All three of the books featured in this review article are available in both paperback and hardback editions. The latter make a difference to the reading experience; the books stay open easily without risking breaking the spines.
The Grandmaster Repertoire series continues to advocate main line theory, but to condense the theory needed to form a sound repertoire is no easy matter and requires a skillful author.
I was pleased to see two books featuring the English Opening among the latest releases. It's an opening I've used a lot since the 1980s so I felt I was particularly well placed to assess the work of GM Marin.
The English Opening Volume Two By GM Mihail Marin 432 pages Quality Chess
The introduction reveals the author's fine turn of phrase.
'I have always regarded building up a perfect opening repertoire, suitable for one's style and skills, as no easier task than the Argonauts' search for the Golden Fleece'.
By the end of the introduction, the reader has learned how the Grandmaster settled on 1 c4 as his current favourite, concluding that he has '...found his Golden Fleece'.
Essentially, the three volumes combine to offer a full repertoire for White after 1 c4 2 g3, endeavouring to avoid transpositions to 1 d4 openings.
Volume 2 of this series looks at:
Anti-Slav Systems Anti-QG Systems QGD Set-up Odds and Ends (Namely: Anti-Grunfeld, Anti-King's Indian, Anti-Dutch, Anti-Owen and Reti Move Order).
I like the use of diagrams at the start of each part, neatly condensing the key moments of what is to follow. I think this sets the scene well.
The Anti-Slav features a slightly controversial choice: 1 c4 c6 2 g3 d5 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Bg2 dxc4.
The author draws comparisons with established Catalan lines and eventually concludes that Black is struggling in some variations previously thought to be OK for him. The suggestion is that previous theory has overstated Black's chances. If GM Marin's findings are correct, then White players will be a lot happier with this Anti-Slav variation.
I enjoyed the coverage of the Anti-KID weapon too; The Botvinnik System is dusted off and shown to be a powerful practical choice.
There is also some advice on when to try the 1 Nf3 move order, which will be useful for those wishing to add a little bit more flexibility - and perhaps a little psychology - to their opening choices.
The English Opening Volume Three By GM Mihail Marin 275 pages Quality Chess
Volume 3 is all about 1 c4 c5, which the author prefers to call 'The Double English' rather than 'The Symmetrical English', due to the latter suggesting equality.
There are three main sections: The Closed System The Open Lines The Flexible 3...e6
There's lots of interest here. The Fischer System has long been problematic for 1 c4 players. After 1 c4 c5 2 g3 Nc6 3 Bg2 g6 4 Nc3 Bg7 5 Nf3 e6, Fischer was able to outplay even the likes of Petrosian.
One of the strengths of GM Marin's writing style is the way he has of taking time to explain things properly. He takes nearly three full pages to point out his likes and dislikes regarding various White tries before coming around to his repertoire suggestion of 6 d3 Nge7 7 Bg5.
I have always played the gambit 6 d4 - with good results - but the anlysis given in the book means I will perhaps have to think again.
It is unusual for an author to take the time and space to explain the reasons behind his choices so well.
GM Marin nails his colours to the mast in this volume:'I retain the feeling that precisely in the so called symmetrical variation White obtains the best chances to reach a position with a risk-free initiative'.
I have a large collection of books on the English Opening; certainly every major work from Watson's classic ,late 1970s/early 1980s tetralogy up to 2010. I don't have volume 1 of GM Marin's trilogy but I can confirm that volumes 2 & 3 are fine books with plenty of new ideas, enhanced by his very readable prose.
These books are so well written that I think those new to The English Opening will find them just as useful as seasoned 1 c4 experts.
Play the Scandinavian By GM Christian Bauer 303 pages Quality Chess
It still seems a little odd to see the Scandinavian Defence enjoying the status of being a serious opening.Yet it is clear that the days of it being treated as a quirky surprise weapon by particularly eccentric players are long gone.
Such has been the growth of theory surrounding 1 e4 d5 that it has become difficult to cover all of the main lines in a single book.
Christian Bauer's tome deals mainly with positions arising from 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qa5, so fans of the trendy 3 ...Qd6 will have to look elsewhere, as will those who insist on being quirky with 3 ...Qd8 or 3 ...Qe5+.
Starting with a thorough investigation into the main line, namely 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qa5 4 d4 Nf6 5 Nf3 Bf5 6 Bc4 e6 7 Bd2 c6...
...the author goes on to analyse earlier deviations over the course of the 14 chapters and concludes with White's oddball second moves, even to the extent of providing coverage of variations such as 1 e4 d5 2 Nf3 dxe4 3 Ng5 Bf5 4 g4.
There is humour here, too. Chapter 8 has an extraordinary name, which GM Bauer delivers in deadpan style. 'Black delays ...Nf6'This line has acquired the catchy name of the 'Die Konigspringerzuruckhaltungspolitik'.
The aforementioned chess club eccentrics used to played The Scandinavian Defence (or 'Centre Counter', as it was in those days) with a view to bamboozling opponents and knocking them out by tactical means. The modern interpretation contains more subtlety in the positional department.
One recurring idea is the trading of the dark-squared Bishop for a Knight.
Black plays 8 ...Bb4 when one possible line runs 9 0-0 0-0 10 a3 Bxc3 11 Bxc3 Qc7 'Practice has shown that White will have a hard time making his Bishop pair count for anything in this position. Black's formation is rock-solid, and he can look to develop active play on the light squares'. It's surprising, but the Bishop on c3 can end up somewhat out of step with the other White pieces.
This book provides a full repertoire for Black against 1 e4. Of course, bringing the Queen out on move two is not to the taste of all players, but there's no arguing with the author's assessment that the Caro-Kann type positions he is after are safe and sound.
It's a rather more variation-heavy work than the volumes on The English Opening and there are times when I'd have preferred a little on the prose side when it comes to explanatory notes. However, those with the time to study properly will find that GM Bauer makes a very good case for taking up 1 e4 d5 - '...the only reputable option which creates an immediate pawn clash in the centre'. For further details regarding Quality Chess books, please visit their website.
The recent Mike Closs Memorial Tournament produced many fine chess battles. The two most interesting encounters featured the tournament champion, Julian Allinson.
The first of these came in his Quarter-final match with Ian Elcoate. The random selection of openings led to the Milner Barry Gambit appearing on the boards. Mike and I contested a couple of bruising encounters with it a few years ago.
Ian Elcoate is a fan of the French Defence so I think he was happy to take the Black pieces in the game.
Julian, normally favouring a controlling, positional sort of game, adjusted remarkably well to the gambit style of the day.
Julian Allinson v Ian Elcoate Mike Closs Memorial Tournament 16.10.2010
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3 White offers a pawn but Black can't win it straight away without losing his Queen. However, White has no intention of defending the pawn after Black's 7 ...Bd7 so it is a genuine gambit. 6...cxd4 7.cxd4 Bd7 8.0–0 Nxd4 9.Nxd4 Qxd4 10.Nc3 a6 11.Re1Qa7 12.Qg4
Mike and I used to joke about his games with White. 'How is it', I would ask, 'that you always have a safely castled King, a Rook on e1, a Bishop d3, Queen on g4 and pawn on e5?' Mike would laugh and reply, 'It's just me, isn't it?'
In this game, Julian unintentionally mimics the finer points of Mike's game. This is remarkable, because Julian is normally to be found fishing in the relatively calm waters of Catalans and Caro-Kanns.
12...Ne7 13.Be3 Qb8 14.Bb6Ng6 Logical enough; Black must sort out his development and this apparent gain of tempo seems to give Black a bit of time. However, White continues in gambit style...
15.Nxd5 exd5 16.e6 Bxe6 Black must have been unwilling to enter the position after 16 ...fxe6 17 Bxg6+ hxg6 18 Qxg6+ Ke7 but his King ends up on the run in this line too.
17.Qa4+ Ke7 18.Rac1 A cool move, preparing the final King hunt. 18...Qe819.Rc7+ [Fritz forces mate here after 19.Qb4+ Kf6 20.Bd4+ Ne5 21.Bxe5+ Kg5 22.Qf4+ Kh5 23.Be2+ Kg6 24.Qg3+ Kh6 25.Qh4+ Kg6 26.Qh5#]
19...Kf620.Qd4+ [Fritz finds another way here too: 20.Bd4+ Ne5 21.Bxe5+ Kg5 22.Qf4+ Kh5 23.Be2+ Kg6 24.Qg3+ Kh6 25.Qh4+ Kg6 26.Qh5#]
A fantastic King hunt, entirely worthy of the occasion. It was a very nice game to watch 'live'!
The final attracted a lot of interest. Julian had to show the defensive side of his game this time.
David Wise v Julian Allinson Mike Closs Memorial Tournament 16.10.2010
1.e4 e5 2.d4 It was very fitting indeed that the last of the randomly drawn openings should be Mike's all-time favourite - The Danish Gambit. 2...exd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Bc4 cxb2 5.Bxb2Nf6 Not as highly regarded as the main line with 5 ...d5. Black usually ends up in trouble after this. 6.e5 Bb4+ 7.Kf1 Ne4 8.Bxf7+
8 ...Kxf79.Qd5+ Ke8 10.Qxe4 Nc6 11.Nc3 Bxc3 12.Bxc3Qe7 13.Re1 We all thought Black was suffering here and he was slipping behind on the clock too.
13...b5 A reasonable attempt at counterplay. Black is very cramped but this gives a fighting chance of developing the Queen's Bishop, maybe even with check. The general feeling at the time of the game was that White is clearly better here.
Probably the only move to offer a chance of survival, but very difficult to find under pressure.
It seems that 15 Rd1 is the better try as Qd5 gives Black an unexpected chance...15... Rb8 which goes unseen over the board. [Fritz happily points out the improvement: 15...b4 16.exd7 Ba6+ 17.Ne2 Qxd7 18.Qxd7+ Kxd7 19.Bxg7 Rhe8 20.Rd1+ Kc8–+] 16.exd7 Qxd7 17.Qf3b4
Looks good, but White missed a clear win here with 18 Bf6+! The remainder of the game was played quickly, with both sides very short on time.
Julian managed to turn the tables. 18...Ba6+ 19.Ke1 Re8+ 20.Ne2 Qxd1+!! Black is suddenly winning! 21.Kxd1 Bxe2+ 22.Qxe2 Rxe2 23.Kxe2 bxc3 24.Kd3 Rb2 25.Kxc3 Rxf2 0-1
...and David's sporting smile and handshake brought to an end what was probably the strongest themed tournament ever held in our county.
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In the other half of my life, I have been a professional chess coach since 1988 and I have also served time as a school librarian and Teaching Assistant.