Saturday, 23 January 2010

Chess Reviews: 125

Dismantling the Sicilian

By GM Jesus de la Villa

336 pages

New in Chess

A Complete Repertoire for White

This is a new version of a Spanish book, Desmontando la Siciliana. The author makes the point that this really is a new version of the book rather than a new edition, as there is a lots of new material.

To play successfully against the Sicilian is not an easy matter. As it is a very popular opening at all levels of play, theory advances at a terrific rate. To make the task slightly easier, the recommendation is to adopt a general plan of f3, Be3, Qd2 and 0-0-0 for White (where possible).

The material starts by analysing the minor variations and building up to the real main lines. The material is split into four main sections.

Section 1

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3

Looks at the rarer variations such as 2 …Nf6 ands 2 …a6

Section 2

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4

Covers The Accelerated Dragon, Kalashnikov and related systems.

Section 3

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4

Including the Taimanov and Paulsen systems.

Section 4

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4

Here be Dragons…plus stalwarts like the Scheveningen, Classical and Najdorf.

Each system is analysed via complete illustrative games. Alternative variations to those covered in the main games are given throughout. The format is very clear and I found it easy to navigate

There are great summaries at the end of every chapter, neatly detailing the important points.

Each Black system is rated with a number of stars. The Najdorf is a five star defence (sorry, Dragon fans...your favourite only merits three stars) and it is definitely not easy to dismantle. The book does not shy away from going into one of the most heavily analysed main lines.

‘The Najdorf Variation is acknowledged as the most important Sicilian system, and its great merit has kept this appreciation for some decades. Can we state the reasons for this? For sure, its theoretical viability is one, but also its apparently inexhaustible potential to lead to positions rich in tactical and strategic themes, which guarantee hard-fought games and chances to play for a win as Black.’

Theory has moved on somewhat since the early days of the English Attack. In particular, Black has had some success with 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Be3 Ng4 This forces White into paths different from the automatic f3, Qd2 and 0-0-0 build up.7 Bg5 h6 8 Bh4 g5 9 Bg3 Bg7 10 h3!?

‘The most recent move and, in my opinion, the one that sets the most problems. 10 Be2 and 10 Qd2 used to be the most frequent choices.’

10 …Ne5 11 Nf5 Bxf5 12 exf5 Nbc6 13 Nd5 e6 14 fxe6 fxe6 15 Ne3 Qa5+ 16 c3

16 …Nf3?! 17 Qxf3 Bxc3+ 18 Kd1 Qa4+ 19 Nc2 Bxb2 20 Rc1!

This is Svidler’s improvement over the 20 Qb3 he tried against Topalov in 2005. And now, in the game Svidler - Grischuk (Mexico 2007), after 20 …Bxc1?! (‘20 …Ke7 is probably best…’) White interpolated 21 Qf6 and went on to win after 42 moves.

Players who like to use the Sicilian Defence as Black may have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, their opponents are encouraged to play down the main lines, giving Dragon fiends and the like something to look forward to. On the other hand, the opponents have the opportunity to arrive at the board with stronger preparation than before.

Summing up, I think Sicilian players and Sicilian slayers will find this an extremely interesting volume.

Revolutionize Your Chess

By GM Viktor Moskalenko

350 pages

New in Chess

A Brand-new System to Become a Better Player

I enjoyed GM Moskalenko's book on 'The Flexible French' (reviewed in column #54) and I have been looking forward to reading his latest work

This one is not dedicated to a particular opening, but is a guide hoping to instill into chess players a better understanding of dynamic play.

Right from the start, it is clear that this is a serious book, for serious students

Foreword: From Static to Dynamic Chess

'Once they have reached a certain level most players fail to make real progress. They focus their study on openings, a limited amount of static strategic themes and classical tactics in the middlegame, and a collection of standard endgame themes. Which means that they do not understand much of what they are doing when they are sitting behind the board themselves, facing real chess problems.

How can this be? The answer is quite simple: the general rules of the game have not yet been discovered.'

The author goes back to the start, with Steinitz and his theories, through Paul Morphy and into the early years of the 20th Century to trace the genesis of the p
rinciples of dynamic chess in relation to general strategy

There is a rallying cry

'Revolutionize your chess, and become a better player!'

Chapter 1: The Moskalenko Test of a Chess Player’s Skills

The first chapter gets straight down to work and presents several methods to determine a player's skill level. There is little room for sentiment if one wishes to become a stronger player

'I think that a true professional chess player cannot afford the luxury of having lots of friends among his colleagues.'

Chapter 2: Moskalenko’s Five Touchstones

This chapter introduces an important concept, which is pivotal to the entire book. GM Moskalenko introduces his five touchstones:

T1 Material

T2 Development

T3 Placement of Pieces and Pawns

T4 King Position

T5 Time

This is followed by a series of illustrative games to demonstrate appreciation of the touchstones in action.

One conclusion is that 'T5 - Time' is rarely considered as much as static observations, and this factor is acting to the detriment of a player's development.

With the touchstones in place, the book then considers the three main phases of the game, starting with...

The Endgame

Another original method is introduced here: one has to take into account the 'Properties of Pieces, Pawns and Squares' ('PPPS').

There are plenty of illustrative snippets for the reader to work on. Here's one to ponder, which, according to the book, famous analysts managed to get wrong.

Dreev - Moskalenko

Lvov 1985

Back to move

'Exercise: Find the best square for the black king and find out who was right: Moskalenko, Dreev or Mark Dvoretsky?'

The Middlegame

Positions featuring an Isolated Queen's Pawn are ripe with dynamic possibilities and they feature heavily in this section. Even Karpov occasionally struggled to stem the dynamic flow in this famous game, which is excellently annotated:

Smyslov - Karpov

Leningrad 1971

Instead of being a weakness, the IQP played a decisive role and only left the board when it promoted

28 Qxf8+ Qxf8 d8=Q 1-0

The Botvinnik System of the Semi-Slav is given very good coverage and it comes with a warning against relying on artificial intelligence:

'In the Botvinnik System, it is advisable to use computer analysis only with great care, as the machine tends to make wrong evaluations and misses the truth in 50% of cases. Therefore, you should analyse yourself until more stabilized positions are reached.

Some of the moves have to be seen to be believed.

'18...Rh4! is an extraordinary manoeuvre discovered by Kramnik, and the most beautiful move in the Botvinnik System. Apart from creating attacking chances along the g- and h-files, Black prepares the centralization of his rook on the d4 square.'

The Opening

In order to play more dynamically, there is little point in using the Exchange Variation against the French Defence as a main opening 'weapon'. Therefore it should come as no surprise that the author is enthusiastic about the following three openings

Saemisch Variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defence

The Stonewall Dutch

Four Pawns Attack against the King’s Indian Defence

Even established fans of these openings should find fresh material here.

Throughout the book, there are quotes from the greats and some very good photos too. Production values are high; it's a very good looking book.

Ultimately, it is T5 which is definitely the one we are all encouraged to embrace in order to inject more life into our game.

‘…a flexible approach to our game is necessary in 21st Century chess. Steinitz’s Elements and Nimzowitsch’s System, two milestones in chess history, have meant a lot for the understanding of thousands of chess players, but only a good understanding of the Time factor will be able to take chess players to a new dimension'.

I enjoyed this book. There is lot to read, a lot to absorb. I know it's only January but, at the end of the year, when I compile my list of the top books I have reviewed in 2010, I'll be surprised if 'Revolutionize Your Chess' isn't included.

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BRF Fågelsången said...

How advanced is the "improve your chess" book? Another review from a trusted source called it "same old-same old"

Sean Marsh said...

I think it's very good read, with quite advanced material. It doesn't strike me as 'same old' at all. I think it's a worthy attempt to write something fresh and original.

BRF Fågelsången said...

Sean, Thank you! I will add it to my shopping list!