John Watson Book Review (40)
IM John Watson - Wednesday 25th April 2001
Franzoesisch Winawer, Band 1: 7.Qg4 0-0;
Stefan Kindermann & Ulrich Dirr; Chessgate 2001
Franzoesisch Winawer, Band 1: 7.Qg4 0-0; Stefan Kindermann & Ulrich Dirr; 342 pages; Chessgate 2001 (www.chessgate.de)
Although there are many new books and videos to discuss, I want to return to reviewing a single book that I like and think is important. The book above (with the ugly ‘oe’ representing an o-with-umlaut) deals solely with the French Winawer variation that goes 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4 0–0. The authors are GM Stefan Kindermann, who has contributed a number of fine ideas to French theory (and many, many more in this book); and Ulrich Dirr, a French expert who a training partner of Kindermann’s. GM Kindermann has been so involved with the evolution of 7...0-0 that Tal Shaked and I, in preparing 7...0-0, continually referred to a variation we called ‘the Kindermann line’ and in general used his original analysis extensively. For simplicity’s sake and in deference to his title, I will designate some of the authors’ analyses as ‘Kindermann’, and others as ‘K&D’, not meaning to slight co-author Dirr by any means. I should add that I have read and critically examined this book more thoroughly than any other opening book presented in this column.
‘French Winawer 7.Qg4 0-0’ is written in German and contains so much verbal explanation that a real issue arises as to whether it is suitable for English-speaking readers and others without knowledge of German. I believe that most French aficionados and those playing against the main-line Winawer (i.e., players who elect to play 3.Nc3, 4.e5 etc.) will get such great benefit from this book that they definitely should latch onto a copy right now. Others might want to wait for the English translation that is in the works, bearing in mind that there might be some time before it comes out.
For those who put a high priority on a quality physical product, the binding and production values are first class, using heavy paper and a two-ink system (red main moves, headings, etc.). Since the book encompasses 342 pages of relatively small type (extremely so in the ‘Encylopedic’ and complete games sections), one can readily imagine how thoroughly 7...0-0 is dealt with. Despite this, one should note that for the practical player who just wants something to play for Black, there are quite a number of independent systems that are sound and fully playable (much more on this below). Thus, if one hasn’t the time to explore this massive volume, one can fairly quickly prepare a repertoire with 7...0-0 by picking out one system (meaning for the most part one variation versus 8.Nf3 and one versus 8.Bd3). Primarily for this reason I had already planned to use 7...0-0 for the next (hypothetical) volume of my ‘Play the French’. Aside from offering some variety, my earlier repertoire line 7...Qc7 has grown increasingly complex. In my opinion, 7...Qc7 is currently in the best theoretical shape that it has been in for years, but it requires play involving hitherto unanalysed moves and very precise move orders versus a whole row of White options. Several of the lines with 7...0-0 similarly require the utmost precision to justify Black’s play, but it is easier to minimize their number; and in some cases, Black really needn’t walk the straight and narrow at all. Unfortunately, the player of 7.Qg4 as White (who incidentally receives intensive help in finding the best lines to play) must be ready for a great many Black systems. Such is chess, however, and with Kindermann an avid practitioner from both sides, the first player is given far more information, new ideas, and original analysis than is provided by any other source. Although the authors may not explicitly acknowledge it, I do find that they have a greater overall sympathy for Black’s cause, and put their maximum effort into finding good ways for Black to play.
Before delving into the details, let me present the organization of the books main sections:
Part 1. A 17-page essay ‘On the History of the move 3...Bb4’, including ‘milestones’ of 7.Qg4 development (i.e., the games in which moves were introduced). Here one also finds photographs of and quotes by important contributors to French theory.
Part 2. ‘Central Structures and Motifs’, 23 pages: see below.
Part 3. ‘Theory’, with (a) Model Games, 168 pages; and (b) Encyclopedic Presentation of Variations, 53 pages.
Part 4. Complete Games (unannotated and referred to by the Theory Section), 40 pages.
Part 5. Various Appendices, such as a Bibliography, exercise solutions, and a variation overview.
I will discuss Parts 2 and 3. ‘Central Structures and Motifs’ is an instruction section that presents bare structures, and then positions from practice or analysis illustrating the main central formations and maneuvers that arise from 7.Qg4 0-0. The structure material is split into two parts: positions with exf6 e.p. versus either ...f6 or ...f5, and positions in which the Black f-pawn goes to and remains upon f5. The treatment is thorough and a bit oriented toward Black; e.g., many structures are given with ...c4, ...f5, and ...cxd4, but White ideas with c4 not mentioned (potentially important after ...f5). This is a matter of emphasis and taste, of course.
The longer subsection consists of 23 pages of very relevant and intelligently chosen exemplary positions, supplemented by exercises. Many of the latter involve very difficult moves to find for Black, even for a long-time Winawer player. The exercises for White tend, with exceptions, to be more straightforward. Interestingly, many of the positions are so complex and unclear that one can legitimately argue with the authors’ solutions. Trying to do so is fun and undoubtedly expands one’s understanding. As an aside, it’s not clear that analytical engines (Fritz and Hiarcs, for this book) were used in every case, a trivial example arising in #23 (not worth showing here), when the authors have White playing an unclear move instead of an outright win. But I believe that they did use these analytical assistants extensively in the theoretical sections.
For those who have or will get the book, some exceptionally good examples of positional ideas are given on page 35, position 17; page 40, position 26, and page 35, position 18. Please take a look; the French Defence is a marvelous opening.
Page 42, position 30 has a short but lovely tactical idea for you to solve. (solution at the end of this review)
Black to move:
Part 3, ‘Theory’, is the core of the book. It’s ‘Model Games’ section is brilliant. This consists of 20 games, each representing an important continuation with every relevant deviation in the notes. The combination of analysis and extensive verbal guidance should please readers of all types. As many of you know, I generally dislike the exemplary games approach, which almost always leads to omission of important moves and to a confusing presentation. Assessments tend to be hard to find, if there at all, and the reader isn’t sure where the lines are located. But in this book the authors are obsessively thorough, and unlike so many ‘complete games’ books, the lines supplementary to the main game are analysed in at least as much detail as the main ones. Every line is referenced to the ‘Encyclopedia’, so the complete theory is always at one’s fingertips; and in the reverse direction, many Encyclopedia games with analysis are referenced to the ‘Model Games’ section. Thus one enjoys the luxury of extensive explanation without sacrificing clarity or the slightest detail. This is the advantage of having 342 pages to cover such a specialized line.
It is not uncommon for a single main move from the Model Game to have alternatives covering 2-4 pages or more, with considerable explanation. Kindermann and Dirr’s original analysis leads to a number of often surprising conclusions that I’m going to briefly overview. What stands out is the number of lines that are completely playable for Black, but K&D also draw new conclusions favorable to White.
After 7.Qg4 0-0 8.Nf3, for example, they find that:
(a) 8...Qa5 9.Bd2 c4! (Portisch) looks fine for Black;
(b) 8...f5 9.exf6 Rxf6 10.Bg5 Qa5!? 11.Bxf6 Qxc3+ 12.Ke2! Qxc2! (McDonald) may suffice for Black, although it’s not clear;
(c) 8..f5 9.exf6 Rxf6 10.Bg5 Nd7!? (Hug) is still playable – here they devote 8 pages and much original analysis to deal with all of White’s 11th moves. From the White’s point of view, Kindermann likes 11.Bd3 best, and indeed, for those who have/will get the book, I think that in Diagram 7 on page 75, White should try to improve by 16.a4 Qa5 17.Ra3 for perhaps a slight edge, although a move earlier, 15...Qa5 16.Qh3 Ng6 is possible;
(d) 8...Nbc6 9.Bd3 (also arising from 8.Bd3 Nbc6 9.Nf3) 9...f5 10.exf6 Rxf6 11.Bg5 e5! was already thought to be satisfactory, but K&D provide a thorough justification. And so forth (8.Nf3 has several adequate solutions).
Against the modern and theoretically more important 8.Bd3, K&D confirm theory’s conclusion that Black’s moves 8...Qc7? and 8...cxd4?! are poor. 8...Nd7 is also marginal, although their main line is perhaps capable of improvement: 9.Nf3 f5 10.Qh3 Nb6
11.Rg1! c4 12.Be2 Na4 13.g4. Here I analysed the move 13...fxg4 (instead of the game’s 13...f4? 14.Ng5! h6 15.Nf3 and White’s attack was too strong), finding it unclear but apparently okay. Perhaps 11.a4 is best instead, but a combination of ...Nc4 and ...Bd7 makes more sense to me than 11...c4(?), as given.
Still, the real point is that Black has 3 or 4 sounder resources versus 8.Bd3:
(a) 8...Qa5, the most recent try championed by Rustemov, is unresolved but holding up according to K&D. They suggest that moves previously considered weak might not be, e.g., 9.Ne2 cxd4!?, and find several new moves in the main 9.Ne2 Nbc6 and 9.Bd2 Nbc6 lines.
(b) More speculatively, after 8...Nbc6 9.Qh5 Nf5!? (supposed to be bad) 10.Nf3 f6 11.g4,
Kindermann finds 11...g6! 12.Qh3 Ng7 13.Qh6 Ne8! with unclear play.
(c) A more established order is 8.Bd3 Nbc6 9.Qh5 Ng6 10.Nf3 Qc7 (Hertneck), which I have long considered safely equal for Black (one can even improve on his play in K&D). If one wants a solid and easy-to-learn 7...0-0 line, this is one to consider strongly.
(d) And finally, there also seems to be more than one satisfactory line after 8...f5 9.exf6 Rxf6 10.Bg5 (after 10.Qh5, 10...h6! and probably even 10...g6!? work out satisfactorily) 10...Rf7 11.Qh5 g6 (safest, although even 11...h6 may be okay) 12.Qd1. Now Black has the older 12...Nbc6 13.Nf3 Qf8; or what Shaked and I used to call ‘the Kindermann line’, 12...Qa5, which is also fairly easy to play, e.g., 13.Bd2 (13.Qd2 c4! receives a very lengthy, original analysis from Kindermann) 13...Nbc6 14.Nf3 Qc7! 15.0–0 e5 etc.
The moral of the story is that White has a lot of work ahead if he wants to establish any theoretical advantage after 7...0-0. Of course, as stated, Kindermann and Dirr seem to me to have worked harder at justifying Black’s variations than White’s, so one suspects that more research might partially balance the scales. Therefore a question that naturally arises is whether White should still consider 7.Qg4 a powerful practical weapon. Given the system’s flexibility and susceptibility to new ideas, I would tend to say ‘yes’. The fact that some of the strongest players in the world continue to play 7.Qg4 is also encouraging. For now, Black is certainly ahead, but let’s see what the future brings.
I am extremely impressed by this book’s readability, depth, and originality. It is certainly one of the highest quality opening books that has yet appeared. The question remains whether such a massive volume on a limited topic will achieve sales commensurate with the authors’ efforts (similar to the issue that arises with Gutman’s 4...Qh4 Scotch book, but in a more mainstream variation, of course). Perhaps the thorough verbal guidance on these extraordinarily instructive pawn structures will attract a wider audience eager to learn about general French Defence ideas. I strongly recommend this book.
[For those interested, my review of this book is expanded upon, with more examples and diagrams, in the German-language magazine Kaissiber; see http://www.Kaissiber.com if you’re interested.]
Solution to problem position: 1...Rxf3! 2.Rxf3 (or 2.gxf3) 2...Nb4! 3.axb4 Ba4 etc.'