Tag Archives: Ntirlis

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.

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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.’

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.