29 December 2012

Anthology of Chess Combinations

The Anthology of Chess Combinations (2005) is a product of a long history of efforts to list and classify the tactical elements in chess. Chess Informant's classification of openings (ECO) was so successful that it became the standard. Many players understand the code E05 as well as they do the words Open Catalan. Most books and all leading database programs employ ECO Codes. The editorial board of Informant also set out to classify endings and combinations. For the most part, these are used in Informant publications, but not elsewhere. Informant's classification of combinations is no more definitive than prior efforts (see "Tactical Motifs: A List").

Chess Informant's classification scheme for combinations has three categories and ten motifs. The categories are I) combinations with a mating attack, II) combinations to reach a draw, and III) other. The motifs are a) annihilation of defense, b) blockade, c) clearance, d) deflection, e) discovered attack, f) pinning, g) demolition of pawn structure, h) decoy, i) interference, and j) double attack. Hence, the first Combination in Informant 113 (270) is designated Ia--a combination with a mating attack involving annihilation of the defense.

Search Box
The Anthology of Chess Combinations presents 2709 positions. They are also presented in three levels of difficulty: 1) warm-up, 2) intermediate difficulty, and 3) challenging.

The combinations in the Anthology originate in games played from the mid-nineteenth through the early twenty-first centuries. Both positions actually reached in play and theoretical positions that might have occurred are included. The printed text through the first two editions presents the combinations nine to a page with the classification information printed above. In the third edition, the classification keys are omitted from the problems, and are instead listed in the index at the end of each section.

The electronic version comes on a CD with its own software, the Chess Informant Solver's Kit. As in the third printed edition, the classification keys are hidden in solving mode. Through the solver's kit, it is possible to search combinations by player, event, date, reference number, category, and motif (sub-category). It is possible to scroll the list, or to select a random set. Once a set of problems have been selected, these can be viewed in a batch (HTML View) or individually. It is also possible to print the diagrams, creating a page or pages resembling those in the pages of the printed edition.
HTML View of Random Set
In the software, the board and piece colors can be configured using a color palette, making possible virtually any combination of colors. Sometimes I like green boards, as in the HTML View above.

Problems may be solved in practice mode or in test mode. In test mode, the user's score is tracked. When a problem is opened, the user is greeted with the objective, such as "White to move, goal 1-0." By default, White is at the bottom regardless of player to move. But a single click of the mouse flips the board for those who wish to examine matters from the Black side.

Solving mode, default colors
Correct moves generate text indicating, "You're on the right track," and similar expressions, and the next defending move is generated. Wrong answers revert to the position prior to the move, and generate such text as "Try again." Frustration can be alleviated by requesting a hint, or viewing the entire solution.

The problems are of high quality. Although daunting, it behooves the ambitious player to work through every combination in the Anthology of Chess Combinations. Therein lies the most important feature lacking in the software. There is no record of which problems have been previously solved. I might remember that yesterday I was on problem number 50, but if a few weeks transpire between sessions, it becomes more difficult to remember my place in the sequence.

The Anthology of Chess Combinations CD is one of the best training resources available for club players seeking to rise in the ranks.


  1. Thanks for your review!

    Is it possible export positions in PGN/FEN format or even get a text file with the FEN positions?

    1. Within the program, it is possible to export to HTML view (for printing) and to export a selection in the program's format. However, as the disk comes with a PGN file of the entire database, the text file exists. Other programs can read the PGN file.