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  • By Joel Johnson
    Jun 17, 2011
    Reviews and Comments from Readers ============================================================================== Rick Kennedy of Chessville (USCF Rating: 1664) ============================================================================== This review can be seen at If I were to hand out another set of Perry PawnPusher Awards as I last did about 2 ½ years ago (about time I did it again, eh, David?) I would no doubt award “The Rocky Balboa Award” to National Master Joel Johnson’s new Formation Attacks. Like the heroic fighter in the 1975 movie “Rocky”, Formation Attacks is relatively unknown, but full of heart, wisdom, aggression, – and, at 500 pages, is a seriously heavyweight contender. This title easily goes the distance, and those who read it and study with it are sure to come away with some champion-sized results. The author is an American chess master and chess teacher, with plenty of varied experiences, including... More > playing for the Arizona Scorpions of the U.S. Chess League. Johnson explains the origin of his book: I was quite dismayed during a recent visit to my local bookstore. I was in search of a book that covered a wide array of attacks against many Pawn formations in an organized fashion. Needless to say, my search came up empty. The books on attacking fell short in many ways… So, as a result, I felt compelled to write the ultimate attack book, and this is it! Indeed, Formation Attacks contains 435 games where the play leads up to a position which (starting with a diagram) is then followed by readily accessible analysis of how the attack against the enemy King proceeded and succeeded. Johnson has arranged the games by the structure of the defensive formation being attacked (hence the book’s name): Fianchetto Bishop, Fianchetto Bishop with h5, Fianchetto Bishop with h6, Fianchetto Bishop without an h-Pawn… through Open g-File, Open h-File, Queenside Castling… and on to variations of attack on the Uncastled King (with various defensive structures). Players wanting specific ideas for dealing with particular defensive structures can use the table of contents to zero in on what they need to know. The notes in Formation Attacks are clearly those of someone who has explained and taught chess. Here is an example, selected at random: (unable to show diagram) White has a solid advantage primarily because of the open g-file and Black’s King exposure. In addition, Black’s Queen is tied down defending the Knight on g7, which also happens to be checkmate. However, on the flip side, White has a Knight on h3 doing nothing, a Bishop on e2 tied down to defending the Pawn on f3, and the Rook on d1 could be more useful on the g-file. So, what’s my plan? Well, I decided that the best course of action was to improve the position of all those aforementioned pieces, and thus, increase the pressure on Black’s position. The easiest piece to fix is the White Bishop. Why? Well, the Black piece hindering the Bishop is the Knight on e5 and that Knight can be knocked out with 27.f4. But, before playing a move like 27.f4, we must make sure that we aren’t helping Black out by chasing his Knight to a better square. All the forward moves, Ng4, Nf3, Nd3, and Nc4 are protected by White’s Bishop. Don’t make the mistake thinking that the c4 square is protected, because it isn’t. The Black Knight also cannot go toward his King to help defend with either Ng6 or Nf7. Therefore, Black’ only real choices are either 27…Nc6 or 27…Nd7. After the Black Knight retreats, my Bishop is free to join in the attack. And, because the Black Queen is tied down defending the g7 square, we can get another free move attacking the Black Queen with 28.Bc4. I refer to this tactic as the Invisible Defender. Basically, the Bishop is protected by a stronger threat somewhere else on the board. 27.f4 Nc6 28.Bc4 Qe7 The next piece to improve is the Rook on d1 by doubling up the Rooks on the g-file. There are many moves that can accomplish this task, like, Rg2, Rg3, Rg4, Rg6, Rd2, and Rd3. I chose 29.Rg6 because it puts the most pressure on Black’s position by attacking the Black pawn on f6 also. 29.Rg6 Rd7 30.Rdg1 Nd8 If you haven’t already noticed, Black is really tied up. He could only move the Knight on d8 and make some meaningless Pawn moves. Now, he wants to play 31…Nde6. I can prevent this move by playing 31.f5. Normally, I am reluctant to play a move like this because it opens up a permanent, big hole on e5, suitable for a Black Knight. But, I can see the conclusion of the game coming. More importantly, 31.f5 opens up the f4 square for my Knight, after which I have enough pieces involved in the attack to finish Black off. 31.f5 a6 32.Nf4 b5 33.Bd5 c4 34.Rxg7 Qxg7 35.Ng6+ Qxg6 36Qxf8 1-0 Ah, the voice of a chess coach. Note his explanation of the “Invisible Defender.” That is but one of several interesting and useful concepts Johnson introduces, along with “Anchoring” and the “Threat Pin.” All of that information would be enough, but Formation Attacks contains more. Before even getting into ways to approach, for example, “Fianchetto without Bishop” or “No Pawn Weaknesses” – those are in Section C, after all – there is “Section A – Attack Skills” which addresses both “Basic Attack Techniques” and “Advanced Attack Techniques” as well as “Attack Guidelines”, “Attacking Elements”, “Attacking Process” and “Weaknesses”. Then there is “Section B – Attack Info” which touches on “Computers”, “Preparing for an Opponent”, “Most Thrilling Game Ever?” and “Amazing Endgame Mates”. Whew! Like I said, it’s 500 pages. The author is clear about his attacking style: The decision of whether to sacrifice material or not, can be a very tough one. Most Master level chess players only sacrifice when they can clearly see a favorable outcome. From my point of view, this is the low risk, low reward approach. As an aggressive, attacking chess master, my threshold for a sacrifice revolves around whether or not I can see any way for my opponent to counter my attack. At first, those decisions were flawed because I did not possess the experience and knowledge to rationally make the correct choice. Over time, those dilemmas became easier to handle and predict. There are hidden benefits to Formation Attacks as well. Since complete games are given, players who bemoan, as Spielmann once did, that he could play Alekhine’s combinations, he just couldn’t reach the positions that Alekhine got to, in order to play them, can go to the book’s Openings Index and look up the defense that they will be dealing with and see how to get to a slam-bang ending. (Those of you who are frustrated by the Sicilian Defense, take note here. Johnson makes the Sicilian look about as playable as the Jerome Gambit.) Games in Formation Attacks cover a range of openings from “respectable” to such club-popular but grandmaster-shunned lines as the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit and the “Fishing Pole”. (Those are not openings that GM Mark Dvoretsky’s books, for all there fantasticalness, are going to help you with.) This is not surprising, given that the author once roomed with both the outrageous opening investigator National Master Brian Wall and the not-from-this-planet opening prestidigitator Jack (“Bozo’s Emporium”) White. Finally, although many of the games in Formation Attacks are grandmaster slugfests, a large number are Johnson’s own efforts, which is a good thing. It can be reassuring to see the author using his own attacking ideas in real life, when his own rating points are on the line. It is doubly so when you see him completely destroy an opponent using the same ideas – in a 3 minute game. The only way that someone can be that effective, that quickly, is if he really understands how to make that attack work! I’d like to make a few comments about the book itself, as Johnson has used a publish-on-demand house, Lulu Press, for his work. On occasion the words “POD” or “self-published” have been used as euphemisms for what used to be called “vanity press,” efforts of questionable quality. Not so here. Formation Attacks is a solid, readable, enjoyable creation. The diagrams are easy-to-look-at, as is the use of fonts, bolding and white space. The double-columned work shows few typos, and they are sure to disappear in the next printing. It’s not “fancy” but it’s extremely functional. Batsford, Everyman, Gambit and New in Chess are fine publishers, but we at Chessville have enjoyed pointing out to our readers (as any glance at our reviews will show) the efforts of hard-working authors who have taken a less traditional route. There is so much in Formation Attacks that it would not be surprising to find that the author’s brain would be registering “empty” after completing it. Not so. Word is that Johnson is already working on another book, Formation Attack Strategies, and on three Formation Attack workbooks. Chess players, rejoice! ============================================================================== Review by Life Master Brian Wall (USCF Rating: 2223) Two-Time Colorado State Champion ============================================================================== I piled up Chess books and asked everyone to choose based on being stuck on a desert island. The big winner was Joel Johnson's Formation Attacks 435 games focussed on attacking different pawn structures. Bobby Fischer got 3 mentions. I have 6 games in there. That's a five star review right there. No matter who I gave the stack of books to, Joel's book was always #1 or #2. Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes by Raymond Smullyan was always last or next to last. Andy Rea's Chess on the Ledge was always near the middle. A book I never heard of but bought at the Mermaid Cafe and Book store in Homer, Alaska sometimes came in first. Lesser-Known Chess Masterpieces :1906-1915 335 Games reported in The Yaer Book of Chess edited by Fred Wilson This book would place high on a desert island by sheer number of games. I liked Bobby Fischer Rediscovered by Soltis- J C MacNeil voted this last. New Ideas in Chess by Larry Evans was generally in the middle. A few put The Art of Attack by Vukovic first. I bought that at the Mermaid Cafe because I named a Fishing Pole variation after the Vukovic book and I wanted to review the Fishing Pole. Joel Johnson mentions Jack Young's Fishing Pole right on the back cover and includes several winning attacks right from my emails. Now Joel is up to 10 stars. He even includes Francisco Baltier's Fishing Pole win versus GM Walter Browne. 15 stars now. Everyone I showed the book to loved it- typical comments: original I could learn a lot from this book new ideas shows you how to attack Joel doesn't get bogged down on nuances- he shows you flat out how to checkmate different pawn structures. He basically wrote the book he needed that wasn't out there. I can't say enough good things about this book. You'll have to confirm it yourself. Life Master Brian Wall ============================================================================== Dennis Pinion (USCF Rating: UNR) ============================================================================== Brian Wall is right. The book is an excellent piece of work on attacks. ============================================================================== James Bursley (USCF Rating: 2053) ============================================================================== Great Book Joel! Tons of information, the reader can tell you put a lot of effort into this work. I've accumulated many new ideas and can't wait to test drive some of them. I've also learned a lot more about you. You put your heart and soul into this book and it comes right through the pages. ============================================================================== Chris Wilson (USCF Rating: 1357) ============================================================================== That is brilliant!!! This book is awesome. :) ============================================================================== Joshua Zhu (USCF Rating: 2130) ============================================================================== I love this book. It's everything I would have expected from you and more! lol! ============================================================================== Austin Cambon (USCF Rating: 1975) ============================================================================== I have been reading the "Formation Attacks" book. I really like it! Your ideas of aggressive play are very good! I really want to be an attacker now, but as your book said, it will take lots of practice and hard work. Great book! I look forward to finishing it and then reading it again! ============================================================================== Bernabe Garcia (ICC Rating: 1200) ============================================================================== I gotta tell you, that book (Formation Attacks) you wrote is priceless... I don't think I have EVER read a better book on chess, and I have read a LOT of books. ============================================================================== National Master Michael Stewart (USCF Rating: 2270) ============================================================================== What an outstanding work you have done!!!! A very good book!!!! Thank you for all your hard work!!!! ============================================================================== David Kane (USCF Rating: 1700) ============================================================================== Formation Attacks is a very good book. Clear prose, just the right amount of variations, well-organized, informative and entertaining at the same time. Thanks for writing it. ============================================================================== Leonard McLaren, New Zealand Chess (FIDE Rating: 2270) ============================================================================== “an entertaining instruction manual on attacking the king … many attacking brilliancies by the world's best players of the last 180 years … The book has high production values. … Johnson writes in a straightforward robust style.” ============================================================================== Harold Dondis, The Boston Globe (USCF Rating: 1800) and Grandmaster Patrick Wolff (USCF Rating: 2623) ============================================================================== "A detailed and rich collection of chess themes (..) This book has required intense preparation and is already a popular book. It is a valuable source for those players interested in viewing the attacking aspects of chess." ============================================================================== Anthea Carson, author of "How to Play Chess Like an Animal" (USCF Rating: 1783) ============================================================================== "Section by section "Formation Attacks" lists and then explores the methods of attack (..) In the end you have to ask yourself, do you want to play chess like you are at a tea party with the queen? Or do you want to play chess like... well like an animal? If the later, "Formation Attacks" is for you." ============================================================================== Thomas Mayka (USCF Rating: 1945) ============================================================================== I don’t think I would have conjured up this overwhelming attack if I had not read your book, “Formation Attacks“. It planted the seeds of what to do when your opponent not only leaves his Kingside vulnerable, but he has moved all of his pieces to the Queenside. This attack was textbook Joel Johnson. (and at G/30 as well).< Less
  • By luffy z anderson
    Oct 5, 2010
    I played against joel about a half a dozen times when i lived in Phoenix. I was a 1600 to 1700 uscf player at the time and he won every single game. i think i learned something from each game though. joel was always really nice and bent over backwards to help me with lots of advice. he seemed to have a 6th sense about giving advice and made himself available to me for long conversations about chess. he even bought me dinner 2 times while we talked! In the first game i played against joel he trounced me with an attack. sacrificing pawn after pawn for developement! i said to myself, "this guy must really hate his own pawns!" and he heard me and laughed in a second replied, "Pawns just get in the way!" with a big smile. in all the games i'd played against joel his openings and subsequent play was very sound except the last game. the last time we played he played a novelty sacrifice on move 7 against an opening i'd designed with attacking players just like joel in... More > mind. i knew from the start that his sacrifice was not sound but i just had to figure out how. i finally managed to thwart his relentless attacks and get up a pawn on him after eating up a good portion of my clock time. he kept attacking! i ate up so much time on my clock but i was in a position to force a win at a couple points but i was always on the defensive and playing forced responses. at one point i offered him a draw and he said, "I didn't come here to draw!" with a big smile and a laugh. joel knew just exactly the best way to break me. In the final position i was up a rook and 2 or 3 pawns but I was dead lost, completely exhausted, i had only a minute left on my clock and had fallen into his final clever and deadly trap. i'm reading joel's book. i gotta be honest, i'm only at page 40 'cause i liked it so much that i had to take a break and savor what i'd read so far. it's like a treat that i'm saving for later. it's got great advice in my opinion, i've read, "the art of attack" and a few other books and they're good, but joel's right, although his book is similar to others, i think it's also special and unique. i think it provides clear and concise advice and teaches methods that are both sound and helpful to all players. if you want to attack or just want to predict and thwart attacks from your opponent i highly recommend this book!< Less
  • By CJ Johnson
    Jul 29, 2010
    Great read!!! Has already helped me with my opening game! Johnson is a viscious relentless opponent and if you wish to dominate the opening game, you gotta read and use this book.
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Product Details

Revised September 2010
October 6, 2010
Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink
Black & white
1.81 lbs.
Dimensions (inches)
6 wide x 9 tall
Product ID
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