Friday 17 February 2006

Chess Reviews: 9

Play The Nimzo-Indian
By IM Edward Dearing

What to play against 1 d4? It’s a great problem in chess. Most players are more comfortable against 1 e4 and are delighted to wheel out their pet defence, whether it is a solid French or a razor-sharp Sicilian Dragon.
Facing 1 d4 is a different matter. I know a lot of club players who would rather die than reply 1 …d5 and end up in one of the classical lines of the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Most players have a spell with the King’s Indian but give it up once the theory explosion becomes too hard to master. Relying on gimmicky gambits such as the Budapest and Albin is all very well for the occasional game but nobody would really recommend using them as a permanent weapon.

So - what to play? Well, why not turn the question around and ask 1 d4 players what they find the toughest nut to crack. I feel sure that most will nominate the Nimzo-Indian as the culprit if they were to give an honest answer. Such is its strength that a lot of White players prefer to avoid it completely with 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 rather than allow 3 Nc3 Bb4

It doesn’t really matter who your chess hero is, the chances are that the Nimzo-Indian occupies a prominent place in their opening repertoire. Fischer, Karpov, Korchnoy, Tal, Short and many other great players all use(d) it the highest of levels (only Kasparov seemed to struggle with it, losing famous games to Psakhis, Beliavsky, Ivan Sokolov and Kramnik) so clearly it can be adopted by players of all different styles.

Edward Dearing’s latest book provides a full Black repertoire against all of White’s ways to combat the Nimzo-Indian.

I wonder if the author is tempted to avoid reading reviews of his books these days. His recent book on the Dragon - one of his specialist subjects - was ripped to absolute shreds in a recent hack review by GM Tiviakov, fuelled by some comments of a rather personal nature. I must admit that I haven’t seen the Dragon book in question; despite the vitriolic review I still feel confident that it would be well worth getting if you are a Dragon player and remain (as most people, I suspect) completely in the dark as to why Tiviakov should feel the need to take out his hatchet .
I mention this matter because if you read the review in question you may be reluctant to give Edward Dearing’s books a try but that would be a big mistake.

Fortunately Dearing was bold enough to publish a reply and to carry on writing books and on the evidence of ‘Play The Nimzo-Indian’ he really should make sure he writes a lot more of them.
Time to take a look at some of the suggested variations…

The Classical Variation, 4 Qc2, is all the rage at the moment and Black definitely needs something reliable in reply. 4 …d5 5 cxd5 Qxd5 6 Nf3 Qf5! given in the book (Romanishin’s line).
Of course White can swap Queens and double Black’s pawns with 7 Qxf5 exf5 and gaining a 2-0 central majority to boot. Nevertheless, the f5 pawn keeps White’s e3-e4 push at bay for some time and the very fact that the position has become quite unbalanced may make some White players feel a little less comfortable as 4 Qc2 aims at controlling the game from the early stages onwards.

One feature of this book that I really like is the way the author goes into some depth with his concluding notes to each game. There is a lot of reading to be done - which is a very good thing in my opinion - and the reader will gain a much greater understanding by studying such conclusions and absorbing the information provided.

The Rubinstein Variation, 4 e3, takes up the largest chunk of the book and given its long-term popularity this is perfectly understandable. Black needs a main line against 4 e3 otherwise he cannot play the Nimzo-Indian.

Dearing proposes meeting it with the trendy 4 …b6 but following 5 Ne2 he prefers the unusual 5 …c5 to the more common moves.
This Romanishin-Psakhis System may look a little bit odd at first glance as after 6 a3 the Bishop doesn’t chop off on c3 - the standard reaction in the vast majority of Nimzo-Indian lines - but prefers to keep the tension with the surprising 6 …Ba5!?

Given that the Ne2 is somewhat clumsily placed (at least, according to the Bf1 it is) White can fianchetto after 7 g3 but once Black plays …Ba6 at the appropriate time it is easy to see that there is already some pressure building up on White’s Queenside.

This is all very intriguing stuff and I’m sure that not many people will have studied this line in depth and it could make an excellent practical choice.

All of the other White tries are given excellent coverage too. I was pleased to see that the section on the Saemisch - on old favourite of mine - is covered so well and that instead of just quoting Karpov’s classic White-square plan and leaving it there, the author takes into the most recent attempts by GM Aleksandrov to keep White’s hopes alive.

VERDICT: An extremely well written book. The Nimzo-Indian has been a major, well-respected opening for many decades so cannot be mastered overnight. However, with some serious homework and the determination to try it out over the board, I am certain that it would be a very valuable addition to the repertoire of any player. Playing over the 50 illustrative games and following the advice given in this book would provide an excellent springboard to success against 1d4.

Dealing With D4 Deviations
By FM John Cox

Preparing the Nimzo-Indian to combat 1 d4 players is, of course, only half of the battle. The number of White players choosing to opt out of the main lines with 2 c4 and head instead for one the Queen’s pawn system has never been larger. It is always tempting to try and by-pass long lines of theory and head for positions that a player knows well and feels confident that the opponent does not.

Cox starts off with an excellent and thought-provoking introduction, making it clear that we all feel pretty much the same when facing such ‘annoying’ systems and how we should adapt our thinking to enable us to fight against them more successfully. Most of all, he recommends staying out of the opponent’s garden, a theme which runs through the book.

The recent brevity Wells - Shirov (a terrible rout for the latter) is clear evidence that such openings as the Trompowsky simply cannot be taken too lightly by any class of player. Cox deals with the Trompowsky in the very first chapter, which is evidence enough of its importance.
The main line given against it here is 1 d4 Nf6 2 Bg5 e6 3 e4 h6 4 Bxf6 Qxf6 5 Nc3 d6 6 Qd2 c6 which gives Black a very flexible set up.

The very basic idea behind 6 …c6 is to be able to play 7 …e5 without allowing a hassling Nd5. After the further moves 7 f4 e5 8 dxe5 dxe5 9 f5, Cox isn’t afraid to contradict both Hodgson and Wells (two of the biggest experts in the Trompowsky) in condemning the move as ‘grotesque’ and going on to quote most of the game T. Thoralsson - H. Stefanson (Reykjavik 2004) as evidence.

Chapters are then given to show how to counter the usual d-pawn suspects including the Torre, Colle, London and Veresov systems.

Some of these openings gather real cult followings. In his preamble to the section on the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit he notes that:

‘The BDG is one of those things you have to be practical about. There’s no doubt that it is objectively weak, and that 4 …exf3 is the best move. However, for some reason the BDG attracts the most fanatical followers of any opening, bar none. If you’ve ever felt that wounded tigresses can be a little overprotective of their cubs, hop over to one of the numerous BDG websites and venture the view that you’ve always wondered whether perhaps the gambit is unsound and that maybe the Catalan is a better bet for long-term pressure.’

Continuing the theme of not setting foot in the opponent’s garden, Cox advocates a very early …e5 instead of taking all the pawns on offer. Spoiling White’s fun is definitely the order of the day.
One example: 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nc3 d5 3 e4 Nxe4 4 Nxe4 dxe4 5 f3 e5! And White is apparently struggling already.

For instance: 6 Be3 exd4 7 Bxd4 Nc6 8 Be3 Qxd1+ 9 Rxd1 Nb4 and I can’t imagine who would rather be White in this position, even though the game is only nine moves old.

A bonus comes at the end of the book when the author details a method of play against the Anti-Benoni lines. These occur after 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 when White can try to spoil Black’s intention of steering towards a sharp game by plumping for one of 4 Nc3, 4 e3 or 4 g3. There are some obvious transpositions to take into account here, especially to the English Opening and Nimzo-Indian and for that reason a lot of other books trend not to give them any coverage at all but merely refer the reader to another book. Cox takes that approach for a Nimzo transposition but covers the other lines well. After 4 e3 he recommends heading for a safe Tarrasch variation in which Black has avoided the main theoretical debates and against the other lines he likes an early …Bb4+ often followed by a quick …Qb6.

VERDICT: Careful study of this book will definitely gain you points at the board. There is no doubt whatsoever that you cannot get through your chess life without meeting these ‘annoying’ d-pawn systems on a regular basis. It’s about time that Black players started to have their share of the fun in these openings and this excellent book will show you how.

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Happy reading!
February 2006