John Watson Book Review (67)
In the Beginning There Was Theory
IM John Watson - Friday 8th April 2005
Chess Publishing; Website 2004
Sizilianisch für Mussiggänger by Valeri Bronznik; 174 pages; Schachverlag Kania 2004
The Chess Advantage in Black and White; Larry Kaufman; 497 pages; Random House/McKay 2004
Chess Informant 90; Z Krnic, Chief Editor; 380 pages; Chess Informant 2004
New in Chess Yearbook 71; R Otholf, supervisor & G Sosonko, Editor; 243 pages; New in Chess 2004
As always, scads of opening books are hitting the chess market. Unfortunately, more and more of them consist of tiresome strings of downloaded games, too-general remarks, and perfunctory analysis. The sad part is that a many good writers who previously produced high-quality work are cranking out superficial books and CDs on every topic from endgames, tactics, training and beginning chess to facile psychology and stereotyped middlegame strategy. This leaves little time for them to really concentrate upon and do the research for opening books, and the results reflect the effort. The average player will learn much more by using a database, constructing a tree of variations (automatic in ChessBase), and studying the games of the top practitioners of the opening in question. This forces you to think for yourself, and if you supplement your study with the tried-and-true resources such as Informant, New in Chess Yearbooks, or ChessBase Magazines, you will develop a deeper understanding of an opening than a whole set of this type of opening books will give you.
In the next few columns I will devote space to the opening products that I feel are outside of this mold and uniquely enlightening. Their worth derives from hard work and original thought as well as usefulness and ease of presentation. I start with a website, move on to a rather obscure German book, and then talk at length about Larry Kaufman's new and already influential work. Finally we look at some old standbys.
http://www.chesspublishing.com is the site of Chess Publishing, which I reviewed a couple of years back (review#18 in the archives), but haven't discussed since. This is a paid site which offers systematic, current online analysis of chess openings. Annotations are done by GMs and IMs. The reader can go over games and notes on the site, and the supplementary program ChessPub allows one to play over, organize, and download all the games that have been annotated by the contributors over the years.
Ten of the twelve contributors are GMs and the other two are IMs. Each one is a specialists in the openings they discuss and almost all have been contributors to the theory involved. One great advantage to this site is that the important games are selected by these masters and are annotated with pertinent suggestions and opinions. Here's a quick summary of a few the sites with an example or two about what I saw in them:
I have used Neil McDonald's French Defence site for years to help me keep up with the latest games. His analysis has gone directly into my books and articles. This month's annotated games include, among others: (a) a main line of the 3...Be7 Tarrasch (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Be7 4.Bd3 c5 5.dxc5 Nf6 6.Qe2 Nc6 7.Ngf3 Nb4 8.Nb3 Nxd3+ 9.cxd3 a5 10.Bg5 a4 11.Nbd2 h6 12.Bxf6 Bxf6 etc.) He includes a game with high theory played between two 2200 players!; (b) a new look at the problem line 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.c3 c5 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.Ngf3 g6, when 8.h4 has given Black some trouble. M Gurevich played the simple 8...Be7 against Navara, intending 9.h5 g5. The new idea was that after 9.0-0, Gurevich played 9...h6 10.0-0 cxd4 11.cxd4 Bxh4 11.Nxh4 Qe7, when Bg5 or Bh6 is not available. White got good compensation but it's not clear who stands better. Just recently against Zhang Pengxiang Gurevich tried to play even more flexibly by 8...h6. The game went 9.0-0 g5 10.h5 Qb6 with an extremely interesting position; (c) 3 games with the latest discussion of the MacCutcheon line with 6.Be3 (after 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4 5.e5 h6); (d) an innovation in the venerable old Winawer line 6...Ne7 7.Qg4 Qc7 that revitalizes Black's play with a new 23rd move!
Nigel Davies takes a different approach in his 1.e4 e5 column, devoting it all to the same variation: the 'Delayed Exchange of the Ruy Lopez Deferred' [which we used to call the 'Delayed Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation]: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Bxc6 dxc6.
He examines 7.Qe1 and 7.Nc3 in detail. I think that casting a wider net, as McDonald does, is more useful to most players, but some will prefer an in-depth look which in this case gets to the bottom of a fashionable variation. In any case, the archives of games cover just about any 1.e4 e5 line one might want to investigate.
Chris Ward handles Dragon Sicilian theory, an infinite subject to be plumbed by devotees of this opening (the Accelerated Fianchetto is also part of this site). Ward is one of the world's leading experts on the Dragon so he won't miss much. Andrew Martin takes on the tough job of covering 'other' defences to 1.e4 such as the Caro-Kann, Pirc/Modern, Alekhine's, Scandinavian etc. That takes a lot of expertise in dissimilar positions. Part of his latest Caro-Kann section features Speelman playing 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.f3, a variation that is suddenly receiving serious attention.
The largest set of critical top-level games in any opening must be that in the Open Sicilian. John Fedorowicz takes on the Najdorf, Rauzer, Sveshnikov, Sozin, Taimanov, Paulsen, Scheveningen, etc. John has recently co-authored a book with Nick DeFirmian about the English Attack that occurs in a range of Sicilian variations, and he knows what he's doing on both sides of this opening. For those who don't play 3.d4 or need to know what to do about the alternatives, the well-known writer Gary Lane is in charge of variations such as the Bb5 systems, 2.c3, and the Closed Sicilian. These are always popular, all the more so among players of average-or-below-average strength.
GM Ruslan Scherbakov covers the vast amounts of 1.d4 d5 material. One of the top-level games features a new idea in a Slav Defence variation popularized by Morozevich: B Jobava – K Kulaots, Istanbul 2004 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 Nbd7 7.Nxc4 Qc7 8.g3 e5 9.dxe5 Nxe5 10.Bf4 Nfd7 11.Bg2 g5 12.Bxe5 Nxe5 13.Qd4!? (a daring and very interesting try)
13...f6 14.0–0–0 Nxc4 15.Qxc4 Bd6 16.Be4 Bh3 17.Qd3 Be5 18.Bf5 Bxf5 19.Qxf5 Qc8 20.Qe4 0–0 21.h4 g4 22.Rd2 Qe6 23.Rhd1 Rf7 24.Rd6 Qxd6 25.Rxd6 Bxd6 26.Qxg4+ Kf8 27.Qf5 Be5 28.Ne4 Rd8 29.e3 Rd5 30.Qc8+ Kg7 31.g4 c5 32.f4 Bc7 33.g5 Bd8 34.gxf6+ Bxf6 35.Qe6 Rd3 36.Nd6 1–0. A nice game.
Glenn Flear has a challenging section of 'Daring Defences' covering the Benko, Budapest, and Dutch. This wouldn't be so bad but they've given him the entire Grünfeld Defence as well! I'm not sure why the Grünfeld is more 'daring' than the King's Indian, Benoni, or other defences, but it's a handful for any player. One can choose sidelines (slightly depressing ones for Black), but the mainline Grünfeld theory is getting outrageously theoretical. It's a little depressing that even 13-year-old Magnus Carlsen is involved in gross feats of memorization, here deviating from theory on move 33:
M Carlsen – E L'Ami,Gausdal 2004 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 0–0 9.0–0 Nc6 10.Be3 Bg4 11.f3 Na5 12.Bd3 cxd4 13.cxd4 Be6 14.d5 Bxa1 15.Qxa1 f6 16.Bh6 Re8 17.Kh1 Rc8 18.Nf4 Bd7 19.e5 Nc4 20.e6 Ba4 21.Nxg6 hxg6 22.Bxg6 Ne5 23.Be4 Bc2 24.Bxc2 Rxc2 25.Qd1 Qc7 26.f4 Rc1 27.Qxc1 Qxc1 28.Rxc1 Ng4 29.h3 Nxh6 30.g4 Rd8 31.Rc7 Kf8 32.Rd7 Nf7
33.h4 (the novelty! 33.Rxb7 is 'normal', and apparently about equal...) 33...b5 34.Kg2 a5 35.Kf3 a4 36.Ke3 b4 37.Ra7 Nh6 38.g5 Nf5+ 39.Ke4 Nd6+ 40.Kf3 fxg5 41.hxg5 b3 42.Rxa4 b2 43.Rb4 Nc4 44.Kg4 Rd6 45.Rb8+ Kg7 46.f5 Rb6 47.Rxb6 Nxb6 48.d6 exd6 49.f6+ Kf8 0–1. Ouch! All that study for nought.
In case you were thinking that the site is limited to critical and mostly tactical lines, John Emms has a column on the Nimzo Indian (mixed, it is true, with the Benoni), which is still the most important 1.d4 defence around and the linchpin of a great many grandmasters' repertoires. As with other contributors, John has written about and specialized in these openings.
The English Opening, Reti, Bird and other flank openings are chosen by Tony Kosten . As one might expect, the games tend to be highly positional and slow-going, but there is always an exception, for example, K Lie – A Fedorov, Copenhagen 2004: 1.c4 g6 2.g3 Bg7 3.Bg2 c5 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.a3 a5 6.Nf3 e5 7.d4!!? (an old idea of Miles') 7...cxd4 8.Nb5 d6 9.e3 Nge7 10.exd4 0–0 11.0–0 a4 12.Re1 Nf5 13.Bg5 Qb6 14.d5 Ncd4 15.Nfxd4 Nxd4 16.Nxd4 exd4 17.Rc1 Bf5 18.g4 Bd7 19.Re7... etc. (eventually drawn). Kosten has written a popular repertoire book about the English Opening.
This product is well worth the price of admission. There's no better way to keep current with and learn openings at the same time. You can subscribe to one, several, or all individual opening sites. Visit www.chesspublishing.com to learn more.
I have previously reviewed Valeri Bronznik's books in this column because I consider them of exceptional quality. His work on the Chigorin Defence was particularly original , stuffed with exciting material, and organized in a pleasant and useful way. Bronsnik's new book does not disappoint. Sizilianisch für Mussiggänger can be roughly translated as "Sicilian for the Lazy" [literally "Sicilian for the Idler", but lazy folk are the ones that study openings that don't take much work, whereas idlers probably don't study at all]. The idea is that one can play this opening without having to memorise a great number of lines.
The opening with which Bronznik is concerned goes 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Bc5. He calls this the 'Basman- Sale Variation' because it was played consistently by Michael Basman in the 1970s, and more recently by IM Srdjan Sale, who has used 4...Bc5 with great success throughout the 1990s. It should be added that IM Bronznik himself has defended the variation on a consistent basis; he has yet to find anything remotely like a refutation. It's exciting when some irregular opening for Black combines worth and playability.
As one browses through the book we find that its theory is surprisingly developed in certain lines. In fact some quite respectable players have experimented with it, for example, Emms, Christiansen, Stripunsky, Kveinys, Hracek, and Dobosz. In addition, Bronznik provides alternatives to other move orders, for example, 3.Nc3 a6 4.d4 (4.g3 b5!?) 4...b5!? 5.d5 Bb7. Those playing these 'irregular' variations include Gulko, Bologan, Serper, Adamski, Goldin, and other GMs. So it's not as though 4...Bc5 can only be attempted on a low level of play. Everywhere throughout the book the author offers original suggestions and alternate ways to play, so you are not squeezed into corners.
A typically original idea can be seen in Bologan – Nadanian, Moscow 2002:
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Bc5 5.Nb3 Bb6 6.Nc3 Ne7 7.Bc4 0–0 8.Bf4 f5 9.Bd6 fxe4 10.Nxe4
10...Nf5!! with the idea 11.Bxf8 [11.0–0 Nxd6 12.Nxd6 was played, when Bronznik suggests 12...Qe7 '!!' (okay, an exagerrated notation), for example, 13.Qd3 (13.Qd2 Nc6 14.Rad1 Ne5 15.Be2 Nf7!=) 13...Nc6 14.Qg3 Nd8! 15.Bd3 Nf7 16.Nc4 Bd8!? intending ...d5 and ...Be7] 11...Qxf8 12.Bd3 [12.Be2 d5 13.Ng5?! Ng3]] 12...d5 13.Ng5 Ng3 14.Bxh7+ Kh8 15.Nh3! Bxf2+! [15...Nxh1?? 16.Qh5] 16.Nxf2 Nxh1 17.Nxh1 Kxh7 18.Qh5+ Kg8, which is roughly equal.
As with Bronznik's other books, the fact that it is written in German is a legitimate concern for potential readers. Sizilianisch für Mussiggänger will naturally be much more comprehensible and engaging if one can read Bronznik's comments and explanations. Still, many chessplayers don't need more that the games, moves, and analysis to interest them. Otherwise a smattering of German will suffice to get you through the direct assessments and general concepts. Assuming that the language issue isn't serious, I can highly recommend this original and diligently-researched book to everyone.
Larry Kaufman has been a fixture on the U.S. chess scene for many years. He is also known as a Shogi Master and the author of chessplaying programs. Now the genial and insightful IM has written a book that draws upon his many years of experience with various openings. The Chess Advantage in Black and White, as the title implies, promotes separate repertoires for each colour. On both sides of the board he recommends playing classically with 1.e4 for White and 1.e4 e5 or 1.d4 d5 for Black. This leaves Black to defend against 1.c4, 1.Nf3 etc., when for the most part he recommends systems with ...d5 and ...e6 or ...c6, but prefers to get his queen's bishop out in front of the pawn chain if White plays slowly (as in the Reti Opening).
Kaufman explains his goal as follows: 'In chess, choosing simple opening schemes because they are easy to remember will give you equality with White, and somewhat inferior chances with Black. If you are content with this, get a book that recommends some simple development scheme, read it in one afternoon, and you are done. This book is written for those who want the advantage they are entitled to by virtue of the first move when they are White, and who want near-equality with Black, with chances for advantage if White strays from grandmaster-approved lines.' It is of course impossible to offer a concise repertoire that offers the advantage to White against every response, but the author's striving towards that goal makes this book exceptionally challenging and useful.
I've always thought of Kaufman as a 1.d4 player, so his choice of 1.e4 for White is unexpected. Like many writers promoting a repertoire, he not surprisingly picks relatively simple systems that avoid masses of theory, e.g., he meets the Spanish/Ruy Lopez with the Exchange Variation (3...a6 4.Bxc6). Likewise, the Sicilian Defence is countered by the Rossolimo (2...Nc6 3.Bb5+), the Moscow (2...d6 3.Bb5+), and 2...e6 3.b3, none of these demanding intensive study. Versus the Caro-Kann we have the Advance Variation with the safe Short line (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 6.Be2), versus the Alekhine's an ultra-sound version of the Exchange Variation, and so forth.
For Black, we have more of the same. He chooses 1.e4 e5, with the solid Berlin Defence versus the RuyLopez: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6, thus avoiding a myriad of theoretical lines following 3...a6 (including, incidentally, the Exchange Variation!). His Berlin analysis is tight and to the point; one can easily believe that with accurate play Black's bishops will always prove a match for White's space and knight pair. Versus 3.Bc4, he bypasses 3...Nf6 4.Ng5 and 4.d4 in favour of 3...Bc5 saying 'I must admit that trying to get an advantage or even a complicated balanced position as Black is rather difficult in the quiet lines of the Italian.' But it would be quite unrealistic to fit the very complicated 3...Nf6 into a book with two full repertoires. 3...Bc5 is consistent with the goal of providing Black variations that he almost certainly will be able to play for a whole career and not just until a good answer or even refutation comes around. Overall I think that the 1.e4 e5 repertoire is the strongest part of the book
Versus 1.d4, Kaufman chooses the Semi-Slav Defence (...d5, ...e6, and ...c6 without getting the queen's bishop outside of the pawn chain; one of many orders is 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 - generally...c6 comes on the move before or after ...Nf6). This is a defence that is traditionally considered fairly solid, with the tactical lines appearing well worked out and limited. From my databases it's clear that this has been Kaufman's defence against 1.d4 (it is also good versus 1.c4 and 1.Nf3) for many years. Unfortunately that opening has recently, and in some lines rather suddenly, proven extremely complex and difficult to handle, especially because White can choose to mix it up in several variations that weren't previously so dynamic. So perhaps the Semi-Slav doesn't quite fully fit into the rest of his repertoire (if I have correctly judged its philosophy). One example among many is that Kaufman wants to avoid the outrageously complicated Botvinnik variation (1.d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bg5 which now goes 5. ...dxc4 6.e4 b5) by playing 5...h6.
This has been a super-solid defence after 6.Bxf6 Qxf6. But in recent years the sharp move 6.Bh4 dxc4 7.e4 g5 8.Bg3 b5 has become a main line that is almost as crazy as the Botvinnik Variation. It requires a great deal of theory and really impossible to cover briefly (I know because I have played White several times). Another example is that 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Qc2 has become surprising intricate and sometimes explosive; one example is the popular 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.g4 line. To his great credit, Kaufman doesn't cop out or turn superficial. He rises to the occasion to meet the newer lines straight on and devotes much space and analysis to their tactical intricacies. I find no omissions at all in the general coverage given the obvious space limitations. Unfortunately, these lines are so tactical and subject to change that it's impossible to arm the reader against dangerous surprises, which is what the rest of Kaufman's repertoire so successfully does. For example, I think that I have improved for White upon his precise recommendations in both of the lines mentioned above. One feels that Kaufman may have kept this opening in the book because he is a long-standing practitioner of the Semi-Slav and a great expert in it. They will repay careful study, but lower-rated players or those searching for something that requires less time and memorization may want to look elsewhere. Various forms of the Queen's Gambit Declined/Accepted and the Nimzo-Indian complex are obvious candidates.
How to assess The Chess Advantage in Black and White ('CABW')? One of the most important qualities of an opening book is whether it is useful to the average player. In this respect Kaufman's work fits the bill; in fact, it's hard to overstate how well it does so. I have seldom if ever seen such a sound and detailed repertoire for one colour, much less for both. The literature on complete repertoires tends to be full of exotic and often dubious attacking lines; in my observation and experience these books are also full of weak analysis and holes, and most aren't even well-written. Other authors have given us bare or simplistic overviews of mostly punchless systems.
Kaufman's book presents legitimate and often very promising ways to play. He presents a vast amount of chess material. His analysis is on a high and relatively objective level very seldom seen in books that promote particular systems. In fact, the 1...e5 recommendations for Black in this book have already provided a core for the repertoires of one of my students and for two 2300+ players that I know! I'm sure that there also are a few GMs out there who could pick up some ideas just from reading it. In particular, Kaufman saves one the time-consuming task of finding continuations to employ against the various irregular lines. The value of time-saving and practical variations extends to everyone. Let me make it clear, however, that the coverage is necessarily simplified. Often the analysis is optimistic and ends at points that need clarification. I would say that CABW is useful for everyone, but primarily so for a broad audience that I see going from 1400 all the way up to 2100. This breadth is one of the book's strengths. Kaufman also has a great many original analytic suggestions (which he attributes to the role of computer programs), and they sometimes involve modern variations that GMs use, even if not too many super-critical ones. But Kaufman's biggest contribution in my opinion is his diligent investigation of current theory and application of his judgment to glean the most promising continuations against various lines. This is particularly true in some slow and apparently prospectless continuations. Naturally he has plenty of analysis that I would argue with on a technical level, but that's inevitable. I am extremely impressed by this unique contribution to the literature which reflects great effort on the part of the author.
Apart from the material dealing strictly with chess, there are some problems. For example, as Carsten Hansen points out, the book is organized by games and yet the reader often doesn't find out where the two opponents made mistakes or went wrong. Kaufman uses '!'s fairly often, but when it comes to main moves the '?' character is extremely rare. So as you are reading through a sample game (which might be played with very short time controls) you would think that the contest was extraordinarily well- or even perfectly-played, to the extent that Kaufman's ultimate assessment (in favour of the repertoire-player) is based upon a presumption of mutually flawless play. To be fair, Kaufman does give many verbal indications and explanations of why various moves are inferior. The problem is that these explanations are largely limited to alternatives in notes that are either known to be bad or fairly obviously so. Is the repertoire opponent really playing perfectly in the main games, or even in some important games in the notes? In one case I had serious questions about as many as 5 of the moves played in a game that was presented without annotation marks. This situation can cut into one's confidence about the final assessment of the variation examined, and indeed some optimistic assessments seem to be based mainly upon the continuation of one flawed game. I should add in Kaufman's defence that I agree with the majority of his analysis and feel that he makes appropriate choices of moves to prove his case. It's just that we need more clarification of which moves were good ones and which were flawed.
Another obvious problem is that there are almost no game references outside of the very main games. This is in spite of the fact that many of the most important notes tend to come from main-line theory and often stem from a specific game. Kaufman says that 'I have generally refrained from giving game or source references in side variations [jw: which make up most of the book], due to space considerations and because so many of the variations are computer-enhanced.' These strike me as feeble explanations. First of all, as someone who has written 26 books, I can tell you (and Kaufman surely knows) that game references take very little space. And oddly enough, he says 'Every recommendation in this book has substantial support from very strong grandmasters' and that 'the repertoire itself [is]... in fact basically a composite repertoire of some of the world's best players.' Since the games in the notes are unattributed, how can we know who these world-class grandmasters are, which lines they play, how recent the games are, etc.? Most of us would naturally be interested in which top-class players use our lines, if only to emulate the refinements those masters make. Furthermore, if the variations are computer-enhanced that's all the more reason for us to know when and where improvements came. Here's a brief example of how this makes a difference. Obviously it's tough to show a White advantage, however small, in the Spanish Exchange Variation. In the following line Kaufman doesn't mention that the world-class players are predominantly on the Black side of the board:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.0–0 Qf6 This move is dismissed by Kaufman in a 6-line note without references. A look at Megabase and recent TWICs shows that Black has a small plus both statistically and in performance rating. 5...Qf6 has been used by Morozevich, I. Sokolov, and Adams, the latter cited by Kaufman as a representative of several of his favorite lines. 6.d4 exd4 7.Bg5 Qd6 8.Nxd4 Bd7 Recently Belyavsky won a game as Black after playing 8...Be7 first, but the idea is not fundamentally different. Notice that we take this variation more seriously when we see the players associated with it. From Kaufman's note we might just assume that 5...Qf6 is an obscure and inferior line. 9.Nc3 Be7 10.Bxe7 Nxe7 11.Nb3
This is all from the game Magem Badals-Morozevich, Pamplona 1995, although it is presented without references. Mororevich played 11...0–0–0 which probably should have led to a small disadvantage. Instead, 11...Qxd1 12.Raxd1 is logical, and here Kaufman gives 12...0–0–0 13.Nc5 "with a healthy versus crippled pawn majority for 'free' " ( i.e., without having to concede any bishop-versus-knight imbalance). But in the book Surviving and Beating Annoying Chess Openings' (see the reference below) I gave simply 12...b6 (to stop Nc5) with ...0–0–0 to come, retaining the bishop in an open position and establishing a desirable pawn structure for Black. It's hard to believe that White has the slightest advantage in that case. In fact Black might take inspiration from Kaufman's favourite Berlin Defence when he takes up this line and pawn structure.
What else? I hate to carp on it again, but the lack of an Index of Variations is a severe drawback for a book like this which is organized by sample games and detailed notes. I simply can't understand why author after author neglects to provide this important feature, one that makes the reader's task so much easier. In Kaufman's book I had to jump around from game-to-game, page-to-page and note-to-note to find the specific lines and variations that I was interested in; this is irritating and unnecessary. It only takes a 2-3 pages to lay out the important variations and subvariations with page numbers, and if you devote 5 or more pages of this size you can cross-reference most reasonable alternatives from subsections and notes in considerable detail. A book of 497 pages would hardly suffer from inclusion of such an Index. To be very clear: a majority of the opening books which are organised around games don't have any Index of Variations either, so this is hardly a problem unique to the book before us. I just want to object (again!) to this lazy practice. It indicates a lack of concern for the reader on the part of the editor and author.
For all that, you should return to the fifth paragraph above and you can guess what relative weight I attribute to these criticisms. I think that they are far from trivial but by no means change my strong overall recommendation for the book. The quality of its chess content outweighs everything else.
Okay, let me turn to a few examples in areas that I find interesting. As indicated above, I have some problems with the specific analysis in the Semi-Slav section. I have few objections to most of the first part of the book (1.e4 as White) and in fact learned a lot about openings that I don't play, as well a few interesting things about those that I do. Before moving on, however, the reader is probably wondering what Kaufman does about the classic problem of the juncture at which a Black and White repertoire collide. In this case he has to recommend something for White against the Berlin Defence of the Spanish Game and at the same time must support the very core of his repertoire for Black. To resolve this issue Kaufman produces a minor sleight of hand: as Black, every line equalises or better. After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 Nxe4 5.Re1 Nd6 6.Nxe5, for example, Kaufman says that he prefers the order 6...Be7, and if 7.Bf1 0-0 8.d4 Nf5 9.c3 Nxe5 with 'near equality'. Anyway, he uses the game Shirov-Hracek, Lübeck 2001 to illustrate the main line 6...Nxe5 7.Rxe5+ Be7 8.Nc3 (Kaufman says that 'here or on move 9 I prefer 8.Bf1', which leaves the reader a bit confused as to how Black might proceed. It turns out this is added to accommodate his recommendation in the White section) 8. ..0-0 9.Bd3
9...c6 10.b3 Ne8 11.Qf3 d5 12.Bb2 Bf6 13.Re2 Nc7 14.Na4 Bxb2 15.Nxb2 Qd6 16.Rae1 Bd7 17.Bf5 Rae8 18.Bxd7 ½–½.
But needing to show something for White in his corresponding repertoire, Kaufman cites Borisek - Mitkov, Terme Zrece 2003, which continued 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 Nxe4 5.Re1 Nd6 6.Nxe5 Be7 7.Bf1 Nxe5 (here we have the confusing transposition 7...0-0 8.d4 Nf5 9.c3 Nxe5 10.Rxe5 d6 11.Re1 d5 12.Bf4 Bd6 13.Bxd6 Nxd6 14.Nd2 Bf5 when 'White must be preferred', but he goes on to say that 'it's not much') 8.Rxe5 0–0
9.Nc3! (Kaufman: 'I think that this is better that 9.d4 as analysed in the Black portion of this book, which was written before this game was played') 9...Bf6 (Kaufman analyses alternatives on each move, with White remaining better) 10.Re1 b6 11.d4 Bb7 and here instead of 12.Bf4 which led to a small advantage, he likes 12.Qg4 Re8 13.Bd2 g6 14.Bd3 a6 `15.Rxe8+ Nxe8 16.Re1 with a 'much superior rook' that gives White the edge. Shirov went on to win. All this is a bit confusing. Since he goes back to partially correct the record in Black's section, he really should have just admitted in that section there that according to his own analysis White keeps a small edge in all 5.Re1 lines and that Black just has to live with it. As a side note I personally suspect that Black is fully equal after 5.Re1 and that White gets nothing at all versus correct play! But that's not the goal of Kaufman' repertoire for White and in any case there are plenty of points at which Black can equalise in other defences to his 1.e4 lines, so this is no big deal.
As indicated above Kaufman presents a set of unambitious but still worthwhile lines against the Sicilian, about which I feel that he is overoptimistic. This is understandable given the context (getting an advantage versus the Sicilian with simple lines!), but nevertheless worth mentioning. I no longer know the theory related to what parts of his Moscow Variation hold up or don't, but I checked 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Bd7 4.Bxd7+ Qxd7, which used to frustrate me when trying to teach 3.Bb5+ as an anti-Sicilian weapon. Kaufman gives both 5.0–0 (without c4) and 5.c4 for White. I was interested in the former and was a little surprised at Kaufman's enthusiasm for 5.0–0 Nc6 6.Qe2 Nf6 7.Rd1 ('!').
Now he uses 7...Rc8 as his main line. Against the logical 7...g6 Kaufman suggests the line 8.c3 Bg7 9.d4 etc., with a nice advantage for White. But with the c3 square unavailable for a knight, Black could have played the forcing line 8...Qg4! which hits e4 and certainly should have been mentioned, e.g., here's a few plausible lines: 9.d3 (9.Re1 Ne5 – even 9...Bg7 improves upon Kaufman's main line -- 10.Nxe5 Qxe2 11.Rxe2 dxe5 trades Black's odd pawn structure for White's gets a weak backward pawn on the d-file. There might follow something like 12.Na3 Bg7 13.Nc4 Nh5!? 14.d3 – 14.g3 0-0-0 -- 14...Nf4!? 15.Bxf4 exf4 16.e5 0–0–0 17.Rd1 Rd5) 9...Ne5 10.Nbd2 (10.Be3 Nxf3+ 11.Qxf3 Qxf3 12.gxf3 Bg7 13.d4 cxd4 14.cxd4 e6 15.Nc3 Ke7 16.Rac1 Rhc8 is also comfortable for Black) 10...Nh5 11.Nf1 (11.h3 Nf4) 11...Nxf3+ (or 11...0–0–0 ; or 11...Bg7 12.Be3 Nxf3+) 12.Qxf3 Qxf3 13.gxf3 Bg7 14.d4?! (but White's structure reduces the value of his centre anyway, e.g., 14.Be3 0–0–0 15.d4 cxd4 16.cxd4 Kb8 17.Ng3 Nf6; or 14.Ng3 Nf6 15.Be3 Kd7 16.d4 cxd4 17.cxd4 Rhc8) 14...cxd4 15.cxd4 Rc8 16.Be3 Rc2 17.Rab1 Kd7 with ...Rhc8 to follow.
Likewise, after his main line 7...Rc8 8.c3 e6 9.d4 cxd4 10.Bg5 Be7, Kaufman says: 'Effectively conceding that White has won the strategic battle in the opening.' He continues 11.cxd4 h6 12.Bxf6 Bxf6 13.Nc3 0–0
In Ovetchkin-Kobalija, Togliatti 2003 White played 14.d5?! Ne5 which 'activated Black's army', but Kaufman suggests 14.Rac1 d5 15.e5 Be7 16.Qd3 to meet ..Bb4 with Ne2. 'The blocked position favors knights over bishops.' But this is a standard French Defence position in which Black has traditionally done fine by advancing his queenside pawns and creating weaknesses. More ambitiously, because of his good bishop he can open up the f-file by 16...f6 17.exf6 Rxf6 followed by ...Bd6 and ...Raf8 with a standard French position that is at least no worse for Black. If White protects f3, moves like ...Qf7-h5 come. Perhaps this is a position that White can defend with equality, but not one that I would like to play for him.
Kaufman indicates several interesting ideas using the Tarrasch Variation versus the French Defence. This is especially so in the 3...Be7 variation where he goes for one of the most aggressive continuations 4.e5 c5 5.Qg4 and makes a good case for it, definitely improving upon some subvariations that I had thought harmless in my own French book. Those are likely playable for Black but are irritating positionally and more difficult to handle than I (or conventional theory) suggest. On the other hand, Kaufman apparently doesn't know about my suggestion 4...Nh6, but you can't have everything.
I do think that Kaufman has some problems trying to avoid the lines with 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 Qxd5 that are doing well for Black. His solution is 4.Ngf3, long thought to be harmless, and I think that it is. For example, after 4...cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nc6 6.Bb5 Bd7, Kaufman strains to gives White an advantage but I think falls short. In one dull variation (7.Bxc6 Bxc6) he would need to show an advantage when Psakhis correctly says that there is none whatsoever. And there is a more promising line for Black after 7...bxc6 that I like because it gives him positive chances; Kaufman has Black playing poorly and passively, thus neglecting fairly obvious improvements.
I also found the main 3.Nd2 Nf6 line to be quite interesting inasmuch as I haven't kept up with the theory. After 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ne2 cxd4 8.cxd4 f6 9.exf6 Nxf6 10.0–0 Bd6 11.Nf3 0–0 12.Bf4 Bxf4 13.Nxf4 Ne4 Kaufman suggests 14.Qc1 (avoiding the lengthy theory on 14.Ne2 and 14.g3) 14...Ng5 15.Nxg5 Qxg5 and says simply that the position after 16.Ne2 favours White:
This is typically safe but the assessment is probably optimistic. The theory and annotated games that I saw didn't bear it out, not even after the unambitious 16...Qxc1 17.Raxc1 a6!. The weakness on d4 tends to balance that on e6, and importantly the rooks will likely be exchanged on the c-file, as happened in the only game I found where the opponents didn't agree to a draw earlier! Nor has the main line with 16...Qf6 17.Qe3 e5 18.dxe5 Nxe5 been shown to give White anything, with Black's active piece play balancing out White's potential target on d5. This is open to argument of course. White gets play, which is the most important thing. However, I'm not sure how useful such lengthy lines will be to the average player. Usually Kaufman neatly avoids such messy theoretical choices in his book without sacrificing real chances for White; it's a bit harder to do so here.
Finally, in the Russian Defence (a.k.a. Petroff's) I'd like to look at the Kaufmann Attack (that's with 2 'n's and no relation to the author), which I recommended in Surviving and Beating Annoying Chess Openings ('SBACO', published in 2003 by Eric Schiller and I). This goes 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.c4. Here is great example of how Kaufman sidesteps the massive body of Petroff theory to present a simple but non-trivial system. Ever since writing SBACO I've been teaching it to my students and honestly believe that it holds some promise at any level. Kaufman generously credits our book in his introductory remarks, adding that it 'predated the novelty which motivated my recommendation.' Here's the line he's talking about, a truly critical one which is probably less convincing for White than Kaufman makes it seem:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.c4 Nc6 [One of Black's best moves] 6.Nc3 Nxc3 7.dxc3 Be7 8.Bd3 Bg4
Now comes the novelty Kaufman refers to, citing a game Iordachescu-Pavasovic, Bled 2002: 9.Be3! In SBACO we gave 9.Be4 0–0 10.Qc2 and followed Stefansson-Sokolov, Reykjavik 2000: 10...h6 11.Be3 Be6 12.b3 Bf6 13.0–0–0 a5 14.a4 Ne7 15.h4 Qc8 (In light of Kaufman's next comment, note that in this position White has a 20–7 ratio of attacked squares on the enemy side of the board) 16.Bg5! with a killing attack that led to a quick win. Obviously this can be improved upon, but it's not clear either that Black can fully equalise. Nor that 9.Be4 isn't as good as or better than 9.Be3. 9...Bxf3 Better than 9...Ne5 10.Be2 Nxf3+ (10...0–0!? 11.0–0 Be6) 11.Bxf3 Bxf3 12.Qxf3. Kaufman notes: "If you compare the number of squares attacked on the enemy half of the board (as advocated in some manuals), it's 14 to 1. It's no wonder the computers like White here". That is an interesting (and often relevant) way of looking at things, but is a harsh judgment upon those who play Hedgehogs and King's Indians! 10.gxf3 Pavasovic played 10...Ne5 here and Kaufman follows that game as his main line. He also analyses 10...Qd7 with a continuation that I find unconvincing for White: 11.Rg1
11...g6 Probably the best move, but 11...0–0 is also possible, when the ambitious 12.Be4 (12.Qc2 f5 13.f4 may be a better try) 12...f5 13.Bd5+ Kh8 14.Qd2 runs into 14...Na5! with ...c6 to follow. 12.f4 0–0–0 13.Be4. Kaufman stops here, favouring White's bishop pair. That may not be the case after 13...Rhe8 intending ...Bh4. Then I'm not sure how White should proceed. Not 14.Qa4?! due to 14...Bh4! 15.Bxc6 Qxc6 16.Qxc6 bxc6. Probably the whole line after 9.Be3 is dynamically balanced, with 9.Be4 needing more tests.
You can see how thought-provoking this book can be. I do think the repertoire would serve a large middle range of players better than it would strong masters, if only because some of the lines presented seem to peter out against informed opposition. But everyone, and especially those intending to form a repertoire for Black using 1.e4 e5, will find much of value in it. The Chess Advantage in Black and White deserves to be a bestseller and will likely achieve that status. It is simply the best comprehensive repertoire book that I have ever read.
Speaking of the best, it's easy for me to take the Chess Informant series for granted. At the risk of repeating myself, I can't overemphasize the position that Informants hold in the chess community. It is the bible of strong players and one of the most useful ways that average players can learn openings. This is due to the fact that every game is annotated by a strong player; usually a grandmaster and often one of the world's top 10. One forgets that the near-universally applied opening classification system (A00 through E99) originated with the Informant editors (I think), and the games are still presented in that order. Chess Informant 90 has a variety of features, the core of the volume being 501 games. High-profile annotators include Anand, Dreev, Gelfand, Kramnik (11 games!), Lautier, Leko, Shirov, I Sokolov, etc. Over the years World Champions Karpov and Kasparov have annotated scores of their games for Informant.
The core of Informants has always been the games, which cover every opening. But over the years Chess Informant has steadily expanded its offering. Chess Informant 90, for example, has regular features such as a vote of the top 10 games from the preceding volume as judged by Belyavsky, Christiansen, M Gurevich, Korchnoi, Matanovich, Piket, Speelman, and Xie Jun! A star-studded jury, to say the least. The 20 other games receiving votes follow. In Chess Informant 90 the game Short-Pogorelov, Gibraltar 2004 tops the list with a lengthy and beautiful combination/attack that would easily make the collections of 100 Best Games written 40 or more years ago. But so would a good chunk of these games, as would several from every Informant! We also see that even players in the second or third ranks of world chess produce astonishing brilliancies. One could unquestionably learn what makes an attack work by studying these games. On top of that, the positionally-oriented games in Informant are an education in strategy that will match any other. I have heard that Psakhis became a strong player by going over 100 games from Informants extremely carefully. I suspect that this technique would produce much better results than spending an equivalent time reading the 'how-to-master [the middlegame/endgame/tactics/training techniques/psychology]' books.
The Informant also has a list of the 10 most important novelties (and 20 other vote-getters) from the previous volume. This time the judges are Anand, Bareev, Benjamin, Yusupov, Lutz, Mihalchisin, Salov, I Sokolov, and Timman. Guess what percentage of top players read Chess Informant?
Other regular sections are selections of Combinations, Endgames, and Studies, along with a list of rated tournaments and results since the last number. Finally, each Informant has a special section devoted to the games of a leading player. In Informant 90 we are treated to a dazzling display of best games, combinations, endings, and novelties by Judit Polgar. This extends over 21 pages. For serious players, the Informant is the answer to that 'If I only had one publication to read, which would it be?' question.
The main disadvantage of the Informant series is the fact that they are wordless (except for a few informational pages – these have text written in 9 languages!). Thus one gets no positional or strategic guidance beyond that gleaned by implication from the game and notes. Of course this is probably a very good way to study if you have the discipline and time because (a) you are forced to learn for yourself and draw your own conclusions; (b) instead of being fed some generalities, however time-saving, you obtain a more subtle and nuanced feel for an opening by absorbing the timing and balance necessary to make those generalizations meaningful.
Perhaps that approach isn't comfortable for many players, and others turn to what is the other first-rank non-electronic publication for openings, the New in Chess Yearbook (NICY). Most eager masters get both Informant and NICY, but if you want to find specialized articles about individual openings NICY is the way to go. The core of NICY is the Surveys about particular variations, written by GMs and IMs including many of the world's best theoreticians. They are introduced by a short commentary and are followed by a lengthy game selection. A good way to show what NIC is about is to present the scanned and sloppily edited Contents of Yearbook #71. The Surveys first:
|Sicilian Defence||Najdorf Variation 6.Bg5||S16.3||Van der Tak||28|
|Sicilian Defence||Najdorf Variation 6.Be3 e5||SI14.1+8||Lukacs/Hazai||32|
|Sicilian Defence||Dragon Variation 9.Bc4||S118.6||Golubev/ Aagaard||41|
|Sicilian Defence||Dragon Variation 9.Bc4||S118.16||Anka||47|
|Sicilian Defence||Sveshnikov Variation 10...f5||S138.8||Nikitin||54|
|Sicilian Defence||Taimanov Variation 6.Be3, 7.Qd2||S140.2||Fogarasi||65|
|Sicilian Defence||Paulsen Variation 5.Nc3 b5 6.Bd3||SI41.9||Van der Wiel||73|
|Pirc Defence||Austrian Attack 4.f4||PU 11.14||Tzermiadianos||81|
|French Defence||Exchange Variation 4.Nf3 Bd6||FR 1.4||Boersma||89|
|French Defence||MacCutcheon Variation 4...Bb4||FR 5.3||Glek||96|
|French Defence||MacCutcheon Variation 4...Bb4||FR 5.4||Cebalo||100|
|French Defence||Winawer Variation 7.Qg4 0-0||FR 11.4||I.Almasi||106|
|Caro-Kann Defence||Classical Variation 4.Bf5||CK 10.3||Lukacs/Hazai||114|
|Caro-Kann Defence||Classical Variation 4.Bf5||CK 12.5||Greenfeld||120|
|Petroff Defence||Jaenisch Variation 6...Be7||RG 6.12||Karolyi||128|
|Ruy Lopez||New Arkhangelsk Variation 6...Bc5||RL 12.6||Lukacs/Hazai||136|
|Italian Game||Two Knights Defence 4.d3||IG 1.3-4||Tiviakov||143|
|Philidor Defence||Antoshin Variation 5...Be7||KP4.4||Fogarasi||148|
|Albin Counter-Gambit||5....Nge7||VO 15.7||Raetsky/Chetverik||155|
|Queen's Gambit Declined||Exchange Variation 3...Be7||QO 11.3||Boersma||160|
|Slav Defence||Krause Variation 6.Ne5||SL4.5||Rogozenko||167|
|Slav Defence||Meran Variation 6.Qc2||SL8.4||Karolyi||174|
|Tarrasch Defence||Rubinstein Variation 6.g3||ID4.16||Bosch||180|
|Nirnzo-Indian Defence||Rubinstein Variation 4.e3||Nll0.5||Bosch||184|
|Queen's Indian Defence||Miles Variation 4.Bf4||Q12.4||Gavrilov||189|
|Griinfeld Indian Defence||Anti-Grünfeld 4.Bf4||G13.13||Rytshagov||195|
|King's Indian Defence||Classical Variation 7...Qe8||Kl15.6||Greenfeld||200|
|King's Indian Defence||Gligoric Variation 7.Be3||KI 18.8||Van der Weide||204|
|Volga Gambit||Dlugy Variation 5.f3||B124.7||Tay||207|
|Queen's Pawn Opening||Trompowsky Variation 2.Bg5 c5||QP 7.14||Nijboer||212|
|English Opening||Reversed Sicilian 2...c6||EO 24.6+8||Raetsky/Chetverik||217|
|English Opening||Symmetrical Variation 4...d5||EO 36.7||Marin||222|
|Reti Opening||Markowski Variation 4.a4||RE 22.4||Dautov||229|
The Yearbook also features book reviews. In the case of #71 we have:
- Khalifman: Opening for White according to Anand: 1.e4 - Book 1
- Khalifman: Opening for White according to Anand: 1.e4 - Book 2 –
- Müller/Voigt: Danish Dynamite
- Sakaev: How to Get the Edge Against the Gruenfeld
Everyone's favorite sections (mine, at least) are The Forum and Sosonko's Corner. The Forum is full of fascinating reader contributions about every type of opening:
|Forum and Sosonko's Comer|
|Queen's Indian Defence||Nimzowitsch Variation 4...Ba6||QI16.11||Pezzica||10|
|Dutch Defence||Leningrad Variation 7...Nc6||HD 6.4||Edlund||11|
|Dutch Defence||Leningrad Variation 7... Nc6||HD 6.4||Conroy||12|
|Griinfeld Indian Defence||Exchange Variation 7.Bc4||G16.8||Da Costa Junior||12|
|French Defence||Steinitz Variation 4.e5||FR 4.4||Aagaard||13|
|French Defence||Winawer Variation 3...Bb4||FR 11.4||Watson||14|
|Sicilian Defence||Najdorf Variation 6.Bg5||S19.2||Van derTak||15|
|King's Indian Defence||Samisch Variation 5.f3||KI 40.5||Herbold||16|
|French Defence||Franco-Polish Gambit 2...b5||FR 1.3||Van der Tak||17|
|Sicilian Defence||Najdorf Variation 6.Bg5||S18.5||Busemann||18|
|French Defence||Chatard-Alekhine Variation 6.h4||FR 6.2||Da Costa Junior||20|
|Slav Defence||Botvinnik Variation 5.Bg5||SL 7.8||Van der Tak||23|
Sosonko's Corner is an article of varying length about just about any openings and/or ideas. In Yearbook 90 he talks about Sveshnikov and in particular his Gambit 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Bc4 5.d3 Nf6 6.Ng5 0-0 7.f4 d5!?. The games cited are from 2004, so this appears to be a hot line.
New in Chess Yearbook comes out periodically, usually 4 times a year (I confess that I don't get all the copies!). Every International Master that I know reads it (as I'm sure most grandmasters do) and many prefer it to the Informant because they like the writing, both in the Forum, Corner, and in the Introduction to the Surveys.