Sunday, December 11, 2016

Book Review of "The Fighting Dragon"

As I began writing this book review, the following lines of poetry by William Butler Yeats crossed my mind:
'But I, whose virtues are the definitions 
Of the analytic mind, can neither close 
The eye of the mind nor keep my tongue from speech.'

Why?  A former lady friend of mine, who was into the zodiac, explained it to me once.  I'm a Virgo, and Virgos prefer honesty over popularity.  Something like that.

That said, I still feel pretty bad about what I am about to do next. Namely, pen some harsh criticisms about a chess book written by a really nice guy, national master Paul Powell.  Having never met him, how can I tell?  Because his wanting to help the readers comes shining through The Fighting Dragon [Mongoose Press, 2016, 183 pages]. You can't help but admire an author who dedicates his book to, among others "Mark Baterman, Jack Beers, William Bergman, Israel Zilber, and all the lost boys of chess."  Kudos to Paul for that!

As a player who has had good results throughout the years with the Yugoslav Attack, including a couple of wins against international masters (Mike Valvo and Elliot Winslow), I was expecting some hard analysis from a book with the subtitle How to Defeat the Yugoslav Attack.

The first warning signal came early on when I got to these lines: "Do this exercise: close your eyes and lightly press your fingertips on your eyelids.  See those flashing, swirling lights?  You have now reached enlightenment and are ready for the next phase of learning."  And again, a little later: "Deprived of oxygen, the photoreceptors start firing, giving you the impression that you are seeing swirling colors or flashing lights." No doubt this is all scientifically true.  But what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?

Another feature which I found disturbing is that all the diagrams in the book are arranged from the black side of  the board.  So much for neutrality!

Keeping in mind that a reviewer's first responsibility is to the readers, not the author, I can not in all honesty recommend The Fighting Dragon for the serious chess player.

But if you have a child or student who is just starting out and is interested in learning a new defense against 1.e4, this book might be helpful.  Because as the author himself points out: "Our journey starts with this book, by reviewing games where Black won in a short number of moves.  These types of games are known as miniature games and by their very nature they are contests where a major mistake was made.  Therefore, we don't look to these games for deep theory.  What we can learn from these games are tactical themes, which you can use to find patterns in your own games."