A “Behind the Scenes” Guide to Brilliant Attacks — Review: Attacking Chess for Club Players

Attacking the king is often the first thing we’re taught in chess, starting with the basic process of hunting down a lone king with a queen and rook. Generally, the first game we’re shown is Paul Morphy vs. the Duke of Brunswick where Morphy sacrifices nearly every piece he has to progress his attack, ultimately leaving himself just the two pieces needed for the final checkmate.

Most of us of have seen Mikhail Tal’s daring yet inaccurate sacrifices blow his opponents off the board. We’ve seen Fischer’s “Sac, sac, mate!” to tame the once fire-breathing Sicilian Dragon. We’ve seen the mind-boggling calculation abilities of Garry Kasparov in his attacking brilliancies.

Yet, when it comes to our own games, attacking play can be a different story. What brilliant attackers seem to do effortlessly can be unimaginable to most chessplayers. In the book, Attacking Chess for Club Players, IM Herman Grooten (along with FM Petra Schuurman) seeks to bridge this gap. The authors aim to give readers a “behind the scenes look” at attacking play, breaking down even the most beautiful attacking games and combinations to the simpler elements behind them—so that readers can easily understand them and apply them to their own games.

“…it is important to have a clear vision of your ultimate objectives. We can only ‘conjure up’ a combination on the board if we have already encountered it previously, in a simpler form.”

-Herman Grooten, Attacking Chess for Club Players

To show combinations in their simpler form, motifs are often first given as “simplified compositions”.

“In our opinion, positions with few pieces, such as those seen in problem chess and endgame studies are eminently suited for this purpose…

If you have seen a motif with few pieces (i.e. in its ‘pure form’), it will become easier to find it in a ‘more crowded position’.

We, as trainers, have done something that most composers would loathe: we have removed entire sequences of beautiful preparatory moves in order to simplify a problem or an endgame study. In this way, we have tried to make them accessible for practical players.”

-Herman Grooten, Attacking Chess for Club Players

Here’s an example:

Endgame composition: Sergey Kaminer 1929

White to move and win.

“White has lost all his pawns. Normally this should end in a draw, were it not for the fact that there is something special in the position.”


After the “behind the scenes” simpler version of the combination is given, a real game example is shown—to demonstrate how even the most creative sacrifices and complex combinations are actually supported by simple patterns.

Goncalo Vasquez vs. Joao Matos

Olival Basto 2000

White to move and win.

After seeing the simplified composition, the spectacular move in the game, 23. Qf5!!, isn’t so difficult to find or understand.

The authors use the same method to examine “cooperation between the pieces”, an important but somewhat rare topic in chess books. The chapter zeros in on how specific pairs of pieces can coordinate in an attack, such as checkmate patterns between a queen and knight.

“The queen and knight make an especially dangerous attacking combination.”

-Herman Grooten, Attacking Chess for Club Players

White gives mate in two (Grooten)

White to move.

Again, the simplified combination proves to be very valuable in a real game:

Judit Polgar vs. Nikola Mitkov

Moscow 1994

White to move.

Each piece cooperation section concludes summing up the main ideas and offering principles and considerations, such as:

“Are the queen and knight standing on same-colored squares (as then their cooperation is optimal)?”

-Herman Grooten, Attacking Chess for Club Players

 

Knowledge vs. Practice:

Training Over-the-board Skills

“It is essential that we try not only to increase the knowledge of the chess student, but also, to a greater extent, enhance their skills.”

-Herman Grooten, Attacking Chess for Club Players

One of my favorite chapters of the book is the “Training Skills” chapter, which further emphasizes how to apply attacking skills to real games. The chapter begins with a discussion of the thinking process for attacking positions, such as looking for targets, candidate moves, and defensive resources for the opponent.

The chapter also includes valuable advice on visualization and creative training exercises to develop this skill. Here’s an example:

Placing Pieces: The exercise is always to make an image of the given position in your head, and then add a piece to realize checkmate.

1. Place a queen on the board in such a way that Black is checkmated. There are two solutions, write both of them down.

White: Kf5, Rh2

Black: Ke3

Clear visualization of future positions is essential for strong calculation. The visualization exercises offered in the book are a practical and unique way of strengthening your calculation abilities.

Grooten even shares his personal experiences to offer advice that extends beyond over-the-board skills:

“As a young player, I used to have problems with calculating complicated positions. Although I did have an eye for ‘tactics’, this remained limited to combinations for myself. Searching for beautiful moves for my opponents wasn’t my cup of tea. 

As a result, more often than I cared for, I fell prey to tactical finesses that opponents had woven into the position. And so I started to avoid complications more and more, selling myself short…

By way of preparation, among others, I set to work with Kotov’s books in order to learn how to calculate… I did many visualization exercises…

About two months later, the tournament started, but it turned out to be a great disillusionment. I ended on around 50%, which was significantly lower than would have been expected from my Elo rating. What I had been afraid of, happened. If you start training in chess, you cannot expect to reap the rewards right away…

It’s a question of keeping going for a long period of time, and intrinsic motivation may well be the most important factor that determines whether a player will make progress or not. Love for the game, steady work, trial and error, it’s all part of the job.”

-Herman Grooten, Attacking Chess for Club Players

For me, this passage (although the book tells the story in much more detail) really hit home. What serious chessplayer hasn’t trained particularly hard for a tournament and gotten their hopes up, only to experience disappointing results?

Grooten’s relatable insights from his journey to making International Master are invaluable. The lesson that bad tournaments are just par for the course, and the key is to keep trying is as important as any attacking play technique—and a strong player taking the reader into the experience first-hand can make it resonate more authentically.

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An Effective Way to Learn Common Motifs

While many of the attacking themes are common, Grooten organizes them in a particularly useful way. In the “Exploiting Weaknesses” chapter, the author provides a list of methods of attack that are effective against each specific kingside weakness. Here’s an example for the “Weakness on h6”, referring to the opponent pushing a kingside pawn to h6:

  • The pawn march g2-g4-g5. White then threatens to open one or more files.
  • A piece sacrifice on the vulnerable h6-square.
  • The b1-h7 diagonal has been weakened by the push of the h-pawn. By setting up a battery with the queen and bishop on the b1-h7 diagonal, you provoke the move …g7-g6. Then you can exploit this second weakening (think of piece sacrifices on g6).
  • Putting a knight on f5 is often strong. This is because chasing away the knight with …g7-g6 often isn’t possible (as then White takes on h6 with the knight).
  • The ‘dog’s ear’ on h6 can be made even more vulnerable by:
    • Sacrificing the exchange on f6;
    • Planting a piece on f6;
    • Sacrificing a piece on g7.
  • The light squares, especially that on g6, can be made even more vulnerable by sacrifices on e6, f7, or g6.

Then, each method of attack is discussed in detail with examples. 

The action g4-g5

Most of the examples are like this—interesting and creative without being overly complex. The author focuses more on prose explanations and principles, showing only necessary variations—which I think is more useful for most players. This makes the book a light read while still being highly instructive. 

 

Entertaining Writing Style

Grooten uses clever anecdotes to make the book more entertaining and the themes more memorable. For example, when introducing the “making use of the pin” section, he shares the following story:

“When I joined the local chess club as young whippersnapper, chess life was rather different from that in these modern times. People played in the backroom of a cafe, which was actually not such a good place for a 14-year-old lad, who had to stay there until late in the evening, in rooms with subdued light and smoking cigars and cigarettes—in those days you could still smoke everywhere…

…In the same club, there was another ace player, who had been the club champion many times. This friendly and highly amiable gentleman – who wore a big black beard – didn’t smoke, fortunately, but he did have the habit of starting a bit of a chat during the game. That wasn’t so unusual in those days, but sometimes he had an ulterior motive.

For example, this gentleman, who was called Van Gelder, had a certain tactical trick in his arsenal which regularly brought him success. Unfortunately I have not been able to trace back any of his games, but in the following reconstruction I can show you the essence of what was reputed to be the ‘Van Gelder trick’ at our club, with which he used to get the laugh on his side.”

Stories like this make the book an absorbing read with a rare sense of humor for a chess book. In addition, if it was my first time seeing the Van Gelder trick, the colorful chess club character and the lively atmosphere described in Grooten’s story would make it stick in my memory and guarantee an awareness in my own games.

In addition, the book has a chapter called, “Attacking Games by Ace Players”, which includes exciting games and interesting background anecdotes on five great attacking players. Who hasn’t dreamed of playing a brilliancy like Magnus Carlsen or Wei Yi?

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Conclusion

I highly recommend Attacking Chess for Club Players to anyone looking for a creative and entertaining book on attacking play—whether you’re an intermediate player hoping to become proficient in essential attacking concepts or an advanced player, searching for a light, yet interesting refresher course.

The book is well-designed to accommodate a wide range of levels, but I would recommend some prior attacking play study (such as the “Kingside Attack” chapter of Logical Chess: Move by Move) before tackling this book—the material begins a bit beyond the scope of a primer.

While the examples and exercises will be of moderate difficulty for players in the 1600-1800 range, the solutions are creative enough to be interesting to much higher players. Even though a “club player” is usually defined as a Class C to Class A player, there is definitely some material in the book that is valuable even up to a 2200-level.

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