Jeremy Silman's Book Reviews
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are not necessarily those of ICE or the Editors of Inside Chess Online.
©1999 Jeremy Silman and Inside Chess Online.
Essential Grandmaster Knowledge.
(Authors: Rashid Ziatdinov and Peter
Dyson. Publisher: PROChess LLC.)
Assessed by Silman
Rating Scale 7.0 [1.0 =
worst; 10.0 =
to International Master; 97 pages paperback
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.
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?!
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.
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."
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.
reservations are as follows:
this premise true? Quite honestly, I do not have a clue.
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.
games are not annotated. That is right, just a bunch of bare game
scores (as well as all those lonely diagrams).
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.
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).
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.
RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge, by IM Rashid
and Peter Dyson, 1998 PROChess, Spiral-bound
English algebraic notation, 97pp., $10.00.
the Amber novels, a fantasy/science-fiction series by Roger Zelazny, is
"The Pattern", a geometrical design of such complexity andmagic
that all realities are implicit within it, and one who can
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 to
certain difficult tasks. For example, playing the flute:
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 really
notice, you can jolly well tell them what to do, make surethey
get everything right, so there will never be diseases again."
future lesson promises to tell how to irrigate the Sahara.
chess we're all trying to work our way through complexitiesand
figure out "how to do it," i.e. attain mastery. IM Rashid
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 things
to reach Grandmaster strength. In the preface he states"My
research into what is most important to know has led me
identify what I consider to be the essential knowledge of a
The positions around which this knowledge is
are provided in this book." And, like one who has
the Pattern of Amber, "Once you understand the
in this book, your chess pieces will have new powers
My opinion is that if you memorize all of them, you will be a
amazing assertion, which I was at first tempted to regard as
fantasy or a Pythonesque joke. However, on further
I decided against such an abrupt dismissal. It has long
known that pattern recognition (which Ziatdinov refers to
"tacit knowledge" or "RAM" -- Random Access Memory) is
essential chess skill. Study of well-played games builds up
the student's memory a store of patterns, which, when a
position occurs in actual play, can be recalled, either
or subconsciously, to help him find the right move
plan. Take for example the following position, which
in a game between two class B players at my local
Kg1, Qe2, Rd1,Rf1, Nb3, Bd3, Bd4; pawns - a2, b2, c2,
f4, g2, h2
Kg8, Qd8, Rc8,Rf8,Nb4,Bd7, Be7; pawns - a6, b7, d6,
f7, g7, h7
play continued 16. Rf3?! Nxd3 17. Rdxd3? Bb5, but in
the game for the club newsletter, I found myself
"Why not 16. ed6 and sacrifice on h7?" Sure enough,
little analysis showed that 16. ed6 Bxd6 17. Bxh7+! Kxh7
Qh5+ Kg8 19. Bxg7!! Kxg7 20. Qg4+ Kh8 21. Rf3
22. Rh3+ etc. would have been decisive (thus Black
have been forced into 16. ed6 Bf6 17. Bxf6 Qxf6 18. c3,
is still rather bad).
a sense of deja vu while working out that line, and
an old book, I confirmed the source: the famous game
Amsterdam 1889, which from an essentially
Kg1, Qe2, Ra1,Rf1, Ng3, Bd3, Be5; pawns - a2, b3, c2,
e3, f4, g2, h2
Kg8, Qc6, Ra8, Rf8, Nf6, Bb7, Be7; pawns - a6, b6, c5,
e6, f7, g7, h7
14. Nh5! Nxh5 15. Bxh7+! Kxh7 16. Qxh5+ Kg8
Bxg7!! Kxg7 18. Qg4+ Kh7 19. Rf3 e5 20. Rh3+ Qh6 21.
Kxh6 22. Qd7 etc., 1-0, 33.
is likely that Tarrasch felt the same deja vu as he played a
complex but similar sac against Nimzovitch at St.
Kg1,Qc2, Rc1, Rf1, Bb2; pawns - a2, b3, e3, f2, g2, h2
Kg8, Qe7, Rd8, Rf8, Bc6, Bd6; pawns - a7, c5, d5, f7
... d4! 19. ed4 Bxh2+! 20. Kxh2 Qh4+ 21. Kg1 Bxg2! 22.
Rfe8 23. Ne4 Qh1+ 24. Kf2 Bxf1 25. d5 f5 26. Qc3 Qg2+
Ke3 Rxe4+! 28. fe4 f4+! 29. Kxf4 Rf8+ 30. Ke5 Qh2+ 31.
Re8+ 32. Kd7 Bb5#.
the worth of pattern recognition is clear. However, unlike
Ziatdinov requires one to walk not a single pattern,
256, and unlike Monty Python, he makes it clear it is
Capablanca and many other authorities, Ziatdinov says
study of chess begins at the end. Thus the first 136
are endgames. Of these 52 are basic King-and-single-
or Rook-and-single-pawn endings, beginning with
simple Lucena and Philidor positions, and
to more difficult ones with subtle distinctions, such
diagrams 49 and 50:
Rh7; pawn - e5
Black: Ke8, Re1
Kd6, Rh7; pawn - e5
differ only slightly. There are six Queen endings, 56
piece endings, 12 of Rook vs. minor piece, and nine
of "fortresses", such as diagram 136
Ke4,Qd5; pawn - h5
Rf6; pawn - g7
the materially superior side cannot win against best play.
the endgame section come 120 middlegame positions.
are derived from 59 classical games, the full
texts of which follow in an entirely separate
Some games get several diagrams, some none, and the
are not in the same order as their corresponding
In some cases the position is a decisive combinative
Kg1, Qg4, Rc1,Re7, Ng5; pawns - a2, b2, f2, g2, h2
Ke8, Qd7, Ra8, Rc8; pawns - a7, b7, d5, f6, g6, h7
other cases it is not:
Kg1, Qe2, Ra1,Rf1, Nc3, Nf3, Bc4, Be3; pawns - a4,
c2, d3, e4, f2, g2, h2
Kg8, Qd8,Ra8, Rf8, Nc6, Ng6, Bc8, Be7; pawns - a6,
c5, d7, e6, f7, g7, h7
are two interesting aspects to these games. One, in
to many other chess writers, Ziatdinov advises outright
of them, claiming "If you know just one of the
classical games, you will be able to become a 1400-
player, know 10 games and you will be 2200-level, know
and you will be 2500." Two, and as a chess history buff I
delighted to see this, the most recent of the games is from
45 of the 59 are from the 1800's, and most of those were
while Abraham Lincoln was still alive. The names
Morphy, Steinitz, and Chigorin predominate. "The
which hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which
done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing
the sun." -- Ecclesiastes 8. By the way, the
Lasker-Bauer position is on page 87.
will note that we have not supplied any solutions to the above
nor even mentioned which color is on move. Neither
Ziatdinov! There is the rub -- while he gives you the
you have to work almost everything out for yourself!
you thought you were going to get True Enlightenmen t
GM-RAM provides not a set of pat answers but an outline
a course of study. What you get for your 10 bucks, says
are the right positions to study. The final page
a list of recommended references where one can find
answers, such as all six volumes of Averbakh's
Chess Endings, Benko's Chess Endgame
Fine's Basic Chess Endings, Keres' and Kotov's The Art
the Middle Game, Alekhine's My Best Games of Chess
and Kmoch's Pawn Power In Chess.
this method actually works, I have no idea. Given that
methods closely resemble those of GM Lev Alburt
for example the review of Alburt's Chess Training Pocket
in the Chess Cafe archives), and that this sort of once-
Soviet training helped make the USSR the greatest
chess power in history, it would appear to have very
addition to being a course outline, however, GM-RAM is
a litmus test of one's commitment. To follow its course to
length, except perhaps just to play over its games at leisure,
a high level of interest and desire. It is designed for the
and ambitious. Ziatdinov promises some
even from casual study, but if you find yourself
interest in a short time, like a rookie football player who
cut in training camp, you probably were not destined for
big time anyway. However, GM-RAM is also a motivator.
having seen those positions, tantalizingly with no solution,
me want to find the answers.
is possible to study chess very hard and see relatively little
in playing strength. Some players (including on
this writer) are like a man who keeps pouring more
on the woodpile and then wonders why his fire will not
Ziatdinov may be the guru such players need. While it
probably have helped much more when I was 16, I am
to give it a try, and I recommend it to anyone who still
any real "chessic" ambition. If after a while you read of a
life-long mediocrity suddenly qualifying for the
(or even just making an OTB 2200 rating), you will
that Ziatdinov's method really works.
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
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
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.