John Watson Book Review (60)
Opening Books in Pairs
IM John Watson - Thursday 12th June 2003
Secrets of Opening Surprises Jeroen Bosch; 207 pages; New in Chess 2003
The Queen's Indian Jouni Yrjola and Jussi Tella; 288 pages; Gambit 2003
Queen's Indian Defence Jacob Aagaard; 144 pages; Everyman 2002
English ...e5 Alexander Raetsky and Maxim Chetverik; 208 pages; Everyman 2003
Starting Out: the English Neil McDonald; Everyman 2003
Nimzo-Indian Kasparov Variation [4.Nf3] Chris Ward; 160 pages; Everyman 2003
Starting Out in the Nimzo-Indian Chris Ward; 176 pages; Everyman 2000
The Colle-System CD Dimitrij Oleinikov; ChessBase 2003
Das Colle-Koltanowski System Valeri Bronznik; Kania 2003
In this column I will compare opening books written about the same subject or those which overlap one another in parts. Before I do that, I want to look at 'Secrets of Opening Surprises' by Jeroen Bosch. This is a collection of updated articles from New In Chess Magazine (there are also two articles from New in Chess Yearbook). 'SOS', as Bosch calls it, contains articles on all sorts of irregular, inventive, and obscure openings. I really enjoy this material and I suspect that most readers of the magazine, including grandmasters, take a look at most Bosch columns to see if there's anything interesting (there usually is) or useful (less often so, since the systems have to fit with one's play and of course appeal to one). The moves/systems that Bosch presents tend to be played by some strong players on a sporadic basis and are generally sound. Here are some examples: (a) 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.c4 Bh6!?; (b) 1.b3 e5 2.Bb2 Nc6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bd6!?; (c) 1.d4 f5 2.Qd3!?; (d) 1.d4 d6 2.Nf3 Bg4 3.Qd3!?; (e) 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d5!?; (f) 1.Nf3 b5 (something I played many times when young); (g) 1.Nf3 f5 2.d3!?; (h) 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Bd7!?. And so forth. Bosch has recently written an article in NIC Magazine about 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 h6 and 3.Nc3 h6 !! That's not a misprint, the h-pawn really moves one square forward! Grandmasters Legky and Eingorn are playing it regularly, even against strong and prepared opposition. Another third-move blockbuster; I wish that I'd been able to include this and a whole raft of other innovations in my book Chess Strategy in Action (there are several new g4 thrusts on the 4th-, 5th-, and 6th moves in well-known lines, for example).
What impresses me most about these articles is that Bosch tries hard to include every logical answer to each system and then proposes a solution to it (whether by quoting a game or doing analysis). He doesn't just show some pretty ideas against certain moves while ignoring other obviously critical ones. Bosch's analysis is generally strong (he is an IM), a quality which contrasts with the poor work often done by enthusiastic advocates of strange and/or irregular moves. I think that readers on most levels, say, from intermediate player to master, will get something of value out of this book. Hopefully that will be a new chess weapon, but in any case you will experience the delight of traveling into strange and experimental byways.
When I received the Yrjola and Tella book 'The Queen's Indian' I thought that it would be interesting to compare the other relatively recent book that I have on the subject, Aagaard's 'Queen's Indian Defence'. (I will refer to Yrjola and Tella's book as 'Y&T'.) The comparison between these two books is not a fair one from a competitive point of view because Y&T have two advantages: their book came out a year later (believe me, that's a serious factor with theory changing from week to week) and more importantly, they got almost twice as many pages to work with! It's important to keep that in mind as we proceed.
Right off the bat, one sees that neither book has a bibliography. Yrjola and Tella mention an earlier Geller book. Everyman actually lists a bibliography on the Contents page of Aagard's work, but the bibliography itself doesn't exist! On the referenced page, instead, there is an advertisement listing 25+ Everyman books, none having to do with the Queen's Indian. In general I am unhappy with the omission of a list of sources; and in this case it also raises the question of whether Y&T used any part of Aagard's book. That might have been particularly helpful for them since Agaard has quite a few original suggestions. Y&T seem to address only a few of the latter, so it's possible that they merely have similar interests. The sad thing about both books' omission is that we lose touch with a rich history of books (and parts of books) and articles relating to the QID.
To begin with, Aagard has very good 5-page introduction to his book, organized by chapters; I'm sure that he would have wanted to do more had he some extra space. Yrjola and Tella have a 7-page introduction to strategic ideas and more significantly, they have introductions to each individual chapter, generally 1 to 4 pages. These chapter introductions are quite good and a great improvement upon both their previous co-authored book and Yrjola's own books.
I decided to look at and compare the 4.a3 variations (after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6) because I have some experience with them and selfishly wanted to learn more. Here are some variations I found of interest:
A. Both books handle 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.a3 d5 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Nc3 Be7 7.Bf4 0–0 8.e3 c5 (here they disagree slightly on 8...Bf5, citing the same game 10.Be2 Nc6 11.0–0 cxd4 12.exd4 Ne4 13.Nxc6 Bxc6 14.Rc1 Qd7 15.Ba6 Rad8 16.Qd3 Bd6 17.Ne2 Bxf4 18.Nxf4 Qd6 19.f3 Nf6 20.Qd2, with A giving equality and Y-T +=, saying "Black still has worse pieces". This seems true, but there are plenty of options.) 9.Ne5 Bb7 10.Bd3 (They cite the same main game with 10.Be2, Aagaard giving more alternatives along the way. But Yrjola and Tella extend the main game with an good alternative suggestion that improves. Aagaard gives his own relevant suggestion earlier.) 10...Nc6 11.0–0, and an important sideline goes 11...Nxe5 12.dxe5 Ne4 13.Qc2 (Y&T mention13.Nxe4 dxe4 14.Bc4, but 14...Qxd1 15.Raxd1 Rad8 16.e6 fxe6 17.Bxe6+ Kh8 looks effortlessly equal) 13...Nxc3 14.bxc3 h6, with approval by both books. The coverage here is as accurate as one might wish.
B. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.a3 c5 5.d5 Ba6 aims for 6.d5, but as Y&T discuss, White can deviate by the fascinating 6.Nc3!? Bxc4 7.e4 Bxf1 8.Rxf1, as played by Gulko, Speelman and later players.
Aagard skips 6.Nc3 entirely, although key games (beginning with 3 in 1998) preceded his book. Arguably he assessed the line as speculative enough that he skipped it to save space, a legitimate choice but indicative of the two books' relative completeness. At any rate it, 6.Nc3 has had some success thus far and Yrjola and Tella say that White gets a good initiative for the pawn, a claim which is confirmed by my database and a little analysis. The other way to get to the position Black wants (avoiding 6.Nc3) is 4...Ba6 5.Qc2 c5, although here too Y&T point out that White can avoid 6.d5 by 6.e4 cxd4 7.Nxd4 with a position that can transpose to one of the main lines of 4.a3 (line C that follows). I think that both this transposition and the move 6.Nc3 are important things to include in a book.
C. A major variation is 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.a3 Ba6 5.Qc2 Bb7 6.Nc3 c5 7.e4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5 9.Nb3 Nc6 10.Bf4
10.Bg5 is played quite a bit now. Then Aagaard follows only the line 10...Nd4 '!', which he says illustrates 'quite clearly that Black is okay' after 10.Bg5, but he stops short in the line 11.Nxd4 Bxd4 12.Bd3 Qb8' with control of dark squares and equality'. Yrjola and Tella continue 13.Ne2!? h6 14.Bd2 Bc5 15.b4 Be7 16.0–0 0–0 17.f4 '+= from a game by Tregubov. This may not mean much if Black is able to improve along the way, as Aagard might well argue is possible. In any case players now tend to avoid 10...Nd4 by means of 10...h6 11.Bh4 Nd4 12.Nxd4 Bxd4 (with better dark-square control) 13.Bd3 Be5 14.Bg3 Qb8, which is given a section by Y&T with an assessment hovers between = and +=. It is nice to have this greater detail, although Aagard's game and assessment are good enough for the average user of the book.
The alternative is 10...e5 11.Bg5 h6 12.Bh4 0–0 13.f3 Be7 14.Bf2, when Y&T give 14...Ne8 with the idea ...Nc7-e6, which seems to equalise. They cite a game with 15.0–0–0 Nc7 16.c5 Ne6 17.cxb6 Ncd4!, following a theme that arises in other lines. Aagard doesn't mention that idea but suggests 14...a5. He apparently overlooks 15.Na4, but the ...a5-a4, ...Na5 idea is a good one that for the most part hasn't been mentioned by theory. The relevant positions, for example, would be ones in when Black has played ...d6 allowing ...Nd7 to defend b6.
11.Nxc5 bxc5 12.Bd6 Nd4 13.Qd3
Aagard likes White in this position and in general Y&T quote the same lines, but the latter give 13...Re8 as an alternative to 13...e5 14.Bxc5!, and after 14.e5 (14.b4 e5 15.Rb1 isn't mentioned) 14...Ng4 15.b4 'with a murky position' Y&T. Here, however, 15...Qh4 16.Ra2 (only move) 16...Nf5 looks good because of the unlikely-looking threats of ..Nxh2 and ...Nge3 ! (I wouldn't have a chance of seeing this idea without HiArcs, of course.) So perhaps both books come up a bit short in this line; nevertheless, they both present the key ideas well.
D. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.a3 Ba6 5.Qc2 Bb7 6.Nc3 c5 7.e4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Nc6 9.Nxc6 Bxc6
In what again may be a matter of space allocation, the recently-popular 10.Qe2 is not mentioned by Aagard. It is an effective positional choice, intending 10...d6 11.g3, and it gets a column and a half in Y&T. 10.Qe2 was used before 2002, but most of the key games came in 2002, undoubtedly too late for inclusion in Aagaard's book. Whether you're on either side of this line you'll want to give some attention to this move.
The older alternative 10.Be2 probably isn't as important these days. Aagaard dismisses it by saying that 'does nothing about the important dark squares'. That's too strong a statement, even if equality is probably the correct assessment. He sticks with the move 10...Qb8, which is still a fully playable alternative, although instead of the inferior move 11.0-0?! that Aagard analyses, the move 11.f4 is more challenging and usually played, as shown in Y&T. The latter devote 1.5 pages to 10.Be2 and reveal many subtleties. They analyse 10...Qb8 as well, but give 10...Qc7'!' as the most important line. It leads to messy play that is probably equal but still being investigated. This more detailed examination is preferable, but since 10...Qb8 seems be about as good as 10...Qc7, the former is not a bad choice in a space-limited book. That Black seems near full equality in these lines is the main point, with the details in Y&T being useful mainly for players 2000 and above. The target audience for Aagard's book seems to be below that level, again a function of space restraints.
A major alternative is 10...Nh5 11.Be3
(a) 11...Bc5 12.Bxc5 bxc5 13.g3 f5 14.0–0–0 f4 15.Be2 Qg5 16.h4 Qe5 17.g4 Nf6 18.g5, and now 18...Ng8! is given by Yrjola and Tella (instead of Aagaard's 18...Nxe4 resulting in advantage to White), when they say that White can still try 19.Rhe1 Ne7 20.Nd5 but this doesn't look good to me after 20...f3. Better here seems 19.Nb5! with an advantage. If I am right, neither of Black's 18th moves achieves equality.
(b) 11...Qb8 12.0–0–0 Bd6 (Aagaard says that 12...Nf6! is the "only good move', quoting a game from 1998 in which Black equalised after 13.Be2 Bd6 14.g3 Be5; he points out that 13.f4 fails to 13...Ng4!; 12...Nf6! is not even mentioned by Y&T and is definitely worthy of investigation) 13.g3 Be5 14.Bd3 Qb7 15.Rhe1 Nf6 16.f4 Bxc3 17.Qxc3 Rc8 18.Bd4! (Kramnik's improvement upon his own 18.e5?!) 18...Nxe4 19.Bxe4 Bxe4 20.Bxg7 Rg8 21.Bf6 d5 22.Rd4. This is still unclear, perhaps +=.
The move 16.Bf4 is only mentioned by Y&T, but it is given '! with a large advantage' by Aagaard; he continues 16...d6 17.Bxe5 dxe5 18.Bf1 0–0 19.f3 Rfd8 20.Qf2 (preventing ...Rd4 in many cases). I'm not so sure about this line (or the idea) if Black chooses after a plan involving ...a5 (and in some cases ...a4) combined with ...Nd7-c5; this could start with 19...a5, for example. Even if his claim is open to doubt, Aagaard has clearly put more thought and detail into the positions after 11...Qb8.
11.Be2 0–0 12.0–0–0 Ne8
12...Rc8 13.Kb1 a5 14.Bg3 Ne8 15.Rhe1 Qe7 16.Bd3 f6 17.f4 Kh8 18.Bf2+= according to theory and one game. Aagaard says that this is not clear and he may be right, although I don't see Black's plan.
13.Bg3 e5! 14.Kb1 Bd4 15.Nb5 Bxb5 16.cxb5 Rc8 17.Qa4 Nf6
Or 17...Qe7 18.Rc1 Nd6 as played by Timman. It's a bit irritating for Black to defend such positions, but it is definitely a valid alternative and presumably well within drawing bounds.
18.Bh4 d5 Y&T give this "!" 19.f4 Rc5 We have reached a position from my own game J Watson-Browne, Los Angeles 1996, and now Aagaard suggests 20.Rhf1. He's quite right, and indeed my post-mortem analysis gave White a small edge. Yrjola and Tella assign the game's continuation 20.Rxd4 a '?!' and follow the game itself to a point that they call -/+. This is an example of annotating by result (I lost!), as White could have gotten an even game at several points thereafter.
In conclusion, both books are well-written, with the authors contributing a fair number of independent ideas. Yrjola and Tella's is naturally more detailed and has more strategic discussion, especially at the beginning of each chapter. Aagaard's book is more compact and by limiting the number of alternatives at many points, it may appeal to the player who doesn't have much time for opening study. I would personally opt for the Gambit book simply because it includes more material and more important or potentially important alternatives.
There are two interesting pairs of books on related subjects put out by Everyman. The company's idea is to have one general overview and one more complete treatise. 'English ...e5' by Alexander Raetsky and Maxim Chetverik is a well organised and up-to-date book on 1.c4 e5. Many who consistently play the English Opening will want it, but be warned that in certain sections it consists mainly of densely packed database games with only spare commentary. This is clearly a book for intermediate to advanced players. Nevertheless, there is just enough explanatory material in some key games and sections that one can learn a lot about the opening without being overwhelmed in details. On the negative side, I should mention that the assessments of various lines at the end of the chapter are far too brief and uninformative. Carsten Hansen's previously reviewed book on 1.c4 e5 is older (1999) and is therefore missing the updated material provided by 'English ...e5'. But I find Hansen's work easier to read with clearer assessments. Both books are worthy of recommendation, with 'English ...e5' the better choice for supplying the latest twists and turns of each variation, and Hansen's book superior for laying out the opening as a whole and covering wider ground.
Neil McDonald's 'Starting Out: the English' takes the opposite tack. It lays out the way that the English opening is organized into major variations and subvariations, and then goes into extensive general discussion about strategy, weaknesses, elementary principles and the like. Toss in some positionally revealing complete games and this book becomes an excellent introduction to 1.c4 for players from post-beginner to advanced club player.
Another pair of related books are written by the same author, separated by 3 years' time. A few years back Chris Ward, one of the most humorous and competent writers around, wrote the lower-level introductory book 'Starting Out: the Nimzo-Indian'. He presented the opening from Black's point of view (and he has also done a video advocating Black's side of the Nimzo). Ward has now has laid out (suggested?) a detailed system from the White side in 'Nimzo-Indian Kasparov Variation'. The latter begins with the move 4.Nf3, intending to play either 4...c5 5.g3 or 4...b6 5.Bg5 (4...0-0 5.Bg5 is a little easier for White to handle, and 4...d6 5.Qc2 normally ends up looking like one of the 4.Qc2 lines, but with somewhat more flexibility for White). Ward also discusses the interesting 4....b6 5.Qb3 which enjoys spurts of popularity amongst top grandmasters. In general, the author is so attached to his favourite Nimzo-Indian that anything he suggests for White should be taken seriously. Taking a quick look at Starting Out: the Nimzo-Indian, I see that there's no serious comparison between the books because 'Starting Out' is too elementary, e.g., Ward had given 5.Qb3 a5 there and analysed only 6.a3 a4! etc., but in his new book he thinks 5...a5 is possibly 'detrimental' giving only 6.Bg5 and 6.g3 (and not 6.a3).
I briefly considered comparing Ward's 4.Nf3 repertoire with John Emms' Nimzo-Indian guide that I reviewed in this column; however, Ward not only cites that book but worked with Emms on the opening! Comparisons aside, it's so hard to find anything effective (or even interesting!) versus the Nimzo-Indian these days that players of White might have a good time using the ideas in this book. To his credit, Ward doesn't pretend that his system produces any advantage versus strong play, but he does make the case for a dynamic imbalance with equal chances. As always, he writes with clarity and humour even in this rather densely-packed work. And although in many cases nothing very clear emerges from the complications, Ward's chapter summaries at least point to the most important games and ideas. This book is recommended for intermediate through advanced players, and is most useful as a theoretical work and not a teaching guide.
The last two entries on the list are the ChessBase CD 'Colle-System' by Dimitrij Oleinikov and 'Das Colle-Koltanowski System' by Valeri Bronznik. I include them without having examined them thoroughly, but I did skim through both and feel that they are worthy of mention. Neither work promotes a repertoire for White in the Colle, yet both could be used to form a repertoire without much extra effort.
The Bronznik book is in German, which means that his many expositions will only be comprehensible to those with at least a high-school knowledge of German, but the sample games and his analysis will be. Bronznik not only includes considerable stretches of strategic explanation, but he quite fairly shows that several main lines are only equal for White. The book is divided into two large sections on ...Nbd7 lines and ...Nc6 lines for Black. Other smaller sections involve alternative schemes, notably ones with an early ...b6. The presentation is of the form of full games with subvariations in notes, which is not my favorite structure. Nevertheless, the good index of variations made it easier to navigate than many such books.
Bronznik also includes a chapter of suggestions for lines that avoid the Colle. This is a crucial area for the budding Colle player and some of the lines are entertaining, for example, 1.d4 e6 2.Nf3 f5 3.d5!?. After 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3, Bronznik offers 2...Bf5 3.c4, 2...Bg4 3.Ne5, 2...c6 3.e3, and 2...c5 3.c3. He is very honest in acknowledging that the move 2...g6 should not be answered by 3.Bd3 if one expects an advantage (or even if one wants to avoid disadvantage), so some conventional approach to the King's Indian (or Gruenfeld) may be the best way to go. If Black chooses 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3, there are of course numerous choices such as 3...c6, 3...Bf5, 3...Bg4, 3...g6, etc. And even 1.d4 e6 'can be a real problem', when the Colle ideas are not always available, and White may want to make conventional choices such as the French (2.e4) or QGD or Nimzo- and Queen's Indian lines after 2.c4 Nf6 or 2.Nf3 Nf6.
Oleinikov's CD has numerous training sections, reflecting the philosophy that 'opening knowledge is of secondary importance'. But he includes a fair amount of theory as well, with 17 'texts' that link to 396 games, '100 of them annotated by the author'. Some of these games are instructively annotated, but unfortunately, many others contain only cursory notes and or a few merged fragments, so it's not as though you get a conventional collection of 100 annotated games as you might get in a book. On the positive side, there are quite a few more games that are partially or well annotated by players such as Karsten Mueller, Ftacnik, Huebner, Speelman and Tseskarsky. These are presumably culled from ChessBase Magazine (and thus Megabase) and they flesh out the theory of the Colle. Oleinikov's extensive texts point to the relevant games; they are ordered in such categories as '10 inspirational games', 'Colle main line with Nbd7' (a straightforward theoretical section), 'Black plays Queen side fianchetto', and 'Unexpected Stonewall' (1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 e6 3.e3 c6 4.Bd3 f5!?).
The CD's Bibliography is impressive, including all the usual Informants, Encyclopedias and databases, but also these books: Adam Harvey's Colle Plays The Colle System; Gary Lane's The Ultimate Colle; C.J.S. Purdy: Action Chess, Purdy's 24 Hours Opening Repertoire; Andrew Soltis' Colle System, Koltanovsky Variation 5.c3; Aaron Summerscale's A Killer Chess Opening Repertoire; Zdenec Zavodny's Edgard Colle a Jeho Vystava (Edgard Colle And His Defense); P. E. Kondratiev's Slavjanskaja Zashita (The Slav), and several others.
In my opinion both of these products (book and CD) are excellent treatments of the Colle, although I admit to finding the opening itself rather dull. Bronznik's book is the more advanced and more analytical, whereas Oleinikov's might be more instructive for beginning and intermediate players.