17 October 2019

Book completed: Grandmaster Performance by Lyev Polugayevsky

I recently completed Grandmaster Performance by GM Lyev Polugayevsky (alternate spelling Lev Polugaevsky). Note: I have a hardcover of the original Pergamon Press edition (above left), although the currently available edition with Ishi Press (above right) has a similar cover design.

As with previously completed annotated games collections such as Bronstein's Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953 and Walter Browne's The Stress of Chess...and its Infinite Finesse, I used it primarily for single-session reviews of each game, typically taking 15-20 minutes to go through it. I find this to be the ideal amount of time for maintaining focus and being able to absorb the lessons of each game, before moving on to something different. to do this, the games need to be instructive, informative and judiciously well-annotated. Grandmaster Performance fit the bill very well, in all respects.


From the author - a preface from which I got Training quote of the day #19

Problems from the first move - this chapter focused on games where opening preparation was a deciding factor.

In search of the truth - featuring attacking games by the author. The chapter title comes from Polugayevsky's preference for objectively sound attacks, rather than attacking for its own sake.

From defence to attack - featuring games where the author is on the defensive, then finds resources to turn the tables on his opponent.

The touchstone of mastery - games where the author won due to strategically outplaying his opponent.

Finale of the chess symphony - includes endgames of particular interest to the author. Most of these games are still fully annotated, although there is one endgame fragment presented in the chapter.

Psychology of the chess struggle - Polugayevsky presents a few key games from his chess career and the considerations that went into his strategic choices in each case, predicated on his own state of mind and his opponents' capabilities and styles.

Grandmaster Performance is elegantly written (and translated) and has an excellent balance in the annotations between explaining moves, providing variations, and "color commentary" by the author. Each chapter holds together thematically, but when going through complete games one learns much more than just a single lesson. Throughout the book, and especially in the last chapter, one also gets a good sense of the practical considerations used by a strong, competitive player in making decisions, as well as the errors that inevitably occur. For improving players, seeing and absorbing this kind of candid, high-level commentary on thought process and decisionmaking is undoubtedly beneficial. It is also psychologically helpful to understand that chess is not a perfect game, even at the grandmaster level, and success comes from finding ways to win, including when under pressure and on the defensive.

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