A Promoted Pawn: My Chess Journey
Author: Grandmaster Igor Smirnov
Genre: chess, fundamentals, part biographic
Recommendation: a fantastic compendium of chess advice
Buy it here: A Promoted Pawn
Before I begin allow me to give full disclosure. First, I was given an advance copy of this book, which is why I can have this review out in less than 24 hours. Second, and the reason why I have an advance copy, I worked on this book with GM Igor Smirnov. I transcribed and edited roughly half of this book. I thus have a slight bias, but I will be as objective as possible.
In short, this is a terrific book.
This is GM Smirnov’s second chess book. His first one, Champion Psychology, was a great success and got very favourable reviews. This new one improves on it in many ways, especially in terms of production quality. His first book was 112 pages of big font and many images. This new one is 222 pages of regular font and no unnecessary images. A Promoted Pawn has more than double the content of his first book, and with good reason.
Champion Psychology dealt only with the psychology of chess, how to handle nerves and tension, that sort of thing. This book, instead, deals with chess as a whole. It teaches the fundamentals of the game. I don’t mean the absolute basics, such as the knight moves in an L, but rather the fundamentals of being a good chess player instead of just an average one.
Parts of this book is biographical, where GM Smirnov recounts his own personal chess development. He recounts his first tournaments and meeting people like Garry Kasparov, but don’t confuse this with a straight up biography. Smirnov intends this to be a learning tool, to make the reader a better chess player. There is practical advice in every chapter. So it’s not just a story about his first tournament, but also the lessons he learned from that that made him a better player. It’s not just a few stories about Kasparov, it’s lessons you can derive from his play. Every chapter and every story is not only entertaining but also highly educational.
The book format roughly follows GM Smirnov’s own development. You can see which lesson he learned when and how important each lesson was. You can see a free preview of the table of contents on the book’s sale page. The third chapter in his story, after learning the moves and inconsistent results, is about learning to attack. If you’ve seen any of GM Smirnov’s other tutorials or courses you likely know how much he values attack. Here we see exactly where he learned this skill and how much benefit he got from it.
There are a number of such chapters, all detailing how he learned an important part of the game: attack, planning, endgames, prophylaxis, avoiding time trouble, and training. As a whole I considered these to be the fundamentals of chess playing. If you don’t have one of these skills you have a major hole in your game. Developing all of these aspects will greatly enhance your game. Indeed, virtually every chapter in which he deals with one of these, Smirnov explains how learning this new aspect or skill greatly improved his results.
That said, this is different from normal chess manuals. There are dozens if not hundreds of chess books explaining how to attack, each filled with hundreds of diagrams and pages upon pages of variations proving how some spectacular sacrifice is completely sound or unsound. GM Smirnov does not do this. As always, Smirnov is concerned with our mindset. We don’t need to see and study countless examples of successful attacks; we need to learn how to think like an attacker. Similarly, we don’t need to memorize an endgame encyclopedia; we need to think like an endgame virtuoso. This GM Smirnov manages to accomplish.
In just a few pages you will know the correct way to think in an attack or an endgame. Once you have this, the rest of your study will go so much easier. I can state this from personal experience. At the time of writing my rating is 1861 online, and my endgame skills are lacking. I’m not very good at them. I transcribed the endgame chapter in this book, and just doing that alone seriously helped my endgame understanding. Before, I would see grandmasters make seemingly random moves, and I had no idea why. I couldn’t fathom the reasoning behind those moves. After transcribing that chapter, I had an epiphany. The middlegame and endgame are two different things and need to be approached in different ways. I was applying the middlegame thinking to endgame positions, and so is no wonder I couldn’t understand things. My endgames are still lacking, but I can now understand the moves far better, and that’s an incredible accomplishment for a book that only has one chapter on endgame play.
The chess content of this book, as always with Smirnov, is solid. The glimpses into GM Smirnov’s journey to the grandmaster title are often fascinating. If I have one complaint, and I imagine many others will share this is well, is that he somewhat glosses over his intermediate stage. For example, in one chapter he describes how he was stuck at a certain rating for a very long time, and no matter what he did he could not progress past it. I’m sure every chess player can sympathize at that, but perhaps we feel less sympathy to find out GM Smirnov was stuck at a measly 2450 rating. I imagine 99.9% of chess players consider that a dream come true, not stuck at all.
At the same time, GM Smirnov was practising five to eight hours a day and had help from many different coaches. Perhaps it only makes sense that his ‘stuck’ rating was 1000 points higher than my own. Really, though, it shows how everyone struggles with chess in his or her own unique way. We get glimpses of Smirnov’s doubt and fear throughout. Sure, he’s playing at a higher level, but he still experiencing the same anxiety we all face in those pressure situations. Indeed, I never realized Smirnov nearly gave up chess; he actually did, at least for a little while. I find learning about these periods in professional chess players’ careers especially enlightening, and this book features many such examples.
Bottom line, if you are a fan of GM Smirnov’s teaching style, you will love this book. It is packed with fantastic information. If you are at all interested in developing as a chess player this book will help you.
Buy it here: A Promoted Pawn
PS If you check the Gratitude section at the very end, you’ll find my name 😀