Sabotage!

This review has been published online at the website for the British Chess Magazine, and it will appear in their January 2015 issue. A penultimate version of the review is reproduced here. My thanks to James Pratt for allowing me to do so.

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Kaufman, Larry. Sabotage the Grunfeld: A Cutting-Edge Repertoire for White based on 3.f3. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2014. ISBN 978-9056914400. PB 176pp. List $24.95.

Sabotage the Grunfeld takes as its tabiya the position after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3. 3.f3 has been a popular anti-Grunfeld weapon in recent years, but Black also retains the possibility of transposing into a Samisch King’s Indian. Kaufman covers both eventualities in this book.

Chapter One is an overview of important games in the history of 3.f3 from both Grunfeld and KID persepctives. The chronological ordering of the games, while entirely logical from a historical perspective, tends to obscure the theoretical value (if any) of the games in question. Black players might mine these games for ideas that are no longer trendy, but ultimately I find the chapter to be superfluous, perhaps serving to fill out what might otherwise be a thin volume indeed.

Chapter Two covers what Kaufman calls “Third Move Offshoots,” or those responses to 3.f3 that are neither 3…d5 nor 3…Bg7 (heading for the Samisch). 3…e5, 3…Nc6, 3…e6 and 3…c5 are all discussed. Kaufman’s analysis of 3…Nc6 is of particular interest, as it is the move he recommended in the Grunfeld part of his 2012 Kaufman Repertoire for Black and White. There he thinks that the move leads to equality; here, he hedges his bets a bit, saying that “the line remains quite playable for Black, if not fully equal.” (49)

The ‘mainline’ of the 3.f3 Grunfeld is discussed in Chapter Three. After 3…d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Be3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0-0-0 we reach something of a theoretical crossroads. Avrukh recommends 9…f5, while Svidler prefers 9…Qd6 in his chess24 video series. I spent some time comparing Kaufman’s analysis with Svidler’s, and I found – keeping in mind that Svidler’s full analysis remains unavailable from chess24 – that Kaufman’s work was not inferior to Svidler’s. While they recommended different moves at various points, there was no notable disagreement save one case where Kaufman refuted, in a manner of speaking, one of Svidler’s variations. (Note that Svidler’s videos went live after Kaufman went to press.)

What if Black chooses to transpose to a King’s Indian? Chapter Four covers Samisch systems where Black plays …c7-c5. The ‘Dzindzichashvili Gambit’ (6.Be3 c5 7.dxc5) is not recommended for White, as Kaufman believes that Black can always achieve full equality if the gambit is accepted. (117) He includes analysis of the line in case readers might try the line with Black, and champions the very rare 10.Be3 after 7.dxc5 dxc5 8.Qxd8 Rxd8 9.Bxc5 Nc6. I suspect that it is not coincidental that Komodo also prefers 10.Be3 in this position; more on this shortly.

White should therefore refrain from accepting the Dzindzi Gambit and rather play 7.Nge2 after 6.Be3 c5; or, better, she should consider playing 6.Nge2 if she wants to avoid simplifying lines. After 6.Be3 c5 7.Nge2 Nc6 8.d5 Black can (following Bojkov’s new book) play 8…Qa5, transposing to drawish positions that resemble the Accelerated Dragon. 6.Nge2 c5 7.d5 is to be preferred.

Black’s other options in the Samisch are discussed in Chapter 5. While 6.Be3 and 6.Nge2 seem to transpose to one another (as the two moves will be played one after another in most games) Kaufman seems to give something of an argument for the latter order here. Against the Byrne, White should play c4-c5, following Schandorff. Against the Panno, Kaufman recommends 9.Rc1, a move he analysed at length in NIC Yearbook 91 and that Schandorff also promoted. The slight argument for playing 6.Nge2 first comes into play when Black counters with 6…e5, as this allows White the option of both 7.Bg5 and 7.Be3. The chapter concludes with a recent (February 2014) game where Kaufman won against 6.Be3 Nc6 7.Nge2 e5?!, where “White should be better off here than in the Classical with his pawn already on f3.” (160).

Sabotage the Grunfeld is one of the first chess books to fully and publicly integrate computer analysis into its text. All responsible authors check their analysis with chess engines, of course, but Kaufman – one of the authors of Komodo – takes this a step further by citing specific numerical engine evaluations in the text. As he explains it in the Introduction to the book,

Virtually everything in this book has been checked by the two strongest engines at the time of writing, Houdini 3 and (at a later stage) 4, and Komodo, for at least 15 minutes per position, usually more. […] I tend to favor Komodo’s analysis over Houdini both because I better understand where the scores are coming from, and because I believe that Komodo’s evaluations are on average a bit more realistic in human terms. […] Komodo seems to ‘like’ the white side of most of the recommended lines in this book more than Houdini, correctly so in my opinion as the lines in question do score well for White in human practice. (8-9)

Setting aside the danger of confirmation bias, I worry that the inclusion of bare numerical evaluations is more marketing fodder than it is useful information. Kaufman does not tell us which version of Komodo has spit out the evaluation in question, nor does he mention the ply depth of the analysis or the hardware used. (He cites Komodo TCEC in the bibliography, but nowhere else.) There is also the remote possibility that Komodo might not always be right.

As I played through the analysis in the book, Komodo and Houdini churning away, I was struck by how many times Kaufman recommended Komodo’s first move. At times I wondered whether some of the differences in Kaufman and Svidler’s analysis came down to the engine they were using as they worked.

Readers can feel confident that Kaufman’s work in Sabotage the Grunfeld is both thorough and accurate. He wrangles with most of the literature in the variation, although – curiously – he cites Avrukh in the Bibliography but not in the text, and Schandorff’s books are not cited. The analysis is unbiased and comprehensive, and Kaufman tends to provide enough verbal guidance to assist his non-master readers. Players looking for a new weapon against the Indian Defenses would do well to consider buying this book.

The author is an American Grandmaster.

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