Friday, 1 October 2010

Chess Reviews: 156

How To Play Against 1 d4
By IM Richard Palliser
256 pages
Everyman Chess

The Czech Benoni is perceived to be the dull cousin of the trendy, dashing Modern Benoni; the one who sits at home reading a book while the others are out and about tactically slaughtering d4 players in great style.

Club players shy away from it; Grandmasters tend not to like such passive openings. So why suggest it as a weapon against 1 d4?

It turns out that the Czech Benoni has several factors in its favour.

The very fact that there is negativity surrounding the opening can lead to players of the White pieces neglecting to take it seriously and their preparation in anticipation of meeting it is often lacking. As IM Palliser puts it:

'Do you enjoy studying the latest theoretical fashions, hate not bring able to follow a fair way into the game and love early complications? If so, then this book is likely not for you. However, if the idea of burning the midnight oil memorizing opening variation is alien, but you would like yo survive the opening stage before reaching a rich, full-blooded middlegame then do read on.'

There are two main parts to the book.

Part One - The Czech Benoni

1 The Classical Variation

2 The Modern System

3 The Fianchetto Variation

4 Less Common Approaches

Part Two - The Closed Benoni

5 Classical Development from White

6 Early Aggression with f2-f4

7 Alternatives to 2 d5

The Czech Benoni (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e5) takes up the lion's share of the book.

'...the Czech Benoni, an uncomplicated, low-maintenance but effective opening in which the importance of understanding ideas and tactics far outweighs the necessity to memorize move sequences.'

Traditionally, Black would expect to spend a long time manoeuvring his pieces in anticipation of a breakout around move 40. These days, as the book explains, there are different plans available. I liked reading about a Benko Gambit approach in certain lines of the Fianchetto Variation, such as in this position...

Black played 8 ...b7-b5

A few years ago, I sat next to a former student and watched as used the Czech Benoni to rapidly obtain a winning position against a Grandmaster. Admittedly, it was in a simultaneous display, but it was still a very impressive game. I was pleasantly surprised to find the game in this book.

King - Cornford
Yarm GM Simul 2007

GM King's last move, 18 Rd-f1, was a mistake in a difficult position. Black played 18 ...Nxe4! and won after 25 moves.

The Closed Benoni (1 d4 c5 2 d5 e5) gives White the option of playing without committing the c-pawn to c4; a Knight might find its way there instead. Black still aims for the blocked centre but White has more plans at his disposal. A very early f2-f4 is often played, as is the annoying Bb5+

I don't like the look of the Closed Benoni as much as I do the Czech Benoni, but I suppose it's just a matter of taste. Transpositions lurk like muggers on a darkened street corner. In playing 1 d4 c5 (after 2 e4) Black runs the risk of ending up in a completely different opening, such as the Sicilian or London System (after 2 c3). There's a good round up of such matters in the final chapter of the book.

However, despite the title, this volume does not provide a full repertoire against 1 d4 (at least, as far as the main weapon, the Czech Benoni, is concerned). For example, the Trompowsky Attack - 1 d4 Nf6 2 Bg5 - is one of the White options which escapes attention. Black can still hope White will play ball in the 1 d4 c5 mover order but that requires more preparation against White's different options. Thus the book reads more like one from the 'Starting Out' series - a feeling emphasised by the inclusion of the standard insertion of typical 'hints', 'warnings' and 'notes'.

Understanding is definitely the key to success in these rare Benoni lines. This book - strong on prose explanations - is a very good guide to relatively unexplored territory. As such, club players looking for something different (and relatively easy to learn) to play against 1 d4 will find it especially useful.

Further details regarding Everyman Chess books can be found here.

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