The difficulties of writing a chess book part 2

I spent almost eight years writing the Attacking Manuals two books (AM1 and AM2) and felt absolutely drained at the end of the process. Obviously I did a lot of things in the meanwhile, but mainly I felt anxiety about my ability to reach the necessary level for making these books as good as I wanted them to be. Completing the GM title and becoming British Champion definitely helped. 2007 was a very tough year for Quality Chess and for me personally, but ended on a high by the birth of my first child.

We are now speaking more than four years later. Attacking Manual 2 came out in 2010 and I won the ECF book of the year award for the two volumes combined. In the end it was all worth it.

Enter the room in February 2011: Nikos (Nikolaos Ntirlis). Unknown outside Greece and to many Greeks as well, close to unrated (would have preferred to be) and full of ideas. I was so fascinated that I entered a mad project – the complete revival of the Tarrasch Defence. The result was Grandmaster Repertoire 10 – The Tarrasch Defence. We both worked so hard that Nikos went from criticising all books on the Chesspub forum to praising anyone who write an opening book and live to tell the tale!

But was it worth it? Well, initial sales have been good. People are interested (which is far more important to us than money – though we need to pay the rent of course). This is more important than the reviews, but the reviews are easier to pass on, so here we go:

The first one is from the Danish newspaper Politiken. Their chess journalist is a sometimes 2600 Danish GM who sent a private message to me on Facebook calling me insane – based on the work we had done with the book. He claimed we were making amateurs into GMs with it, which I would contest. But we have definitely given them a fighting chance against GMs!

The actual review looks like this in my translation:

“Most opening books are a collection of existing knowledge and a few extra ideas in critical positions. This is not the case with Jacob Aagaard’s and Nikolaos Ntirlis’ (called Nikos) new book on the Tarrasch Defence in the Queen’s Gambit. The book is the result of a large piece of research where the two authors have succeeded in turning completely new pages in opening theory.

Before The Tarrasch Defence was published the opening was considered dubious, but now that it is here, all super-GMs have been recalled to the laboratory. All main lines have been repaired, including those no one knew were broken. Have a look: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.dxc5! This line has always been considered completely harmless, but it is not and is handled over 37 pages! (Don’t fear – Black will be all right in the end.) The book is ground breaking and sets new standards for the future of opening books.”

GM Sune Berg Hansen

This is of course very flattering, but it is not necessarily the most positive review we have received. The German FM Christof Sielecki makes youtube lectures, freely available. He said:

The authors invested an enormous amount of time. The amount of novelties and really astonishing ideas presented here can only mean that they invested hundreds of hours to make this an interesting and really fighting choice.

But to get his excitement you really need to listen to the 30 minute lecture (which also explains some details from the book and some we shamefully omitted about move orders).

There was also a nice review in German (you are one like away if you go here) and a nice review on ChessCafe where the only criticism I could find (and you do look for them when you “only” get 5/6 in the review!) was that the book was irrelevant to players under 1400. As most opening books are, I don’t really care for this.

However, the best review of all was from Arne Moll, the notoriously harsh ChessVibes reviewer (which is why we love him. People like Elburg that loves all books are nice people, but don’t guide the customer in a meaningful way, we think). He said among other tings:

The two authors… present so many fresh and fascinating ideas in this old opening that it’s impossible to put down. It’s also a very objective and sensible book, in which the old opening is both treated with respect and is challenged to defend itself against computer-age scrutiny and rigour.

I could go on and on about the many beautiful variations in this book, but the truth is that it is crammed with fantastic stuff – really too much to mention in one review. So let me just say that the authors treat the ever-important Timman Variation (9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.Bg5 d4 11.Bxf6 Qxf6 12.Nd5) with due adoration and skepticism (I’ve always felt the line to be both overestimated and underestimated at the same time!). Here, too, they improve existing theory as they go along in many crucial lines.

The full review is very well written and gives an honest image of our book from someone who likes it. If you are wondering if you want to read the book (or even pay good money for it!) please read this first.

46 thoughts on “The difficulties of writing a chess book part 2”

  1. @John Shaw
    Sorry, but your link is good for several days because the next column will be at the same place “my” link doesn’t move with the time. 😉
    Chess amateur but NT guy !!

  2. Jacob Aagaard

    I actually have a bit responsibility. I asked Mark to change it so that the links to the reviews were permanent. I also asked him to go from their four to six star rating system (clearly indicating with blanks how many were the maximum). Credit to him that he just changed things for the better both times without asking me to p… off :-).

  3. Concerning Elburg.
    This guy basically gets all his chess books for free by just writing some nonsense each month.
    I think Newinchess actually has one of his famous quotes on a book.

  4. Jacob!

    [Quote] “…the only criticism I could find (and you do look for them when you “only” get 5/6 in the review!) was that the book was irrelevant to players under 1400.”
    Sorry, but when you correctly read the title… you should understand that it is not “a first guide book for kids” type ;). I do not see the reason why that high quality book should be adressed to players below 2000 rating. It is a blessing (!) that that book is not adressed only to players higher than 2300!

    I would like to warn you Jacob: I am not joking now. I HATE opening books (in general – except very short book for kids – mainly opening traps), but that one makes me smile (and a gesture of amazement connected with shocking effect). I have to ask WHO has deleted most variations from the book? Every time I see (or seldom, but worst – buy) the opening book – it has got milions of variations! I downloaded excerpt and I am in a deep shock! Once again I ask you Jacob: WHO deleted “ocean of variations”!?

    Yes, you get it right: you shocked me positively – I have that book on my wish list. I love such a great written book! Especially when the task is much more difficult than other type of book (I mean – a huge amount of work is needed to write REALLY good book). You should know (also as Nikos) that your IDEA of writing the opening book worked miracle! I cannot just believe that such an amazing volume was written with such a dedicated work, passion and CLARITY! Maybe you might see my as a crazy person, but it is really slim book compared to the contests it contains! How did you do that (trick)? Four diagrams on every page, no millions of variations, clarity, system of human narrative and many nice improvements! Wow: I give you 9 out of 10, because If you gave 10, you would have make a rest and would not have a motivation (and energy) to “score a perfect (review) score”. I cannot substract (take away) any point (9 from 10) even if you forced me to do so! :).

    PS. Check out your keyboard Jacob (and ask to do it John, too): maybe you have pressed “delete button” and you even do not know when your “unnecessary” text dissaprears 🙂 ;). Keep up the great work!

  5. @Tomasz Chessthinker
    Hi Tomasz. Thank you for posting and obviously thank you for your high evaluation of our book.

    I do think we got a lot of things right in the book and we did not make as many compromises as I have had to do in the past. Regarding the lack of extensive variations: They don’t really do anything for me. Usually they cover over the fact that the author does not understand the core of the position. What I did in my work with the book (besides lots of analysis) was to understand why you had to play one move over another. Often the reason is concrete, but then you give the concrete variation where it is important as your main line (or in other ways draw it out).

    There are guys who think move, move, move. Avrukh is a bit like this. Nikos as well. This does not mean that they hit the space bar unconsciously, they are just a bit more concrete in their approach. It clearly has a lot of advantages.

    Then there are others who think in ideas. Marin, John and I do that. Nikos and I tried to get the balance between our two ways of investigating chess right.

    I hope we will do so with the next number of books we are working together on. Playing 1.e4 (with John as the main man in charge), Playing the French (with Nikos as the responsible adult) and GM Repertoire 1.e4 (with me as the one to blame). The books will not be identical in style, but they will all be based on a lot of serious work. This is all we can promise. We are trying.

  6. Since you mention Marin what in the world is he up to? I don’t see any mention of any projects anywhere?

  7. @John Johnson
    He has been helping Judit quite a bit with her book – which of course will be out during the Olympiad. But he is also working on a project on his own. If you will forgive me, we prefer to play this one a bit close to the chest…

  8. Thanks I had read about a project in an interview; and he wasn’t too informative. I will attempt to be patient. I didn’t know about a Polgar book, but did know there was a connection with the Polgars.

  9. “But he is also working on a project on his own. If you will forgive me, we prefer to play this one a bit close to the chest…”

    Understandable, but maybe you can tell if it is an opening book.
    I swear I won’t ask which opening…

  10. Jacob Aagaard

    What I mean is – it was quite natural for her to turn to him once she decided to contribute to the heritage with more than just her brilliant precense (you have to suck up to your star authors)…

  11. Jacob Aagaard

    @John Johnson
    Yes, it is very safe to talk about the Polgar book. It is an instructional book, covering various topics, based on her career up till 1991, where she became a grandmaster. We are hoping that this book will sell quite well, so we are producing it in hardcover – but at the standard price of €24.99. It is almost fully written – one chapter is still outstanding – and it is quite nice. There are some cool games in there.

    I expect us to have an excerpt up within 1-2 months, even if the book will not be out till September.

  12. It’s amazing how well this defense works in practise. Most titled players go for the Bg5 +b3 line in which the rook sacrifice and some basic endings are draws on auto pilot. I really feel like playing really positive chess whilst improving my rook endgames in particular.

    It seems however one line was underestimated due to lack of experience:
    after …Ne5 Be6 11.f4 h6 12.Bxf6…… 14…Qb6+ now
    15.e3 is really underestimated. I’ve had a few engine matches and IDEA running but it’s so very unclear and without any guide on strategic goals I feel this is the weakest part of the repertoire.

    [Event “ICC 5 0”]
    [Site “Internet Chess Club”]
    [Date “2012.03.06”]
    [Round “-“]
    [White “Chemberlen”]
    [Black “Janbunnik”]
    [Result “0-1”]
    [ICCResult “White checkmated”]
    [WhiteElo “2427”]
    [BlackElo “2423”]
    [Opening “QGD: Tarrasch, Prague variation, 9.Bg5”]
    [ECO “D30”]
    [NIC “TD.03”]
    [Time “13:48:58”]
    [TimeControl “300+0”]

    1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 c5 4. cxd5 exd5 5. g3 Nc6 6. Bg2 Nf6 7. O-O Be7 8.
    Nc3 O-O 9. Bg5 c4 10. Ne5 Be6 11. b3 h6 12. Bxf6 Bxf6 13. Nxc6 bxc6 14. e3
    c5 15. bxc4 dxc4 16. Bxa8 Qxa8 17. d5 Bxc3 18. dxe6 Bxa1 19. Qxa1 Qd5 20.
    exf7+ Rxf7 21. Qc3 Qd3 22. Qe5 c3 23. Rc1 Qd2 24. Qb8+ Rf8 25. Qb3+ Kh8 26.
    Rc2 Qd1+ 27. Kg2 Qf3+ 28. Kg1 Qd1+ 29. Kg2 Qf3+ 30. Kg1 Rd8 31. Rc1 Rd2 32.
    Qb8+ Kh7 33. Qf4 Rd1+ 34. Rxd1 Qxd1+ 35. Kg2 Qd5+ 36. e4 Qe6 37. Kf3 c2 38.
    Ke2 Qc4+ 39. Kd2 c1=Q# {White checkmated} 0-1

  13. Jacob

    Sorry, if it was written. I would like to ask: what is the audience of Mrs Polgar book? What range of players should profit the most of that? (I mean is it for general of specific audience). I have a book (actually two) written by Susan Polgar – they are for beginners, but the examples (mostly only tactics) are very nice (not that repeated hundreds of times).

    And back to the Judit’s book: are there many excercises or more text? I assume Judit have made all efforts to spread her passion in the book :). I love the authors that are not afraid of spreading joy and entertainment in their books (of course – as a nice additional element to the core of the text).

    I am looking forward to see the excerpt. I like publishers that shows customers what they get when buying a product. I always read QC excerpts and after that I am trying to decide which book is worth my attention (I believe all the QC books are really good, but not all of us might buy them all) ;).

  14. Jacob Aagaard

    @Tomasz Chessthinker
    It is a thoroughly disgusting thought that not everyone buys all Quality Chess books!

    Anyway, Judit has written the book in a way where a huge range of players will benefit from it. There are lots of ideas in it and it is indeed written with passion and joy.

    However, it is not full of exercises. We will finish the 9 volume Yusupov series this autumn too. It is really the best training material for players under 2200 available, and it has 2808 exercises in total, if my math or memory is not betraying me (give/take a few hundreds).

    Then there is my four volumes of exercises for over 2200s coming out in the summer. We will talk about 1000 exercises with deep annotations for almost all the solutions.

    I think we can effort a book without lots of exercises :-).

  15. @Jan Bunnik
    Nice game.

    Do you have any analysis on 15.e3. I remember looking at it and not seeing any ideas for White after it. If it does not make sense to me, I am unlikely to include it.

  16. I’ve followed book and tried Kh8 without much thought (Doh!). I guess the problem is it’s not easy to bring the general very unclear to understandable chunks. Perhaps Kh8 isn’t such a want-to-play move after all it does place the king further from the action in the comming endgame. So Nb4-d3 is a welcome suggestion!

    In the following game (also 5-min on ICC) I followed book, but having analysed an endgame in advance I tried avoiding it. I won in the end, the game felt like it went very smooth. Afterwards the computer, ofcourse, finds a way to an advantage with 25.Rd1! So I feel the Re8 variation is not so much fun after all! back to Nxe5 for me.

    1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c5 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. g3 Nf6 7. Bg2 Be7 8. O-O
    O-O 9. Bg5 c4 10. Ne5 Be6 11. f4 h6 12. Bxf6 Bxf6 13. f5 Bxe5 14. dxe5 Qb6+ 15.
    Kh1 Qxb2 16. fxe6 fxe6 17. Qc1 Rxf1+ 18. Bxf1 Qxc1 19. Rxc1 Re8 20. Nb5 Re7

    (20… a6 21. Nd6 Re7 22. Nc8 Re8 23. Nb6 Nxe5 24. e4 Nd3 25. Bxd3 cxd3 26. exd5
    exd5 27. Rd1 Re2 28. Rxd3 Rxa2 29. Rxd5)

    21. e4 Nxe5 22. exd5 exd5 23. Nxa7 g5 24. Nb5 Kg7 25. Nd4 Kf6 26. Be2 Nc6 27. Rf1+ Ke5 28. Nxc6+ bxc6 29. Kg2 Kd4 30.Bd1 Kc3 31. a4 d4 32. a5 d3 33. Kf2 Kd2 34. Ba4 Rf7+ 35. Kg1 Rxf1+ 36. Kxf1 c3 0-1

    I guess it’s just another type of position, the thing I find fascinating is the amount of forced tactics leading to different kinds of endgames which used to be regarded as simply better for white quoting Rubinstein’s games. Understanding the backward pawn (after cxb3) in combination with the bishop pair always seems to lead to either an active game where the minor weakness has no importance. In general I feel I am in control of my game rather then sinking into endless possibilities in which I do not have a power to asses all the outcomes. The only thing I have to sacrifice for this is the knowledge any player who reads this book can find a drawish line and play it.

    Ntirlis was right: this is a really good way to learn chess: tactics and endgames and could well be the heart of anyone’s chess education!

  17. Jacob Aagaard :@Tomasz Chessthinker It is a thoroughly disgusting thought that not everyone buys all Quality Chess books!

    HAHA! Well, write books on sound openings and I would have them all!

    GM Repertoires 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 10 are all great books!

    Notice what’s missing – never had high opinions for Black in that opening, and Kramnik – Kasparov, round 2, 2000 World Championship backs up my doubts as Black got smacked silly!

    I also have the same “disrespect” for the Benko Gambit, so another “older” Quality Chess book you’d have to pay me to buy! 🙂

    However, take the 8 books mentioned, along with Experts vs the Sicilian, Tiger’s Modern, Beating the Open Games, Play the Semi-Slav, The Berlin Wall, Play the Scandinavian, The Cutting Edge 2 (Najdorf w/ 6.Be3), Practical Chess Defense, and Advanced Chess Tactics.

    17 of 63 published books – about 27%. Close enough in my book! LOL! 🙂

  18. What’s the target level for “Chess Tactis From Scratch”?

    Would it be good for a club player to start with this book and after it solve tons of excercies in the computer or the other way around?

    Do you think this book could be useful to 2000-2200 players?

  19. @Jacob Aagaard:

    A bit off-topic but Jacob have you considered publishing an opening book that deals solely with move-order issues and transpositions in (all) major openings. The idea is to explain what kind of openings (or more likely variations) one can avoid trough certain move-orders and what you have to give up in return. The book would have to also explain typically what kind of variations or move-orders suit certain players and why.

  20. @FM To Be
    This book is good for anyone up to 2300 in my opinion. For someone rated 2200 and up it will be a quick read and a few things will be a bit simplictic. But still worth it. For players rated below this, the book is generally ranked as their favourite book by all who have read it and talked to me about it. It is just that clear and takes it time to bring the reader on board.

  21. @Jan Bunnik
    Thank you for this post. I have not much to add. Obviously, in different positions, nuances can make us play differently. But you got that one figured already.

  22. Abramov Anjuhin

    Dear Jacob,

    @Victor Mikhalevski: Grandmaster Repertoire – The Open Spanish

    – please consider also a companion volume as Grandmaster Repertoire – 1.e4 e5 Others, because you can’t direct us to Marin’s “Beating the Open Games” because although being very good book, it is not in the spirit of GM Repertoire and it lacks more dangerous and fighting lines for Black, and referring to Marin’s books is at least unfair

    @new catalog 2012

    – so many projects and you still offer only old catalog – please make a new one!

    @Verbessern Sie Ihr Schach – Super Edition

    – unfortunately I’m in some way disappointed by this book, and most profitable are positional exercises which include a big portion of tactics
    – I hope that in GM Preparation you shall stick to clear cut examples, and please omit citing 20-40 moves of the game without comments, it’s a waste of time

  23. Jacob,

    Quick question on an upcoming book. What is the format of “Positional Chess Sacrifices” going to be? Is it going to be random positions 20 moves into a game, shows the sacricial move, and says something like “and the knight is powerful” 10 moves later and go on to the next one? Or will it be complete games like “Advanced Chess Tactics”, where it shows the rest of the game to actually show the validity of the sacrifice, and that the sacrificer isn’t suffering a case of an “overrated piece” (i.e. one of those positions where the Black Knight looks spectacular, but White just works his way around it, and the Knight on d4 is basically doing nothing), similar to the couple of chapters in Steve Mayer’s old book, “Bishop v Knight: The Verdict” (one of the best books of the 90s if you ask me).

  24. @Patrick
    If this is your kind of ‘quick question’ – how long are the normal ones Then…?
    (Just joking…)

  25. werner :@PatrickIf this is your kind of ‘quick question’ – how long are the normal ones Then…?(Just joking…)

    LOL! I guess I consider it quick not by the length of the question, but the length of the typical answer, as it’s more of a “is it this or that” type of question than a question that would normally be responded to with a detailed description. 🙂

  26. @Patrick
    It is a bit untraditional actually. My mind is a bit warped by it, as it is not natural to me, but once I it orbitted in my brain, it makes a lot of sense.
    First of all, he is showing a lot of sacrifices in the opening, categorised by opening. Then by type of sacrifice (middlegames) and then endgames. Within the games he is mainly giving variations, as this is how our concrete minds work during the game, but there are quick bullet points before the games to show you what to look out for and after the game some discussion about what we have just seen. It is not the usual sequential structure – instead it is shooting at different layers of our brain in sequence. If that makes any sense.
    Wait for the extract at it will be much simpler to understand!

  27. @Abramov Anjuhin
    It is our intentions to do another version of Beating the Open Games in 2013 with different lines.

    The catalogue is 99% done. I am awaiting a few final covers. Actually it might go online early next week.

    I completely disagree with you on the unannotated moves. You can start at the diagram or you can play through the moves. The choice is yours and because you are not interested in unannotated moves or seeing how the position came about, does not mean that others would not be. I am not saying it is better than to start at a diagram position, but for that book it makes perfect sense to me to have it like it is.

  28. Jacob,

    Thank you for your broad explanations! They are very helpful!

    1) I have bought a few of Artur Yusupov chess books mentioned: I love them: they are really high quality books. There are many various topics, but they are nice complete each other. It is good to know that 2nd and 3rd volume is finished very soon. All of the 9 volumes are great material for all players who wish to understand all the most important elements of chess up to 2200!

    2) I do not know if you could use the idea proposed by me. What about making additional 10th book (of course when previous one will be completed) as a test book? What I mean? The task should be quite simple: gather all the tasks (excercises) and get them into the 10th volume. It might be added some problems if Artur and you consider it necessary. When the author is able to do some “score your skills” (table with points to see how well have we understood the material) it will be amazing. Btw: this book might be sold separately and in “box bonus” – when you are buying all 9 volumes (box version idea), you are getting a bonus (the 10th) free!

    3) I agree this Artur Yusupov’s series are really great ones. Many authors would have been able to see how this kind of work might be made

    4) Judit’s book might be next amazing book – I am wondering what kind of idea has this nice lady :). Being once in top ten of the world’s (overall) list is tremendous achievement and that is the reason I am curious how Judit is going to present her ideas. Of course it does not have to have many excercises ;).

    I am going to buy all the books to fill Artur’s series and your GM preparation series. I will try to critically study them and find all the flaws. Next I will try to make a list of improvement and send it to you Jacob. I believe the books should be constantly improved and updated until they reach “ideal” level of quality. Some time ago (10 years or so) I was studying chess books looking for every mistake and suggesting many improvements. Nowadays the books are computer checked and most of them (especially when publishers want to make great books not publish as many as possible) are quite high level – I mean an approach: “think and make plan before you write and publish”.

    If you want to see what I mean – just check out “Igor Sukhin” Chess Camp series: they are excercise books for novices, but it is clearly shown to me that the author had to think how to present his great ideas (If I am correct he is teaching and training for 30 years).

    Summing up: I can not believe how can you make so many projects and have a time for sleeping! Your contribution to present chess literature (market) is great one! I was dreaming of having (buying) some great chess books – both at the level of editiorial and text: now my dreams come true… 🙂

    Good luck Jacob – please send Artur my regards according of writing such a great series. I know (from my own experience!) how hard is to write (make) a book, not to mention a series of books containing so much amazing material!

    PS. Now I can see only one close competitor of Artur’s series (except your GM books Jacob) – it is 10 or 11 volumes of Josef Slavin chess series (in Russian). Methodologically they are amazingly good (the author has taught chess since 1970 or 1976), but editorial side is poor (if you compare to the material containing).

  29. @Tomasz Chessthinker
    2) I still cannot see the purpose of a 10th book. Every book is exercises upon exercises. All books end with a chapter of only exercises. And besides, Artur is tired :-).

    3) According to Artur the idea for the series is not really original (it does not feel original either – a complete chess course). However the exercusion is close to legendary in my opinion.

    4) Judit’s book is very nice. I hopy you guys will all love it.

  30. @Amigo
    We have thought about a book on opening preparation (and have a contract for it, but before I see a draft I do not jump up and down in happiness, even though I trust the author) and I have always wanted to write about opening play as well. This would be part of the story, I assume. A big part.

  31. Hi I am quite interested in the Beating the Open Games book you mention.
    Will this by Marin again or different authors.

    Do you have any other news on the new lines?
    Two Knights
    King’s Gambit Accepted?

  32. Nick :Hi I am quite interested in the Beating the Open Games book you mention.Will this by Marin again or different authors.
    Do you have any other news on the new lines?Two KnightsKing’s Gambit Accepted?

    Makes you wonder if, thanks to Nakamura, QC will have to actually include an entire chapter of analysis on the stupid 2.Qh5 lines!

  33. This is far from the right thread for this, but I just wanted to say that I’ve been working with Marin’s books on the English and have never been happier in my study of the game. These are incredibly good books. It’s amazing how much real teaching there is here.

    I know you’ve heard this before about these, but just wanted to add my thanks.

  34. Klaus Kristensen

    I just saw that Grandmaster Repertoire 9 by Boris Avrukh has won the 2011 book of the year award.
    And that GM Rep 10 took 2nd place.
    Congratulations to QC for a job well done.

  35. Pingback: The Tarrasch Defence: A Grandmaster Repertoire Indeed | Chess Book Reviews

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