Coaching Kasparov, Volume 2: A Review

In 2009 I traveled to the Opryland Resort in Nashville, Tennessee, for the SuperNationals.

I went to eat during one of the down times and found myself in a room with only one other person, Garry Kasparov. He was holding a gizmo in one hand while putting food into his mouth with his other hand. While eating I could not help but wonder what Garry was doing alone. With people like Kasparov there are usually other people around. Maybe he was enjoying having time alone. I thought about saying something to him on my way out, but what do you say to someone like Kasparov? “Hello Garry. My name is squat and I am an Expert.” That would be analogous to a city councilman from Podunk (choose a state) walking up to the POTUS and saying, “Hello Mr. President. I am Nobody from Nowhere.” I walked on by and noticed he took a quick glance at me…
I had a trunk load of books with me to sell but I realized that was not going to happen after checking out the expansive display in the book room. After mentioning this to the self-proclaimed “Nashville Strangler,” aka FM Jerry Wheeler,

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he said one of the fellows working for Malcolm Pein in the book room, Chris, was a friend of his and he could get Kasparov to sign my copy of The Test of Time,

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the book former Georgia State Chess Champion Michael Decker said was, “The Best of All Time!” That is how I came to have a signed copy of the book. As Garry was autographing his books I was standing there watching when he looked right at me and nodded, so I returned the nod. I have always thought he nodded as a way of thanking me for leaving him alone while eating.

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Garry Kasparov playing against 15 young players aged 8 to 14 at a chess event in 2015. Wassilis Aswestopoulos / ullstein bild via Getty Images

Coaching Kasparov, Year by Year and Move by Move
Volume 2: The Assassin (1982-1990)

By Alexander Nikitin

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After completion of this book my first thought was, “It will win the Book of the Year award.”

Early in the book we find Kasparov is a speed reader of sorts. “His ability to read entire pages at once, rather than just line by line as we lesser mortals are used to, enabled him to read a thick book from beginning to end in an evening.” Really? Could this possibly be hyperbole? It has been my experience with most speed readers that they sacrifice detail for speed. They do not take time to cogitate while continuing to “read.” Granted, I have never known anyone who could read “entire pages at once”; but still…

“In Belgrade in 1990, the lad from Baku achieved six wins and no losses – a great achievement in a tourney of such a high level. Only once at the very end did Garry find himself on the verge of defeat after a careless opening. Yet he managed to befuddle Timman so expertly that the latter was unable to achieve more than a draw despite being a rook ahead.” (https://www.365chess.com/game.php?gid=2298575)

“July 1982 should be considered the starting point of the work of our powerful, creative team that would work with Kasparov for nearly four years. For a month and a half, Garry and his coaches (me, Shakarov, Vladimirov and Timoschenko) worked in the mountains far from temptations and populated areas.”

“At the end of the session Garry played a training match against Vladimirov. Its unexpected result (3:3) proved to be great medicine for his big head before the upcoming interzonal tournament, whose result no expert was prepared to predict in advance.”

“Garry was seconded at the tourney by me, Shakarov and Valery Chekhov.” (No Vladimirov! AW) Botvinnik as always limited himself to general advice and long, deep telephone conversations with Garry and his mother. Garry was quite impressionable and constantly sought approval of his decisions and actions. The mentality of a man from the south means that approval had to come from a universally respected person, and Botvinnik was an ideal figure for that. Conversations with the teacher were effective psychotherapy for Garry for about five years, but the they transposed into more of a ritual.”

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International Grandmaster and World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik in Moscow (https://www.computerhistory.org/chess/stl-430b9bbdb9817/)

“It was only at the end of the Olympiad, once victory of the Soviet grandmasters had been assured, that Karpov

committed an error in suddenly refusing to play against Switzerland, as had been originally planned. In doing so he really did leave Kasparov in a tricky situation, who now had just a few hours to plan how he would take on Korchnoi with black.

Even though this was Kasparov’s eight game in a row without a break, his duel with Korchnoi

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would go down in history as one of the most exciting games ever seen at an Olympiad. When the excited winner relayed the moves to me in Moscow I was spellbound by the events that had taken place on the board, and then I spent ages with my own chess pieces trying to figure out what had happened.” (https://www.365chess.com/game.php?gid=2349559)

We learn how Kasparov came to play the Tarrasch Defense. John Hartmann, writing in the January, 2020 issue of Chess Life magazine, wrote, “I have long thought that the Tarrasch Defense is the swiss army knife of chess openings.”

“Vladimirov and I spent half a year analyzing the subtleties of the Tarrasch Defense to death.
At first, Garry was unimpressed with our initiative, but we convinced him by demonstrating refutations to the unflattering evaluations of this classical opening contained in many textbooks. Eventually, his eyes began to sparkle at the notion and he joined in with our investigations, contributing a number of interesting ideas.”

“Garry certainly didn’t expect an opening setup so criticized by theory to bring him such a large number of victories and to essentially solve the problem of the black pieces in all matches of the candidates cycle. During these two years (1983-84) Kasparov deployed the Tarrasch in twelve games in official tournaments and matches, and on no occasion did he obtain a worse of unpromising position, no matter how well prepared or strong his opponents were.”

“However, time was to confirm that Kasparov didn’t like openings “imposed” on him. The fact that the idea of deploying the Tarrasch didn’t come from him made this somewhat a “Cinderella” of an opening in his repertoire-a poor cousin deprived of trust and affection. The two defeats that Garry recorded at the start of his first match with Karpov, in games that began with the Tarrasch but which were actually lost in the middle-game while the opening wasn’t responsible, conclusively turned him away from that defense.”

When reading this I could not help but think of Bobby Fischer…

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Bobby allowing anyone to “impose” an opening on him is unfathomable! Then we read the following:

“It would be about an hour before the game was due to begin, after he had eaten lunch and was putting on his evening suit, that opening variations would incessantly spin in his head and completely unexpected ideas would occur to him, I termed this intensification of his thought process “unfortunate insight.” It was then that he would find slip-ups, most often than not imaginary, in our analytical work. This would last about half an hour and was an unpleasant trial for his coaches’ nervous systems. Without looking at a board, none of us was capable of maintaining a meaningful argument with a supergrandmaster, as the speed of the computer in his head was incomparable to our arithmometers.”

The fact is that the, “powerful, creative team that would work with Kasparov…” were slowing him down!

Later we read, “The young and hard-working Chekhov,

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who had briefly joined our team for the candidates’ cycle, would have been very useful on our-subsequent journey, and at this match we had a chance to get to know each other better. Valery found it tough to bear the nervous, negative tension that pierced relations between the coaches and a player even during a successful battle, and he desired to play a role no more.”

Seems it gets hot in the kitchen…

We learn things like, “The crafty politician Florencio Campomanes immediately grasped what this was all about. Being a longstanding friend of Karpov, the FIDE president also got involved and became a noticeable figure in our show, although he was really only a stooge.”

I have heard Campo called worse. I met him once. Campo was one of, if not the most unctuous people involved with the world of Chess.

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We learn the author was a “quiet revolutionary” when he writes, “The Karpov of those years was for me a symbol of the injustice imposed in our country by the communist regime. So my wish to help Garry overthrow the world champion was not only a desire to keep my promise of years earlier, but also a quiet protest against our society’s way of operating.”

Really? Read on to learn why…

“At the same time, the list of grandmasters and coaches involved in aiding Karpov was a veritable nightmare: grandmasters Vaganian, Geller, Zaitxev, Polugaevsky, Balashov,Tamaz Georgadze, Lerner, Mikhalchishin ( a former student of IM Boris Kogan – AW), Makarychev. The list of masters began with the highly experienced Podgaets and Kharitonov, followed by young masters serving in the so-called sporting squadron and carrying out heavy lifting such as choosing Kasparov’s games or putting together game selections in the opening repertoire that Karpov planned for the match. This monster-sized preparation was financed by the state, Moscow and army sports committees, as well as the Komsomol leadership, which provided a country house to their favorite at a resort in Latvia.”

This was obviously a match between Samson and Goliath.

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Then comes several pages concerning the ill-fated first match in which Kasparov showed he was not ready for prime time by going down 0-5. “It’s known that Karpov constantly adjusted his match strategy, and now, having been handed a huge advantage on his plate by his opponent, he decided to finish Kasparov off with a 6:0 score. All he had to do was play slightly mor actively, make his play more complex and dynamic, and he would gain a quick win, as the challenger, already crushed, would be incapable of solving even moderately complicated problems. However, you needed to know Karpov’s character – he decided not only to win 6:0, but to achieve this result solely due to Kasparov’s errors, in order to further humiliate him and make him consider himself worthless. Karpov decided to wait for Kasparov to blunder, and to wait manifestly. In this cruel game of cat and mouse, the cat would suddenly stop running after the condemned victim. This, as it turned out, was his key mistake.”

Kasparov turned into a Stonewall, just like the famous Confederate General:

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After holding firm, the young Kasparov began to win. Then we read, “Once game 47 finished Karpov suffered a nervous breakdown that prompted interference by sporting and other officials of various ranks who were somehow involved in the match. They rushed around like headless chickens, not knowing what to do. During that time Karpov had managed to take a course of recovery in the decompression chamber of the Institute of Space Medicine.”

It was not enough. Karpov returned to battle and was beaten like Mark Taimanov was beaten by Bobby Fischer.

“A decision to end the match was taken at the level of the Party Central Committee, and unchesslike maneuvers began.” (What, exactly, are “unchesslike maneuvers”? AW)

The chapter culminates with, “Now that this is all history you can burst out laughing at the micromanagement sometimes demonstrated by our government, ignoring far more important matters for the country. Maybe that is why our ranking fell so low in standard of living compared with other countries?” (Was a Chess match really so important that the “government” ignored far more important matters? AW)

Chapter 5, Ambitions and Nerves (Match 4, 1987) begins, “In the day when Botvinnik and Petrosian were champions chess remained a prestigious, “royal” game, and world champions were respected. However, they didn’t play any remarkable role in public life. When they became champions, they were mature, formed personalities, award of their weight and place in society. There were almost no chess professionals in the western world playing for a living, and only 20-30 grandmasters from the USSR and Eastern Bloc countries were financed by the state. This enabled them to remain at the top of the list of the strongest chess players in the world. It hence demonstrated the “superiority’ of the socialist way of life in those countries. However, even those grandmasters could not publicly call themselves professionals. Formally they ranked as undergraduate students, post-graduate students, military personnel or sports instructors.
Bobby Fischer’s storming of Mount Olympus in 1972 was accompanied by an unprecedented chess boom. For the first time, chess was on the radar screens of many politicians, forcing its way to the front pages of leading newspapers, and even gained the attention of businessmen. Fischer could easily have become an important public and even political figure on the back of his remarkable popularity. However, he, just like his legendary fellow-countryman Paul Morphy, suddenly walked away from chess after attaining global recognition. The mystery surrounding his peculiar reclusion managed for several years to retain the heightened public interest in this wise but, as it turned out, harsh game capable of breaking the character and even sanity of grandmasters. However, the public demanded new heroes, and they appeared very quickly.”

On page 68 the reader finds, “Before the start (of what has become known as KK4, the fourth World Championship match contested by K&K – AW), Kasparov presented his autobiographical book Child of Change, written by an English journalist. The book turned out to be a pretty poor one. Moreover, it was hardly wise to try and time its publication to coincide with the start of the match. However, the laws of commerce dictate certain decisions.”

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I checked with the Gorilla (Amazon) to find a first edition booking for $1002. Gary Kasparov is listed as the author. In an excellent article written by GM Jon Speelman

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in The Guardian, the following can be found: “In his autobiography, Child of Change, written by Donald Trelford, Kasparov gives a presumably slightly apocryphal account of how he picked up chess by watching his parents trying to solve a problem.” (https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/oct/08/archive-1990-garry-kasparov-is-ready-to-pounce)

“Just like before the match with Korchnoi in 1983, Garry’s bravado started to slip a few days before we began. The day of the first game he was in a very tense and defensive state of mind. His psychological disturbance became clear after the tragic second game, when he deployed the English opening for the first time. Garry went for a well-known line, hoping to try a new idea discovered in Zagulba that changed the position’s evaluation in white’s favor. Karpov intuitively sensed a trap, and, after thinking a little, pulled from the depth of his memory a counter-idea which, as later transpired, he had analyzed about twelve years earlier. The effect was breathtaking. Garry spent an incredible 83 (!) (the exclam is in the book – AW) minutes on the deciding whether to capture a dangerous pawn. He seemed to be in shock. Once the game was over, he was unable either to show us cohesive variations or to explain coherently on what he had spent so much time. It was hard for him to count on success after such a “snooze”, and he was severely punished. (https://www.365chess.com/game.php?gid=2206193)

“During a five-hour game, chess players have perfected the stereotypical alternation between heavy pressure (when thinking what move to make) and, relatively speaking, a rest mode (during the opponent’s move). A grandmaster’s body is used to this work regime, and any sharp deviations from it impinge on the quality of their work. Almost an hour and a half of intense thinking while bearing nervous tension, worries and doubt, provoked a depressive, faltering state in Garry that lasted the rest of the game and led to him forgetting to press his clock shortly before time control, when he just sat at the board in a detached pose. In accordance with the rules, nobody could tell him of his misstep. Garry only snapped out of it when the arbiter was required to come to the board and stand next to the table, ready to declare the game lost on time a couple of minutes later. The champion’s loss in this game was the logical conclusion of the factors involved. The most important of these was that his opponent noted his awful psychological state, which encouraged Karpov at the start of battle.”

“Had Karpov not created himself problems in the English Opening we would have had a tougher time, as it took ages for Garry to recover. He was constantly criticizing himself, which merely drained his strength. So we spent the whole subsequent year racking our brains to try and figure out why, despite winning game two, Karpov would never again repeat his successful idea.”

“Before us was now a new Kasparov, believing in Kabbalah numerology

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numerologynumber.net

and all sorts of superstitions. Prior to game 16, instead of serious preparation, he attempted to convince both himself and us just as seriously that he always plays game 16 wonderfully. (https://www.365chess.com/game.php?gid=2206207) As a result, instead of a wonderful game, he lost his way and Karpov leveled the score. Constant nervous tension led him to forget his opening analysis. He couldn’t remember the precise paths devised by his seconds, and in game 21 he even offered a draw in a position where he had a material advantage without compensation for his opponent.” (https://www.365chess.com/game.php?gid=2206212)

Then there is this:

“A person needs a goal in life, and really several, otherwise their existence on Earth transforms into nothing but a biological process.”

This caused me to recall something said by the Chess player/artist, Marcel Duchamp:

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“It evokes Duchamp’s claim that he had given up art to become a “respirator,” because, as he said, “each breath is a work which is inscribed nowhere.”
(https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/nyregion/celebrating-fluxus-a-movement-that-didnt-create-by-the-rules-review.html)

Chapter 5, Ambitions and Nerves (Match 4, 1987)

“So, the fourth K vs K match had ended in a draw. It was unusually nervy and had exhausted everybody with its tension, which sometimes even arose when we least expected it. Games from this match were painful for me to recall for a long time to come, just like touching raw nerves, as there had been so many mistake in them – sometimes, quite strange ones. During this standoff (here this word is more apt than “battle” or “duel”) psychology dominated chess creativity for the first time.

By the was, this was the first time that Garry played a title match without professional psychological help. Even the faithful doctor Gasanov was left at home. The champion decided to place himself in the hands of the psychological mastery of his mother and Litvinov. (KGB-AW) Alas, events proved yet again that common sense, life experience and the greatest of intentions cannot replace professional know-how in extreme situations.

Karpov, meanwhile, had delivered us another surprise in this match. After his failure in the previous match he lost faith in Dzhuna and found support in Dadashev. Yes, he was being supported by that psychic psychologist who had aided Garry in the previous matches. Such a switch of teams by a trainer is a hard blow for a sportsman, and indeed a step that forever darkens the reputation of the defector. The transfer of a psychologist to the enemy camp is nothing short of treason. After all, for a psychologist to provide real help to a patient the latter has to open up to them fully, recounting all their weaknesses in order to help the expert identify new reserves of character and mental balance. A psychologist for a sportsman relying on them is like a priest listening to a confession. And there is no greater crime than retelling somebody’s confession or using what they said to harm them. Evidently, Dadashev considered his transfer from Kasparov to Karpov to be nothing more than replacing his patient. As Dadashev would say later, he gave Karpov three pieces of advice. Karpov followed two of them to the letter, but ignored the third and failed to win the match for that reason.”

I will conclude with this:

The 55th USSR championship was held in 1988 in Moscow. All the strongest Soviet players took part. This time, Kasparov was unable to steal a lead on his eternal shadow, and these “Chuckle Brothers”

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“Chuckle Brothers”

shared the top two spots in the table. However, the match between the two top players, which was stipulated in the tournament rules, was never held…”

You will have to read the book to learn the reason why they did not contest another match.

This concludes the review. I could continue and write just as much, or even more about the first eighty-five pages of the book. There are a total of 264 pages, six of which are pictures; and thirty comprise the appendix. The rest of the book consists of thirty-nine well annotated games. I will present the first of the thirty-nine games, including the entire preface so you will understand why I think so highly of this wonderful book:

The Yugoslav city of Bugojno hosted a grandmaster tournament that proved to be the scene of one of Kasparov’s most stunning performances. He achieved a number of combinational victories, though by that time we were all used to those. For me, a win that on the surface looked quite simple was a real phenomenon. Above all, it was a victory over himself. Up until Bugojno he had only managed a single draw versus the ex-world-champion. Two fierce attacks by Garry had crashed against the armor of fantastically skilled defense.
Several months before the Yugoslav tournament, another ex-world champion, Boris Spassky,

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my childhood friend, had flown into Moscow. The three of us spent several evenings engaged in long conversations that were most useful for Garry. In one of them, the lad complained that he found it impossible to bread the defenses of Iron Tigran. Boris, who had of course played two world title matches with Petrosian and had studied his play thoroughly, gave a quite surprising reply: “Tiger, however paradoxical it sounds, possesses fantastic tactical vision that against the background of his immensely subtle understanding of positions and supernatural sense of danger nobody notices. Try not to sacrifice anything, and in general, don’t play directly against him. He’ll always find a defense, no matter how improbably, against concrete threats. His Achilles heel is defense in a slightly worse position, especially when he has no counterplay. Even then, you have to positionally squeeze him gently, without rushing and without making any sudden movements.”
The careful reader might note that the recipe for beating the great defender contained components that were quite alien to the playing style of the young and temperamental grandmaster. I had no doubt that two or three years later Garry would learn to play in that style, too. However, when it came to chess improvement he preferred leaps to measured walking. Half a year after our conversations with Spassky the lad once again met the cunning Tiger in battle.

Well, take a look at how he digested the lessons of the former matador.

G. Kasparov – T. Petrosian

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Bugojno. International tournament. 15.05.1982
Bogo-Indian Defense [E11]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Bb4+ (In the language of professionals, this check is a demonstration of a peaceful frame of mind. Petrosian clearly didn’t want to repeat their recent clash in the sharp 3…b6 4.a3 Bb7 5.Nc3 d5 6.cxd5 Nxd5 system, which he only won after a massive effort.) 4.Bd2 Qe7 5.g3 Bxd2+ 6.Qxd2 0-0 7.Bg2 d5 8.0-0 dxc4 9.Na3 c5 (A hard-to-spot inaccuracy dictated by black’s confidence that the boredom being created on the board was not Kasparov’s cup of tea and that a peace treaty was around the corner. It was more accurate to advance this pawn after the initial 9…Rd8 10.Qc2.) 10.dxc5 Qxc5 11.Rac1 Nc6 12.Nxc4 Qe7 13.Nfe5 Nxe5 14Nxe5 (The exchange of knights actually deepens black’s difficulties in developing his queenside. It was only his absence of pawn weaknesses and the young man from Baku’s volatile chess temperament that gave Petrosian hope that the threat would pass, even if more slowly than he would have liked.) 14…Nd5 15.Rfd1 Nb6 16.Qa5! (A wonderful queen maneuver paralyzing black’s queenside. It suddenly transpires that the black knight’s transfer has been a complete waste of time, as he cannot even pressure white in the center. So instead he needs to make the last possible useful move.) 16…g6 (The previously planned 16…f6 weakens the seventh rank, and this sharply stregthens the effect of the white pieces’ invasion along the c-file – 17.Nc4 Nxc4 18.Rxc4 b6 19.Qc3 Ba6 20.Rc7 Rad8! 21.Rxe7 (21.Rxd8 Qxd8 22.Bf1 Rf7) and then 21…Rxd1+ 22.Bf1 Bxe2 23.Qc7! Rxf1+ 24.Kg2 Bd3 25.Rxg7+ Kh8 26.Rg4 with a win) 17.Rd3! (An excellent move, stamping out the attempt at a further exchange – 17…Rd8? 18.Qc5! while preparing to gain the c7 square for the white pieces.) 17…Nd5 18.e4! Nb6 (He needs to go back, as 18…Qb4? 19.Rxd5!, 18…Nb4? 19.Rc7, and 18…b6 19 Qd2 Nb4 20.Rd6! are equally unappealing. Petrosian again hopes to chase the white knight from the center.)

19.Bf1! (Just a year earlier Garry could not have come up with such a move – his level wasn’t there yet. It’s rare when a piece returning to its starting square decided the game. Now, Petrosian’s sole hope of saving the game by breaking out with 19…f6 20.Nc4 Nxc4 21.Rxc4 b6 would turn out to be suicide – 22.Qc3 Ba6 23.Rc7, and all because the crafty bishop now protects the rook, while the reply 23…Qc7 is not longer available.) 19…Re8 20.Rdd1! Rf8 21.a3! (Now even the pawn sac 21…f6 22 Nc4 Bd7 23.Nxb6 axb6 24.Qxb6 Bc6 fails to slow the chain of events, as 25.Bb5 opens all the doors to black’s house.) 21…Kg8 23.a4! (White’s last three modest pawn moves, like an ancient form of Spanish torture, have prevented black’s king from moving – 23…Kg7 24.Rc5! f6 25.Nc4 Nxc4 26…Rxc4 b6 27.Qc3. Petrosian, disappointed, attempts to exchange a rook pair. However, his king on the eight rank means that even hoping for a miracle is a wast of time.) 23…Rd8? 24.Qc5! (Now black immediately loses with 24…Qe8? 25.Ng4!, although the “better” 24…Qxc5 25.Rxd8+ Qf8 26.Rxf8+ Kxf8 leads to a position after 27.Rc7 where resistance is pointless. Therefore, black resigned.

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“I don’t recall Petrosian ever losing to anybody else in such style. After analyzing this masterpiece of positional skill, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing more I could teach Garry about chess. He had demonstrated that he knew how to do absolutely anything. My function now could only be to help him prepare for competitions and give advice of an experienced master.”

If you like reading about the history of the Royal game, and about the behind the scene machinations involved in Chess at the highest level, and replaying extremely well annotated games, this book is for you! This book, too, will stand ‘the test of time’.

The book was published by Elk & Ruby. Please check out the website located here: https://www.elkandruby.com/

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