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John Watson Book Reviews (94)

An End to Openings

31 books reviewed: Playing the Queen's Gambit - Lars Schandorff, Dangerous Weapons: Queen's Gambit - Richard Palliser, Glenn Flear & Chris Ward, Chess Explained: The Queen's Gambit Declined - James Rizzitano, Play the Queen's Gambit - Chris Ward; 175 pages, Starting Out: Queen's Gambit Declined - Neil McDonald, The Queen's Gambit Declined Exchange Variation - Nigel Davies, Chess Explained: The Main Line Slav - David Vigorito, Starting Out: The c3 Sicilian - John Emms; 207 pages, Chess Explained: the c3 Sicilian - Sam Collins, Sicilian Defence with 2 c3: Alapin Variation - Sergei Tiviakov, Dangerous Weapons: Anti-Sicilians - John Emms, Richard Palliser & Peter Wells, Kill KID 1 - Semko Semkov, Beat the KID - Jan Markos, Dangerous Weapons: The King's Indian - Glenn Flear, Richard Palliser & Yelena Dembo, Fighting the Anti-King's Indians - Yelena Dembo, The S?misch King's Indian Uncovered - Alexander Cherniaev & Eduard Prokuronov, The Classical King's Indian Uncovered - Krzsztof Panczyk & Jacek Ilczuk, Play 1 b3! The Nimzo-Larsen Attack - Ilya Odessky, 1.b4: Theory and Practice of the Sokolsky Opening - Jerzy Konikowski & Marek Sosynski, Play 1 b4! - Yury Lapshun & Nick Conticello, Beating Unusual Chess Openings - Richard Palliser, Dangerous Weapons: The Benoni and Benko - John Emms, Richard Palliser, Chris Ward and Gawain Jones, Chess Explained: The Gr?nfeld - Valentin Bogdanov, Play the Gr?nfeld - Yelena Dembo, My Best Games in the Gr?nfeld - Alexei Shirov DVD, Starting Out: The Accelerated Dragon - Andrew Greet, Scandinavian Defense: The Dynamic 3...Qd6 (2nd ed.) - Michael Melts, Dangerous Weapons: Flank Openings - Richard Palliser, Tony Kosten and James Vigus, How to Play against 1 e4 - Neil McDonald, A Strategic Opening Repertoire (second edition) - John Donaldson & Carsten Hansen and Bird's Opening - Timothy Taylor.

This column contains 31 reviews of opening books and DVDs (including some mini-reviews), which will supplement the 20 from the last column. That by no means covers all the opening works in the past two years, but it's all I have the energy for! As in the previous column, I will group some opening books and DVDs by subject, making some comparisons, and fill the rest of the column with descriptions of other books which I think the reader might be interested in. The books and DVDs that I've looked at in this and the last column are ones that I can recommend, even when I have mild criticisms. Therefore I can justifiably be accused of being too positive, and of neglecting my duty to criticise. But there are many worthy books out there that I won't get to write about at this time, and I'm moving away from openings for a while; so I've chosen not to use up space with books that I feel are of inferior quality. My advice is always to try to get a look at any product before you purchase it, perhaps at a bookstore, a friend's place, or a tournament bookseller's table; there are also samples on publishers' websites. Unfortunately, that's often not possible, so the next best thing is to assess your needs in terms of the subject matter, your own strength level, and your desire for completeness and technical depth as opposed to explanation and (possibly) readability. I've tried to supply some information and opinions about those matters below.

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Playing the Queen's Gambit; Lars Schandorff; 248 pages; Quality Chess, 2009

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Dangerous Weapons: Queen's Gambit; Richard Palliser, Glenn Flear & Chris Ward; 240 pages; Everyman 2007

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Chess Explained: The Queen's Gambit Declined; James Rizzitano; 128 pages; Gambit 2007

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Play the Queen's Gambit; Chris Ward; 175 pages; Everyman 2006

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Starting Out: Queen's Gambit Declined; Neil McDonald; 192 pages; Everyman 2006

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The Queen's Gambit Declined Exchange Variation; Nigel Davies; DVD; ChessBase 2009

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Chess Explained: The Main Line Slav; David Vigorito; 112 pages; Gambit 2009

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Starting Out: The c3 Sicilian; John Emms; 207 pages; Everyman 2008

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Chess Explained: the c3 Sicilian; Sam Collins; 111 pages; Gambit, 2007

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Sicilian Defence with 2 c3: Alapin Variation; Sergei Tiviakov; DVD; ChessBase 2007

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Dangerous Weapons: Anti-Sicilians; John Emms, Richard Palliser & Peter Wells; 285 pages; Everyman 2009

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Kill KID 1; Semko Semkov; 140 pages; Chess Stars 2009

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Beat the KID; Jan Markos; 200 pages; Quality Chess 2008

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Dangerous Weapons: The King's Indian; Glenn Flear, Richard Palliser & Yelena Dembo; 272 pages; Everyman 2009

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Fighting the Anti-King's Indians; Yelena Dembo; 206 pages; Everyman 2008

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The Sämisch King's Indian Uncovered; Alexander Cherniaev & Eduard Prokuronov; 175 pages; Everyman 2008

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The Classical King's Indian Uncovered; Krzsztof Panczyk & Jacek Ilczuk; 384 pages; Everyman 2009

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Play 1 b3! The Nimzo-Larsen Attack; Ilya Odessky; 258 pages; New in Chess 2008

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1.b4: Theory and Practice of the Sokolsky Opening; Jerzy Konikowski & Marek Sosynski; 315 pages; Russell 2009

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Play 1 b4!; Yury Lapshun & Nick Conticello; Everyman 2008

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Beating Unusual Chess Openings; Richard Palliser; 224 pages; Everyman 2007

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Dangerous Weapons: The Benoni and Benko by John Emms, Richard Palliser, Chris Ward and Gawain Jones, Everyman, 270 pages

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Chess Explained: The Grünfeld; Valentin Bogdanov; 127 pages; Gambit 2009

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Play the Grünfeld; Yelena Dembo; 192 pages; Everyman 2007

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My Best Games in the Grünfeld; Alexei Shirov; DVD; ChessBase 2007

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Starting Out: The Accelerated Dragon by Andrew Greet, Everyman, 320 pages

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Scandinavian Defense: The Dynamic 3...Qd6 (2nd ed.) by Michael Melts, Russell Enterprises, 301 pages

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Dangerous Weapons: Flank Openings by Richard Palliser, Tony Kosten and James Vigus, Everyman, 253 pages

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How to Play against 1 e4; Neil McDonald: 238 pages; Everyman 2008

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A Strategic Opening Repertoire (second edition); John Donaldson & Carsten Hansen; 272 pages; Russell Enterprises 2007

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Bird's Opening; Timothy Taylor; 224 pages; Everyman 2005

Lars Schandorff's Playing the Queen's Gambit provides White with a complete set of weapons after 1 d4 d5 2 c4. What stands out about this repertoire is its uncompromising nature. For example, White allows the full-fledged Botvinnik System versus the Semi-Slav (1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 e6 5 Bg5 dxc4 6 e4 b5 7 e5 h6 8 Bh4 g5 9 Nxg5, etc.), and the dynamic anti-Moscow following 5...h6 6 Bh4 dxc4 7 e4, etc. Schandorff promotes the aggressive 3 e4 versus the Queen's Gambit Accepted and the main Rubinstein Variation versus the Tarrasch. In the Slav, White pursues the most aggressive and critical path: 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 dxc4 5 a4 Bf5 6 Ne5. In fact, the only major variation that actually takes less preparation (and is therefore almost always recommended in repertoire books!) is the Exchange Variation versus the QGD, that is 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 cxd5 exd5 5 Bg5.

These are all main lines which have the benefit of being reliable, professional openings; they produce winning chances in most variations, regardless of whether White gains an objective advantage. Unfortunately, the average player would be overwhelmed by having to learn all of these systems, and because of their critical nature there's absolutely no substitute for loads of memorization. Thus, I'd recommend the main lines for masters and above, whereas lower-rated players can pick and choose one or two systems to flesh out an otherwise simpler repertoire. I certainly wouldn't recommend playing even a couple of these lines for White if they're to be mixed in with the Exchange Variation versus the Grünfeld or the Classical Main Line of the King's Indian!

Schandorff covers all of the important variations very well. The analysis is naturally somewhat slanted towards White, but only in the fully acceptable sense of picking out exemplary lines which show how White can get an advantage; the idea is that these will be the most instructive, while most technical difficulties reside in the notes. I was wondering how the author would handle the variation with 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Be7 4 cxd5 exd5 5 Bf4 c6 6 e3 Bf5 7 g4 Be6 8 h4 Nd7 9 h5 Nh6 (Karpov), because I've never been able to find much against it, and in fact he is completely objective, showing how Black can achieve dynamically equal play; he could have simply quoted the most famous game in which White got the advantage and left it at that. To me, that shows that the author really cares about the true assessments of the variations he has chosen.

Schandorff also uses more directly relevant verbal commentary than most of the other technical books from Quality Chess, constantly making instructive points about even 'small' moves. And excepting a few distinctly odd paragraphs and the occasional slip, his English is both readable and superior to what we've seen in many of the books by that company; it's not terribly important in an opening book, but for some reason their editing of non-English-speaking authors hasn't been a strong point.

Continuing with a theme from previous reviews about research, Schandorff's Bibliography has several of the key books of the last few years, but it is rather limited. Without my doing a full literature search, I checked some unlisted books that came to mind: James Rizzitano's How to Beat 1 d4 (2005; one of the two standard books about the Queen's Gambit Accepted), which has an interesting suggestion in Schandorrf's main line, and his 2007 Chess Explained: The Queen's Gambit Declined; both are discussed in previous columns. James Vigus' important Play the Slav (2008) has at least one important suggested improvement upon the analysis of the main line of 6 Ne5, and some relevant extra material. John Cox's 2006 Starting Out 1 d4! suggests all of lines that Schandorff does in the QGD Exchange, the Slav (6 Ne5), and the Semi-Slav (6 Bg5), etc., and would have been good to cite. Cox even suggests 12 Qa4 in the Tarrasch QGD. Let me be very clear: every section of Playing the Queen's Gambit is extremely well analysed and thought out; these are certainly not important things in the larger context. I do feel, however, that, especially since he lists six definitely out-of-date books from 2000 to 2002, it would have improved the book in a modest way had he looked more closely into the recent literature. Databases also contain a lot of annotated games with analysis of this opening, and it's not clear how thorough Schandorff has been in that regard. For example, I was researching one of the main games, Sasikiran-Cu Hansen, Malmo 2005, which goes 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 c6 6.Qc2 Be7 7.e3 Nbd7 8.Bd3 0-0 9.Nge2 Re8 10.0-0 Nf8 11.f3 Ng6 12.Rad1 Be6 13.h3!? Rc8. Here Schandorff suggests 14 e4. In Megabase, we find Marin commenting upon this game, saying that Black's rook move is a little slow and suggesting 13...Nd7 14.Bxe7 Qxe7 15.e4 Qh4 (with some analysis appended). That's true, and I think a simpler course is 15...dxe4 16.fxe4 Qg5 (or 16...f6) 17.Qc1 Qxc1 18.Rxc1 f6 followed by ...Rad8, when I don't see any meaningful advantage for White.

Playing the Queen's Gambit is naturally more mainstream than Everyman's Dangerous Weapons: Queen's Gambit, a very good book which I reviewed briefly some time ago. Schandorff does list it in his Bibliography, but doesn't attend to every line, for example, 5....Bb4 in the Exchange Variation (1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 cxd5 exd5 5 Bg5 Bb4). After the same first five moves, he answers 5...c6 6 Qc2 Be7 7 e3 Bg4!? with 8 h3 Bh5 9 f4 h6 10 Bxf6 Bxf6 11 g4 Bg6 12 f5 Bh4+ 13 Kd2 Bh7 14 Nf3, without citing the game Krutti-Emodi, Zemplen 1998, and simply stating that Black's bishop is 'trapped'. Dangerous Weapons uses that game's further moves 14...0-0 15 Bd3 Nd7 16 Raf1 Re8 17 Nxh4 Qxh4 18 Rf3 Rad8, pointing out that all of Black's pieces are well-placed, except for the 'silly' bishop, which can be 'recycled' via ...Kh8, ...f6, and ...Bg8; this is plausible to me. I'll leave it to the reader to decide.

Sometimes the choices in the Dangerous Weapons series can be a bit too speculative. Take the line

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e4 b5

This is recommended in a section written by Glenn Flear. Schandorff continues

4.a4 c6

Both books agree that 4...Bb7 5.axb5 Bxe4 6.Nc3 Bb7 7.Nf3 Nf6 8.Bxc4 e6 9.0-0 Be7 falls short of equality. Schandorff calls 10 Ne5 better for White, and Flear cites 2 games with 10.Qe2 , one of them Anand-Huebner, Dortmund 1997: 10...0-0 11.Rd1 Nd5 12.Ne5 c6 13.Nxd5 cxd5 14.Bd3 Bd6 15.Bf4 Qe7 16.Rdc1 with a large advantage.

5.axb5 cxb5 6.Nc3 Bd7

r n _ q k b n r
p _ _ b p p p p
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
_ p _ _ _ _ _ _
_ _ p P P _ _ _
_ _ N _ _ _ _ _
_ P _ _ _ P P P
R _ B Q K B N R

Position after 6...Bg7

7.Nf3

Schandorff likes Berliner's suggestion 7.d5 '!'. Then, although he cites the Dangerous Weapons book in his bibliography, he doesn't mention Flear's 7...Qb6 (instead giving only 7...e6 8.dxe6 fxe6 9.Nxb5! with the idea 9...Bxb5? 10.Qh5+ g6 11.Qxb5+) 8.Be3! (8.Nf3 e6 9.Be3 Qb7) 8...Qd6?! (here 8...Qb7 seems to me the critical move; White remains better after 9.b3! b4 10.Na4 Bxa4 11.Rxa4 cxb3 12.Qxb3 a5 13.Nf3 Nf6 14.Bd3 , but at least it's a game) 9.Nf3 e5 10.dxe6 Qxd1+ 11.Rxd1 fxe6 12.Ne5 Bb4 'and Black is OK'.

The problem with this analysis is 11.Kxd1!, when 11...fxe6 12.Nd4 wins the b-pawn, and then the c-pawn, with a huge advantage.

7...e6 8.Be2 Nf6 9.0-0 Be7 10.d5! exd5

10...b4 11.d6! .

11.exd5

and White has a nice advantage, Ponomariov-I Sokolov, Zafra 2007.

Thus, with either 7 d5! or 7 Nf3, White casts 3...b5 into doubt. Alternatively,

Black can play ...b5 in the revised order seen in Anand-Karpov, Las Palmas 1996. I find that better, but still not terribly attractive:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 e6

Or 3...c6 4.e4 b5 5.a4 e6, transposing.

4.e4 b5 5.a4 c6 6.axb5 cxb5 7.b3 Bb7

Or 7...Bb4+ 8.Bd2 Bxd2+ 9.Nbxd2 Nc6 10.bxc4 Nxd4 11.cxb5.

8.bxc4 Bxe4 9.cxb5 Nf6 10.Be2 Be7 11.0-0 0-0

r n _ q _ r k _
p _ _ _ b p p p
_ _ _ _ p n _ _
_ P _ _ _ _ _ _
_ _ _ P b _ _ _
_ _ _ _ _ N _ _
_ _ _ _ B P P P
R N B Q _ R K _

Position after 11...0-0

Flear also points to 11...Nbd7!? , discouraging Ne5, which is probably an improvement, but after 12.Nc3 Bb7 13.Bf4 (as opposed to 13.Ne5, played twice and analysed by Flear) 13...0-0 (13...Nd5 14.Nxd5 Bxd5 15.Qd3) 14.Qd3, White has some space to work with. His a-file and cramping pawn on b5 seem more important than anything that Black can do versus the IQP, for example, 14...Nb6 15.Ne5 Nbd5 16.Nxd5 Nxd5 17.Bd2 Qd6 18.Rfc1. This is playable but not ideal for Black.

12.Nc3 Bb7 13.Ne5

r n _ q _ r k _
p b _ _ b p p p
_ _ _ _ p n _ _
_ P _ _ N _ _ _
_ _ _ P _ _ _ _
_ _ N _ _ _ _ _
_ _ _ _ B P P P
R _ B Q _ R K _

Position after 13 Ne5

13...a6?!

Flear speculates that Kasparov (who has played both White and Black in this line!) might have tried 13...Nd5 , after which 14.Bd2 (White seems to stand better after 14.Qd3 Nxc3 - 14...Nb4 15.Qg3 - 15.Qxc3 a6 16.Bf3) 14...Qb6 15.Qa4 Nxc3 16.Bxc3 Bd5 17.Bc4 (17.Rfc1) 17...Rc8 18.Bxd5 exd5 was seen in Tregubov-Reinderman, Bundesliga 2000; but then 19.Rfc1! with the idea Bb4 looks strong. Black can't develop his knight on b8 safely, because 19...Qb7 20.Bb4 Bxb4 (20...Nd7 21.Bxe7 Nxe5 22.dxe5 Qxe7 23.b6!) 21.Rxc8+ Qxc8 22.Qxb4 Nd7 23.Nc6 is extremely difficult to meet.

14.Bf3 Nd5 15.Nxd5 exd5 16.Rb1 Qb6 17.Be2

and White kept a solid advantage.

To return to Playing the Queen's Gambit, I'll give it a very high grade and congratulate the author. You should bear in mind, however, that it's on a professional level in terms of detail and analysis. This simply means that you need to be a fairly advanced player, and quite motivated, to truly benefit from it. But even lower players who play 1 d4 (and have a sufficient chess book budget) will want it on their shelves as a high-quality reference.

Let me put in a quick word for Chris Ward's older (2006) Play the Queen's Gambit. It's not fully up-to-date, but generally offers the reader a lower-pressure way of approaching the Queen's Gambit which is less dependent upon changing theory. Like all of Ward's books, this is written in a personal and chatty style. His goal is the same as Schandorff's: to present a complete repertoire in the Queen's Gambit (1 d4 d5 2 c4). Ward's solutions tend to be calmer and less critical, for example 4 e3 in the Slav (via 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nc3 Nf6), which means that the average player can pick them up more easily. Even the biggest exception, 7 g4 in the anti-Meran (1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e3 e6 5 Nf3 Nbd7 6 Qc2 Bd6 7 g4; there are other orders leading to this position) is much less theoretical than Schandorff's 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 e6 5 Bg5 (leading to the Botvinnik System and anti-Moscow, either one alone outrageously complex). But there are similarities, for example, both authors pick 3 e4 versus the Queen's Gambit Accepted (2...dxc4), and the Exchange Variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined. In the latter case, Ward gives White a choice between a slow system with 0-0, Nge2 and b4-b5 (as opposed to Schandorff's aggressive plan with f3 and e4), and a rather infrequently-played, more ambitious one with Nf3, 0-0-0 and h3/g4.

In terms of approach, Ward's is a more accessible work than Schandorff's Playing the Queen's Gambit, well suited for inexperienced players up through the average tournament player; even masters will probably pick up a thing or two from it. Ward depends upon general ideas and structures as much as theory, which again makes it more palatable for the inexperienced player or someone new to the opening. Playing the Queen's Gambit would clearly be the superior choice for a professional player, or any dedicated tournament player who is willing to invest a lot of his time in what is, after all, some fascinating theory. This also involves keeping up with changes and novelties in the most critical lines, something most masters will be trying to do anyway. As mentioned above, Schandorff's book can be used as a reference work, for example, by teachers, writers, and annotators needing authoritative guidance.

Neil McDonald's Starting Out: Queen's Gambit Declined is from the same year as Ward's, and best-suited for the developing and average-strength player (as you'd think a book from the 'Starting Out' series would be, but some are quite advanced). This is not a repertoire book; it is written from both players' point of view, and is limited to the traditional main Queen's Gambit Declined variations, i.e., the Tartakower, Lasker, Classical, Cambridge Springs, Exchange, and Bf4 variations. Second-move options such as 1 d4 d5 2 c4 Nc6 (Chigorin), 2...Bf5 (Baltic/Keres), and 2...e5 (Albin Countergambit) are not included. McDonald does his usual superb job of explaining positional ideas, and he doesn't skimp on the whys and wherefores of different move orders and timing in the opening. He has extended discussions of various moves, even well into the middlegame, and much practical advice. This book is definitely a step down in complexity from the books above, and yet the middle-range player may well learn more from it.

Finally, Nigel Davies offers video fans an introductory theme-and-structure-based presentation of the Queen's Gambit Declined Exchange Variation in his recent DVD of that name. This is a video based upon well-chosen games by great players which examines the basic variations and themes; it is by no means intended as a theoretical reference. I think that a video on this level is appropriate for everyone from near beginner up to, say, 1800. The emphasis here is upon learning the ideas, much as you might experience in a live lecture series by a grandmaster. Again, the crucial factor in deciding whether or not you might want to get this product is how you like the DVD video format.

I would have liked to include David Vigorito's Chess Explained: The Main-Line Slav in my earlier column's discussion of Slav theory, but didn't yet have a copy. Like Peter Wells and James Rizzitano, Vigorito, now established as a first-class writer, has an amazing ability to include what seems like every important variation and all the key subvariations into one of Gambit's Chess Explained series (112 pages), and include a lot of valuable original analysis. On top of that, Vigorito has the knowledge and experience to locate the truly important lines and games in a variation and weed out the ones that have lost their significance (or have never had any).

The book uses 25 annotated games to examine the variations stemming from 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 dxc4. These are rapidly changing, so it's important to have an up-to-date work (2009) that encompasses recent developments. One thing to note is that Vigorito has a favourable assessment of James Vigus' main line against 6.Ne5, that is, 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 Nbd7 7.Nxc4 Nb6 (see column #91), which is a good sign for Vigus' Slav book. Vigorito thinks that it is 'very solid' with 'opportunities to play for a win without taking big positional or tactical risks'. The line 6...e6 7 f3 c5 8 e4 Bg6, played by Kramnik, also comes out fairly well, but Black has to play quite accurately and White, if he is very knowledgeable, may emerge with a small edge anyway. After 6 e3 e6 7 Bxc4 Bb4 8 0-0, Black can play 8...0-0 or 8...Nbd7. According to Vigorito, the lines after White's traditional plan of 9 Qe2 and e4 shouldn't gain a theoretical advantage. His material and analysis is convincing, but in my experience White has a practical advantage, in that Black's position is harder to play. The lesson to the prospective Slav player is that he can be confident enough of his position, but only if he's willing to learn some very specific moves well into the battle. To be fair, White also has to know his stuff, but his play is generally straightforward. Instead of 9 Qe2, lines with 9 Nh4 are technical and very complicated; in several positions I'd rather play White, but that doesn't mean he has any theoretical edge. As for Black's main options on earlier moves, Vigorito finds 5...Bg4 too risky, and 5...Na6 solid but prospectless.

This is a good book in a good series. I'd say that it will appeal most to experienced players who are used to handling a good bit of theory. Vigorito doesn't engage in as much explanation as we are used to from him, almost certainly because the subject is so vast, and he may consider concrete information ultimately more important than words, at least to the majority of serious players.

A number of books and DVDs have appeared on the Alapin Sicilian (a.k.a. 2 c3 Sicilian: 1 e4 c5 2 c3) over the past few years. Sergei Tiviakov, perhaps the leading authority on 2 c3, plays it on both sides of the board and in 2007 produced the widely-praised DVD Sicilian Defence with 2 c3: Alapin Variation. The ChessBase video lectures follow the usual format, with four hours of individual lectures on different games and variations. As I've indicated, I plan to talk about some of these DVDs in a separate column, but this one is too fundamental to the topic at hand. There are 18 games by Tiviakov himself, all as White. The main lectures mostly involve the moves 2 c3 d5 and 2 c3 Nf6, when he promotes a particular repertoire based, for example, on the variation 1 e4 c5 2 c3 Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 Nf3 Nc6 5 Bc4 Nb6 6 Bb3 d5 (he devotes two lectures to 6...c4, which has discouraged some players of White from this line) 7 exd6 Qxd6 8 Na3, with which he beat Magnus Carlsen. Tiviakov also spends time on such lines as 2...e6, 2...e5, 2...g6, 2...d6, 2...b6, 2...Nc6, and 2...Qa5, sometimes rather superficially. For example, after 2...g6 3 d4 cxd4 4 cxd4 d5 5 e5 Bg7 6 Nc3, he stops and says (twice) that White has a 'huge advantage', based upon his superior centre and Black's restricted bishop on g7. This is a fairly respectable line, however; it is recommended for Black in the Dzindzihashvili and Perelshteyn's repertoire book. Perhaps 'small but certain advantage' would have been a more realistic claim. Interestingly, the main game in Sam Collin's c3 Sicilian book below is in the line 5 Nc3 dxe4 6 Bc4, which isn't mentioned in the other three sources. My own opinion is that White gets some advantage out of 5 exd5, with which Collins and Emms agree.

Tiviakov's DVD would be a fun way to learn the Alapin Sicilian and the repertoire he is presenting. Although the material isn't as complete or detailed as in a book, some people will absorb information better by watching the pieces move on the screen and getting strong grandmaster commentary. I should say, however, that it would improve this DVD to have a collection of the featured games included in the database, with notes based upon the corresponding video lectures. Sometimes ChessBase does this, other times not; you can, however, save the games in the lectures once the lecturer has finished putting in his notes.

Starting Out: The c3 Sicilian by John Emms, covers the opening from both sides of the board. It's a book that you can use as an introduction to the basic ideas, but includes a fairly thorough breakdown of the individual variations. As I've indicated, Emms is one of the best authors around, so you can trust the quality of this work. He gives more promising ideas for White than most sources, new and old.

Sam Collins' Chess Explained: the c3 Sicilian is a short book, like other in the Chess Explained series, but packs in quite a bit of material into 25 annotated games. Like Emms' book, it's supposed to be at a fairly general level, and has a great deal of prose explanation, more than other sources, but generally a bit less analytical detail than Emms (although this varies from line to line). Both authors give new ideas at various points; there aren't so many of these, but they tend to be important, even changing the overall assessment of a variation.

It's interesting to see that an old line like 1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.d4 cxd4 5.cxd4 d6 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Bc4 Nb6 8.Bb5 dxe5 9.Nxe5 Bd7, which used to be considered dull and one of the most frustrating for White to play against, can still be of interest following 10.Nxd7 (Collins gives only the line 10 Bxc6 Bxc6 11 Nxc6 bxc6, long known to be equal) 10...Qxd7 11.Nc3 e6 12.0-0 Be7 13.Qg4 0-0 14.Bxc6 bxc6 15.Bh6 Bf6 16.Rad1, when Emms shows that White has positive chances. Of course, this isn't forced, but shows that the older lines with an early d4 may be as good or better as the modern ones below.

Peter Wells contributes a section in Dangerous Weapons: Anti-Sicilians in the same line:

1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.d4 cxd4 5. Nf3 Nc6 6.cxd4 d6 7.Bc4 dxe5!?

Traditionally, this has been considered inferior due to:

8 Bxd5

This is usually assigned an '!'. Wells also covers 8 dxe5 Ndb4! And 8 Nxe5 e6 at great length, concluding that Black's game is satisfactory.

8...Qxd5 9 Nc3

Here, contrary to its ages-old reputation, both practice and current theory seem to indicate that Black has full-fledged play:

9...Qd6 10 d5 Nd4 11 Nxd4 exd4 12 Qxd4 e5! 13 Qd3 Bd7 14 0-0

Wells does a lengthy analysis of 14 f4 f5!, concluding that Black has good chances.

14...f5 15 Re1

And here he covers 15 Nb5, 15 Qg3, and 15 a4, with Black doing fine in each case. The latter is the most promising of the three, when 15 a4 Be7 16 Nb5 Bxb5 17 Qxb5+ Qd7 18 Re1 e4 produces double-edged and apparently equal play.

15...Kf7 16 a4 a6!? 17 b3 e4 18 Qh3 Rc8!

This is the game Bedouin-Chatalbashev, Rohde 2006. According to Wells, Black stands satisfactorily in this line.

There's some real disagreement about the variation

1 e4 c5 2 c3 Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 Bc4 Nb6 7 Bb3 d5 8 exd6 Qxd6 9 0-0

9 Na3 dxc3! 10 Qxd6 (10 Qe2 Bf5 11 Nb5 Qd7 12 Ne5 Nxe5 13 Qxe5 Rc8 leaves White 'struggling to justify his play' - Emms; and Collins agrees) 10...exd6 11 Nb5 yields a messy position in which Rogozenko recommends 11...Rb8 12 bxc3 (12 Ng5 Ne5 is fine for Black) 12...Be7 13 Bf4 0-0 with equality. In this line Emms thinks that Black is 'more than holding his own'. But in any case, he prefers 12...a6 13 Be3 axb5 14 Bxb6 Be6, as in Biro-Motylev, Predeal 2007, which continued 15 0-0-0 Be7 16 Rhe1 Kd7.

9...Be6 10 Na3

Collins analyses the well-known 10 Bxe6 Qxe6 11 Nxd4 Nxd4 12 Qxd4 Rd8 13 Qh4 at length. Then Emms likes 13...h5 (intending ...Qg4 14 h3 Qc4), and Collins says that, among several other lines, 13...Qe2 14 Nd2 (14 Be3 is known to be satisfactory for Black) 14...h5! is good, with the same idea.

10...dxc3! 11 Qe2 Bxb3 12 Nb5 Qb8 13 axb3 e5

13...g6 is complicated and unclear, according to theory, but Black seems to have his fair share of the chances.

After 13...e5, the books split. Collins gives only 14 bxc3, and believes that following 14...Be7, Smagin's 15 Bg5 'could be the most promising'. He continues with 15...a6 16 Bxe7 Nxe7 17 Nxe5!: 'The knight on b5 is untouchable, and following 17...0-0 (Rogozenko thinks the materialistic 17...f6 is not worth the risk since the black king is exposed to a vicious attack) 18 Nd4 White might have a slight edge.'

Emms doesn't analyse 14 bxc3, preferring to concentrate upon 14 Nbd4'!', which has led to some nice wins for White. With very accurate play, however, Black seems able to hold his own.

Even in the modern lines without an early d4, which Collins points to as White's most promising area for investigation, isn't so convincing. For example, Tiviakov's favourite line 1 e4 c5 2 c3 Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 Nf3 Nc6 5 Bc4 Nb6 6 Bb3 d5 7 exd6 Qxd6 8 Na3, which is about as good version as it gets among White's Na3 lines, doesn't seem to give any advantage, as shown in this game:

Sergei Tiviakov - Magnus Carlsen, Corus A Wijk aan Zee 2007

1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Bc4 Nb6 6.Bb3 d5 7.exd6 Qxd6 8.Na3 a6

Tiviakov has been very successful over the years against other replies. On his DVD, however he is distinctly negative about White's winning prospects after 8...a6, saying that it 'equalises completely', is a 'serious problem', and that he 'can't find an answer'.

9.0-0 Bf5 10.d4 cxd4 11.Nxd4

He gives 11.cxd4 e6 12.Nc4 Nxc4 13.Bxc4 Be7.

11...Nxd4 12.cxd4 e6 13.Qf3 Qd7! 14.d5!

He also doesn't like 14.Nc4 Nxc4 15.Bxc4 Bd6.

14...Nxd5 15.Rd1 Bxa3 16.bxa3 0-0

Magnus Carlsen

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Sergei Tiviakov

Position after 16...0-0

Tiviakov says that all this is essentially forced (if White is playing for advantage and Black defending accurately).

17.h4

With the idea of g4 and h5, trapping the bishop, at the same time giving the king a square, that is, avoiding 17.Bxd5 exd5 18.Rxd5 Qe6 19.Rxf5?? Qe1#; White also has to simplify to get his pawn back following 17.Bb2 Rfd8 18.Rd2 Bg6 19.Rad1 Qe7 20.Bxd5 Rxd5 21.Rxd5 exd5 22.Qxd5 Re8 23.h3 Be4 with the idea ...Bc6 is very slightly better for Black, doubtless drawn with any kind of care.

17...Rac8 18.Bxd5

18.Rd2 (versus ...Bc2, which would follow 18 Bb2), is suggested by Okhotnik. Collins claims that White has more than enough for a pawn, with two bishops, queen, and h-pawn combining to attack. I seriously doubt this after 18...Qe7 (hitting h4 and preparing ...Rc3; 18...Rc5 19.Bb2 f6 also looks fine: 20.Rad1 Qc8! 21.Bd4 Rc6 with the idea 22.g4 Bc2) 19.Bb2 (19.g4 Rc3!) 19...Nf6 20.Rad1 (20.h5 Bg4 21.Bxf6 Qxf6; 20.Re1 Bg6) 20...h5! and White is at a loss, perhaps having to resort to 21.Bxf6 Qxf6 22.Qxh5 Rfd8.

18...exd5 19.Rxd5 Qe6 20.Rxf5 Qe1+ 21.Kh2 Rxc1 22.Rxc1 Qxc1 23.Qxb7 Qxa3 24.Qd5 Qe7 25.g3 g6 26.Rf4 Rd8 27.Qc4 Qb7 28.Rd4 Rc8 29.Qb3 Qxb3 30.axb3 ½-½

Magnus Carlsen

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Sergei Tiviakov

Position after 30.axb3

Another well-known line is unclear, but appears to generate mutual chances:

1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Bc4 Nb6 6.Bb3 c4 7 Bc2 Qc7 8 Qe2 g5

8...d6 comes out O.K., according to Emms; perhaps it's the easiest way to go.

9.h3

This doesn't seem to yield much. Tiviakov shows a game with 9.e6, which he has played several times and analyses to a small advantage for White after 9...dxe6 10.Nxg5 Qe5 11.d4 cxd3 12.Bxd3 Qxe2+ 13.Bxe2; he admits that it's clearly not enough to win against good play.

9...Bg7 10.0-0 Nxe5 11.Nxg5 d5 12.a4 d5

'!' - Collins. Tiviakov analyses only 12...Bd7 and 12...h6, showing his brilliant win over Timman with that move. But Emms shows a vital improvement in that game as well.

12 a4 Bd7 13.d4!

Vladimir Epishin

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Dusko Pavasovic

Position after 13.d4

13.a5 Nc8 is Emms main line, and OK for Black, as confirmed by Tiviakov.

13...cxd3 14.Bxd3 Nd7 15.Re1 Qd6 16.Na3 a6 17.Nf3 0-0 18.Be3 e5 19.Rad1

Pavasovic-Epishin, Nova Gorica 2006; and Collins finds the unlikely 19...f5'!!', with analysis indicating a satisfactory game for the second player.

I'm not going to choose between these two books and DVD, all of which are sufficiently up-to-date and all of which will be very useful to anyone playing 2 c3 or needing to defend against it.

Finally, I should return to Dangerous Weapons: Anti-Sicilians from which I drew the Wells contribution above. The book is written by Wells, John Emms, & Richard Palliser. It has 12 chapters, including that above and another dealing with 2 c3: 1 e4 c5 2 c3 d5 3 exd5 Qxd5 4 d4 Nc6 5 Nf3 e5!?, which is analysed in great depth. The remaining variations either avoid the Sicilian, or show Black answering an anti-Sicilian lines. A few more examples:

  1. 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 g6 4 0-0 Bg7 5 c3 Nf6 6 d4
  2. 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 (a real surprise for me; there are two chapters on this)
  3. 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Qxd4 Nc6 5 Bb5 Bd7 6 Bxc6 bxc6 (as opposed to the usual 6...Bxc6)
  4. 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 e5 4 Bc4 Be7 5d3 Nf6 6 Ng5 0-0 7 f4 d5!? (the 'Sveshnikov Gambit').

The King's Indian Defence is another opening that has been the subject of unusually many books in the past five years, although with a bit of a gap. In an earlier column I looked at some products from 2005 and 2006: Rustam Kasimzhdanov's A World Champion's Guide to the King's Indian; Tim Taylor's Beating the King's Indian and Grünfeld; Jerzy Konikowski & Marek Sosynski's The Fearsome Four Pawns Attack; and Mikhail Golubev's Understanding the King's Indian.

This column's batch is somewhat more eccentric. I'll start with Kill KID 1 by Semko Semkov. This title seems to be a weak play on the not-very-current movie 'Kill Bill'. A little obscure, but I guess joke titles are the author's prerogative.

What's the book about? White tries to bowl over the King's Indian Defence with aggressive play, beginning with the most principled continuation, the Four Pawns Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f4 0-0 6.Nf3), and using a somewhat irregular but not unknown move against the old main line (12 e6, which you'll see in the game below). Some may consider that variation the heart of the matter. But the author is careful to give a complete repertoire, including original answers to some popular anti-Four Pawns variations (also given in the game below), as well as the important 6...Na6. Going beyond the bounds of duty, he looks at the moves leading up to the main variations, including even 1 d4 g6 2 e4 Bg7 3 c4, and here 3...Nc6, 3...c6, 3...c5, and 3...d6 4 Nc3 Nc6. And he looks at non-King's Indian lines such as 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 d6 3 Nc3 with 3...Bf5, 3...e5, and 3...c6, the latter move in great detail. I find the book useful for these sidelines alone, since they are covered very sparsely in the theoretical works.

My problem is with the traditional main line. I was once interested in 12 e6, and felt that it would give decent practical chances. The following disastrous game soured me, not because White's play couldn't be improved, but because even in the post-mortem and later analysis, I felt as though White was on the defensive from the get-go. My impression is that at some point he might have to bail out with equality or something worse. Of course, you should have an open mind and see if you can find a more promising way for White to play it. I'll bet that Semkov can.

J Watson - A Minasian, Los Angeles 1993

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 g6 4.Nc3 d6 5.e4 Bg7 6.f4 0-0 7.Nf3 e6 8.Be2 exd5 9.cxd5 Re8

The book also addresses 9...b5, citing an obscure correspondence game which convincingly improves for White upon one of the accepted main lines. More importantly, Semkov finds some extremely interesting and unique ideas versus the popular move 9...Bg4, which has a safe reputation. He proposes 10 0-0 Nbd7 11 h3 Bxf3 12 Bxf3, meeting 12...Re8 13 g4 h6 (intending 14 h4 h5!, a well-known and effective line for Black) with 14 Qc2!. This ingenious move anticipates the idea, in the case of a move like 14...Qa5, of attacking by 15 e5 dxe5 16 g5 Nh7 17 f5! . Or, upon the slower move 14...a6, White has connected his rooks and can build up with 15 Be3 b5 16 Rae1!, when Black has a tough defensive task ahead. Black has other 12th moves, of course, which are also given extensive original analysis.

10.e5 dxe5 11.fxe5 Ng4 12.e6!?

12 Bg5 is standard here.

12...fxe6 13.d6

Art Minasian

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John Watson

Position after 13.d6

This is White's idea, closing the e-file and leaving the knight on g4 less well-protected, while trying to cramp Black with the pawn on d6. Recently White has tried 13 Bg5 here.

13...Rf8!

Not mentioned by Semkov, nor considered by me before this game, but the move is both logical and good, placing the rook on the open f-file; by hitting f2, it prevents 14 Ng5?. In the book, Semkov devotes 30 pages of primarily original analysis to more obvious alternatives.

I got stubborn and burned up massive amounts of time on the next four moves, looking for a 'refutation'.

14.Bg5?!

14.0-0 is natural and probably the best White can do, but I didn't want to give up the initiative and allow Black to get a knight to d4. Nevertheless, a possible continuation is 14...Nc6 15.Bg5! Bd4+ (perhaps 15...Qd7!? 16.Qd2 Nd4 17.Be7 Rf5) 16.Nxd4 Qxg5 17.Rxf8+ Kxf8 18.Qf1+! (18.Nc2 Ne3 19.Nxe3 Qxe3+ 20.Kh1 Bd7) 18...Kg7 19.Nxc6 (19.Bxg4? cxd4) 19...Qe3+ 20.Kh1 Nf2+ 21.Kg1 Nh3+ 22.Kh1 Nf2+=.

14...Qb6 15.Qd2 Bd7!

The key move; it both discourages Nb5 and prepares ...Bc6 in some lines. I was feeling reasonably confident up to this point, but now ...Nc6-d4 looms, with the d-pawn falling.

16.Be7

Not 16.0-0 Nc6 17.Kh1 Rf5.

16...Rf5!

I underestimated this as well. 16...c4?! 17.Bxf8 Qf2+ 18.Kd1 is messy.

17.Ng5

Art Minasian

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John Watson

Position after 17.Ng5

17...Re5?!

17...Qb4! with the idea ...Qd4 is very strong: 18.h3 Nf6! (with the idea ...Qh4+) or 18...Ne5 19.0-0-0 Nbc6 are both considerably better for Black)

18.Qf4??

Played way too quickly; it was one of those days. 18.0-0! c4+ 19.Kh1 was a better try, since 19...Nf2+!? 20.Rxf2 Qxf2 21.Nce4 Qh4 22.g3 Qh6 23.Bxc4 Bc6 24.Re1 isn't so clear. Of course, Black has some advantage anyway.

18...Qxb2 19.Qf7+ Kh8 20.0-0 Rxg5! 21.Bxg5 Ne5

with a winning game.

As in the other Chess Stars books that we've examined, Semkov organises his material in the sections 'Quick Repertoire', 'Step by Step', and 'Complete Games'. His writing style is accessible and friendly, and he's obviously put loads of effort into finding out exactly what's best for both sides in these lines. Now, if he could only convince me about 12 e6...

Jan Markos Beat the KID employs more conventional weapons against the King's Indian, suggesting three different lines:

  • 1. Kraskenov's specialty, first thoroughly investigated by Bagirov: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 Nf3 0-0 6 h3 (a few words on 5 h3 might have been nice, simply because top players have used both orders and they can transpose, but have their own drawbacks and advantages)
  • 2. The Bayonet Variation (usually called the Bayonet Attack): 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
  • 3. The Classical Main Line 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 Ne1.
  • In the final chapter, Markos fills out a repertoire of lines that Black can play on moves 6 and 7 in the last two variations, although 6...e5 (6...Na6 normally transposes) 7 0-0 Na6 and the currently popular 7...Nbd7 are given short shrift. Given the goals of the book, it's not realistic to cover these two important moves (worthy of small books in themselves), but the reader who is willing to take on the professional-level variations of this book should be aware that they'll have to put serious time into these 7th moves.

The book is detailed and a good overview of current theory, all the way to 2008, which is important considering that they are constantly evolving. The first two chapters, however, are disappointing. After 6 h3 c5 7 d5 e6 8 Bd3 exd5 9 exd5 Re8+ 10 Be3, because of the rather poor reputation of 10...Bh6 over the years, the move 10...Nh5 is theoretically the most important, and the only line leading to equality in ECO. Surprisingly, Markos skips this move completely. The move orders 10...Nbd7 with the idea 11 0-0 Nh5 and 10...a6 can lead to the same ideas, and are similarly neglected. Less importantly, Markos dismisses 7...a6'?!'8 a4 as failing to prepare ...b5, although as Breutigam points out, it has also been used to set up the ...Nbd7/...Nh5 plan. Here I should point out that after ...a6, you should consider shifting to the cxd5 setup (instead of exd5), although that requires further work.

Similarly, the second chapter has important gaps. It deals exclusively with

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 Nf3 0-0 6 h3 e5 7 d5 Nh5.

Then Markos talks about two moves. The first line, analysed for many years goes

8 Nh2 Qe8 9 Be2 Nf4 10 Bf3 f5 11 g3 Nxh3 12 Bg2 f4

Markos thinks (in my opinion correctly) that two other moves are better:

a) 12...fxe4 13.Nxe4 Bf5 14.Ng4 h5 15.Nef6+ Bxf6 16.Nh6+ Kg7 17.Nxf5+ gxf5 18.Rxh3 Rh8;

b) 12...Qf7 13.Bxh3! (13.Nf3 fxe4 14.Nxe4 Bg4; 13.Qf3 fxe4 14.Qxf7+ Rxf7 15.Nxe4 Na6 and White lacks compensation for his pawn) 13...fxe4 14.Ng4 Bxg4 15.Qxg4 Qxf2+ 16.Kd1 Qd4+ 17.Bd2? (17.Ke1! Qf2+=) 17...e3 18.Qxd4 exd4 and Black turns out to have the better position. Thus Black seems to stand satisfactorily in this line.

13.Nf3 g5 14.Bxh3 g4 15.Bg2

15.Nh4 gxh3 16.g4 is another possibility.

15...gxf3 16.Qxf3 Qg6!?

16...fxg3 17.Qxg3 is old analysis favouring White.

17.Bh3 Na6!?

17...fxg3!? 18.Qxg3 Qxg3 19.fxg3 Bxh3 20.Rxh3 is comfortably in White's favour; 17...Bxh3 18.Rxh3 Nd7 19.Bd2 also favours White, according to ECO, which seems true. Whether these advantages suffice to win can be argued.

18.Bxc8!?

Or 18.gxf4 exf4 19.Bd2 Bxh3 20.Qxh3 Nc5 21.0-0-0.

18...Raxc8

J Watson-Kamsky, Philadelphia 1993; and here I played 19 g4?, but would have had a clear advantage after 19.gxf4! exf4 (the point is 19...Nb4 20.f5! Nc2+ 21.Kd1 Nxa1 22.Qh3) 20.Bd2, as in Vyzmanavin-Chiburdanidze, USSR 1981. My own game was eventually drawn.

Another defence after 6...e5 7 d5 Nh5 8 Nh2 that I have played is Uhlmann's 8...a5 9 g3 (in the game Shabalov-Watson, Las Vegas 1993, I answered 9 Be2 with 9...Nf4 10 Bf3 Na6 11 Be3 Nb4 12 0-0 Nbd3 13 Qc2 f5 with equality; the game was eventually drawn after no serious mistakes by either side) 9...Na6 10 Be2 Nc5! 11 Bxh5 gxh5, when a number of games and analyses have shown that 12 g4 (12 Qxh5 f5) 12...hxg4 (or 12...c6) 13 hxg4 Qh4 14 Qf3 c6 is at least satisfactory, although I suspect that White has better tries. Nevertheless, 8...a5 isn't mentioned.

Markos also analyses 'the quieter and more positional alternative' 8 g3 a5 9 Be2 Na6, but after 10 Nh2, Black can transpose to the Uhlmann line with 10...Nc5, or play Markos' 10...Nf6'!' 11 Ng4 Nc5 12 Nxf6+ Qxf6, which he says is level.

It seems that 7...Nh5 is a pretty good solution. To be clear, however, 6 h3 tends to leave both sides with plenty to do, even in the main lines, and Markos makes that clear. A personal note: I played 30+ games with 6 h3 over the 1980s and 1990s and had a lot of fun with it, which led me to put a 44-page chapter about 5 h3 and 6 h3 in my book The Unconventional King's Indian. In fact, I ended up with a +1 against GMs, but as Black lost several games, including ones to GMs Dzindzihashvili and Walter Browne.

I should add that one very important source is missing from Markos' Bibliography: Martin Breutigam's CD King's Indian with h3 (ChessBase 2002), which I reviewed in Column #49 - a few of my games and thoughts are given there. As far as I know, that is easily the most comprehensive treatment of 6 h3 to date, and the best.

Unfortunately, I can't speak with any expertise about the Bayonet Attack and Classical Main Lines. From time to time I try to keep up with them, and naturally I notice some games, but theory changes continuously. From all appearances, Markos' treatment is up-to-date and thorough, with suggestions and, more importantly, ideas about which of the countless lines from thousands of games to actually follow! This is another professional job of technical research which is recommended primarily for experienced and master practitioners of these lines (as well as grandmasters), especially those who play White.

Let me make some quick observations about the entertaining book Dangerous Weapons: The King's Indian, written by Glenn Flear, Richard Palliser, and Yelena Dembo. First, there is perhaps a bit too much about the Four Pawns Attack (4 Chapters!) for a book about such a rich opening that is full of irregular lines. This does give me an excuse to mention that the Semkov book above, although it has no overlap with any of the three suggested White variations in Dangerous Weapons, does skip Richard Palliser's recommended move for Black after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f4 0-0 6.Nf3, namely, 6...e5!?. This has been played by quite a few strong players, notably Peter Svidler, and deserves a closer look. I played both sides of the Four Pawns Attack for years, and was completely unaware that 6...e5 was playable.

Tal Shaked and I used to be attracted by the variation 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f4 0-0 6.Nf3 c5 7.dxc5, which, as Dangerous Weapons shows, is rather underrated in the main line (mainly because Kasparov played a well-known game with Black that it was assumed established equality). But I compliment Glenn Flear for his honesty in pointing out straightaway that after 5...c5 (instead of castling), 6 dxc5 is not very good due to 6...Qa5 7 Bd3 Nfd7!. He recommends 6 d5, going back to a main line, and refers the reader to another entertaining chapter featuring the less convincing although perfectly playable 5.f4 0-0 6.Nf3 c5 7 d5 e6 8 dxe6!?.

Here are other interesting suggestions in this volume (there are 14 of them, more than in most others of this series, but some are about the same variation):

  • a. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 0-0 5.f3 Nc6!?, holding back on ...d6 to attack d4, and upon 6 d5, Black plays the strange-looking 6...Nb4!?
  • b. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 e5 7 0-0 Nh5!?;
  • c. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5 Bd3 Nc6 6 Nge2 Nd7 (rather specialised, but I've always thought 5 Bd3 to be underrated).

There are also two unnecessary cop-outs. First, two chapters are devoted to the Averbach System, a main line that has been played extensively for over half a century and even has books devoted to it. Then three chapters are given to the currently-popular main line 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 e5 7 0-0 Nbd7, a move that's been played by grandmasters for 100 years or so! If you know King's Indian theory, you'll know that these are major, major variations and really shouldn't be in a Dangerous Weapons book. The additionally disappointing consideration is that I fail to see a single new idea in the 7...Nbd7 lines. I'm afraid that these chapters look like personal preparation. Of course, if you don't really care whether the choices are true to the series (and I suppose there's no reason that you should), I guess this gives you a chance to pick up a quick and dirty repertoire with the Averbach or 7...Nbd7. All's fair in love and war?

Yelena Dembo's Fighting the Anti-King's Indians is a competent effort, and a radical update for those of you who have used the lines in Joe Gallagher's old book Beating the Anti-King's Indian (1996) or my own The Unconventional King's Indian (1997). Dembo addresses most of the things that Joe did: The Trompowsky (she uses 2...c5, not the usual repertoire choice, and a good one), Torre (also a ...c5 system), London (again; in fact, exactly what I recommended many years ago), Blackmar-Diemer, Veresov Opening (the usual 3...Nbd7 after 2 Nc3 d5 3 Bg5) and Barry Attack, but also the Colle, kingside fianchettos, Grünfeld-related setups, and 'the English King's Indian', among others. This is a solid book and overdue; King's Indian players will definitely want a copy.

In spite of the horrific title (I though we were forever done with uncovered'), The Classical King's Indian Uncovered, by Krzsztof Panczyk and Jacek Ilczuk, is a monumental work. Much like Markos' book above, it is technical and dense, with very little explanation, and thorough enough for any professional player. Not since Nunn & Burgess' classic set The Main Line King's Indian and The New Classical King's Indian has anyone attempted to cover the Classical (a.k.a. 'Orthodox') Variation of the King's Indian Defence, a mere portion of which can fill a book.

The authors' choice for the starting point of the Classical is 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2, and the first things they cover are deviations in the form of 6...c6, 6...Bg4 and 6...c5. After 6...e5, they spend 12 pages on the Exchange Variation 7 dxe5, and 24 pages on the Gligoric Variation 7 Be3, which at first seems a bit sparse. Interestingly, Panczyk and Ilczuk conclude that none of 7...Nc6, 7...c6, 7...Qe7, 7...exd4, and 7...h6 equalise; but that 7...Ng4 is adequate, and indeed, it seems as though every leading player has gone in that direction in the past few years.

Theory on the Petrosian System with 7 d5 has seemingly not changed for many years; at least the main lines and assessments are the same as over a decade ago.

As if to emphasize my point above about 7 0-0 Nbd7 being a main line, the authors devote 43 pages to it, and conclude that Black has good chances of reaching equality regardless of which line White chooses.

That brings us to 7...Nc6 8 d5 Ne7, the grand old variation, with coverage of the Bayonet Attack (9 b4) and Classical Main Lines (9 Ne1 and 9 Nd2). As noted above, it would be foolish of me to assess this material, and even very experienced players who have spent decades of these lines don't always agree. However, it's indicative of the changing times that the old standby 9 Ne1 is dealt with in 64 pages, while the Bayonet Attack, still in its infancy by comparison, consumes 75 pages.

It's pretty clear that this book is most appropriate for tournament players, and mostly advanced ones at that. The authors don't spend much time 'explaining' the variations or strategies connected with them, preferring to sort through thousands of games and annotations to locate and record the most important lines. They seem to have done so very well; at any rate, it's safe to recommend this as a reference book for all King's Indian players and those who wish to play the Classical Variation against the King's Indian.

I thought I should briefly mention a book from two years ago, The Sämisch King's Indian Uncovered by Alexander Cherniaev & Eduard Prokuronov. There's been little serious work on the Saemisch for a while, yet it remains a respectable way for White to achieve double-edged play against the KID. This is not a book with tremendous detail, but it does cover all the bases. Its value comes from the many original suggestions which appear in every chapter; they are an indication of the author's consistent attention to their material. Some books cite games and only occasionally intercede with their own analysis; these authors are clearly interested in every line.

I won't be attending to openings for a while, having massive numbers of books in other areas to look at. So, having finished my thematic reviews of books on the Queen's Gambit, the c3 Sicilian, and the King's Indian, I'm going to conclude this column with brief mentions of fairly random books that may interest you.

I discussed Ilya Odessky's English Defence in column#90; that system involves 1...b6 or 2...b6. In Play 1 b3! The Nimzo-Larsen Attack, Odessky switches to the White side of the board and fianchettos his queen's bishop. He may be the craziest author around, which can be funny and entertaining (depending upon your tastes; I rather like the loony style); but he is also the most disorganized. Without going into detail, I can say that if you want an independent opening system which limits your preparation time, all the information you need is here. But with 1 b3, White has no pretensions of being able to get an advantage versus decent play, so this is purely a way to get off the starting blocks.

A similar opening is 1 b4, known variously as the Sokolsky, Polish, and Orangutan. Jerzy Konikowski & Marek Sosynski's 1.b4: Theory and Practice of the Sokolsky Opening. This is an encyclopaedic work, in the sense of trying to cover every reasonable continuation by game citation, usually in the first part of a chapter/section. Much of the main material is included in illustrative games (95 in all). The number of variations, citations, and suggestions is impressive, although it would be nice if there were an Index of Variations; the introductory chapter provides a sort of outline, but it's not ideal for that purpose because most readers will want to find particular variations and move sequences by page number. At any rate, it's obvious that anyone who plays 1 b4 or intends to try it out will want this book.

On the other hand, if your budget is limited to one chess book, or only one about 1 b4, then you can also consider Play 1 b4! by Yury Lapshun and Nick Conticello. The book has 84 annotated games, 20 of them Lapshun's own, which adds a personal touch. I should say, however, that there is far less theory and the theory is distinctly out-of-date by comparison with Konikowski & Sosynski's work. I prefer the latter, but one reason to get Play 1 b4! (if you have to make a choice) would be to get some more supporting prose and easier reading. Incidentally, I used both these works in my recent Mastering the Openings (Vol 4) section on 1 b4.

In addition, I used Richard Palliser's excellent Beating Unusual Chess Openings, a typically original Palliser effort proposing solutions to openings such as 1 b4, 1 g4, 1 f4, 1 b3, 1 Nc3 and others. He takes these moves seriously and doesn't try to find superficial shortcuts against them, so you'll actually have to work a bit to master the lines (which is a good thing). Palliser also discusses 1 Nf3, hardly an 'unusual opening', in a few chapters (it's of course impossible to give a truly complete repertoire against it, but there are good ideas). But the truly out-of-place subject is the English Opening, about as mainstream as you can get, which uses up only slightly less than half the book! Although I gladly used this material and attempted to improve upon it when writing my recent volume on the English Opening, I really think that Palliser should have simply written a shorter book, perhaps beefing up his sections on the openings that are actually unusual. It might even have been less expensive in that form. Nevertheless, Beating Unusual Chess Openings is a fine book for filling in your repertoire against those strange first moves, and the author has done his usual excellent job.

Dangerous Weapons: The Benoni and Benko is still another in the DW series, this one co-authored by John Emms, Richard Palliser, Chris Ward and Gawain Jones. Obviously the Modern Benoni is a focus, for example, 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nf3 g6 7 Qa4+!?, and 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 e4 g6 7 Nf3 Bg7 8 h3 a6 9 a4 Nbd7 10 Bd3 Nh5 (before castling). But there are also chapters on the Czech Benoni, the Blumenfeld Gambit, the 'Snake', and four on the Benko Gambit, three from Black's point of view and one from White's (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 Bg5). I haven't read much of it, but in any case the target audience is obvious.

Chess Explained: The Grünfeld by Valentin Bogdanov is a typical (and good) Chess Explained book: 25 games in 128 pages, although with considerably more verbal explanation than most books in the series. Interestingly, Viacheslav Eingorn, the creative theoretician and author whose books I've discussed, writes the Introduction to the chapter on the crazy 8 Rb1 Exchange Variation and contributes a game with notes. Bogdanov doesn't seem to add much analysis to the basic games and game references; rather, he is interested in explaining. Thus I'd recommend this book to the average tournament player and stronger players up to just below master. Players at a higher level probably won't get much out of it.

To be fair, I should also mention Yelena Dembo's 2007 work Play the Grünfeld, which unfortunately I haven't used enough to make a fair judgment about. The book covers the entire Grünfeld Defence and uses a traditional structure without illustrative games. That is definitely a smart choice when trying to cover this massively theoretical opening in only 192 pages, because annotated games use up considerably more space. Dembo has a wonderful annotated Bibliography with a brief description of each book, website, and electronic source; I wish that more authors could do this (or even have serious Bibliographies; increasingly, opening books seem to neglect earlier writers' very important ideas and suggestions). There is also a clear Index of Variations. My impression is that we have a competent book with plenty of original analysis. At the very least, it would be a good introductory work for those who haven't played the opening very much (or at all). Regular Grünfeld players of all strengths will also benefit from the author's analysis and organization.

This discussion should also include Alexei Shirov's 2007 DVD My Best Games in the Grünfeld. If you like the Shirov lectures about other openings, you'll undoubtedly like this as well. I took a look at only one section, and should repeat my usual observation that some players like to get their chess information in a video format (one of my friends watches them while pedaling on his exercise bike), and those are the most obvious audience, whereas even obsessive book readers like me enjoy these DVDs and learn from them.

Andrew Greet's Starting Out: The Accelerated Dragon is about one of my least favourite openings. Too many teachers have their students learn the Accelerated Fianchetto (the customary name) because the ideas are so simple and there are early traps that are easy to memorize. But in my experience, too many students who use the opening learn only to make automatic moves, however inappropriate they may be, and don't get the idea of thinking independently. Well, it's not all bad, of course, and a sophisticated player can infuse some life into it, as shown in two earlier works, one by Jeremy Silman & John Donaldson, and another by Carsten Hansen & Peter Heine Nielson. Both of those books are superb, and long past the need for updating, a task that Starting Out: The Accelerated Dragon clearly fulfills.

I reviewed Michael Melts' first 2001 edition of Scandinavian Defense: The Dynamic 3...Qd6 in Column #46. Basically this is an update of an opening (1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qd6) that has become far more popular since that time, and is in fact now the 'main line' of the Scandinavian among top players. My earlier review goes into detail. This is the main resource that I use for 3...Qd6 on my ChessPublishing site.

One more entry in the Dangerous Weapons category is Dangerous Weapons: Flank Openings by Richard Palliser, Tony Kosten and James Vigus. Tony Kosten is one of the best writers around on the English Opening, and he plays what he preaches. In this book, he promotes the lines 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 e4, 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 dxc4 3 e4, and the 'Enhanced Benoni (1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 e6 3.b3 Nf6 4.Bb2 Be7 5.g3 0-0 6.Bg2 c5 7.0-0 Nc6 8.e3 d4)', which is actually a main line of the Reti. The last variation is not what it might seem, since Kosten is actually advocating for the White side (after 9 exd4 cxd4 10 Re1), and uses a clever and effective innovation introduced (I think) by Alex Fishbein.
Maybe using the Mikenas Attack (1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 3. e4) is cheating a bit on the 'Dangerous Weapons' concept, since it's surely a main line in the English Opening (you should see the space I devote to it in my English Opening volume 3 of Mastering the Chess Openings!); but I suppose most readers who play the English won't object to getting a potential repertoire-booster.

The book contains 10 variations in 12 chapters, 8 of those chapters viewed from the White side. James Vigus contributes two lines from Bird's Opening, an anti-From's Gambit and the 'Polar Bear' (Danielson's 1 f4 d5 2 Nf3 g6 3 g3 Bg7 4 Bg2, with moves 0-0, d3, and in many cases c3 and Na3 to come). Palliser 'fights back' against Kosten's favourite 1 c4 e5 2 g3 with 2...c6, and a particularly interesting line for Black is 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 e5 5 Nb5 a6: 6 Nd6+ Bxd6 7 Qxd6 Qf6, sort of like a Löwenthal Sicilian, but with White's pawn on c4 instead of e4. This is an entertaining and well-written book, but I should say that many readers out there may not find enough overlap with their own repertoire to interest them. Perhaps in the next edition they'll shorten some of the lengthy sections and add 3 or 4 more.

Neil McDonald is one of the best, if not the best, authors for explaining the ideas of an opening, and his book How to Play against 1 e4 is well-suited for highlighting his skills in that regard. The book features a repertoire with the French Defence. McDonald is the grandmaster who ran the French Defence site for ChessPublishing.com for many years (until recently), and has written several books on the French Defence over the years, all of high quality. The variations he chooses here are for the most part not the main lines, and some might even be considered a bit eccentric, for example, 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 b6!?. Here, as elsewhere, he offers a second repertoire option, the better known, but still not mainstream, 3...c5 4 c3 (and alternatives) 4...Qb6 5 Nf3 Bd7 with the idea ...Bb5. Versus both 3 Nc3 and 3 Nd2, his first choice is the Fort Knox Variation, 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Bd7 with the idea ...Bc6. I've never been a great fan of this line but it's playable. As an alternative versus 3 Nc3, he suggests the Classical with 3...Nf6, playing a solid line versus 4 e5, and the MacCutcheon versus 4 Bg5, that is, 4...Bb4 (with the main line 5 e5 h6 6 Bd2 Bxc3 7 bxc3 Ne4 8 Qg4 Kf8). The Tarrasch (3 Nd2) can also be answered by 3...Be7, which has become one of the most commonly-played lines in the French. The book has 54 illustrative games and is pitched at a non-technical level, without dense theory but with an emphasis on understanding the basic concepts. This looks like a good first book for the prospective French Defence player.

Going back in time a bit, I've talked repeatedly on my ChessFM radio show about the book A Strategic Opening Repertoire (second edition) by John Donaldson & Carsten Hansen, both with the authors themselves and separately, but have neglected to cover it in this column. The 2007 edition is a remake and expansion of Donaldson's 1998 classic, which so many players relied upon for their White opening repertoire. Way back in review column #3 I wrote about this book, which gives White a system-based repertoire beginning with the moves 1 Nf3, 2 c4, and 3 g3 (depending of course upon Black's reply). You can refer to that review to get the basic idea.

Finally, Tim Taylor's Bird's Opening is a still older work (2005!) that I unfortunately missed when it came out. I got the book recently and have used it quite a lot in writing my new book Mastering the Chess Openings, Volume 4, which has a lengthy chapter on the pair of reversed openings the Dutch Defence and Bird's Opening. Taylor has done a very good job of humanizing the opening with his notes and analysis. He puts four of the chapters in terms of the Dutch, calling them the 'Classical Bird', Leningrad Bird', Antoshin Bird' and 'Stonewall'. Three of the best chapters are about the From's Gambit; Taylor demonstrates in detail why he thinks that Black can't equalise versus accurate play. The book is strewn with new ideas and suggestions. I had a fair number of disagreements, but in any case this is the only serious, relatively up-to-date book on Bird's Opening, and a highly readable one.

Whew! This brings me to the end of openings for the time being. I intend to do a similar catching up with other genres next.


IM John Watson - Photo © Jonathan Berry

John Watson is an International Master, teacher, and author of numerous books, including the award-winning Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy and Chess Strategy in Action. His most recent work is the 4-volume Mastering the Chess Openings. John writes for the website ChessPublishing and conducts weekly interviews of leading chess personalities on ChessFM (ICC).

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