22 February 2012

Book completed - Chess for Tigers

I recently finished Chess for Tigers by Simon Webb (Batsford, 2005 edition).  This is something of a "cult classic" due to its ability to both instruct and entertain.  The YouTube video review (linked above) is what hooked me into reading the book, although I'd seen several references to it before.

For those not familiar with the book, its 15 relatively short chapters all contain practical observations and tips for players who are interested in being "tigers" and improving their chess performance (i.e. winning more often).  This is not as silly as it may sound at first and the animal analogy is cleverly used, rather than being taken too seriously.

The basic premise of the author is laid out immediately:

"You could be a much better chess player than you are.

How? Simply by making fuller use of your natural ability."

The point is that the book is not about improving your chess knowledge - although that should occur as a side benefit if you play through the entertainingly annotated games the author provides as examples - but rather about improving your chess performance.  (For those who are unsure about the difference, perhaps a look at the Chess Performance Inventory would help bring home the idea.)

My own observations:
  • The central theme of the book - how to maximize your existing skills - is one that is often overlooked in chess literature.
  • Sound advice on self-analysis is given in chapter 3 ("Looking in the Mirror") which may be the section of the most benefit to the average person.
  • The emphasis on the practical consequences of chess decisions is refreshing and insightful. I found particularly valuable the author's observations on how to optimize your thinking process in different situations for the best possible results.
  • The author's approach to openings is broadly similar to how I view them, so that was nice to see for validation purposes. He makes a number of useful points in weighing how best to go about your opening study and preparation.
  • I have some reservations about his chapter on how to take on much stronger opponents ("How to trap Heffalumps"), which presents some contradictory advice for the reader. His central recommendation is to head for complicated positions where neither you nor your opponent know what to do. At the same time, he also recommends that you follow your own openings book, since you are more familiar with it than your opponent (I agree with this approach). He also presents some other sensible advice such as play actively and avoid exchanging down for its own sake. A related discussion occurred in the Ratings Fear and Loathing post.
  • Perhaps the most useful chapters for me were the ones on "How to win won positions" and "What to do in drawn positions"
  • As I've mentioned elsewhere, any material presented by strong players (as the author was) which dispels the myth of perfect chess is a useful mental reality check. The author in fact specifically recommends that we play to win (by methods we can understand) and not to attempt to always play "the best move" (which is in any case often debatable).


  1. Thanks for your review. Very interesting stuff Rowson writes about that probably worries many chess authors...

  2. Thanks for the comment. I'll admit that I've put off reading Rowson's works (Chess for Zebras and The Seven Deadly Chess Sins are the principal ones) in favor of some more practical focus on training in the meantime. They have a reputation of being theoretical and perhaps brilliant, also looking at what makes the chessplayer tick psychologically.

  3. I went back and read the October post where you first mentioned this book. Webb is very good on trying to get you to think about an approach to scoring points rather than indulging your beliefs about yourself as a player, your "style" etc. Flexibility is the word I suppose. The concept could use some further elaboration.