Tag Archives: Aagaard

Making Better Decisions

This review has been printed in the October 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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Aagaard, Jacob. Grandmaster Preparation: Thinking Inside the Box. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2017. ISBN 978-1907982354. HC 408pp.

There was a moment at this summer’s Paris Grand Prix involving Magnus Carlsen and Maurice Ashley that, besides being meme-worthy, was revelatory of the nature of competitive chess at the highest levels.

In the post-game interview after his tense rapid win over Etienne Bacrot, Carlsen took umbrage at Ashley’s characterization of the World Champion’s play as not entirely ‘smooth.’ Carlsen demonstratively pushed back against this line of questioning, asking Ashley what exactly he expected from him: “…what do you want me to do? Do you want me to get a huge advantage from the opening and then push it all the way [to victory]… is that the only way you can win a ‘smooth’ game? Is that your point?”

There was a time in chess history when these ‘smooth’ wins actually took place. If we look at the games of Capablanca or Alekhine, for example, we find precisely the kinds of talent mismatches that produce ‘smooth’ victories. The opposition often failed to recognize deep positional threats until it was too late, with the result being that many of these early contests are paradigms of strategy and attack. Numerous teachers recommend the collected games of Capablanca and Alekhine (among others) for precisely this reason.

Modern chess is not nearly so neat and tidy. With the wide dissemination of information in print and electronic form, and with the ubiquity of the computer, we have seen something of a leveling of the playing field at the highest levels. Players are much ‘wiser’ than they used to be, and what Alekhine once said of himself – that to defeat him, you had to win in the opening, the middlegame, and the ending – is true of all of today’s elite.

But Carlsen is still the World Champion, and he still wins more than he loses. How? There seems to be something of a consensus: what Carlsen does better than his opponents is solve problems. Instead of relying on a store of killer opening novelties, Carlsen is content to try and find positions that he understands better than his opponents, and use his superior decision making skills to successfully outplay them. It may not be ‘smooth,’ but it seems to work.

Isn’t this, at its core, the nature of competitive chess? The player who makes better decisions over the course of a game or, less charitably, who makes fewer bad ones, will usually come out on top. Training our decision making abilities would therefore seem to be critical for success in over-the-board play, and improvement would, quite literally, require that we rewire the way we think.

Such considerations have long been at the heart of Jacob Aagaard’s oeuvre. In one of his first books, Excelling at Chess, Aagaard implored his readers to think like humans instead of machines, sketching an approach to chess improvement on the basis of that key insight. He compared the differences between amateur and professional thinking in Inside the Chess Mind. And he served as the occluded co-author of Boris Gelfand’s Positional Decision Making in Chess and Dynamic Decision Making in Chess, both of which received high praise in these pages.

Aagaard’s latest book, Grandmaster Preparation: Thinking Inside the Box, is the sixth and final volume in the Grandmaster Preparation series and in many ways its lodestar. The title, a cheeky nod to Doctor Who, is also emblematic of Aagaard’s approach to improvement. It is only through the steady sharpening of basic chess skills, many already in our conceptual toolboxes, that we can begin to make better decisions and ultimately improve our results.

The great bulk of Thinking Inside the Box – most of Chapters 3 through 11 – revolves around decision making, and it is a useful lens for discussing the book as a whole. More specifically, it involves an in-depth discussion of the four types of decisions players encounter over-the-board. These are:

1. Automatic moves, or “decisions [that] you can make quickly.” (113) These might be theoretical openings or endings, forced moves or recaptures, etc. We are warned to double-check that the move is indeed automatic, and then to make it.

2. Simple decisions, which are largely intuitive and involve choosing between multiple candidate moves. These decisions rely less on calculation than on intuition or principle, and at some point, players simply have to guess when choosing the ‘best’ move.

3. Critical moments, where “the difference between the best and second-best move is large.”[1] Aagaard usually compares these to algebra exams. Critical moments can only be decided through intensive calculation, and any inaccuracy can lead to failure.

4. Strategic (or “complex”) decisions involve difficult positions that resist being decided through any of our individual decision-making skills (calculation, intuition, theoretical knowledge, general principles, bald hunches). All of our tools must be brought to bear on these positions, but ultimately, we have to guess here too.

I happened to attend this year’s US Open in Norfolk as I was reading Thinking Inside the Box for this review, and it was constantly on my mind during my games. One position is particularly pertinent in this regard. Here, in my 7th round game, I had the White pieces, and my opponent had just played his 32nd move.

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After 33.Rc2! Rxc3 I realized that I had encountered a critical moment in Aagaard’s sense of the term, one where a miscalculation could turn what had once been a winning position into a draw. I correctly decided that I had to look as deeply into the position as I could, burning through 15 of my remaining 25 minutes in the process.

What I discovered was that after my intended 34.Rxc3? the position was drawn: 34. ..Bxc3 35.Rc1 e2 36.Kf2 e1Q+ 37.Rxe1 Bxe1+ 38.Kxe1 Kxe6 39.Ke2 Ke5 (39. ..b5! is also equal) 40.Ke3 b5!=. Luckily for me, there was an alternative, and I found the much superior 34.Rac1!. After 34. ..Rc5? (34. ..Bd4 35.Kf1; 34. ..e2 35.Kf2) 35.Rxc5 bxc5 36.Rxc5 e2 (36. ..Bd4 37.Rc1 e2+ 38.Kg2 Kxe6 39.Kf3 Kd5 40.Kxe2; 36. ..Kd6 37.e7!) 37.Rc1 Bd4+ (37. ..Kxe6 38.Kf2) 38.Kg2 Bc3 39.Kf2 my opponent resigned.

That some may view this example as an automatic decision instead of a critical one is a strength of Aagaard’s system and not a weakness. By focusing on decisions and moments instead of positions, he highlights the first-person nature of decision making in chess, as well as the ways in which effective training can sharpen those decisions.

This is the practical upshot of Aagaard’s methods. In studying the nature of our decision making and considering our specific strengths and weaknesses as players (Chapter 3), we can try to locate and correct our personal weaknesses. I have discovered that I struggle with simple decisions, calculating too much and taking too much time in doing so. You cannot imagine how liberating it was to read that even Grandmasters have to regularly guess, and with this admonition firmly in mind, I have managed to limit my time trouble woes in recent games.

Aagaard’s discussion of the nature and limits of calculation (Chapters 7-8) was similarly illuminating. Borrowing heavily from the work of Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow, he distinguishes between two modes of thought: System 1, which is “fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic and subconscious,” and System 2, which is “slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, and conscious.” (157) Calculation for Aagaard is not merely ‘seeing variations.’ It involves “finding variations you do not see intuitively.” We improve our calculation by slowing down and actively searching for moves and ideas that are not intuitive, or those that we do not immediately see. This is Kahneman’s System 2 in action, and while Aagaard is careful to remind us that we must not over-rely on our calculative abilities (167), it turns out that even the World Champion could stand to activate System 2 from time to time.

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After playing 25. ..exd3 in his victory over Peter Svidler in the 2013 Candidates Tournament, Carlsen was asked about 25. ..Bxh3! in the post-game press conference. The idea is brilliant: after 26.dxe4 (26.gxh3? Qxh3) 26. ..Rg5 27.g3 Bg4 28.f3 Rb2!! 29.Qxb2 Bxf3 Black’s attack is irresistible.

Most commentators – including Ian Rogers in these very pages (June 2013) – argued that Carlsen had missed something, that he’d made a calculative oversight in not playing the bishop sacrifice. Aagaard, who was in attendance, saw something different. Carlsen just hadn’t seen the candidate move. Once he did, it was trivial for him to analyze it to its end, and Aagaard reports that it took Carlsen all of 10 seconds to confirm that it was “completely winning.”

Thinking Inside the Box is an immensely rich book, and another review could be written about what has been left out of this one. The discussion of opening study is solid, as is the account of Carol Dweck’s ‘growth mindset’ and its relevance for chess improvement. The appendix on nutrition, however, seems out of place, and I do not see the need for Aagaard to once again dredge up his decade-old debate with John Watson. This is especially true as he ends up agreeing with Watson in describing rules as having pragmatic validity in a broadly Deweyian sense. (237-242)

Very few chess books have stuck with me the way that Thinking Inside the Box has. I think it is Aagaard’s finest work, filled with useful insights, and I find myself reflecting on it frequently as I play and study. It is not an easy book by any standard, but I suspect that most players seriously looking to improve and capable of self-criticism would do very well to read it.


[1] Aagaard, Jacob. “Critical Moments – two opposing definitions.” Quality Chess Blog (blog), Quality Chess. July 11, 2017. http://www.qualitychess.co.uk/blog/6113#more-6113

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A Bootcamp for the Endgame

Aagaard, Jacob.  Grandmaster Preparation: Endgame Play.  Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2014.  ISBN 978-1907982330.  376pp.  HB $36.95.  Amazon price will vary.

In my on-going quest to break 1800, I’ve made a number of changes to my study habits.  First, I swallowed my pride and returned to the basics, starting at the beginning of the Stappenmethode series of workbooks and working through each Step (and Step Plus) in turn.  (I will have a review and discussion of the Steps Method in the weeks to come.) I also deprioritized openings and emphasized endings, especially the playing out of set endgame positions against human opponents or weak computer engines with clock and board.

Now, having received Jacob Aagaard’s newest book, I have enough training material for the endgame to last me many, many months.

Grandmaster Preparation: Endgame Play is the fifth book in the Grandmaster Preparation series.  (See my review of the second book, Positional Play, for more information on the series as a whole.)  Endgame Play is, at root, a collection of 430 endgame positions along with their solutions.  They are grouped into twelve chapters; most of the chapters are constructed according to typical material, but the final three are devoted to key endgame themes.  Approximately one-third of the positions are ‘pure’ rook endings.

Each chapter begins with a short introduction to the topic at hand, and this is followed by the positions for solving.  Immediately the reader understands that this is not an endgame primer; for that, Aagaard recommends Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual and de la Villa’s 100 Endgames You Must Know.  This is a workbook.  Let me repeat this: this is a work-book.  Of course you can just set up the positions on your board / screen and play through the answer, but the real purpose of Endgame Play (and, I think, the whole of the GM Prep project) is to whip your chess into shape through practice.  It’s not just enough to ‘know’ the theory.  If you can’t prove it OTB, it does you no good.

Let me give you an example from recent club play.  On the board next to me on Monday night, a very promising junior lost a rook endgame where White had a 3-2 pawn advantage, but all pawns were on the kingside, no pawns were isolated or doubled, etc.  The junior, playing Black, had seen some of the key defensive ideas in a previous training session, but either ‘forgot’ what to do or simply crumbled under time pressure.  His practical strength was not equal to his theoretical knowledge, and so he lost a game that was completely drawn.

Aagaard’s prescription in Endgame Play is simple: the ambitious player must know the theoretical positions and she must be practiced in playing typical positions out.  Dvoretsky is sufficient for the first part, but we must sit down and solve positions or, better, play them out with training partners if we are to gain practical experience.  Endgame Play contains 430 positions ideally suited to this task.

Here’s a sample, taken from Chapter 7 (“Complex Minor Piece Endings”).  Set up the position and take the White pieces against an engine like ExChess or against a human training partner.  (Playing against Komodo or Houdini is just too depressing!)  White is to move.

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Ok.  How did the game go?  Compare it with Aagaard’s analysis and try to figure out where you went wrong.  Do this enough and soon you’ll be squeezing full points out of half-points, and saving half-points where your position merits none.  Practice may not make perfect, but it does make better.  In an age of sudden-death time controls, that’s no small thing.

In his Foreword to Endgame Play, Karsten Müller specifically points to the chapters on opposite-colored bishops and rook and bishop vs rook and bishop as being exemplary.  And so they are.  For me, however, the material on rook endings is particularly useful, and the chapter on fortresses is absolutely fascinating.  Because this is not a pedagogical work per se, some of the chapter introductions are slight.  The introduction to the fortresses chapter is one of the longest in the book, and the illustrative examples work well to inspire ‘fortress hope’ in the reader.

It’s obvious that Aagaard poured immense time and effort into this book; on the Quality Chess Blog, he writes that he spent more time on Endgame Play than on any of his others.  The analysis in Endgame Play is detailed enough to answer most every reader question, but it does not pretend to be encyclopedic.  As Quality Chess books tend towards excessive analytical verbosity, this attempt at balance is appreciated.

The books in the Grandmaster Preparation series are “aimed at ambitious players.”  Nowhere is this more true than with Endgame Play.  I suspect that only the most dedicated of players under 2000 will truly benefit from Endgame Play, but ambition and dedication mean more than playing strength in this situation.  The class player who puts in the time and work solving the positions in this book will undoubtedly see a jump in her endgame skills and her rating. The aspiring master should tear through these pages and devour every problem. This is a fine book, possibly the finest of the Grandmaster Preparation series, and it is a book that is well worth your purchase.

The Tarrasch Defence: A Grandmaster Repertoire Indeed

Aagaard, Jacob, and Ntirlis, Nikolaos. Grandmaster Repertoire 10: The Tarrasch Defence. Glasgow: Quality Chess Europe, 2011.   ISBN 978-1906552916.  PB $34.95.

Jacob Aagaard and Nikos Ntirlis’ book on the Tarrasch Defense (hereafter GM10) was among the more lauded chess titles published in 2011, and it certainly – in certain circles, at least – was among the most hyped.  Does it live up to all that praise?  Having worked through the book, and with the advantage of some critical distance, my answer is a VERY qualified yes.

Aagaard’s publishing house, Quality Chess, consistently turns out some of the most compelling books in modern chess.  They seem to have cultivated a cult following on the Internet, in no small part due to their accessibility and engagement with both fans and foes.  Aagaard is omnipresent on the Quality Chess Blog, where he exhibits nearly infinite patience in answering the most banal of questions and comments.  Ntirlis, for his part, is more active on the ChessPub forum, where he posts as “Ametanoitos.”

It was, in fact, on the Chesspub forum that the birthpangs of GM10 were first heard.  Ntirlis announced, in perhaps the longest thread in Chesspub history, that he was working on a book on the Tarrasch that would ‘update’ Aagaard and Lund’s 2002 Meeting 1.d4 and be published in Greek.  In February 2011 – beyond this, we are not privy to the details – Ntirlis and Aagaard joined forces, with GM10 as the result.

The heart of the GM10 repertoire is the following variation:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.g3 Nf6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.0–0 0–0 9.Bg5 c4!

This is a departure from the recommendation of Meeting 1.d4, which focuses on the ‘traditional’ mainline of the Rubinstein variation (9…cxd4 10.Nxd4 h6 11.Be3 etc), and it is a slightly surprising one.  Besides its being a nearly universal response to any non-1.e4 opening, playing the Tarrasch as Black has the great virtue of teaching you to play with the isolated queen’s pawn.  But Aagaard and Ntirlis believe that “Black will always struggle in the Tarrasch Defence if he left with an isolated d-pawn and White has control over the d4-square” (13), leaving 9…c4 as the best alternative.  I will return to this claim shortly; for now, however, it’s enough to note that the bulk of the Introduction to GM10 sketches the rationale for abandoning 9…cxd4 as well as the historical progression of the theory of 9…c4.

The first eight chapters of the book are devoted to an exhaustive analysis of 9…c4.  Aagaard and Ntirlis propose, so as to avoid Schandorff’s line from Playing the Queen’s Gambit, to include …h6 in a number of variations.  Certainly the most critical of these is the following:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.g3 Nf6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.0–0 0–0 9.Bg5 c4! 10.Ne5 Be6 11.b3 h6! 12.Bxf6 Bxf6 13.Nxc6 bxc6 14.bxc4 dxc4 15.e3 Qa5

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and now either 16.Ne4 (part of ch 6), 16.Rc1 (ch 7) or 16.Qc2 (ch 8).  Taken together, the analysis of these three moves takes up approximately 35 pages of GM10; most notably, after 16.Qc2 Aagaard and Ntirlis believe that the sacrifice of the exchange after 16…c5 leads to “comfortable equality.”  The analysis here is, quite frankly, stupefying, with some variations extending out past move 30.

White can deviate, as Avrukh recommends in the first of his 1.d4 books (Grandmaster Repertoire 1, hereafter GM1), with 9.dxc5.  Aagaard and Ntirlis weave a path for Black to equality in chapters 9 through 13, arguing that in both the ‘Reti Variation’ (10.Na4) and the ‘Timman Variation’ (10.Bg5) Black has every hope to stand equal.  The analysis of 10.Bg5 is particularly good, as the Black player is offered three quality responses (12…Qf5; 12…Qd8 13.Nd2 a6!? or 13…Re8) to Timman’s brainchild.

The remainder of the book takes up all the remaining tries against the Tarrasch.  This is no small task, especially given that Aagaard and Ntirlis only leave themselves about a third of the book to do so.  Of particular interest is the discovery of 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.dxc5! as a major theoretical weapon.  Aagaard and Ntirlis are, to my knowledge, the first to have published any real analysis on the move.  (ChessPub readers, of course, knew about this line much earlier than did the general public.)

That GM10 tries to fit everything except 9…c4 and 9.dxc5 into roughly 122 pages is understandable; the book, after all, appears in a series called “Grandmaster Repertoire,” and stronger players tend to play the main lines.  Here, however, we begin to see part of what frustrates the amateur about GM10.  I’ve been playing the Tarrasch for about a year and a half now, both on the Internet and over the board, and I’d estimate that at least half of my games involve White playing an early e2-e3, taking the game into the Symmetrical Tarrasch.  GM10 devotes 11 pages to this variation in chapter 20, and another 6 to it in chapter 16.  It would have been useful for the non-master to have more expansive analysis of these lines.

More specifically, I would like to have seen coverage of the following: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.e3 Nf6 5.Nf3 Nc6

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when White can play 6.a3, 6.Bd3, 6.cxd5 or 6.dxc5.  This position is quite common in my games with the Tarrasch.  Unless I am mistaken, I don’t see any analysis of this specific tabiya in GM10.  Because Aagaard’s earlier book on the Tarrasch was equally lacking in this regard, I had to turn to Harald Keilhack’s Die Tarrasch-Verteidigung to fill out my repertoire.

We might approach the same complaint by looking at the mass of analysis accompanying 9…c4 and, in particular, the variations following 10.Ne5 Be6 11.b3 h6.  Aagaard and Ntirlis obviously poured immense time and effort into their analysis, finding tricky solutions to difficult problems again and again.  The detail in chapters 6-8 is absolutely staggering, but I can’t help but wonder: what good is all this analysis if, as John Watson notes in A Strategic Chess Opening Repertoire for White, the Black player has to memorize reams of analysis involving at least two paradoxical only-moves just to land in a position that is equal at best? (See chapter 3 of SCORW and pp.33-4 specifically for more.)  I can’t see how it can be practical for the amateur OTB player to commit all those moves to memory and end up with a difficult position for his or her trouble.

Players who defend the Tarrasch do so knowing that they will often have to defend the IQP.  Presumably they will have spent some time learning how to play such positions, investigating the key ideas, etc.  Why, then, do Aagaard and Ntirlis abandon the 9…cxd4 lines, which leave Black with the familiar IQP, and instead take up the theoretically demanding 9…c4?

Part of the answer is given in the Introduction.  We are told that the 9…cxd4 lines are in dire straits, particularly after the following:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.g3 Nf6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.0–0 0–0 9.Bg5 cxd4 10.Nxd4 h6 11.Be3 Re8 12.Rc1 Bf8 13.Na4!?

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and after 13…Bd7 14.Nc5 Bxc5 15.Rxc5 Qe7 16.Nxc6 bxc6 (Wenzel-Markevich, 2011) White improves with 17.Rc2 Ne4 18.Qd4 a5 19.Rfc1 and is said to stand better.

This variation is far from forced.  Beyond the 13th move alternatives for Black (13…Ne5, 13…Nxd4, and 13…Ng4) there are also options both earlier and later.  Black can try Spassky’s old 12…Bg4, and 15…Qb6 seems at least plausible.  It’s not clear to me, in other words, that Black need suffer in this variation at all.

Had Aagaard and Ntirlis used all of the available literature, they might have avoided this conclusion.  Keilhack recommends 13.Na4 Ne5 in Die Tarrasch-Verteidigung, and while he might have given more moves to back it up, it seems at least a reasonable alternative.  I can only find one reference to Keilhack’s book in all of GM10, and Aagaard and Ntirlis would have done well to have cited it more.  The discussion of the Symmetrical Tarrasch in Keilhack, for instance, is comprehensive and accurate.  We find another place where Keilhack might have been useful in chapter 10 of GM10, devoted to the ‘Reti Variation:’

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.g3 Nf6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.0–0 0–0 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.Na4 Be7 11.Be3 Bg4 12.Rc1

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where GM10 only analyzes 12…Re8.  Keilhack offers both 12…Rc8 and 12…Qd7, with the former serving as at least an equally valid response to 12.Rc1.

It turns out, by the way, that Avrukh is equally negligent in utilizing all available sources, since he mishandled the same position in GM1 – which was also published by Quality Chess.  The aforementioned John Watson points this out in his review of Avrukh’s GM1; one thinks that Aagaard, the publisher of GM1, should have noted this analysis, especially given the history between the two men.

GM10 is, quite obviously, a work that is deeply indebted to computer analysis.  This can be both a blessing and a curse.  On the one hand, readers of GM10 can sleep well knowing that all of the analysis is ‘correct,’ so far as it goes.  Every chess book will naturally be subject to refinements as time goes on, and no book can cover every possible variation.  GM10 is no different.  Still, the voluminous analysis in GM10 is checked and double-checked by our metal friends, and some of the key moves that save the 9…c4 lines (particularly 16…c5 in chapter 8) were computer discoveries.  I checked the position with a particularly fast incarnation of Houdini 3 from the Chessbase Engine Cloud, and at a depth of 30 ply, Houdini still favors the offer of the exchange.  Amazing – and on a number of levels.

‘Correct’ doesn’t always mean most playable for carbon-based lifeforms.  Positions that are well within the bounds of drawability for the computer are practically lost for humans, and what is objectively equal can still be difficult for the human to play.

Let’s assume that I memorize all of the analysis in chapter 7 – 9…c4 10.Ne5 Be6 11.b3 h6 12.Bxf6 Bxf6 13.Nxc6 bxc6 14.bxc4 dxc4 15.e3 Qa5 16.Rc1 – and get to use all of that analysis over the board, including the two key moves 21…Rc7 and 22…g5.  What do I get for my trouble – not to mention my good fortune in finding an accommodating opponent?

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With White to move, the computer thinks this is equal.  If I’m playing White against a fellow chess mortal, however, I’m happy to squeeze in this position for hours.  The practical play just doesn’t match the computer evaluation.

It seems to me that most readers would have been better served by a repertoire based around 9.Bg5 cxd4.  I don’t think that White gets any more advantage in these lines than he does after 9…c4; more importantly, however, the key ideas behind the moves are much more understandable in the …cxd4 variations.  Computers can just grind away and find good moves via brute force.  Humans, as I relearn with every tournament game, simply can’t.  If a Tarrasch player has already learned something about basic IQP play, why not maximize that knowledge and give them positions that make use of it?

(As an aside: I am somewhat perplexed by Arne Moll’s review of GM10, where he ends up praising Aagaard and Ntirlis for their skill in elucidiating the ideas behind the positions:

Jacob Aagaard and Nikolaos Ntirlis invite their readers to think about these positions for themselves, rather than to just memorize what they prescribe. Would you mind playing this position as Black? If you don’t, then you’ve got what it takes to become a real Tarrasch player – not scared of isolated pawns, bishops or your engine indicating +0.41.

Really?  If anything, the analysis in chapters 6-8 would seem to prove the absolute necessity of memorization.  I recognize that Aagaard and Ntirlis take the time to explain the logic behind some of the more esoteric only-moves, but this does not come close to obviating the need for extensive memory work.  Anyone who tried to play the recommendations in these chapters without memorization risks being blown off the board.)

In the end, I think GM10 suffers from a malady that is all-too-common in Quality Chess books: at some point, the analysis just becomes overwhelming.  (Future reviews, I’m sure, will return to this claim, and I’m ready to defend it.)  There’s a fine line between comprehensive coverage and ‘long analysis, wrong analysis,’ and the variations in GM10 shade over to the long side too often for my taste.  I’ve tried to argue above that part of the root of the problem comes from the choice of repertoire variation, but given the systemic nature of the issue at this publisher, the problem might well be editorial.

Now, there are those who will argue that I’m being silly.  Shouldn’t I want a deep, bulletproof repertoire?  Shouldn’t I be glad for analysis that extends deep into the middlegame, giving Black equality out to move 30?  It depends.  If I’m playing correspondence chess or as a centaur on Playchess, maybe.  The OTB player, however, cannot refer to books or engines during the game.  All I have is my limited guile and ever-failing memory.  I suspect I’d be better served by a book that trades some analytical depth for explanation of key ideas and themes.

Conclusion: GM10 is highly recommended for very strong players who face the main lines in the Tarrasch often, and for those with the time and willpower to do a lot of memory work.  It can be recommended to those above 1600 as a reference work, but given (1) its lapses in coverage of lines that amateurs play, and (2) its reliance on the memorization of a number of counterintuitive only-moves, it is an ill-fit for serving as the basis for an amateur’s repertoire.  Meeting 1.d4 would be more useful for this purpose, and GM10 might be a good, if non-essential, supplement to that book.  More advanced players should absolutely reference Keilhack if they can find a copy.