Tag Archives: Kotronias

The Tarrasch lives!

This review has been printed in the January 2020 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.


Bezgodov, Alexey. The Art of the Tarrasch Defence: Strategies, Techniques, and Surprising Ideas. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2018. ISBN 978-9056917685. PB 320pp.

Ehlvest, Jaan. Grandmaster Opening Preparation. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2018. ISBN 978-1784830526. PB 272pp.

l’Ami, Erwin. Erwin’s Opening Lab: The Dubov Variation. Online course from chessable.com.

Kotronias, Vassilios. Fight 1. d4 with the Tarrasch!: A Complete Black Repertoire vs. 1.d4. Milford: Russell Enterprises, 2019. ISBN 978-1949859072. PB 384pp.

I have long thought that the Tarrasch Defense (1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c5) is the Swiss Army knife of chess openings. It forces players to learn how to handle the Isolated Queen’s Pawn, a fundamental structure that appears across multiple opening variations, and it can be reached from a number of move orders, including both 1. c4 and 1. Nf3.

But the Tarrasch is also one of those openings that suffers from the vagaries of taste and fashion. Spassky made it popular when he used it to defeat Petrosian in the 1969 World Championship match, and it was a key part of the young Kasparov’s repertoire in the early 1980s.

It went out of favor after Karpov’s victories of Kasparov in their first World Championship match. Despite Grischuk reviving the 9. …c4 line in the late ‘aughts, and the contemporaneous publication of two books – Aagaard and Ntirils’ Grandmaster Repertoire 10: The Tarrasch Defense (2011), and Sam Collins’ The Tarrasch Defense: Move by Move (2013) – it has been neglected by the world’s elite.

Perhaps the pendulum is swinging back once more. Magnus Carlsen recently trotted out the Tarrasch at the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz; in doing so, he was perhaps inspired by the games of his former second, Daniil Dubov, who has reinvigorated a dormant line of the Tarrasch – 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c5 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. g3 Nf6 7. Bg2 cxd4 8. Nxd4 Bc5 – and made it a key part of his repertoire.

Dubov’s invention is the subject of a new course on Chessable from Erwin L’ami, a Dutch Grandmaster and second to both Topalov and Giri. Over the course of 54 trainable variations in “Erwin’s Opening Lab: The Dubov Variation,” L’ami dissects the Dubov variation, explaining in great detail the nuances of Dubov’s ideas. Here is a brief overview, using a game between Dubov and Hikaru Nakamura as our example.

The “Dubov Variation” [D33]
Hikaru Nakamura
Daniil Dubov
Moscow FIDE GP (2), 20.05.2019

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 c5 3.g3 e6 4.Nf3 d5 5.cxd5 exd5 6.d4 Nc6 7.Bg2 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5 9.Nb3

A key alternative is 9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.0–0 0–0 11.Na4 Bb6 12.Nxb6 axb6 13.Qc2 c5 as in Nakamura,H (2754)-Dubov,D (2700) Paris 2019.


The defining move in Dubov’s approach.


Other ideas:

(a) 10.Nxd5 is met by 10. … Be6 – “development before everything,” says L’ami!

(b) 10.Na4 0–0 11.Nxb6 axb6 12.Be3 h5!? (Mamedyarov,S (2765)-Dubov,D (2700) Riga 2019)

10…d4 11.Na4 0–0 12.Bg5 Re8 13.Nxb6

13.Re1 is “the big test” according to L’ami. After the forcing 13…h6 14.Nxb6 axb6 15.Bxc6 bxc6 16.Bxf6 Qxf6 17.Qxd4 Black has to prove compensation for the pawn. L’ami analyzes out to move 37 in the main line, claiming an equal endgame.

13…axb6 14.e3 d3 15.Bxf6 gxf6


Modern chess at its finest! Black’s pawns are an utter disaster, but his pieces and the d3-passer more than make up for the structural weaknesses. The game was drawn after:

16.a3 Be6 17.Rc1 Rc8 18.Rc3 Ne5 19.Nd4 Rxc3 20.bxc3 Qc7 21.Qd2 Bd7 22.Re1 Rc8 23.Rc1 Qc5 24.f4 Nc4 25.Qxd3 Qxa3 26.Rb1 Nd6 27.Ne2 Bf5 28.e4 ½–½

L’ami does an excellent job of clarifying the nature of Black’s compensation in key positions, and his research is thorough. I could find no major omissions after a few hours of scrutiny with both Stockfish and the latest Fat Fritz.

The course is also perfect for Chessable, which prides itself on its use of spaced repetition in its “MoveTrainer.” Not every book translates well to the platform, but L’ami’s course is relatively short, and the variations are carefully broken down for training purposes. Perhaps the only question about the course is its price.

“Erwin’s Opening Lab: The Dubov Variation” is $12.98 for the trainable analysis, while $42.98 gets you the moves and a two hour video. L’ami’s ChessBase DVD on the Tarrasch costs €29.90 or roughly $33, and unlike the Chessable course, it presents its viewers with a full Tarrasch repertoire (not including the Dubov line). It’s not quite an apples to apples comparison, but buyers are getting less material for more money on Chessable if they choose the video option.

Another option for Tarrasch players looking for complete coverage of the the opening is Vassilos Kotronias’ new title from Russell Enterprises. Fight 1.d4 with the Tarrasch: A Complete Black Repertoire vs 1.d4 arrived unexpectedly in my mailbox, as Kotronias had announced his “return to pure chess-playing” in the introduction to his fifth and final volume on the King’s Indian in 2017. With this new book, Kotronias continues to meet the standard of excellence found in his Quality Chess titles, and in some ways, he may have exceeded it.

Fight 1.d4 with the Tarrasch includes a coherent repertoire against the London, neo-Trompowsky, Colle, and Blackmar-Diemer Gambit. The meat of the book is devoted to the Tarrasch proper, with the “new mainline” of 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 at its center. (Kotronias discusses the traditional 9. … cxd4 in a three page aside, and there is no coverage of the Dubov line.) The analysis is exhaustive, and while the book sometimes skimps on references to other sources, this is more than made up for by the avalanche of new ideas.

Here’s an example, one relevant to those who might want to play the Dubov variation.

Kotronias on 6. dxc5 [D32]

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.dxc5

Though it looks innocuous, this move has proved quite a challenge for Tarrasch players, and L’ami urges his readers to take it seriously. Kotronias introduces (194-221) an important new idea in a critical line.

6…d4 7.Na4 Bxc5 8.Nxc5 Qa5+ 9.Qd2

9.Bd2 is the other move. After 9. … Qxc5 10.Rc1 Qb6 11.e3 Kotronias analyzes two ideas: the “solid option” 11…Nf6!? and the riskier 11…dxe3 12.Bxe3 Qxb2. Black equalizes after the gambit idea 10.b4!? Nxb4 11.Rc1 Qd6.

9…Qxc5 10.a3

Intending b2–b4 and the long fianchetto. 10.e3 is nothing to worry about after 10…dxe3 11.Qxe3+ Qxe3+ 12.Bxe3 Nge7.


A novelty that the engine hates until high depths, but over the course of 10 (!!) pages Kotronias shows that 10. … Nf6 is fully playable. His analysis extends out to a 4 vs 3 same-side rook endgame, and the notes are both deep and didactic, even including a thumbnail sketch of how to draw such an ending.

10…Nge7 was Aagaard & Ntirlis’ suggestion. Kotronias analyzes it too, giving 11.b4 Qb6 as his mainline, but also offering the “evil” idea of 11…Qh5!?.

11.b4 Qe7!

Kotronias shows that Black can sacrifice the pawn with 12.Nxd4 (12.b5 Ne4!) 12…Nxd4 13.Qxd4 0–0 with analysis going to the 38th move.

I was stunned by the depth and density of Kotronias’ book. The influence of the engine is obvious, but compared to the King’s Indian books, this one was ‘chattier,’ filled with interesting positional asides and insights into his thought processes. Readers will learn about chess while learning the Tarrasch, and not every book can claim that.

The only drawback to Kotronias’ book is the layout. It uses an old-style ‘nested variation’ model of presentation, a difficulty exacerbated by the depth of analysis, and there are no indications in page headers or footers as to chapter or variation. I found myself continually having to refer to the table of contents to orient myself, and too often I was flipping pages trying to find specific lines on crammed pages. Were this a Quality Chess publication, I suspect that what is one volume here would have been at least two.

Design problems notwithstanding, Fight 1.d4 with the Tarrasch! is an impressive, encyclopedic work, and it should now be seen as the definitive work on the Tarrasch. It is perhaps best suited for advanced players and those already familiar with the opening, given its density and ‘no holds barred’ approach to analysis.

For those looking for an introduction to the Tarrasch, or for analysis of the traditional 9. … cxd4 lines, there is Alexey Bezgodov’s 2017 The Art of the Tarrasch Defence: Strategies, Techniques, and Surprising Ideas. Bezgodov presents a Tarrasch repertoire using a complete game format, and his notes are clear and to the point. He also includes two interesting sections worth mentioning.

In the first, “Four ‘bad’ lines that are actually good,” Bezgodov tries to rehabilitate a number of Tarrasch lines that history has deemed substandard, including the “Keres System,” or the Dubov variation mentioned above. While he does not anticipate Dubov’s key 9. … Bb6 idea, he does confirm the viability of the general approach in other lines.

Bezgodov also gives the “Giants of the Tarrasch Defense” their own section, using the games of Keres, Spassky, Gligoric, and Kasparov to show the historical progression of the opening. Importantly he shows how these players approached the Tarrasch with both colors, something overlooked in many such studies.

A final word on another book that treats the Tarrasch from a historical perspective: Jaan Ehlvest’s Grandmaster Opening Preparation (2018) is an absolutely fascinating work that tries to merge the insights of pre-computer Soviet training with those derived from our metal friends. While Ehlvest’s concern is to show how to approach the creation and maintenance of opening repertoires in general, the Tarrasch and IQP are key examples, with over 100 pages devoted to showing how ideas in the IQP grew and transformed. Despite an unfortunate aside about “women’s openings,” it’s a worthwhile read, especially for strong players interested in meta-opening considerations.

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.


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.


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).


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