Thursday 24 July 2008

Chess Reviews: 55

Play the Slav
By FM James Vigus
Everyman Chess

In the Preface, FM Vigus writes that he was inspired to refresh his Slav repertoire after the 2006 Kramnik - Topalov World Championship Match, in which the opening played a starring role.

This is a repertoire book and as such is selective with the chosen variations. The Chebanenko Variation (4...a6) is not covered.

The Introduction is very well written and sets out the author’s stall very nicely. The basic repertoire is outlined and there’s plenty of general Slav information, including a good look at pawn structures and other general considerations.

The main chapters are split thus:

The Sokolov Defence
The Dutch Variation: Introduction and 9 Qe2
The Dutch Variation: 9 Nh4 and Related Lines
Knight to the Right: 6 Nh4
The Tolush-Geller Gambit: 5 e4
Fifth Move Alternatives
The Errot
Quiet Queen Moves
The Argentinean Defence
The Exchange Variation
Odds and Ends

FM Vigus has branched out in new directions as regards nomenclature. The slightly off-beat way of meeting: 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 dxc4 5 a4 Bf5 6 Ne5 Nbd7 7 Nxc4 with 7 …Nb6 (as opposed to the more common 7 …Qc7) is named The Sokolov Variation. 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 e3 Bg4 is named The Errot as it carries with similar themes as The Torre Attack, only in reverse. The Argentinean Defence refers to: 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nc3 dxc4

The bulwark of the repertoire is the old Dutch Variation:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.e3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4

The sharpest try for White is the Tolush-Geller Gambit, which still needs careful attention, although theoretically it should struggle.

‘It must not be underestimated and in many cases leads to very complex play. The computer age, however, is not kind to such speculative gambits and theoretically speaking White is on very precarious ground here.’

This is a critical position. FM Vigus recommends 13...Bd5! Here, as it: ‘..prepares …b5-b4 while enabling the queen’s knight to come to c6, and shores up the e6-pawn‘. The tactical nuances are all competently covered and should be analysed in conjunction this note: ‘The most important advice is: don’t panic!’

I particularly enjoyed the section on the Exchange Variation. It is clear that for The Slav to be a viable weapon for Black, rather than merely a holding device, then the second player must find some way to infuse life into position after 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 cxd5 cxd5. White usually enjoys a slight pull against symmetrical systems.

Here, considerable attention is devoted to a less obliging method of play.
1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 cxd5 cxd5 4 Nc3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Nf6 6 Bf4 Nh5

‘It is time to introduce the Russian Counterattack, a system for Black that has been unaccountably neglected in books on the Slav despite having served as the standard Soviet antidote to the Exchange for generations.’

With 6...Nh5 Black is hoping to impose his authority on the game rather than allow White to sit on a small edge. Indeed, as this book shows, the second player can even take advantage of the newly mobile f-pawn by heading for a Stonewall with f7-f5 before dropping the Knight back to f6.
The suggested repertoire is narrow but that’s not such a bad thing; there is no doubting that the Slav is virtually fireproof and the lines given here are not at all likely to be blown away by any big novelties. Consequently, this opening book should enjoy a longer than average shelf-life.

The Greatest Ever Chess Opening Ideas
By IM Christoph Scheerer
Everyman Chess

The evolution of chess ideas is an interesting topic for a book and one that requires great research. The bibliography is very impressive, running to five full pages; the author has clearly left no stone unturned in his desire to unearth relevant stories.

All the standards are there, from the ancient tales of Ruy Lopez and Greco, Marshall’s original Attack against Capablanca, the rise of the Hypermoderns, through to modern times and Kasparov’s final over-the-board contributions in his retirement tournament.

Example number 1 shows the ancient Italian Game and over 430 years later, in chapter 50, ‘Hot Off the Press’, brings the history of the development of chess opening bang up to date with Topalov’s bomb at Wijk aan Zee earlier this year:

Topalov - Kramnik

12 Nxf7!? with the final word still to be said.

Some stories are better known than others; all are highly readable and entertaining.
A classic example is the tale of the Gothenburg Variation of the Najdorf Sicilian - in which Najdorf, Panno and Pilnik took on the might of Spassky, Keres and Geller, all in the same round of the 1955 Interzonal tournament (with a full view of each other’s games on the demonstration boards) is recounted in full.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Be7 8.Qf3 h6 9.Bh4 g5 10.fxg5 Nfd7

Geller led the way with 11 Nxe6! and the Soviets went on to record three victories.

Each chapter concludes with a rating, based on the following criteria:

Shock Value
Effectiveness Rating
Longevity Rating
Creativity Value

I’m not so sure that such a rating system works particularly well, or indeed that it is necessary. 5/5 is the most common rating although it is clearly indicated when the author believes an opening has seen better days. The Jaenisch Gambit is one such variation judged to be a thing of the past.
‘We have reached a position in which it is difficult to find any compensation for the missing pawn.’

‘I wonder if Radjabov will continue to employ the Jaenisch, and I’m more than curious to see what he has planned against the approach recommended in this chapter! I just think that the Jaenisch is not playable anymore…’

This book walks the line between presenting pure theory and a prose history of chess openings (‘Theostorical‘ as the author has it). However, it keeps its balance very well and makes for a most interesting read, ideal for browsing, delightful for dipping into.
It’s a big book - 368 pages - with plenty of prose to complement the chess analysis.

Pawn Sacrifice!
Winning at Chess the Adventurous Way
By IM Timothy Taylor
Everyman Chess

In the words of the author:

‘…the subject of this book is pawn sacrifices that occur in the middlegame (and, rarely, in the ending). And as I look at the above sentence, I see that occur’ is not the right word: these pawn sacrifices were played - decided on, in the heat of battle, with no textbook or computer assistance. Perhaps ‘bravely ventured’ is the best phrase! In every game in this book, at some point one of the players said to himself, ‘I’m going to sacrifice this pawn - I don’t see when or how I’m getting it back, but I like my position’. And then he boldly went for it!’

Genuine pawn sacrifices do seem rather rare in the games of amateurs. The same players who willingly sacrifice Minor pieces for an attack are often too afraid of losing endgames to give up a humble foot soldier.
Yet there are plenty of excellent examples of successful pawn sacifices in this book, featuring the finest of chess champions.

Pawn sacrifices tend to be associated mainly with opening gambits but in truth the typical scenarios are legion.

There are 12 main chapters, each covering a thematic type of pawn sacrifice, namely:

King Attack
Line Opening
Pawn Cracker
Two Bishops
Charge Up

The actual moment of the pawn sacrifice is discussed, with emphasis on the favourable omens detected by the player offering the booty. IM Taylor then checks the ‘thoughts’ of Fritz to see if the idea is approved by the mechanical mind before adding his own human assessment. Needless to say, strong disagreements between man and machine are rife. For example, in this famous position.

Tal - Tolush
Moscow 1957

After 16...bxc4 Tal played 17 Bb1! and the Bishop eventually bludgeoned its way to freedom along the b1-h7 diagonal. Fritz doesn’t like the sacrifice at all, preferring to recapture on c4 either immediately or after an exchange on g7.

It may seem surprising to a lot of readers that the player making the most pawn sacrifices in this book is the Tigran Petrosian, who just edges out Mikhail Tal.

Petrosian - Najdorf
Bled 1961

White realises that only the Black Queen prevents a full-scale invasion, so he is prepared to sacrifice a pawn to ensure the exchange. 35 Qb6!! Qxb6 36 axb6 Rb8 37 Rc7 and even though the b-pawn fell, the floodgates had opened with decisive effect.

IM Taylor writes in a very enthusiastic manner. Exclamation marks abound, more so in the prose than in the game moves. This can become a trifle wearing at times.
The inclusion of a game by his wife in the final chapter could be seen as a further indulgence.
However, these are minor matters. The illustrative games and examples should open a few eyes towards the beauty of unexpected pawn sacrifices.

‘The advent of chess machines has made many people leery of the speculative pawn sacrifice in general - however, in my opinion, that fact just makes such sacrifices even more dangerous! Your opponents probably have little practice in dealing with such boldness. I hope that this book helps you too (to) find your ‘inner Tal’! ‘

Play 1 b4!
By IM Yury Lapshun and US Master Nick Conticello
Everyman Chess

Nick Conticello tells the story of how the book came into being in his five-page introduction and how the project stretched from an initial three week target to take three years.

‘There is one outstanding reason to play the Sokolsky: it is virtually certain that your opponent will be unfamiliar with the positions that arise.’

This is a good point and equally an equally valid justification for playing any of the more unusual openings. I know from my own games I have a earned a paltry half point from my three encounters with 1 b4 - and two of my opponents were rated considerably lower than I was at the time.

1 b4 won't appeal to all players, as the authors readily admit:

‘If you want to guarantee yourself a small advantage with no risk, the Sokolsky is not for you!’

Games by one of the lesser-quoted players form part of the basis of the book.

‘Part of our mission in writing this book was to present the best of Sokolsky’s work to the English-speaking chess world.’

‘However, our primary purpose was to out forth Yury Lapshun’s games and ideas, as he is` certainly one of the strongest players who regularly plays the Sokolsky.’

The main contents:

The Sokolsky Gambit
1 b4 e5 2 Bb2 Bxb4
Black plays …e5 and …d6
Queen’s Indian Systems
Black plays …d5 and …e6
Black plays …d5 and …Bf5/Bg4
1...c6, 1...f5 and Unusual Moves

Of the 84 complete games, the majority feature Sokolsky, Katalymov and Lapshun but World Champions Alekhine, Spassky and Fischer can all be seen pushing the b4 pawn too (albeit in simultaneous games in the case of Fischer).

It is important for both players to keep an eye on transpositions. In several of the illustrative games the players end up in a standard English Opening and it could be possible to trick those commanding the Black pieces into a line of play they wouldn’t normally adopt.

Strange positions abound. For instance, after 1 b4 d5 2 Bb2 Bg4 White plays 3 Qc1, unpinning the e-pawn.

Free spirits would enjoy the opportunity to play The Sokolsky Gambit:
1 b4 e5 2 Bb2 f6 3 e4 Bbx4 4 Bc4

…with f2-f4 coming next.

It’s all interesting stuff and 1 b4 would doubtless make a good surprise weapon (possibly in the first round of Open tournaments, to make future opponents waste preparation time over the course of the weekend).

For further details of these and other Everyman products, please visit:

Missed a review? Pop along to my archive:

Monday 21 July 2008

Staunton Memorial

The 6th Staunton Memorial Tournament is coming up very soon and once again there's an all-star line-up:

GM Michael Adams
GM Nigel Short
GM Ivan Sokolov
GM Jan Timman
GM Alexander Cherniaev
GM Jon Speelman
GM Jan Smeets
GM Jan Werle
GM Peter Wells
GM Loek Van Wely
GM Erwin L'ami
IM Bob Wade OBE

Bob Wade, at 87, could well be the oldest player to appear in a top GM tournament.

For further details, visit the website:

Marsh Towers will be at the tournament for a couple of rounds and no doubt a report will appear here in due course.

Thursday 17 July 2008

'Forcing Chess Moves': More Information

In an earlier book review, I featured 'Forcing Chess Moves' By FM Charles Hertan (New in Chess):

It's become a very popular title and NiC now has a special page devoted to it over at:

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Chess Reviews: 54

100 Endgames You Must Know
By GM Jesus de la Villa
New in Chess

There’s a very good introduction (a standard theme with New in Chess books) which goes into detail about why endgame study is required and how the author came to write the book. The curse of the modern time controls is highlighted.

The aim of the book is revealed in the following snippet.

‘As stated in the title, my intention was to include only ‘the endings we all should know’. The reader may well wonder: which ones? The answer may be controversial, but these were the criteria used, in order of importance:

To be frequently encountered in practice
To be capable of clear analysis (and therefore, easier to remember)
To contain ideas that can be applied to similar, or even more `complex, positions
Thus this book was not intended as an encyclopaedia, dealing with all known endings and used as a reference book, but as a practical tool which allows the reader to improve his knowledge of the theoretical endgames most likely to arise in an actual game.’

There’s so much material packed into the 240 pages that it’s hard to believe there are ‘just’ 100 main endgames.

The material is well chosen and the presentation is excellent.

Things start off with one of the very basics of King and Pawn endings: ‘The Rule of the Square’.

White to move
Can the pawn promote without the aid of the King?

All of the standard endgame categories are covered in detail. The final chapter looks at ‘Other Material Relations’ and contains analysis of Checkmate with Bishop and Knight against lone King, Rook and Bishop against Rook, Rook and pawn v Bishop, Queen against Rook and pawn.

Even though things start off with basic examples, a lot of the material in this book would challenge club players, particularly in the last chapter when the material imbalances can be very disorientating.

For example, it seems unlikely but once White plays 1 f6? here he can no longer force a win.

As the book says:

'Now Black can draw relatively comfortably, just by following this rule: ‘The Bishop must stay along the a2-g8 diagonal, avoiding g8 and f7 squares and thus being able to deliver a check if the White King moves to g6’

This is the greatest strength of the book: breaking things down into well-worded chunks of easily digestible information.

Here’s a couple of the tests for you to think about and to provide a gauge of the standard of material.

White to move
What should you play and with which result?

White to move.
What is the correct result?

The Chebanenko Slav
According to Bologan
By GM Victor Bologan
New in Chess

GM Shirov provieds a very good foreword, telling a little bit about the late Vyacheslav Chebanenko and how they came to meet. ‘Play 4...a6 in the Slav! I used to think it was a loss of tempo but it is not!’

The starting position of the Chebanenko Slav
(After 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 a6)

GM Bologan follows up with an excellent 18-page introduction, covering the history of 4...a6 as well as providing an intriguing portrait of the eponymous Chebanenko, augmented by a number of photographs.

Extracts are included from other sources, including ‘Revolution in the 70s’ by GM Kasparov.
The main body of the 238 quite naturally presents a detailed coverage of the opening itself and is split into five main parts:

Various Replies on Move 5
Inserting 5 a4 e6
The Insidious 5 Ne5
The Solid 5 e3
The Strategic 5 c5

Theory has certainly grown very quickly for this opening and both sides have numerous choices early in the game. For example, in this position…

…there are no less than seven established continuations for White.

34 Practical Examples are provided, in test format, to further the reader’s understanding. As with the rest of the book, the ideas are relevant to White and Black; this is by no means written (as some books are) to try and ‘prove’ that the opening in question is virtually a forced win.
There’s a comprehensive index of variations at the end, along with another for players’ names.
A bibliography would have been very useful. Some publications are mentioned in passing but GM Flear’s book on the variation is erroneously given a publication date of 1983 (instead of 2003. His earlier book, 'The Slav for the Tournament Player', came out in 1988).

This book provides a full coverage of the trendy 4...a6. To make the most of the material would require a fair bit of hard work from the reader; it’s a comprehensive guide but aimed at experienced players rather than Slav beginners.

The Flexible French
GM Viktor Moskalenko
New in Chess

I’ve not played either side of the Slav very much so a large amount of the territory covered in GM Bologan’s book was new to me. However, I have considerable experience of may variations of the French Defence so I was intrigued to see if there would be anything particularly eye-catching in GM Moskalenko’s new volume.

In fact it was clear from the very start that there were plenty of surprises and a plethora of original analysis in all of the main variations of the French. The suggestions are not confined to boosting Black’s armoury; ideas for the first player are included too.

Great photographs of influential adherents of the French Defence, plus the occasional picture of a classical French army in action and a rather surprising one to accompany the Winawer Variation!

The basic breakdown of material:

The Black Queen’s Musketeers
(The Advance Variation)

Weapons and Dogmas
(Tarrasch Variation)

French Magic
(Classical Lines - with the MacCutcheon Variation recommended : 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Bb4)

Behind The Barricades
(The Winawer; specifically the variations with 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 b6 and 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3 6 bxc3 Qa5 7 Bd2 Qa4

Each part is presented according to the format:

'Historic origin of each variation
Main ideas, resources, advices
Analysis of the most interesting lines through model games
Illustrative games
Statistics, summaries and conclusions'

A final chapter, ‘Seven Samurai Swords’, looks at surprise weapons for both colours.
The giants of the French Defence make plenty of appearances throughout the book and the author makes the point that most of their ideas still hold up to today's critical scrutiny.

'I doubt whether the authors of books like ‘Beating the French Defence’ (and other good defences) could actually defeated heroes such as Petrosian, Korchnoi or Botvinnik. The value of their ideas will be retained for as long as our game is played!'

This book does not contain a full repertoire for Black - there are sidelines that receive no coverage - but used in conjunction with (for example) one of John Watson’s classic tomes then the reader’s repertoire options will be expanded and enhanced.

White is not forgotten; considerable attention is paid to the variation:

1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Nf3 c5 6 dxc5 Nc6 7 Bf4 Bxc5 8 Bd3 f6 9 exf6 Nxf6 10 Qe2!? 0-0 11 0-0-0 (it’s possible to reach this via the Two Knights Variation also)

Players looking for something interesting to play with White should find some decent ammunition here - and players with Black will need to read this too, to be prepared!

The Samurai Swords see action in the gambit variation 1 e4 e6 2 Nf3 d5 3 e5 c5 4 b4, the King’s Indian Attack, The Exchange Variation, The Winawer, the Classical Variation. The coverage here is shorter than in the main sections (3-4 pages) but they should inspire further reading. The swords can be sharp; for example, Black is given some pointers on how to fend off the Alekhine-Chatard Attack 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Be7 5 e5 Nfd7 6 h4 with the controversial 6...0-0, ‘Weathering the Storm’.

GM Moskalenko certainly likes to practice what he preaches and there are numerous examples if play from his own experience. There are games of his against the Grandmasterly likes of Morozevich, Ivanchuk and Sveshnikov.

It’s extremely well written and the reader’s enthusiasm for the French Defence in general - and the featured lines in particular - will have been greatly enhanced. Accessible and inspirational, this is a book every 1...e6 player should have at the top of their shopping list.

For further details of these and other New in Chess products, please visit:

Missed a review? Pop along to my archive:

Thursday 10 July 2008

Chess Reviews: 53

How to Crush Your Chess Opponents
By GM Simon Williams
Gambit Publications

GM Williams is a player who relishes a tactical battle. ‘Do we play chess to put ourselves through six hours of torture where we might end up losing as Rook ending? I do not think so, unless you’re a masochist. The most fun I get from a game is when I crush my opponent quickly.’

Given such a philosophy, it is quite clear that this new book will not contain classic positional grinds by players such as Petrosian, Karpov and Kramnik. However, it’s no surprise to see the names of Polgar, Plaskett and Topalov amongst those doing the crushing.

'I had two main aims in writing this book. One aim was to show you some fascinating games that I have enjoyed. He other ain was to help you to play attacking chess like the winners in this book. Hopefully, this book will help you understand how to hack your opponents up quickly!’

There follows a few short notes on Attack and Defence before the main action starts.
The vast majority of the 112 pages are used to cover 30 crushing games, split into the following (largely self-explanatory) chapters:

Opening to Middlegame
Keeping the Initiative
Harmonizing the Army
Locating the Weak Point
Hanging the Tempo
Playing to Your Strengths

The games are mainly from the years 2000-2007, although some older are included also.

The oldest is Short v Timman (Tilburg 1991). This is the famous game in which GM Short’s King went on a remarkable march to directly participate in the startling denouement. White played: 31 Kh2!! 32 Kg3! 33 Kf4! and 34 Kg5! Black’s moves are largely irrelevant.

‘In a position where there are many pieces still on the board, the lone White King marches bravely up the board to confront its counterpart. A unique idea!’

One has to be shade careful when applying such terms to chess moves. Curiously enough, the idea is not unique, even in the games of GM Short.

Kasparov - Short
Speed Chess Challenge 1987

Black played 45...Kg6 46 Bc1 Kh5 with the clear intention of sending the King into the heart of the White position to finish the job. Kasparov panicked and had to resign just four moves later.
Nor is the idea of a outrageous looking King journey confined to the scenario of a Kingside attack Long ago, GM Keres used one to win an endgame…

Keres - Eliskases
Prague 1937

Remarkable as it may seem, White’s King now travelled to b7 via f2,e3,d3,c2,b3,a4, b5 and c6 over the next 10 moves.

This is a very nice selection of attacking games, with the emphasis on fun rather than deep analysis and totally correct play.

The author’s ethos is demonstrated consistently throughout the book; here’s a case in point:

Gormally - Sutovsky
Gibraltar 2005

In annotating Black’s 30...dxe4?!!, GM Williams has this to say:

‘Your computer will not suggest this move, as it isn’t fact sound. Nevertheless, the human imagination produces many ideas that will remain unfathomable to computers for a long time, and in my opinion there will always be scope for the creative input that only human players can add to the game. Even if this input is not ‘correct’ in the technical sense, I would always prefer to see entertaining chess’.

It all makes for an entertaining book, too.

Gambit’s book covers continue to impress. The Black King looks helpless and very afraid as a brutal-looking spiked hammer is about to smash into him.

The Art of Attacking Chess
By GM Zenon Franco
Gambit Publications

This time, the poor King looks to be in a lot of trouble as a UFO does its best to obliterate him with a death ray. It turns out to be quite fitting, as many Kings find themselves in serious trouble throughout the book.

Studying attacking chess shouldn’t simply involve the solving of hundreds of chess puzzles (although they have their place in the grand scheme of things).

The systematic approach adopted in this book is a very good one. A short introduction sets the scene for each example and a whole game is placed under the analytical microscope. 33 games are given the full treatment. Although some of the chosen examples are very well known, the author has deliberately selected mainly lesser-known ones to keep the material fresh.

This works very well; instead of merely presenting a whole load of famous Tal games and sprinkling exclamation marks all over the place, excellent us is made of some forgotten gems. Keres, Spassky and Smyslov are well represented from one of the classic eras of chess and room is also found for the modern stars such as Anand and Judit Polgar.

The 256 pages are split into the following chapters:

The King in the Centre
Opposite-Side Castling
Attacking the King (Same-Side Castling)
Exploiting Temporary Advantages
Horwitz Bishops
Miscellaneous Themes
The Power of the f5-Knight
Manoeuvring with the Major Pieces
The Pawn-Centre
Solutions to Exercises

Each chapter includes supplementary games and a series of exercises (73 in all) relevant to the material just studied.

Some of the chapter titles are self-explanatory. For those not familiar with the term ‘Horwitz Bishops’ this should shed some light:

Lasker - Bauer
Amsterdam 1889

15 Bxh7+ Kxh7 16 Qxh5+ Kg8 17 Bxg7 and White went on to win.

The book quotes the description by Nimzowitsch: ‘Two Bishops raking two adjacent diagonals and thus together bombarding the enemy’s castled position’

Even World Champions can succumb to a devastating attack by the Horwitz Bishops.

Spassky - Tal
Montreal 1979

White’s Queen had gone out to no-man’s land and helped Black introduce another piece into the attack with gain of tempo:

19...Rd5 20 Qd2 Bxh2+ 21 Kxh2 Rh5+ 22 Kg1 Ng4 0-1

Indeed, Spassky’s compliant 0/2 score against both Tal and Karpov at Montreal was a big help on their way to sharing first place but I’m sure that’s a story for another day.

Working methodically through the material in each chapter will definitely help to build up a clearer picture of standard attacking procedures.

The exercises reach an advanced level and provide excellent study material for keen students. They would work best with a friend or trainer revealing the answers move by move.
Here’s a couple of samples:

White to move
(From the chapter ‘Exploiting Temporary Advantages’)

White to move
(From the chapter ‘Miscellaneous Themes’)

As usual, I’m not going to give you the answers in this column but some hard work on these positions will be well rewarded.

Sparkling games and amazing combinations abound in this fine work. Playing through the astonishing illustrative encounters could well inspire you, dear reader, to look a little deeper in your own tactical battles.

The exercises reach an advanced level and provide excellent study material for keen students. They would work best with a friend or trainer revealing the answers move by move.

The Easiest Sicilian
By GM Atanas Kolev & GM Trajko Nedev
Chess Stars

Over the last few years, ‘Chess Stars’ have established themselves as a publisher of highly regarded chess books and I am delighted to welcome them to Marsh Towers.

What is the ‘Easiest Sicilian’? The attractive cover makes things clear, with the proud e-pawn spinning on its head on the e5 square, dazzling friend and foe alike and leaving Knights with their mouths open in surprise at its audacity. The pride of the foot soldier is augmented by the disco mirror-ball effect. No Najdorfs today; Black not only decides not to defend b5, he also has the temerity to virtually force a Knight to that very square.

In the introduction, GM Atanas Kolev explains how the book came to be named. At first, this new work on the Sveshnikov Variation was set be called ‘The Most Controversial Sicilian’ but then ‘I realised how easy it was to include it in one’s repertoire!’

Most of his games in this opening reached the following position:

‘We are already in the Middlegame, but independent play is still far ahead. Furthermore, Black’s plan is obvious. He wants to push f5 right away or after …g6 in case White plays 17 Ne3. Strategically, the Sveshnikov is a rather simple opening. You read part 3 and 4, leaf through the Quick Repertoire chapters of the other parts of the book, and you are ready to test a whole new Sicilian!’

To further support the claims to add this sharp line to one’s repertoire, the author goes on to say:

‘Currently I do not see any serious theoretical problems for Black’.

This is a repertoire book rather than a comprehensive coverage of all Sveshnikov lines. The focus is definitely on providing a practical manual, designed to get the reader up and running with a fully workable opening as quickly as possible. To do this requires a very careful selection and presentation of material.

To provide full coverage of 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 it is essential to cover some key third move alternatives, namely:

3 Bb5
3 Nc3
3 c3

However, there is no room for the tricky gambit 3 b4

These can all be a bit of pain for Sicilian lovers. The lower the opponent’s rating is, the higher the probability of getting some Anti-Sicilian with Bb5’.

26 pages are devoted to 3 Bb5 and the system given is a combative one:

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 Nf6 and Black is hoping to induce e4-e5, leading to more unbalanced positions than a lower-rated White might be hoping for.

There is a ghost from a previous book haunting the ‘Complete Games’ section for 3 Bb5; the leading diagram and header text claims to be covering a variation from the Taimanov Variation.

The majority of the 240 pages are naturally devoted to the main lines of the Sveshnikov Variation itself. Full coverage is given of all the main lines, including attempts by White to blast Black off the board after:

11 Nxb5 and 11 Bxb5 both require specialist knowledge.

To show the complexity of these lines, five other moves are given at this point, namely:

11 Qd3, 11 g3, 11 exf5, 11 c3 and 11 Bd3

All of White’s standard deviations on moves six and seven are covered in detail too; these are quite likely to appear at club level.

The Novosibirsk Variation is analysed at the end of the book:

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e5 6 Ndb5 d6 7 Bg5 a6 8 Na3 b5 9 Bxf6 gxf6 10 Nd5 Bg7.

Black plans a quick …Ne7, to challenge the White Knight before thinking about …f7-f5.

‘The most unpleasant approach is when White calmly develops, reinforcing the key point e4 by f3, and preparing to produce a passed pawn on the Queenside by c4 at an opportunity.’ Consequently, ‘…it is very difficult for Black to obtain counterplay. That is why we do not recommend the Novosibirsk variation as a main line’.

‘I suppose that players above ELO 1900 will benefit most of this book’ says GM Kolev. I would pitch the level a little bit higher than that (with the possible exception of very keen juniors) and would dispute the claim of the Sveshnikov being ‘The Easiest Sicilian’; the lines are very complex and some of the moves look like they should be copyrighted only to GM Shirov.

However, this is a very well presented book and anyone who is prepared to put in some serious work will certainly benefit from the material produced.

The Wisest Things Ever Said About Chess
By GM Andrew Soltis

It’s been a long time since a Batsford chess book arrived at Marsh Towers

‘This fascinating book gathers together the most astute insights on chess ever uttered, culled from three centuries of the world’s greatest players.’

There are 288 such quotes, typically one per page, with a game snippet to support each maxim.
The quotes are split into 17 chapters, from ‘Attack’ to ‘Tournament Tactics’.

Here’s a couple of examples:

‘A two-move trap in the sixth hour is often more effective than a ten-move combination in the second hour.’

‘One way of looking at this remark, by Georg Marco and Carl Schlechter in the Karlsbad 1907 tournament book, is that the players are more prone to err when they get tired. Fatigue seems to effect tactical sight more than logic, intuition or one’s sense of strategy and general principles'.

'There’s an additional reason that sixth-hour traps succeed. As the game approaches an end, players become more and more convinced of its likely outcome. This can blind them to two-movers.’

Taimanov - Fischer
Candidates Match 1971

46 Rxf6?? Qd4+ and suddenly White is dead lost.

'Pawn endings are to chess what putting is to golf'

'The value of Cecil Purdy’s parallel lies in reminding us of the finality of pawn endings. It’s too late then to make up for previous sins.'
Kasparov - Anand
Amsterdam 1996

36 Rxe7+! And Black resigned before the simple ‘putting’ began.

That was not the first time Kasparov had exchanged off into a won King and pawn ending, as shown by this famous example:

Kasparov - Vukic
European Championship 1980

36 Bxf6 gxf6 37 Rd1! 1-0

Rather just being a random selection of quotes, the chosen ones all offer practical advice.
Others include:

'The older I grow, the more I value pawns'

'Defenders blunder more than attackers

'Don’t try and force the issue until you are sure of winning '

There’s an interesting postscript to Steinitz’s ‘The player with the advantage must attack’. Kramnik is quoted a saying that Karpov had the unique ability of somehow improving his position further instead of going for the attack. ‘In my opinion, there were no other players before or after him who were able to do this’.

This is very good book for browsing and is somewhat reminiscent of Fred Reinfeld on a very good day. It's well produced and easy on the eye but one curious omission, especially for a book dealing with quotes, is a bibliography.

For further details regarding the books featured in this review column, please visit the following websites:

Missed a review? Check out my archive:

Friday 4 July 2008

Chess Reviews: 52

My Best Games in the Slav and Semi-Slav
By GM Alexei Shirov

I selected this particular DVD to review as I was intrigued to see how life on Planet Shirov would treat the ultra-solid Slav Defence.

13 games are presented; GM Shirov is seven Black in seven of them but clearly has made great contributions to the theory for both colours.
The first three games cover the very normal Slav resulting from: 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 dxc4 5 a4

Of particular interest is an exhibition game against the computer program Shredder. GM Shirov freely admits that Shredder wasn’t as strong then (2001) as it is now and that it wasn’t running to it’s full capacity at the time. The commentary outlines, very clearly, the correct strategy in one of the most popular main lines.

The ins and outs of this famous position are discussed in depth.

Once Black had equalised the position Shredder came up with a surprise, allowing Black a strong tactical blow.
Shredder played 27 Qb6 (27 Nd3 is better) and GM Shirov, despite being worried that the computer had seen something that he had not, found the confidence to play 27...Bxe4! 28 fxe4 Ng4 with a very strong attack. The computer struggled into a Knight endgame.

GM Shirov comments here that Black would win easily after 39 Nxb7 b3 but then after looking at the further moves 40 Nd6+ Ke6 41 Ne4 he suddenly taken aback; Black’s task is somewhat trickier than first suggestions indicate. Thinking on the spot, he eventually comes up with a winning plan.

It’s fascinating to (almost) see his mind at work as he thinks through the various moves and ideas. This leads to another interesting comment: playing a winning endgame is easier against strong computers as they tend to avoid lines they know will eventually lose, whereas humans could merrily play 39 Nxb7 and maybe even have a chance of surviving if the opponent’s technique is faulty.

In the game, Shredder opted for 39 Kf2 but lost after ten more moves.

GM Shirov concludes that particular game by admitting that his wins against computers are - by far - outnumbered by the number of losses. His comments came shortly before the last Kramnik v Fritz match, which he (correctly) predicted the computer would win.

Coverage of the standard Slav is completed by two further games, one featuring Black's trendy ...a6 lines and the other with 4 e3 for White.

The Semi-Slav sections of the DVD were recorded several months after the regular Slav pieces. Anyone who has read ‘Fire on Board’ will know that GM Shirov’s name is strongly linked with the Botvinnik Variation, even though he claims on this DVD that it now belongs to chess history; indeed, he believes that Black’s ambitious is virtually refuted and that Black should prefer the Moscow Variation.

The illustrative game against GM Ponomariov lasts no less than 53 minutes. It’s all time well-spent; there is, of course, a huge amount to discuss and he does an excellent job of guiding the viewer through all the options and tactical minefields.

As this famous position from the game shows, a guide is definitely needed!

White played 21 Qg7 here!
The Moscow Variation and the Cambridge Springs are also covered before the attention switches to the Meran System. Only one variation is analysed (don’t forget - this is ‘Best Games’ and not ‘Comprehensive Coverage’) and it’s another Planet Shirov trademark.

He gives a full history of the genesis of 7 g4 and over the course of three dramatic games he brings the story fully up to date.

It's quite astonishing how GM Shirov can impose his style and personality over one of the most solid openings. His games with the Slav prove to be just as inspirational and exciting as those in the officially sharper openings. Just sit back and enjoy! (Don't be fooled by the back cover though, which shows positions from the Caro-Kann DVD).

Albin’s Countergambit for Experts
By GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov

As a polar opposite of the above DVD, I was equally interested to see how such a ‘correct’ chess player as former World Champion GM Kasimdzhanov would present the Albin. It has never enjoyed an awful lot of respectability.

Over the course of the 24 illustrative games, GM Kasimdzhanov presents a master class of the whole opening and explains how he came to add it - very successfully - to his own repertoire (he needed something to put into battle against the ultra-solid GM Jussupow).

He goes as far to say that he considers 2..e5 to be the only way to fight for the initiative after 2 c4 . This struck me as a very interesting comment and after some reflection I realised it is absolutely true. Once White plays 3 dxe5, Black makes a bid for a long-term intitiative with the space-gaining 3...d4. This spacial advantage provides the basis for rapid and virtually uninhibited development.

First game of historical importance, Lasker v Albin New York 1893 (which the Second World Champion still managed to win despite being the intended victim of a brand new weapon) is one of a number of games from a bygone age. Lasker later played the Black side, famously springing that trap (you know the one...fxg1=N+ is a big clue if not!).

This is followed by a detailed 'Theory' section, which is very useful. After all, the majority of viewers will probably have never analysed the Albin at all. All sensible alternatives to the main line are analysed, with 3 e3, 3 Nf3 and 3 Nc3 all going under the microscope (conclusion: fine for Black, so if White is afraid of your mainline preparaton he has nowhere to run).

An interesting series of games from throughout the history of chess are presented to show not only the typical plans and common tactics, but also to show how the Albin Countergambit has evolved. The main emphasis is on modern lines with …Nge7, leading to an attempt to round up the e5 pawn with …Ng6, as used by GM Morozevich to terrific effect.

It does look like White has an easy task of rounding up the bold d4 pawn but it’s not that simple; after a straight forward attempt the justification of Black’s set-up becomes apparent:

The c-pawn hangs and Black is fine. More than that, players with White will be thrown back onto their own resources and Black will be on very familiar ground, armed with the expert knowledge provided by GM Kasimdzhanov.

The more traditional tries for Black, featuring …Be6, …Qd7 and 0-0-0 with a Kingside attack, are covered towards the end of the DVD.

The strength of the White players who really struggled against the Albin is staggering. On this DVD, we see games with the likes Topalov, Gelfand and Karpov (only Karpov earned as much as a draw). To conclude this review, here’s another very strong 1 d4 player suffering against a text-book Albin onslaught. If Super-GMs can’t keep the lid on the tactics, will your opponents at club and tournament level do any better?

van Wely - Morozevich

Black can force mate in three moves.

This really is expert coverage of an opening which could serve you very well in your own games. You'll be virtually guaranteed to know more about it than your opponents and in some games that could be enough to obtain a winning position with little effort.

Endgames for Experts
By GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov

In a former DVD ('Strategy Step-by-Step'; see review column 47), GM Kasimdzhanov mentioned follow-up volume was due out soon. This is it and it takes a good look at strategy in endgames.

In his introduction, the presenter discusses his criteria for the selection of material. The games are all from his own practice (as they are the ones he understands the best of all) and feature a number of examples demonstating such cornerstones of chess strategy such as the richness of ideas, the realisation of a small material advantage, saving the game a pawn down, King activity and the power of the two Bishops.

17 endgames are examined in all, often with the analysis starting with the initial moves of the game to show the connection of the endgame to the opening rather than just to dive into an existing, out-of-context endgame position.

The endgame positions are of varying degrees of difficulty. I know from my own playing experience that there is sometimes a reluctance to enter an ending in which the advantage seems too slight. It was particularly instructive to see GM Kasimdzhanov at work in this ending:

Tregubov - Kasimdzhanov

This is precisely the sort of ending that gets misjudged so often in club and tournament chess. Black has to decide how and what to trade. For winning purposes, I’m sure I’m not alone in being reluctant to swap off too much, fearing the advantage would be too small.

However, the intuition of the Grandmaster came into play and after a series of exchanges this next position was reached:

The various problems of White's position are discussed in great detail. For example, the majority of his pawns on same colour as Bishop, giving it very limited scope.

White's White squares are weakened as he cannot easily control them; this opens up the schematic plan for Black's King to advance to e4 via f7, e6 and f5.

The isolated d4 pawn might become a target for Black's King and Bishop.

These all add up to Black deciding he had enough to go on as he tried to pushed for a win.

White’s task not at all easy and he will feel the pressure. He needs to put most of his pawns on White but it’s not clear where to start. 29 h5 is recommended as after 29 b3 h5! The pawns are fixed and ultimately vulnerable.

Fast forward a few more moves and it’s easy to see how Black’s plans have come to fruition. After 41...Bb2 the game was effectively over.

Of the many highlights, I was particularly impressed with the explanations of the strategical ideas resulting from a World Championship game.

Kasimdzhanov - Adams

This position occurred in the final of the 2004 FIDE World Championship. Clearly, it has arisen from an Exchange Variation of the Spanish Game. The basics of the position are nicely broken down and the various possible strategies - for both sides - are given full consideration.

It may seem strange to the naked eye, but White proceeded to launch an attack on the Queenside with a quick Rfb1 and b2-b4. The subsequent play is split over three video presentations and is extremely instructive.

The material is excellently chosen; each example conveys a large amount of common-sense chess wisdom to the viewer.

Summing up some of the main points in the short ‘Outro’, GM Kasimdzhanov strongly hints that there will be more DVDs on chess strategy to come. Let's hope so; the first two volumes are excellent and I’m sure I’m not the only viewer hungry for more.

For further details of all Chessbase products, please visit:

For the archive of my chess reviews, please see here:

For more on the Albin, see 'Gambiteer II ' by GM Nigel Davies (reviewe) here:

...and here, for a game of my own with the Albin in an important County Championship encounter: