Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Chess Reviews: 106

September brought a bumper crop of Everyman titles. The latest volume of the acclaimed Kasparov series will be examined on its own in issue 108 of these reviews. Meanwhile, here are my thoughts on six other Everyman books.

The Classical King’s Indian Uncovered
By IM Krzysztof Panczyk and Jacek Ilczuk
384 pages
Everyman Chess

The ‘Classical King’s Indian’ refers to all lines arising after 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 Nf3 0-0 6 Be2. Consequently, this new book covers The Petrosian System, The Exchange Variation, The Bayonet Attack and The Gligoric System in addition to the main lines most of associate with the Classical tag.

Prose explanations are confined almost exclusively to the chapter introductions. The bulk of the work is a dense thicket of variations, but rarely full games.

There’s a lot of material here and initially the depth looks impressive. However, club players will probably struggle to make the most of what is on offer due to the bewildering array of variations. It’s a case of not being able to see the wood for the trees.

The King’s Indian Defence is an exciting, dynamic opening yet curiously this is by no means the first time that a book on the subject has rather failed to bring it to life. From the point of view of instructing the reader, I think this book would have benefited from the ‘less is more’ principle.

Starting Out: The Trompowsky Attack
By IM Richard Palliser
269 pages
Everyman Chess

‘Few openings allow White to stamp his authority on the game as early as the Trompowsky. At a stroke Black discovers that his favourite King’s Indian, Nimzo-Indian, Modern Benoni, Grunfeld or even Benko Gambit has been side-stepped and without his obtaining easy equality in the process.’

Indeed, playing against 1 d4 Nf6 2 Bg5 can be a frustrating experience. IM Palliser submits this intriguing opening to his usual objective scrutiny - and the results are impressive.

There are seven chapters.

The Classical 2...d5

2...g6 and Minor Lines

The Positional Choice: 2...e6

The Uncompromising 2...c5

The Popular 2...Ne4

The Modern Preference: 2...Ne4 3 Bf4

The Main Line: 2...Ne4 3 Bf4 c5

The balance between explanations and variations can be a tricky one to achieve but I think the author manages to remain objective throughout and does a very good hob in explaining the intricacies of some very mysterious moves. The Trompowsky certainly delivers some intriguing chess, as these randomly selected position show:

White plays Bc7! and the Black Queen is suddenly in trouble.

White can now play 7 g6!?

This looks like something from High Courtney's
famous Christmas CHESS problems.

This is one of the more substantial offerings in Everyman’s ‘Starting Out’ range. Naturally, as with the other books in the series, helpful ‘hints’, ‘warnings’, ‘notes’ and the like are used throughout the book, complete with their customary light bulbs, skull and crossbones and other little graphics. Most of these are relevant to chess in general rather than pertaining purely to Trompowsky positions, so the reader will absorb a lot useful snippets along the way.

Another strength of the works by IM Palliser is his ability to collate several sources in a succinct fashion, often cross-referencing major works to good effect. His bibliographies are always worth looking at; stones are rarely left unturned when he is on the case.

I certainly felt I’d learned quite a lot about an opening I’d never previously been able to fathom.

‘Happy Tromping!’

Chess For Rookies
By IM Craig Pritchett
352 pages
Everyman Chess

Similar in style to the ‘Dummies’ series of books, this beginners’ tome uses a standard play on chess words to customise the title.

With it’s friendly font it starts with the absolute basics, with a section on how the pieces move and other remedial material, before moving on to basic checkmates and tactics

Shortly after educating the reader to the level of ‘novice’ the book then jumps rather quickly into top level encounters, with ‘Rookies’ being asked to find the best continuation from positions such as this:

Averbakh - Kotov Zurich 1953

Black to move

Is the book trying to do too much in a single volume? Possibly. Novices will find much of the material daunting if they feel the expectation of having to solve and understand positions from the games of famous Grandmasters. Established players may enjoy the advanced material but will find the first section of the book superfluous.

This primer is for adult players rather than juniors, although chess coaches and trainers could easily adapt the material to provide lessons for younger players.

The New Sicilian Dragon
By GM Simon Williams
224 pages
Everyman Chess

In his ‘Introduction’ GM Williams gives an interesting insight into the level of preparation for a an important game. Knowing he is going to face GM Shirov the following morning, and fuelled by coffee and cigarettes, sets about finding something suitable on his laptop. Stumbling across a game by Dragon expert GM Ward, the author was suitably inspired by the use of a Sicilian Dragon/Najdorf hybrid. Unfortunately, the game ended in defeat, despite a promising start. However, he was sufficiently motivated to continue investigating this interesting and tricky defence.

Following a useful look at the basic ideas - from the perspective of both sides of the board - the book then plunges into the main lines.

The chapter titles provide a self-explanatory description of the given material.

The Main Line: An early Bc4

The Main Line: Queenside Castling with g4 and h4

The Main Line: Queenside Castling and a quick Bh6

The Main Line: Positional Tries and Early Deviations

The Accelerated Dragadorf

Classical Lines for White

Less Common Lines for White

The author stresses that the very analysis given here is mostly fresh territory, as the opening is still really in its infancy. ‘As far as I know, this is the only book published in the world which refers exclusively to the Dragadorf.’

Another interesting chapter concerns the Accelerated Dragadorf. This involves playing …a6 before …Bg7

Ideas include forestalling White’s natural development of Bc4 by getting …b5 in first and saving a tempo in some lines in which White automatically plays Qd2 and Bh6 (an idea borrowed from wise Modern Defence exponents).

The Levenfish, Classical and other lines are all considered in the last couple of chapters.

‘Like a lot of rare openings, the possibilities available to both sides are much greater than you might think at first, but nearly all the lines I studied led to fascinating and unique positions. When I play chess that is exactly what I want from the opening.’

Such a comment will resonate with adventurous players who are looking for something a bit different to add to their repertoires. Those who prefer to stand permanently stand on giants shoulders and follow long-established theoretical lines should look elsewhere, but free spirits unafraid of experimenting should embrace this new book and assist in the development of the infant Dragadorf.

The Budapest Gambit
By IM Timothy Taylor
239 pages
Everyman Chess

The Budapest Gambit has been around for a long time but it has never enjoyed a period of universal approval or popularity.

This new book attempts to provide a full survey of all the lines to show that it is fully playable at all levels.

There are four chapters, arranged thus:

The Alekhine Attack (4 e4)

White plays 4 Bf4

White plays 4 Nf3

Unusual Lines

The coverage does indeed take all of the major lines into account and should provide a useful volume for reference. However, the book is not without its weaknesses.

IM Taylor’s scatter gun approach with exclamation marks and his habit of using his wife’s games at key moments might be harmless enough one level but they can lead to a reduced level of seriousness and objectivity. There are some strange statements too, including a flight of fancy regarding Kramnik’s World Championship defeat against Anand.

‘Would Anand have prepared deeply for the BG? I doubt it! Imagine how a crushing victory like this would have raised Kramnik’s spirits! I think Kramnik should risked the Gambit, and maybe he still be World Champion.’

As GM Short found, playing the Budapest Gambit against a World Champion can be a risky affair, whether they are well prepared or not.

Karpov - Short

Black played 10...d6 and ended up being ground down in typical Karpovian fashion. Improvements are suggested here but they require testing at a sufficiently high level.

Nor does the author believe those lines to be the critical test of Black’s powers.

‘Objectively speaking, the Alekhine Attack must be the sternest test of the gambit.’

After 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e5 3 dxe5 Ng4 4 e4 he recommends Reti’s 4...h5!

The Fajarowicz Gambit, 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e5 3 dxe5 Ne4, is covered in the short, final chapter. ‘My recommendation for Black is simple - don’t play it!’

The author clearly doesn’t believe in it and thinks 4 Nd2 is the complete answer.

Club players looking for something different should be able to put a repertoire together quite quickly from the material in this book (provided White players don’t cotton on and something else on move two; an occupational hazard for a Budapest fan). However, if you are playing Anand some time soon I’d suggest you’re probably better off preparing something else.

Play The Catalan
By GM Nigel Davies
192 pages
Everyman Chess

The Catalan has become a popular opening at the highest levels but is somewhat rarer on the club scene. GM Davies subjects it to his usual treatment, which is good news for those wanting a valuable insight into this subtle - yet highly effective - opening.

The material is broken down into three chapters.

The Main Line

The Closed Catalan

The Open Catalan

There are good explanations of the main Catalan ideas the subtleties are fully investigated rather than ignored. Some Catalan moves are mysterious at first glance and the author does well to offer no-nonsense descriptions of what is going on.

After White's 10 Bd2, Black now plays 10...Ra7

‘The main idea 10 Bd2 is that after Black’s most apparently natural reply, 10...Nbd7, White can create a most unpleasant pin on Black’s c-pawn with 11 Ba5. This has prompted a variety of waiting moves by Black instead, such as the 10...Ra7 of Kramnik - Anand…in which the heads of the White and Black schools had a memorable clash.’

Indeed, the games of GM Kramnik are well to the fore in this book and his play makes a powerful impression.
‘My approach to writing this book has been to try and give the reader a good overview of the Catalan, whilst recommending specific ways to play it. In this way I hope to give the reader a decent understanding while getting him or her up and running with it as quickly as possible. Whilst many of the games are very recent, I have not tried to produce a definitive snapshot of current theory; indeed, such a book would be outdated by the time it was published. Instead I have presented games and variations that I personally have found interesting, in the hope that my views and ideas will get the reader’s own creative juices flowing.’

I think he succeeds admirably.

With lucid explanations and well chosen illustrative games, this is currently the best place to learn all about the Catalan and start playing it with confidence

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Craig Pritchett said...

Thanks, Sean, for plugging "Chess for Rookies". But can I just correct one comment?

It isn't really true that I ask the "novice" to find the "best continuation from positions such as..." the one in the diagram you give from Averbakh-Kotov. The position is actually a starting point for a discussion (exercise 87 of 110 in the book)that takes the reader through the play beginning famously with 30...Qxh3+ for a further 6 moves before asking the reader to find ... a mate in one!!

In fact this is the style of the book throughout. I don't dumb down - I have taken novices in real life through discussions successfully like this. Moreover, as is clear in the book, I was inspired by Lasker's (justly famous) Manual of Chess, which makes a much greater step jump after a briefer bit on the basics ... I try to write a "primer" broadly in the Lasker style (updated for the 21st century) and adjusted to accommodate for what I consider to be Lasker's almost impossible expectation of the "novice" - though his book remains a classic.

Like Lasker, I tend to the educational view that we all too often under-estimate the abilities of so-called "novices" and seek to stretch them in a spirit of playful fun and enjoyment.

Great Blog ... keep up the good work!

Sean Marsh said...

Hello Craig,

Thank you for dropping by and posting your thoughts.

I think the question of how much ’complete novice’ material a book should have is an interesting point for discussion.

I’m not sure if some of your target audience will be alienated or not by sections which will not apply to them.

For example, those who already know the basics may be out off by the initial chapters, at least if they are flicking through the book at a congress bookstall or even in a bookshop (they would have to possess an impressive degree of commitment to find a chess book in a real-life shop these days).

That's why I was thinking the materila could have been split into (at least) two volumes.

However, I do take the points you made and I appreciate your comments.