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Now in English--A. Shashin's Book

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  • Now in English--A. Shashin's Book

    Mongoose Press has just (summer of 2013) published Alexander Shashin's "Best Play: A New Method For Discovering the Strongest Move" in English.

    For several years I've been reading and searching for every article and interview with A. Shashin in English that I could find on the internet. There'd been rumors online for several years that his work was going to be translated into English and published as a book. This has occurred, and I've secured a copy.

    The physical quality of the paperback edition is commendable.

    Paper-quality is good, type is pleasant and easily-read, binding seems good--overall design, good.

    The translation from Russian to English seems quite impeccable--the book reads as if it were written by a very fluently intelligent native-speaker of English--in sharp contrast to the several translated-into-English articles of Shashin's available from other sources online, which are very stilted and often quite un-grammatical.

    (the lone exception to this is the very informative interview with Shashin published at: which should be read if you're contemplating buying the book I'm reviewing!)

    Do not, however, spend you money if you're looking for easy chessic-revelation or "light-reading"--this is not the book that you're looking for.

    It's important to understand that Shashin is a scientist, a nuclear physicist who's also a chess-master, chess theoretician, and instructor. He's worked with Korchnoi, Kamsky, Morozevich and others--Shashin's no light-weight. Like Rashid Nezhmetdinov was, though, Shashin's not well-known outside of Russia.

    Because of his deep background in physics, he has recognized that chess is a complex-system, and as such the behavior of its play is amenable to a scientific, mathematical, analysis and description.

    Using the mathematical models of science, Shashin has developed a method of chess analysis, workable by a human without computer-assistance, which facilitates identifying the strongest move in any position.

    To this end, he has formulated 3 search-algorithms, which he has dubbed "Tal, Capablanca, and Petrosian". Simply put, these correspond to "Attack, Manuever, Defend".

    These three states are not discrete from each other, but flow and transform continually, the one into the others. Each has elements specific to itself, while other elements are shared with each other. Shashin has developed arithmetical formulas to determine the present state of the board at any position, and to suggest the course of action one must seek for most efficacious play.

    The best intro to his book might be had by reading the selection available free online from the publisher at:

    There you will find his introductory statements, and a copy of the drift-chart.

    I've been studying the book intermittently for four days, and have gotten exactly 11 pages into the first chapter; literally an hour-plus of study per page--the book itself is 401 pages long. Not easy stuff, as the concepts Shashin's presenting, and his method of presenting them, are a bit more complex than an "ordinary" chess-book.

    I'm finding that very close attention must be given to the definitions of the elements he presents, as these definitions are continually and subtly being enriched by further explication as the writing proceeds. (The book, while amiable, requires sincere engagement on the part of the reader to understand what Shashin's saying. It's not "light-reading", nor may one successfully "get the gist of it" by skimming, reading a paragraph here and there.)

    Taking notes and frequently editing/updating them as instruction progresses has been very necessary as I've found--I've two erasable white-boards and two paper notebooks I'm using to do this with, and frequently find myself wishing for a wall-sized white-board where I could compile and more easily study and enjoy the arithmetical formulas being presented.

    Shashin regularly uses several Greek-letters to denote elements of various algorithms: Δ (Delta), ΔK (Delta-Kappa) being foremost in useage. "Δ", of course, is regularly used in the sciences to denote changes within a system. Shashin uses it to denote expansive qualities within a chess position, and ΔK to denote qualities of "packing" or "compaction" within a chess position.

    This is bound to put-off readers lacking a scientific background, and Shashin--unfortunately--has made no easy provision for such readers--the book lacks a glossary of terms, or an index. Attentive reading is strictly required, or a non-science reader will fail to make the necessary connections to lend sufficient definition to the terms being presented..perhaps this is by intent, forcing the student to willfully self-exert and engage fully with the book?

    Unfortunately, too, Shashin immediately states that he's not bothering to reveal the back-story of how he came to his conclusions, but will instead immediately jump into revealing the final product of his ruminations.

    Three to five pages of "back-story" regarding the genesis of his theories would be of inestimable aid to the reader "cold-calling" the book. Not to mention being of immense historicity. I believe that the interview, linked above, will provide a bit of that back-story, but that such should have also been included within the book.

    I find the book to be very much like attending a college-course upon a subject I as-yet know nothing about.

    Worth the effort, I believe, but I caution you that there will be effort required of you to gainfully read this book.

    The book sports what I consider to be a modestly-hefty price-tag. $29.95. (available more inexpensively at amazon, of course). While the information the book contains may well be, and I believe is, worth the price, it won't be worth the price if the purchaser is expecting or requirinmg an easy-read. It's going to be very disappointing to such a reader, and will be gathering dust with their other unread chess-books.

    I must warn you that I think that this book will definitely not be for everyone, and that for many it will, sadly, be money-wasted.

    Others will find it worth every penny spent, but I think that these players will be in the absolute minority, as the book insists from the beginning upon focused engagement with its text if one is to extract the meaning.

    I, however, like it very much, but I happen to be very interested in the scientific analysis of chess-phenomena. I intend to purchase the hard-cover version of the book, as well.

    My suspicion is that Shashin has and is laying the groundwork for the arising of a new understanding of chess-play, which will lead to new theories and play as surely as Steinitz' work did. We may be seeing in this book the early-arisings of the "next" historical school of chess-thought/play.

    Good job, Mongoose Press! A nicely published book, an important book from a significant thinker.
    Last edited by Celadonite; 07-22-2013, 03:00 PM.
    "They work at the pace of amnesia."--M. Bloch

  • #2
    Originally posted by Celadonite View Post
    To this end, he has formulated 3 search-algorithms, which he has dubbed "Tal, Capablanca, and Petrosian". Simply put, these correspond to "Attack, Manuever, Defend".
    I would like to think my three search algorithms are Tal, Tal, and Tal but in actual practice they're probably closer to Fish, Patzer, and Woodpusher.

    Great review. Thanks for taking the time to write it.


    • #3
      Shashin's ideas are muy important.

      I feel there's room for improvements regarding the structuring of this book, the presentation of terms and their definitions, and I've written the publisher with my observations in hopes that they'll seriously consider the changes/additions I've suggested in order to make future editions more accessible to the average, non-physicist, chess-player.

      It's a very important book, very important theories. It may be that some student of Shashin's will continue and develop his work, much as students of Steinitz built atop and elaborated/popularized his conceptions.

      I've found only one typo in the 29 pages I've covered so far. The figurine of a Bishop was mistakenly substituted for the necessary Rook in the 18th move of a game between Tal and Tolush.

      In most modern chess books, the typos begin immediately, and are three and four to a page. Much higher quality regarding that, in this book. I think both Mongoose and chess-master Shashin have done well, and I look forward to seeing even better when the book comes out in its inevitable second edition!
      "They work at the pace of amnesia."--M. Bloch


      • #4
        Will be interesting to read some reviews from people on this. Seems like a suspect book, but I'm not writing it off.


        • #5
          It definitely requires one's intent and attention to comprehend and follow.

          I'd say it's just "this-side" of being Dvoretsky-deep. The utter antithesis of Schiller and Pandolfini's popular books for beginners.

          So, it won't be for everyone. I guess it wasn't intended to be.

          I'll be looking forward to other's reviews of it, too.
          "They work at the pace of amnesia."--M. Bloch


          • #6
            I will probably get the book in a day or two. But I will not review it until I have gone through the book.

            If the book is as significant as you say it is, it is worth going through. Perhaps before anything else.

            As such the usual measuring sticks we use in chess books will not suffice. One and perhaps compelling tool is to discuss how much better our understanding and results are after going through a particular book. With a book like this one that standard to not sufficient. It would be how far behind your contemporaries are in discussing some form of chess theory.

            A bit like how a very classical master who went through and mastered Tarrasch would react when someone who went through and mastered my system puts out a theory that is germane to Nimzovich. Less abstractly discussing the dynamics of an Indian defense vs. a QGD.


            • #7
              Saw an excerpt online finally. Looks like one of those books that will be a hit with a very small cross-section of folks, not because it holds much practical chess value, but more as a theoretical discussion point.

              There's nothing wrong with that kind of book, however it's likely not going to be useful to the player looking to pick up a chess book to actually improve their play, rather than find interesting ways to talk about the game.


              • #8
                Originally posted by doulos View Post
                Saw an excerpt online finally. Looks like one of those books that will be a hit with a very small cross-section of folks, not because it holds much practical chess value, but more as a theoretical discussion point.

                There's nothing wrong with that kind of book, however it's likely not going to be useful to the player looking to pick up a chess book to actually improve their play, rather than find interesting ways to talk about the game.
                Very much what I was indicating. It won't be everyone's cup of tea.

                I say that, because it's truthful.

                I'm saying it now, Zatoichi, because it's worth saying before people spend nearly thirty bucks for something that proves to be entirely beyond their comprehension and unrelated to their interests--how to gain rating points.

                I'm also saying it now, to clue-in those possible readers who would enjoy and intellectually benefit from such a uniquely scientific appraisal of the dynamics of chess-play. There's been nothing approaching Shashin's analysis of what's occurring upon the board that I'm aware of. If there has been, I'm unaware of it, and I assume it's been privately printed and circulated only amongst a small circle of adepts.

                I expect I'll spend a solid year, perhaps more, before I get firm grasp upon its contents and concepts and can use them completely as my own. (Which means I won't be having to buy other chess-books between now and then to occupy either time or mind LOL!)

                I do, though, know enough about chess to know for a fact that the man Shashin is onto something pertinent and real. I know that now, and so am speaking of it. I'm hardly uninformed, as I've spent nearly every waking moment of the past six days enfolded within its pages, pausing only to eat and relax my mind by posting dada on this forum.

                Regarding comments other reviewers are likely to make: I don't expect they'll take much notice of the book, frankly. My guess is that the book will receive far less attention than it warrants, because it is so vastly different than all preceding chess-books.

                I do predict, though, that Shashin has opened the door to an absolutely scientific appraisal of what's-going-on-in-chess, which will lead to some amazing revelations in the course of the next several decades. New ways entirely of viewing and playing the game.

                I see Shashin as the human-antidote to computer driven chess, plainly put. It's interesting to note, too, that Shashin is not adverse to employing computers to double-check his analysis and also to search for things he may have failed to notice. He uses Rybbka and Fritz as a scientist would, as research tools, not as "gurus".

                The interesting point arising is that the computers are not gain-saying the analysis he's arrived at by virtue of his employment of the algorithms he developed to make searching for the best move a totally human enterprise, capable of being done in one's head, without pencil and paper or calculator.

                It's an exciting, interesting, dreadfully involving book. It's not light-reading, it's not amenable to "skimming", and it probably won't raise anyone's ratings 200 points in a month.

                So, hardly an over-enthusiastic premature "fan-boy" review. I've expressed sincere doubts as to the book's utility for everyone, as well as mentioning what I believe are it's very real and exciting possibilities of revolutionizing our conceptualization of chess.

                Quite close to being a rational, fair, and even-handed review.

                I personally resonate with what Shashin is describing, as I've been groping towards something similiar, but on a very much lower operating level of intelligence than he.

                My approach has been geometrically-based, whereas his has been strictly mathematical and scientifically based. My approach had been to model the dynamical interactions of Time/Time', Space/Space', Material/Material' as poles of three axis constantly changing in relationship to each other, forming a morphable six-pointed star of relationships. Trying to make a more complicated modelling, I unceremoniously have employed such mundane objects as used toilet-paper tubes, appropriately delineated, to exhibit rotational transformation of various morphing values in chess.

                So, some of what Shashin is saying is not entirely foreign to me, as I saw glimpses of it by virtue of my exceedingly primitive modellings. By virtue of his intelligence, skill and acumen, he's arrived at far higher. far more practical, and more complete modellings of what's going on in chess than I was capable of arriving at with my fumbling geometric approach. If I was inventing a Model T, he's invented a Lamborghini.
                Last edited by Celadonite; 07-24-2013, 09:49 PM.
                "They work at the pace of amnesia."--M. Bloch


                • #9
                  Duz it tell me which engine has the deepest plys?
                  Alexander Alekhine is my chess hero.

                  An eerie chess short story: The Empty Chair

                  My newest chess story: Gamble: A Supernatural Chess Tale


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Skwerly View Post
                    Duz it tell me which engine has the deepest plys?
                    Probbly a question best left to a famous other thread?
                    "They work at the pace of amnesia."--M. Bloch


                    • #11
                      LOL! Maybe so.
                      Alexander Alekhine is my chess hero.

                      An eerie chess short story: The Empty Chair

                      My newest chess story: Gamble: A Supernatural Chess Tale


                      • #12
                        I'm hoping someone else here on the forum will acquire this book and join in the discussion. I'd like your opinion regarding the structuring of the book, and the apparent conflation of terms and sorting methodologies that appears to be evident within the text.

                        At the moment, I'm heuristically back-engineering the book itself, hoping to render it sensible, and I'm not attempting to learn/understand/employ the information it presents regarding determination of specific algorithm appropriate to position. The necessity for this attempt at back-engineering is given in the paragraph below:

                        My present determination is that the book was cobbled together from at least three prior modellings, and though the translation into readable English is superb, editing of the basal material was exceedingly limited or non-existant.

                        I still recommend this book to such as might appreciate a scientific modelling of the game, but now add the caveat that not only does one have to study to understand the theories presented, one has to analyze the structure of the book itself to determine coherency between and primacy of several of the methodologies presented.

                        The following will be relatively meaningless to any who've not themselves encountered the text of the book and begun their study of it. I'm hoping if any have begun studying the book, they'll find interest in discussing it here. Perhaps together we can work towards clarifying its material and rendering the basic concepts in a more orderly and intelligible manner than they have been presented within this edition.

                        EXAMPLE: the parameter "m" is that of material. Two competing methodologies are presented for determining the Numerical Value of "m". It is never stated that there are to be 2 such methodologies, but one finds first one, then the other, methodology employed, without explanation as to "why" this switching has occurred.

                        Neither methodology is synched, or apparently related, to the other methodology. Each is presented "as if" it were the unique methodology used to obtain the required Numerical Value for parameter "m".

                        One methodology appears to be a "quick-sort" methodology, where one seeks only to determine which side has more chess-pieces, rendering a simple numerical value from that quick-sort. (Stylistically, and from evidence of previous writings of Shashin available on the internet, I beleive this quick-sort methodology is an early methodology, which unfortunately found it's way into the book due to lack of responsible synching/updating of material entered into the production of the book.)

                        Another methodology, not as simple, requires determination of the number of developed White pieces as compared to and divided by the number of developed Black pieces. "One" is added to the sum for whichever side has the move, before this division is undertaken to yield a Numerical Value. The Numerical Value thus obtained is either mentally or physically referenced against a "drift-chart", indicating one of three fundamental, or three non-fundamental, algorithmic areas. (Each algorithm is given a name, which remains consistent throughout the book (as one wishes other terms and definitions did!). Each algorithm indicates a specific ambience of play necessary to be enacted upon the move the Numerical Value is obtained. These Algorithms are labelled "Petrosian, Capablanca, and Tal"...they correspond to "Defend", "Manuever", and "Attack" (amazingly, the personification of these qualities under the names of the players works quite well!)

                        The parameter of "t", 'Time', is oddly and repeatedly conflated with the concept of "mobility", though the method to determine "t" is, mercifully, intact and doesn't seem to suffer from MK1, MK2 versions of how to determine it. I suspect the apparent conflation of Time w/Mobility will prove, in the end, justifiable, but there's been no attempt to justify it via the text. It "just occurs" as one reads.

                        There's more, but I"m hoping that these several examples will prove sufficiently interesting to cause several of you to purchase the book and try, yourself, to decipher both its structuring and its contents.

                        I believe that Shashin's theories deserved a much more coherent posting than this book delivers. Hopefully a reader will untangle the mess and "translate" the information successfully and in a more coherent fashion than the book presents it in.
                        Last edited by Celadonite; 07-29-2013, 09:56 PM.
                        "They work at the pace of amnesia."--M. Bloch


                        • #13
                          My copy arrived today. I fully intend to go through the book as soon as possible.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by zatoichi View Post
                            My copy arrived today. I fully intend to go through the book as soon as possible.
                            I'm truly looking forward to your report of/reaction to the book and hope for discussion with you!
                            "They work at the pace of amnesia."--M. Bloch


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Celadonite View Post
                              I'm truly looking forward to your report of/reaction to the book and hope for discussion with you!
                              It is going to take a while. Perhaps by the end of the year.