Universal Chess Training was published in 2020. It was featured in Levy Rozman’s YouTube channel several months back. He explains the difference between how a 2400 player and a 2800 player assess a position. The positions were all taken from this book.
Becoming a strong chess player starts with improving your board vision, and the best way to do that is to study tactics. There is value in this approach because chess is a game of pattern recognition. Many chess games have positions that map back to tactical themes such as pins, forks skewers, x-ray attacks and so on. These combinations can happen at any moment in a game of chess so every player must be familiar with them. At first glance, Universal Chess Training written by GM Wojciech Moranda looks like a traditional book on chess tactics – there are four miniature chess boards per page with each board showing the names of the players and color to move.
This is where the similarity ends.
Universal Chess Training
Universal Chess Training melds positional and tactical motifs into one. The chapters are arranged sequentially into three difficulty levels:
- Rank >1600: ‘What every Russian school student solves’
- Rank >1900: ‘Enter at your own risk: Puzzles may bite’
- Rank >2200: ‘Grandmasters wept solving these
The types of problems are arranged into five different skill sets:
- Anticipation & Prophylaxis
- Attack & Defense
- Statics & Dynamics
The author explains that these are the most common problem areas that amateur players experience. The skill areas are random. That means, your first problem might be Attack & Defense while the next problem could be Coordination. The reader has to analyze the position and play the best move. So, the reader has to really concentrate to understand the theme of the problem.
The answers are given at the back of the book but not in the way you might expect. Instead of single move solutions, you are expected to solve for the entire variation. The author provides detailed annotations on the main line , but he also takes time to explain the other variations and why they don’t work. All solutions are computer-verified, so, don’t worry about Stockfish finding a different solution than what is in the book.
GM Moranda highlights some non-traditional ideas that will help the reader enormously. Sometimes, he shows a very simple idea of moving the king from g1 to h2 to side-step an impending attack. Other times, he shows you the importance of re-routing a knight from one side of the board to another. Some of my favorite problems are the sacrificing of a pawn or material to create a positional (but not necessarily winning) advantage. This is an area I struggle with – not understanding that sacrificing a rook for a bishop is perfectly reasonable if it gives you unrestricted access to a long diagonal.
How should you read this book?
Each problem is deep. Rarely will you find the best move simply by glancing at the position. I suggest setting up each problem on a full-sized chessboard and taking anywhere from 10-20 minutes analyzing it. Can you take more time than that? Sure, but I like to simulate the time you would normally take in a classical game when you have a tough position to solve.
Solve a few problems in one sitting, no more. That should amount to 30-40 minutes. If you don’t have that amount of time, split up the problems – one for morning, afternoon and evening. Invest the time analyzing the positions, you won’t be disappointed. You will be rewarded with a greater understanding of the game of chess. My play has improved dramatically over the past few months and I credit much of that that to spending time reading Universal Chess Training.
Please share with me your experiences with Universal Chess Training. Did the book help you improve? What did you think of the quality of problems in it?