Nessie and the Tromp. Sounds like the title of a buddy comedy, doesn’t it? “Nigel Short and Andy Samberg are Nessie and the Tromp!” (Call me, show runners!)
By ‘Nessie,’ of course, I refer to John Shaw’s long-delayed and equally long-awaited book on the King’s Gambit. (I assume that it took on the name because it, like Nessie, was often said to have been sighted, but no proof for its existence could ever be produced.) And ‘the Tromp’ is the traditional shorthand for the Trompowsky opening, which originated in the 1930s, was made famous by British players in the 80s and 90s, and is now the subject of a new study by Richard Pert. With the publication of Nessie and the Tromp, Quality Chess has added two quality titles to its list, further burnishing its reputation as a leader in chess publishing.
That QC would spend so much time and effort on the King’s Gambit might, at first, surprise people. Bobby Fischer famously proclaimed it busted way back in 1961. Nigel Short, who has been known to play a gambit from time to time, was quoted in 2011 as saying that “[t]he only reason the King’s Gambit is playable is because Black has about ten good lines, but he can play only one at a time.” With the computer-fueled skepticism about gambits of all types so prevalent in modern theory, why take up such a flawed opening?
It is John Shaw’s belief that the King’s Gambit is not in fact dead, or at least not dead for over-the-board players. (Correspondence players may not want to push that f-pawn – see page 6.) Over the course of 680 pages, Shaw takes up nearly every possible variation of the King’s Gambit, subjecting even minor lines to extensive – and I mean EXTENSIVE – analysis. His conclusion is that there is no sure way for Black to force an advantage. In the Accepted lines, however, White must play 3.Nf3 (rated as equal/unclear) as 3.Bc4 is slightly better for Black.
I am not a King’s Gambit player with White, but I do play 1.e4 e5, and I’ve thus spent some time working on a KG response. Using Micawber’s outstanding distillation of forum analysis from chesspublishing.com, I picked up the Modern Defence via the Falkbeer move order (1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 exf4) and have done well with it. The variation is solid and active, avoiding all of the crazy Accepted theory that Shaw enumerates so well and leaving Black with chances for a good game.
When comparing Shaw’s analysis in chapters 9 and 10 with what I had via Micawber and other sources, I was impressed. He offers improvements to existing theory at every turn, and he does a fairly good job at explaining what’s going on instead of just dumping reams of wordless analysis onto the page. (Fear not, lovers of wordless analysis. There’s plenty of it here.) I’m not an expert on the King’s Gambit, but I felt like Shaw was offering an honest assessment of the lines in question, refusing to gloss over the problematic continuations for both Black and White. It reminded me an academic study of the opening, soberly and judiciously taking up all the evidence and offering readers an extremely well-considered snapshot of the lay of the land.
Some may find the book’s size and claim to comprehensive coverage overwhelming. This is not a repertoire book like Pert’s; no, this is an encyclopedia. It seems to me that Shaw might have thrown his less dogged readers a bone with a chapter length overview of theory and his conclusions. Club players would have benefitted from a discussion of general themes, recommended (and non-recommended) variations, key innovations, etc. My guess is that thirty or so pages would have sufficed. Were such a chapter keyed to the rest of the book with, say, markings on the fore edge, it would have been a welcome addition. I also suspect that a repertoire-style rendering and abridgement of this work would sell well, especially to club players.
Anyone who plays the King’s Gambit will need to buy this book. Anyone who plays against the King’s Gambit will have to at least borrow this book from a friend, just to make sure that Shaw hasn’t busted their favored response! It is really an impressive work, and it was well worth the wait. Well done, Mr. Shaw.
Note: Neurotics such as myself will be glad to know that the spine is sufficiently strong to support all 680 of those pages, and the book lies flat without (visibly) damaging it.
While my review of Shaw’s book was based mainly (though not exclusively) on my study of a small sample, my review of Richard Pert’s new book Playing the Trompowsky: An Attacking Repertoire is the fruit of intensive study and analysis. I have gone through the majority of the analysis in the book – excluding the chapters on 1.d4 d5 2.Bg5, although I may return to them in the near future – and checked it with powerful incarnations of Houdini and Stockfish via the Chessbase Cloud. I am currently testing it in my games, both online and over the board. The jury’s still out on my handing of the Tromp, but Pert has done both the Trompowsky and himself justice with this book.
The subtitle of Pert’s book is “An Attacking Repertoire,” and the marketing department at Quality Chess is not exaggerating on this point. Pert, an IM who has played the Tromp for at least 15 years, has modeled his suggested repertoire on some highly aggressive lines being played by the world’s best players. For those of us who might not be as skilled in the breathing of attacking fire, he also includes – at least in the Tromp chapters – calmer alternatives that still retain some bite.
Let’s dig a bit deeper, and have a look at exactly what Pert recommends. You can find a much fuller description of his repertoire choices in the sample pdf at the Quality Chess website.
vs 2…e6, both 3.e4 (35pp) and 3.Nd2 (12pp)
vs 2…c5, both 3.Nc3 (16pp) and 3.d5 (13pp)
vs 2…Ne4 – 3.Bf4; vs 3…c5, both 4.d5 (12pp) and 4.f3 (33pp); vs 3…d5, 4.e3 (21pp)
vs 2…d5, both 3.Bxf6 (14pp) and 3.e3 (13pp)
Rare 3rd moves (2…Ne4 3.Bf4 and now 3…g5 or …e5, for example) – 7pp
Rare 2nd moves (notably 2…g6) – 7pp
Dutch: 2.Bg5 (20pp)
1.d4 d5 2.Bg5 (29pp)
The first thing to notice is that this is explicitly (p.7) a repertoire book, and not a brick of theory a la Shaw. Pert is not covering every variation in Trompowsky theory. So, for example, there’s no mention of 6.Nd2 instead of 6.d5 in the 2…Ne4 / 4.f3 chapter, and neither 3.h4 or 3.Bh4 are analyzed after 2…Ne4. Presumably Pert believes in the variations he has chosen, and indeed, there is plenty of his praxis in the book to back this up. There are dozens of his unpublished blitz games from ICC in these pages, and they serve to flesh out the repertoire suggestions. Blitz, as every chess player knows, is all too often a comedy of errors; those errors on the master level tend to appear in the tournament games of we mere mortals. “Antidrome’s” (Pert’s ICC moniker) games are quite useful in this regard.
Still, if one of the repertoire variations is dodgy, or if it isn’t to your liking, there can be problems. I’m not convinced that one of Pert’s recommendations is sound. The line in question runs
1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 Ne4 3.Bf4 c5 4.d5 Qb6 5.Nd2!?
“I like this move,” Pert says, “with which White takes the fight to his opponent.” Black has two options: either play 5…Nxd2 (“most common but I am not sure if it’s best”) 6.Bxd2 Qxb2 7.e4, when Pert says that “White has fantastic compensation for the pawn and stands better in my view;” or, Black can play 5…Qxb2, which Pert thinks is best. After 6.Nxe4 Qxb4+ 7.c3!? Qxe4 8.e3 we reach the critical position.
Pert offers no less than four options for Black: 8…g5 (strongest), 8…b5?!, 8…e5 (critical alternative), and 8…d6. The natural (for club players, anyway) 8…g6 is not mentioned, but then, it appears never to have been played except for in a recent Team4545 game by my opponent! One could also see 8…e6 as a vaguely reasonable move for Black.
Pert claims that White gets “sufficient compensation” or “good compensation” in most of the lines that follow from the above position. Other lines – many, in fact, both here and in the other chapters – end with the Informant sign for initiative. After intensive analysis with multiple friends both silicon and human, I’m just not convinced. Pert’s glasses seem slightly rose tinted. Take, for example, the following continuation.
8…g5 9.Bg3 Bg7 10.Rc1 d6 11.Nf3 (Radjabov’s move 11.h4, by the way, just looks odd) 11…Qg6 12.h4
Pert analyzes 12…gxh4 and 12…h6. Why not 12…g4? I’ve done some work on this position and I think Black’s just better. The White bishop and knight don’t do much, Black’s queen is safeish, and Black’s king is not in any immanent danger. And pawn is pawn.
This type of slight booster-ism for White’s prospects is not uncommon in the book. Part of this is just the nature of the beast, as repertoire books tend to be a little biased towards the repertoire being recommended. (The lack of bias in The King’s Gambit is something that Shaw should really be congratulated for.) There are numerous lines, some sacrificial and some not, that Pert evaluates as White’s having the initiative. The computer – Houdini or Stockfish at least 25 or 26 ply – would beg to differ, saying Black is slightly for choice. It might well be the case that these lines are just the sort that even modern computers don’t understand, but when you see the same evaluation mismatch again and again, it’s hard not to attribute some user bias to the author.
That said, Pert does consistently offer more than one variation for White in the Tromp chapters, so that readers can choose between sharper and more solid continuations. Such flexibility is one of the virtues of the Tromp. So if, for instance, you tend not to believe in a specific line – 2..Ne4 / 4.f3 Qa5+ 5.c3 Nf6 6.d5 Qb6 7.e4!? in my case – you can ‘bail out’ into another line like 7.Bc1. For my part, I think 6.Nd2 is stronger, if not more sane, for White. It’s not in Pert, but Peter Wells’ book has excellent coverage if you’re interested.
Other reviewers have criticized Pert for omissions and oversights, claiming that he skipped obvious moves, failed to cite relevant books and analysis, etc. After working through the majority of the analysis in the book. I think they’re overstating their case. Yes, Pert should have cited Aveskulov’s book, and there are always alternative moves that could be covered. So what? Looking at the analysis, and given all of the other analysts he cites, it’s obvious that Pert did his research and checked virtually all of the appropriate sources. It’s just as obvious that he poured his own homebrewed analysis into the book, and the effort shows in the finished product.
There’s lots more that could be said about Pert’s book. I haven’t touched on his rendering of 2.Bg5 against the Dutch, a move that is fun to play for White and dangerous for the player of the Black pieces. I can’t say much about the ‘Pseudo-Tromp,’ since I’d already decided to play the Neo-London against 1…d5 and skipped that chapter. (More on this choice in a forthcoming review of Danielsen’s Chessbase video.) Given the late hour and the fact that I have two tournament games tomorrow, one of which will nearly certainly feature the Tromp, let me wrap things up by saying:
Playing the Trompowsky can be recommended to a wide range of players. Attackers and counterpunchers alike will find lines they can champion. Readers can construct a new and nearly complete repertoire for White after 1.d4, or they can use the Tromp as a way to play against specific opponents or problematic variations. Club players can throw 2.Bg5 out, secure in the knowledge that the lines are sound and probably better known to White. Masters, particularly those comfortable with playing for the initiative (given the repertoire choices), will find well-analyzed fodder to surprise their foes. It’s because of Pert’s book that I am now playing the Trompowsky on a regular basis. What better recommendation could I give than that?