John Watson Book Review (91)
Opening Books en Masse Part 2
IM John Watson - Thursday 12th February 2009
You can refer to my last column for general comments about opening books. In line with the approach used there, I have first featured one book, Avrukh's 1.d4, and discussed it in the context of other works. Some analysis will hopefully provide the reader with provocative and useful material. Then, in less detail, I will cover a number of other titles that I also consider worthwhile and of particularly high quality.
1.d4: Volume One; Boris Avrukh; 449 pages; Quality Chess 2008
Play the Slav; James Vigus; 224 pages; Everyman 2008
The Pirc in Black and White; James Vigus; 381 pages; Everyman 2007
Albin Counter-Gambit; Rustam Kasimdzhanov; DVD; ChessBase 2008
Albin Counter-Gambit; Luc Henris; CD; ChessBase 2003
The Chebanenko Slav According to Bologan; Viktor Bologan; 240 pages; New in Chess
Secrets of Opening Surprises, Vol. 9; Jeroen Bosch (editor); 143 pages; New In Chess 2008
The Chigorin Defence According to Morozevich; Alexander Morozevich & Vladimir Barsky; 236 pages; New In Chess 2007
The Chigorin Defence (English translation) Valery Bronznik; 336 pages; Kania 2005
Ideas Behind Modern Chess Openings: Black; Gary Lane; 192 pages; Batsford 2005
Play the Queen's Gambit; Chris Ward; 175 pages; Everyman 2006
Play 1...Nc6!; Christoph Wisnewski; 268 pages; Everyman 2007
As the publishers explain, Boris Avrukh's book 1.d4: Volume One contrasts sharply with what they call 'Starting Out' books (probably referring to Everyman's 'Starting Out' series). Volume 1 deals exclusively with 1 d4 d5 (later volumes with deal with 1 d4 Nf6, for example), and suggests a repertoire for White following those moves. It returns to the sort of heavily analytical approach that characterised early Batsford books by, for example, John Nunn and Graham Burgess, with even less general commentary.
Avrukh's book is a repertoire laid out in an unusual level of detail, and the claim that it 'will certainly be read by grandmasters' is in my opinion true.
To be fair, many of the books that I'm reviewing will and should be read by grandmasters, but this one is extraordinarily serious and contains very little in the way of strategic explanations, whether of positional elements or plans to be carried out. In other words, the assumption is that a grandmaster or other top-level player knows already what's going on positionally in an opening, but needs to know the specific moves being recommended or rejected, so this book provides a complete and concrete repertoire of moves with an absolute minimum of verbal commentary. This high-gear analytical philosophy is welcome in a world of primarily idea-based books and electronic products; not because the latter aren't entirely appropriate for the average player, but because the idea of getting as close as you can to the analytical truth of an opening or variation deserves its own place in the literature. It's the old argument between a 'mere' listing of moves and games, and the many, many books which purport to tell you why you are making move X or move Y. That comparison sounds like a no-brainer, and indeed, most players will justifiably feel more comfortable with verbal explanations of opening moves. In my own recent books, I have worked hard to write extensive verbal explanations that will assist and instruct the reader, hopefully without sacrificing too much detail. But moves can 'say' as much as words, and there's plenty of room in the literature for a variety of approaches. Avrukh is highly qualified for the task of hard analysis, and has obviously put an enormous amount of time into the book. He delves into critical lines and even lesser variations in exceptional detail.
Let me make an initial objection, however, again with apologies for referring to this particular book, because it's a widespread phenomenon. Right on the front cover we see: 'Tired of bad positions? Try the main lines!'. In the Introduction, the publishers criticize books that suggest playing 'unambitious systems', because main lines 'are based on better moves'. I guess I'm a little down on hype these days, and will try to be an equal opportunity critic in that regard, but Avrukh's book doesn't conform to that philosophy at all, as we have a decided mix of main lines and others. To be sure, the Catalan System has become one of several main line options in the Queen's Gambit (although perhaps not seeming so to those whose background in the Queen's Gambit is a bit older). However, I wouldn't call the Slav with 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 e3 a main line; rather, it is one of those moves that is used to bypass the more frequently-played and traditional lines 4 Nc3 dxc4 5 a4 and 4 Nc3 e6 (the outrageously popular Semi-Slav). The move 4 e3 is characterised by safety, avoiding prepared lines in fear of losing to the opponent's homework, which is just what the publishers warn against in their Introduction. The further choice of 4...e6 5 b3 (instead of the far more popular main lines 5 Nc3 Nbd7 6 Bd3 and 6 Qc2) reflects the same philosophy. Against the Tarrasch Queen's Gambit, too, Avrukh picks an interesting sideline with dxc5 and Na4 - see below. I very much like the idea, which has both positional and surprise value, but a look at large databases reveals how seldom it has been played by comparison with the main line or several subsidiary lines. He also picks non-main lines against lesser defences such as the Chigorin Defence. It will be interesting to see what he suggests in the next volume versus big openings such as the King's Indian, Nimzo/Queen's Indian, Grünfeld, etc. At any rate I wish that these kinds of extravagant claims could be reduced.
Although I don't know the theory, I suspect that the 234-page section on the Catalan is easily the best material out there on this opening (for the lines that he is recommending, that is). Apart from Avrukh's renowned expertise, the revolution in Catalan theory is very recent and not documented anywhere else that I know of. Furthermore, the author offers bundles of novelties. This theory alone may be worth the price of the book for Catalan players. Avrukh also treats minor lines with a degree of thoroughness which has to impress. Concerning 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c5 (given a '?!'), for example, he says 'Probably the worst opening Black can choose after 1 d4.' Then he proceeds to give it 5 full pages of dense analysis!
As in the last column, let me compare some of Avrukh's analysis with books on the same variations. I made a comment in the last column about authors' inadequate use of external sources, and I think that constitute a weakness of this work. First, there is hardly any bibliography (only 7 books for such a massive subject). Okay, Avrukh is an extremely strong player who does his own work, so it's not surprising that he trusts his own take on the recommended lines over some lower-rated author's. But my own feeling is that even the most intelligent analysis of modern chess openings benefits from others' hard work, and in fact leading players testify to finding new ideas in opening books on a regular basis. Of the main openings in this book, I probably know the Queen's Gambit Accepted as well as any, so I'll start with Jim Rizzitano's How to beat 1 d4, the leading Queen's Gambit Accepted book, for comparison. It is now three years old, a lifetime for the dynamic QGA line Avrukh deals with, yet Rizzitano's work has something to offer.
Akachiani Gersinska-Muhren, EU-ch (Women) 7th Kusadasi 2006
1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Bxc4 c5 6.0-0 a6 7.Bb3 b5 8.a4 b4 9.Nbd2
Avrukh actually uses a 9 e4 move order, 9.e4 cxd4 10.Nbd2, and thus avoids 9 Nbd2 Bb7 10 e4 Be7; both are analysed in Rizzitano. But after the order, Black can also play 10...Nc6, which Avrukh analyses to some advantage for White. Rizzitano has some useful suggestions in that line, but if you combine the two with some analysis, White appears to stand better. So Black should probably play 10...Bb7 here, transposing to the main game.
This gambit is the major motivation for playing 7 Bb3.
10...Nxe4 11.Nxe4 Bxe4 12.Re1 (or 12 Qe2) launches a powerful attack, e.g., 12...Bd5 13.Bg5! f6 14.dxc5!, winning, in view of 14...Kf7 15.Rxe6! Kxe6 16.Qd4.
11.e5 Nfd7 12.Nc4 Nc5
In the next game we see 12...Nc6. Avrukh calls 12...Be7 'just dubious', but his reasoning is superficial. Rizzitano gives the closer look of the two, which raises some hopes for Black: 13.Nxd4 (13.Qxd4 Bxf3 14.gxf3 Nc6 isn't clear), and here Avrukh gives only 13...Nc5 (deserving a '?', I think) 14 Qg4 g6 15 Bh6. But Black should try 13...0-0! 14.Qg4 Kh8, analysed in Rizzitano. The best game for White went 15.Rd1! Nc6!? 16.Nxc6!? Bxc6 17.Bf4 Bd5 18.Nd2 Nc5 19.Bc2, and here 19...Rc8 (19...Qb6!?; and 19...Qa5 all seem fine, and certainly better than the game's 19...Re8?!. This line may favour White in some other move order, particularly on move 16, but Avrukh should have attended to it.
13.Bg5 Qc7 14.Nxd4 Nxb3 15.Qxb3
Avrukh prefers this to 15.Nxb3?! h6, which Rizzitano analyses in depth and in the end even gives Black a slight advantage.
This seems inferior to 15...Bd5 16.Rac1 Nd7, but Avrukh still finds 17.a5!, and continues 17...Qb7?! 18.Qa4! Bxg2 19.Rfd1 Black can play better on his 17th move, but this doesn't look good for him.
Rizzitano, writing before this game occurred, gives the inferior 16.Nxc6 Qxc6 17.f3 Qc7 18.Rac1 Bd5 19.Qd3 Bc5+ 20.Kh1 0-0 with reasonable play.
Now we get an example of how a book can assist even top-level preparation. The game went 17 Nxe6?, which proved too speculative. Avrukh finds 17.Ne3! instead, with a terrific game following 17...Bc5 18.Nxe6 fxe6 19.Qxe6+ Kf8 20.Nd5 Bxd5 21.Rxd5 (or 21.Qxd5) 21...Re8 22.Qf5+ Kg8 23.Rc1 and White is obviously much better. Some questions remain in this line, but it looks like White retains the advantage after 12...Nc5.
Bareev-Timman, Sarajevo 1999
1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 e6 4.Bxc4 c5 5.Nf3 a6 6.0-0 Nf6 7.Bb3 b5 8.a4 b4 9.Nbd2 Bb7 10.e4 cxd4 11.e5 Nfd7 12.Nc4 Nc6
In the last game we saw 12...Nc5.
13.Bg5 Qc7 14.Rc1 Nc5
The widely-cited game Topalov-Lautier, Monte Carlo 1997 went 14...Bc5 15.Nxd4 Ndxe5 (15...0-0 16.Nd6!) 16.Nxe5 Qxe5 17.Nf3 Qd6 18.Qc2 , and here Black has tries such as 18...Bd4 and 18...h6, which go unmentioned. After the game's 18...Ba7 19.Rfd1, 19...Qc7? 20.Qe4 gave White a nice advantage; here 19...Qb8 was preferable, if still better for White.
Avrukh gives no alternatives, and Rizzitano mentions 15.Re1, merely saying that 15...d3 looks adequate. This deserves a look. Another move after 15 Re1 would be 15...Nxb3, e.g., 16.Qxb3 h6 (or 16...Bc5 17.Nfd2 0-0 18.Qg3!? Kh8 19.Ne4 Be7, and Rowson's 20.Ncd6!? Bxg5 21.Qxg5 is somewhat annoying. In this line, 18.Ne4 Na5! 19.Nf6+ gxf6 20.Qg3 draws) 17.Bf4 Na5! 18.Qd3 (18.Nxa5 Qxa5 19.Nxd4 Bd5 (or 19...Qd5 20.Qxd5 Bxd5 21.Red1 g5 22.Be3 Kd7 23.Nb3 Be7) 18...Nxc4 19.Rxc4 Qa5 20.Nxd4 Qd5 21.f3 Rc8 22.Rxc8+ Bxc8 23.Rc1 Bb7= . This is only analysis, of course.
Avrukh only gives this weak move. That is careless and illustrates the need for the use of outside sources. Rizzitano assigns 15...Ne4 a '?' and call it 'weaker, and Bareev in Informant 75/358 concurs; in fact, 15...Ne4 has been criticised since 1999! Much better and critical is Rizzitano's suggestion (as well as Huzman's) 15...h6 when he gives loads of analysis. The key lines are 16.Bh4 g5, and 16.Bf4 g5 17.Nd6+ Bxd6 18.exd6 Qb6 19.Bg3 Ne4. It appears that Black can retain equality.
16.Bh4 g5 17.Bxg5 Nxg5 18.Nxg5 0-0-0 19.Qh5
Or 19.Qf3! with the idea 19...Rd7 20.Nd6+ Bxd6 21.exd6 Qxd6 22.Nxf7+, winning.
At this point Huzman improves upon the game, suggesting 20.Ne4 Kb8 21.Ncd6 with a large advantage, and Avrukh agrees. As usual, his analysis throughout the section is excellent, but in this case his research leaves something to be desired.
Moving to a less mainstream opening, the Albin CounterGambit has used by many strong players over the past 4-5 years. Avrukh suggests a hot line from high-level play. His analysis (including demonstrations of why he is avoiding certain lines) is superb; nevertheless, there seem to be improvements. Here's a critical line:
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 d4 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.a3 Nge7 6.b4 Ng6 7.Bb2 a5 8.b5 Ncxe5 9.Nxe5
9.Qxd4 has been analysed in depth and tested more than once, resulting in equality.; Likewise, Avrukh and Davies consider 9.Bxd4 Nxf3+! satisfactory for Black (they worked this out independently).
Avrukh actually uses the (more accurate?) order 10.e3 Be6 11 Bxd4, which avoids some sidelines. Here Kasimdzhanov shows 11.c5? Bxc5! 12.exd4 Bb6 13.dxe5? Bxf2+.
10...Nxc4 11.e3 Be6 12.Qc2 Nd6
Avrukh does a serious analysis of the untried 12...Nb6 , and a huge one about; 12...Qd5 13.Nc3 Qg5 , a Davies' recommendation. This attention to detail is typical.
13.Bd3 Qg5 14.f4
A good deal of analysis indicates that 14.0-0 Nxb5 15.Nc3 Nxd4 (15...Nxc3 16.Qxc3) 16.exd4 Bd6 of Gelfand-Kasimdzhanov, Moscow 2007 is roughly equal.
Again, Avrukh throws himself into 14...Qd5 15.Nc3! Qb3, coming up with 16.Qf2! Nf5 17.Bxf5 Bxf5 18.e4 0-0-0 19.0-0 b6 20.Kh1, with a demonstrable advantage.
Here instead of 15...Qh5 of Topalov-Morozevich, Monte Carlo 2005, which leads to a clear White advantage, Nigel Davies and Nikolai Vlasov have recommended
Avrukh doesn't think it will resurrect the line, saying 'I have determined that in order to fight for the advantage White has to react with ambitious play in the centre:'
He may be right, but this centre is also exposed, and if 16 e4 doesn't work out, you might want to look into 16.Nc3 or 16.Kf2. A sample line after the latter move is 16...Nf5 17.Nd2 Nxd4 18.exd4 Bd6 19.Ne4 Bd5 20.Nxd6+ cxd6 21.Rae1+ Kf8 22.Be4 Rc8 23.Qd3 Bxe4 24.Qxe4 g6 with approximate equality.
'Only like this!'- Akrukh, who analyses 17...Nxe4 to a '+=' that to me looks quite good for White. I think the more important move is
Not 18.Bxc4? Nxc4 19.Qxc4 Qg2. After 18 Nc3, he gives 18...Bxd3(?!) 19.Qxd3 Be7 20.Nd5 Qg2 21.0-0-0 Bg5+ 22.Kb1 0-0 23.f6 Rfe8 24.h4 "with initiative". Fair enough, but I think that White either has no advantage or a truly minimal one after
Or 19.f6 Bxf6 20.Bxf6 Bxd3 21.Qxd3 gxf6 22.Nd5 0-0 23.Nxf6+ Kh8= with the idea ...Qg2, and the possible equalising tactic 24.Ra2 Nxe4!? 25.Qxe4 Rd6! threatening ...Rxf6 and ...Re6, with ...Qe6+ if White's queen strays.
19...Nxc4 20.Nd5 Nxa3 21.Nxc7+ 21.Rxa3 Bxa3 22.Bxg7 Rxd5.
White has enough for the exchange, but no more, and may want to resolve things by
23...h5 24.Bxg7+!= is similar.
24.f6 Bb4+ 25.Kf2 g6!? (25...gxf6 is less ambitious, and level) 26.Ne7+ Kf8. After 24 Bxg7!, there are several drawing possibilities, for example, 24...Bb4+ (or 24...Kxg7 25.Qc3+ Kg8 26.Qxa3 Qg2= 27.Ne7+ Kf8 28.Nd5+ etc.) 25.Kf2 (25.Nxb4 Kxg7 26.Nd5 Rxd5 27.Qc3+ f6 28.Qc7+ Kh6 29.Qf4+=) 25...Kxg7 26.Qb2+ Kg8 27.Nf6+ Kf8 28.Nd7+ Rxd7 (28...Kg8 29.Nf6+=) 29.Qxh8+ Ke7 30.Qe5+ etc. Of course, my analysis should be viewed critically, as should everyone's.
This is a fascinating line, if only because it demonstrates how difficult it is to get the advantage against even 'marginal' openings such as the Albin Counter Gambit. Similarly, Avrukh recommends an interesting sideline versus Morozevich's other favourite opening, the Chigorin Defence, namely, 3 Nc3 dxc4 4 Nf3 Nf6 5 Bg5!?. Again, it is a good surprise choice (it isn't even mentioned in two Chigorin sources), and it is very well analysed, but he could have used Morozevich and Barsky's The Chigorin Defence According to Morozevich, which features 6 Morozevich games with 5 Bg5, few or none of them published in conventional sources (including 3 Rapid games versus Kramnik, two of them directly relevant). This section, by the way, contains even more original ideas and independent analysis by Avrukh than usual, and constitutes an excellent tutorial of the entire recommended variation from 3 Nc3 onward. I'm not convinced that White gets an advantage if Black plays accurately, but this time, for selfish reasons, I won't reveal anything.
Here let me put in a word for Albin Counter-Gambit by Rustam Kasimdzhanov. For those who like the video format, former FIDE World Champion Kasimdzhanov is one of the ChessBase presenters/lecturers who picks the most interesting material, and he presents it logically and clearly. In this DVD, he lends prestige to this underrated gambit, covering all the best known lines and including his own games. You won't find complete coverage of the opening, of course, as this is essentially a repertoire DVD. The Albin has also been used by Morozevich, by the way, and is a weapon that should appeal to attacking players. Probably White gets a small edge in some manner, but even at the top levels I haven't seen a truly convincing solution for White.
One more: If you want to learn about the history and strategies of the Albin for both sides, with a complete list of variations and a database that covers the sidelines with games going back to the 19th century, check out the ChessBase CD Albin Counter-Gambit, by Luc Henris. It is older (2003) and therefore theoretically insufficient by itself (for example, Avrukh's main line is poorly covered), but would be a fun start for an amateur player.
After 1 d4 d5 2 c4, assuming that White plays the Catalan, there aren't many mainstream defences apart from the Slav and the Queen's Gambit Accepted. But the Tarrasch Defence is a bother to Queen's Gambit players, and not easy to solve. Let's follow one of Avrukh's main games:
Zagorskis - Warszawski, Warsaw AIG Life rapid 2006
1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 e6 3.c4 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.g3 Nc6 6.Bg2 Nf6 7.0-0 Be7 8.Nc3 0-0 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.Na4
A great choice for a repertoire move, because it has been out-of-fashion for so long, and is very safe. Here's what Shamkovich and Schiller say in their book 'Play the Tarrasch': 'Back in 1974 Samarian considered this to be the only continuation which presented Black with any serious problems, but now the move has disappeared from praxis...'. Avrukh tries to bring it back, with considerable analysis.
10...Bb6 11.b3 Bf5 (11...Re8 12.Bb2 Bg4 13.Rc1 transposes to an old line that begins 9 b3; it is thought to favour White somewhat) 12.Bb2 Be4 13.Nxb6 axb6 14.Qd2 (14.Nd4 Bxg2 15.Kxg2 Re8 16.Re1 Ne5 17.f3! is Bertok-Keres from USSR-Yugoslavia 1966!) 14...Qe7 Stein-Keres, Moscow 1966, and Avrukh suggests 15.Rfd1 h6 (15...Rfe8 16.Qg5!) 16.Qe3 with advantage, which certainly seems true; Black has achieved nothing. There are other ways to meet 10...Bb6, so 10...Be7 is critical.
11.Be3 Bg4 12.Rc1!
On his recent CD about the Tarrasch, Davies neglects this traditional main lines and gives only 12.Bc5 Bxc5 13.Nxc5 Qb6 14.Nd3 Rfe8 with good play, and 12.Nd4 Ne5 13.h3 Bd7 14.Nc3 Nc4 15.Bc1 Rc8 16.Kh2 (16.Nxd5 Nxd5 17.Bxd5 Bxh3) 16...Bb4 with at least equality, from Radulov-Spassov, Slncev Brjag 1974.
This seems to be a mistake. 12...Rc8! isn't mentioned by Avrukh, but is critical and I think best, as played by H Olafsson in his game against Larsen in Gausdal 1985, and analysed deeply in conjunction with related positions by Keilhack in his 1993 masterpiece 'Die Tarrasch Verteidigung'. This is my standard reference for the Tarrasch, and still relevant in almost every line.
The point is that the f8 rook will go to e8 anyway, but first something needs to be done about 13 Nc5, which can now be answered by 13...b6. In the game, Larsen continued 13.Bc5!? Ne4 (here 13...Re8 or even; 13...Bxc5 14.Nxc5 Re8 should equalise) 14.a3! (14.Bxe7 Qxe7! 15.Qxd5? Rfd8 16.Qb5 Bxf3 17.exf3 Nd4) 14...Re8 15.Bxe7 Qxe7 16.h3 Bxf3 17.Bxf3 Rcd8 . This type of position comes up in several other lines Black stands satisfactorily.
Instead of Larsen's 13 Bc5!?, Keilhack mentions 13.Qb3, when 13...d4! 14.Bg5 (14.Rfd1?? Na5) 14...Qa5 15.Bxf6 Bxf6 16.Nc5 b6 is fine for Black; Perhaps the best try is 13.h3, when a sample line is 13...Bxf3 14.Bxf3 Qd7 (instead, 14...b5!? 15.Nc5 Ne5 16.Bd4 Nxf3+ 17.exf3 should lightly favour White) 15.Kh2 Rfd8 16.Nc5 Bxc5 17.Bxc5 b6 (or the unclear 17...d4!? 18.Qb3! b6 19.Ba3 Ne5 20.Bg2 h5! with the idea ...h4, when Black's spatial control gives him fair chances) 18.Bd4 Ne4; maybe White has a tiny something here, maybe not - but he could really use a knight.
Incidentally, the natural 12...Re8!? 13.Nc5 Bxc5 14.Bxc5 transposes to 11....Re8 12 Rc1 Bg4 13 Nc5 Bxc5 14 Bxc5, when play has continued with 14...Ne4 15.Be3 Qd7, and Avrukh suggests 16.Re1! Bh3 17.Bh1. At this point, instead of 17..Rad8, I think 17...Rac8 is more accurate, when White probably has a theoretical advantage, but needs to find a way to exploit it.
13.Nc5 Bxc5 14.Bxc5 Rfe8 15.Re1! Ne4 16.Be3 Rad8 17.Nd4 Bh3 18.Bh1 Ne5 19.f3! Nf6 20.b3
White has restricted the knights in classic fashion and he stands better. But as indicated, Black had options along the way, and these should be examined before assessing the Na4/Be3 plan.
I think that Avrukh's book is one of the best opening books of the year, maybe even the best one if you're an advanced player (say, 2200 or above). It's an unusually lengthy work, and the author puts more effort into it than goes into several run-of-the-mill opening books put together. His dedication to searching for the truth about positions is clear, and even if one can fault his research and/or argue about his conclusions, Avrukh single-handedly widens the debate about a great number of promising lines which have been relatively neglected. Catalan players, moreover, simply have to have this book as a reference. While anyone who plays 1 d4 (and 1...d5 2 c4) will benefit from 1 d4: Volume One, professionals and masters who claim that they never read opening books may find themselves regretting it if they ignore this one. As indicated (and supplemented by comments below), they need to do a more research to discover problems that Avrukh may have been unaware of, but that won't be as difficult as it would be with a book of critical main lines. The average player, on the other hand, won't get much out of Avrukh's work unless he or she is willing to devote a high percentage of their chess time to its study; the material consists mainly of moves, so don't send me any negative emails about 'I want to know why I should make a move, not just read a bunch of analysis'. If you're going to get this book, be ready for long hours of difficult study; but if you can handle the challenge, you'll definitely be rewarded with greater chess understanding. In conclusion, whether or not it's appropriate for the majority of players, this is a brilliant contribution to the literature.
I want to draw the reader's attention to James Vigus' excellent book Play the Slav, a repertoire book for Black with 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6, and this is a good time to do so, although the overlap with Avrukh is very shallow (see below for Avrukh's solution).
Vigus is by now well-known for what is flat-out the best book on the Pirc Defence, The Pirc in Black and White. I use this as my main source for the Pirc Defence in my column chesspublishing.com, and am constantly running into games in which White won, but would have gotten no advantage had Black followed the author's recommendations.
Now Vigus has tackled one of the traditional main lines of d-pawn theory, the 'Classical' Slav Defence, in which Black will generally bring his queen's bishop out before playing ...e6. Strange to say, there hasn't been a great deal of recent literature about the Classical Slav, mainly because most of the civilized world has been playing the Semi-Slav with ...c6 and ...e6, but without ...Bf5 or ...Bg4. This is reflected in the Bibliography, which is substantial and varied, but lists no books on this precise subject from the past few years. Instead, Vigus has drawn from older sources and books with a more general intent that include Slav analysis, as well as periodicals, databases, and e-products.
This will not be a critical review, so let me list the contents, for informational purposes:
Introduction (see below)
1) The Sokolov Defence (this is 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 dxc4 5 a4 Bf5 6 Ne5 Nbd7 7 Nxc4 Nb6)
2) The Dutch Variation: Introduction and 9 Qe2 ( the 'Dutch' is 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 dxc4 5 a4 Bf5 6 e3 e6 etc.)
3) The Dutch Variation: 9 Nh4 and Related Lines
4) Knight to the Right: 6 Nh4 (instead of 6 e3, as in the Dutch)
5) The Tolush-Geller Gambit: 5 e4
6) Fifth Move Alternatives: 5 e3, 5 Ne5 and 5 g3
7) The Errot: 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 e3 Bg4 (Vigus considers this a Torre Attack reversed; thus 'Errot'!)
8) Quiet Queen Moves: 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Qc2 and 4 Qb3
9) The Argentinean Defence: 3 Nc3 dxc4
10) The Exchange Variation (that's 3 cxd5 cxd5)
11) Odds and Ends (such as 3 e3)
Index of Variations
The Introduction is quite extensive, including first of all an overview of the Contents, but then a long discussion of typical structures and themes. Sections include 'Black's light-squared bishop', the 'restraint structure', 'Black's doubled f-pawns restrain the white centre', 'Black plays ...c6-c5', 'Black plays ...e6-e5', 'The open centre', 'Black gets an isolated e-pawn', 'White plays d4-d5', 'Argentinean structures' (White pawn on e5, and one on a4 versus Black's on a5 and b4 on the queenside), and 'In the spirit of the Chigorin', 'Symmetry'. Mastery of structures is half the battle, although the real learning about them comes in concrete lines.
Play the Slav has some sophisticated material, but I think it best fits the bill for the average player. The material is very well covered, with intelligent suggestions when needed. Vigus' style is straightforward and his enthusiasm is obvious. I recommend it without reservation for anyone needing a solid repertoire against 1 d4.
As it happens, the Avrukh and Vigus books only barely intersect, because after 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 e3, Vigus picks the move 4...Bg4 (for 4...a6, see the next book). In response, Avrukh has stayed away from main lines, and chosen the sequence 5 Qb3 Qb6 6 Nc3, which he calls a 'rare move that will surprise many Slav players'. In fact, Vigus doesn't cover 6 Nc3 at all. I don't think that it is any more effective than other moves, but it avoids memorized lines and keeps play on the board. Let's take a look. Avrukh's main line goes 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bg4 5.Qb3 Qb6 6.Nc3 e6 7 Nh4!?. This is Topalov's idea, for which Avrukh cites only two games (one arriving just before the book went out), so out of the 4 full pages of coverage, 90% is his own analysis! Great stuff, although I should say that Avrukh's conclusion is a bit tepid: he says that 7 Nh4 'looks quite interesting and playable'. Hmmm, maybe the main lines constituted a better shot at advantage after all. An important deviation after 6 Nc3 is 6...Bxf3 7.gxf3 e6 (7...Nbd7! is more pointed, to look for ...e5 in one go, e.g., 8 e4?! e5!, or 8.Qxb6 Nxb6 9.cxd5 Nfxd5!? 10.Nxd5 cxd5 11.Bb5+ Kd8 12.Bd2 Rc8 13.Ke2 e6 14.Rhc1 Nc4) 8.e4 dxe4 (8...Na6 first looks safe and sound, still intending dxe4 and in most cases ...e5) 9.fxe4 Na6 10.Bf4! Qxb3 11.axb3 Rd8 12.0-0-0 Nb4 13.Be2 with an edge to White. Still, he will have a hard time achieving an advantage in this line versus accurate play.
Viktor Bologan wrote one of the best biographical games collections in the past few years, Victor Bologan: Selected Games 1985-2004. See Column #82 for my review. Now he has produced an opening book, The Chebanenko Slav According to Bologan, which has received rave reviews by my colleagues, including those who play the Slav Defence. The book concerns the variation 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 a6. It is a work for rather advanced players, containing a mass of material and a remarkable amount of original and high-level analysis, but almost no explanations. Each Chapter has a 'Conclusion' which, however, is usually short sometimes consists of only a sentence or two.
It's a little disappointing that, given a great many pages to work with, Bologan nevertheless doesn't look at 4 e3 a6. Of course that's his choice, but this may be even more popular for Black than 4 Nc3 a6, because after 4 e3 White's bishop can't get out to f4 or g5. Many players employ both variations as Black. It's true that White can play 4 Nc3 a6 5 e3 and often transpose (Bologan covers this at some length), but with 4 e3 a6, he has other lines involving Nbd2, and perhaps more importantly, he can play 5 Bd3 or 5 c5 (without an early Nc3).
In this context, I should mention an apparent oversight by Avrukh in his book above: his repertoire versus the Slav begins with 4 e3, but after 4 e3 a6 5 Bd3 (his recommendation for White), he doesn't mention 5...dxc4. It may then be that 6 Bxc4 is most effectively met by a combination of ...e6, and ...c5 (with or without ...b5), which can transpose to a Queen's Gambit Accepted (White has lost a tempo with Bd3/Bxc4, but Black has played ...c6-c5). This clever transposition is pointed out in a review by James Vigus. But there are options for both sides, and at any rate 5...dxc4 should be in Avrukh's book. The Chebanenko Slav begins with a Foreword by Alexei Shirov about Chebanenko. Shirov knew Cherbanenko well, and was arguably the player who did the most to bring 4...a6 into international repute, playing it consistently for some time. He and Bologan both mention that Chebanenko invented 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Nd5 Be7, now a major line in grandmaster play that Shirov has used extensively. Bologan's own lengthy Introduction includes excerpts from Kasparov and observations form other players, as well as a sort of history of the variation.
The body of the book covers the following material in great depth (thanks to Jeremy Silman for converting the contents to this format):
Part One: Various Replies on Move 5
Chapter 1: The Exchange 5.cxd5
Chapter 2: The Cunning 5.h3
Chapter 3: The Uncommon 5.Qc2
Chapter 4: Pressure on Black's Pawns 5.Qb3
Chapter 5: Catalan-Style: 5.g3
Chapter 6: Developing 5.Bf4
Chapter 7: The Rare 5.Bg5
Part Two: Inserting 5.a4 e6
Chapter 8: Catalan-Style g3
Chapter 9: The Timid 6.e3
Chapter 10: Pinning 6.Bg5
Part Three: The Insidious 5.Ne5
Chapter 11: The Forcing 5...b5
Chapter 12: The Main Move 5...e6
Chapter 13: The Exchange 5...dxc4
Chapter 14: Chebanenko's Favourite 5...Nbd7
Part Four: The Solid 5.e3
Chapter 15: Minor Replies 6.cxd4 and 6.b3
Chapter 16: Seizing Space 6.c5 & Various
Chapter 17: Seizing Space 6.c5 Nbd7
Part Five: The Strategic 5.c5
Chapter 18: The Provocation 5...Bg4
Chapter 19: The Rare 5...g6
Chapter 20: The Sortie 5...Bf5
Chapter 21: Flexibility 5...Nbd7 6.h3
Chapter 22: Flexibility 5...Nbd7 6.Bf4
That's a lot of material, due to the fact that 4...a6 is so amazingly flexible: it seems as though Black always has 4 or 5 alternatives on every move! Bologan not only assembles and analyses the opening in original fashion, but he provides training exercises to help the reader get used to the typical ideas. I can recommend this book to the obviously intended audience, those who already play 4...a6 or find it interesting as a move to take up. Very likely the move will serve by itself, but one could also combine it with another system such as the Classical Slav promoted by Vigus above.
I've reviewed and written frequently about the wonderful series Secrets of Opening Surprises ('SOS), which Jeroen Bosch is both editor of and a contributor for. To repeat what I've said about the series in general, the idea of Secrets of Opening Surprises is to look at unusual, offbeat and strange-looking openings, sometimes very unusual and very strange-looking, but all of which have been played recently by strong players - in fact, almost always by some grandmasters. You might better call these openings unusual-looking, because in spite of their appearance, they tend to have caught on by the time that Bosch presents them in his books. You can also call them 'anti-theoretical', in the sense that so many of the suggested systems begin with an early move, often one from moves 3 through 7. So they are very useful for the player who wants to get out of the books quickly and doesn't have loads of study time to prepare his or her openings. Starting with Volume 2, there have been about 17 articles per volume. In each issue, Bosch has gotten contributions by strong players, normally International Masters and Grandmasters, and Bosch has written the other 4 or 5 articles himself.
Let me simply let me list a selection what Volume 9 offers: In 'the SOS Files', which include updates to older SOS variations and letters from readers, we see, for example: An update/game on the 'Stoneware Defence' to the Evans Gambit, which is 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 b4 Bxb4 5 c3 Bd6 (now a common line); 'Winning ugly' for Black with the move 2...f6 after 1 d4 d5 2 Bg5 (also becoming more popular); an update of van der Wiel's article about 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Be2; a line from Moskalenko's book Flexible French (see my next review column); a Bogo-Indian update on the line 3Nf3 Bb4+ 4 Bd2 c5 5 Bxb4 cxb4 6 g4, which is the umpteenth occurrence of an early g4 in SOS!
Then we have 16 more chapters of opening surprises (these are articles), including 3 by Bosch himself. Let me cite a few variations:
Mihalchishin analyses the ancient Bayonet Attack versus the King's Indian Defence, which is not 9 b4 in the main line (also a 'Bayonet'), but 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 Be2 0-0 6 g4.
Rogozenko writes about the 'voluntary retreat' in the Sveshnikov: 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e5 6 Ndb5 d6 7 Na3. I'd never seen or heard of this one, but it was used by Anand to beat Ponomariov!
Bosch analyses the Chigorin with 1 d4 d5 2 c4 Nc6 3 Nf3 e5!? - a strange line used once by Keres and leading to messy, wonderful positions.
Burmakin presents 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 h6!? (stopping Ng5 and Bg5!).
Finkel looks at the French with 1 e4 e6 2 b3. And so forth. I highly recommend Secrets of Opening Surprises#9, as I do all volumes of this series.
Having been involved in the theory of the Chigorin Defence (1 d4 d5 2 c4 Nc6) for almost 30 years with a book, games, and articles, I could use up 30 pages just reviewing books containing Chigorin Defence material, first and foremost The Chigorin Defence According to Morozevich by Alexander Morozevich & Vladimir Barsky. World-class GM Morezevich is widely credited with having 'revived' the Chigorin, although I should point out straightaway that the theory of the defence has been in reasonably good shape for some time, and that although Morozevich has come up with some new ideas over the years, so have many other players and writers. What's more, I find Morozevich's book disappointing in the limited sense that it doesn't do much to shed new light upon (or improve upon) several of the lines that I have considered most annoying for Black over the years. Having said that, the rest is all unreservedly positive. First, Morozevich's games are by far the most creative of any historical Chigorin Defence player, including Chigorin. After a while, you can too easily come to play this defence in a stereotyped fashion, focusing on a particular weak point or color complex. Morozevich interprets the middlegame with the creative zest we have come to expect of him. When we expect an attack on the queenside, he sallies forth on the kingside. When castling is obviously necessary he keeps his king in the centre. In a long-researched main line, he suddenly switches from moves like ...Qe7 and ...e5 to ...Ne7 and ...c5, an idea alien to traditional Chigorin theory. And so forth. What's more, the book is crammed with games and excerpts, including 50 unpublished ones by the Master himself. All right, we could use an Index of Variations, but this is still one of the best opening books that you'll run into. It fits the needs of players of almost all strengths, certainly the club player through the strong master.
At this point I'm down to some bare 'mentions', specifically of interesting books related to the Chigorin. The king of theoretical books on this subject, both in terms of depth and originality, is Valeri Bronznik's The Chigorin Defence (revised English Edition, 2005), previously reviewed in this column. I also devoted a short review to Martin Breutigam's excellent CD from ChessBase. Gary Lane's older work Ideas Behind Modern Chess Openings: Black (a deceptive title for a narrow repertoire book) has a Chigorin repertoire with some original contributions that are worth knowing about. The 'Chigorin' offshoot 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Nc6 is also covered, as it is in Bronznik and Wisnewski (below); Lane has his own, aggressive interpretation of how to play this line.
For fairly recent material from White's point of view, see Chris Ward's Play the Queen's Gambit (he also wrote about the opening at some length in his older Unusual Queen's Gambit Declined). Ward's book is highly readable and offers an effective introductory repertoire for White in the Queen's Gambit.
Finally, Christoph Wisnewski's 2007 book Play 1...Nc6!: A complete chess opening repertoire for Black uses the Chigorin as the basis of his d-pawn repertoire, and that alone takes up almost half of the book. He cheats a little on the promise of the title: instead of suggesting 1 d4 Nc6 2 c4 d5, he uses the order 1 d4 d5 2 c4 Nc6, thus avoiding 1 d4 Nc6 2 d5! He includes a lively 31-page chapter on 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Nc6 (with 3 Bf4, 3 Bg5, 3 e3, 3 g3), an order that most Chigorin players would love to use, and the best thing on the subject to date. Versus 3 Nc3, he uses the slightly unusual 3...Nf6 (instead of the main line 3...dxc4); then after 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Nf3, he suggests 5...e5 6 dxe5 Bb4, leading to a position that he considers to give Black compensation for a pawn, whereas Avrukh prefers for White. Wisnewski's treatment of the current Chigorin Main Line - 3 cxd5 Qxd5 4 e3 e5 5 Nc3 Bb4 6 Bd2 Bxc3 7 Bxc3 exd4 8 Ne2 - is much more interesting and makes a convincing case for Black's chances. I like this book and am going to talk more about it in the next column because of Wisnewski's recommendation of 1 e4 Nc6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 e6, which is a French Defence (1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nc6). In other words, we aren't done with opening books yet!
IM John Watson - Photo © Jonathan Berry
John Watson is an International Master, teacher, and author of numerous books, including the award-winning Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy and Chess Strategy in Action. His most recent work is the 4-volume Mastering the Chess Openings. John writes for the website ChessPublishing and conducts weekly interviews of leading chess personalities on ChessFM (ICC).