Friday, 14 March 2008

Chess Reviews: 42

Dangerous Weapons:
The Queen’s Gambit

IM Richard Palliser
GM Glenn Flear
GM Chris Ward
Everyman Chess

The ‘Dangerous Weapons’ series is a very interesting one. It’s not often that books will freely admit to some of their main recommendations as dubious but the integrity of the authors is maintained in this series, with the given lines often coming with a health warning.

GM Emms outlines the general ethos of the whole series in the introduction:

‘As the title suggests, Dangerous Weapons may not be for the faint-hearted! More than anything, it is aimed at players of all levels who like to be entertained, those who are happy to try out fun-to-play openings at their local chess club, on the Internet, in tournaments, wherever they choose to play.’

The three authors of the volume on the Queen’s Gambit all have considerable experience in the world of 1 d4 d5 2 c4. Given the positional nature of many Queen’s Pawn openings, I was intrigued to see what sort of dangerous weapons they could come up with.

There are 14 chapters, each dealing with a different dose of danger.

Chapter 1 sets the scene nicely with a very early attempt by Black to surprise Queen’s Gambiteers.
1 d4 d4 2 c4 dxc4 3 e4 b5!?

Lines are also provided to enable Black to head for a rapid …b5 against 3 Nf3 and 3 e3 also (lots of care is required!).

The next seven chapters look at ways for both sides to liven up the habitually solid Slav and it’s wilder cousin, the Semi-Slav.

Some stunners in more Orthodox variations of the Queen’s Gambit Declined await the reader in chapters 9-12, including this one…

1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Nf3 Be7 5 g4!?

'The venerable Queen’s Gambit Declined is not at all an easy opening to shock, but perhaps this rare thrust might just do it. Of course, an early g2-g4 advance is all the rage in many openings (apart from the Sicilian, it is regularly seen in the Anti-Meran Semi-Slav and has given White a whole new weapon against the Nimzo-English, namely the Krasenkow-Zvjaginsev Attack: 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 Nf3 Bb4 4 g4!?), but can it really work against the solid QGD?'

The subsequent analysis throws up plenty of food for thought. Despite 5 g4 being very rare, six replies are covered here and a few practice blitz games will soon give the brave White player an idea whether or not it is worth risking in serious encounters.

Can the Tarrasch Defence be crushed tactically? Chapter 13 provides some ammunition to try just that.

1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c5 4 cxd5 exd5 5 e4 dxe4 6 Bc4 cxd4 7 Qb3

But be warned - it could backfire against a well-booked opponent. This is real ‘roll of the dice’ territory.

The final chapter attempts to rob the Albin Counter-Gambit and the Chigorin Defence of a lot of their fun with an early - and outwardly unpretentious - e3 by White. This seems a little bit against the general tone of the rest of the book - it’s not so much as dangerous weapon to adopt as how to defuse two Black ones. However, the lines do have a great pedigree and will no doubt come in useful for Queen’s Gambiteers.

You will certainly catch your opponents off guard with these dangerous weapons but I’d definitely hesitate before thinking about using them in important games. They will provide lots of fun games in blitz sessions though!

Dangerous Weapons:
1 e4 e5

GM John Emms
GM Glenn Flear
IM Andrew Greet

Everyman Chess

It seems to me that there is less unexplored territory in this volume as opposed to the one on the Queen’s Gambit. Given the generally sharper nature and older age of 1 e4 e5, there’s probably ‘nothing new under the sun’. Therefore, this book takes a slightly different approach and the method is to put more meat on the bones of older and forgotten variations. At 335 pages it is almost exactly 100 pages more than it’s companion volume.

As usual for this series, shocking variations abound for both colours.

There are variations from the following openings:

Max Lange
Italian Game
Evans Gambit
Ruy Lopez
Three Knights
Scotch Game
Four Knights
King’s Gambit
Centre Game

It is a little bit surprising to find that the 1 e4 e5 dangerous weapons appear to me to be generally sounder than those emanating from 1 d4 d5. For example, one of the recommendations for Black against The Ruy Lopez is The Bird Defence (called l’Oiseau by GM Flear here, for French language related reasons. Poor Henry Bird will be turning in his grave).

The quoted reasons for advocacy are:

1) It avoids loads of theory;
2) There are no dull drawish lines to face such as the Exchange Variation;
3) It takes your opponent into unusual types of position;
4) It’s lots of fun

True enough, I’m sure that the players we are likely to meet will have very little prepared after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 Nd4. In all my years of chess I can only recall seeing three games with players trying it with Black on the local circuit (In chronological order: Howard Turner in a 5-minute game with me; David Wise against Tim Wall in one of our local weekend congresses and Paul Gregory against Joe Spayne in the Cleveland Championship. Results: a White win - on time in a very dubious position - a fine Black win and a comfortable draw respectively).

There are 18 pages on the Bird and it certainly does throw up some ‘fun’ positions.

A major - and recurring - factor is the doubled centre pawn acquired after an early exchange of Knights. Are they easy targets or do they exert a long lasting clamp on the White position?

There are plenty of tricky lines. After White’s natural 9 Bb5+ Black can really muddy the waters with 9...Kf8!?, the point being that White’s Bishop can end up as a mere spectator out in no-man’s land.

Last but not least come the best chapters of the books: The Centre Game Revealed Parts 1-3. This section, written by IM Andrew Greet, covers no less than 100 pages.

It’s fair to say that the Centre Game - 1 e4 e5 2 d4 - has been somewhat neglected by theory (while, curiously, the theory of the Scandinavian - 1 e4 d5 - has flourished).

IM Greet does a simply marvellous job of collating and explaining all of the available material, covering all of the minor variations as well as the main line.

1 e4 e5 2 d4 exd4 3 Qxd4 Nc6 4 Qe3 Nf6 5 Nc3 Bb4 6 Bd2 0-0 7 0-0-0 Re8

It’s easy to see that an exiting race of attacks is on the agenda. White now plays 8 Qg3, giving up the e-pawn, when 8...Rxe4! is the best way to take it. The twists and turns of this position are analysed well. Imagine being the master of the material presented here and coming up against an opponent who is having to find his own way over the board!

IM Greet put his ideas into practice very recently with a terrific victory against Vladimir Georgiev (rated 2576) at Hastings. The game is included in this book and is fully annotated in the March 2008 edition of CHESS also.

There are lots of inspiring ideas and lines in this book but f course you’d have to be brave to base you whole repertoire around them. (It wouldn’t be so easy anyway; for example, 1 e4 e5 2 d4 Nc6 is beyond the scope of the book so more lines would have to be analysed independently to make up the difference.) However, everything is thought provoking and fun, which surely shows that the intending aims have been well and truly met.

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Chess Explained:
The French

GM Viacheslav Eingorn and IM Valentin Bogdanov

It’s becoming much more difficult to write an all-embracing book on a single opening. Theory continues to develop incredibly quickly and it’s no easy matter to stay up to date.

The ‘Chess Explained’ books ‘…provide an understanding of an opening and the middle games to which it leads, enabling you to find the right moves and plans in your own games. It is as if you were sitting at the board with a chess coach answering your questions about the plans for both sides, the ideas behind particular moves, and what specific knowledge you need to have’.

The first chapter covers the Advance Variation and this is followed by two on the Tarrasch, one on the Burn/Rubinstein complex, one on the Classical and then three on the Winawer. 25 annotated, illustrative games form the meat of the book.

Second move options are not given, which is disappointing. It’s probably an impossible task to distil even just the essentials of the French Defence into 127 pages and this leads to a very uneasy balance between what to cover and what to leave out.

I think anyone trying to play the Black side of the Milner Barry Gambit armed merely with the one-liner that it is ‘not fully correct’ is in for some real trouble at the board.

Similar skimpiness abounds throughout the book. One of the big main lines (1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Be7 5 e5) is covered in a single game.

After 5 …Nfd7, the comment is:

‘As usual, in answer to the pawn attack, the Black Knight retreats to d7. 5...Ne4 has a fairly dubious reputation, although perhaps not entirely fairly.’

Without a single demonstrative move (and ignoring the option of 5...Ng8 altogether) this is far too dismissive to be useful. Lack of space is the real killer; it would be necessary to have several volumes to make Chess Explained: The French work properly.

Given more space, the material improves in depth. Consequently, the Winawer chapters are the best in the book and the explanations are much more helpful.

This is one of the sharpest and most controversial of all French Defence positions. Here is the relevant comment by the authors:

‘The Queen’s diversionary raid has destroyed the opponent’s position on the Kingside, but White’s own centre has collapsed. In the opening, central achievements are usually considered more important, so one can legitimately ask why White would allow such a radical unbalancing of the position, especially when he is also behind in development. What benefits does he see? His pluses are mainly long-term. He has two Bishops and a passed h-pawn, factors which will grow ion importance as the endgame approaches. In addition, he usually retains his extra pawn, although in return, his King has to remain in the centre for a long time. Consequently, Black’s chances lie in the activity of his pieces and an attack on the enemy King - in other words, in dynamic play.’

Anyone trying to learn the French Defence from scratch could use this book as a basic starting point but I’d recommend a lot of further reading before putting it into practice. Established French aficionados should note: this volume is for the completist only.

Chess Explained:
The Nimzo-Indian


GM Reinaldo Vera

The Nimzo-Indian is definitely one of the soundest of all openings and it has been used very successfully by nearly all of the World Champions from Capablanca onwards; Kasparov is the one who struggled when he played it.

The explanations seem to work much better here than in the French book, with a better balance between tasks and more time and space taken to guide the reader through the territory.

The introduction sets the scene well, with plenty of general advice concerning Black’s general aims.

Black’s best-known and most common playing methods of play and strategies in this defence are:

Blockade of the position (to restrict the scope of the enemy Bishops, with pawns on c5, d6 and e5);

Attack on the doubled pawn on the c-file (…b6, …Ba6, …Na5);

Creation, blockade and siege of an isolated Queen’s pawn, or pressure against hanging pawns.

The variations are split into seven chapters.

The Samisch Variation
The Capablanca Variation (two chapters)
Rubinstein System (two chapters)
Fianchetto Variation
Leningrad Variation and Other Lines

The author doesn’t try to cram too much in to the chapters makes no pretence at offering encyclopaedic coverage. For instance, after 4 Qc2, the focus is firmly on 4…d5 and 4...0-0, with no details of alternatives, making this a repertoire book.

One point of interest for regular visitors to Marsh Towers: in the Capablanca (or Classical) Variation, the position after the 11th move of illustrative game number 5 (Ibrahimov - Mamedyarov, Baku 2006) is identical to that of our ongoing correspondence game, The Hawk v The Rest of the World.

GM Vera now opines that 12 Be5 is best and that ‘Dreev’s idea 12 Bxb8 (pictured above) is not as strong: 12…Rxb8 13 Nd4 Bd7! 14 Nb3 Bxc3+ 15 bxc3 Qxc3+ 16 Qxc3 Nxc3 17 f3 Ke7 and after …Na4 and …Rc8 Black’s pressure on c3 compensates for his weaknesses on the Kingside and the isolated Queen’s pawn.’ The Hawk played 14 Bd3, so it will be interesting to see if his line of play leads to a rehabilitation of Dreev’s idea.

The important Rubinstein Variation is met by 4...0-0, heading for the Parma System. 5 Bd3 d5 6 Nf3 c5 7 0-0 dxc4 (7...Nc6 is also covered) 8 Bxc4 Nbd7!?

‘This pattern of development is known as the Parma Variation and at the moment it is one of the most popular among the world elite. Black wants to complete his Queenside development with …b6,…Bb7 and ….Rc8 and is ready, at the right moment, to play against an isolated pawn after a timely …cxd4 or against an isolated pawn-couple after …cxd4 and …Bxc3.
The flexible 8...Nbd7!? Keeps the central tension so as not to help the c1 Bishop develop, which is a frequent strategic theme in the Rubinstein System.’

The material is up to date, with just over half of the illustrative games coming from 2007.
This book does indeed provide the reader with more than enough explanation to get the Nimzo-Indian up and running in their repertoire. A little bit of further background reading will no doubt be necessary but I’m sure that careful study of GM Vera’s lines will bring the player success over the board.

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