John Watson Book Review (68)
In the Beginning There Was Theory Part 2
IM John Watson - Thursday 18th August 2005
ChessBase9; DVD; ChessBase 2004
Play the King's Indian; Joe Gallagher; 208 pages; Everyman 2004
Offbeat King’s Indian; Krzysztof Panczyk and Jacek Ilczuk; 176 pp; Everyman 2004
NIC Yearbook#72; 244 pages; New In Chess 2004
The English Attack; Nick de Firmian and John Fedorowicz; 256 pages; Batsford 2004
The English Attack; Tapani Sammalvuo; 272 pages; Gambit 2004
The Dynamic Reti; Nigel Davies; 144 pages; Everyman 2004
Chess Openings - the Easy Way; Nick de Firmian; 248 pages; McKay/Random House 2003
The Two Knights' Defence; Jan Pinski, 160 pages; Everyman 2003
The Scandinavian Defence; James Plaskett; 192 pages; Batsford 2004
Experts Versus the Sicilian; edited by Jacob Aagard and John Shaw; 288 pages; Quality Chess 2004
Since I don't know when I will be able to review it, I'll just mention that the database program ChessBase9 is out. ChessBase is easily the most popular database/analysis program and is used by all of the world's top players and most of its tournament players. In my opinion this latest version represents the best transition from earlier versions that ChessBase has put out. With the earlier new versions I have always been frustrated with having to get used to new looks and methods of manipulation, finding old functions and trying to learn new ones. It was all too much, even though I eventually preferred using ChessBase8 to ChessBase7, ChessBase7 to ChessBase6, etc. This time the transition from 8 to 9 has been smooth and easy. There are new features, but none that have to be learned immediately in order to be able to function quickly and efficiently. A bonus that comes with ChessBase9 is a years worth of free access to the sophisticated and popular playing site Playchess.com. I hope to address this program in detail at some point, but for now I'll just recommend ChessBase9, with a less expensive upgrade if possible. Personally I couldn't do without it.
This column again tackles books about openings and associated subjects. Assessing the books correctly would require a massive amount of reading and research on the part of the reviewer (see the last column), but I've put more than enough time into a couple of them to be confident about my verdict. I will touch lightly upon the others, perhaps with only a short description. Those are included because my first instincts tell me they are good and useful books.
Let me start with a winner. Joe Gallagher is one of the very best writers on chess openings. He has always put tremendous effort into his books, looking at material afresh and adding a human touch to his writing. Gallagher, although an active GM, hasn't been afraid to reveal his private analysis while at the same time generating original material as he writes. Play the King's Indian ('PKI') follows that pattern and then some. It is a gem of a book, loaded with new analysis that will solidify the current revival of interest in the King's Indian Defence. I'm confident that high-rated GMs will look upon Gallagher's work with interest, and my students of middle-range tournament strength are already using PKI with enthusiasm.
As I indicated in the last column, books on openings are starting to resemble each other more while reflecting considerably less work by the authors. Writers who previously put out high-quality works seem to be frantically churning out rather superficial books on subjects ranging from beginner's books to endgames to tactics and other subjects. As far as openings books are concerned, there's almost a formula that one can follow and get the product out quickly. Essentially this involves letting a chess program download and organize material for you, at which point you talk with great authority about characteristic ideas of the opening. Toss in a few seriously annotated games and surround them with a great mass of game fragments interspersed with a few one-or-two move suggestions. If you haven't had time to go over the game fragments, explain what mistakes were made basing your knowledgeable-sounding insights on the result of the game. Then you're on to the next book. Notice that a much lower-rated player who has frequently employed the opening in question can do all of these things.
Play the King's Indian is as far from that description as could be. Gallagher is an enthusiastic devotee of the King's Indian a leading expert on it. He has written several books on the Kings Indian over the years and they've all been excellent: The Sämisch King's Indian (Batsford 1995); Beating the Anti King's Indians (Batsford 1996; see below); and Starting Out:The King's Indian (Everyman 2002). This last is a much simplified version of what became PKI and according to the author is 'primarily aimed at the inexperienced player or the more experienced player who was new to the King's Indian...it was heavy on verbal explanations and light on theoretical variations.' Regarding the new book he explains: '[PKI] also deals with all the major variations of the King's Indian but strictly from a Black point of view. It is largely based on my own personal King's Indian repertoire and the variations that have served me well over the years.' In fact Gallagher includes 25 of his own games. This is a practice that I am normally suspicious of, but the games are so specifically important for the variations under discussion, and so informatively annotated, that one can't imagine the book without them.
Here are PKI's Contents:
Part One: The Classical Variation
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 Nf3 0-0 6 Be2 e5
The Classical Variation: Modern Main Line
The Classical Variation: 9 Ne1 Nd7 without 10 Be3
The Classical Variation: The Bayonet Attack 9 b4
The Classical Variation: White's 9th Move Alternatives
The Classical Variation: 7...Na6
The Classical Variation: White's 7th Move Alternatives
Part Two: Other Lines
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6
The Sämisch Variation
The Fianchetto Variation
The Four Pawns Attack
White Plays an early h3
The Averbakh Variation
In the Classical Variation the inclusion of 7...Na6 as an alternative is a godsend for those who can't or don't want to bury themselves in the dense theory of the main 7...Nc6 lines. Gallagher recommends ambitious but sound variations throughout, for example, 6...c5 versus the Saemisch (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0-0 6.Be3 c5). The Sämisch Variation analysis is thorough and perfect for a repertoire, including several dynamic options against the popular 7.Bg5 and 7.Nge2. Gallagher's personal experience really shows through in these lines.
He suggests 6...c5 and 9...Bg4 (in the main lines) versus the Four Pawns Attack, and 6...Na6 versus the Averbakh (his spelling). Again, his Averbakh analysis stems from 10 years or so of playing this system. I think that some minor improvements should be worked in, however, as indicated in the review of the other King's Indian book below.
Versus the Fianchetto systems with g3, the author chooses his own 'Gallagher Variation' with ...Nbd7, ...e5, ...exd4, ...Re8 (with ...a6 at some point). The ultra-dynamic moves ...c5 and ...b5 to follow in most cases. The reader gets a world-class lesson about this system and one gets the feeling that the author is holding nothing back. Let's hear what Gallagher has to say about this variation, one that he has played against grandmasters for years:
'Although White's play is initially quiet, the Fianchetto is not a harmless system. It is, in fact, an extremely dangerous line for the typical King's Indian player. The positions can be very difficult to handle. In my early King's Indian days I suffered horribly in this line. Things got so bad that I just felt like resigning when I saw my opponent reaching for the g-pawn. These problems continued for many years until I discovered a way to create chaos on the board. In order to create this chaos Black has to take great positional risks but these risks seemed justifiable against the sort of player who plays the Fianchetto Variation. Above all these players want to control the game and they begin to feel uncomfortable when they feel this control slipping away. Make them dance to your tune and they won't like it.' This philosophy could be applied to many of Black's systems in the King's Indian Defence. The opening is not for cowards.
PKI is unquestionably dense with 200 pages of small print and only a modest number of diagrams. This allows it to be a serious book that can truly benefit even a grandmaster who plays the KID or wants to take it up. Gallagher's analysis of particulars is very impressive; this allows the practitioner to return to the book and find precisely has gone wrong or perhaps come up with something new. For the average-strength player, there is also enough explanation (much of it on a sophisticated level) that one feels close to the author's thought process and understands his reasons for choosing particular moves. There's even an Index of Variations! It may be only 2 pages long, but that's already a significant improvement over Everyman's normal practice.
I can't recommend this book more highly. As Gallagher points out, much less experienced players needing general ideas more than analysis might want to use his Starting Out:The King's Indian. The rest of us should take the plunge and read this new book.
Everyman's Offbeat King’s Indian ('OKI') should provide a complement to Gallagher's book by presenting in detail what Gallagher didn't have room for, i.e., the numerous side variations that White can choose and Black's strategies against them. Normally back cover copy shouldn't be taken seriously, but the claim 'All unusual King's Indian Defence lines are covered' is particularly ironic since only a couple of the many truly unusual lines are covered. The entire contents of the book are devoted to only 4 variations: (1) the Averbach, a traditional, main-line Grandmaster opening whose theory has been studied extensively for 50 years and is hardly 'offbeat'; (b) the 'Makogonov System' 5.h3 (after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6), a variation which is fairly popular today. For some reason the related Bagirov variation with 5.Nf3 0-0 6.h3 has not been included; (c) 5.Bd3 (as practiced by Seirawan), a sort of 'mainstream irregular' mixture that was more popular a few years back when there were also more King's Indian players; (d) 5.Nge2, which is rare enough to be called 'offbeat' as long as it doesn't transpose into other variations.
Here's a short list of what would be missing from a fairly complete treatment of irregular lines, taken from the chapters of my own book The Unconventional King's Indian ('UKID') published in 1997:
1. All seldom-played Bg5 systems, including [after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7:] 4.Bg5 (Smyslov); 4.e4 d6 5.Bg5; and 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Bg5 (Zinnowitz). Even the Torre with 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bg5 would be useful.
2. the above-mentioned 5.Nf3 0-0 6.h3.
3. all Bf4 systems, including 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bf4 Bg7 (London) with 4.e3 or 4.c3 intending Nbd2); 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.Nf3 (4.Bf4) d6 5.Bf4; and 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bf4 (Barry).
4. All irregular g3 systems, including at least 4 double fianchettos variations (g3 and b3) with and without c4; lines like 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0-0 5.0-0 d6 6.Nc3 (the Martinowsky System, difficult for Black to meet); and lines with g3, e4, and Nge2.
5. A host of other ideas such as: attack by 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Be2 0-0 6.g4 and 6.h4, or here the positional 6.Be3; and various Colle Systems with an early e3.
So the subject matter is limited but that just means that we get a specialized book about the four systems. The authors Panczyk and Ilczuk ('P&I') state their philosophy in the Introduction: 'We have tried to demonstrate how to treat this or that scenario, as well as what to avoid. This is not a compendium of knowledge about all the systems but a guide to the ideas which may occur, a manual that explains strategic principles and eases the journey around tactical themes.' We've heard that one before. But the book turns out to be primarily a set of games with a dense forest of game fragments used as subvariations. I don't see much truly useful advice on strategy, although the authors do provide commentary and descriptions about several types of positions. When it comes to analysis, most of the lines come from games themselves. So, for example, we get a fragment that favours White, and in the next sentence the authors say 'but [move x] would have improved for Black'. Some moves follow and it turns out that they are not independent analysis but rather from another game, and that game was improved upon by another game. A strange way to present theory, because the 'best' moves are assumed to come from a chain of earlier games not necessarily touched by analysis. Panczyk and Ilczuk do suggest various continuations for some lines. Apart from using the 1- or 2-move unexplained parenthetical entities that characterize opening books these days, they also make a stab at presenting some original suggestions and they evince true interest in investigating some positions. But too many times we are left with only a game fragment that is so badly played as to be meaningless. In the end I think that Panczyk and Ilczuk do the opposite of what's promised in their Introduction. They use the considerable space at their disposal to list games and to present a thorough and well-organized compilation of the actual practice of these systems. Unfortunately, I don't find much thematic unity to this dense flow of examples, and one gets the impression of a lot of database manipulation and a lack of depth.
Let's look at a few examples. I don't understand why authors generally don't make a dedicated search for other books dealing with their subjects, but they usually don't. P&I list only 4 books with the Encyclopedia E, two 1980 books of no real value for these variations, and a Polish book called 'Chess from A to Z'. But the theory on the Averbach is extensive and full if ideas. Everyman's predecessor published a book by Petursson on the Averbach, New In Chess Yearbook lists a series of articles on it and articles abound. NICY also lists no less than 13(!) surveys on 5.h3. OKI's publisher Everyman put out a whole book on 5.Nge2 by Forintos and Haag (2000) and NICY has an article on 5.Nge2. NICY has a feature article listed on 5.Bd3. And there are repertoire books that have to address these lines such as the ones mentioned above and books by Martin, Marovich (2 books) and others. My guess is that I've listed a very small fraction of the outstanding literature and none of it is listed. It would save the reader a lot of time to confirm that material from various sources had been incorporated or not. I'll compare two lines of OKI with the two older books mentioned above, i.e., Gallagher's from 1996 (updated by his new one) and mine from 1997. The Offbeat King's Indian's first chapter on 5.Nge2 has a mass of game examples, but doesn't address the literature. Sometimes this changes the importance of a line. For example:
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nge2 0–0 6.Ng3 c5 7.d5 e6 8.Be2 exd5 9.exd5 can be met by 9...Ne8 10.h4!? Nd7 11.h5 f5 12.hxg6 hxg6 13.Bh6
Now OIK gives only 13...Bxh6 (?) 14.Rxh6 Qg5 15.Qd2! Qxd2+ 16.Kxd2 Kg7 17.Rah1 with advantage, citing a Topalov game. But my book and even earlier Marovic's 'Play the King's Indian' gave 13...Ne5 ('=' Marovic) 14.Qd2 Nf7 15.Bxg7 (15.Be3 Bd7 16.a4 Rb8=) 15...Kxg7, e.g., 16.0–0–0 Qg5 17.Qxg5 Nxg5 with moves like ...Bd7, ...Nc7 and ...Rh8 to follow. We both think that this is equal. Regardless of the verdict, this was the line to investigate.
In the Bd3 variation P&I miss the key resource one of the very main lines:
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Bd3 0–0 6.Nge2 Nc6 7.0–0 e5 8.d5 Nd4 9.Nxd4 exd4 10.Nb5 Re8 11.Re1
Now after 11...Ng4 12.h3 P&I give only 12...a6 13.Nxd4 Nxd5 and 12...c6, both better for White and therefore leading one to think that Black should avoid the line. But it doesn't take that long an investigation to realise that 11...Bd7! gains a key tempo in the line 12.Nxd4 Nxd5. I gave this with games and extensive analysis (including 12th move alternatives) in 1997. In this year's PKI Gallagher says that 11...Bd7! 'is a much better move and to be honest I hadn't realised that Black could get such an easy game in such fashion.' He quotes 2 games to support that. Remember that Gallagher and I are devoting far less space than P&I to variations like 5.Nge2 and 5.Bd3; this again illustrates the danger of grabbing games out of a database without giving them enough serious thought.
Panczyk and Ilczuk do their best job with the Averbach Variation (5.Be2 0-0 6.Bg5). From what I see the authors have put more of their energies into those chapters. They draw upon hundreds of games, as in other sections. But this variation isn't an 'offbeat' one and has thus produced years and years of good games based upon accumulated playing experience and analysis. Thus games played with it tend to be more sophisticated and reliable than in the other variations in OKI.
Gallagher recommends the 6...Na6 variation, which I have both played and taught. Both he (in a 12-page chapter) and P&I (in 19 pages) offer an interesting layout of material. I found good coverage and some interesting differences in the line with 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Be2 0–0 6.Bg5 Na6 7.f4 c6 , for example: 8.Nf3 Incidentally, 8.Qd2 Nc7 9.e5 (Instead of 9.Nf3 transposing to a main line) is an unique move order that I don't see mentioned anywhere. Quite possibly 8...d5!? is the reason. 8...Nc7 . The current main line is 9.Bh4, when both 9...d5 and the dynamic 9...b5!? are apparently satisfactory, there is also the older 9.Qd2. On the other hand 9.d5!? (stopping ...Ne6) 9...cxd5! 10.cxd5 isn't much feared, but I it's not easy to handle and in fact gets different answers from the two sources:
Gallagher gives 10...Nh5'!' intending ...f6 and capturing on f4. He follows the eccentric but logical analysis by Seirawan that goes 11.f5 Nf6! 12.fxg6 hxg6 13.Qd2 Na6!, heading back to c5. This is a typically paradoxical modern line with Black taking 6 knight moves to get to a6 and f6! But I'm suspicious of the simple 11.Qd2, to which Gallagher replies 11...f6 12.Bh4 Bh6 13.g3 e5!? 14.dxe6 Bxe6 with double-edged play. I think the burden of proof is on Black after simply 15.Nd4 and I don't trust this line.
A similar game is quoted by Panczyk and Ilczuk without the insertion of 9...cxd5 10.cxd5. It went (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Be2 O-O 6. Bg5 Na6 7. f4 c6 8. Nf3 Nc7 9.d5) 9...Nh5 10.Qd2 f6 11.Bh4 Bh6 12.g3 e5 13.dxc6 (a possibility eliminated by Gallagher's 9...cxd5!) 13...bxc6 14.c5 exf4 15.cxd6 Ne8, and now they suggest 16.Rd1 with a clear advantage.
The best solution to the position after 9.d5 cxd5 10.cxd5 seems to be the immediate : 10...Na6. Panczyk and Ilczuk follow a game Sturua-Kempinski, Leon 2001: 11.Nd2 (a strange alternative would be 11.Bxf6 exf6 12.Qd4!? Re8 13.0–0) 11...Ne8 12.Rb1 (12.Rc1) 12...f5 13.0–0 Nc5 14.exf5 Bxf5 with a good game. White's 12th move isn't accurate, but the authors seem to have discovered the best way for Black to go.
After the older 9.Qd2
Versus the older 9.Qd2 Gallagher's repertoire follows the better-established solution 9...d5 10.Bxf6 exf6 11.exd5 .
[Here P&I cite a game with 11.cxd5 cxd5 12.e5 Bg4 13.0–0 fxe5 14.dxe5 (I think that 14.fxe5 f6 15.Rad1 fxe5 16.Nxe5 Bxe2 17.Nxe2 Qd6 is fine for Black) 14...f6. Now they claim that 15.Rad1 "would have secured White an edge". Does this mean that White gains a forced advantage after 9.Qd2 d5? That would be big news indeed, and it's incumbent upon the authors to either improve upon this line or elevate it to a high status in the chapter. In fact, I don't think that Black stands badly in the final position after 15...fxe5 16.fxe5 (16.Nxe5 Bxe2 17.Qxe2 Qd6 is very comfortable) 16...Bxf3 17.Bxf3 Bxe5, for example, 18.Nxd5 Qd6 19.g3 Rad8 20.Qe3! Rxf3! 21.Qxf3 (21.Rxf3 Nxd5) 21...Nxd5 22.Qf7+ Kh8 23.Rf2 Qc5 24.b4 Qe3 25.Rxd5 Qe1+ with perpetual check. ]
11...cxd5 12.c5 Bf5!? ('!'-Gallagher) 13.0–0 Be4 Black might also consider simply 13...Re8 14.Rad1 Qd7. 14.b4 Ne6 15.Rad1 15.Rac1 is played in Gallagher's main game but is less logical. 15...f5 16.Ne5 f6 After citing 3 games to get to this position, P&I stop here, saying 'with chances for both sides'. But since this is the main line of the variation, they really should take it further. 17.Nf3
17...Bh6 18.g3 g5 Here Gallagher says, 'Black has good play.' He should also have followed up on the position. The important continuation is 19.fxg5! Nxg5 19...fxg5 20.Ne5 Kg7 21.Nxe4 isn't working. 20.Kh1, and White seems quite a bit better, for example, 20...Qd7 21.Nxe4 fxe4 22.Nh4 Nf7 Or 22...Qh3 23.Nf5. 23.Qc3 Bg5 24.Nf5 Nh6 25.Nd6 f5 26.Qb3 etc. So once again the question arises: does this whole line favour White? For once it seems that both books have failed us. Fortunately we can bail them out by offering 17...g5! 18.fxg5 (18.g3 gxf4 19.gxf4 Qc7 20.Nh4 Bh6, or 19.Nh4 Qc7! 20.Nb5 Ng5! – threatening checkmate -- 21.Nf3 Qf7) 18...fxg5 19.Kh1 Qe7 intending ...Rad8 and ...g4. This should favour Black.
All in all you can see that I'm not entirely happy with Offbeat King's Indian. In my opinion the authors tend to slip into the passive belief that the available games will tell us what we need to know about a line, needing no more than the occasional suggested move to establish the truth. That's as good as much of what's coming out these days, but we should expect much more. Of course, the book will be a very useful compilation for anyone interested in these lines. In particular, one can get a good education about the ins and outs of the Averbach System.
A note regarding the last column. I just received NIC Yearbook#72, so the reader should be aware that it's out. I also didn't address the contents of the Forum and Sosonko's Corner. The former is a compilation of reader's contributions and comments on previous article. In #72, for example, we have letters about: (a) Weaver Adams and his contribution to a King's Gambit line (along with a reply by A.C. van der Tak, who had written the original article); (b) A game with lengthy theoretical notes about the Najdorf Poisoned Pawn; (c) An analytical contribution to the Budapest Defence (aagain with a reply by A.C. van der Tak, who again had written the original article); (d) a contribution by Jose Luis Vilela on the line 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.Nc3 Bd6 (the subject of an earlier NIC survey) 5.g4!?; (e) Comment on who gets credit for a French Defeence innovation on move 20!; (f) a contribution from Bogdan Lalic on the main line 6.Bg5 Najdorf; and (g) a suggestion of a fascinating new continuation in the Caro-Kann by Robin Edlund: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nc3 e6 5.g4 Bg6 6.Nge2 c5 7.h4 h5 8.Nf4 Bh7 9.g5!?.
Genna Sosonko's Forum has the GM addressing early g4 moves that "up to recently would have been regarded as bizarre or forbidden." These include (a) 3 ideas after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 c5 5.dxc5 Qc7 6.Nf3 Bxc5: 7.g3 Qb6 (another game went 7...a6 8.Bf4 Qb6 9.0-0-0 Qa7 10.e3 Be7 11.g4!, and still another 7.b4 be7 8.Nb6 Qc6 9.Nf3 d6, and now Sosonko suggests 10.g4!?) 8.e3 Be7 9.g4!? (from Bareev-Akopian, Wijk aan Zee 2004); (b) 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.g4 ('still part of the opening repertoire of many a top player as we speak'); (c) 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.g4. 'The number of top-level games featuring[7.g4] is still on the increase'; (d) 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.g4!? (Shirov's new move, already being tested by other top players):
Finally, Sosonko takes a look into the past at Bronstein-Simagin, Moscow 1967: 1.d4 Nf6 2.g4 ...
The next two high-quality books must be mentioned together. They are (a) The English Attack by the American GM team of Nick de Firmian and John Fedorowicz; and (b) The English Attack by the Finnish IM Tapani Sammalvuo! I remember how disappointed I was when both McDonald's and Psakhis' books on the French came out just before mine did. These authors must be feeling something similar.
De Firmian and Fedorowicz have written a rather technical book that thoroughly lays out the meat-and-bones of 2 variations. One is 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 with f3 to follow if allowed (i.e., 6...Ng4 goes its own way, but is covered extremely thoroughly). The other variation is the Taimanov with 2...e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Be3 a6 7.f3. A short 2-page section at the end treats the Scheveningen move order 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Be3 Nf6 7.f3 Be7 (note on 7...d5) 8.Qd2 0-0 9.g5 (note on 9.0-0-0 d5) 9...Nxd4 10.Bxd4 a6 11.0-0-0 b5 and the game has transposed to one in the main part of the book. I should also point out that the important order 6.f3 Qb6 (otherwise White avoids 6.Be3 Ng4 for free) is given 7 pages.
The authors have divided the material such that de Firmian writes the sections with 6...e5 and 6..Ng4 while Fedorowicz is responsible for sections with 6...e6 and (I think) theTaimanov. I'll refer to the book as a whole as de Firmian and Fedorowicz, or 'D&F'.
Here are the Contents:
Definitions of Symbols 6
The English Connection 7 (sample games)
The Najdorf Variation 15
Lines where Black plays ...e5 15
Chasing the bishop with ...Ng4 76
Lines where Black plays ...e6 98
The Taimanov Variation 200
The Scheveningen Variation 250
Index of Variations 253
The Index of Variations isn't extensive but allows you to find relevant lines by page number, which is absolutely necessary to cope with the unique structure. That structure can be described as follows: (a) In the first section of a variation, the initial moves are given with notes on alternatives and move orders; (b) Having established the main move order up to a certain point, the next section either continues to extend the main move order with notes on alternatives, or moves on to sample games. For example, in the first section on the Najdorf ('Lines where Black plays ...e5'), the authors begin with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 (the Najdorf) 6.Be3 e5. They continue 7.Nb3 (with a brief note on the non-English-Attack move 7.Nf3) 7...Be6 (brief note on 7...Be7 and transpositions) 8.f3 (note on the alternative move order 8.Qd2)
Now 8...Nbd7 is given as the main line. This time there are more detailed notes on 8..Be7, 8...h5, 8...d5, and 8...Nc6. What isn't immediately clear is that 2 of those moves, 8...Be7 and 8...h5, will receive much more attention later in separate sections of their own.
At this point (after 8...Nbd7), a new section starts with 9.g4 Nb6 10.g5 (notes and game fragments with 10.Qd2) 10...Nh5! (note on 10...Nbd7 11.Qd2 games) 11.Qd2 Be7 12.0-0-0 (note on 12.Qf2!?) 12...Rc8 (note on 12...0-0) 13.Rg1 (note on 13.Kb1). This is the end of a section and the beginning of complete games section. In this case the first is Leko-Anand, Dortmund 2003. Now the notes become more detailed, although there are fewer games imbedded in them than occur later in the book with other systems. The game is annotated normally, with explanations and options, but also contains imbedded games, e.g., after 13...0-0 14.Kb1, there is a note containing 3 game fragments with 14.Qf2 and 14...Nc4 or 14...Rxc3, as in the game Svidler-Topalov, Wijk aan Zee 2004 (the game references are right up to date!). As we continue with Leko-Anand, rather depressingly, there is a note to the 26th move with a game Bacrot-Lautier which improves for White and leads to a win for him! Sigh. In the Leko-Anand game, Black goes on to win in 46 moves.
Now it gets a little tricky because we move to yet another section dealing with the position after 13...0-0 14.Kb1 and showing games and analysis with 14...Qc7 and 14...Nc4. What is the main line begins with 14...g6 15.Nd5 (two games quoted with alternatives) 15...Nxd5 etc. Finally this main line becomes a complete game Smirin-Lutz, Elista 1998. All this is fairly easy to follow once one gets used to it, but still not ideal for locating positions quickly. By the way, it show the force of the f3/g4 plan that in almost every one of the types of Najdorf English Attacks, one of Black's main options is to answer f3 with ...h5, thus preventing g4!
In general, although de Firmian and Fedorowicz supply relevant comments about the various types of positions, this is primarily a download of games that they annotate by means of suggestions and analysis. Since precise move orders and memorization are key to playing these mostly tactical lines, that is a legitimate approach. As someone who doesn't play these lines and potentially would be taking them up, I do wish that there were some more explanation and summaries about what moves work and fail with suggestions for best play. It's also too bad that John Fedorowicz didn't add a chapter about the Sozin/Rauzer order 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 (with Bg5 and f3 or Be3 and f3). Some of this material is covered by transposition in the ...e6 lines with ...Be7 and ...Nc6, but John must know this subject as well as any leading player. That also applies for these authors about the English Attack in general, in a more practical sense than in an encyclopaedic one. I'd be very surprised if they didn't correctly assess the worth of a high majority of the variations given.
Tapani Sammalvuo's English Attack is quite different. He has more pages and much more material per page because the pages are significantly bigger. Thus he has the luxury of both detailed treatments and much more text, including strategic sections and Chapter Summaries with conclusions, 'Tips' and 'Rules of Thumb'. These are very helpful for non-experts (like me). Right off we see that Sammalvuo devotes 16 pages to 6.f3, which avoids 6.Be3 Ng4. Then Black can bypass transposition by 6…b5 or 6…Qb6, the latter by far the most important option. By contrast D&F have only 7 pages on 6.f3 Qb6 and nothing on 6.f3 b5 (although that's of lesser importance anyway).
In general, Sammalvuo has this luxury, e.g., with 18 large pages on what he considers the main line [1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e6 7.f3 b5 8.g4 h6 9.Qd2 Nbd7 10.O-O-O Bb7 11.h4 b4 12.Na4], as opposed to 12 smaller ones for Fedorowicz. In his massive 43-page chapter on '6...Ng4 and Unusual 6th Moves for Black', Sammalvuo is able to include 4.5 dense pages on alternatives like 6...Nbd7, 6...b5?!, and 6...Qc7, which as far as I can see are not mentioned by De Firmian. There's no particular reason that they should include such material, of course, but it does give the reader of Sammalvuo's book a little bonus. He also includes a 15-page Chapter on 6...e5 7.Nf3. This time we have something certainly out of place in a book about the English Attack! On the other hand, there are no rules about what one has to write. The Chapter is an investigation that one can't find elsewhere and very useful for players on either side of that move. In particular, it offers White a way out of 6...e5 7.Nb3, whereas he can keep the English Attack for 6...e6. I don't like 7.Nf3 much, but as Black I would have to know how to defend against it.
There's something very important to note, however, when it comes to coverage: Sammalvuo doesn't even include the Taimanov Variation in his book, a line that D&F devote 50 pages to. Obviously players looking for a scheme of attack with Be3/f3 versus both the Najdorf and Taimanov (or even just th Taimanov) will get more out of de Firmian and Fedorowicz' work.
Here are the Contents:
A Small Attacking Guide (5 pages)
The English Attack Against Other Sicilians (2 pages)
1 The New Move-Order 6 f3 17
2 6...Ng4 and Unusual 6th Moves for Black 33
3 The Najdorf Line 6...e5: Introduction and the Positional 7 Nf3 76
4 The Najdorf Line 6...e5 7 Nb3: Introduction and the Hypermodern 8...h5 90
5 The Najdorf Line 6...e5with 8...Be7: Early Deviations and the Dubious 10...h6?! 110
6 The Najdorf Line 6...e5 with Early Castling by Black 121
7 The Najdorf Line 6...e5 with 8...Nbd7: Introduction and the Modern 9 g4 142
8 The Najdorf Line 6...e5 with 8...Nbd7: The Old 9 Qd2 156
9 The Scheveningen Line 6...e6: Early Deviations 168
10 The Scheveningen Line 6...e6 with 8...Nbd7 184
11 The Scheveningen Line 6...e6 with 7...Nc6 202
12 The Scheveningen Line 6...e6: The Main Line 8...h6 without 12 Na4 225
13 The Main Line: The Critical 12 Na4 252
Index of Variations (3 pages, well-organized)
Some comments out of Sammalvuo's Introduction: 'The English Attack is an extremely fascinating and difficult line; it is significant that every one of the current world top 15 has frequently used the English Attack at some point of their careers. In fact, with the exception of one, all of them have even been willing to do so with both colours, at least on occasion....
Unfortunately, I found that the plans and ideas are so largely dependent on the opponent's actions that I had to abandon the idea of thematic chapter introductions as such. Instead I have striven to explain the general plans and ideas at the point where they have taken a somewhat clearer shape...At the end of each chapter I have added a theoretical summary and, if applicable, some tips for both White and Black.'
Comparing the books it's not surprising that Sammalvuo has a lot more detail in the English Attack proper (versus the Najdorf/Scheveningen), because on top of the reduced space available to them, de Firmian and Fedorowicz have 50 pages on the Taimanov. But Sammalvuo also pours a lot more energy into his analysis and finds more games than D&K did. One gets the impression that he has analysed (and played) the ...e6 lines fanatically for years with improvements for both sides in mind. His 6...e5 coverage is also thorough but more dependent upon pure research into available games. As for 6.Be3 Ng4, one of his pet ideas is 7.Bg5 h6 8.Bc1!?, when there are several moves, but 8...Nf6 is a Najdorf with the extra move ...h6 in, which probably favours White!
Today I got in the 1st round of the 2004 Russian Championship and one of the games was Motylev – Grischuk: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.f3 e6 7.Be3 b5 8.g4 h6 9.Qd2 Nbd7 10.0–0–0 Ne5
11.g5 hxg5 12.Bxg5 Bb7 13.Rg1 Qa5 14.a3 Rc8 15.Kb1 Rxc3! 16.Qxc3 Qxc3 17.bxc3 Rxh2 and Black had a pawn for the exchange with the much superior pawn structure. He went on to win.
Our books didn't do so well: Fedorowicz doesn't mention 10...Ne5, and Sammalvuo quotes a game: '10...Ne5?! 11.h4 b4 12.Nb1 (12.Na4? Bd7) 12...d5 Aroshidze-Zarkua, Batumi 2003; and here he likes '13.Qg2!', saying: 'when in view of the threat of g5 and f4 Black is more or less obliged to sacrifice his queen with 13...dxe4 14.Nxe6 Qxd1+ 15.Kxd1 Bxe6, but it doesn't seem sufficient after 16.fxe4 Nfxg4 17.Bg1 .' I (JW) don't know whether this is forced, but to me Black's pieces look very well placed especially with the e5 post in front of the e4 isolani. Since he has a rook and knight for the queen, it's by no means obvious that the play isn't at least balanced or better for Black. 17...Be7 and ...0–0 is natural, but recovering all the material by 17...Bxa2!? 18.Nd2 Be6 should also be fine. Still, Sammalvuo gets credit for proposing an original move. When I study books about openings I'd rather have an interesting idea to think about, whether it's objectively strong or not.
Here's a look at the ultra-popular variation 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e6 7.f3 b5 8.g4 h6 9.Qd2 Nbd7 10.0-0-0 Bb7 11.h4 b4 12.Na4:
(a) 12…d5!? Here both books follow the game Kriventsov-Najer, Philadelphia 2002. Sammalvuo likes this line for Black (suggesting that it might even be a better way to go than the main line with 12...Qa5). Both he and Fedorowicz go to White's 21st move in that game, when Sammalvuo says he prefers Black. Since White won in 6 more moves, he really should have ended by suggesting a 21st move for Black! Moreover, he needed to explain where Black could improve. Fedorowicz merely follows the game moves to the end implying that White was better. There's another twist: It's buried in his notes, but Sammalvuo also likes 13.Bh3 Qa5 14.b3 dxe4! for Black, citing a correspondence game. To me, that path seems more promising for Black and could revive the line.
(b) 12...Qa5 13.b3
Here the authors either assign their material differently or disagree. Neither party approve of 13...g6 or 13...d5 14.e5! so their verdict comes down to 4 other well-investigated choices for Black:
(b1) Sammalvuo doesn't like 13...Rc8'?!' due to 14.Kb1 (he has long notes on 14.a3, 14.Rg1, and 14.Bh3, liking the latter move as well. Fedorowicz looks at fewer movees. He does assess the main line game of 14.Rg1 as winning for Black when Sammalvuo says that White has compensation 'but no more'. In my opinion White should stay away from the line) 14...Nc5 15.Nxc5 dxc5 16.Ne2
16...Bc6 17.Ng3 Nd7 18.f4 leading to a big advantage in a Shirov-Svidler game. Fedorowicz quotes a game with 16...Rd8 instead with quick liquidation and equality. And oddly, Sammalvuo dismisses the natural 16...Be7 due to 17.Bh3 c4 18.g5 Rd8 19.Qc1 'and White's advantage is in no doubt'. But I think that simply 19...Rxd1 20.Rxd1 (20.Qxd1 Nd7 hitting g5) 20...cxb3 21.axb3 hxg5 22.Bxg5 0-0 achieves at least equality.
(b2) After 13...Be7 14.Kb1 Nc5 15.Nxc5 dxc5 16.Ne2 Rd8 17.Qc1, both books feel that Black is able to equalize, but Fedorowicz uses a game Kasparov-van Wely which was later much improved upon by White in a correspondence game and Sammalvuo correctly prefers 17...Rxd1 18.Rxd1 c4.
(b3) I noticed the top players using 13...Nc5 on many occasions but had no idea what was going on. After 14.a3 , a difference of opinion arises about 14...Rc8 15.axb4 Nxb3+ 16.Nxb3 Qxa4 17.Kb2 d5 18.c3 dxe4 19.Na5 Bd5 20.Ra1 Qd7 21.Bxa6
This follows a game Acs-van Wely, which position Fedorowicz calls 'a disaster for Black' with no further notes, whereas Sammalvuo only acknowledges that the position a few moves later (without his giving any improvements along the way) is 'probably somewhat better' for White. But Sammalvuo also covers 15.Qxb4 in tremendous depth using games and lengthy analysis that he did with other players. It seems that White is definitely better, so the analysis on 15.axb4 may not be important.
Sammalvuo uses 12 densely packed pages to cover the main line with 14.a3 Nxa4 15.axb4 Qc7 16.bxa4. He has done enormous amounts of analysis and work with friends and Finnish team members. It seems as though best play is 16...d5 17.e5! Nd7 18.f4 Nb6 (Fedorowicz says that 18...a5 is interesting and follows a game with 19.Nb5, but Sammalvuo believes that 19.bxa5 followed by Bb5 keeps White's avantage) 19.Rh3 (He gives almost 6 pages to 19.f5, with Black eventually equalising)
19...h5 (Sammalvuo has a couple of pages on 19...Nc4 and 19...Nxa4?!, the latter virtually refuted by 20.Bf2! Rc8 21.c4!!, a stunning move apparently unknown to Fedorowicz or to most of the playing world. It hasn't been used over the board but was used in 9 correspondence games with a 9-0 record, Sammalvuo gives it extensive analysis) 20.gxh5 Nxa4 21.Bf2 Rc8 22.Be1 Rxh5 23.Be2 and Sammalvuo thinks that Black should deviate from the main game by 23...Rh6 although White seems to come out 'somewhat better'! Incidentally, Sammalvuo relies on many correspondence games that are ideal testing grounds for such lengthy and forcing lines. He has poured his heart (and apparently his life) into the lines beginning with 14.a3, with spectacular results. Of course in a couple of years players will have left these playing fields and switched to the Pirc Defence or revived Schlieman Attack or whatever. Such is the cruelty of super-specialised research.
Now I get to the 'mentions' section of the column. Of the various products coing in I have at least spent enough time to feel favourable about the following:
Nigel Davies' The Dynamic Reti is another repertoire book with White playing 1.Nf3 and avoiding main-line transpositions into openings such as the Slav, King's Indian, Queen's Indian or Grünfeld.
His choices for White are as follows (from the Contents):
1 Closed Reti (1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 e6 3 g3 Nf6 4 Bg2 Be7)
2 Open Reti (1 Nf3 d5 2 c5 e6 3 g3 Nf6 4 Bg2 dxc4 or 3…dxc4)
3 Reti Slav (1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 c6)
4 Reti Benoni (1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 d4)
5 Reti Accepted (1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 dxc4)
6 Symmetrical English: 2…Nc6 or 2…g6 (1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nc6 or 2…g6)
7 Symmetrical English: 2…Nf6 (1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nf6)
8 Reti King’s Indian (1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 b4)
9 Reti Dutch (1 Nf3 f5)
10 Others (1 Nf3 g6 or 1…d6 or 1…Nc6)
Against 1.Nf3 'or 1...g6 or 1...d6', Davies strays from the Reti to recommend the Pirc Defenence, e.g., 1.Nf3 g6 2.e4 Bg7 3. d4 d6 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.h3 0-0 6.Be3 with the aggressive plan e5 (if allowed) and h4-h5, or just grabbing space. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the Reti but if the reader likes it he may not mind. The other variations are traditional. I wrote about the setup 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 e6 3 g3 Nf6 4 Bg2 Be7 5.0-0 0-0 6.b3 c5 7.e3 b6 8.Bb2 many years back in my English Opening series. Although I don't think that it gives White any advantage I think that it's a great line for the lower player as all kinds of key themes arise. The 'Open Reti' goes 1 Nf3 d5 2 c5 e6 3 g3 Nf6 4 Bg2 dxc4 5.Qc2 Nbd7 (5...c5 6.Na3 or 6.Ne5!? with the desired complications) 6.Na3! Bxa3 7.bxa3 Nb6 8.Ne5 recovering with a slight edge. There are some gambit lines here. Even trickier is the solution to the Slav: 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 c6 3.g3!? Nf6 4.Bg2!? dxc4 5.Qc2 with a dynamic game in which Black can hang on to the pawn by 5...b5 but White gets open lines and superior development by 6.b3 or 6.a4. Maybe a little optimistic but probably sound with careful play and a lot of fun!
The good thing about this book is that it save the reader a month of looking at every source and game available to figure out some sequence that pleases him. You might want to mix in part of a regular 1.d4 repertoire wih this one (e.g., : 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 c6 3.d4). As always the book is organized around complete games, so Davies gets away with skipping a few challenging lines in the interest of presenting ideas. Those ideas come across clearly, but as usual there is no Index of Variations. I don't get it.
Another solid and useful book is Chess Openings - the Easy Way; by Nick de Firmian. The subtitle is MCO-Beginners, a silly one except for the 'MCO' part. This book is way too advanced for beginners. Each long section of moves without words gets only a short introduction with a mix of strategic talk and a limited outline of what follows. Only the book's 12-page Introduction begins with first principles such as center, development and paragraphs on fianchettos and gambit. Other beginners books do this much better, however. And even 6 of those pages are devoted to defining 'opening groups', which is too sophisticated especially when one doesn't limit oneself to a couple of groups. Fine's Ideas Behind the Chess Openings this is not.
Nevertheless, I strongly recommend this book for the right audience. It is a perfect mix of simplicity and depth for those who already know a bit about an opening but need guidance on which specific or approximate move orders to play. But not too much depth, and that's the key. Unlike most of the books we've been looking at in the last two columns, the Club player, Internet player, or lower-to-middle-range tournament player can carry this one volume and no others with the guarantee of getting something intelligent to check his own moves against. As de Firmian proved in the earlier and huge MCO 14 (reviewed a long time ago in this column), he is a genius at paring down variations while losing the more than the absolutely necessary information. The book does it again - I hate to think how much material actually survives (nothing technical), yet it's all there as far as the middle-range player is concerned.
Chess Openings - the Easy Way is laid out with large reader-friendly spaces between columns and getting used to how to use his system (the same as MCO's) is no problem. I'd like to spend more time examining this excellent book, but I'll leave it as is. If you get a chance to look at a copy before you buy it, you'll be able to make your own assessment about whether it applies to your rating range.
I reviewed Jan Pinski's The Four Knights in Column #59, with the rough conclusion that it was an excellent and objective book, but so objective that it showed the utter harmlessness of all White systems! Now Pinski has released his The Two Knights' Defence. I actually went over a moderate amount of this book a couple of months ago, comparing it with Joszef Palkovi's The Two Knights Defence' and Traxler Attack, a book that Pinski draws heavily from, and Eric Schiller and my Survive an Beat Annoying Chess Openings ('SBACO'), which it seems that Pinski didn't have. Unfortunately I haven't marked up too much of these copies, but I remember thinking that Pinsky tried to improve upon Palkovi from time to time but that it would take a serious Two Knights' player to really need the Pinski in addition to Palkovi's. In 'SBACO' we relied upon Palkovi but came up with quire a bit that was new. I like the move 6...Bd7 after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.Bb5+ in place of the more common 6...c6. So do Palkovi and Pinski except that Pinski likes his improvement that goes 7.Qe2 Bd6 (7...Be7 is also okay, as we show in SBACO) 8.Nc3 0-0 9.Bxd7 Qxd7, and now 10.a3!. He seems to think that the whole line favours White. Looking as SBACO (published well before Pinski) we say: 'An ambitious alternative is 10.a3 with the idea of b4. The the untried move 10...Be7!? seems to give interesting play. This intially seems to indicates the suitability of 7...Be7 instead of 6...Bd6, but of course that is not so easy to say.
11.b4 [11.0-0 Nxd5 (or 11...Rfe8!?) 12.Qxe5 c6 is very interesting, for example, 13.d3 Rfe8 14.Nxd5 cxd5 15.Bd2 Nc6 16.Qf4 Bf6 with counterplay] 11...Nxd5 12.Nxh7 Black gets enough play in a line such as 12.Qd3!? Bxg5 13.Qxd5 Qxd5 14.Nxd5 Rad8! 15.Nxc7 Nc4 16.d3 Bxc1 17.dxc4 Bb2. 12...Rfd8! 13.bxa5 Nxc3 14.dxc3 Kxh7 with chances for both sides. White's pawns are very weak, but the exposed state of Black's king provides some balance. I think that's a fair verdict for many of the lines in this book (including 6...c6). Probably only the devotee of either or both colours will have to have this book, although others might want to investigate and try out this complex traditional opening.
Okay, since I may not be writing about opening books for a while, let me just mention for your benefit a book that arrived 2 days ago and another one today! As you may have guessed I'm utterly exhausted by writing the last two columns so I've just got to get this off. The two books are The Scandinavian Defence by James Plaskett; and Experts Versus the Sicilian; edited by Jacob Aagard and John Shaw; 288 pages; Quality Chess 2004. Both of these books look excellent. I loved the ChessBase CD on the Scandinavian; presumably Plaskett will complement that CD, both as a theoretical update and for those who want the feel of a book.
Experts Versus the Sicilian appears unique and full of great articles. Various lines of the Sicilian are written about by GM Thomas Luther; GM Michael Golubev (the Dragon of course); IM Jacob Aagard (Sveshnikov of course and minor lines); GM Peter Wells (the Classical); GM Sune Berg; GM Peter Heine Nielson (the Accelerated Fiancheto of course); GM Viktor Gavrikov; and IM Jan Pinski (the Kalashnikov). This sounds like a great book. Although I can't seem to link to it now, this new publisher either has or will have it's own website at http://www.qualitychessbooks.com.