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A Benefit to All

David Vigorito
Winning Chess Middlegames: An Essential Guide to Pawn Structures, by Ivan Sokolov, 2009 New In Chess, Figurine Algebraic Notation, 286pp. $29.95 Ivan Sokolov currently resides in the Netherlands, but he grew up in Sarajevo, Bosnia. He became a FIDE Master in 1985, an international master in 1986, a grandmaster in 1987, and won the Yugoslav championship in 1988. He was a member of the Bosnian team that won silver medals at the 1994 Olympiad, and Dutch champion in 1995 and 1998. He is regularly rated among the worlds top thirty players and has beaten Kasparov, Kramnik, and Anand in tournament play. Sokolovs new book, Winning Chess Middlegames can be characterized as an advanced book on pawn structures. When I was young, at least in a chess sense, one of my favourite books was Andy Soltiss Pawn Structure Chess. This old book was a basic guide to middlegame structures. It contained explanations and illustrative games dealing with such structures as The Caro Kann

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This was a useful guide and it helped me a great deal in my understanding of pawn structures and their relationship to middlegame planning. Sokolovs book does not examine structures such as these, as they have already been well covered in chess literature, and not only by Soltis. Winning Chess Middlegames looks at pawn structures that are very common in modern tournament play that are not easily found in chess books. Many of these structures may be considered somewhat advanced, but knowledge of the ideas in this book will greatly help any aspiring player to deepen his positional understanding. Sokolov does this by analysing complete games to show how the development of the opening affects the pawn structure, and ultimately, the middlegame. Super-GM Michael Adams wrote the foreword, and he makes it clear that an understanding of the structures contained in this book were part of Sokolovs education, while Adams himself was not exposed to such a methodical classification of advanced pawn structures. He writes, I remember one particular conversation where I proposed a certain plan in a middlegame position; Ivan looked a little confused, his eyebrows started twitching, and he responded yes, but this is just a normal position. In his chess education, he had broken down structures into various typical situations and analysed these. The English school of chess had a slightly more chaotic approach. There are only four chapters in this book. The first examines doubled pawns. Sokolov does not bother showing basic doubled pawns pawns that are weak because they are doubled and on an open file. He shows that pawn structures are not necessarily inherently bad or good (although he does indicate his personal preferences in some instances), but instead explains the typical middlegame plans for each side. Some examples of doubled pawns 1.2


Sokolov writes, Structure 1.2 (Game 2 Sokolov-Winants) and Structure 1.3 (Game 3 Gligoric-Nikolic) show what has been for many years the main line of the Nimzo-Indian. Any one who attempts to fundamentally improve his chess skills needs to analyse these positions thoroughly. In the games related to Structures 1.2 and 1.3 I have tried to explain the pros and cons of these positions, which are difficult to play for both sides. 1.9

Structure 1.9 (Game 15 Botvinnik-Chekhover and Game 16 Kuzubov-Van der Wiel) shows an important strategic idea for White. He does not mind making the centre static, seemingly isolating his c4 pawn weakness even more, by exchanging his d4 pawn, in order to open the dfile and gain an important outpost on the central d5-square. An idea which was beautifully executed by former World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik 70 years ago (!) and still highly topical. 1.12

Structure 1.12 (Game 19 Kasparov-Ivanchuk) deals with positions arising from the English Opening where White has doubled c-pawns. Mostly White also takes central control, but his d-pawn has not yet been pushed to d4 (which brings some clear advantages here). Furthermore, Whites f-pawn has been exchanged for and [sic] Blacks e-pawn, so that the f-file is open for Whites rook. The numerical designations are given by Sokolov to classify the different structures. It is easy to see that the first three structures come from a Nimzo-Indian Defense where Black played Bb4xc3 and White answered with b2xc3 (the fourth structure generally arises from the English Opening). This is not a coincidence, because Sokolov is a great expert on the white side of the Nimzo. All of these doubled pawn structures, as well as a great many more, are examined in the context of

complete games. By using this method, Sokolov not only gives great insight to the structures themselves, but how the opening transitions into the middlegame. In doing so, the book also proves useful by providing insight into the opening preparation of one of the worlds best players. In the introduction, Sokolov writes that he tried, as much as possible, to 1. systematize the thematic plans used and give clear explanations of them, and 2. incorporate the ideas of the featured opening variation into the pawn structure that ensues. He notes that a superior strategic understanding of a given structure allows one to successfully capitalize on your opening preparation as well as rebound from an inferior position. His aim is 1. to provide a complete guide for the club player; 2. through a process of serious analysis of the material in this book, to also give the club player a reasonably accurate feeling as to which particular positions suit him and which do not; and 3. to give the club player who takes his time for a thorough study of this book, new strategic and also practical opening knowledge, after which he will definitely see a clear improvement in his results. Winning Chess Middlegames also covers Isolated Pawns, Parallel Hanging Pawns in the Centre, and Pawn Majority in the Centre. All use several examples and the games vary from old classics to modern masterpieces and include both instructive losses and wins from the author. There are forty-five complete annotated games in all, and the book could stand on its own simply as a collection of annotated games. Winning Chess Middlegames is a pioneering effort from Ivan Sokolov that will benefit players of all levels, including masters. I recommend it very highly!

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