Book Review – Positional Decision Making in Chess – Boris Gelfand

Boris Gelfand's wisdom kindly shared...

Decision making can be tough!

Why should you read this book?

It is often said you will need the patience of a monk and the ferocity of a lion to be successful in chess - we believe this is very true.

When you look at the great champions of the past, they had many sides to their playing character. Karpov was a boa-constrictor but he was also capable of tactical brilliancies - see Karpov - Gulko 1996.

Equally, Kasparov was a ferocious attacker but could play great positional games too. He could generate great activity from seemingly dull and quiet positions. Gelfand knows you need to have all aspects of your play at the top level to beat the best - tactics, openings, strategy,…

The right direction but a tough road ahead!

This book addresses one such skill - positional play - at a very sophisticated level. Gelfand celebrates his journey into positional chess mastery by looking over his own games and reflecting on the players who have influenced him over the years, specifically Akiba Rubinstein. For added incentive, this book won "ECF Book of the year 2015" and deservedly so.

What's in the book?

We are treated to workings of the great GM's mind in a careful and profound delivery of the subject matter. This is not a book which can or should be read in one sitting - this is a slow but rewarding read.

TQM recommends taking a chapter a night, with a board (and some water to stay hydrated) and do not be afraid to revisit and learn the topics a few times - you will get something out of each re-read!

A lot to weigh up in each position but lots here to help!

In each chapter Gelfand discusses general ideas and reflections much more than other books (which focus on pawn structure, activity,…). The book builds nicely from some personal reflections of his early chess career to more detailed analysis of games at Super GM level.

There is a lot of information on the Grunfeld and some of the specific lines Gelfand worked on in his early GM time with colleagues such as Khalifman. For someone at a lower level than IM, say, this is very specific and technical detail on the opening but a good insight into the commitment and depth of understanding needed at the highest level.

Should I buy this book?

By looking at chess at this level, it's not something which can be rushed and there are a lot of nuggets of new information within the text. The addition of Jacob Aagaard to the work adds a familiar structure and style which will be familiar to those used to the GRANDMASTER PREPARATION series.

Be aware, unlike some of the racier chess titles like "How to win quickly at chess" or "Tal's Best Games", this is not one with excitement on every page - this is a vintage - it should be savoured and enjoyed with some good food and with the time it deserves.

TQM would also add, do not be disheartened if the text feels "above your head" - it is written by a man with a profound positional knowledge of chess. As they say, if you're the smartest person in the room, you're not learning anything!

Our Verdict

For chess education, it has to be a 10/10! We've read very few books that give the depth of understanding and really challenge your ability to develop in the way this book does. However, it is hard work (and good for it!) so if you're after rapid development, it's not for you. In terms of excitement and drama, it would score much lower but let's be honest that's not why you buy a book like this.

It would be most rewarding for those players floating around the 2000+ level to gain a slow but steady climb in grade and those players lower graded but really serious about a career in chess.

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