Formation Attacks - Joel Johnson (2007 US Senior Champion)
Published 2010 - 500 pages - ISBN 978-0-557-52269-9
This book is essentially a games collection of 435 lightly annotated games. In almost every case the games conclude with a sacrificial attack on the opponents King that ends in a forced checkmate. There is almost no comment on any of the openings, and the author states this is a deliberate policy, admitting in his introduction that one or two are unsound. The games come from all eras, and all levels. There are games here from Nezhmetdinov, Blackburne, Tal, as well as some of the author's 3 and 5 minute ICC games. There are some from his students too, and several modern grandmaster games. Most openings are represented, even some boring ones, and are listed in the index at the end.
In a book where the author sets himself 400 plus games to comment on there is not much space for reverie and the book is pleasantly free from waffle. In the first 40 page section with 25 example games he explains the elements, techniques and process of attacks, with advice on candidate moves, weaknesses, pressure and so on.
The next 30 or so pages are called "Attack info" and feature his preparations for one OTB match, notes on computer use, and some endgame mates, telling his readers not to forget mating attacks in the endgame.
The rest of the book is devoted to the main theme. He classifies each king-side castled king and pawn position according to which if any pawns are advanced and suggests a tactical motif for breaking through with several example games in each subsection. In formation "open g file" however - with GP's recent blog in mind, there are no examples of Pillsbury's mate, but plenty of other ideas. So there is still a place for GP and Timmybx's blogs in chess literature - keep up the good work fellas 🙂
There is a short section on queen-side castling without the detail of categorizing each possible pawn advance in front of the king. One feels at this stage he has realized how much work he had set himself, and has maybe backed off from his original idea, but may also feel that much of what he had already said about the king-side breakthrough sacrifices apply here. The next section looks at the uncastled king and some other ideas such as "overwhelming force at point of attack," a nod to his mates Brian Wall and Jack Young in a section on the "fishing pole" (was that called anything before they got hold of it, I mean 1...Bg4 2.h3 h5 has been known in the Exchange Lopez for years?) and a note on pawn storms.
So what do I think? If you still enjoy playing through games using books and a board then you'll find this is a varied game collection with cold and hot blooded attacking chess at its heart. It will add to your armory of stock sacrifices against the enemy king, and go some way as to explaining the mechanisms for bringing some of them about. If you are engaged in teaching chess to juniors or improving adults this will provide an excellent resource of test positions for analysis. As I have already mentioned there is not much waffle in the book and a lot of his advice is contained in "one liners" spread throughout the book. Two that stood out to me were:-
1) "Fear of losing is the first thing that must be eliminated from your system. If you lose, then you can determine how you lost and fix the problem, so it will not happen again."
2) "Worrying and protecting your rating is the first step towards stunting your growth...focus on learning and ultimately the rating points will come." A boot up the backside to the risk averse.
All in all I think it is a good book - aimed at the amateur market but I don't believe it is an attempted rip off. The advice seems clear, relevant and serviceable and doesn't fly in the face of good advice I've read elsewhere. You can argue there are some omissions as I've alluded to above but I don't think that really detracts from what the author is trying to do. His philosophy seems to me to be, "Here are some tools, here is how X used them, now go out there and play with them to learn how they work". His own love of the game and attack shines through and I would recommend it as part of a nutritionally balanced chess diet.
Finally I better say that I bought this book about four weeks ago, I have neither connection with the author, of whom I had never heard prior to seeing his book, nor to the publisher. I'm an average strength OTB club player looking to gain a few more grading points before age gets to me completely.