Friday, 11 April 2014

Chess Reviews: 235

New in Chess have just released three new opening books. All are interesting and we will give each one its own review column.

First up is a volume which may be of interest to ''right-handed players'' (1 e4!) as they seek to spice things up against one of the toughest defencive nuts to crack.
The Extreme Caro-Kann 
Attacking Black with 3. f3
By GM Alexey Bezgodov
272 pages
New in Chess
1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 f3 has not proved a particularly popular way to play against the solid Caro-Kann Defence. Nevertheless, as the author points out, the move has been played successfully by ''former greats'' Maroczy and Smyslov, plus ''modern world-class players like Vassily Ivanchuk, Alexander Morozevich and Judit Polgar.''

What is the point of the modest pawn move, 3 f3? According to the blurb, it ''considerably complicates life for Caro-Kann players, as it makes Black's main problem bigger: the development of his bishop on c8.'' True enough, the squares f5 and g4 look unlikely to be available for the bishop for some time to come.

GM Bezgodov considers all of the normal black replies, with chapters devoted to 3 ...g6, 3 ...e6, 3 ...Qb6, 3 ...e5 and 3 ...dxe4 4 fxe4 e5. There's also a chapter on the rare continuations 3 ...f5, 3 ...h5, 3 ...c5, 3 ....Na6, 3 ...Qc7, 3 ...Nf6, 3 ...Nd7, 3 ...b6 and 3 ...a6, so it's clear to see that the author has taken his task very seriously and left no stone unturned.

Anyone thinking of playing 3 f3 probably shouldn't lose too much sleep over the minor black alternatives 9although it's great to see them receive space and time in the book), but should instead save their main study time for the heavyweights - namely, 3 ...e6 and 3 ...dxe4 4 fxe4 e5. These responses have both been recommended elsewhere as antidotes to 3 f3 and are therefore almost certainly to me met over the board, so it would make sense to focus attention there.

3 ...e6 is called The Semi-French Variation in this book. The author admits:  ''This chapter was the hardest one for me, in truth. The fact is that at this moment, the theory of this particular variation is not yet established. Even many top players treat the positions after 3 ...e6 more on the basis of experiment and luck than solid preparation, even in our scientific times!''

Two solutions are offered: 4 Nc3 and the gambit-style 4 Be3. The latter is somewhat speculative but would suit players of a certain style. The former ''may be stronger'' but unfortunately players with the white pieces will have to look elsewhere for coverage of 4 ...Nf6, after which ''White has to play 5 e5 Nfd7 6 f4 c5 7 Nf3, transposing into a popular Steinitz Variation of the French Defence'' as it's not analysed in this book. I know there's only space for so much analysis, but it seems to me that there's a big chance of ending up going down that exact line. If I had the black pieces, I would make sure that's what would happen, partly because it's not covered here. White is really hoping for 4 ...Bb4, when 5 a3 and 5 Bf4 are given as interesting tries. After 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 dxe4 7 Qe2, White is happy to turn the opening into a real gambit. 7 ...exf3 8 Nxf3 Nf6 White has the unexpected try 9 Qe3!, which ''makes way for the light-squared bishop.''

There are similarities here to various French Winawer lines. The illustrative games are crushing for White but there are plenty of new avenues for both players to explore.

3 ...dxe4 4 fxe4 e5 is a tricky line too, especially with the continuation 5 Nf3 Be6 being a well-known route for booked-up Black players. Indeed, Black's light-squared bishop doesn't have much trouble finding a good square in this variation (5 ...Bg4 is good too) so logically it must be a very tempting option for Black.
Three options are given, namely: 6 c3 (''traditional''); 6 Nc3 (''relatively new'') and 6 dxe5 (''greedy''). This chapter is vitally important for prospective fans of 3 f3 but it's fair to say that a lot of the lines need further tests.

The book concludes with a look at ''Three Important New Games'' and a host of useful exercises, to test the reader's understanding of the material. The book's target audience would appear to be experienced club players.

The material nicely presented, with lively prose explanations and welcome chapter summaries. As usual for New in Chess books, there are good photos of some of the featured players, including a very young Smyslov (page 74) that I found interesting to compare with the old Smyslov (depicted on page 8).

There's plenty of fresh material and inspirational games in The Extreme Caro-Kann. Unprepared opponents who run into 3 f3 will struggle to get the sort of game they are hoping for and could well end up on the wrong end of a crushing miniature. However, if Black knows his stuff or has experience of the Steinitz Variation of the French Defence then the boot may end up on the other foot. This is undoubtedly the best book on 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 f3 but readers must be prepared to check the lines carefully before entering into battle.

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