U.S. Chess Federation National Master Alex Kitsis, founder of the Vivacity School of Chess, is writing a series of books titled Chess Step by Step: From Beginner to Champion. These books are designed for younger readers rated below USCF 1000 and can be used as a curriculum for classroom instruction but they can also provide a solid foundation for adult players rated up to USCF 1600-1700 (higher rated players will probably be familiar with most of the material but may still benefit from solving some of the puzzles).
Chess Step by Step: From Beginner to Champion, Book Two (softcover, 204 pages) has just been published; it begins with a brief but comprehensive explanation of the algebraic chess notation system, essential knowledge for a player to record his/her own games and to play through other players' games. The book includes some endgame instruction (focusing on King and Rook versus King plus King and Pawn versus King) and some basic opening concepts but mostly covers middlegame tactics such as trapping a piece, double attack, discovered attack, double check, pins, skewers, back rank mates and overloading. Each tactic has at least one entire chapter devoted to it; the chapters begin with an explanation of how a particular tactic works plus several diagrams illustrating examples of that tactic: some of the examples are from games played by Kitsis' students while others are from famous Grandmaster level games or from sparkling chess compositions. The book contains over 1100 puzzles and the reader is encouraged to write out his/her solutions (blank space is provided in the book after many of the problems).
Some of the book's puzzles are assigned one, two or three stars based on their difficulty levels (low, medium and high respectively). To provide a general idea of what these categorizations mean, here are three sample puzzles--one from each difficulty level (solutions are given at the end of this review):
1) Easy (from Chapter 14, Mate in Two with a Knight)
2) Medium (from Chapter Nine, Mate in Two with a Queen)
3) High (from Chapter 17, Trap a Queen)
The book's plentiful diagrams make it easy to follow along without using a chess set and NM Kitsis advises that the reader solve the problems without moving pieces on a chessboard; in tournament chess a player is not permitted to even touch a piece without moving it, so it certainly makes sense to train for tournament competition (or even casual play) by using the same restriction: this builds a player's visualization and calculation skills.
NM Kitsis has more than 25 years of experience teaching chess in the U.S. and the former Soviet Union; his students have won many tournaments, including the U2200 section of the 1998 World Open and the 2007 and 2008 Susan Polgar World Open for Girls.
You can order Chess Step by Step: From Beginner to Champion, Book Two directly from Vivacity Chess or at Amazon.com.
1) Bxf7+ followed by Nd5++.
2) Qg7 is the key move. If Black replies ...Kc1 or ...e2 then Qa1 is checkmate; if Black replies ...Ke1 then Qg1 is checkmate.
3) ...Nf5 seals the trap and then ...Be7 wins the Q; if White tries Qg5 then Black plays ...Bh6, pinning White's Q to White's K.