Saturday, 28 December 2013

Chess Reviews: 229

Everyman Chess have retained their position of being the most productive chess publisher. At least, we see more of their books here at Marsh Towers than those from anyone else.

Here's a quick spin through their most recent titles. We'll just be able to scratch the surface this time; deeper reviews of Everyman books will follow in the New Year both here and in the pages of CHESS Magazine.

Chess Developments:
Semi-Slav 5 Bg5
By Bryan Paulsen
192 pages
Everyman Chess
Everyman's Chess Developments series ''focuses on the current trends - concentrating on critical lines, theoretical novelties and powerful new ideas.'' So one should expect enough detailed coverage and depth to appeal to strong, amateur tournament players. Club players and juniors should probably look elsewhere (the Move-by-Move series, for example - see below).

This new volume covers the following lines, all arising from the key position after 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 e6 5 Bg5 Be7:

The Queen's Gambit Hybrid System
The Cambridge Springs Defence
The Botvinnik Variation
The Moscow Variation
The Anti-Moscow Gambit

The illustrative games span the years 2002-2013 (however, there is - perhaps surprisingly for a series offering ''state of the art coverage'' - only one example from 2013).

I suspect most readers will be interested in this volume to see the latest wild lines from the Botvinnik Variation (1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 e6 5 Bg5 dxc4 followed by wild complications). Some of these lines now only really start around move 20, so a good memory is definitely a major requirement for those who want to enter the chaos and keep in mind Black appears to be under pressure in the critical lines.
Chess Secrets:
Great Chess Romantics
By Craig Pritchett
319 pages
Everyman Chess
It's good to get away from opening theory from time to time. Craig Pritchett's personal selection of Great Chess Romantics consists of Adolf Anderssen, Mikhail Chigorin, Richard Reti, Bent Larsen and Alexander Morozevich.

Each player is given a brief biography followed by a fine selection of illustrative games. But what is chess romantic?

''The essence of the romantic spirit in chess is primarily artistic. Inspired by a sense that chess is imbued with essentially aesthetic attributes, such as depth, wit, elegance, playfulness, paradox and lively combinations, the romantic regards the chessboard, much as an artist regards his or her canvas, as a rich expressive and communicative medium. The romantic often also delights in confounding convention, exuding a thoroughgoing scepticism towards all received wisdom.''

The games are great, of course, but for most readers there will inevitably be a familiar look to them (as this is essentially a ''greatest hits'' collection). Overall, I think this book makes for a very good introduction to these giants of chess but it leaves me wanting me more. For example, the stand-out section of the book is the one focusing on Bent Larsen but space constraints allow him just over 60 pages. Will any publisher care to take the plunge and devote a whole book to Larsen, I wonder? The full story of his life and games would make fascinating reading.

The next three titles are all from the popular 'Move-by-Move' series, which aims to enhance the learning process by asking the reader questions at regular intervals. They are all suitable books for improving club players, who will enjoy the lengthy prose explanations and the very good and accessible explanations of the strategies underpinning the openings in question.

The Panov-Botvinnik Attack
By Lorin D'Costa
253 pages
Everyman Chess
Lorin D'Costa presents ''not so much a repertoire book as a demonstration of the various ideas and plans that White has available in the Panov-Botvinnik'', with emphasis falling mainly on positions with an isolated queen's pawn (for White). I have always felt the Panov-Botvinnik (1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 cxd5 4 c4) is the best line to take Caro-Kann players away from the type of positions they are most hoping for when playing 1 ...c6, although the second player retains more in the way of positional trumps.

Lorin skilfully guides the reader through Black's various tries, from the solid, Nimzo-like 4 ....Nf6 5 Nc3 e6 6 Nf3 Bb4, the related system with 6 ...Be7, the oft-recommended - but difficult to handle - 5 ...Nc6 and risky systems with an early ...g6. There's a chapter on 1 e4 c6 2 c4 also, in which White tries to avoid certain lines but allows Black extra options too (such as 2 ...e5, changing the pattern of the game).

The book is presented from the perspective of the White player, but fans of the Caro-Kann will want to take a sneaky look at the contents to find out what is in store for them.

The Nimzo-Larsen Attack
By Cyrus Lakdawala
416 pages
Everyman Chess
One never has to wait long for another 400+ hand filler from Cyrus Lakdawala to appear! He is the king of the Move-by-Move series, at least in terms of sheer output.

The Nimzo-Larsen (1 b3, or 1 Nf3 and 2 b3) is one of the best openings to unleash creativity as the theoretical lines develop much more slowly (if at all) in comparison to the more popular openings. Cyrus lets his imagination fly in this volume and there's an abundance of fresh ideas and extraordinary positions to be found.

There's still room for the classic Nimzowitsch approach, of course; an early Bb5, followed by a timely Bxc6+ (doubling Black's c-pawns), followed by a swift Ne5 and a choice of winning plans: direct kingside attack and a positional dismantling on the queenside. Yet the modern interpretation of the Nimzo-Larsen includes all manner of original schemes, such as a very early g2-g4, castling on the queenside and even (horror of horrors) blocking the Bb2 by developing the queen's knight to c3.

Amid the flights of fancy, let us not forget that 1 b3 was occasionally tried (with great success) by Bobby Fischer, who would never play anything in which he didn't believe.

The illustrative games are as lively as the author's commentary, although there is too much reliance on Rapidplay games - a growing fault with chess books. Nevertheless, anyone looking for a surprise weapon for the New Year will find plenty of ideas here.
The Tarrasch Defence
By Sam Collins
254 pages
Everyman Chess
This is the best book of today's bunch. The reputation of the Tarrasch Defence (1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c5) reached a new high when Kasparov used it throughout his one and only series of Candidates' matches back in the early 1980s, but then plummeted to a new low when he lost two games against Karpov in their first match for the World Championship. The opening wasn't to blame, though; if it was inherently unsound then surely Kasparov's earlier victims - Belyavsky, Korchnoi and Smyslov - would have blown holes in it under match conditions.

Sam Collins has racked up a very impressive score in his own games with the Tarrasch (including a victory over the aforementioned Korchnoi) and is keen to prove the fighting defence is ready for a revival. Black refuses to accept the positional concessions offered by the more conventional methods of declining the Queen's Gambit (cramped positions, potentially bad bishop) and opts for rapid development and active piece play. Of course, there is the small matter of the isolated queen's pawn, which will not suit all players.

After moving through the more testing main lines and the sidelines, the book concludes with a look at how play the Tarrasch against Reti systems and then a final chapter offers brief coverage on the Swedish Variation (6 ...c4) and the Von Hennig-Schara Gambit 4 ...cxd4).

Time for a revival? Well, at club level the Tarrasch will definitely pack a considerable punch. Try it, and see!

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