Grand Prix USA:  1999 (2nd Place); 1998 (3rd Place); 1997 (3rd Place)

RAM-Random Access Memory

IM Jeremy Silman's Book Reviews
The opinions and views expressed by the contributors to Inside Chess Online are not necessarily those of ICE or the Editors of Inside Chess Online. ©1999 Jeremy Silman and Inside Chess Online. 

GM-RAM, Essential Grandmaster Knowledge.
(Authors:  Rashid Ziatdinov and Peter Dyson.  Publisher:  PROChess LLC.)

Assessed by Silman Rating Scale  7.0  [1.0 = worst; 10.0 = best]

Master to International Master; 97 pages paperback

How is it possible to judge the true value of an original idea emanating from an experienced (and very strong) teacher?  This question knocked around my mind as I read through I.M. Ziatdinov’s book, GM-RAM.
My first reaction, to be brutally honest, was disdain.  It all seemed pretty silly to me.  However, as I looked through the diagrams, stepped off my high horse and thought about his concept, I had to admit that he might be right; or he might be wrong; or he might be insane; or he might be a genius.  Who knows?!
Let us take a closer look at the contents of this highly original book and then…well, you will have to make up your own mind. 
The author’s preface got my attention when I.M. Ziatdinov said that very strong players "see a few reasonable moves immediately, from which they  will pick one, often without considering variations."   He then went on to say that "all calculation that they [the strong players] are doing is happening automatically — they does not even realize it." 
The point of all this is that certain knowledge must be acquired if you want to be a really good player, and getting this knowledge is not as hard as many people suppose.  The author says, "My research into what is most important to know has led me to identify what I consider to be the essential knowledge of a Grandmaster."   He then gives you 256 positions and 59 whole games, saying that anyone who understands all the positions and memorizes all the games should be able to reach Grandmaster-level.
My reservations are as follows: 
1.  Is this premise true?  Quite honestly, I do not have a clue.
2.  The positions in the diagrams do not have any written solutions.  If you can not figure a position out, a major attack of frustration might set in.  I found this rather bizarre, but the logic is that you can not try for a moment and then cop out and turn to the solutions page (which does not exist!) for a quick and easy fix.  Well, I am not sure I agree with this, but Rashid has been teaching far longer than I have. 
3.  The games are not annotated.  That is right, just a bunch of bare game scores (as well as all those lonely diagrams).
This is not to say that there is nothing to read.  Rashid's preface is interesting, as is the material in chapter one (The Language of Chess).  I also enjoyed the author’s attempts at merging Eastern wisdom (from Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War) with chess strategy (in Chapter Two).  Rashid's brief discussions of the endgame and middlegame more or less push his learning theories and do not try to teach you anything in particular. 
I found his Opening discussion in Chapter Five to be out of touch with the rest of the book.  GM-RAM is clearly for strong players, so when he advises that you get your Rooks out by the 10th move he is either addressing weak players (which is at odds with the projected audience) or talking down to his peers (which
I am sure was not his intention; I have met the author and he seems to be a very nice man).
In the end, I must applaud I.M. Ziatdinov for offering a system that he believes will improve any strong player’s game.  If this system works, then everyone may be grateful.  However, this brings me back to square one.  I do not know whether he is offering a revolutionary new training method or something that ultimately can not stand up to his many promises.
For more information about this book, e-mail the author at or check out his home page at:
Back to Silman's Book Review Index. 
Walking the Pattern(s)
by Taylor Kingston
GM RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge, by IM Rashid
Ziatdinov and Peter Dyson, 1998 PROChess, Spiral-bound
paperback, English algebraic notation, 97pp., $10.00.
In the Amber novels, a fantasy/science-fiction series by Roger Zelazny, isfound "The Pattern", a geometrical design of such complexity andmagic that all realities are implicit within it, and one who canwalk through its perilous maze of curves and angles is thereafterendowed with supernatural powers.On the comedy album Monty Python's Previous Record is foundthe skit "How-To-Do-It Lessons", wherein we are told how tomaster certain difficult tasks. For example, playing the flute:"Blow in one end, and move your fingers up and down theoutside." Curing all known diseases? "Become a doctor, invent amarvelous cure for something, and when the medical world reallytakes notice, you can jolly well tell them what to do, make surethey get everything right, so there will never be diseases again."
A future lesson promises to tell how to irrigate the Sahara. In chess we're all trying to work our way through complexitiesand figure out "how to do it," i.e. attain mastery. IM RashidZiatdinov, a recent emigre to America from the former SovietUnion, now makes a startling claim: that within the pages ofhis small, very modest-looking manual are implicit all thingsrequired to reach Grandmaster strength. In the preface he states"My research into what is most important to know has led meto identify what I consider to be the essential knowledge of aGrandmaster. The positions around which this knowledge isbased are provided in this book." And, like one who haswalked the Pattern of Amber, "Once you understand thepositions in this book, your chess pieces will have new powers... My opinion is that if you memorize all of them, you will be a2600 level player."
An amazing assertion, which I was at first tempted to regard asZelaznian fantasy or a Pythonesque joke. However, on furtherreading I decided against such an abrupt dismissal. It has longbeen known that pattern recognition (which Ziatdinov refers toas "tacit knowledge" or "RAM" -- Random Access Memory) isan essential chess skill. Study of well-played games builds upin the student's memory a store of patterns, which, when asimilar position occurs in actual play, can be recalled, eitherconsciously or subconsciously, to help him find the right moveor plan. Take for example the following position, whichoccurred in a game between two class B players at my localclub. 
White: Kg1, Qe2, Rd1,Rf1, Nb3, Bd3, Bd4; pawns - a2, b2, c2,e5, f4, g2, h2
Black: Kg8, Qd8, Rc8,Rf8,Nb4,Bd7, Be7; pawns - a6, b7, d6,e6, f7, g7, h7
Here play continued 16. Rf3?! Nxd3 17. Rdxd3? Bb5, but inannotating the game for the club newsletter, I found myselfthinking "Why not 16. ed6 and sacrifice on h7?"  Sure enough,a little analysis showed that 16. ed6 Bxd6 17. Bxh7+! Kxh718. Qh5+ Kg8 19. Bxg7!! Kxg7 20. Qg4+ Kh8 21. Rf3intending 22. Rh3+ etc. would have been decisive (thus Blackwould have been forced into 16. ed6 Bf6 17. Bxf6 Qxf6 18. c3,which is still rather bad).I felt a sense of deja vu while working out that line, andchecking an old book, I confirmed the source: the famous gameLasker-Bauer, Amsterdam 1889, which from an essentiallysimilar position 
White: Kg1, Qe2, Ra1,Rf1, Ng3, Bd3, Be5; pawns - a2, b3, c2,d2, e3, f4, g2, h2
Black: Kg8, Qc6, Ra8, Rf8, Nf6, Bb7, Be7; pawns - a6, b6, c5,d5, e6, f7, g7, h7
proceeded 14. Nh5! Nxh5 15. Bxh7+! Kxh7 16. Qxh5+ Kg817. Bxg7!! Kxg7 18. Qg4+ Kh7 19. Rf3 e5 20. Rh3+ Qh6 21.Rxh6+ Kxh6 22. Qd7 etc., 1-0, 33. 
It is likely that Tarrasch felt the same deja vu as he played amore complex but similar sac against Nimzovitch at St.Petersburg, 1914: 

White: Kg1,Qc2, Rc1, Rf1, Bb2; pawns - a2, b3, e3, f2, g2, h2

Black: Kg8, Qe7, Rd8, Rf8, Bc6, Bd6; pawns - a7, c5, d5, f7g6, h7

18. ... d4! 19. ed4 Bxh2+! 20. Kxh2 Qh4+ 21. Kg1 Bxg2! 22.f3 Rfe8 23. Ne4 Qh1+ 24. Kf2 Bxf1 25. d5 f5 26. Qc3 Qg2+27. Ke3 Rxe4+! 28. fe4 f4+! 29. Kxf4 Rf8+ 30. Ke5 Qh2+ 31.Ke6 Re8+ 32. Kd7 Bb5#. 

So the worth of pattern recognition is clear. However, unlikeZelazny, Ziatdinov requires one to walk not a single pattern,but 256, and unlike Monty Python, he makes it clear it isanything but easy.

Like Capablanca and many other authorities, Ziatdinov saysproper study of chess begins at the end. Thus the first 136positions are endgames. Of these 52 are basic King-and-single-pawn or Rook-and-single-pawn endings, beginning withrelatively simple Lucena and Philidor positions, andprogressing to more difficult ones with subtle distinctions, suchas diagrams 49 and 50:White: Kd5, Rh7; pawn - e5Black: Ke8, Re1

White: Kd6, Rh7; pawn - e5Black: Ke8, Re1

which differ only slightly. There are six Queen endings, 56minor piece endings, 12 of Rook vs. minor piece, and nineexamples of "fortresses", such as diagram 136

White: Ke4,Qd5; pawn - h5Black: Kf8, Rf6; pawn - g7

where the materially superior side cannot win against best play.After the endgame section come 120 middlegame positions.These are derived from 59 classical games, the full(unannotated) texts of which follow in an entirely separatesection. Some games get several diagrams, some none, and thediagrams are not in the same order as their correspondinggames. In some cases the position is a decisive combinativemoment:

White: Kg1, Qg4, Rc1,Re7, Ng5; pawns - a2, b2, f2, g2, h2

Black: Ke8, Qd7, Ra8, Rc8; pawns - a7, b7, d5, f6, g6, h7

In other cases it is not:

White: Kg1, Qe2, Ra1,Rf1, Nc3, Nf3, Bc4, Be3; pawns - a4,b2, c2, d3, e4, f2, g2, h2

Black: Kg8, Qd8,Ra8, Rf8, Nc6, Ng6, Bc8, Be7; pawns - a6,b7, c5, d7, e6, f7, g7, h7

There are two interesting aspects to these games.  One, in contrast to many other chess writers, Ziatdinov advises outright memorization of them, claiming "If you know just one of the important classical games, you will be able to become a 1400-level player, know 10 games and you will be 2200-level, know 100 and you will be 2500."  Two, and as a chess history buff I am delighted to see this, the most recent of the games is from 1936, 45 of the 59 are from the 1800's, and most of those were played while Abraham Lincoln was still alive.  The names Anderssen, Morphy, Steinitz, and Chigorin predominate.  "The thing which hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done:  and there is no new thing under the sun."  -- Ecclesiastes 8.  By the way, the aforementioned Lasker-Bauer position is on page 87.

You will note that we have not supplied any solutions to the above positions, nor even mentioned which color is on move.  Neither does Ziatdinov!  There is the rub -- while he gives you the positions, you have to work almost everything out for yourself!  (What, you thought you were going to get True Enlightenmen tfor 10 bucks?) 

Thus GM-RAM provides not a set of pat answers but an outline for a course of study.  What you get for your 10 bucks, says Ziatdinov, are the right positions to study.  The final page provides a list of recommended references where one can find the answers, such as all six volumes of Averbakh's  Comprehensive Chess Endings, Benko's Chess EndgameLessons, Fine's Basic Chess Endings, Keres' and Kotov's The Artof the Middle Game, Alekhine's My Best Games of Chess 1908-1937, and Kmoch's Pawn Power In Chess.  Whether this method actually works, I have no idea.  Given that Ziatdinov's methods closely resemble those of GM Lev Alburt (see for example the review of Alburt's Chess Training Pocket Book in the Chess Cafe archives), and that this sort of once-secret Soviet training helped make the USSR the greatest national chess power in history, it would appear to have very good credentials.

In addition to being a course outline, however, GM-RAM is also a litmus test of one's commitment.  To follow its course to any length, except perhaps just to play over its games at leisure, requires a high level of interest and desire.  It is designed for the serious-minded and ambitious.  Ziatdinov promises some improvement even from casual study, but if you find yourself losing interest in a short time, like a rookie football player who gets cut in training camp, you probably were not destined for the big time anyway.  However, GM-RAM is also a motivator.  Just having seen those positions, tantalizingly with no solution, makes me want to find the answers.

It is possible to study chess very hard and see relatively little increase in playing strength.  Some players (including on occasion this writer) are like a man who keeps pouring more water on the woodpile and then wonders why his fire will not start.  Ziatdinov may be the guru such players need.  While it would probably have helped much more when I was 16, I am eager to give it a try, and I recommend it to anyone who still harbors any real "chessic" ambition.  If after a while you read of a middle-aged life-long mediocrity suddenly qualifying for the Interzonal (or even just making an OTB 2200 rating), you will know that Ziatdinov's method really works. 


Mixed bag of books

GM-RAM, Essential Grandmaster Chess Knowledge by Rashid Ziyatdinov and Peter Dyson (Thinkers Press, US$18.95 paperback, ISBN 0-938650-72-6) is a strange book, with several obvious pluses and minuses. I ts uniqueness puts it top of my review list this month. The "ram" of the title is a computer term, not a male sheep. 

Two obvious minuses might seem to rule this book out for consideration right away, but in a minute we will come to the reasons why a strong or improving player might after all decide to put money down on the counter for this one. 

Negative number 1:  The publisher's release says the book has 151 pages (they are discounting the ads at the back) but 46 of those pages have no content, being left blank for the purchaser to make notes while working through the book!  However, this is not really cheapskate publishing; there is a purpose to the way the book is laid out. 

Negative number 2:  Many of the 105 actual pages have nothing on them except six numbered diagrams - and there are no "solutions" to those diagrams.  There is a good reason for that (see below) but I think it is a mistake that the authors do not even say whether White or Black is to move. 

Negative number 3:  Since Ziyatdinov is an International Master (as the cover admits) and Dyson a "mere" US national master, how does this qualify them to produce a book that purports to train you into becoming a grandmaster!  Yet, and yet... 

Positive number 1:  A warm tribute to the author's coaching abilities from his one-time pupil GM Gregory Serper carries some conviction.  After all, in many sports the best coaches are not always the most successful practitioners.  Indeed the cover tells us that Ziyatdinov now has his first GM norm.  The role of Mr. Dyson, one suspects, has been mostly to tidy up the English. 

Positive number 2:  The essential method of the book is very striking.  The authors present about 250 positions that are the most important to understand and know if you want to be a master or GM. T he book's title comes from an analogy they make with a computer, which works 100 times faster and more efficiently with data in its random access memory (RAM) chips than when it has to read and write data on the hard drive.  So these key positions are the "GM RAM," essential endgame and middle-game positions, starting with the Lucena and Philidor positions in R+P vs R. 

Why no solutions?  Well, there are some hints in the introductory text for the two main chapters, but really you have to do the work yourself.  When you have the solutions to refer to, there is a very human tendency to skim through and then look up the answers; this results in no benefit. 

You may recognize some of the positions and be able to look them up in other books, but first you should fill those blank pages with your own ideas and analysis. 

Positive number 3:  The book also contains 59 classic games to play through (mostly with no notes, but some punctuation) a nd there are also brief, but outstandingly practical, chapters on Opening strategy and the economics of chess as a career (warning you off). 

My impression is that this book is going to be of considerable value to players who are honest with themselves and will seriously use it to detect the areas of their game that need work.  If you are not prepared to do the work, do not buy the book.


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