Tag Archives: Boris Avrukh

End of an Era

This review has been printed in the June 2019 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.

Readers may also be interested in an interview I did with Avrukh for Chess Life Online, where we talk about the book, his writing process, and look at a recent game of his from the 2019 Chicago Open.

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Avrukh, Boris. Grandmaster Repertoire 2B: 1.d4 Dynamic Systems. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2019. ISBN 978-1784830465. PB 529pp.

With the publication of Grandmaster Repertoire 2B: 1.d4 Dynamic Systems, the fourth and final volume in his revised White 1.d4 repertoire and his tenth title published with Quality Chess, GM Boris Avrukh has announced that he is taking “a break” from book publishing. It is, at least for now, the end of an era.

When Avrukh published the first edition of his 1.d4 repertoire in 2008 and 2010, the effect was nothing short of revolutionary. He coupled astute opening choices with World Championship level analysis – Avrukh seconded Gelfand in the 2012 World Championship match with Anand – to create a professional, poisonous two volume repertoire that anyone could buy for $65.

Opening theory never stops moving, of course, and with the appearance of GM Repertoire 2B, Avrukh has completed the revision and expansion of his repertoire. What was two volumes is now four. Two – 1A (2015) and 1B (2016) – focus on 1.d4 d5, including the Catalan, Queen’s Gambit Accepted, the Slav, the Tarrasch, etc. Two more – 2A (2018) and 2B (2019) – treat everything else, including the King’s Indian, Grunfeld, Dutch, Benko, and so forth.

While statistics show that Catalan was already in ascendence when GM Repertoire 1 was published, Avrukh’s influence on the popularization of the opening cannot be overstated, and I would argue that it was his treatment of the Catalan that made his name in the chess publishing world. His analysis in GM Repertoire 1 reshaped both the theory and practice of the system, and again, we can see his influence in database statistics.

Avrukh’s original recommendation in the Open Catalan – 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Nf3 Be7 5.Bg2 O-O 6.O-O dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 and now 8.Qxc4 instead of 8.a4 – took a somewhat neglected move and reinvigorated it. The relative popularity of 8.Qxc4 spiked after GM Repertoire 1 was published in 2008, and then waned after Avrukh argued for 8.a4 in 1A.

Correlation is not causation, and Black improvements after 8.Qxc4 no doubt contributed to this shift. But the fact remains that Avrukh’s books have had a palpable effect on opening theory at even the highest levels. The same can be said for his Anti-Slav ideas. His move order against Meran-style setups – 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. b3!? – was little known before he wrote about it, and today it is one of the main ways that White tries to eke out an advantage against the Slav.

While Avrukh tweaks his recommendations in 1A and 1B, he does not fundamentally alter his repertoire. There is the shift to 8.a4 in the Open Catalan, as discussed above, a move from 3.e3 to 3.e4 in the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, and the replacement of 10.Nd2 in the mainline Fianchetto Benoni with 10.Bf4. The basic contours of his 1.d4 Nf6 and 1.d4 “varia” repertoires also remain the same in the revised GM Repertoires 2A and 2B.

Fianchetto setups are integral to Avrukh’s repertoire against the Grunfeld and King’s Indian in 2A. Against the “Solid Grunfeld” he offers 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 c6 4.Bg2 d5 5.Qa4!?, hoping to prevent Black from recapturing on d5 with a pawn. The “Dynamic Grunfeld” builds upon his GM Repertoire 2 analysis, and the bulk of the book (nearly 80%) is a revised and extended treatment of his ideas in the Fianchetto King’s Indian.

This leaves the sundry defences that many 1.d4 players dread – the Dutch, the Benko, and the Budapest, along with the odd sidelines that strong players trot out from time to time. GM Repertoire 2B offers remedies for all of these, and it’s worth spending some time looking at three specific prescriptions to get a sense of Avrukh’s style and analysis.

(1) One of Avrukh’s more prominent ideas in GM Repertoire 2 came in the Classical Dutch. After 1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 e6 4.c4 Be7 5.Nf3 0–0 6.0–0 d6 7.Nc3 Ne4 8.Nxe4 fxe4 9.Nd2 d5 10.f3 Nc6 and here Avrukh recommended 11.fxe4 Rxf1+ 12.Nxf1 dxc4 13.Be3 in GM Repertoire 2, but Simon Williams’ improvement 13. …Bd7! (Sen-Williams, Uxbridge 2010) led Avrukh to search for another path forward.

image

His new idea is 11.e3!? exf3 12.Nxf3, when “[t]he position resembles a Catalan, except that the f-pawns have been removed.” (2B, 78) This seems a canny choice, fitting with the larger contours of Avrukh’s repertoire: playing for a positional advantage and limiting the opponent’s dynamism. That Stockfish 10 approves it also doesn’t hurt! Avrukh analyzes two continuations.

[A] 12. …b6 is seen in a correspondence game: 13.Bd2 Bb7 14.Rc1 Qd6 15.Qc2 Rac8 16.cxd5 exd5 17.b4! (Oppermann,P-Prystenski,A, ICCF email 2016)

[B] 12. …Bf6 13.Bd2 a5 14.Rc1 Kh8 and now instead of 15.Ne1 (Schmid-Halkias, Wunsiedel 2014) Avrukh analyzes the novelty 15.Rf2!? with good prospects for White.

(2) The Benko Gambit is often dreaded by club players. Black sacs a pawn for what appears to be solid compensation and plays on ‘auto-pilot,’ making typical moves while White sweats her way through the middlegame, frantically clutching her extra pawn. Avrukh shifts in 2B from his earlier recommendation of the Fianchetto Variation to the now-trendy 12.a4 ‘King-Walk,’ and he also gives White a weapon against a new sideline in the Benko.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6 g6!?

Postponing the pawn capture is a new idea, and the subject of Milos Perunovic’s very interesting The Modernized Benko Gambit. Benko players have flocked to it, largely because of the current problems in the Benko proper.

Avrukh follows current theoretical trends in the ‘old’ Benko by recommending 5. …Bxa6 6.Nc3 g6 7.e4 Bxf1 8.Kxf1 d6 9.Nf3 Bg7 10.g3 0–0 11.Kg2 Nbd7 12.a4!. White is currently scoring very well in this line championed by none other than Magnus Carlsen (via transposition). See Carlsen-Bologan, Biel 2012.

6.Nc3 Bg7 7.e4 0–0 (7. …Qa5 8.a7!) 8.a7!

“The most dangerous idea for Black. White’s idea is clear: with Black’s rook on a7, he can always win a tempo with Nb5. Now we can’t play …Qa5 because after Bd2, White has the threat Nb5.” (Perunovic, 109)

Avrukh notes that we can’t play 8.Nf3 because of 8. …Qa5! when the pin and attack on e4 forces us to choose between 9.Bd2 and 9.Nd2.

8. …Rxa7 9.Nf3 e6

Perunovic’s recommendation. Black has a few alternatives: 9. …d6 10.Be2 Ba6 11.0–0; 9. …Qa5 10.Bd2!; and 9. …Qb6 10.Be2 Ba6 11.0–0.

10.Be2 exd5 11.exd5 d6 12.0–0 Na6

If 12. …Ba6 Avrukh likes 13.Re1, which provides “a [simple] route to an edge.”

13.Nb5 Rd7 14.Bc4 Bb7 15.Bg5

Perunovic analyzes this position out to move 18, saying that Black has compensation for the pawn. Avrukh extends that analysis to move 23 and thinks that White gets the better end of things.

(3) After recommending 4.Nf3 against the Budapest in GM Repertoire 2, Avrukh turns to a little-known sideline to justify his new selection, 4.Bf4.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.Bf4 g5

Avrukh had avoided this line in GM Repertoire 2, feeling that 5.Bg3 Bg7 was “quite reliable for Black.” He revises his opinion in 2B, having found a “powerful antidote… [that is] both easier to learn and objectively stronger, in my opinion.” (339, 340)

Note that White is said to get an advantage after the alternative 4. …Nc6 5.Nf3 Bb4+ 6.Nbd2 Qe7 7.e3 Ngxe5 8.Nxe5 Nxe5 9.Be2 0–0 10.0–0 Bxd2 11.Qxd2 d6 12.b4, preparing c4–c5.

5.Bd2!? Nxe5 6.Nf3 Bg7

6. …Nbc6 7.Nc3 d6 8.Qc2 Bg7 9.0–0–0 and Avrukh’s analysis runs to move 16, giving White a strong edge.

7.Nxe5 Bxe5 8.Nc3! d6 9.g3 Nc6 10.Bg2 Be6 11.Nd5 g4 (Dreev-Zwardon, Warsaw 2013) and now 12.Bf4 h5 13.Qd2 “with a clear positional advantage.”

What do these examples teach us about Avrukh’s work in 2B, and about his repertoire more broadly? Keeping in mind the impossibility of summarizing nearly 1800 pages of analysis, we can perhaps draw a few conclusions.

It’s clear that Avrukh has done his due diligence in these books. He cites all the relevant sources, and attempts to improve on each of them. Avrukh makes extensive use of correspondence games in his research, and he’s not ashamed to mention the (heavy) influence of the computer in his recommendations. Very few authors meet the standard of excellence Avrukh sets in these books.

What about the repertoire itself? My sense is that Avrukh’s recommendations tend to follow the Quality Chess shibboleth to “try the main lines.” There are no dodgy gambits here, but mainly concrete, positionally oriented variations that allow White to aim for a two-result game. This explains, in part, the use of the kingside fianchetto against the King’s Indian (and Grunfeld). His recommended lines minimize Black’s attacking chances, and force the game into more controlled channels.

Who should adopt Avrukh’s repertoire? Because it is concrete and positionally oriented, some of the key positions require serious technique to convert the small edge he claims. (I’m particularly thinking of his recommendations in the Catalan.) This is high-level chess, and it’s probably best suited for experts at minimum. That’s not to say that class players can’t learn something here, but the kinds of advantages that Avrukh aims for with White – sometimes just a “space advantage and bishop pair,” as he says in GM Repertoire 1 (11) – often barely register as advantages on the amateur level.

Because Avrukh’s analysis is so vast and detailed, some kind of “executive summary” of key recommendations would have been welcome. Some Quality Chess opening books – I’m thinking of Kotronias’ GM Repertoire 18: The Sicilian Sveshnikov in particular – have summaries after each chapter that, in themselves, could function as a first repertoire. The chapter summaries here are perfunctory at best, and it’s an opportunity missed.

As Avrukh steps back from book publishing, it remains to be seen what is next for the Chicago-based Grandmaster. One of his web projects, Chess Openings 24-7, discontinued its services as of April 2nd. He has authored an opening file for modern-chess.com as recently as March 16th of this year; see our May 2017 issue for a review of a similar effort. Will he continue in this vein? Will he keep writing at all? Like many fans of chess literature, I’ll be interested to find out.

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.’