page book, but I think they said more material is available in splitting the books. And I guess receiving the books earlier due to splitting (finishing whatever is finished into one book and finishing the rest in the later book) means earlier release dates, which is always goed.

  66. Gilchrist is a Legend

    @Jacob Aagaard
    I may have misunderstood, but if I pre-ordered Rating and Attack/Defence, is it posted together with GM14 when the latter is published? I think I saw something about the publishing dates of all three being very close to each other, or something similar. Or will Rating and Attack/Defence be posted together, but then GM14 separately as one parcel?

  67. @Mathijs
    No worries. A normal book will sell a few thousand copies. We have no books that surpassed ten thousand and only 2-3 books that did not make 1000 sales. Our best seller is GM1, not surprisingly.


    Jacob Aagaard :
    No worries. A normal book will sell a few thousand copies. We have no books that surpassed ten thousand and only 2-3 books that did not make 1000 sales. Our best seller is GM1, not surprisingly.

    Numbering the published titles you must be a millionaire now!

  69. Jacob, do you have some book recommendations for the following topics?

    1. Analysis of own games. Recommended methods for analysing your own games before you give it to a silicon monster.
    2. Time consumption during a game. Are there any books dealing with topics like how to make the utmost of your time consumption in a game? Does it make good sense to stay at the board during the entire game (when the opponent is thinking) or should you relax when you have made your move? As I see it, both views make good sense; if you are disturbed all the time at work, you will not be able to concentrate as much as if you are totally focused. On the other hand, playing a chess game for 4 hours without any breaks may make you tired.
    3. Combining openings with the middlegame. It sounds as if some people have the assumption that it is much better to study the middlegame than the opening unless you are extremely strong; on the other hand, studying openings intensively will typically give you a good knowledge of patterns and structures which are applicable in the middlegame. For example, if you play the French or KID, middlegame concepts for black like exchanging one of the bishops with La6 and Lh6 respectively are fairly trivial. Also, books like Suba’s Positional Chess Sacrifices and Psakhis’ Advanced Chess Tactics combine openings with the middlegame as I see it. Have you considered publishing middlegame books based on only one opening where it is the middlegame which is the main focus?

  70. @Paul Brøndal
    1. Yusupov recommended a book in his Q&A that he and Dvoretsky wrote together. This is the best place to go by far.
    2. I will deal with this in Thinking inside the Box a bit. Basically, I think it often comes from using the wrong tools at the wrong time. There are many positions where we simply need to make a decisions and no amount of calculation will make it for us. There are others where we need to calculate. If we have spent all our time dithering rather than making a decision, making the problems bigger than they really are; we will not have time left when we arise at the critical moments and we will thus end in time trouble, making bad mistakes.
    3. Nunn’s recommendation was to play through 50 annotated games in the opening you want to learn. This is a good advice.
    My own method was to play through 100-200 games in the opening I wanted to study in order to make a list over recurring themes and reactions. Once I had my list, I used ChessBase to intelligently search for these themes in order to study them better. I wrote the Stonewall book based on this method.

  71. I would really like to see the time management problem dealt with extensively. Maybe even with a gazillion exercises on which is the right tool in a given situation. The typical 5 to 10 pages you can find in a number of books simply don’t cut it, IMHO, if we’re talking about changing habits.

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