Grandmaster Preparation: Calculation by Grandmaster Jacob Aagaard is the first in a five book series (position play, strategic play, endgame play and thinking inside the box are the others) designed to give aspiring players without trainers the tools they need on the road to grandmastership. Such aims are ambitious to say the least but Aagaard delivers.
This reviewer remembers when an English language translation of Hort and Jansas Whats the Best Move was published in 1980 and what a big deal it was. Previous to that, students of the game had only books on combinations and chess solitaire to go through, but they were nothing like the work by the two Vlastimils. The 230 test positions, all from their own games, were challenging, even with three choices offered. I still remember taking a Greyhound bus from Philadelphia to Boulder, Colorado, in 1981 with IM Walter Morris and the difficulties both of us had finding the correct solutions.
The 75 positions offered in the final chapter (Difficult Positions) of Aagaards book are on a different order of magnitude of difficulty from those in Whats the Best Move. Fortunately, students have roughly 375 positions to solve before that to prepare themselves. These positions are arranged around eight chapters that deal with specific themes: candidate moves, combinational vision, prophylaxis comparison, elimination, intermediate moves, imagination and traps.
Each chapter starts with four to five pages of examples accompanied by explanatory prose which builds up to the exercises which are the heart of the book. They are challenging and the time to solve them reflects this. Dont expect to gobble them down like three move checkmates.
Failing to solve the exercises can still yield benefits if the student tries their hardest. Calculation has detailed solutions that clear up misconceptions.
Grandmaster Aagaard is an ardent believer in the benefits of hard work. With this book, Attacking Manual 1 and 2, Practical Chess Defense and the Quality Chess Puzzle Book (co-written with John Shaw) he has provided a wealth of material for the aspiring student. Whether this will help lead them to the Grandmaster title is an open question, but there can be no question that they will show serious improvement if they conscientiously work through Calculation.
Players rated 2000 on up will benefit from this book.