Saturday, 9 June 2007

Chess Reviews: 25

Starting Out: Sicilian Sveshnikov
By IM John Cox

The Sveshnikov variation of the Sicilian Defence used to enjoy no more than a cult following during the 1980s. I remember watching the games of fellow Guisborough player Tristram Brelstaff and thinking, ‘I could never play that way!’

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5

The backward d6 pawn and the extensive analysis required to keep up with those strange lines, in which sacrifices something on b5, were rather off-putting qualities. No, not for me! I stuck with the Poisoned Pawn Variation in those days (but of course, that was hardly the choice of the masses in the early 80s, falling into the Karpovian crack in time between Najdorf devotees Fischer and Kasparov).

So essentially I have never really got to grips with this funny-looking opening, making me an ideal candidate for the book in question. Interestingly enough, the author owns up to never having played the Sveshnikov in a serious game and claims that such an open-minded approach has helped him ask such questions as anyone else ‘Starting Out’ would do. This can be a bit like a chef offering instruction to you on a dish he has never actually himself - a real recipe for disaster - but let us see…

Things have moved on dramatically in the development and growing popularity of this opening, particularly via the games of Kramnik and Leko with Topalov and Kasparov joining the fun too.
Instead of jumping in at the deep end with a long theoretical variation, the book starts with White’s sixth move alternatives and then gradually builds up the reader’s knowledge and understanding of who is what and why.
Eventually the main line is reached...
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Na3 b5 9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.Nd5 f5 11.Bd3

This is real heavyweight stuff and it’s easy to see why IM Cox wanted to ease the reader into it rather than just dump him there from the start.

The explanations are lucid and the standard ‘Starting Out’ ‘warnings‘, ‘tips’ and ‘notes’ work overtime to keep the reader from running aground on the choppy theoretical waters.
Anyone taking up the Black side would definitely need to know how to navigate the storm after the famous Bishop sacrifice, 11 Bxb5 (11 Nxb5 is also possible but not as terrifying).

Things get really weird after 11 …axb5 12 Nxb5 Ra4 13 Nbc7+ Kd7

An acquired taste, methinks! Nevertheless, the coverage is very good here and the diligent reader should emerge with a decent understanding of the intricacies involved.

The final chapter rounds up a few oddities which could prove annoying to Sveshnikov addicts, such as tricky move orders with an early Nc3. For example: 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 and if Black really wants to keep the hope of a Sveshnikov appearing after 4 d4 he has to try 3 …Nf6, but White can continue to frustrate the intention with 4 Bb5 or even 4 e5. Consequently this book recommends that Black should be more forceful and plump for 3 …e5

There’s no doubt it: you will really have to work hard to incorporate the Sveshnikov Sicilian into your opening repertoire. It certainly can’t be patched together over a weekend. However, if such lines and positions as those given above appeal to you, then this book is the ideal place to start your preparations.

Starting Out: The Colle
By IM Richard Palliser

Now here is an opening I do know something about. When I returned to active chess duty following a 10 year period of near total inactivity, I needed to cobble together an opening repertoire that required minimum preparation and low maintenance. Cue the Colle System! Easy to learn and somewhat underrated, it brought me some significant successes when it served on my front line and provided an ever-reliable first reserve at times when one could smell an over-the-board rat or just fancied a night off battling with the Nimzo-Indian.

Regular readers will know that I have the greatest regard for IM Palliser and his books, so I opened this book with high expectations. I was not to be disappointed.

The Colle often ends up in a King-pawn style middle game wrapped up in a sugar-coated Queen-pawn opening. The number of times White lands a crushing Bxh7+ Greek Gift sacrifice has to be seen to be believed!

As usual with a book by IM Palliser, the writing covers a far wider ground of chess wisdom than merely the opening in question. Thus the introduction not only welcomes the readers with the standard ideas and history but also discusses why The Colle isn’t more popular and why the top players don’t have many kind words to say about it.

Then it’s straight into the meat of the book, with detailed coverage of the main line.

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 c5 5.c3 Nc6 6.Nbd2 Bd6 7.0–0 0–0

Now 8 dxc5 might look odd to the untrained eye, but after the subsequent 8 …Bxc5 9 e4 it is suddenly apparent that White’s game is on the verge of opening up advantageously, and the germ of all the famous Bxh7+ sacrifices is suddenly growing.

Approximately half of the book (124 of the 251 pages) is devoted to the key position after move eight.

The key set-up for Black is currently 8 dxc5 Bxc5 9 e4 Qc7 10 Qe2 h6 This high-class move is certainly not as innocuous as it looks. As IM Palliser expertly explains, Black’s battle for the e5 square can now be safely augmented by means of a timely …Ng4, when Bxh7+ and Ng5+, normally winning back the minor piece on g4, simply doesn’t work. I found out about 10 …h6 the hard way a few years ago in a Rapidplay game with the great Jimmy Simpson. Responding with the erroneous, ’good-for-the-goose’ 11 h3 I found myself in positional trouble after 11 ..Nh5!

White suddenly has problems with an impending 12 …Ng3 or 12 …Nf4 on the cards. I lost that game; my worst game with the Colle by some considerable margin.

Had I been able to read this book before that game, I would have known a lot better, especially as 11 h3 ?! is accompanied by the familiar sight of a skull and crossbones bearing the legend ‘Warning!’

Chapter three covers the lines in which Black plays an early …Nbd7 rather than …Nc6. Now if White stereotypically plays dxc5 the problem is that the option of …Nxc5 is a good one for Black, who will chase the Bishop from d3 with serious gain of time. White has other plans though, and here there is a good discussion on when it is better to switch to a Stonewall Attack with Ne5 and f2-f4. The Stonewall theme carries over into the next chapter and is recommended against Black’s Queenside fianchetto defensive tries.

Black’s Anti-Colle plans are analysed in chapter six, such as the tricky tries with an early …Bf5 or …Bg4. The author makes it quite clear that White must vary from the standard Colle patterns under such circumstances and opt instead for something more main line, with an early c4. Slipping the Queen to b3 is often a good way to exploit the early development of the Bc8, as the light squares on the Queenside can be vulnerable.

The final chapter is a welcome addition to the standard Colle material, as it looks at Black alternatives at an earlier stage, such as 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Bf5 and other oddities. ‘…variations which are technically outside the world of the Colle. However, as the Colle player must be prepared to meet them, it would have been a little criminal not to include some coverage of these alternatives to 2 … Nf6’ . Now there speaks an author who has presumably been frustrated by so many other opening books shrugging off the responsibility of offering coverage of important deviations! IM Palliser is far too good and responsible a writer to leave readers in the dark or short change them.

One feature I always enjoy about this author’s books is the way he brings direct references to other books into the mix. His bibliography is typically impressive and he genuinely gives the impression that he has left no stone unturned in his quest to present all of the available material.
The style and layout are excellent too; after the first chapter (up to page 67) the reader will have already been treated to no less than 92 diagrams!

I’ve seen a lot of books on the Colle over the years and some fall into the lazy trap of showing how easy the first few moves are to play but offer very little else in the way of explanations regarding the different Black set-ups. IM Palliser doesn’t know how to ‘do’ lazy, so the reader is given a full and proper guide to an opening all too often labelled - incorrectly - as boring. This fine book - and the Colle itself - will serve you well if you study it carefully. (Ah yes - and two of my own games make it into the notes so no wonder I like this book!)

Gambiteer 1
A Hard-Hitting Chess Opening Repertoire For White

By GM Nigel Davies

GM Davies opines that the standard club player would have more chances of success if he forgot about mimicking the top players and instead developed a gambit-based repertoire, with the emphasis on active piece development (at a cost of pawns) and practical over-the-board chances.

Volume one of this new two-part series provides a plethora of swashbuckling options for White (volume two will naturally provide ammunition for Black).

I always enjoy the presentation skills of GM Davies; whether it is in the form of video, DVD or book, his no-nonsense style and excellent club-player style advice always inspires me to take his recommendations seriously. Possibly only IM Andrew Martin can claim to have conquered all of the above chess teaching mediums with such élan.

His choices are based on the following observations of club chess (which is, frankly, the level of the vast majority of us)…

‘1) The player with the more active pieces tends to win
2) A pawn or even several pawns is rarely a decisive advantage
3) Nobody knows much theory
4) When faced with aggressive play, the usual reaction is to cower’

The thought occurs that the above points could come straight form a book of how to play if one was ever written by one of our finest attacking 1 e4 players, Mike Closs, should he ever write one. The parallels take on greater significance when one takes a look at what the book suggests.
For instance, the Wing Gambit is advocated against the Sicilian Defence.

The author starts off by explaining that giving up a wing pawn to weaken the opponent’s central presence is more logical than doing the opposite (I.e.: The Morra Gambit, 1 e4 c5 2 d4 cxd4).
If 1 e4 c5 2 b4 ...

...really doesn’t appeal to you at all then this is not the book for you! Or as the author says, ‘Put it down and get that nice book on the London System. You’ll like it, really you will’.

A quick run through of the book’s main recommendations will reinforce the point…

1 e4 e5 2 d4 exd4 3 c3
1 e4 e6 2 Nf3 d5 3 e5 c5 4 b4
1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 f3
1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qa5 4 Nf3 Nf6 5 b4

This gambit hasn’t enjoyed a particularly good press but GM Davies shows the way to breathe new life into it after 5 …Qxb4 6 a4 when the additional twist of Ba3 at some point should give White a decent chance of having fun.

At least two of the above are favourites of the aforementioned Mighty Mish (but you will have to guess which otherwise he will get cross with me for revealing his secrets). Incidentally, another local attacking great, Richard Hall, gets a mention on page 56 with a reference to one of his crushing correspondence games.

It not always easy to pick a suitable gambit though; Alekhine’s Defence is met by 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 Nc3 (‘…in the Gambiteer spirit by aiming for free and fast development’) and the Pirc by the cunning 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6 4 f4 Bg7 5 a3

The basic idea is to meet Black’s standard liberating plan of 5 … c5 6 dxc5 Qa5 with 7 b4
The odds and ends are dealt with in the last couple of chapters; against the majority of them one doesn’t need to gambit to obtain good attacking chances so sensible, solid play is more to the fore. For example, The Borg (or Black Grob) is dealt with thus: 1 e4 h6 2 d4 g5 3 Bd3 d6 4 Ne2 with the Knight already looking to probe the weakened f5 and h5 squares.

Great fun! You should perhaps chose your games carefully before you give these lines their debut but you are guaranteed to get exciting games if you adopt the given variations. This book will act as a great deodorant for your old stuffy repertoire!

‘Are you worried that these openings might not be sound? Get over it! We can deal with St. Peter when we go to collect the harp, but until that time comes our chess sins can mean wins!’
Might as well be your wins, dear reader!

For details of Everyman chess books and CDs, please visit:

Happy reading!
June 2007

1 comment:

Paul Douglass said...

Hi Sean,

I purchased this book a while ago as the Mighty Mish brought the book into the club and it provided an inspirational session.

Since then I've employed a couple of the gambits into my OTB play during league chess and I've a 3/3 record. Even my email chess is proving very successful with a 75% success rate.

At the same time the games are much more fun!

I recommend this book to anyone who wants a bit of fun in their chess and also to play for the win (at all costs!).