Category Archives: Openings

No KIDding – New KID books

This review has been printed in the September 2017 issue of Chess Life.  A penultimate (and unedited) version of the review is reproduced here. Minor differences may 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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Bologan, Victor. Bologan’s King’s Indian: A Modern Repertoire for Black. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2017. ISBN 978-9056917203. PB 448pp.

Kotronias, Vassilios. Kotronias on the King’s Indian 1: Fianchetto Systems. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2013. ISBN 978-1906552503. PB 680pp.

Kotronias, Vassilios. Kotronias on the King’s Indian 2: Mar del Plata I. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2015. ISBN 978-1907982873. PB 320pp.

Kotronias, Vassilios. Kotronias on the King’s Indian 3: Mar del Plata II. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2015. ISBN 978-1907982538. PB 280pp.

Kotronias, Vassilios. Kotronias on the King’s Indian 4: Classical Systems. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2016. ISBN 978-1784830199. PB 464pp.

Kotronias, Vassilios. Kotronias on the King’s Indian 5: Sämisch and the Rest. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2017. ISBN 978-1784830359. PB 560pp.

Pavlovic, Milos. New Weapons In the King’s Indian. Gent: Thinkers Publishing, 2017. ISBN 978-9492510020. PB 242pp.

I have noticed that a lot of amateur defenders of the King’s Indian (KID) tend to ‘wing it’ in the opening. They trust that their general knowledge of the KID will suffice as they fling their pawns and pieces forward, or that the Muse will grace them with the right move just when they need it.

What they forget is that even Kasparov – one of the most dynamic players in chess history, and one of the KID’s greatest champions – had to marry inspiration with theory, memorizing variation after variation as he tried to survive his theoretical arms races with Karpov and Kramnik. Eventually he gave up, deciding that the memory work required to play both the Najdorf and the KID was too much, and that the Najdorf was a better use of his time.

It is absolutely critical to know your theory if you want to play the KID, particularly at the master level or in correspondence play. And chess publishers have come to the rescue, with a slew of recent titles that cover the main lines, the side lines, and everything in between. We’ll take a look at seven books by three authors this month, using two examples to help illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of each author’s project.

The fifth and final volume of Vasilios Kotronias’ epic series on the KID is newly published by Quality Chess. Clocking in at over 2300 pages, these five volumes – Kotronias on the King’s Indian 1: Fianchetto Systems (2013), 2: Mar del Plata I (2015), 3: Mar del Plata II (2015), 4: Classical Systems (2016), and 5: Sämisch and the Rest (2017) – almost certainly represent the most detailed examination of a single opening in chess history.

In a clear echo of Quality Chess’ slogan, the series promotes the most central and principled of main lines in KID theory. This includes the ‘Kasparov’ line against the Fianchetto (v1) featuring ..Nbd7, ..e5, and ..Qb6, the famous Mar del Plata variation in the Classical (v2 and v3), and the super-topical 6. ..c5 against the Sämisch (v5). While the vast majority of the lines discussed in the early volumes still stand up – current top-level correspondence games seem to support this – Kotronias has kindly included 46 pages of updates and revisions to previous analysis in the fifth book.

Victor Bologan’s Bologan’s King’s Indian: A Modern Repertoire for Black (New in Chess, 2017) is a mildly revised version of his 2009 The King’s Indian from Chess Stars. Some of the material also appears on two DVDs released by ChessBase in 2009 and 2015. The book is not designed to be an exhaustive treatment of the opening a la Kotronias, but rather, one that describes the “KID Bologan Style.” (8)

On the whole the repertoire is very similar to that proposed in the 2009 edition. It trends towards the main lines (Panno against the Fianchetto, the Mar del Plata, 6. ..c5 vs the Sämisch) but nearly always included multiple repertoire choices for readers to choose from. Bologan also provides suggestions against the English Opening, White’s double fianchetto, the Torre and the London. His is the only book under current discussion that does so.

Our third and final book comes from Milos Pavlovic and Thinkers Publishing. New Weapons in the King’s Indian (2017) consists mainly of lesser known paths in the KID. Pavlovic analyzes the ..exd4 lines in the Classical and 6. ..Nbd7 in the Sämisch (which backs up into some 6. ..c5 variations). He eschews typical KID lines in the Fianchetto variations, instead arguing for the viability of an old pawn sac in the English Four Knights after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.g3 c5 5.Bg2 cxd4 6.Nxd4 0-0 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.0-0 d6!?.

Pavlovic’s book is largely raw analysis. There is, the table of contents notwithstanding, no bibliography in the book, and it can sometimes resemble a database dump a bit too much for my taste. The layout is very clear and pages have plenty of white space, but once again a Thinkers Publishing book suffers from mangled English. It is fully readable, to be sure, but the editorial lapses range from the mild to the comical.

One of the best ways to try and compare opening books is to compare their common analyses. There is quite a bit of overlap in some of the main lines between Kotronias and Bologan, and some with Pavlovic. Here we’ll take a look at what they have to say about two currently theoretically important positions.

The Bayonet Attack in the Classical KID remains quite trendy at all levels. After 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0–0 6.Be2 e5 7.0–0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.b4 Black has two main options: 9. ..Nh5 and 9. ..a5.

image

Both Bologan and Kotronias analyze 9. ..Nh5, where one of White’s current thematic tries is 10.Re1 f5 11.Ng5 Nf6 12.Bf3 c6. Here 13.Be3 and 13.Bb2 are White’s most common moves, but 13.dxc6!? is a rare move played by Vishy Anand’s long-time second Radoslaw Wojtaszek. After 13. ..bxc6 14.exf5 gxf5 15.b5 White has given up the center, but has some tactical possibilities in exchange. Kotronias devotes a full chapter to this variation, claiming that Black can ‘hold his own’ after 15. ..h6 16.Nh3 d5 17.bxc6!? e4 18.Ba3 d4 and 17.Ba3 e4 18.cxd5 cxd5 19.Nf4 Re8, with analysis running out to move 49!

13.dxc6 does not appear in Bologan’s book, but he does (briefly) discuss the alternative 12. ..h6. This precludes Wojtaszek’s move and forces White back into more traditional lines with 13.Ne6 Bxe6 14.dxe6 c6 as discussed by David Vigorito in his excellent column at ChessPublishing.com.

Bologan also covers 9. ..a5 and 9. ..c6 as alternatives to 9. ..Nh5. His discussion of 9. ..a5 is worth particular attention. After 10.Ba3 (10.bxa5 c5 locks up the queenside) 10. ..axb4 11.Bxb4 Nd7 12.a4 he analyzes the relatively rare 12. ..Kh8!? and shows it to be a very reasonable path for Black.

Another important variation – this time in the Sämisch – comes from the famous game between Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk in the 2013 FIDE Candidates Tournament. After 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0–0 6.Be3 c5 7.Nge2 Nc6 8.d5 Ne5 9.Ng3 h5 10.Be2 h4 11.Nf1 e6 12.f4 Grischuk set the board aflame with the fantastic piece sacrifice 12. ..Nxc4!? 13.Bxc4 b5 14.Bxb5 exd5 15.e5. All three books include this position as part of their repertoires, although Pavlovic reaches it by means of a slightly different move order (6. ..Nbd7 7.Nge2 c5 8.d5 Ne5, transposing).

image

Grischuk continued with 15. ..dxe5, but there is an alternative: 15. ..Bg4. The key variation is 16.exf6 Bxd1 17.fxg7 Kxg7 18.Rxd4. Bologan thinks that this is improves over the Grischuk game: “[i]f White… exchanges queen for minor pieces, he will have to fight against a pawn wedge in the center.” (183) Pavlovic extends Bologan’s analysis with 18. ..d4 19.Rxd4 cxd4 20.Bxd4+ f6 and claims that Black stands better. (51)

Kotronias disagrees. Citing Svetushkin, he thinks that after 21.Ne3 “White had the more pleasant position… Black had a nominal material advantage with a queen and a rook against four minor pieces, but the pieces coordinate beautifully.” (476) I suspect that he might be right here, at least in terms of practical play. There are four over-the-board games with 15. ..Bg4 in my database, and after 16.exf6 White won all of them.

This is, by necessity, a small analytical sampling, but these examples help to illustrate some of the relative strengths and weakness of our authors and their books. Kotronias’ books are astoundingly detailed, scrupulously sourced, and analytically precise. It is hard to think that they could be bettered in accuracy or coverage. At 2300 pages, no one – not even Kasparov – could hope to memorize it all, so I suggest that readers focus on the skeleton of beginning of each chapter and the summaries at their ends. Fill in details as interest, practice and time allow.

Bologan’s book has two main strengths. It is concise, and it offers multiple repertoire choices when Kotronias tends to offer just one. That it covers ‘sidelines’ like the English, London or Torre is also very useful. Bologan’s analysis is generally of a high standard, but readers should pay special critical attention to pages that lack game citations after 2009.

I am less enthusiastic about Pavlovic’s book. I don’t trust his evaluation of 15. ..Bg4 as described above, and as I checked his analysis, both of Svidler-Grischuk and more broadly, I kept finding small problems. I think the book can be useful for those looking for lesser-traveled paths in the KID or for those whose repertoire matches up with his choices, but it’s just not in the same league as Bologan or Kotronias.

Analysis links:

Bayonet 9.b4 Nh5: http://www.viewchess.com/cbreader/2017/9/4/Game165832500.html

Bayonet 9.b4 a5: http://www.viewchess.com/cbreader/2017/9/4/Game165904844.html

Svidler-Grischuk: http://www.viewchess.com/cbreader/2017/9/4/Game165976625.html

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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.’

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.

London Calling

This review has been printed in the November 2016 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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Romero Holmes, Alfonso, and Oscar de Prado. The Agile London System: A Solid but Dynamic Opening Choice for White. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2016. ISBN 978-9056916893. PB 336pp. List $29.95.

Sedlak, Nikola. Winning with the Modern London System: A Complete Opening Repertoire for White after 1.d4 d5. Niepolomice: Chess Evolution, 2016. ISBN 978-8394429096. PB 224pp. List $27.95.

The opening theory arms race never ends. It used to be that a novelty played one day could be used for weeks; now, with the transmission of games via the Internet, today’s hot new move is almost instantly in tomorrow’s databases. So increasingly we find even super-GMs ‘opting-out,’ preferring to play less studied variations instead.

Nowhere do we see this phenomenon more clearly than with the explosion of interest in the London System. Once considered suitable only for amateurs with little time to study, today the London is being played at the highest levels, with Carlsen, Kramnik, and Kamsky (among many others) championing its cause.

That the world’s elite are playing the London has not escaped the notice of chess publishers. No less than three books and one DVD devoted to the London have appeared in recent months, leading one sly wag at chesspub.com to win the Internet when he proclaimed:

…I can no longer keep up with the deluge of dense theoretical material published on the London System on a weekly or monthly basis. … I have decided to cut my theoretical workload by switching to the Ruy Lopez.

This month we look at two of these new London titles: The Agile London: A Solid but Dynamic Chess Opening Choice for White by GM Alfonso Romero Holmes and Oscar de Prado, and GM Nikola Sedlak’s Winning with the Modern London System: A Complete Opening Repertoire for White against 1.d4 d5.

Some might wonder how the stodgy old London could rightly be described as agile or modern. The answer lies in the move order. Following pioneering work by Eric Prié at ChessPublishing.com and Johnson and Kovačević in Winning with the London System, today’s Londoneers play 2.Bf4 first, keeping Ng1-f3 in reserve. This allows them to avoid a few problematic lines, but it does not solve the problem of what to do against the King’s Indian, a traditional bugbear for London players.

Sedlak so fears the King’s Indian that, in his Preface, he explains he can only recommend the London after 1.d4 d5. This seems slightly overwrought to me. The standard London setup is no worse against the King’s Indian than other variations, and changing plans with an early Nc3 could transpose to the Barry Attack or the Pirc. Both options are covered in The Agile London, along with heterodox lines like the Jobava and Pereyra Attacks.

Here we see one of the main differences between the two books. The Agile London is encyclopedic in scope, offering readers a complete London-style repertoire, and often with multiple options. It consists of 71 densely annotated games leavened with both game and chapter summaries, making the intimidating-looking analysis slightly less frightful. 60 tactical and strategic puzzles are also included.

Winning with the Modern London System is a breezier, more personal book. Sedlak plays the London regularly and advocates for it here, using many of his own games along the way. Each chapter begins with a summary of repertoire choices, and the analysis is presented through complete games that are followed by ‘lessons to be learned.’

While I think both books good and useful, I suspect that different players might gravitate towards one or the other. Romero Holmes and de Prado have written an objective book that maps out numerous paths forward for the Londoneer. Sedlak’s book is an optimistic call to arms, quite suitable for new London players.

It might be argued that the only drawback to Sedlak’s book is his optimism. Sometimes he sees advantages for White where none exist. Take, for instance, one of the current main lines of the London – and one recommended by Boris Avrukh in Grandmaster Repertoire 11: Beating 1.d4 Sidelines.

[Note that an extended version of this analysis is available in replayable format.] 

After 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.c3 c5 5.Nd2 Nc6 6.Ngf3 Bd6 7.Bg3 0–0 8.Bd3 b6 (the key tabiya) 9.Ne5 Bb7 10.f4 Ne7 11.Qb1

Sedlak says this is White’s only chance for an advantage, but there are options. Most notably, White can play 11.Qf3 Nf5 12.Bf2 Be7 when Romero Holmes improves on Sedlak’s 13.g4 with 13.0–0!? Nd6 14.dxc5N (Avrukh only gives 14.Rad1) 14…bxc5 15.Qh3 Qc7 and the position is equal.

11…g6 12.Bf2 cxd4

12…Nf5!? looks reasonable, and Romero Holmes says 12…a5 13.0–0 Ba6 is equal, while Sedlak prefers White.

13.exd4 Nh5 14.g3 f6 15.Nef3

Following Grischuk-Wang Hao, Beijing, 2014. This position is evaluated as equal in The Agile London; Sedlak gives the moves but no evaluation. Either way, it’s hard to see how 11.Qb1 leads to an advantage.

Rage, rage…

Sadler, Matthew, and Natasha Regan. Chess for Life. London: Gambit Publications, 2016. ISBN 978-1910093832. PB 224pp. List $24.95, currently $18.63 at Amazon.

When a non-chess player sees a 10 year old playing an adult they feel sympathy for the child. When a chess player sees the same thing he feels sympathy for the adult.

– Brian Karen

Aging is, if we’re lucky, an inevitable element of human existence. On the whole we trade rapidity of thought for wisdom, but the hard fact of aging for chess players is that the trade is never equal. While we can play chess until we the day we die, the competitive nature of the game means that after a certain age, our results and ratings will begin to slip.

This is particularly true in the age of the machines. The concrete nature of modern chess practice tilts the playing field towards youth and their silicon-sharpened calculative abilities. Adult players could work harder to keep up, try to hone our dwindling skills as well as we can, but with jobs and children and all those responsibilities, this is an arms race that we cannot hope to win.

What’s a rapidly-approaching-middle-age guy to do? (Remember – research is me-search, folks.)

The subtitle of Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan’s Chess for Life is “understanding how chess skills develop and change with the passage of time.” It is also fairly illustrative of the book as a whole. In a series of interviews with, and case studies of, ‘older’ chess players, Sadler and Regan have written a thought-provoking and useful book for players of all ages. ‘Mature’ players will find it particularly helpful, however, as much of the material focuses on specific challenges faced by aging competitors.

Sadler and Regan are listed as co-authors of Chess for Life, but the preface makes clear that the division of labor was not equal. Sadler is responsible for the chess content and analytical work, while Regan crunched some of the data and worked over the prose. Both co-authors were involved in the ten interviews published in the book. You can see a table of contents, and therefore a list of interviewees, in this sample provided by Gambit.

The interviews are generally well done, and I can recommend most of them, excepting those with Judit Polgar, Ingrid Lauterbach and Sergei Tiviakov. These interviews are too cursory to do anything but scratch the surface of questions raised, although Tiviakov’s is partially redeemed by the case study that follows it.

Indeed, it is in the case studies, and in the manner in certain case studies augment the interviews, that this book shines. Sadler is a superlative chess writer – his book on the Queen’s Gambit is still among the finest available on the opening – and his analytical powers are on full display in Chess for Life. The study of Pia Cramling’s openings, for example, is a clear, concise dissection of how one builds a 1.d4 repertoire and how one tweaks it over time. The analysis of Tiviakov’s 3…Qd6 Scandinavian is painstakingly thorough. The discussion of Capablanca’s games – sadly the third World Champion could not be conjured for an interview – is as inspirational for us as Capablanca’s games were for Sadler.

The real star of Chess for Life is Keith Arkell; or, better put, Arkell as seen through the lens of Matthew Sadler. The interview is admittedly slight, but the two case studies that follow are outstanding. Sadler sifts through hundreds of Arkell’s games and teases out two key themes: his mastery of the Carlsbad Structure and his love of rook and pawn endings. In both cases Sadler does a superlative job of distilling the fundamentals of Arkell’s play and rendering them comprehensible for his non-GM readers.

If Chess for Life lacks anything, it is a concrete program for training or improvement by mature players. Most of the interviews are inspirational in nature, and while some of the case studies illustrate the building of opening repertoires, there are only two places in the book that we get anything resembling training tips or a list of best practices.

The first of these is in the interview with Terry Chapman, an amateur who took up chess with vigor in his retirement. Chapman is candid about the difficulties he faces as an older player – the errors in calculation, the blunders, etc. – and forthcoming with the training techniques he has developed to blunt them. Sadler and Regan compare Chapman’s account of his thought processes with that of Speelman, and I wish this aside had been a bit longer.

The second of these is the five page Conclusion that summarizes the author’s findings. The recapitulation of training strategies and tips on opening is useful, if brief. Sadler’s advice to play against engines on a mobile phone, however, left me cold. It might be good practice for a GM, but it would do nothing but demoralize an amateur player.

There are few books written specifically for the mature chess player, and even fewer that focus on the competitive challenges we face as we age. Chess for Life is a wonderful read for those of us who rage against the dying of our chess lights. Anyone who finds themselves dreading yet another game against ‘that hotshot kid’ would do well to check it out.

Enter the Dragon

This review has been printed in the March 2016 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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Jones, Gawain. Grandmaster Repertoire: The Dragon, Volume 1. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2015. ISBN 978-1784830076. PB 320pp. List $29.95, currently $24ish at Amazon.

Jones, Gawain. Grandmaster Repertoire: The Dragon, Volume 2. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2015. ISBN 978-1784830090. PB 320pp. List $29.95, currently $24ish at Amazon.

Children love playing it. It appears as a plot point in the soapiest of Spanish telenovelas period dramas. The Chinese have even gone so far as to try to make it their own.

It’s gotta be the name, right?

Bobby Fischer famously claimed that he’d worked its defeat out to a science (“…pry open the h-file, sac, sac … mate!”) but the theory and practice of the Sicilian Dragon have come a long way in recent years. Not only are there new sub-variations to try – the Chinese Dragon, the Topalov Variation, the Dragadorf – but the traditional main lines have undergone extensive analysis and empirical testing. How can the Dragoneer hope to keep up?

Older one-volume introductions by Chris Ward and Mikhail Golubev are now dated. David Vigorito’s Chess Developments: The Sicilian Dragon (2011) is fairly current, but it does not cover every line. For a complete, cutting-edge repertoire, Dragon players should consider the new Grandmaster Repertoire: The Dragon 1 and 2 by Gawain Jones.

In theory few are better suited to cover this opening than Jones, a lifelong Dragon enthusiast with a rating in the mid-2600s. Of course Elo and experience are no guarantee of authorial talent, but after wrestling with the books for a few weeks now, I’m glad to report that Jones was up to the task.

The most critical lines in the Dragon emerge from this position:

image

White’s three main tries here are 9.Bc4, 9.g4 and 9.0-0-0. Jones treats the first two in Volume 1, and the third in Volume 2. He recommends 9…Be6 against 9.g4, and more than half of Volume 2 is devoted to sidelines. The bulk of the work focuses on 9.Bc4 and 9.0-0-0.

Against 9.Bc4, the traditional main line, Jones has two recommendations. His primary repertoire choice is the Topalov Variation (9.Bc4 Bd7 10.0-0-0 Rc8 11.Bb3 Nxd4 12.Bxd4 b5), and I take it as a good sign that Jones has continued to play the line post-publication. White can dodge the Topalov with 10.h4, leading Jones to also include coverage of the Soltis (10.h4 h5 11.0-0-0 Rc8 12.Bb3 Ne5) and Burnett (12.Kb1 Nc4 13.Bxc4 Rxc4 14.g4 b5 15.b3 b4!) Variations. Readers are thus presented with two options against the Yugoslav.

9.0-0-0 is perhaps the more critical variation in modern practice, and just under half of Volume 2 is devoted to it. After 9.0–0–0 d5 Jones analyzes 10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.Bd4 (the current main line of the Dragon; if 12.Nxd5 Jones recommends 12…cxd5 13.Qxd5 Qc7) 12…Bxd4 13.Qxd4 Qb6 14.Na4 when two repertoire choices are offered: the slightly offbeat 14…Qa5 15.b3 Be6!? and 14…Qc7. After 10.Kb1 Black should play 10… Nxd4 11.e5! Nf5 12.exf6 exf6!, and in case of 10.Qe1, Jones plumps for 10… e5 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.exd5 Nxd5.

[Here is a summary of these lines in replayable format.]

The repertoire presented in the two volumes of The Dragon resembles that of Peter Heine Nielsen on his recent two DVD set for ChessBase (The Sicilian Dragon for the Tournament Player), although they are not identical. Nielsen’s videos are very good in terms of explanation, but they cannot begin to match the density of information presented in Jones’ books.

And make no mistake – these are dense books. The analysis is comprehensive almost to the point of pedantry, as is typical for Quality Chess titles. Given the nature of the opening in question, such obsessive detail is perhaps warranted.

Some bones are thrown to those of us unburdened with photographic memories. There is a useful twenty page section on typical Dragon themes in Volume 1, and Jones is careful to point out standard motifs as they arise in his analysis. His notes are surprisingly verbose given how much ground he has to cover.

The two volumes of Grandmaster Repertoire: The Dragon provide a thorough and tested repertoire for the hardcore Dragoneer. You don’t need to be a Grandmaster to read them, but stronger players will surely derive more benefit from the sophisticated analysis. Players new to the Dragon might want to start with Nielsen’s DVDs.