Book review: Think Like a Super-GM by Michael Adams

What is the difference in thinking between a club player and a super GM?

After listening to Ben Johnson's Perpetual Chess Podcast with Michael Adams I got very interested in Michael Adams' book 'Think Like a Super GM'. The book contains 40 chess puzzles that were shown to chess players ranging from club players to top GMs. Co-author Philip Hurtado recorded next to the moves the detailed thought processes of each player. The authors then drew conclusions about what the key differences are in the thinking of a club player versus a top GM. Many of these conclusions will not surprise you, but the details are fascinating.

Some of the key differences between strong and weak players are:
- Top GMs find key moves much faster based on experience and intuition;
- Top GMs show great determination to find the best move;
- Top GMs spend a lot of time falsifying their candidate moves including opponents' best moves and threats;
- Club players on the other hand look for corroboration of their move choices;
- Top GMs base their decisions primarily on calculation, club players primarily on intuition;
- Top GMs are not afraid to choose moves that violate general chess principles if supported by concrete analysis.

There are two shortcomings to the book that I would point out.

  1. Michael Adams stated that the book is suited for players rated FIDE 1500-2400
    The puzzle below is of the average difficulty in the book (level 7). Black is to move. As a Fide Candidate Master, I had a lot of difficulties finding the truth after 30 minutes of analysis. Just visualize, 1... Re4 2. Rxe4 dxe4 3. Kg3 Kg6 4. Kf4 e3 5. Kxe3 Kxg5 6. a4 and tell me the evaluation of this pawn ending or 1... Re4 2. Rxa5 d4 3. Ra8 with the idea Rd8.
    In short, I believe the puzzles are too difficult for the average club player.
  2. The analysis of the positions was done using Stockfish 10+ WASM on 23 half moves and 5 best moves and then corroborating the results at a much greater depth of 45 moves on a local computer. The book was published on March 23 2022, and thus development versions of Stockfish 15 strength were available at the time of publishing. Is this important? Yes, in my opinion. Take the diagram below. According to Stockfish 15, this position is a draw (0.0). Many moves draw in this position for Black: Ra8, Re4, Rd8, Re5, Kg6.
    Each puzzle has a scoring system and according to the authors, the position is -0.3 and the 'best' move 1... Rd8 gets 10 points and 1... Re4 gets 0 points. But both draw! Also, if I assess the position as equal, I do not get maximum bonus points because of an 'incorrect evaluation'.

Despite its shortcomings, I love this book and will use the puzzles to get back into over the board tournament chess and to hone the calculation skills of my students. It is fascinating to compare your thoughts with players of different strengths.
I recommend that club players use this book in a study group and spent the first 15 minutes on their own and then work together to find the truth in the position. Finally, many club players might just learn from reading the thought processes and conclusions and then use that to improve their own thinking.

The book is available at Forward Chess for $24 and at Quality Chess for 33 euros.