John Watson Book Review (46)
The Chigorin Defence, Korchnoi, etc.
IM John Watson - Saturday 28th September 2002
Valeri Bronznik ;
303 pages; Schachverlag Kania, 2001
Die Katalanische Eroeffnung
Alexander Raetzki & Maxim Tschetwerik ;
207 pages; Schachverlag Kania 2001 [ http://www.kaniaverlag.de ]
Unusual Queen’s Gambit Declined
Chris Ward ;
160 pages; Everyman 2002
My best games with White
Victor Korchnoi ;
207 pages; Edition Olms Zürich, 2001
My best games with Black
Victor Korchnoi ;
207 pages; Edition Olms Zürich, 2001
Fundamental Chess Endings
Karsten Mueller & Frank Lamprecht ;
416 pages; Gambit 2001
Interview with a Grandmaster
Aaron & Claire Summerscale ;
144 pages; Everyman 2001
Essential Chess Quotations
John Knudsen ;
52 pages; Writers Club Press 1998 [ order from their Website ]
Nigel Davies ;
160 pages, Everyman 2001
Secrets of Chess Intuition
Alexander Belyavsky & Adrian Mikhalchishin ;
176 pages; Gambit 2002
Solving in Style (re-issue)
John Nunn ;
238 pages; Gambit 1985, 2002
The Main Line French: 3 Nc3
Steffen Pedersen ;
256 pages; Gambit 2001
Scandinavian Defense, the Dynamic 3...Qd6
Michel Melts ;
214 pages; Russell Enterpises 2001
Encyclopedia of Chess Openings B, 4th revision;
672 pages; Sahovski Informator 2002
No, I'm no going to review all of these books! Since I am going to be very busy with other matters, I probably won't have another column for quite a while. So in fairness to the publishers and their prodigious efforts, as well as for the readers information, I've created a list of books and CDs that seem of particular interest. This column will cover the books, the next one the CDs. I will go over some of these books and products normally, but much of the list is for informational purposes. Remember that most of these products are available on this site from the London Chess Center.
I received a surprising number of philosophical emails concerning my last column, some intelligent and thoughtful. I must have written something provocative, because about half of the people writing hadn't read either Aagaard's book or my own! I couldn't possibly comment upon all the issues raised, but I wanted to clarify a couple of points. As I tried to say in the column, this was by no means a review of Aagaard's book ('Excelling in Chess'). I limited myself to the parts which related to my own book. Aagard has, among other things, chapters on practical and technical matters, methods of thinking, and at some points concentrates upon chess psychology. I apologize for not making that clear. I should also have emphasized that my book isn't concerned with instructional techniques or chess teaching in general. It is an attempt to describe modern chess, and overwhelming deals with what I feel are specific changes that have occurred in the game. I do this by means of many examples, with little general philosophy. And I certainly don't tell instructors how to teach their students nor even claim that my book is instructive, much less that all generalizations are stupid or useless. I say this because the majority of emails dealt with some form of a how-to-teach/how-to-learn issue; and, predictably, I got emails with arguments against my point of view such as: 'you say no rules, but how the pieces move are rules', or 'aiming for mate is a rule', and so forth. What's a poor author to do?
Enough about that. Since I seem to have a lot of German readers, I'd like to mention the fairly new magazine KARL, 'die Kulturelle Schachmagazin'. This very unique publication, with four issues per year (apparently) of 66 small-print pages, has the usual annotated games and chess news. For example, there are contributions by Yusupov, Uhlmann, Svidler, Graf, and Golubev. But most of the issue is devoted to reports and interviews (all in German) about tournament directors, chess sponsors, the history of chess and chess clubs, the internet (interview with Mark Crowther!), and other 'chess-cultural' subjects. I also wanted to mention the excellent book reviews of Joachim Wintzer on the KARL website, the address of which is http://www.karlonline.org (go there for further information). Wintzer, who has also reviewed elsewhere, has detailed commentary on Bronznik's Chigorin book and others. And speaking of book reviews, many chess fans are not aware of Soren Seagaard's excellent site devoted solely to chess book reviews, located at http://seagaard.dk/review/eng/content/index.asp .
Valeri Bronznik's lengthy treatise on the Chigorin Defence (1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6) is the latest and most impressive in a series of recent writings about this odd-looking but stubbornly resistant opening. It is written in German, but contains mostly variations (in Figurine). The Chigorin is being played by an increasingly long list of titled international players, and I seriously doubt whether White can gain more than a typically slight edge against it (as with other sound openings). In column #39, I reviewed Martin Breutigam's excellent ChessBase CD (2000), which had some very original ideas and generally excellent coverage. Two 2002 Everyman books also deal with the subject. The Chigorin Defence constitutes one of the three sections of Chris Ward's Unusual Queen’s Gambit Declined' book; and Angus Dunnington (who wrote a whole book on the Chigorin in 1996) has a proposed solution to 2...Nc6 in his 'Attacking With 1.d4' book, reviewed 2 columns ago. Looking back a bit, we have the progression of works from my own 1981 Batsford book 'Queen's Gambit: Chigorin Defense', Eric Schiller's 1990 book 'How to play the Chigorin Defense in the Queen's Gambit Declined' (Chess Enterprises), Andrew Soltis' 1995 'The Tchigorin Defense' (Chess Digest), and Nigel Davies' 1996 video 'The Untamed Chigorin' (Grandmaster Video). Bronznik makes use of my, Breutigam's, Dunnington's and Schiller's books, and finds a number of other sources of which I wasn't unaware, e.g., V Gagarin's 'Secrets from Russia' and a Chess Monthly article by Andrew Martin! To me, this is particularly inspiring, because with increasing frequency books by the major publishers are using databases almost exclusively, and ignoring extremely vital and original books and articles on their subjects. As only one example of many, Ward's Bibliography, apart from This Week in Chess and ChessBase Magazine, gives only three books and a video for the three openings that he covers! This is also true of books on mainstream openings: In studying certain openings in detail recently, I have been stunned by what major lines and relevant ideas (even refutations) go completely unmentioned in currently-appearing books. Clearly the database method of writing has become a strong incentive to lazy research and writing. Finally, speaking of sources and the Chigorin, this is as good a time as any to mention Paul Janse, who has developed a great deal of Chigorin theory by experimental games, and been kind enough to share his discoveries with me.
Bronznik has put together the first encyclopedic, full-length book on the Chigorin. As with Dunnington and Breutigam, he also provides material on the order 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nc6, which is of great practical interest to one who prefers to avoid main lines of the Queen's Gambit. In all three cases, this section is useful but not comprehensive.
- So much of the Chigorin is virgin territory. Take a look at this amazing position: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 dxc4 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.e4 Bg4 6.d5 Ne5 7.Bf4 Bxf3 8.Qa4+ Qd7 9.Nb5 (from a blitz game between Dlugy and Morozevich), and now ...Qg4!!I'll let you contemplate that. Or the typical knights-on-the-rim versus the centralized bishop pair from Z Szabo-Dobosz, Budapest 1994, with the same line until 6.Be3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4 8.Qd3 0-0 9.a3 Bxc3+ 10.bxc3 Bxf3 11.gxf3 Nh5 12.Qd2 Na5 13.Ba2 c5 14.Rb1 Qf6! and Black is at least holding his own!
In more developed but obscure lines, Bronznik provides countless new ideas and much analysis. After 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Ne4 (he agrees that my suggested 4...dxc4 is probably satisfactory, adding much analysis), there is a terrific amount of detail following all 3 White moves: (a) 5.Nxe4 dxe4 [he looks at 6.e3?! f6! and 6.d5 e6!, with great complications; (b) 5.cxd5 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Qxd5 7.Nf3 [a whole page of small print]; and (c) 5.Bh4 g5!? [with 5...Others] 6.Bxg5!?, a fascinating line based upon 6...Nxg5 7.cxd5 and if 7...Nmoves? [7...e5!], 8.h4.
In all lines in the book, he quotes extensively from the other sources mentioned above and extends their analysis. I see, for example, that Bronznik used my lengthy 3-part 1998 Inside Chess article on the Chigorin. It looks as though he thoroughly and objectively used and improved upon the relevant material from it, although I can't seem to find a copy of my own to confirm that! (Which gives you an idea of my level of office organization).
Let's do a comparison with the variation emphasized by Ward and recommended for White by Dunnington: 3.cxd5 Qxd5 4.e3 e5 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Bd2 Bxc3 7.Bxc3 exd4 8.Ne2. First of all, I should say that there is a typical and unfortunate tendency of database-dependent books to overemphasize the currently most popular lines, neglecting other variations (in this case quite a few) that are at least or more dangerous. The 7.Bxc3 move became popular a few years back, but mainly because the idea is very straightforward and top players, who have little time to study irregular openings like the Chigorin (that situation is changing), saw and found a simple solution in it. Ward, supposedly covering the whole defense (although missing or dismissing crucial and valid major variations) devotes 10 of his 49 pages to this line alone (! and 4 pages are indices or introductions).
At any rate, Dunnington's Chigorin coverage [no index at all for this book of complex variations - what can I say?] gives a detailed section on this, his only suggested line. But he seems unaware of the theory! On page 72, for example, he states that in the line 8...Bg4 9.f3, the most natural move 9...Be6 'lacks consistency' (why?), giving 10.Nxd4 0-0-0 11.Qa4! Nge7 12.Nxc6 Nxc6 13.Bb5, not even mentioning my 1998 suggestion, 13...Qc5!, which has since won a pretty game since and gives Black a choice of equal continuations in its main line. In the very main line, 8...Nf6 ('!' Bronznik) 9.Nxd4 0-0, Dunnington gives 10.Nb5! Qg5 11.Nxc7 Bg4 12.Qb3 Rad8 13.Qxb7, and here he doesn't mention Breutigam's 13...Rd6 suggestion from his ChessBase CD, which Bronznik thinks leads to compensation after 14.Nb5 Re6, 14.h4 Rfd8! or 14.h3 Rb8 (14...Bh5!?) 15.Qa6 Bh5. In the line 13...Qc5 14.h3, Dunnington follows a Rebel-Tiger 12.0 game with 14...Ne4 ('?!' Bronznik) from Cadaques 2000 leading to White's advantage (although he doesn't give the citation). Ward quotes the same game. But more important are Bronznik's suggestions 14...Bc8!? 15.Qb3 Ne4 and 14...Bh5!?. These are crucial positions, in my opinion. [Note: The above was rewritten after TWIC reader Shane Gaschler pointed out that in my review I had mixed up Dunnington's analysis of 8...Nge7 with his analysis of 8...Nf6 ! My apologies to Mr. Dunnington, who was unjustly criticized in my original version].
Ward is much better in covering this 7.Bxc3 variation (showing Black to be fine in all lines), but then has little room for more critical White attempts. His most amazing omission is analysis on 3.Nc3 dxc4 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.e4 (he also misses Black's known best continuations after 5.d5 Na5 6.Qa4+ and skips the important 5.e3) 5...Bg4 6.Be3 e6. This is considered the very main line of the Chigorin Defence by most of us and is given 21 pages by Bronznik! Ward gives just 7.Bxc4 Bb4 8.Qc2 (no alternatives like 8.Qd3) 8...0-0 9.Rd1 and Stop! He says only that 'White maintains his centre'. Bronznik cites the many, many games with this line, and uses both his and others analysis of 9.Rd1 (along with other moves up to and at this point) resulting in over 12 pages on this crucial variation.
Bronznik covers so many other lines with thoroughness and originality that his book deserves the highest praise. I do have a personal gripe. After 3.Nc3 dxc4 4.d5 Ne5 5.Qd4, the move 5...f6 was suggested in my 1981 Batsford book, played by me in tournaments that year, and further analysed in an article before it later caught on to become one of two main lines (the best one, I believe). I even outlined the main plans that Black still follows. I'm not sure that any source has given me credit, and Bronznik, who has my publications, only says that Dunnington (1996) likes the move. In a similar case, I first suggested in 1981 that in the old main line of this defence, 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.cxd5 Bxf3 5.dxc6 Bxc6 6.Nc3 e6 7.e4 Bb4 8.f3, at the time thought to be better for White in every line, 8...Qh4+! 9.g3 Qf6! should be played. After 10.Be3 0-0-0, the only theory at the time was Suetin's '11.Bd3!' with clear advantage, and almost every previous game had continued 8...f5 instead (considered almost losing at the time) or more passive, weaker moves. I showed in detail that after 10.Bd3 Ba5! (a move that appears in other lines as well), Black was doing fine. This important verdict has held up, and 8...Qh4+/9...Qf6 is the main line today (although interestingly, Bronznik single-handedly tries to revive 8...f5!? in this book). Again, Bronznik cites some of my analysis but gives no credit. This may seem a petty complaint, but these are two discoveries critical for the health of the entire opening. By contrast, some well-known international players are continually given credit for obvious moves that had been played many times before.
Putting that to the side, I have nothing but praise for this book. It will not only become the Chigorin Defence bible for many years to come, but it establishes the Chigorin as a sound defense deserving respect. Players of all strengths might want to look in this direction for a new system to play.
I don't want to bash Chris Ward any further, but I do feel that his 'Unusual Queen’s Gambit Declined' is easily his worst book. Correct that: since all his other books and even his videos are quite good, this is his only bad book. It even lacks his usual light and friendly style, which is a shame. More importantly, it looks as though he has rushed the book out, and it isn't clear what experience he has with the openings involved, which include the Albin Countergambit, the Chigorin Defence, and the Baltic Defence (1.d4 d5 2.c4 Bf5). I have already discussed the Chigorin part above. I have written a little something about the other two openings as well. Ward seems to ignore major sources, and I've found few lines into which I feel that he's put much of an independent effort. There are no books cited on the Albin Countergambit when there have been several such, in particular the important and easily available 'Albins Gegengambit' by Raetsky and Tschetwerik (Kania 1998). In fact, when Ward does refute some old analysis (he doesn't name the source), it turns out that the same line appears in 'R & T'. Also by comparison with that book, the 5.Nbd2 lines of the Albin are treated superficially and inaccurately. Regarding the Baltic Defence, the only line that I looked at was 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Bf5 3.Qb3 e5 4.Qxb7 Nd7 5.Nc3 exd4 6.Nxd5 Bd6 (the main line). Then Ward brushes over the move 7.Nf3, which I consider almost a refutation of Black's play, and upon which I published considerable analysis in the Watson/Schiller 'Big Book of Busts'. He gives a game with 7...c5 8.e3 Ne7, but doesn't consider the fairly obvious alternative 8.Qc6!, when 8...Qb8 is virtually forced, and White now has a very pleasant choice, but I think that 9.g3 is particularly effective.
Now that I'm in a bad mood, I have to say one more thing. Is it just me, or does the word 'pressurize' (also used in other Everyman books) drive you up a wall? Ward resorts to it too often, when 'puts pressure on' sounds a lot better. (Okay, I had to vent).
I only recently received Volume 1 and Volume 2 of Viktor Korchnoi's 'best games' collections, and most readers will be very familiar with them. The first consists of 50 games with White, and it won the British Chess Federation Book of the Year award. The second, 50 games with Black, retains the same high quality. I will talk mostly in general terms, since I haven't had time to read them very thoroughly (especially the volume of games with Black).
In my opinion, Korchnoi is easily the greatest player not to win the World Championship after Steinitz' ascendancy. I think that this is becoming generally conceded, notwithstanding the claims of players like Rubinstein and Keres, because of his many great victories in the Championship cycles, his having reached two world championship matches, his tournament successes, and his amazing longevity at the top. He is still a top-ranked player today and going strong after more than 5 decades of play. Of course the usual problem with misleading book titles exists here: these are by no means Korchnoi's best games, nor does even he say so, ranking quality of games as only fourth among his criteria. Rather, he wants to give examples spread out over his whole career, against as many different opponents as possible, and involving as many different types of openings and positions as possible. He tends to pick a lot of games versus relatively lower opponents, and not even particularly spectacular or ingenious ones, but ones which illustrate special insights and in many cases, intense infighting that requires a strong practical approach. In a way, that's too bad, because so many of his truly brilliant and memorable games are missing. I wouldn't mind seeing a series of his wonderful games versus Spassky, for example, but we get only one in the two volumes. Karpov gets 4 games, and Tal, Polugayevsky, and Geller get 2 apiece. But otherwise for the most part it tends to be one apiece versus the greats, as with Fischer, Petrosian, and Botvinnik.
These books are highly readable, full of words and opinions (like Korchnoi himself), and without much analytical detail. There are revealing tidbits such as this one pointed out by a friend of mine: "A competent positional player, if he has several plans, does not hurry to carry out one of them. After all, by beginning to implement some plan, he to some extent loses his superiority over his opponent, which in fact consisted of the fact that up till then he had more possibilities than the opponent!" This kind of flexibility seems to contradict the old advice of concentrating upon one plan and consistently pursuing it. Of course both approaches are appropriate depending upon the position. But Korchnoi's view is in line with Dvoretsky's observation about very few games between strong players being characterized by one overall plan that endures for either player; rather, he talks about limited short-term plans that are constantly adjusted. Another one: "Played according to plan. But all obvious moves look dubious in analysis after the game". Or: "Pawn advances are justified if they help to solve urgent problems - strategic or tactical." Who know if these are meaningful statements, but they are fun! Korchnoi also talks about being guided in very complicated positions by intuition, something that does seem to be more true of him than many great players, although of course he could outcalculate any of us mere mortals when necessary.
In general, I think of Korchnoi as being primarily a classical player (relative to his contemporaries, that is), but looking through these volumes, I would have to say that that is mainly true of his games with White. Despite his heavy use of the English opening (most of the games are 1.d4 systems), I would characterize his play with White as very direct with a great, even extreme, love of space, followed by classical squeezes and direct attacks when the opponent lashes out to free himself. As Black, he is all over the map, playing a great variety of conventional openings in often unconventional style, and finding middlegame counterattacks from the most unlikely and optically disorganized positions.
Unquestionably these are very fine books that are musts for a chess lover's library. I will say, however, that this is not the most fascinating games collection that I have seen. Many of the comments are quite banal, and one wants more explanation (in terms of moves) for why simple and obvious moves weren't played. The games are high-quality but not always absorbing. On the other hand, a lot of what Korchnoi says is fascinating, and I think that the endgames he chooses (just look for the diagrams) are extremely interesting; perhaps some games were chosen on that account alone. In general, this is a book to be enjoyed and studied, with most of its instructional benefits accruing to the developing player.
Gambit seems to have done it again, producing the newest-and-best encyclopedic style one-volume endgame book with 'Fundamental Chess Endings', by Karsten Mueller & Frank Lamprecht. This is in the tradition of 'Basic Chess Endings' and 'Batsford Chess Endings' (a favorite of mine). I have only used it twice with a student. but it certainly seems to cover all the bases. The authors include quite a few exercises that turn the book into a teaching tool as well. This looks definitely worth getting.
'Interview with a Grandmaster' is a combination of interviews with and games from the nine top GMs Adams, Seirawan, Short, Khalifman, Lautier, Sofia Polgar, Hodgson, Sutovsky and Rowson (note that four of the nine players are from Great Britain). It is authored by the chess playing couple Aaron & Claire Summerscale, although it is not clear whether Aaron (or the players' earlier notes) provide the analytical contributions to these games. They are a major part of the book in either case.
Two brief impressions. I think that Short's interview is the worst. It is a waste of an extremely interesting personality. Where is his sense of humour, his eccentricity, or even his tendency to make the occasional controversial or irresponsible statement? Jonathan Rowson's is the best, full of thoughtful and original comments. In general, you probably have to have a special interest in chess personalities, as opposed to mere curiosity, to want to get this book. I enjoyed it, but of course I got it for free.
John Knudsen's 'Essential Chess Quotations' is a fun book full of remarks and sayings about the game. These stem mostly from chessplayers, but also from sources such as literature and philosophy. The book is unfortunately too short,with only 42 pages of rather widely-spaced chess quotes. But there are many gems. On the cover, we find the Reuben Fine quote 'I'd rather have a pawn than a finger'! A few others that caught my eye: 'No fool can play chess, and only fools do' (German proverb). 'There just isn't enough televised chess' (David Letterman). The sobering 'All I want to do, ever, is play chess' (Bobby Fischer, the least active of all world champions, who quit while still very young). Knudsen, a correspondence player himself, includes several pages of quotes from correspondence players, mostly dull. But I enjoyed his succinct observation that 'In correspondence chess, you can smoke during the game'.
The book is a wonderful idea and enjoyable read, and my wish is that the author should greatly expand upon the number of quotes in the next edition. There could, for example, be more Nimzowitsch and John Fedorowicz quotes. And in my genre, one might add some immortal comments on chess books, e.g., Gufeld's back cover endorsement (actually printed): 'Book good'.
I've been desperately eager to get Steffen Pedersen's 'The Main Line French: 3 Nc3', but having just gotten it, I'm convinced that the book is not at all up to his normally high standards. I know that I'm a sort of expert on the Winawer, but even given that perspective, Pedersen seems surprisingly unaware of recent ideas in and writings on many variations (way too many). He slights currently critical and unresolved lines, and adds very little that is original. As with Ward's book above, I wonder if he has much experience with this opening, and whether he got much beyond databases in his research. Of course, any French player including myself will want to have the latest book on 3.Nc3, and Pedersen's treatment of 3.Nc3 dxe4 and the MacCutcheon Variation look like the best out there. Nevertheless I'm disappointed.
The rest of the list is mostly informational. I'm very happy to have Encyclopedia B, because there are too many times when things like NCO are too superficial and database games take too much time to sort through. I love 'Solving in Style', a problem-solving guide with many examples; beware that it is a reprint. And a word regarding Gambit and Everyman: both of these two leading chess book publishers have brought out quite a few books recently, and here I have listed some of their more advanced and/or interesting ones above. But they have also recently published numerous instructional books, a category that I don't normally do reviews on, and you may want to look into those.
CDs next time.