A Strategic Opening Repertoire for White (Review)
A Strategic Opening Repertoire for White by John Watson
Mark Crowther - Wednesday 27th June 2012
A Strategic Opening Repertoire can be bought from the UK or US Shops. | http://www.theweekinchess.com
John Watson's new book "A Strategic Chess Opening Repertoire For White" is a repertoire book based on white playing 1.d4 and 2.c4. Clearly aimed at strong amateur players it offers reasonably heavy-weight lines against all of black's replies. I know John Watson through his reviews of books on this site and his Play the French which excitingly is about to receive an update to a 4th edition in July. This has formed the basis for my repertoire in the French for years. I have a look at the book and talk about some themes that I'm currently thinking about in terms of constructing and learning an opening repertoire which is work in progress for me.
Personally I've struggle to find an effective way of studying openings and have ended up with a mish-mash of ideas and structures which I've trotted out over the years. Such is the way for most who have received no coaching or help. This book co-incidently arrived at a time when I've been working hard at my chess for the first time in for a long while. Having watched hours of excellent commentary on the elite events over the last 18 months I came to the slow realisation that I don't really look at the chessboard the same anymore and postponing the struggle to the middlegame by forgoing any real push for an opening advantage with white also probably puts a limit on how far you can improve.
There is also a plug in and play element to all of these repertoire books. The Queen's Gambit and Semi-Slav parts of this book it neatly dovetail with Lars Schandorff's Queen's Gambit - A Grandmaster Guide. Almost in every line the two books take entirely contrary decisions with Schandorff's idea to recommend the absolute main lines. Whilst I can understand this in a way, at least in some cases I don't think this is all that helpful, at least for me. In particular the idea of playing the Botvinnik and Moscow variations doesn't appeal at all. The Botvinnik Variation may well be close to winning for white but there is too much theory for the two games I might get in a year and I believe the positions don't really have a general educational value, they simply teach you how to play the Botvinnik Variation. There is also a second danger in this approach, that you end up dumped in a position that requires GM technique and calculational ability to actually play. Watching two weak players bash out the moves of the Bronstein vs Ljubojevic 1973 Alekhine's Defence, one of the most fiendishly complicated games ever played, is a collective memory at our chess club. They simply had no clue what was going on once they were on their own (nor really indeed before that). However that can be used an excuse not to try at all and cop out into anodyne structures. There is the option of playing sharper variations where I like them and they will still fit in with the whole idea of a repertoire.
John Cox's Everyman book starting out! 1.d4 has a similar approach to Schandorff albeit aimed at a lower level. Interestingly Schandorff himself is about to produce a second edition of his book (if I read right along with a second book which extends coverage further lines covered in John's book) and he has apparently had quite a bit of success following his own approach so it definitely is horses for courses. I can certainly tell you that a mix and match of Colle's and Torre's have produced results producing positions for me over the years but is a pretty stultifying way to play chess eventually (although fairly useful if you want to try the new Slav Triangle ideas with black!).
For instance Watson plays 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 (I actually prefer 3.e3 that mostly transposes as I would really like to try the positions with 3...c5 or 3..e5 with white) and Schandorff prefers 3.e4 which I used to play but lost faith in. Watson generally heads for Nf3, Schandorff Nge2 in the Queen's Gambit and so forth. In the Semi-Slav Watson goes for a quiet line of the Semi-Slav with b3 which probably promises white very little but there are many top level games to look at and improve your general understanding of the game. Some may be attracted by overwhelming their opponents with learned lines, others by outplaying their opponent, but whichever approach the opening should be about making your opponent make as many hard decisions as possible.
A final observation on opening books. I've had the opportunity to see both electronic and phyisical books from Everyman. I have to say that it is much easier to work on material directly in ChessBase and you can certainly tell which books flatter to deceive. Sometimes as a physical book things look all so much more impressive than when you look at them in detail on a computer. Books with lots of well chosen material, even if you don't agree with the detailed conclusions (I particularly found a couple of Richard Palliser's books stood up well) proved more interesting than some of their more lightweight offerings (almost certanly not aimed at me). I also learned far more quickly than I ever did using physical books.
What I would also observe is that compared to a number of new books I've bought recently the John Watson book is excellently typeset with a clarity as to where lines begin and end and a perfect placement of diagrams allowing you to read the book without a board and take in many of the key points easily. I don't think I can emphasise enough how important this is, making a huge difference as to how much you get out of a book.
I did compile my own files on the 7.Bg5 Gruenfeld repertoire part of the book and the theory John produces seemed to be a very fair reflection of the status of the variation. Also throughout the book a significant number of the references include very strong players, an indication that there is a problem worth studying in the position. I did notice in particular a lot of Ivan Sokolov's game references, a man with a particularly well organised repertoire.
Only time will tell whether this repertoire will work for those who it is written for, I'm certainly going to give some of the lines a go and the Queen's Gambit, Slav and Nimzo Indian sections look very instructional in lines that I want to play. I'm sure stronger players will look to co-opt some ideas but I don't think this book was intended for IMs and GMs.
QGD: Exchange with Nf3/h3 (Karpov/Yermolinsky) also a chapter on Unorthodox Variations
The Exchange Queen's Gambit avoids the extremely painful Lasker Variation which the professionals play when they want a draw and whose theory at the moment seems on the verge of proving it to be a draw. I've been playing 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Be7 as black recently amongst other things. I think this will become much more common. You do need to know your stuff with the Exchange Queen's Gambit, almost all opening repertoire books recommend it as promising a tiny advantage for white, sharp positions, and avoiding having to learn a lot of awkward lines for black, so it at lower levels it's pretty much the main line. There is also a separate chapter on unusual but tricky variations such as the Baltic Variation (1.d4 d5 2. c4 Bf5)
QGA: Main line with 7 Bd3
Going to the more classical lines of the Queen's Gambit Accepted with some classic middle-game structures.
Slav: 3 Nc3 and 4 e3
Loek Van Wely
The move order 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 allows 3...dxc4 which some books say to black is a good thing. These positions allow both sides to play for a win! I'm pretty enthusiastic about playing either side in the lines recommended here.
Semi-Slav: Anti-Meran system with an early b3
I've been trying some transpositional ideas with black with the idea of getting to the Stonewall in some cases. These seem to be covered in detail in the book. As I mentioned earlier white heads for a heavyweight positional struggle.
Tarrasch: Main Lines with g3
I've never met the Tarrasch Defence over the board. Recently looked at the new book by Nikolaos Ntirlis & Jacob Aagaard on The Tarrasch Defence and also seen a team mate take lots of points with it. White doesn't have an easy time threading his way to an advantage if there is one at all and whilst black has to play well to make it work white can't avoid making some pretty critical decisions.
Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 with 5 Ne2 (in most cases)
The Nimzo-Indian is one of the most difficult openings for both sides to play. When I first started to play 1.d4 the move 4 e3 or Rubinstein Variation had many chapters in Gligoric's book on the opening, the Capablanca Variation as he called it with 4.Qc2 had little theory. It's a little bit funny that 4.e3 is being returned to. I rarely meet this opening but have started to try to play this again and so am pretty enthusiastic about this chapter, perhaps as a way in to Ivan Sokolov's recent heavyweight book on the opening.
King's Indian: 5 h3 with Be3 or Bg5
I took some fearful beatings as white in the King's Indian when I first changed from 1.e4 to 1.d4 and this opening above others made me turn to 1.d4 2.Nf3 and 3.Bg5 as a way out. Black gets way too much fun in the main lines and white has to be accurate for a long time before he can put pressure on black to alter his scheme of attacking on the kingside. I've been playing the Hungarian Variation 5.Nge2 with mixed success for some time now but I like the positions and black in general doesn't. However white certainly has to understand a number of structures and I have gone drastically wrong on occasion. 5.h3 too looks to stop black's automatic play and present him with new problems.
Gruenfeld: Exchange with 7 Qa4 or 7 Bg5
The Gruenfeld and the very top level is one of the most serious problems around now. But black does have to be a terribly good player both with the initiative and in playing tricky queenless middlegames come endings. 7.Qa4 seems to be a tricky response for the unwary. 7.Bg5 is being investigated right now but is probably most useful for learning many of the themes of the Exchange Variation of the Gruenfeld without having to learn the more heavily analysed lines. I don't face many Gruenfeld Defences.
Modern Benoni: Bd3, h3 and Bg5. Benko: 4 Qc2
It isn't an accident that when top players desperately need a win with black the go to the Benoni. White can't entirely avoid complications. I've tried many cowardly options before going back to playing d5. The Modern Main Line: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3. d5 e6 4. Nc3 ed 5. cd d6 6. e4 g6 7. Bd3 Bg7 8. h3 0-0 9. Nf3 according to Richard Palliser's new book on the opening seems quite interesting to me. John Watson wants to have something that fits in with his anti-KID and anti-Gruenfeld repertoire with 9. Bg5 but it is probably less critical but does avoid some endings that seem forced. The Benko is played quite often, not always played that well by black, if white puts the work in the main lines ought not to be too tiresome but 4.Qc2 looks like a useful weapon which is gaining a real following at the moment.
Dutch: 2 Nc3 (but all move-orders covered, and therefore some lines with c4)
I've played 2.Nc3 against the Dutch for many years, there are far too many specialists in the Dutch and it is quite a hard opening to get right for white in the main lines, at least in my experience.
Budapest Defence, Modern: 2 c4 and 3 e4, English Defence: 3 a3 and other assorted tries
The Budapest Defence occurs every now and again in my practice.
1...e6 2 c4 Bb4+: 3 Nc3
1...e6 is most often used to get to the Dutch by players who play the French Defence. Never met this. In a thread on my Facebook page Sune Berg Hansen (who doesn't like theory either but clearly has been forced into it) thinks 3 Nc3 is a mistaken attempt to stick to the repertoire. A minor point as this line isn't very common but Watson also mentions 3.Bd2 is really the right move pretty much acknowleding the point.
1...d6 2 c4 e5: 3 d5
There's some tricky stuff about in this variation and a new book on it. It isn't terribly common at the moment but briefly considered trying it as an unsual weapon after seeing the Everyman book on it.