Home >> Chess Reviews >> Secrets of Practical Chess (2007, reprinted 2008)

Secrets of Practical Chess (New Enlarged Edition) - Chess Reviews


Secrets of Practical Chess (2007, reprinted 2008)

John Nunn (Gambit Publications)

Secrets of Practical Chess (New Enlarged Edition) is a new expanded edition of a marvellous book written by John Nunn (2602, FIDE ratings January 2009, as I am too lazy to check his 2007 rating) back in 1998. This new book contains approximately 45% new material than the previous edition. The section on chess computers or "using a computer" is broadened to include much more advice on using computers for opening preparation. In this edition, there is a new chapter on "chess literature", which includes two book reviews and a list of recommended reading. This book, like the previous edition, targets average players (perhaps 1600 FIDE), who want to improve their chess in an efficient way. This book has similar topics to GM John Emms' book The Survival Guide to Competitive Chess: Improve Your Results Now! , published in 2007, since both books suggest the reader to make the most of their existing talent. Since they were both published in 2007, the authors probably didn't have access to each others' work before their own work went to publication. Although, Emms (2488, FIDE ratings January 2009, as I am too lazy to check his 2007 rating) probably had access to the 1998 edition of Nunn's Secrets to Practical Chess. Emms, however, knowing that he is a quality author, would have tried to make his own work as original as possible.

Before we took a look at the material, I would like to note that both Secrets of Practical Chess (New Enlarged Edition) and The Survival Guide to Competitive Chess do not have wide pages and are quite small in physical size. This makes them convenient to carry around and read whenever you're on the go. Secrets of Practical Chess (New Enlarged Edition) has 252 pages and looks a bit intimidating (especially if you look at some of the analysis), while The Survival Guide to Competitive Chess has 160 pages, although has larger pages than Nunn's book. Emms' book is probably easier to read without a chessboard (if you're lazy like me).

Nunn's book covers a range of issues encountered in practical play. The chapters include "At the Board", the opening, the middlegame, the endgame, using a computer and chess literature. Emms looks at "In the Heat of Battle" (which is similar to "At the Board"), "Winning, Drawing and Losing", clock control and opening play. So there is not too much overlap between the two books, except for over-the-board play, the opening and the use of computers. In the "over-the-board play" section of both books, the authors give some promising recommendations. Nunn reveals to the reader the DAUT (or "don't analyse unnecessary tactics") concept, while Emms introduces a CEM (or "check every move") principle when analysing tactics. Nunn also explores the concept of a "safety net", which is a sort of bailout variation in a sacrifice where the attacking player gives perpetual check or three-fold repetition.

With regards to opening play, both authors recommend that the reader builds an opening repertoire that suits their style of play. Nunn stresses that a chess player should not choose some "really unusual openings" because they are "rare precisely because they have some defect". Instead, a better idea is to build a "repertoire based on main lines". Emms discusses some practical issues about preparation. Moving on to the endgame, Nunn gives a large section on the endgame which Emms seems to ignore. The endgame section is basically an encyclopedia of common endgames that occur in practice. Nunn guides the reader through king and pawn endgames, rook endgames, queen endgames, etc.

Nunn continues on to the use of computers in chess, including a discussion of playing engines and how to use the computer for opening preparation. Emms also talks concisely about opening preparation in his "opening play" chapter. There is also a useful "using computers" section in Emms' book, hidden in the "opening play" chapter. In the chess literature section, Nunn gives a few book reviews and moves, and finally gives a list of books he recommends.

The topics that Emms covers is quite a bit different. You could say that Nunn covers more technical aspects when Emms covers more psychological issues. Emms has a chapter on "Winning, Drawing and Losing". He mainly talks about winning and drawing because losing is quite easy. Emms also dedicates a chapter to clock control, which Nunn has a small heading on. Nunn gives advice on time trouble in a nutshell, while Emms goes into more detail, such as "exploiting your opponent's time trouble".

So, which book should you buy? Both books have their advantages in different areas. Nunn's is more technical, while Emms' is more psychological. Nunn's book contains detailed advice on endgames, while Emms' book is much easier to read without a chess set. Emms' writing could also be considered more free-flowing. There are many more factors for both these books, so I cannot choose one. The best advice I can give is that the consumer should buy both these excellent books. John Nunn is historically the stronger player (highest rating 2630 compared to Emms' 2537; Source: ChessGames.com), although this is not an indication at all to find out who's writing is "better" (I think they're equal). Please note, although I don't really care much for prices, that the list price for both books on Amazon.com is US $24.95, although you can save 17% off Nunn's book when bought from Amazon.com.

One last question, should you buy Secrets of Practical Chess (New Enlarged Edition) if you already have the 1998 edition? I think that if you're ever planning to re-read the 1998 book, you might as well buy the 2007 (2008 reprinted) book. The new books reflects the developments throughout the 9 years since the first edition. For example, the "using a computer" chapter in the 1998 book was 8 pages; this has now been expanded to 52 pages!


To purchase products, I recommend Wholesale Chess. They provide the highest quality chess products at the lowest prices (especially for US and Canadian players). They even offer to match prices with other chess websites! Even though I live overseas, this is where I choose to purchase chess goods.

For chess opening training and repertoire maintenance, I highly recommend the software I use, Chess Openings Wizard. This software was approved by Grandmaster Peter Svidler (FIDE rating 2744 as of January 2010) many years ago.

Secrets of Practical Chess (New Enlarged Edition) and The Survival Guide to Competitive Chess: Improve Your Results Now!, both published in 2007 (Nunn's reprinted 2008), are two excellent instruction books. Recommended, especially for players in the 1600-2400 FIDE rating range.


Posted by Proabffmm on Sunday, September 13, 2009.


Copyright 2009
All Rights Reserved