Doing Jay justice?

This review has been printed in the June 2017 issue of Chess Life.  A penultimate (and unedited) version of the review is reproduced here. Minor differences exist between this and the printed version. My thanks to the good folks at Chess Life for allowing me to do so.

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Bonin, Jay, and Greg Keener. Active Pieces: Practical Advice from America’s Most Relentless Tournament Player. Newton Highlands: Mongoose, 2017. ISBN 9781936277766. PB 256pp.

Among Caïssa’s many servants, few are as devoted as is Jay Bonin. The International Master has been a fixture on the New York chess scene for over 40 years, and hardly a day goes by that Bonin is not playing at one of the Metro Area’s many tournaments. He has contested an astounding 16,885 rated games (as of 4/2/17, and across all time controls) since US Chess started keeping electronic records in 1991.

I came of age playing chess around New York, and I vividly remember encountering Bonin at one of my first tournaments at the Nassau Chess Club. That a titled player, someone one step away from being a Grandmaster, was right there in the flesh… it was astounding. Somehow I worked up the courage to walk up and ask him if he could recommend a book on bishop endings – how random! – and, looking back, the adult me can recognize the weary smirk with which he answered that gawky, sweaty teen.

It is not hyperbole to say that Jay Bonin is a legend of New York chess. So when I heard that there would be a book about Bonin, I was excited. There are so many great American players (particularly of Bonin’s generation) whose stories are never told, whose best games never make it to the databases. At least one of them would be spared that fate.

Active Pieces: Practical Advice from America’s Most Relentless Tournament Player is an annotated collection of 130 of Bonin’s games. While the stories and ideas are Bonin’s, the words themselves belong to co-author Greg Keener. This is Keener’s second such effort, having co-written The Czech Benoni in Action with another New York stalwart, FM Asa Hoffman.

Much of Bonin’s style seems to derive from the rigors of incessant tournament play. He is primarily a grinder, someone comfortable playing dry, technical positions to the bitter end against weaker opponents. We see this most clearly in chapters 4-7. Chapter 4 consists of games in Bonin’s pet openings, which often lead to quick queen trades and deceptively quiet situations. Chapters 5-6 show us how he handles sterile positions, using small imbalances to maximize winning chances. And Chapter 7 contains multiple examples of his counterpunching skills.

One of the very nice things about Active Pieces is the sparse, stream-of-consciousness nature of some of the annotations. It’s rare that we get something approaching unfiltered access to a strong player’s in-game thoughts, and I think there’s great value in seeing how Bonin goes about conjuring victories from equal positions.

Perhaps that’s why I was so disappointed by the multiple analytical errors I found when playing through the games. I’m not talking about a swing from +0.4 to -0.3 pawns, which would be forgivable. The text glides over major blunders without comment, and there are notes containing deeply flawed evaluations and analysis. Here’s one particularly egregious example.

image

In Bonin-Shchukin (Philadelphia, 2000) White has just played 38.Ne6, and Bonin and Keener write: “Decisive. The f-pawn will also have a say in matters.” (112) Black is indeed lost after 38. ..h5, but 38. ..Rb5+ is drawn. Some might argue that the draw is difficult, that it might be hard to see over-the-board, and I’ll willingly grant both claims. The fact remains that the annotation is fundamentally wrong.

Active Pieces is sloppy in other ways. The proofreading appears to have been lax, as there are incorrect move numbers in notes and inconsistent attribution of place in game headers (100). Bonin-Remlinger took place in Chicago, not New York, in 1992 (108), and Foxwoods is not in New York but in Connecticut (179). I also thought that the frequent repetition of games from chapters 1-8 in chapter 9, a set of 100 tactics to solve from Bonin’s games, deserved at least some kind of explanation.

Active Pieces could have been a fitting tribute to a man who has given much of his life to our game. Instead it feels like a first draft of that book. New York players will love it, but those concerned with accuracy may want to wait for a second and corrected edition.

Playing 1.e4 e5 as Black – Web Extra

This article was originally published as a web extra for US Chess Online. It contains comparative analysis originally done for my May 2016 review in Chess LIfe. I reprint it here, mainly so that readers can have access to the analysis in text format as well as in replayable format via the ChessBase website.

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One of the great difficulties of reviewing chess books is dealing with all of the analysis. The days of Fred Reinfeld and his breezy notes are long gone, and in their place, we get variations analyzed into the ground with the help of our ‘metal friends.’ The results can be mind-numbing. Sometimes I wonder whether today’s authors don’t analyze more than even they think they need to, lest a Stockfish-armed reader loudly find them sloppy.

In this month’s Chess Life column, I reviewed six books and one database dealing with 1.e4 e5 from the Black side of the board. I generated a lot of analysis along the way, but the realities of word counts and page space intervened, and the bits I’d wanted to include were relegated to the cutting room floor.

But there are no word counts on the Internet.

Perhaps it’s appropriate here to make something of an admission. There is no human way for me to play through every variation on every page of modern books, much less subject everything to critical scrutiny with the machine and my limited common sense. This is particularly true in cases like this month, where I try to give readers useful reviews of more than one title. Some strategy is required, where I can balance the requirements of objective criticism with the limits of my time and capabilities.

After some trial and error, I have settled on a standard methodology. The first thing I do when reviewing a book is read through it without a board, trying to get a sense of it on a macro-level. After that initial read, I try to engage the author on a micro-level, going through the text in ChessBase and with an engine. Here two different tasks become important.

First, I try to find points of convergence between books, places where the analysis overlaps. What do different authors recommend? Why? And what does that reveal about their authorial style, the quality of their work, etc.?

I also like to ‘drill deep’ into certain positions to test depth and originality. This usually (in the case of opening books) involves subjecting key opening tabiya to heavy computer-aided scrutiny. It can also include choosing lesser-known side lines to see if the authors bring anything new to the table, or if they are content to trade in the usual solutions.

Both of these elements came to bear on my May review. I spent some time comparing the various responses to the Belgrade Gambit, for example, and I discovered that the main lines of the Breyer can be incredibly complicated to analyze. It was a lot of fun, especially for this sometimes 1…e5 player, but man… there is a ton of theory.

For this web extra I chose two bits of analysis that might be of use to readers while also giving some sense of the books in the May review. The first is an overview of recommendations in the Italian, with a focus on the trendy variations that include an early a2-a4. The second is a more in-depth study of a popular line in the Zaitsev, where we see something of the divergent approaches of Kuzmin and Solozhenkin.

7.a4 Giuoco Piano [C54]
27.02.2017
[Hartmann,John]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3

(A) Avrukh (via the 3…Bc5 move order) and Bologan prefer 4…Bc5 5.c3 d6 6.0–0 and here paths diverge:

6…a6 Avrukh (6…0–0 Bologan, “Adams Approach” 7.Bb3 (7.Nbd2 a5) 7…a5!?) 7.a4 0–0 (7…h6; 7…Ba7) 8.Bg5 h6 9.Bh4 g5 and:

a) 10.Nxg5 “not too dangerous for Black” 10…hxg5 11.Bxg5 Kg7 12.Qf3 Rh8 13.Nd2 Kg6 is from Caruana,F (2804)-Nakamura,H (2787) Paris 2016 (0-1 in 32 moves). Avrukh gives the improvement 14.Be3 Kg7 15.Bg5 Kg6 and Black “has at least a draw.”

b) 10.Bg3 Ba7 11.Nbd2 (11.Na3 Bg4 12.Nc2 d5!?) 11…Kg7 12.Re1 Nh7 with kingside expansion.

(B) Bologan, Lokander, and Ntirlis recommend 4…Be7 5.0–0 0–0 6.Re1

Other White options:

a) 6.c3 allows 6…d5!? (Bologan) but the simplest repertoire choice is 6…d6 (Ntirlis)
b) 6.Bb3 d6 (6…d5 Bologan) 7.c3 Na5!? (Ntirlis) 8.Bc2 c5
c) 6.a4 d5! Ntirlis, Bologan

6…d6 7.a4 In this position, Bologan, Lokander and Ntirlis recommend different moves for Black:

image

Bologan: 7…Be6 “Modern Line” 8.Nbd2

a) 8.a5 b6!? 9.Bxe6 fxe6 10.d4 (10.a6 Nd4) 10…exd4 11.Nxd4 Nxd4 12.Qxd4 d5!
b) 8.Nc3 Nd4 9.h3 Nxf3+ 10.Qxf3 c6=
c) 8.c3 Qd7 9.a5 b6?!
d) 8.Bxe6 fxe6 9.c3 Qd7 10.Nbd2 Nh5 11.Nc4 Qe8 wti …Qg6

8…Qd7 9.c3 (9.Nf1 Rfe8 10.Ng3 d5 11.Bb5 (11.exd5 Bxd5) 11…dxe4 12.dxe4 (12.Nxe5 Qd6) 12…Qxd1 followed by …Red8) 9…Rfe8 (9…a6) 10.a5 (10.Bxe6 Qxe6 wti ..d5; 10.b4 a6 11.Bb2 Bf8) 10…a6 11.Bb3 (11.Qb3 Rab8 12.Nf1 Bxc4 13.Qxc4 Red8=) 11…Bxb3 12.Qxb3 d5

Lokander: 7…Kh8!? 8.Nc3

a) 8.h3 h6! (8…Ng8 9.Nc3 f5 10.Nd5 Bf6 11.b4 +=)
b) 8.c3 Ng8 9.d4 f5 10.dxe5 (10.exf5 d5; 10.d5 Nb8) 10…fxe4 11.Rxe4 Rxf3! 12.gxf3 Nxe5 13.Rxe5 dxe5 14.Qxd8 Bxd8 15.Nd2 Nf6 16.Ne4 Nxe4 17.fxe4 Bg4 18.Kg2 Bh4 19.f3 Bh5 20.Be3 Rd8 21.b4 h6 ½–½ (21) Fedorchuk,S (2635)-Giri,A (2722) Germany 2012

8…Bg4! 9.h3 Bh5 10.Be3

10.g4? Nxg4! 11.hxg4 Bxg4 12.d4 (12.Be3 f5!) 12…Nxd4 13.Be2 Nxe2+ 14.Qxe2 f5 15.Qe3 f4 16.Qd3 Rf6 17.Kf1 Rh6–+ 0–1 (32) Oparin,G (2343)-Khruschiov,A (2419) Moscow 2010

10…Nd4 [10…Nb4 11.Bb3 a5] 11.Bxd4 exd4 12.Nb5 c5 13.c3 dxc3 14.Nxc3 Bxf3 15.Qxf3 Nd7=

Ntirlis: 7…Na5 8.Ba2 c5 9.Na3! ‘critical plan’ (Ntirlis)

a) 9.Bg5!? Nc6 10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.Nc3 Nb4!
b) 9.Nc3 Nc6 10.Nd5 Nxd5 11.Bxd5 Be6 12.c3 Qd7 13.Be3 Bf6!? Ntirlis via Marin

9…Nc6 10.c3 h6 (10…Be6 was Lokander’s rejected line, i.e. 11.Bxe6 fxe6 12.Nc4) 11.Bd2 (Saric, Chess24) 11…a6!

Zaitsev 12.a3 h6 13.Bc2 (edited) [C93]
27.02.2017
[Hartmann,John]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0–0 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Re8 11.Nbd2 Bf8 12.a3 Very popular recently.

Other options: 12.a4 (Kasparov’s move, deeply analyzed today); 12.d5 (Khalifman’s recommendation); and 12.Bc2.

12…h6 The main line, analyzed by Solozhenkin in ch 22 and Kuzmin in ch 5–7.

12…Qd7 is very rare and the subject of chapter 8 of Kuzmin’s book. After 13.Bc2 Kuzmin analyzes 13…d5!?, a novelty inspired by Tal-Gligoric (Moscow, 1967).

13.Bc2 (K, ch 5)

Less often played are 13.Ba2 (K, ch 6) and 13.d5 (K, ch 7).

13…Nb8

13…d5!? (S p175) 14.dxe5 Nxe5 15.Nxe5 Rxe5 16.Nf3 Re8 17.e5 Ne4 18.Bf4 c5 19.a4 f5 20.Qe2 b4 1–0 (40) Oparin,G (2563)-Morozevich,A (2692) Moscow 2015 (20…Qd7!?; 20…Qb6!?)

14.b4

14.b3 is another huge line. See K p.90 and S p.175

14…Nbd7 15.Bb2

Other ideas for White include:

15.d5?! c6 16.c4 Nb6 17.dxc6 Bxc6 =+ S
15.a4 Nb6 16.a5 Nbd7 17.Bb2 exd4!? (17…Rb8) 18.cxd4 c5 with counterplay K

This is the key tabiya. No less than four moves are analyzed by Kuzmin and Solozhenkin. 15…g6 is Black’s most popular try, but Solozhenkin dismisses it, saying that Black will “need to defend several possible positions… all of them are much easier to play with White.” (p176)

image

Variation #1: 15…c5 K p97: “most critical course;” also briefly discussed by S. 16.bxc5

After 16.d5 play can follow:

a) 16…c4 17.a4 Nh5 18.Bc1! +=/= (18.Nf1 f5!)
b) 16…a5!? 17.bxa5 (17.Nb3 a4 18.Na5 Rxa5 19.bxa5 c4 with counterplay) 17…Qxa5 18.a4 with initiative Reb8
c) 16…Qc7 17.Nb3 Rac8! 18.Nfd2 Nb6 19.Na5 Ba8 20.Rc1 c4 with counterplay ½–½ (46) Montero Gabarro,J-Rosa Ramirez,V (2301) ICCF email 2008

16…exd4 17.cxd4

a) 17.cxd6 dxc3 18.Bxc3 Bxd6 19.e5 Nd5 20.Bb2 Bc7 =/=+
b) 17.c6 dxc3 18.cxb7 cxd2 19.Qxd2 Rb8 20.Rad1 Qc7! White has sufficient comp but not more (20…Rxb7?! 21.e5!)

17…dxc5 18.d5 (18.Bb1 Qb6 19.e5 Nd5 20.Ne4 ½–½ (20) Karpov,A (2690)-Smejkal,J (2535) Moscow 1981) 18…c4 19.Bc3

a) 19.Nd4 Qa5!? (19…Qc7 20.Bc3 transposition) 20.Re3 Bc5
b) 19.Bd4 Nh5!? 20.Nf1 Nc5 unclear/=

19…Qc7 (19…Bc5!? 20.a4= (20.Nd4? Qb6 –/+; 20.Rb1=; 20.Nf1 a5 21.Bd4 Qb6 with initiative ) 20.Nd4 g6 (20…Ne5 21.Nf5 g6 (21…Bc8) ) 21.N2f3 Bg7 1–0 (34) Lastin,A (2616)-Kasimdzhanov,R (2685) Plovdiv 2010.

Variation #2: 15…a5 K p99 16.Bd3!

a) 16.dxe5 dxe5 (16…Nxe5 is simpler) 17.Qe2 c6 18.Nb3 axb4 19.cxb4 Qb6 1–0 (50) Zhigalko,S (2678)-Saric,I (2671) Tromsoe 2014
b) 16.Rb1 c6 17.Nb3 axb4 18.cxb4 exd4 19.Nfxd4 c5!= ½–½ (48) Palac,M (2581)-Kuljasevic,D (2558) Opatija 2015

16…c6 17.Nb3

a) 17.Qc2 Rc8!? 18.Nb3 (18.Rac1 axb4 19.cxb4 (19.axb4 Qc7) 19…c5! with counterplay) 18…axb4 19.axb4 exd4 20.cxd4 c5! unclear 0–1 (34) Baron,T (2465)-Kuljasevic,D (2564) Skopje 2013
b) 17.Qb1!? axb4 18.cxb4 Qb6 (better is 18…exd4 19.Nxd4 Qb6=) 19.Bc3 Nh5 (19…Rad8?! 20.a4! +=(20.Qb2 ½–½ (31) Leitao,R (2571)-Vescovi,G (2590) Sao Paulo 2002))
c) 17.Rc1!? axb4 18.cxb4 exd4 19.Nxd4 Qb6

17…axb4 18.cxb4 exd4 19.Nfxd4 c5 20.bxc5 dxc5 21.Nxb5 Nxe4= 0–1 (32) Hjartarson,J (2615)-Karpov,A (2750) Seattle 1989

Variation #3: 15…c6!? K p101 16.Rc1

a) 16.Nb3 Rc8 17.Na5 Ba8=;
b) 16.c4 exd4 17.Nxd4 c5 18.bxc5 Nxc5„ ½–½ (55) Timofeev,A (2661)-Jakovenko,D (2627) Saint Vincent 2005
c) 16.Bd3 c5!
d) 16.Qb1 Nb6= (16…c5 17.Nb3)

16…a5!? (16…Rc8 17.Bb1² ½–½ (89) Ponomariov,R (2718)-Ivanchuk,V (2781) Moscow 2008) 17.Bd3!? transposes to 15…a5 (17.c4 axb4 18.axb4 bxc4 19.Nxc4 exd4 20.Nxd4 d5 21.Na5 Qb6=; 17.Bb1 Nb6) 17…axb4 18.cxb4 exd4 19.Nxd4 Qb6

Variation #4: 15…Nb6 Solozhenkin p176 16.dxe5 White has many choices here:

a) 16.a4 exd4 17.cxd4 bxa4=
b) 16.Rb1 Nfd7= (16…Rc8 1–0 (81) Tan,M (2400)-Zult,D (2241) Amsterdam 2011)
c) 16.Re3 Rc8 17.Qb1 Nfd7 18.Re1 Qf6 19.Qa2 d5 20.Rad1 Bd6=
d) 16.Qb1 Nh5 17.Re3 (17.g3 Qd7 18.Kg2 a5„) 17…Nf4 18.Qf1 exd4 19.cxd4 d5 20.e5 Nc4 with counterplay
e) 16.c4 exd4 17.cxb5 axb5 18.Nxd4 Na4 19.Bxa4 bxa4 20.Qc2 (20.Qf3 c5 21.Nf5 Re6 unclear) 20…c5 21.bxc5 dxc5 22.Nf5 Nh5!? 23.Rad1 Qg5 24.Nf3 Qf4= 0–1 (34) Petrov,Y (2309)-Schulz,G (2411) ICCF email 2012
f) 16.Rc1 Nfd7 17.c4

f1) 17.d5 c6 18.dxc6 Bxc6 19.Bb3 a5 20.c4 axb4 21.axb4 Nf6=;
f2) 17.Qe2 exd4 18.cxd4 c5 19.dxc5 dxc5 20.e5 (20.bxc5 Nxc5 21.e5 Rc8 22.Red1 Qe7    23.Bc3 Nd5 =+ 0–1 (39) Krebs,J (2097)-Schulz,G (2127) GER email 2010) 20…c4 21.Be4 Qc7 22.Bxb7 Qxb7=

17…bxc4 18.Bb1 exd4 (18…a5 ½–½ (30) Romanishin,O (2585)-Zhidkov,V (2460) Simferopol 1983) 19.Bxd4 a5 20.Nxc4 Nxc4 21.Rxc4 axb4=

16…dxe5 17.c4 c5!?

17…bxc4 18.Nxe5 c5 19.Ndxc4!? (19.Bc3 cxb4 20.axb4 ½–½ (43) Yagupov,I (2450)-Zaitsev,I (2447) Orel 1999 20…Qc7 with counterplay) 19…Nxc4 20.Nxc4 cxb4 21.e5 Rc8 22.exf6 (22.Bd3 Nh5 23.Bf1 Nf4 24.Qg4 Nxg2! 25.Red1 Qh4 unclear) 22…Rxc4 unclear

18.cxb5

18.bxc5 Nbd7!? 19.cxb5 axb5 20.Qe2 Bxc5 21.Nb3 (21.Qxb5? Ba6 22.Qb3 Rb8 23.Qa2 Qb6 –/+) 21…Bf8!? (21…Qb6 ½–½ (23) Matsenko,S (2461)-Nijboer,F (2582) Hoogeveen 2010) 22.Qxb5 Ba6 23.Qa5 Qb8 with compensation

18…cxb4!?

18…axb5 19.Nxe5 Nfd7 with compensation (19…c4 with compensation)

19.bxa6 Bxa6 20.Nxe5

20.axb4 Bxb4 21.Bb3 Qd6!?

20…bxa3 21.Nxf7!? axb2! 22.Nxd8 bxa1Q 23.Qxa1 Rexd8 S: All three outcomes are possible 24.Qa5 Nfd7 25.e5 Bd3! 26.Qc3 Nc5 27.Bxd3 Nxd3 28.Re3= ½–½ (28) González Pereira,F (2453)-Oreopoulos,K (2450) ICCF 2013.

Playing 1.e4 e5 with Black

This review has been printed in the May 2017 issue of Chess Life.  A penultimate (and unedited) version of the review is reproduced here. Minor differences exist between this and the printed version. My thanks to the good folks at Chess Life for allowing me to do so.

Also note that a companion piece will appear at uschess.org with some of the analysis that had to be cut from this review for space reasons. I will link to it when it goes live.

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Avrukh, Boris. Modern Repertoire against the Italian Game. Available from www.modern-chess.com as a downloadable database.

Bologan, Victor. Bologan’s Black Weapons in the Open Games. Alkmaar: New In Chess, 2014. ISBN 978-9056915438. PB 528pp.

Bologan, Victor. Bologan’s Ruy Lopez for Black. Alkmaar: New in Chess: 2016. ISBN: 978-9056916077. PB 528pp.

Lokander, Martin. Opening Repertoire: The Open Games with Black. London: Everyman Chess: 2016. ISBN: 978-1781941942. PB 384pp.

Ntirlis, Nikolaos. Playing 1. e4 e5: A Classical Repertoire. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2016. ISBN: 978-1784830144. PB 384pp.

Kuzmin, Alexey. The Zaitsev System: Fresh Ideas and New Weapons for Black in the Ruy Lopez. Alkmaar: New In Chess, 2017. ISBN: 978-9056916848. PB 256pp.

Solozhenkin, Evgeniy. The Spanish Main Road. Sofia: Chess Stars, 2016. ISBN: 978-6197188073. PB 276pp.

What is the best response to 1.e4?

The answer to that question might depend on (a) your rating and (b) the relative strength of the tournament you’re playing in.

The Sicilian Defense is often said to be Black’s most popular response to 1.e4, and a survey of the 6.8 million games in MegaBase reveals that this is correct. In recent years, however, 1..e5 seems to have taken pride of place at elite levels. Double e-pawn openings were nearly ubiquitous at the recent World Championship, and a quick study of eight recent leading tournaments revealed a correlation between average participant rating and frequency of 1.e4 e5 on the board.

1.e4 e5 data May 2017

Super-GMs appear to prefer solidity with the Black pieces when playing their peers. The Spanish fits this bill rather nicely. Most variations – the Berlin, Marshall, and Breyer / Chigorin / Zaitsev in particular – are in good theoretical shape at the moment, and the key tabiyas retain enough complexity to allow Black to gingerly play for three results.

It’s perhaps for this reason that White players have increasingly turned to sidelines after 1..e5. Kasparov was one of the pioneers of this trend, reviving the ancient Scotch Game after bashing his head against Karpov’s Zaitsev variation in 1990, and today the hoary Italian Game is front and center in Grandmaster practice.

Assuming you want to take up 1..e5, where should you start? There have been a number of 1.e4 e5 books published in recent years, and this month we’ll take a look at six of them. We’ll also discuss – in a first for this column – a downloadable database product. With so much to cover, the reviews will be necessarily slight, but I’ll do my best to guide readers towards appropriate material. We begin with the titles (and databases) that cover the Open Games.

Martin Lokander is a Swedish FIDE Master, and Opening Repertoire: the Open Games with Black is his first book. Lokander describes the lines in his book as “aggressive, but most importantly, they are strong and theoretically sound.” (12) On the whole, this seems accurate to me. This is a well-researched and practical repertoire guide.

Lokander’s proposed repertoire is built around the Two Knights (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6) as opposed to the Italian (3…Bc5), and while he does not shy away from sharp gambit lines – he accepts the King’s Gambit and the Danish, for example – he also throws in some offbeat sidelines like 5.e5 Ng4!? in the Scotch Gambit. The book uses complete games to carry the analysis, and each chapter begins with a theoretical overview. Ebook fans should be aware that it is available from the Everyman website in multiple formats.

Boris Avrukh’s newest effort – Modern Repertoire against the Italian Game, from modern-chess.com – is to my knowledge his first downloadable product. Avrukh’s repertoire deals exclusively with positions after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5, with the exception of the Evans Gambit and Four Knights. The .pgn file contains ten annotated games and ten tests for readers to solve. Perennial favorites like the Moeller and Max Lange are covered, but exactly half of the file is devoted to the popular ‘Slow Italian.’

While Avrukh is justifiably famed as a top-level theoretician, I was surprised at how well he managed to explain positional ideas and move order nuances for class players. The analysis is current and concise, and Avrukh is generous with new ideas. But when you consider that this database, consisting of roughly 55,000 characters, costs €19.90 while his newest 400 page book from Quality Chess costs five euros more, some readers might wonder if they’re really getting their money’s worth here. The omission of the Evans and Four Knights does not help in that regard.

Playing 1.e4 e5: A Classical Repertoire is Nikolaos Ntirlis’ third book with Quality Chess, and the first written without his co-author Jacob Aagaard. While Ntirlis is billed as an “opening expert and advisor to numerous GMs” on the back cover, his playing credentials mainly come from his correspondence games. Ntirlis is currently rated 2302 ICCF and trending upward.

Modern opening analysis and successful correspondence play are both engine-intensive enterprises, and in the past, I have thought that Ntirlis’ work has been overly influenced by the computer. More specifically, I was underwhelmed by his last book, Playing the French, because some of the repertoire choices – the Tarrasch line with 12.Qe2 h6 in particular – were, while theoretically sound, very difficult to play. There is a tremendous difference between defending in correspondence games, where you can use the computer to snuff out mistakes, and trying to survive over-the-board when you’re not a GM. I’m not sure Ntirlis has always been attentive to that fact.

Playing 1.e4 e5: A Classical Repertoire is, on first glance, less overtly computer driven than Ntirlis’ previous books. The proposed lines, drawn from the Two Knights complex and Breyer, are certainly sharp and principled, but they are not outlandishly so. Ntirlis has read everything relevant, cites most of it, and distills the typical plans brilliantly. Still, the presence of the engine looms large in the analysis, and correspondence games are mentioned everywhere. This is a very advanced book, but for those looking for a one-stop solution to 1.e4, it might be just what the doctor ordered.

Victor Bologan has also published a complete repertoire against 1.e4; or, more precisely, he has published two (or more) of them! His goal in Bologan’s Black Weapons in the Open Games and Bologan’s Ruy Lopez for Black is to provide readers two divergent choices: “One is based on common-sense moves and on trying to avoid the gambits. The priority here is to equalize… The second approach is quite the opposite… [it involves] detailed analyses [sic] of the acceptance of the sacrificed material in those gambits that I consider dubious.” (Black Weapons, 12)

Clocking in at well over 1000 pages, these two books cover tremendous ground. Both the Two Knights and Italian are treated extensively, and almost every White try is answered with two and sometimes three repertoire choices. The Spanish is answered with the Breyer and Marshall, and Bologan helpfully includes 132 exercises at the end of Bologan’s Ruy Lopez for Black drawn from Breyer and Marshall games.

This inclusion of illustrative exercises is but one of the textual novelties in Bologan’s books. Most were not, to my mind, as successful. I liked the fact that the diagrams are shown from Black’s perspective – these are Black repertoire books after all! – but does every variation need a cutesy name? Does every element in the “Arsenal of Strategic Themes and Ideas?” What good is it for me to have to remember what the ‘Zuke-Strike’ or ‘Yates-Break’ are?

The text itself feels cluttered, although admittedly less so in Bologan’s Ruy Lopez for Black. Some move numbers are squared, while others are circled. There are asterisks and endnotes for game citations, while transpositions and move orders are marked with squiggly arrows. That the layout is so poor is especially unfortunate given the quality of the analysis. I think there is great value in these books, having personally put his discussion of the 8.Qf3 Two Knights to good use, but the reading experience left me cold.

The Zaitsev is among the most storied of Spanish variations, but in recent years, it has been somewhat neglected at the top levels. With recent theoretical innovations has come renewed interest and two new titles in print: Alexey Kuzman’s The Zaitsev System: Fresh Ideas and Weapons for Black in the Ruy Lopez, and Evgeniy Solozhenkin’s The Spanish Main Road. We conclude this month’s column with a jaunt through both.

Kuzman’s book focuses on the Zaitsev tabiya beginning on the ninth move. That both Caruana and Svidler laud it in their introductions is fully indicative of its quality. The analysis is fresh and full of new ideas, many of which are drawn from the author’s work as second for Karpov and then Morozevich, and I’d go so far as to say that this is the most original and least engine-driven of the books discussed this month.

Despite its title, The Spanish Main Road offers its readers a complete Spanish repertoire. Solozhekhin’s analysis is comprehensive if terse, drawing heavily from correspondence games, and the book’s compact structure and layout are typical of titles from Chess Stars. We get more of a consensus overview of the Zaitsev here, I think, and the book would be quite suitable for someone looking to get a current summary of accepted theory.

Both books include coverage of the trendy Saratov / Svidler / Kislik variation, discussed in these pages in April 2016. While the variation can appear on the board through two key move orders – 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Nd7 11.Nbd2 exd4 12.cxd4 Bf6 13.Nf1 Na5 14.Bc2 Re8 and 10..Re8 11.Nbd2 exd4 12.cxd4 Nd7 13.Nf1 Na5 14.Bc2 Bf6 – the first is pertinent for Zaitsev players as it gives them a way out of the repetition after 10..Re8 11.Ng5 Rf8 12.Nf3. Kuzmin (who discusses each move order as part of his thorough analysis) gives the rare 15.Rb1 c5 16.d5 Nc4 17.N3h2! as White’s best try, while Solozhenkin is content to summarize White’s move 15 alternatives.

While I suspect that repertoire fit might determine which book / database you end up buying, three of the books discussed here can be recommended above the others. Lokander’s Open Games repertoire is perhaps the best book among those reviewed this month. Ntirlis’ book provides a complete, high-level repertoire, but it might be too theoretically demanding for some. Kuzmin’s presentation of the Zaitsev is erudite, engaging and very original. Without taking away from any of the other products discussed this month, those three are certainly ‘first among equals.’

Keres’ Magnum Opus?

This review has been printed in the April 2017 issue of Chess Life.  A penultimate (and unedited) version of the review is reproduced here. My thanks to the good folks at Chess Life for allowing me to do so.

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Keres, Paul. World Chess Championship 1948. trans. Jan Verendel. Gothenberg: Verendel Publishing, 2016. ISBN 978-9198366501. HB 540pp.

One of the curious features of modern chess publishing is the lack of commercial interest in new tournament books. (World championship matches are something of an exception to this rule.) With games available in real-time via the web, and with the rise of livestreamed video commentary and flash annotations, who needs a book that appears months after a big event ends, and when our attention has already shifted thrice-fold to the shiny and new?

For all of this, there is also a countervailing trend to be found, where some older, heralded tournament books are being translated and brought back into print. First among these are two titles from Russell Enterprises. Miguel Najdorf’s Zurich 1953: 15 Contenders for the World Chess Championship compares favorably with David Bronstein’s canonical work on that tournament, and Max Euwe’s The Hague-Moscow 1948: Match / Tournament for the World Chess Championship is erudite and engaging.

Now the young Swede Jan Verendel has done the English speaking world a great service with his translation and publication of Paul Keres’ World Chess Championship 1948. Keres was, of course, a tremendous chess talent, the runner-up at four Candidates’ Tournaments and a stalwart of Soviet Olympic play. While he is remembered as perhaps the greatest player never to become World Champion, Keres’ contributions to chess literature are often undervalued. This new translation should help to remedy that slight.

Originally published in Estonian in 1949 and in Russian shortly thereafter, World Chess Championship 1948 is often cited by Garry Kasparov as one of his favorite books. Boris Gelfand lauded it at the 2016 Keres Memorial and lamented its relative obscurity among chess fans. I concur with both of these assessments. Keres’ book is a masterpiece that has been neglected for far too long.

World Chess Championship 1948 is a sturdy hardcover of almost 550 single column pages. While the dust jacket is a bit amateurish, the text itself is attractive and well designed, reminiscent of some early titles from Quality Chess. Such similarity should not surprise us once we note that Ari Ziegler, who helped launch Quality Chess, served as Verendel’s typesetter. I was amused to find that the colophon in World Chess Championship 1948 was structurally identical – fonts and all – to early Quality Chess efforts.

Keres is a brilliant annotator, certainly on a par with Botvinnik or Smyslov, and his powers are on full display in this book. He does an excellent job of explaining the critical features of positions, often in painstaking detail, and most of his analysis holds up when checked with an engine. When errors do occur, they usually pop up a few ply deep, meaning that his overall assessment still checks out.

Consider this position, taken from the fourth round game between Max Euwe and Vassily Smyslov.

image

Replayable link to the following analysis:
http://www.viewchess.com/cbreader/2017/4/4/Game51003890.html

Here Euwe famously played the “beautiful sacrifice” 33.Nexg6 fxg6 34.Nxg6?! (34.Qg4 should still win) 34..Kxg6 but after 35.e5? Kf7 36.Qh5+ Kf8 37.f4 Bb6 38.Qf5+ Ke7 39.Qh7+ Kd8 40.Bxb6+ Qxb6+ 41.Kh2 Qe3 42.Qf5 Nc6 he was forced to resign.

With 35.Qf3! Keres correctly notes that Euwe would have kept some “saving chances.” The line goes 35. ..Be6 36.Qf8 Kh7! 37.Qxd8 Nc6 38.Bf6! (38.Qd5 Qd7 39.Qxb5 Nxd4 40.Qxd7+ Bxd7 41.cxd4 Ne7 gives White three pawns for the piece but a worse position according to Keres, while Stockfish offers 38. ..Qc8 as an improvement) 38. ..Bf5. Here Keres gives 39.Qd6 Bg6 40.f4? Nxf6 41.Qxf6 and the computer thinks Black’s material advantage should prevail. After 39.Qd5, however, the position remains very unclear.

Verendel’s translation is solid and quite readable, although I have no way of knowing how close it is to the original Estonian. His aim seems to be maximum fidelity to Keres’ own words. Perhaps that is why – rather strangely, I thought – there are no editorial apparatus included.

Some kind of translator’s introduction would have added depth to the book, and if you’re interested in a ‘behind-the-scenes’ view of each day’s events, Euwe’s book is a valuable supplement. All the same, in an age where every new release is immediately deemed to be a classic, Keres’ book actually fits the bill. It belongs on the bookshelf of every serious chess fan.

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WEB EXTRA:
I looked at quite a few of the games from the 1948 tournament in some detail for this review, and the famous Keres-Botvinnik endgame from round 15 was particularly interesting. For print space limitations I could not mention this game, but it seems shameful to let the work go to waste when I could put it up on the web and let folks enjoy it.

http://www.viewchess.com/cbreader/2017/4/4/Game51511625.html

Gusti’s Nimzo

This review has been printed in the March 2017 issue of Chess Life.  A penultimate (and unedited) version of the review is reproduced here. My thanks to the good folks at Chess Life for allowing me to do so.

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Gustafsson, Jan. A repertoire against 1.d4. Part 3: Nimzo-Indian Defense. Available at Chess24.com as part of the Premium Membership or a la carte for $12.99.

If market competition leads to improved choices for consumers, chess players are reaping the rewards of the ongoing online chess arms race. Playing sites are rushing to add exclusive content like instructional videos, live event commentaries, and (of course) endless sessions of Banter Blitz.

Chess24 is one of the newest kids on the block, and since being founded in 2014, it has come to challenge for a leadership position in the world of online chess. A driving forces behind this ascent is the German Grandmaster Jan Gustafsson, who plays the dual role of onscreen talent and website co-founder.

Widely respected for his theoretical knowledge – Magnus Carlsen employed him as a second for the recent World Championship Match – Gustafsson appears to have largely set aside his playing career to focus on teaching and Chess24. He provides some of the best live commentaries of major events around, particularly when paired with Peter Svidler, and his blitz sessions against site subscribers are entertaining and instructive.

This month we take a look at one of Gustafsson’s new set of videos for Chess24 on the Nimzo-Indian (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4). “A repertoire against 1.d4. Part 3: Nimzo-Indian Defense” is part of a larger series against 1.d4, following up efforts on the Catalan (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3) and the Vienna (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 dxc4). With promised videos on 1.d4 sidelines like the London or Trompowsky forthcoming, Chess24 subscribers should soon have access to a complete 1.d4 repertoire for Black.

Video cannot compete with the written word when it comes to density of information transfer, but it makes up for that shortcoming with easy accessibility. The Nimzo series consists of 13 videos that, taken together, add up to just over four hours and 12 minutes of content. While Gustafsson can only sketch his recommended lines in that time, he does an admirable job of presenting the essentials.

The repertoire offered in this series is fairly technical, something typical of most of Gustafsson’s opening videos. This is most clear in his discussion of two of White’s most important tries in the Nimzo. Against 4.Qc2, Gustafsson recommends that we play 4…0-0 and head towards lines (following recent Kramnik games) where we aim for …b6 and …Ba6, exchanging the light squared bishops.

4.e3 is also met with 4…0-0, but here paths diverge. Gustafsson presents the new and trendy 5…c6 against the Reshevsky Variation (5.Nge2), and he prefers to meet both 5.Bd3 c5 6.Nge2 and 6.Nf3 with lines that saddle White with an Isolated Queen’s Pawn. The games of Anatoly Karpov are our guide here, and one of the longest videos in this series – second only to the coverage of 4.f3, in fact – is devoted to the so-called ‘Karpov Variation’ after 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd3 c5 6.Nf3 d5 7.0-0 dxc4 8.Bxc4 cxd4 9.exd4 b6.

Other recommendations include meeting the aforementioned 4.f3 with 4…c5 5.d5 b5 6.e4 0-0. The Samisch is handled in classical fashion with 4.a3 Bxc3 5.bxc3 c5 6.e3 Nc6 and Black plays against the doubled c-pawns. Both 4.g3 and 4.Nf3 are met with 4…0-0, and there is also sufficient (if sometimes slight) of sidelines like 4.Bg5, 4.Bd2 and 4.Qb3.

Some of Gustafsson’s choices are deeply theoretical, and because he is limited in what he can say in a video of reasonable length, some lines require further study. The coverage of the Karpov Variation feels light to me given its strategic complexity, and some of the variations – most notably 4.Qc2 0-0 5.e4 d5!? 6.e5 Ne4 – are very sharp and forcing.

Here is where a good accompanying eBook would be of great value. Some Chess24 video series feature such eBooks, and some (like Peter Svidler’s on the Grunfeld) are tremendously useful. Unfortunately the eBook for this series is rather wanting. There is some new analysis to be found within, particularly in the Reshevsky Variation, but the expansiveness varies and the analysis curiously lacks terminal evaluations.

I don’t think that a Grandmaster would use Gustafsson’s videos as the basis for an opening repertoire, but then, I don’t think that Gustafsson made these videos for Grandmasters. His target audience seems to be the ambitious amateur player, one who doesn’t mind theory and who tends to prefer technical positions over outright slugfests. The variations presented in “A repertoire against 1.d4. Part 3: Nimzo-Indian Defense” are solid and reliable, and with a bit of home study, they could form an integral part of a player’s repertoire.

Gelfand’s Lofty Standard

This review has been printed in the February 2017 issue of Chess Life.  A penultimate (and unedited) version of the review is reproduced here. My thanks to the good folks at Chess Life for allowing me to do so.

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Gelfand, Boris (with Jacob Aagaard). Dynamic Decision Making in Chess. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2016. ISBN 978-1784830137. HB 288pp. List $34.95.

Positional Decision Making in Chess, the first volume in Boris Gelfand’s ‘Decision Making’ series, was published by Quality Chess in 2015 to critical acclaim. (See the September 2015 issue of Chess Life for my rapturous review.) Now Gelfand’s second book, Dynamic Decision Making in Chess, is available. Does it live up to the lofty standard set by its predecessor?

The title of Gelfand’s new book accurately describes its contents. His main theme is decision making, with a particular focus on (a) how Gelfand makes practical decisions over the board and (b) his handling of dynamic positions. While Gelfand’s articulation of his thought processes is clear and mainly successful, the lens he uses (dynamical play) makes its complete exploration very difficult.

Gelfand describes the “core” of his books as follows:

I want to explain the thinking that has led to my reasonable success as a chess player, and not ‘cheat’ in the process. It is quite easy to analyze a variation with the engine and then explain why it works. And this certainly has its uses, but to me it is more interesting to talk about how we find the moves in the first place. This is the key to playing better chess. (260)

The goal of the books in this series thus far is to offer an honest accounting of how a super GM like Gelfand decides on his moves. The analysis tries to follow Gelfand’s in-game stream of consciousness, and because he cuts no corners, it can be incredibly complex. A recurring theme of the book is Gelfand’s warnings about overreliance on the computer.

It is a mistake to assume that Grandmasters think like engines. Because humans cannot begin to match the machine in terms of calculation, because we can’t see everything like the computer does, at some point we have to “guess.” (8, 86) Decision making on the basis of limited information (guessing) relies on intuition, evaluation, and judgment. (160, 218, 226).

Gelfand’s point seems to be this: humans cannot calculate their way to good decisions. We must rely on “general considerations” (15) while we play, and we must use our intuition to take decisions that we cannot fully calculate. How do we train intuition, and in this case, how do we train our sense of dynamics?

There’s the rub.

It’s important to be clear about what we’re talking about. Dynamics involves the ephemeral in chess. Some temporary feature of the position must be converted into an lasting advantage before it dissipates. (8) Dynamic chess involves intuition and calculation for Gelfand, but devolves to neither. (9). It is not strictly tactical or strategic in nature, the very distinction being somewhat artificial in his view. (61)

For all of the analysis in Dynamic Decision Making in Chess, and for all of the exquisitely careful explanation of decisions and thought processes, there is nothing to my eye that explains how Gelfand senses dynamism in a position. He just does, and more than that is hard to explain.

This is not a knock on Gelfand (or his co-author Jacob Aagaard). Dynamic Decision Making in Chess is a wonderful book, one of the best of its kind, but like every book on dynamics, there comes a point where analysis and explanation fail and we must simply bear witness to genius.

Again, let me be clear. I am not claiming that the great moves of the masters are somehow ineffable or beyond reason. Instead, what I am arguing follows from the block quote above.

It is easy, as Gelfand notes, to retroactively explain the logic of a brilliant move. What is more difficult is clearly articulating the move’s genesis without falling prey to what John Dewey called the ‘philosopher’s fallacy,’ where the results of analysis are taken to accurately represent what was experienced before analysis began.

Studies of dynamic play are, in my experience, particularly susceptible to this kind of fallacy. While Gelfand works diligently to break down the logic of his best moves – his 11…Ra6!! against Karjakin from the 2009 World Cup, for instance (227-239) – there is a level of analysis beyond which he cannot go. It took him 40 years of study and solving (54, 134) to find such moves, and their intuitive, unconscious origins are not easily excavated.

Does this mean that Dynamic Decision Making in Chess fails in its project? Absolutely not. It may lack the clarity and focus of Positional Decision Making in Chess, but this is due to Gelfand’s ambitious handling of a very difficult subject and his refusal to simplify his thought processes for the sake of expediency. The analysis is best suited for experts and above, but players of all strengths can’t help but learn from this book.

Resolved: Stick with it!

This review has been printed in the January 2017 issue of Chess Life.  A penultimate (and unedited) version of the review is reproduced here. My thanks to the good folks at Chess Life for allowing me to do so.

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Edouard, Romain. The Chess Manual of Avoidable Mistakes, Part 2, Test Yourself! Gent: Thinkers Publishing, 2015. ISBN 9789082256642. PB 152pp.

Yusupov, Artur. Revision & Exam 1: The Fundamentals. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2016. ISBN 978-1784830212. PB 208pp.

The gym is full of people you’ve never seen, and won’t see again after February. All of the ‘healthy’ food is on sale. November’s onslaught of political ads have been replaced with commercials for weight loss services and plastic surgeons.

Happy New Year, everyone!

We chess players are not immune to the spirit of the season. We’d all like to see our results improve, and a new year marks a new chance to make some changes and get things right. But how?

For my part, I’m resolving to make solving a bigger part of my improvement strategy. Here I refer not simply to the solving of tactical problems, which is a necessary but not sufficient condition for improvement. A strict focus on tactics can make a player myopic, narrowing our thinking so that we treat every position we encounter like a tactical puzzle.

What I have in mind are books with a wide variety of positions for solving, each requiring (and training) different facets of chess knowledge, and with the aim of honing my intuition and practical skills. Those of you who read last month’s column might recognize the influence of Mark Dvoretsky’s philosophy in this, albeit on a much simpler level.

Here you might try your hand at this kind of work. Set a clock for 15-20 minutes and find the winning move for White in this position. Write down your analysis, and compare it to the answer that appears at the end of this article.

image

Until recently there were relatively few books that provided this type of training material. Hort and Jansa’s The Best Move is the most famous book of this kind, but it is out of print and hard to find. (As always, avoid dodgy reprints.) Perfect Your Chess by Volokitin and Grabinsky is excellent but fiendishly difficult. And while both Dvoretsky and Jacob Aagaard have published books with training problems in the last few years, they too are perhaps too complex for most non-masters.

Two collections of exercises have crossed my desk in recent months, both of which are eminently suitable for the kind of work I’m hoping to undertake this year. Together, the two offer a broad swath of exercises for the improving player to grapple with, and I’d recommend both, if to players of slightly different strengths.

Artur Yusupov’s nine-volume training series from Quality Chess is, along with the Dutch Stappenmethode books, one of the best chess training systems in print. His newest title, Revision & Exam 1: The Fundamentals, is a collection of exercises designed to complement the first three books in that series, but it can equally well serve as a stand-alone set of problems for solving.

Revision & Exam 1 consists of 432 positions broken down into 72 chapters, each corresponding to a lesson in the first level of his training books. The problems are well chosen and tremendously varied, the answers are mini-lessons in themselves, and the production values are high. Players rated above 1600 would do well to make this book part of their training regimen.

The Chess Manual of Avoidable Mistakes, Part 2, Test Yourself! is Romain Edouard’s second book from Thinkers Publishing. His first book, which shares the same title, was a thought-provoking work marred by poor editing and translation. Test Yourself! manages to avoid both of these flaws, in part because it is largely languageless, and it provides readers 280 meaty positions for solving.

I have spent some time with Edouard’s book, from which our exercise above is drawn, and the more I work with it, the more I like it. The exercises appear in random order, and beyond the short stipulation given via chapter headings, readers must use their full range of chess knowledge to correctly solve the problems.

Test Yourself! is slightly more taxing than is Revision & Exam 1; as such, it’s best suited for A players and above. Resolute effort in solving will be rewarded in both cases… provided, of course, you stick with it!

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ANSWER to diagrammed problem:

(1) Radjabov,T (2726) – Karjakin,Sergey (2767) [C26]
Tashkent (analysis) (1.6), 21.10.2014
[Hartmann,John]

Problem #17 in Edouard. Your task is to “find the winning move.” 17.Kf2!

[17.Be3 Qf6 18.Bd4 Qg6+ 19.Qxg6 fxg6 20.Nxd6 cxd6 21.Rbe1= 1/2–1/2 (45) Radjabov,T (2726)-Karjakin,S (2767) Tashkent 2014]

17…Bd7 [17…Bc5+ 18.d4!; 17…Qf6 18.Rg1 Bc5+ (18…Kh8 19.Be3!? (19.Rxg7 Rg8 20.Rxf7 Qg6 21.Qxg6 Rxg6±) 19…Qxc3? 20.Rbd1 Qxc2+ 21.Rd2 Qc3 22.Nxh6+–) 19.d4+–; 17…Kh8 18.Nxh6 g6 19.Nxf7+ Kg7 20.Nxd8 gxh5 21.Ne6++–] 18.Nxh6+ gxh6 19.Qxh6+–