Sunday 18 March 2007

Chess Reviews: 23

Revolution In The 70s
By GM Garry Kasparov

Fans of the famous ‘My Great Predecessors’ series will have been waiting anxiously for the great man’s latest volume.

This one is really the start of a new series, headed ‘Garry Kasparov On Modern Chess, Part One’, but rest assured the style remains true to the earlier volumes and readers who have read those will feel quite at home here.

The basis of the present tome is an overview of the openings revolution of the 1970s, a legacy of Fischer’s extraordinary preparation.

In Kasparov’s words:

‘Although, after becoming world champion, Fischer gave up playing, and many of his schemes soon became outdated, the tectonic shifts that he had caused generated a powerful avalanche, which over a period of ten years redrew the entire opening map of the world.’

Fischer’s world war against the Soviet chess machine sparked a permanent arms race of opening preparation.

The first 23 chapters focus on particular variations and their ideas, starting with the Hedgehog System and covering a plethora of others drawn from the whole gamut of opening lore.
Hedgehog systems are described by the author as being: ‘Virtually the greatest hit of the 1970s’.

The structure – with black pawns sitting happily on e6, d6, b6 and e6, just like little defensive spines on a hedgehog – was named thus by IM Bill Hartston many years ago and the name stuck. Ljubojevic was the great pioneer of the 1970s Hedgehog and he shared some ideas with Ulf Andersson, who honed it into a very potent system, even beating Karpov at Milan in 1975 (the latter’s first defeat as World Champion!).

Here, Black’s Hedgehog lashed out with the typical 24 …d5!?

Some chapters are longer and meatier than others. For example, the ‘French with 3 e5’ is covered in just under three pages, whereas the openings Kasparov himself was more concerned with in his playing days – such as the Classical Scheveningen and Grunfeld – enjoy much more substantial coverage. Indeed, I found the Grunfeld section to be one of the very best in the whole book (probably matched only by the Hedgehog coverage) and the evolutionary narrative of the Modern Exchange Variation is superbly handled.

The concluding chapter sees a change of pace of content. ‘The Opinion Of 28 World Experts’ is based on the replies to a questionnaire and features the thoughts and opinions of some of the strongest players from the period in question, such as Averbakh, Taimanov, Portisch and Andersson. This is all fascinating material, well worthy of a book all to itself.

A few eye-catching snippets should be sufficient to give the reader a flavour of what to expect…

The thoughts of Portisch on modern chess are not exactly flattering. He laments the fact that soon all players will have to put up with being electronically monitored to prevent cheating. ‘Thank God , at least I won’t have to take part in this!’

And: 'Why did Garry….play matches with these hellish computers?'

Ljubojevic, fully acknowledging the achievements of Fischer, highlights the input of Larsen also, and picks out the following vignette….

Larsen v Bellon
Palma de Mallorca, 1971

White has just played the remarkable 4 Be2!!

‘In my view, this move is one of the most brilliant strategic ideas ever employed at such an early stage of the opening.’

The idea is if 4 … Bxg2, then 5 Bh5+ g6 6 Bf3 Bxh1 7 Bxh1 and Black has trouble with both Rooks. The game actually continued: 4 …Nf6 5 Bxf6 exf6 6 Bf3!, which was good for White.

Dvoretsky: ‘Chess players have become slaves of opening theory!’

A lot of comments return to the use and advance of computers and their impact on modern theory.

Browne: ‘….no one wants to take a risk without thorough preparation: who knows whether the other guy has analysed it all with his computer...’

Soltis: ‘The threat of the computer is stronger than the computer’s move!’

It really is a treat reading the thoughts of such players. Some are disappointingly short, but others – including the ones quoted from above – have contributed marvellous mini-essays that are well worth reading.

The changing of the eras Sosonko, who quotes a comment a verbal exchange between Steinitz and Gunsberg, during a World Championship match game. After six moves of an Evans Gambit, Steinitz asked: ‘Do you think that I am morally bound to play exactly the same defence as I did against Chigorin?’ to which Gunsberg responded: ‘You are not exactly bound, but the public will expect you to defend your own theories!’ So Steinitz did indeed play his own (inferior) move, and went on to lose! It should be said that to have an idea of one’s own – even it is a bad one – is certainly better than having no ideas at all, but in the world of modern chess it seems that exactly the opposite attitude is the prevalent one.

A fascinating read! And that’s the point…this is a book to be read and not just a whole load of database-dumped variations and symbols. A big, well-written, handsome hardback. Fans of chess will not be disappointed and this should be on everyone’s ‘to buy’ list.

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Happy reading!
18th March 2007

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