Thursday, 2 January 2014

Chess Reviews: 231

The French Defence 
for the Tournament Player
By Nicholas Pert
7 hours
ChessBase continue to release products at a relentless pace. I've selected some to review over the next few columns or so.

The French Defence for the Tournament Player seems a good place to start, as I very recently reviewed three excellent Quality Chess books on the same opening and it's an opening I have been interested in for a very long time. How would Nicholas Pert's repertoire compare to the others? Here's a quick summary of the main lines he recommends.

1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Bd7

1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nd2 Nf6

1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4

White's less ambitious options - such as 2 d3 and 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 - are also covered, of course.

23 lectures explaining the repertoire, via illustrative games, followed by 12 test questions. There's an additional database of 682 games, with the depth and usefulness of the annotations varying from prose to brief, language-less symbols.

We won't find out what Emanuel Berg advocates against anything other than 3 Nc3 until the concluding volume of his trilogy on the French Defence is released later this year, but there is an obvious area for comparison, as both he and Nicholas Pert are fans of the main line Winawer Variation (3 ...Bb4 and allowing White to enter the Poisoned Pawn labyrinth with a subsequent Qg4 and Qxg7). Even better (for comparison purposes); Pert uses two of Berg's games for his lectures. One of them focuses on a particularly tricky line of the Winawer.

After the moves 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Qxg7 Rg8 9 Qxh7 cxd4 White has an unusual king move at his disposal with 10 Kd1.

Nilson vs. Berg
Sweden, 2012
The game continued: 10 ...Nbc6 11 Nf3 dxc3 12 Ng5 Nxe5 13 Bf4 Qb6 14 Bxe5 Rxg5 15 Qh4 Rg8 16 Qd4 Qxd4+ 17 Bxd4 Bd7 18 h4 Nf5 19 Bf6 Rg6 20 Be5 f6 21 h5 Rh6 22 Bxc3 e5 23 g4

...and in this position the players agreed to a draw. Berg and Pert both give 23 ...Nd6 as the best move for Black here, with the latter questioning why the former didn't play on against ''a weaker player.'' Both agree also that 17 ...Nf5!? is a perfectly valid alternative (only Berg correctly credits the idea to French Defence pioneer John Watson).

However, Berg goes further in his analysis of the line, flagging up an improvement on move 19.

In the game, Berg played here 19 ...Rg6 but he now believes it a dubious move, because White can improve with 20 Bxc3!, which is ''slightly favourable for White, for instance: 20 ...f6 21 h5 Rh6 22 Rb1 White has obtained a slightly improved version of a familiar position type.'' Berg's suggested improvement is 19 ...Nh6!? when he says, ''By threatening to invade on g4, Black hopes to provoke weaknesses in the enemy camp.'' He goes even further, analysing 20 f3 Nf5 21 g4 Rg6! 22 g5 Rxf6! 23 gxf6 Ne3+ 24 Kc1 Nxf1 25 Rxf1 Bc6 ''Intending ...Kd7 and ...Rh8. Black's extra pawn and better pawn structure offer full compensation for the sacrificed exchange.''

Pert himself is happy to describe the DVD as ''a very thorough work'' and firmly believes he is offering the best variations for Black, giving the second player every chance of fighting for the win in every line. He makes a fine presenter, with a good delivery. He very rarely fumbles his words and it is quite clear he has put a lot of time and effort into researching the subject thoroughly. It all helps to instill confidence in the material. In fact, he goes big step further along the road of confidence and says to learn all about the French Defence ''This DVD is absolutely the best thing that's out there on the market.'' Possibly so, but personally I would rate the Berg books a shade higher (at least in terms of the Winawer Variation).

There are certain issues with the striped shirt in the early lectures. The resultant strobe effect is a big distraction. Fortunately, the issue is corrected as we head towards coverage of the Tarrasch Variation - with a switch to a white shirt - but it would have been better not to have allowed the problem in the first place. ChessBase have been making DVDs long enough to know how to advise their presenters on what not to wear.

The presenter makes a very good point that he is usually higher rated than his opponents and as such he really does need to win with Black on a very regular basis. That means the lines he presents - which have been his own anti-1 e4 repertoire for a very long time - should be suitable for club players and experienced tournament players alike. There's not much point winning with White and drawing with Black if one would like to win tournaments; games with both colours must be pushed to the maximum. Pert's consistent approach is to eschew lines in which Black wins material but has to allow White serious counterplay. Instead, he prefers to be the on doing the attacking. Fighting stuff!

I can recommend this DVD to ambitious players who are looking for success against 1 e4.  Keep in mind, though, that the Winawer is very hard work and definitely not the sort of opening one can try without serious preparation. Students of the French Defence may want to do some further reading too and I would point them firmly in the direction of Emanuel Berg's fine books.

No comments: