Russian Endgame Handbook

Ilya Rabinovich

Reviewer: John Donaldson
Mongoose Press
523 pages

Two New Books From Mongoose Press 

An old Soviet quip has it that Western amateurs “play the opening like grandmasters, the middlegame like experts, and the endgame like beginners.” Two new offerings from Massachusetts-based Mongoose Press seek to rectify this state of affairs.

The first is the massive (536 pages!) Russian Endgame Handbook by Ilya Rabinovich. First published in 1927 and later updated in 1938, Rabinovich’s comprehensive guide to the endgame appears here for the first time in English, ably translated by James Marfia.

An opening book from 1938 elicits no more than curiosity today, but endgame theory has developed much more slowly. Parts of the Russian Endgame Handbook, particularly on Queen and Pawn versus Queen, are significantly out of date, but the bulk of this book is still valid and what makes it remain relevant is the author’s skill in presenting information in a way that is easy to assimilate.

The same is true of a new book by the young English International Master Jonathan Hawkins. His Amateur to IM: Proven Ideas and Training Methods may not be quite as massive as Rabinovich’s tome but at 369 pages it is hardly a slight work.

Unlike the former it is not an encyclopedic effort (there is nothing on Queen endings for example) but instead a very personal one. The author was not a child prodigy and for a long time plateaued at a level that would approximate that of a USCF Expert. Hawkins only reached his present level (strong IM on the verge of becoming a GM) after he experienced an epiphany, coming to the realization that a serious study of the endgame would bear fruit not only in that area of the game but in improving his general overall understanding. Subsequent success convinced the author he had chosen the right path to improvement and provided the impetus for his first book.

Amateur to IM: Proven Ideas and Training Methods is not your typical endgame book, which becomes clear when the author spends 22 pages on Rook and Bishop versus Rook. Such a large allotment of space for such a technical ending might seem excessive but Hawkins has his reasons. First, these days with no adjournments it comes up surprisingly often. Second, learning it provides not just mastery of this specific ending but leads to a better overall understanding of how Rook and Bishop work together and complement each other.

Almost all of the examples chosen by Hawkins are recent with an emphasis on practical play. Without exception they are very well explained. Supplementing the examples are 24 exercises with thorough solutions.

Both books are produced on good paper with a sturdy binding. Each is neatly laid out with a clear two-column format.

The target audience for both these books is players rated from 1800-2400. Rabinovich’s book is bigger and covers more material, but Amateur to IM: Proven Ideas and Training Methods is likely to prove more entertaining and instructive. Just keep in mind it doesn’t cover all endgames.