Monday, 30 December 2013

Chess Reviews: 230

Continuing our round up of recent chess literature, we find a pair of handy repertoire books. One for Black and one for White.

A Cunning Chess Opening Repertoire for White
By Graham Burgess
256 pages

This is Graham's first opening book for 12 years. It offers a full repertoire for White, starting with 1 d4. The ''cunning''aspect is revealed in the introduction:

''The aim is to direct the game into structures where the opponent's specialized knowledge of their preferred openings will not be relevant.''

To this end, the repertoire has been very carefully constructed. A further aim is to ''limit Black's opportunities for counterplay, and rule out most of Black's gambit options.'' The repertoire is based on ''three main pillars'', namely:

1) Queen's Gambit: 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 followed by c4
2) Torre Attack: 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 Bg5
3) Counter-Fianchetto: 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 g6 3 g3

I imagine a lot of people would automatically flick through the book to find the section on the King's Indian Defence. How to balance avoiding the main lines while retaining chances of an edge? The recommendation here is to head for fianchetto territory and then throw in a very early 6 a4.

''White grabs space on the queenside and keeps a great deal of flexibility with his central pawns and piece development.'' Black has to think carefully about his strategy. In some cases, the a-pawn will continue all the way to a6 to cause disruption, but an early ...a5, to stop the pawn in it's tracks, makes a subsequent ...c5 positionally undesirable. 6 a4 is clearly not the biggest problem KID players will ever have to worry about, but it's the originality that's important; a recurring theme throughout the book.

Some of Black's defences are met by more standard lines. For instance, The Queen's Gambit Declined is met by 5 Bf4. Elsewhere, there are some sharper plans. In one of the most challenging replies to the Torre Attack, White is advised to play a gambit.

1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 Bg5 c5 4 e3 Qb6

The recommendation here is to play the critical 5 Nbd2, allowing Black to try his luck with 5 ...Qxb2. It would then be the old battle between material and development. The resulting lines are somewhat unexplored and once again there is plenty of scope for original analysis.

The repertoire is definitely sound and will certainly make opponent's think for themselves more frequently than they do when following longer theoretical lines. By generally avoiding an early crisis in the tactical department (due to dodging gambit lines) a player adopting this repertoire should be able to improve their positional middlegame skills too, based on a good understanding of what each line is trying to achieve.

In some cases, one could point to the lack of bite with the openings on offer. There is also the problem of what to when facing the same opponent repeatedly (in club chess one could encounter the same players year in, year out). Will the Torre Attack, for example, continue to offer good chances against a well prepared opponent who is facing you and your cunning repertoire for the fourth or fifth time in two or three years? Probably not. If I were to follow the book's complete repertoire I would look to add few extra bits and pieces of my own to extend the armoury and throw one or two surprises out to my opponents.

A Vigorous Chess Opening Repertoire for Black
By Or Cohen
320 pages

From ''cunning'' to ''vigorous''. What should we expect to see for Black? Which wild gambit will we be asked to adopt? Let me end the suspense by revealing that the backbone of Black's vigorous repertoire is none other than...the Petroff Defence.
I know what you are thinking.

It seems that not since the glory days of Frank James Marshall could anyone hope to successfully apply the word ''vigorous'' to the this defence (by the way, play through some of Petroff-hero Marshall's game with 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6; you should find them most enjoyable).

The author nails his colours to the mast as soon as possible. The first sentence of the introduction tells us:

''1 ...e5 is the most reliable continuation against 1 e4. No one can doubt this anymore. In fact, recently 1 ...e5 has been the reason for many elite players to switch from 1 e4 to 1 d4, 1 Nf3 or even 1 c4.''

He goes on to put forward his case for the defence. ''The beauty in the Petroff is that Black hardly has to make any concessions for his relatively active piece play and the absence of weaknesses in his structure.''

The recommendation of the Petroff comes with a suggestion to combine it in one's repertoire with a different weapon (a Sicilian) to have more than one way of playing in tournaments. The role model for this approach - and for the whole book - is Boris Gelfand.

Before getting on to the analysis of the Petroff, the author deals with all of White's alternatives to 2 Nf3. ''You, as Black, should be quite confident if you encounter other moves than 2 Nf3 after 1 e4 e5!''
The thoroughness of the book is apparent very early on, with analysis on the very rare Portuguese Opening (1 e4 e5 2 Bb5), followed by other harmless deviations. Later on there is analysis on other rare birds, such as the Cochrane Gambit and the Halloween Gambit.

There's nothing too surprising about the recommendations against White's more respectable second-move choices; for example, the King's Gambit is well held by 2 ...Bc5 and the Vienna by 1 e4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 f4 d5! No, the author seems convinced that 2 Nf3 is the only way for White to play if he seeks an advantage. The remainder of the book's main content - from page 93 to 309 - is fully devoted to the Petroff.

Obviously, in certain lines Black can play for a win just like in other opening. A lot of White players these days castle long and initiate a kingside pawn storm. There will always be chances for both sides in those sort of lines. But what of the more traditional Petroffs? The ones Karpov used to draw painlessly in game after game. How will they be welcomed into a vigorous repertoire?

There's no getting away from the some of the completely unambitious lines at White's disposal, such as 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nxe5 d6 4 Nf3 Nxe4 5 Qe2.

The only way for Black to win is to wait patiently for White to make mistakes. If the first player plays sensibly he can draw if he wants to. The author's comment - ''If you are an ambitious player, the Petroff should not be your only defence against 1 e4 in a must-win situation'' - is quite correct; vigorous play by Black to force the game after 5 Qe2 will probably rebound badly.

Black has rather more dynamic chances in an old line the author is keen to rehabilitate, namely: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nxe5 d6 4 Nf3 Nxe4 5 d4 d5 6 Bd3 Nc6 7 0-0 Be7 8 Re1 Bg4...

...followed by 9 ...f5 and an attack on the kingside, while offering the b7-pawn to the hungry white queen when slips out to b3. Chess fans with long memories may recall Korchnoi playing this way in one game of their titanic 1974 Candidates Final and coming unstuck. Cohen has put a lot of work into this variation and, judging by the illustrative games, is clearly not afraid to practice as he preaches.

Korchnoi played 15 ...Bh4 here, back in 1974. However, Karpov defended coolly with 16 Rf1 and went on to win. The book recommends 15 ...Bd6 instead presents some very interesting games and analysis to support the improvement. There's nothing there to enhance the Petroff's dull reputation; quite the opposite, in fact. The play is highly tactical and White must defend with great skill to avoid being swept away.

Well, it seems there is still life in the old Petroff! Yet one should keep in mind the author's advice that one needs another defence to 1 e4 to complete the repertoire as not all opponents will agree to steer away from the calmest of Petroff ponds and into the stormiest of tactical seas.

I am impressed by the writing of Or Cohen. He has taken on a controversial subject and produced a very interesting and thought-provoking book. I'm sure Frank James Marshall would approve!

No comments: