Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Chess Reviews: 88

Chess Openings for Black, Explained
2nd Edition, Revised and Updated

GM Lev Alburt, GM Roman Dzindzichashvili
and GM Eugene Perelshteyn

with Al Lawrence

552 pages
Chess Information and Research Centre

Norton & Company

‘…a complete repertoire of carefully selected, interrelated openings - everything you need to know to defend with confidence against each and every one of White’s first moves.’

It’s been three and a half years since the first edition of this interesting book. The first question from those who own the first edition will probably be: ‘What is new’?

This is answered in the introduction, where the authors claim:

‘This new edition incorporates literally hundreds of changes’.

More specifically:

‘Here are just some major examples: In the Accelerated Dragon, we make some important corrections regarding the move 7. f3 (p. 61). Also, after 9. 0-0 (p. 64), we discuss White’s recent successes in the 9...d6 10 Ndb5 line - and two promising alternatives for Black to 9 …d6. In ‘Defending against 4. Qxd4’ (p. 110), we introduce a new, more promising line for Black. We fine-tune a number of our recommendations against the Maroczy Bind. We take note of White’s improvements in the Alapin (p. 223) - and ways to counter it. We discuss how to play after 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 against rare (but tricky) third moves, such as 3. g3 and 3 a3.’

The impressive use of colour is apparent right from the start, with various shades of blue used to highlight key learning points, important diagrams and the like. This makes a very favourable impression; the book has clearly had a lot of effort put into the design. In all, there are more than 1,400 diagrams.

Special ‘Memory Marker’ diagrams are added at the end of each section to provide further emphasis of important moments.

The initial chapters introduce the authors and offer general advice on how to study openings and how to get the most of the book.

Before moving on to coverage of the main repertoire, plenty of time and space is given over to a lengthy overview of 1 e4 (and later for 1 d4). This is interesting stuff, offering the reader pertinent pros and cons on numerous openings other than those covered in the main sections of the book.

In a nutshell, the backbone of the repertoire consists of the Accelerated Fianchetto variation of the Sicilian Defence (against 1 e4) and the Nimzo-Indian (and Bogo-Indian) against 1 d4. The Symmetrical Variation is advocated against the English Opening and minor White tries are met in sensible ways.

The Accelerated Fianchetto can cause confusion in the enemy ranks and a specific knowledge of the differences between this and the regular Dragon need to be thoroughly understood. Players will find all the required information here.

White’s methods of avoiding the main line Sicilian are covered in detail. The method given to meet 2 c3 is noteworthy.

1 e4 c5 2 c3 g6 3 d4 cxd4 4 cxd4 d5

White has a couple of options here, including the direct gain of space with 5 e5 Bg7 6 Nc3 Nc6 7 Bb5 when Black counters without delay: 7…f6

The analysis continues into the various different variations and it seems to me that once again 2 c3 players will find themselves on unfamiliar territory early on in the game, so it looks like a good choice for Black.

There’s no doubting the viability of the suggested repertoire.

The specific Nimzo-Indian line given is 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3 b6

The lines of analysis are kept relatively short but the prose explanations are very clear and should help the reader understand the ideas and plans behind the moves.

Here’s a sample, from the Bogo-Indian coverage:

‘Black owns the ideal King’s Indian structure:

1) White doesn’t have a knight on c3 to help him pressure Black’s queenside;

2) White’s light-squared bishop is poorly placed;

3) Black doesn’t have a passive bishop on g7.
White’s temporary advantage in development is not very relevant because of the closed character of the position. White’s plan is to play on the queenside by breaking through with c5. Black’s plan is to generate play on the kingside with the possibility of counter-play on the queenside and the center. White’s main options now are: 13. c5, 13. Nd2, and 13. b4. (If White plays 13. e4, Black answers with 13...f5.)’

There are some good photos of famous players such as Spassky, Smyslov and Bogolubov. The latter, who gave half of name to the ‘Bogo-Indian’, is depicted as a man in his prime, eyes burning with pride. This is in marked contrast to the usual practice of showing him as some sort of overweight, jolly, failed title challenger. This fits in very neatly with the whole ethos of the book; it is a positive, designed to fire the enthusiasm of the reader at every opportunity.

Occasional cartoons provide a bit of light entertainment, such as fronting a chapter on the Accelerated Dragon with a picture of dragon hitching a ride on top of a speedy hot rod car.

The final chapter gives 13 well-annotated games to demonstrate the repertoire in action.

The index of variations is 10 pages long and once again excellent use is made of colour to ease the eye’s navigation.

Summing up, this is an excellent book. The recommended repertoire is very sound, the analytical side of things never borders on the intimidating and the explanations are lucid and instructive. Notable gaps have been plugged since the first edition. Topped off by excellent design and high production values, it’s hard not to be impressed.

Chess Strategy for the Tournament Player
Second Enlarged and Revised Edition

By GM Lev Alburt and GM Sam Palatnik
352 pages
Chess Information and Research Centre

& Company

‘Chess Strategy for the Tournament Player demystifies chessboard planning, giving you the practical, game-winning strategic techniques you could spend years gathering on your own.’

This is the fifth volume of the ‘Comprehensive Chess Course’ series, which uses ‘…the once strictly guarded and time-tested Russian training methods, the key to the 50-year Russian dominance of the chess world’.

The list of contents displays an extensive range of important strategic lessons.

1. Good and Bad Bishops

2. Bishops of Opposite Color

3. Cutting Off a Piece From the Main Action

4. When the Bishop is Stronger Than the Knight

5. When the Knight is Stronger Than the Bishop

6. The Bishop Pair

7. Fighting on the Long Diagonals

8. Open Files and Diagonals

9. Weak and Strong Squares

10. When a Complex of Squares is Weak

11. Weak and Strong Pawns

12. Significance of the Center

80 main games (or game fragments) are given, with annotations of varying depth. More positions are given as learning exercises for the reader. There are 349 diagrams in all. They span over 100 years of chess history, with strategic gems reaching out across the decades from 1887 to 1996.

Here’s a fine excerpt from chapter three, with Capablanca doing what he called: ‘Pushing the opponent’s piece away from the theatre of military actions’.

Winter - Capablanca Hastings, 1919

‘10...g5! 11 Nxf6+

White had to play this move because 11 Nxg5 Nxd5 (not 11.…hxg5? 12 Bxg5 +-) loses material for no compensation.

11..Qxf6 12 Bg3 Bg4 13 h3 Bxf3 14 Qxf3?

With less power on the board, Black’s de facto material advantage becomes even more important.

14...Qxf3 15 gxf3 f6

Even a quick look at this position confirms that White is playing virtually a piece down. Freeing the bishop will cost White at least a pawn and several tempi. Black now turns his full attention to the queenside, where he plans top use his ‘extra’ piece. While there can be little doubt as to the eventual success of this simple but effective plan, Capablanca’s instructive technique does make it look deceptively easy.’ 0-1 (29)

Little quotes from the greats are slipped in from to time, such as this one from GM Reuben Fine ‘Discovered check is the dive-bomber of the chessboard’.

The cover is an attractive one, showing a man thoroughly absorbed in a chess position while his partner, cat and piano all seemed resigned to going without his attention.

Time for a test, dear readers.

Kalegin - Obodchuk Moscow, 1993
White to play Find the best move (From chapter 10)

This is a good book for club players and coaches, which variations kept to a minimum and prose explanations taking centre stage.

Chess Training Pocket Book II
By GM Lev Alburt and Al Lawrence
208 pages
Chess Information and Research Centre
& Company

‘Two elements make a strong chess player - effective thinking skills and appropriate knowledge.’

Volume 8 of the ‘Comprehensive Chess Course’ works well as a stand-alone book too (as does volume 5). It’s a smaller size and should indeed fit into the majority of jacket pockets.

The format is by far the simplest of the three books reviewed here, essentially offering four test positions on each page with the solutions on the facing page.

Following an introduction, covering various basics and general advice, the authors list the ‘dirty dozen’. These are important tactical ideas that the reader will encounter many times throughout the rest of the book.

The reader is then given 320 tactical positions to try. The aim of this volume is to:

‘…test, train, and sharpen your chess thinking skills. You’ll learn how to: Spot tactics; See clearly several moves ahead (and to know how far ahead you should look); Evaluate positions accurately’

The positions are well chosen and come from all phases of the game. Some are well known classics but there are plenty of fresh ones to keep the student entertained.

There’s an index of games and, perhaps more importantly for this type of book, an index of ‘themes and ideas’, enabling the reader to quickly locate a specific area of interest.

We all love dipping into this sort of puzzle book. Despite being one of the lighter volumes in the series, the given material should definitely help readers to sharpen their tactical vision without feeling they are being forced to work too hard.

Here’s a couple of random examples to test your powers.

Tannenbaum - Frunkin, 2003 Black to move

White to move

For further details of these, and other chess books by W.W. Norton & Company, please visit:

Missed a review? Please visit my archive:

No comments: