ECF Book of the Year shortlist

The English Chess Federation has just announced its four-book shortlist for the ECF Book of the Year prize, and two Quality Chess books made the cut:

Small Steps to Giant Improvement by Sam Shankland

And Under the Surface by Jan Markos.

Congratulations to Sam and Jan!

The rules of the competition allow each publisher to nominate only two books, so things are going as well as possible. It was already tough to choose which two of our books to nominate, with one magazine editor trying on his own to nominate The Thinkers by David Llada – an understandable point of view, but sadly not allowed by the rules.

The winner should be announced at the start of October.

19 thoughts on “ECF Book of the Year shortlist”

  1. I´d second the vote for Jan Markos (if I could). Seems the book hasn´t got much attention here but it has so many interesting topics to offer that it can easily be recommended to everyone.

    Go and buy this book if you haven´t already!

  2. @Tom Tidom
    I fully agree, and hope that Markos will write a second volume. The same goes for Shankland’s book though, it’s a tough call… Both books are brilliant in my view.

  3. I’ve read most of the Markos book and I think it’s great. Many interesting topics discussed in a way I’ve never seen or thought of before.

    I took a look at Shankland’s book briefly when it was first released. I’ll admit I was put off by what looked like lots of rules about pawn play, which immediately brought to mind Willy Hendriks’ critique of such rule based thinking. Based on all the positive reviews I’ll have to have another look.

  4. @Tim S
    Hendrik’s was out to slay everyone and it was very funny. But not that serious. He often misrepresented things – or misunderstood them maybe. We had a brief debate with him here on the blog some years back. I love his book and I found him very pleasant to deal with, so there is no personal criticism of him at all. However, I disagree with his book a lot.

    Sam’s rules are not in my understanding meant to be remembered and followed slavishly. Whenever someone talks about rules in chess, they always seem to infer intelligence on the behalf of the listener, but those criticising it always think of chess players as mindless sheep, it seems.

    Dvoretsky’s writings are full of guidelines/rules, which everyone have strongly forgotten. Because he is known for analysing the positions carefully as well. As does Sam.

    I personally do not use the words “rules”, but talk about strategic concepts, which is easier for people to understand. This means that in such situations, you will often see this as a factor… Nothing more. Check if it works, if yes, it is a short cut. If not, well, chess is complicated, but we trust you will work it out.

    I know of one 2650 player that liked Sam’s book a lot. I am biased, but I also found it very useful, because it is very clear and simple. Do I remember any of the rules? No. I never tried to. But I understood them at the time and this will help me facing such situations in the future.

  5. I don’t understand why publishers get excited about this award. If it were truly a best book award Shankland would (in my view) be the deserved winner. But it is not and I think one of the non QC books is likely to win. To me a 5 star review from Sadler in New in Chess is worth a lot more.

    I’d be very interested if favourable reviews from Sadler noticeably translate to higher sales though.

  6. I agree rules are not to be followed slavishly, but they make you conscious of certain aspects of the position. I noticed that since I read the Shankland’s book I am more cautious of leaving weaknesses in my position. That to me is already very valuable.

  7. having a correct evaluation of pawn structure weakness vs dynamic piece play is what makes (top) GM’s different from others. It is so easy to stay solid with good struture, no weak point and wait for opponent to “overplay” his position.
    So when & why dynamic piece play overrules an (apparent) weakness free position would be a good book.

  8. I don’t think Shankland’s approach is static – on the contrary, he provides ‘rules’ (or strategic principles) on when it is good to move a pawn and when not. I would say that dynamic considerations play a role in this. So in my opinion this book has already been written, especially if you combine it with Dynamic Decision making by Gelfand.

  9. The problem with people saying: Static considerations cannot be taught because there is dynamics is obvious once presented this way.

    a) Understanding the effects of something without dynamics is an obvious starting point to understanding them in a dynamic setting.

    b) Repeating from earlier: we infer intelligence in the people we write to. Those who criticise assume that people will follow such observation as mindless sheep. RYV usually comes with many good observations, but may be a slight perpetrator of this, this time around?

    c) People like Watson and others often present dynamics as being just calculation. Dynamics can also be evaluated and have rules; see for example the Attacking Manual 1.

  10. Simply put, Under the Surface is the best chess book published in the XXI century. The amount of work put into it is insane. Besides, Jan seems to have a rather unique approach to chess. I was less impressed with Sam’s effort and found it not as interesting for 2400+ level. Obviously, it is still a very good book.

  11. @Zvonokchess
    High praise. As you appear to be over 2400, can we put a name on that quote? (We already printed the paperbacks, but would still like to have the quote…). email us if yes.

  12. Thank you for your positive comments. I think that there is a big chance that one of the Quality Chess books will win the prize 😉 I have to say that I like Sam´s book a lot. If you have any feedback on what should have been done better in Under the Surface, please send me an email to:

  13. I haven’t looked at the Markos book yet, I have the Shankland book and have glanced. But I am working through the Ehlvest book and it is a peach! He has a really interesting perspective on chess theory, and was a participant in lots of important events in chess history. It is entirely worth a look!!

  14. John Christopher Simmons

    Of the other books the one on the last world championship is actually quite good, makes a sterling effort at making some of the games look interesting, but is really let down by the quality of the match. Sadler really liked the Alekhine book, and will probably get it eventually.

    Gradually going through the Shankland book, the early chapters are quite straightforward, but will see what builds to.

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