John Watson Book Review (79)
The End of Openings, Part 2
IM John Watson - Tuesday 4th September 2007
Before taking a break from opening material, I'll take a look at a few more books from the end of last year and several that have only recently been released. Hopefully this and the last five columns will have given you some idea of what's out there, or at least what has caught my attention; but there are always new books on specific openings and the Internet is particularly useful for finding out some details about them. One route is to go to booksellers such as the London Chess Center, which sponsors this site. It's also interesting to visit the sites of publishers; sometimes you'll get a look at the forthcoming products.
At the end of this column you can find reader corrections and comments regarding the last two columns.
The Ruy Lopez: A Guide For Black; Sverre Johnsen & Leif Johannessen; 208 pages; Gambit 2007
Play the Ruy Lopez; Andrew Greet; 376 pages; Everyman 2006
Garry Kasparov on Modern Chess, part 1: Revolution in the 70s; Garry Kasparov; 242 pages; Everyman 2007
Starting Out: the Closed Sicilian; Richard Palliser; 192 pages; Everyman 2006
The Sharpest Sicilian; Kiril Georgiev and Atanas Kolev; 272 pages; Chess Stars 2007
Starting Out: Sicilian Najdorf; Richard Palliser; 192 pages; Everyman 2006
The Sveshnikov Reloaded; Dorian Rogozenko; 340 pages; Quality Chess 2005
Challenging the Nimzo-Indian; David Vigorito; 288 pages; Quality Chess 2007
Knight on the Left: 1 .Nc3; Harald Keilhack; 383 pages; Kania Verlag 2006
Starting Out: Sicilian Scheveningen; Craig Pritchett, 192 pages; Everyman 2006
Two fascinating books on the Ruy Lopez (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5) have appeared at roughly the same time, coincident with the sudden rise in frequency of the Ruy Lopez at the top levels. The Ruy Lopez: A Guide For Black is written by Sverre Johnsen & Leif Johannessen. It presents a complete repertoire for Black following 3...a6; the backbone of the repertoire is the Zaitsev Variation: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0–0 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Re8.
This is the basic position. The authors also analyse 9...Qd7!? and 9...Re8. 9...Qd7 avoids the repetition after the move 9...Re8 by 10 Ng5, forcing 11...Rf8, and then 12 Nf3. Likewise, after 9...Bb7 10 d4, Black can play 10...Qd7, evading 10...Re8 11 Ng5. One thing to do against weaker players is to see if they want a repetition, and if so, switch to the ...Qd7 lines on the 9th or tenth moves.
All other reasonable White options from move 4 onward are considered in ample detail. Even if you want to play another main line versus the Ruy Lopez - although the Zaitsev is one of the best - the coverage of moves like 9 d4 and systems with d3 is excellent. Versus the Exchange Variation with 4 Bxc6 dxc6 5 0-0, the authors give Black a choice between 5...f6 and 5...Ne7. Unfortunately, this is one of the titles that I'm going to simply recommend without giving it the close consideration it deserves (although see the comments in the following review of Greet's book). The lengthy explanatory overview and Introduction alone are enough to give it top marks. That is fortunate, because this allows Johnsen & Johannessen expand the reach of the book to a somewhat larger audience than would be indicated by the material. Which is to say that the inspiring but also intimidating depth of the analysis might be a drawback for the average player. Certainly the chapters on the very theoretical main line Zaitsev are best fit for extremely advanced players, and amateur players need to be careful not to get too enmeshed in pages of tactical details. Nevertheless, taking into account the ways in which Black can deviate from those lines, I think anyone above, say, 1700 strength will be fully rewarded by using this book to study and play one of chess' richest openings.
One aspect of Andrew Greet's Play the Ruy Lopez immediately worried me: he played his first game with the variation in question only a week before completing the book! This puts a serious burden on him to demonstrate a real handle on the characteristic ideas and problems associated with the opening. I think that he succeeds in doing so.
I'll describe the book in concrete terms by showing an example of Greet's analysis. The book promotes the following line for White:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6
Greet also looks at the many alternatives such as 3..d6, 3...Bc5, 3...Nd4, 3...f5, and others (for 3...Nf6, see the brief comment below). This and other deviations from the main line account for much of the length of the book: 376 pages!
4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Qe2
The author calls this the 'Worrall System', and it constitutes the core of the book. In fact, 5 Qe2 is often named the 'Wormald' system, at least in my old books, and the normal order for the 'true' Worrall is 5 0-0 (allowing 5...Nxe4, the Open Variation) 5...Be7 6 Qe2. Of course the naming conventions aren't important, but you should be clear about the differences. By playing 5 Qe2 as White, for example, you can avoid not only the Open Variation but the Marshall Attack and other complex defences. On the other hand, Black is more free to pursue options other than ...Be7 for his bishop. Let's continue with the 'main line':
As indicated, there are a host of options here.
6.0-0 b5 7.Bb3 0–0 8.c3 d5 9.d3 Bb7 10.Nbd2 Re8
Let me compare the two books at this intersection point. Taking this as a 'test' would be grossly unfair to Johnsen & Johannessen, who must spend the bulk of their efforts to justifying Black's position against the many mainstream attacks against the Ruy Lopez; hence they are hardly about to invest a lot of time and space into addressing the Worrall System. Nevertheless, we can use the position to show how Greet approaches his material.
Johnsen & Johannessen give 11 Rd1 as their main line and observe: 'Actually, 11 a3 has been played more frequently. That move too marginally improves White's position but we find it hard to believe that White can really fight for the initiative with such a move. Indeed, after 11...Bf8 we cannot see that White has demonstrated anything resembling an advantage in any of the top encounters.' Here they go on to quote fragments of the games Short-Timman and J Polgar-Grischuk, ending in equality. But Greet, who of course is writing a whole book that is more or less dependent upon this position, continues
This move is less known and has appeared most often in correspondence games.
Now we find an example of one of the best features of this book: Greet suggests a move never played for Black, 12...Na5, analyses it, and admits that there's no evident advantage for White! I'll forego the lines, in which he shows that the position is at any rate still interesting. The discovery and discussion of ideas for the 'opponent' is too rare in advocacy books, and might even be considered beyond the call of duty. Greet should be applauded for doing so at various important junctures.
13.Ne4 Qd7 14.Re1
In this position Greet finds an edge for White after normal moves, and concentrates upon Black's most promising resource, which has been tested only once:
White can draw with 15.Ba2 Kh8 16.Nfg5 h6 17.Qh5 fxe4 18.dxe4 Nf6 19.Nf7+ Kh7 20.Ng5+=.
Now the 'main line' goes
Greet gives 16...Bg7 17.Qd2, which is more promising for White than Black.
17...Kh7! 18.Bxe5 Nf4 19.Bxf4 Rxe2 20.Rxe2
At this point, instead of 20...Ne7, which was played in the only game with this line, I think that Black might try simply
Not 20...Qxd3?? 21.Rd1.
21.Rxe8 Qxe8 22.Bxc7 Qe7 23.Bf4
23.Bb6 Ne5 24.Nxe5 Qxe5 leaves White with more than enough material, but his pieces don't coordinate and Black stands better.
23...Na5 24.Bc2 Bxf3 25.gxf3 Qe6
and I'd rather be Black (I think!), although there's plenty going on. This is all wonderfully interesting and the kind of thing that makes for a great opening book.
By the way, you will notice that Black seems to have sufficient chances in these lines, so Johnsen & Johannessen are hardly discredited by their assessment.
You can see the advantage in avoiding so much theory by the way that Greet suggests meeting the Berlin Defence: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 Nf6. His move is 4 Qe2, which is consistent, and it will often transpose into the Worrall. In my opinion, the position after 4...Bc5 5 c3 is hardly one to frighten Black. I think that delaying castling by 5...Qe7 is logical, because after Greet's 6 d3, 6...a6 7.Ba4 d6 8.d4 (Greet's main idea; now 8.Bg5, a good move after ...0-0, is well met by 8...h6 9.Bh4 g5 10.Bg3 Bd7, or even 10...h5 11.h4 g4 with the idea 12.Ng5?! Nd7! 13.Bb3 Nd8) 8...exd4 9.cxd4 Ba7 10.d5 b5 11.dxc6 bxa4 12.Nc3 a5! intending 13...Ba6 with excellent play, even if the pawn on a4 falls.
All this does is demonstrate how much unexplored material White's move Qe2 can generate. I recommend this book in any case, but especially to those many intermediate players who are trying to bypass the lengthy main lines of the Ruy Lopez.
Let's turn to Garry Kasparov on Modern Chess, part 1: Revolution in the 70s. This is a book that I find disappointing, uncreative, and expensive! However, I should put that in the context of some of Kasparov's previous successes as a writer and video presenter. First, there are his 5 volumes of My Great Predecessors, books that have stirred the imaginations of an astonishing number of chess fans, including even inactive amateurs. They are guaranteed classics, of which, given the constraints on their budgets, nearly ever chess player will want at least selected volumes. In one of the coming columns I will be looking at the most recent Predecessors volume within the context of history and biographical books. In addition to these, Kasparov has done a series of opening videos for ChessBase (also reviewed here) that are extremely well done and show the ex-World Champion in a relaxed mode, enthusiastic about chess and delivering absorbing material. If you are interested in the particular variations discussed, you will most surely benefit from them. Going back some years, Kasparov made a series of videotapes tracing his early career through the beginning of his rivalry with Karpov. I reviewed and high praised these fascinating videos - now a bit obscure - in one of my first columns.
And now this clunker. Reading it, one feels that Everyman's relationship with Kasparov has been so fruitful that they simply wanted to publish something - anything! - by him, making the safe assumption of commercial success.
I'll begin with some general facts. The title, indicating a discussion of openings in the 1970s, is partially misleading but reflects its contents more clearly than Kasparov's slightly odd first sentence that 'With this volume I open a new, essentially autobiographical 'Modern Chess Series', which will also cover all my matches with Anatoly Karpov, my selected games, and my matches with computers.' There isn't much of an autobiographical character in this volume, even in the chess sense. And it's hard to know who contributed what to the book. It states: 'The book has been written by [Kasparov] in conjunction with chess master and journalist Dmitri Plisetsky.' Plisetsky was indeed Kasparov's full co-author in the My Great Predecessors series, although not given much credit there. He continues to be demoted, however, as this lone reference to him appears only on the inside flap of the back cover! Then there is Kasparov's small print acknowledgement of Alexander Sakharov and Yuri Dokhoian's 'assistance in preparing this manuscript.' Since Dokhoian was Kasparov's second and opening researcher over the years, and as far as I know Sakharov was a manager of his database, my suspicion is that they put together much of this volume. I say this because the book consists of mainly publicly available games and games excerpts organised by variation. The unifying theme is supposed to be the greatly accelerated change of theory in the 1970s, but already there's a problem: a large number of the featured variations didn't gain attention or come into general usage until the 1980s or 1990s. Interestingly, only 33 of the games listed in the index are from the 1970s (13 from 1979!), and 66 are from the 80s onward. Only a few are from 2000 and later, the last one in 2005. This reflects the fact that although Kasparov and company are following an open variation's evolution, they generally aren't interested in the theory or theoretical standing of the variations today, however much those have changed.
I think that the first two chapters are the best and of most interest to the average reader who is unfamiliar with the openings. They concern the Hedgehog System (the English Opening version) and Chelyabinsk Variation, both of which were truly developed and caught on in the 1970s (note that I don't say 'invented', because most opening variations were played at least once in older times). We in the West normally call the Chelyabinsk the 'Sveshnikov Variation', and Sveshnikov himself contributes an essay upon how the opening was 'born'. The general discussion of the history and ideas of the variations are quite good. There is nothing new for those who already play the Hedgehog and Sveshnikov, just game excerpts. That is too bad, but that's not the main point. The authors' idea is to paint a story and watch ideas evolve.
Unfortunately, the rest of the chapters don't live up to these two, to say the least. They tend to be hodgepodges of more- or- less-annotated games that read like a very abbreviated opening book but without the explanations that the average player would need, and precious few suggestions. Far too often, we are referred to games in the Predecessors series, which is both annoying and not very realistic (that is, in terms of the likelihood that readers will jump to their bookshelves). Throughout, we find that the variations bear little or no relation to the thesis. In his chapter on 6 Be3 in the Najdorf, for example, he makes the point that the English Attack with 6...e6 only received 'genuine international attention' in 1985, and that 6...Ng4 (admittedly a small section with no games) was only brought into respectability in the 1990s. This is a problem throughout. I checked into my own territory, the French Defence, and found a chapter that concentrates up the French Advance with 6 a3, giving no examples of that from the 1970s (since it developed later), and 14 games after 1980 (almost all well after that date). There is a game cited from the 1970s, but not with a3, but rather the old line 6 Be2 ! Later, Kasparov reviews the Winawer with 7 Qg4 and the move 7...0-0, which has of course been around for many decades, but only first came into its own well after the 1970s (I would say in the middle-to-late 1980s).
I wish that I had time to show how little energy has been invested into much of this book and how shallow the explanations are about a selection of top-level opening variations. Unfortunately, I can't treat every product in that much detail. But here's one important question: Who is this book aimed at? After years of writing somewhat esoteric books and trying to discuss issues with the more committed members of the chess community, I admit to becoming much more interested in this subject. My recent two opening volumes specifically have less experienced students in mind even as the material gradually becomes more complex. What about other genres? I can tell almost immediately whether a training or exercise book is meant for near-beginners or the 1400-2100 crowd. Games collections with dense analysis but little or no prose should appeal more to advanced players. Opening books are tougher, but the target audience is pretty clear once you see the book (there's the rub, I admit; a bookstore browse or a reviewer's comments should help). At least there is an appropriate audience.
When I look Revolution in the 70s, however, I'm not sure who would benefit from it. There is nothing for the beginning or developing player, which is not Kasparov & company's idea. All right, but club players are likely to be intimidated or bored by the recitation of who played something against whom in what year without an explanation of why that improved matters, and advanced players (say, 2200 and above), who in principle should get the most out of the book, may be disappointed by it's lack of new material or suggestions. My guess is that this more advanced crowd would get the most out of the book, primarily because it might be enjoyable reading material; that is, as a story of how various familiar openings have evolved, and as an reminder of how the theory breaks down and is outlined. Still, I can't really recommend it to them as a worthwhile purchase.
At the end of Revolution, things pick up as we get a series of remarks by 28 leading players 'who were actively playing in the 1970s and 1980s'. They have been sent a questionnaire of 7 questions which deal with the revolution of openings in the 1970s. This seems promising, but the questions are related and invite a limited answer. There are indeed some interesting responses, such as Portisch's irrelevant but utterly pessimistic grumblings about the state of chess, and Keene's discussion of the history of British chess (a bit off-topic, but I learned something). Sveshnikov offers the most: a six and a half page essay on this and that, and Mark Dvoretsky also makes a lengthy contribution. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the questions, many responses were very short and incomplete, and most emphasize the influence of computers on opening theory, hardly a 1970s phenomenon!. You would think that players of the era itself would be the most inclined to agree with Kasparov's thesis, especially since it would enhance their status in chess history. On the contrary, most players disagreed altogether with the idea that there had been an openings revolution in the 1970s. By my count, 15 of them rejected Kasparov's claim, 7 agreed, and 6 were ambivalent or didn't directly address the subject. Regarding Fischer's influence on opening theory, I would say that the average reaction was that he did influence it, but no more than expected from a world champion.
One more thing: For various reasons, I generally leave it up to the reader to find the price at which he can purchase a product, but I will say that it's ridiculous that this book costs so much, in fact, considerably more than the Predecessors books (which run near to 500 pages).
All in all, I have to call this Kasparov's first failure. I'm sure that he will rebound, as he always does. But I'm very suspicious of the basic concept of this new series and recommend a look-before-you-leap.
Starting Out: the Closed Sicilian by Richard Palliser is (I think) the first comprehensive work on this line in a long time. It is very clearly written, as all of Palliser's books have been, with a true emphasis on themes, and 'tips' for the less experienced. My take is that in the main 3 g3 lines with or without f4, the author has made a strong case for the ...c5/...d6/...e5 structure, and spends some time describing how to play them. At the same time, he casts some doubt on whether ...c5/...d6/...e6 is desirable in practice, even if Black can keep a balance with very accurate play. On the Everyman website, you find a full chapter in ChessBase form dealing with 6 Be3 e6 and 6 Be3 e5, which should give you a better idea of Palliser's approach than I could. I'm simply going to recommend the book without closer consideration to anyone interested in the variation as either colour.
Various books on the Sicilian Najdorf have appeared recently, one hot off the shelf. Not that there is a pressing need for more material. We have, for example, 2 or 3 DVDs from Kasparov on the Najdorf (ChessBase 2006). Then there's Mastering the Najdorf by Arizmendi and Moreno (Gambit 2004), a book that one of my students swears by, with ...e5 systems given priority. John Emms contribution was unique and well written Play the Najdorf: Scheveningen Style (Everyman 2003); it studies ...e6 systems. Gambit's monstruous The English Attack by Sammalvuo covers 6 Be3 (or 6 f3, usually transposing), with both ...e5 and ...e6 sysems. These in addition to heaven knows how many chapters or sections of other books which are devoted to the most popular individual variation in chess, not to mention articles (see New in Chess Yearbook, for example, and ChessBase Magazine). And there are many older books.
Nevertheless, Najdorf theory is always shifting and the need for new information is never sated. And that new information is supplied on an almost daily basis by tournament players and articles. The Sharpest Sicilian by Kiril Georgiev and Atanas Kolev ['G&K'] is proof of that. It was published very recently; indeed, it contains material from as late as Feb 2007. This is a Chess Stars book which follows the format of their The Safest Sicilian, reviewed a few columns back. The division of variations into parts is key to the book's effectiveness as an instructional work. Each variation begins with a "Quick Repertoire", an overview of the most important lines; it gives the reader more than enough to begin playing the variation. This first section has the most explanation, but can still be fairly complex in the tactically-charged continuations. Then in the "Step by Step" chapter, each of these lines and others are analysed in detail, with the variations presented as notes to a main, bold-faced move. Here we have one of the few drawbacks to the book: it is somewhat difficult to navigate because of the rather clumsy organisation of material. On the other hand, the "Step by Step" section is to some extent a reference, so in most cases the reader will already be aware of where a sought-after line will appear. A substantial Index of Variations also helps out in this respect. To tie all this material together, a third section of complete games is appended to each variation.
I looked at the 6 Bc4 chapter of The Sharpest Sicilian, since I have a certain familiarity with the lines, and was extremely impressed by the currency of the material and its depth. It seems that all of White's recent tries, as well as his obscure but potentially dangerous ideas, are treated in considerable detail, with original suggestions that probably come from the authors' own preparation. The move 6 Be3 is quite sensibly answered by 6...e5, as are the systems with 6 f4 and 6 a4. Black's treatment of the positional 6 g3 involves ...e6 lines, either immediately or via 6...Nc6.
G&K's book begins with 60 pages on 6 Bg5 e6. Some of this covers various 7th moves such as 7 Qf3, but most of the chapter features the Poisoned Pawn Variation (6...e6 7 f4 Qb6). The Quick Repertoire section introduces the main line 8 Qd2 Qxb2 in quite a lot of detail, with 8 a3 and 8 Nb3 introduced in a few brief, thematic game excerpts which refer to, and are fleshed out by, the Complete Games section. The Poisoned Pawn portion of this introductory overview would by itself be more than enough to provide a solid basis for use by a moderately advanced player, and it is followed by loads of analysis in Step-by-Step section. Mastery of the 8 a3 and 8 Nb3 lines requires the details provided in that latter section.
The Bibliography reflects how current G&K's research has been, which is of course critical for Najdorf research. They use only a limited number of sources, but ones that are certainly to the point, e.g., Informants through #97, New in Chess Yearbooks through #80, databases including those from 'chessmix.com' [databases of the latest 'ten days' of key tournaments], and Chess Today (a daily 'newspaper' famed in the chess world for many years now). They also refer to the Russian websites Chesspro.ru and e3e5.com (why do I think that was originally meant to be 'e4e5.com'?). A rather short book list includes the most important works mentioned above, with the notable exception of The English Attack, which contains 91 dense pages of analysis on the relevant 6 Be3 e5. To more than make up for that, the authors use ChessPublishing, a paid website which has top players (usually grandmasters) annotating the most important recent games in particular openings every month. ChessPublishing also has a huge archive of these annotated games for every opening, going back many years. Thus the subscriber normally gets a book or many books' worth of material on variations. With the disclaimer that I am a writer on the site, it is easily the best value of any paid site that I am aware of, ignoring those with a completely different purpose such as the playing sites ICC and Playchess.
Note that White's second moves other than 2 Nf3, notably 2 Nc3 and 2 c3, are not dealt with in this book, although G&K fill out their 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 repertoire with fairly thorough analysis on 3 Bb5+ Bd7, and concrete lines versus 3 Nc3, 3 b4, and 3 b3. As an amusing aside, after 3 b3 the authors say 'There is one thing you should remember about 3 b3: refrain from 3...Nf6 in view of 4.e5 dxe5 5.Nxe5 e6 6 Bb2... [with White gaining the better chances].'. They apparently missed 5...Qd4(!)
which can lead to one of those Budapest Gambit-like tactical lines such as 6.Bb2!? Qxb2 7.Nc3 Be6 8.Bb5+ Nbd7 9.Nd3! Qa3 10.Ba4! followed by 11 Nb5 or 11 Nb1, winning! Alas, 7...Bf5 8.Rc1 Ne4 9.Bb5+ Nd7 10.Nxd7 0–0–0! keeps the advantage. Therefore better is 6.Bb5+! Nbd7 (or 6...Bd7 7.Nxd7 Nbxd7 8.Nc3 a6, I think slightly in Black's favour) 7.Bb2! Qe4+ after (7...Qxb2 8.Nc3! threatens Nc4, trapping the queen, which Black can on) 8 Kf1, with an obscure imbalance. For the record, the authors recommend simply 3...Nc6.
You may want to pick and choose among the variations. For example, were I taking up the Najdorf, I might decide to play all of Black's suggested recommendations except for the Poisoned Pawn. In any case, I think that this is the best available repertoire book on the Najdorf, which is saying quite a lot. The Sharpest Sicilian is an excellent book whose content far exceeds the normal standard.
If you're looking for something on a slightly lower level, and in particular a book that gives you a general survey of the Najdorf (as opposed to a suggested repertoire, although it turns out to be close to one), Richard Palliser's Starting Out: Sicilian Najdorf is more appropriate. This can be seen as a complementary volume to Palliser's, Starting Out: the Closed Sicilian above. This same author has also produced a Starting Out volume on the Bb5 Sicilian, so one might say that he is essentially reproducing a Sicilian repertoire for Black in the areas of most concern, while to some extent presenting White's side of the case in each book. Again, the Everyman website contains a chapter from the Sicilian Najdorf in ChessBase format; it covers 6 f4 and 6 g3. In the near future Everyman will be putting out CD versions of some books; I haven't seen them yet, but will surely be reviewing some for this column.
Palliser is fast becoming one of the best of the major British authors. His writing is clear, direct, and comfortable to read. It suits the 'Starting Out' series well, and in this particular book his emphasis on positional explanation and advice truly matches what I would expect from the series. Which is to say that in most of these books, the tendency to squeeze in as much material as possible has led to a deficit in low- and mid-level instruction, regardless of the authors' insistence that they will emphasize 'concepts' and 'ideas' over masses of moves. I will say, however, that several authors in the Everyman stable are putting out books and videos at a hurried rate that appears to discourage serious original analysis and new suggestions. That seems especially true with Starting Out: Sicilian Najdorf, much of which tends to be a recitation of games and other players' analysis. On the other hand, the Dangerous Weapons Sicilian and Nimzo-Indian books, both co-written by Palliser, are exceptions in that respect.
As I read along in the book I was struck by the obvious prejudice in favour of the Black pieces and seeming absence of any lines which would be fun and promising – not to say good – for White. After this impression began to grow into a serious disappointment, I decided to read the Instruction, and indeed found the first couple of pages to be a tribute to the Najdorf Defence. At the end he makes these comments:
'Throughout I have tried to be as objective as possible, although a bias towards Black was inevitable in places. After all, this book is chiefly designed for those seeking to take up the Najdorf...'
'Now it's time for you to discover how with the Najdorf Black gains good winning chances, and demonstrates that after 5...a6 White hasn't a theoretical advantage. Good luck with your Najdorf adventures!'
Wait a minute! Is a Starting Out book supposed to be written for the side playing the opening named in the title? That's certainly not the case with Palliser's book the Bb5 Sicilian (an opening for White), in which Black's method of play is endorsed in more than one chapter. In fact, that book's subtitle is 'a dynamic and hypermodern opening system for Black', obviously a mistake, but could it indicate a subconcious affirmation of the defender's prospects? O.K., no, but that was fun to write. Seriously, he seems to be as interested in Black's side as White's (but no more so, as is appropriate), and in the Closed Sicilian book above I'd say that he's indeed a booster for White against irregular systems and certain conventional setups, but also definite about the lines he thinks Black should play. I suppose that a Sicilian player will indeed be happy to know that White stands badly so often in the Najdorf; nevertheless, a 1 e4 player might want to see at least which subvariations favour White, even if Palliser then produces his overall solution to a system. More generally, which lines does he think White should play? I doubt that Everyman is planning a Starting Out: Beating the Najdorf book. Or...?
In conclusion, we have one of the best explanatory books that I've seen in any specialized opening work, written in an attractive manner and easy to read. I would urge anyone who is taking up the Najdorf to grab a copy. Just be aware that it's not a deeply theoretical book, and that you won't find much in it to inspire players of White.
Two books from the publisher Quality Chess are worthy of your close attention. This relatively new publisher has already produced several opening books of note, e.g., one sprightly effort is Tiger's Modern, reviewed a couple of columns ago. By contrast, a deadly serious book is Dorian Rogozenko's The Sveshnikov Reloaded. Apart from the title (I have yet to find a person who can explain the joke to me), nothing about the Sveshnikov Variation (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5) is left unanalyzed. Indeed, Rogozenko has produced one of the densest and most thorough tomes on a single variation in existence, with 340 pages of small print and extremely little prose or explanation. The author previously authored a CD about this variation and is arguably the world's greatest expert on it, in particular the main lines which constitute the bulk of its theory and high-level practice. Here is a case in which a theoretical work now two years old will likely be the main one for several years to come, perhaps even longer. That is particularly impressive given the fact that the Sveshnikov is so popular and involves such critical and often tactically delicate play. Even if one is keeping an eye on current games, an advisable practice, they won't be truly comprehensible without reference to Rogozenko's work. Obviously, The Sveshnikov Reloaded is primarily directed at advanced players, but it will also be the bible for everyone else who wants to master this fascinating opening.
The other just-published openings book from that publisher is David Vigorito's Challenging the Nimzo-Indian. This remarkable work deals with White's most popular (and in some sense most principled) reply to the Nimzo-Indian: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2. As is typical of Quality books, Vigorito concentrates upon this one system in great detail (most if not all books covering the entire Nimzo-Indian are shorter). 4 Qc2 is now clearly the leading choice among top-level players; after all, it is the only effective move that avoids doubled pawns on c3. On the Quality Chess website you can read and download a chapter on the ultra-popular (and critical) variation 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 0–0 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.Qxc3 b6 7.Bg5 Bb7 8.f3, specifically dealing with lines in which the queens don't come off the board early. Depth of coverage is the book's strongest and most unique feature, the examples illustrating finely differentiated strategies. And yet with so many pages at his disposal, Vigorito is able to both provide this detail and at the same time give clear thematic explanations, without having to sacrifice one or the other. While the resulting book is best categorized as advanced, it is essential reading for any serious mid-level competitor (say, 1800 and above) who employs 4 Qc2, or for a player who is committed to learning the variation. And of course, those who play the Nimzo-Indian as Black will be able to decide which defence best suits them, having at hand the specific knowledge required to implement their strategy. To sum up, Challenging the Nimzo-Indian is an exceptionally good book from both an instructional and practical standpoint.
Now I'm going to exercise my privilege to point out a two high-quality books without anything approaching a real review.
In a column quite some time ago, I very highly recommended the German edition of Knight on the Left: 1 .Nc3, which outlines the nearly innumerable ways to interpret that move on the board. Now Harald Keilhack's fun and intriguing book has been translated into English and its contents have been updated. Everyone, but especially lovers of 'irregular' openings, will find plenty of rich material to satisfy their needs and give them the courage to step out of ordinary opening paths.
In 1977, Craig Pritchett wrote one of the first great opening books in the revolutionary Batsford series, The Sicilian Scheveningen. Handwritten notes and tabs throughout my copy indicate its importance to me at the time (I have long since abandoned this unaesthetic habit). Now, 30 years later, Pritchett has written Starting Out: Sicilian Scheveningen, an excellent if less dense volume (is that good or bad?). I haven't read it thoroughly at all, but I noticed that the material on the Keres variation (1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 [d6/e6] 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 [e6/d6] 6 g4) looks exceptionally well done, and seems to establish that the big, bad, flank attack may not be so fearsome after all. Perhaps, as with Palliser's book above, we might have gotten a little more encouragement for the White side.
Corrections and Comments regarding Review 77:
Paul Chaplin contributes this correction: 'I enjoyed the latest Watson book review on Tiger's Modern, a book which has caught my attention and inspired me. However, I did note an inaccuracy:
In his review of Tiger's Modern book, Watson says, “For example, Speelman & McDonald give the high-profile ...a6 games Anand- Svidler, Linares 1998 and Rublevsky-Ibragimov, Elista 1998, neither of which I see cited in Hillarp-Persson, presumably because they don't have the exact fit into his repertoire. Actually, since the book is organised by games and not by variations, nothing of this sort be said with total confidence, but there are indices of games and variations, and I believe that I've looked at all plausible hiding places.”
Hillarp-Persson does, in fact, cite the Anand-Svidler game (on page 79, top left corner...). The Rublevsky-Ibragimov game features an early ...Nd7 (in the Classical variation) which does indeed go against the Tiger's Modern book recommendation of playing both b5 and Bb7 first (a rare move-order exception as discussed by Hillarp-Persson).'
Guilty as charged; I still think the Rublevsky game might be of interest, but it's definitely not in the repertoire Tiger presents.
One can imagine that there was a response to my critique of Dzindzihasvili and Perelshteyn's Chess Openings for White, Explained. Opinions somehow found their way through my privacy blockade. Two readers took umbrage at the review, considering my points technical and beyond the scope of the book. They both said that they were happily benefiting from selected variations and found value in the grandmasters' strategic advice. Fair enough, but I guess that for me, it comes down to specifics. Apart from some complicated if serious errors in the Petrov and Alekhine defences that readers found, one IM pointed out the simple fact that after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Bc4 Bc5 5. c3 Nf6 6. cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 Nxe4 8. Bxb4 Nxb4 9. Bxf7+ Kxf7 10. Qb3+, he had played the well-known equalizer 10...Kf8 11. Qxb4 Qe7+ 12. Qxe7+ Kxe7 more than once in blitz ... versus Dzindzihasvili himself! In the book, 11...Qe7+ is just ignored.
Also, not so much as a criticism of the book but for the sake of the many, many Sicilian defenders out there, I should also mention that I dug up my old notes on the 5 Bb5 Grand Prix Attack and found that after the critical 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bb5 Nd4 6.0–0 Nxb5 7.Nxb5 d5 8.exd5 a6 9.Nc3 Nf6 10.d4, 10...c4 is not the only alternative to their inferior move 10...Nxd5. Black can also play 10...cxd4 11.Qxd4 0–0 12.Ne5 ('Black doesn't have sufficient compensation for the pawn', say D&P at this point, and stop.) 12...Bf5! with what I think are equal chances.
It takes too much analysis to show this, but some ideas are 13.Qf2 (13.Be3 Bxc2; 13.Qd1?! Qb6+ 14.Kh1 Rad8; 13.h3 h5 14.Qf2 Rc8 (14...Nxd5!? 15.Rd1 e6 16.Nxd5 exd5 17.c4 f6) 15.Rd1 Nd7 16.Qe2 (16.Nxd7?! Qxd7) 16...Qb6+ 17.Kh1 Rfe8 18.g4 hxg4 19.hxg4 Nxe5 20.fxe5 Bd7 with the idea ...e6 or ...Qb4; 13.b3 Rc8 14.Bb2?! (14.Ba3 Bxc2 15.Rac1 Bf5=) 14...Bxc2 15.Rac1 Bf5 etc.) 13...Rc8 (or 13...Nxd5 14.Rd1 e6) 14.Be3 (14 Rd1 Ng4!) 14...Ne4 15.Nxe4 Bxe4=. Of course this can be argued, but I think that Sicilian players can be satisfied after 10...cxd4 as well as 10...c4.