Book review by – Mehul Gohil
Don’t have time to read tons of chess books? Are you a junior player who has finally discovered the current crop of local coaches can’t take you to top 30 Kenya rankings and are looking for an alternative to make serious strides? Are you confused by the large selection of chess books you have to choose from? Are you lacking the budget to buy a library of chess books? Are you a senior player who has stagnated at sub 2000 Elo and wants to give the upcoming Olympiad Qualifiers a real shot? Are you wondering if their is a ‘silver bullet’ to chess improvement? Are you clueless about the correct training plan for your level of play? How can a Kenyan player get to grips with the basics? Are there answers to these questions?
I believe there is a set of nine books that comes close to answering all the above questions. This is the ‘Artur Yusupov’s Chess Course‘.
It consists of three levels. Each level having three books each. According to me the levels approximately target the following Elo strength levels:
Level 1 books: Elo 1500-1800
Level 2 books: Elo 1800 – 2000
Level 3 books: Elo 2000 – 2200
My first experience with these books came in August 2014. At that time, I was experiencing one of the low points in my chess life.
A couple of months earlier I had suicide bombed myself in the Tromso Olympiad qualifiers. I bled a few litres of rating points and my blood pressure levels fell to Elo 2024. I was also kicked out of the Kenya top 10 as I tumbled to No. 12 in the national rankings.
I was already in retirement mode not having touched a chess board or chess book for two months. I tried to get back to chess by watching live the games of my colleagues in Tromso but it proved a painful experience as I thought I should have been there. I tried to then pick up some chess books and kickstart training but I felt confused and directionless. I discussed this confusion and lack of direction with an elderly but strong player. He also briefly looked at some of my Tromso Qualifier games. His prognosis was succinct “You have lost form, and are lacking respect for the basics. Chess is not 99% tactics; Chess is 99% basics.” And he lent me 6 books comprising Levels 1 & 2 of the Yusupov Chess Course.
Initially, I thought the suggested approach was a joke. The books have zero entertainment value. They are simply work books. Yusupov keeps the prose down to a basic minimum, highlighting an important point here and there with the least number of words he can. He speaks mainly with moves. Also, I felt I had ‘been there done that’ with the set of exercises on offer, especially for Level 1. I felt I was being made to resit my KCPE exams.
Gradually, it dawned on me what was going on.
Each book has like 20-25 chapters. Each chapter focuses on a particular aspect. You train with exercises. Each chapter has an introduction with some 6 examples on the particular topic. These in themselves also form a training as questions are asked at junctures. What happens is that you get a damn good grounding on the basics. The chapters are structured in an interesting way, jumping from middle game to endgames, from tactics to calculation to strategy and so on. Even in Level 1, I got a thorough grasp of the topic and learnt some new things. I gradually realised the workbooks cover a lot of ground.
The emphasis is on skill over knowledge. You get to understand true knowledge is skill. E.g we have many instances of graduate students who have studied electrical engineering at university unable to fix a TV set. But a diploma fellow from a polytechnic background easily sorts out your TV. The latter has the skills, the former only has the knowledge.
The Yusupov books emphasise on developing skill. You are bombarded with chapters which seemingly duplicate a previous lesson but you start seeing the difference as you work through the exercises. Level 2 builds on level 1 with more complex stuff on the same themes of the Level 1 chapters sometimes, and this helps foster growth in skill. All areas are covered, as strange as it sounds with so few books in a series, but Yusupov pulls it off.
I worked with the level 1 & 2 books over the period of August to November 2014. I did nothing else chesswise. I came out working with these books a better, more rounded player. In December 2014 I won the Kenya National Chess Championship and for the first time subsequently rocketed to 2100 Elo. (Publisher’s note see – Mehul Gohil is 2014 Kenya National Chess Champion)
Currently, I am back to working with the Yusupov course books. I had previously finished one book in the Level 3. The other two have been gathering dust in my library. With the 2017 Kenya National Chess Championship in the offing come October, I thought it is time to go back to the tried and tested routine.
I highly commend the Yusupov course to all Kenyan players. Chess is 99% basics.
Mehul Gohil is one of Kenya’s top players. He was the U14 (1993-94) and the U18 (1996) Kenya National Champion.
Other titles include 2003 Kenya Open Champion and the 2014 Kenya National Champion.
Artur Yusupov was ranked No.3 in the world from 1986 to 1992, just behind the legendary World Champions Karpov and Kasparov. He has won everything there is to win in chess except for the World Championship. In recent years he has mainly worked as a chess trainer with players ranging from current World Champion Anand to local amateurs in Germany, where he resides.