01 May 2017

The Polgar Brick: eBook Edition

A Review

Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations, and Games by László Polgár contains 306 checkmate in one, 3412 checkmate in two, 744 checkmate in three, and then 600 miniature studies. These miniatures (game of 25 moves or less) are sorted into six groups. Each group contains 100 games that featured a sacrifice on one of a pair of squares--f3.f6, g3/g6, h3/h6, f2/f7, g2/g7, and h2/h7. I described one of the ways that I found this section useful in "Building Upon Morphy". Following the miniatures section are 144 simple endgames and then 128 combinations from the Polgár sisters, Susan, Sophia, and Judit. Susan and Judit are Grand Masters, and Judit was in the FIDE top ten a few years ago. Sophia, who was more interested in art than chess, is an International Master.

The book was first published by Könemann in 1994 under the title Chess in 5333+1 Positions. The "+1" in the original title reflects the distinctiveness of the final position, an artistic checkmate in two composition by Sophia. In 2006, Black Dog & Leventhal brought out a new edition that is approximately half the size--same thickness, but 6 x 9 inches instead of the large 8 x 12 format. I have the Könemann paperback edition, which I bought for $25 in 1998. The smaller edition is still a large book, although considerably lighter than the original. At some point, this book acquired the nickname "Polgár Brick" in several social media forums. Both editions are 1104 pages.

The Black Dog & Leventhal edition added an introduction by Bruce Pandolfini, while eliminating front matter in languages other than English. The Könemann edition has the table of contents, Polgár's forward, and other material in ten languages.

It is a useful book for self-study and useful to chess teachers, but it is awkward to carry in a backpack. Last week, I bought the Kindle eBook edition for $2.99 and now have the book on my iPhone and iPad. Hence, I always have it with me unless I am swimming.

Fifteen years ago, I spent 20-30 minutes per day with this large book during my morning coffee. I would solve each exercise looking at the diagram and write down my answer on a piece of paper. Then, I would check the answers in the back of the book and record the percentage that I got correct. When this percentage was below 90, I would rework the problems a few days later. Over the course of a few months, I solved the first 1596 problems. Since then, the book has mostly sat on a bookshelf alongside other neglected books. Occasionally, I would pull it off the shelf when looking for some instructive checkmate exercises for students or to work through some of the book's miniatures.

Even strong players capable of solving difficult tactics problems could benefit from working through the checkmate in one exercises. The first 156 contain a minimum number of pieces. Beginning with number 157, the board is crowded with pieces. How many can you solve as fast as you turn the page? I found that I could solve the first 156 instantly, but then slowed down. Some took a few seconds; others were as easy as those with few pieces. Solving these exercises quickly and repeatedly should improve board vision and pattern recognition.

Some of the ckeckmate in two exercises are challenging, depending on your skill level. But, they are intended by Polgár to require only a few minutes and to build the reader's confidence. Naturally, the checkmate in three are more challenging, but still not horrendously difficult.

In the print edition, there are six problems per page. The eBook presents one per page. In the solutions, the composer is indicated if is was not Polgár. For the checkmate in one (naturally) and the checkmate in two, only one move is given. The solutions to the checkmate in three are carried out to checkmate. In the eBook, the problem number is a hyperlink to the solution and the number above the solution links back to the problem.

Only a few of the first 4462 positions are from real games. The 600 miniatures, of course, are all real games, as are 127 of the 128 from the Polgár sisters.

The eBook edition extends the usefulness of this book. It is certainly much easier to carry, as noted above. There are a few formatting issues, but these serve only as distractions and do not mar the book's usefulness. Some of the solutions seem to be in a larger font, for example. In the bibliography at the end of the book, the Russian language sources listed are in a smaller font than the other texts.

Now that I have the eBook, I expect to make much more extensive use of the miniatures section. Last fall, I carried the mammoth book to a chess lesson with a student so that we could look at a few of the miniatures together. Then, it sat on the floor of my car for most of the winter. No longer. The book need not leave my house, and I will always have it during chess lessons. I rarely do not have my iPad and never leave my home without my phone.

Print Edition First Miniature
In the book, the miniatures contain the early moved of the game, then a diagram with the critical position. Underneath the diagram is the conclusion of the game. This is the same structure that one finds in the Encyclopedia of Chess Miniatures (2015). Ideally, the student would look at the diagram and solve the position without looking at the continuation below. This exercise is most easily accomplished by covering the moves below with a scrap of paper.

eBook Edition First Miniature
In the eBook edition, the initial moves and diagram are on one page, and the game's conclusion is on the next page. That structure makes it more useful as a training tool than the print edition and the cost is slightly more than 10% of the publisher's list price.

If you do not have this book, it might be time to download the free Kindle app and enter the world of chess eBooks. There are many exceptional chess books in this format. Few are as good of a bargain as the Polgár brick. Do be careful, however, there are chess eBooks that are complete rubbish. Some are even written by people who do not know how to play chess (see "Kindle Chess Books").


  1. Thanks for pointing out the existence of this kindle version. For a book such as this one, the e-version has a lot of value indeed !

    1. It seems the Kindle version has been out since 2013, but I had not noticed. Naturally, when I did notice, the mammoth size of the print version made me skeptical that it would work as an eBook. Yet it works great!

      Through the past few days, it has been #1 among Kindle Chess best sellers. I am happy to see a legitimate chess book at the top. One or two in the top five are written by people who show minimal understanding of the game. I bought one so that I could give it an appropriate review: it is garbage--full of errors concerning the rules, chess terminology, and strategy. The author's advice, if followed, will lower the rating of anyone over 1000 Elo. I doubt that Henry A. is the author's real name. Most of the reviews of Henry's book are fake as well.