Risk & Bluff in Chess

The Art of Taking Calculated Risks

Vladimir Tukmakov

Reviewer: John Donaldson
New In Chess
240 pages

Ukrainian Grandmaster Vladimir Tukmakov is a man of many talents and tremendous energy. Nearing his 70th birthday he shows no sign of slowing down, currently serving as the second of Anish Giri, coach of the Dutch Olympiad team and author of several excellent books.

Tukmakov’s MODERN CHESS PREPARATION: GETTING READY FOR YOUR OPPONENT IN THE INFORMATION AGE and PROFESSION CHESSPLAYER: GRANDMASTER AT WORK both received excellent reviews and his latest effort RISK & BLUFF IN CHESS: THE ART OF TAKING CALCULATED RISKS should only enhance his reputation as an author. His newest book deals with a topic seldom discussed in chess literature, the art of taking calculated risks.

Arranged around nine chapters with 106 examples (most complete games) RISK & BLUFF IN CHESS: THE ART OF TAKING CALCULATED RISKS has many interesting things to say. Tukmakov sees Emanuel Lasker not as a commonly perceived bluffer, but a player who saw much more deeply than his rivals. It was Alexander Alekhine who first used bluff and psychology in opening preparation and Tukmakov sites as examples two wins against Euwe from their World Championship matches and his use of 4.Nge2 against Nimzowitsch.

Everyone of a certain age remembers Boris Spassky’s devastating use of the Closed Sicilian against Efim Geller in their 1968 Candidates Match, but how many realize how close he was to losing games 2 and 4? Tukmakov, like Geller from Odessa, shows how things could have turned out much differently.

Throughout this book Tukmakov not only provides top-rate instructive material but also insights into the styles and preferences of top-players. Recapping his win over Alexander Beliavsky from Bled 2002 (page 179), Tukmakov writes:

“The piece sacrifice in this game was a total bluff – I am not at all ashamed to admit it. But to a large extent this bluff was forced, because with normal play, the position just seemed to me to be lacking in prospects. Another factor which played a role in my decision was my good knowledge of my opponent. I had known Beliavsky for many years and we had played numerous games. The Lvov grandmaster is extremely dangerous in positions where his opponent has no counterplay. In such cases, Beliavsky is superb at gradually strengthening his pressure, without having to worry about tactics. But he feels rather less comfortable in double-edged positions. So, effectively, I had little choice. And in the end, with the aid of a good deal of luck, things turned out well.” Tukmakov calls it like he sees it and doesn’t gloss over players that he feels played dirty pool. Fellow Ukrainian Grandmaster Eduard Gufeld gets a justly deserved grilling for some dubious practices including offering draws in better positions only to renege if they accepted. No witnesses being present, the arbiter would have no choice but to continue play leaving Gufeld’s opponent rattled.

Sammy Reshevsky was another who engaged in this practice on numerous occasions. Reshevsky’s variation on Gufeld’s theme was to offer a draw when both players were low on time. When the opponent accepted, after using almost every last second of thinking time, he would deny never having made the offer. This left the opponent flustered and with no time to think. This tactic backfired on at least one occasion. At Lone Pine 1981 Reshevsky tried his trick on John Fedorowicz who accepted the draw which Sammy then claimed to have never made. Several witnesses supported Fedorowicz but the Chief Arbiter, Isaac Kashdan, supported Reshevsky ruling that since they were all young they were likely friends of Fedorowicz. Play resumed and this time it was Reshevsky who lost on time, failing to make the last move of the time control before his flag fell.

One of the things that makes RISK AND BLUFF IN CHESS special is that Tukmakov has discussed many of the games he features with the combatants to get insights into what they were thinking about while they were playing. One rare example where he didn’t, and where it would have been beneficial, is Nakamura-Kramnik, Istanbul (ol) 2012.

Nakamura – Kramnik, Istanbul (ol) 2012 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.c4 c6 5.d4 d5 6.cxd5 cxd5 7.Nc3 Ne4 8.Qb3 Nxc3 9.bxc3 0–-0 10.Nd2 e6 11.e4 Nc6 12.0–-0 Na5 13.Qd1 Qc7 14.Qf3 b6 15.Ba3 Rd8 16.e5 Ba6 17.Rfe1 Rac8 18.Bb4 Bh6 19.Qd1 Nc6 20.Ba3 Na5 21.Bb4 Nc6 22.Ba3 Na5

The position is completely equal and the players had already repeated moves twice. Nobody doubted that the game would be drawn, but does White have any way to continue the fight?


What is this? I have never seen a more shocking move in my life, and I have seen a fair bit! 23.Bb4 ends the game in a draw at once.

The remainder of the game is annotated in depth and Tukmakov concludes by noting, “Frankly I do not know anyone in the world elite who would have decided on such a knight move.” He goes on to note that this game determined the result of the match between Russia and the United States.

What Tukmakov doesn’t know, and only someone who was closely watching the match live could realize (this reviewer was the US team captain), is that when Hikaru chose to play 23.Nb1 he did it because of the situation in the match. At that moment Onischuk-Karjakin was a definite draw, Grischuk-Kamsky was better for Black but far from winning, and Jakovenko-Robson look better for White who had a huge time advantage. Agreeing to a draw left a very real possibility that the U.S. might lose the match and with it a chance to fight for the medals. This game is a perfect example of why Hikaru is such a formidable competitor. He is a fighter par excellence and just the guy you want on your side in a team competition, who will do whatever it takes. His skill set has often been undervalued by more classically trained representatives of the former Soviet Union, but now that he is number two in the world (September 2015) he is finally starting to get his due.

RISK & BLUFF IN CHESS: THE ART OF TAKING CALCULATED RISKS is a book that should appeal to a wide range of players.

Highly Recommended