Thursday, 7 August 2014

Chess Reviews: 245

The Scandinavian Defence (1 e4 d5) has become more popular in recent times. Formerly, it appeared only in the repertoires of mavericks but in 1995 even appeared in the final of the World Chess Championship (giving Anand a good position before he suffered an eventual defeat to Kasparov). Since then it has been taken more seriously and it has enjoyed more coverage in chess literature. It is no longer the surprise weapon it once was.

In The 3...Qd8 Scandinavian - Simple and Strong, published by Russell Enterprises, Daniel Lowinger advocates putting the surprise back on Black's side with 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qd8 (instead of the ''normal'' 3 ...Qa5). The move looks ridiculous at first sight; tempi are certain to be lost. Yet there is a logic to the surprising retreat. The queen will not be in danger of having its position exploited, as it may do if it left flapping around on a5, and Black's structure is sound enough to absorb the loss of time. In fact he is aiming for a Caro-Kann type of position, while cutting down White's attacking options. Indeed, in the introduction Lowinger opines that the Caro-Kann is currently pressure due to a revival of an old Tal idea: 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 Bf5 4 h4. This strikes me as being somewhat alarmist and I don't think any excuses need to be offered to explain one's choice of opening.

However, the point is that the author supports Bent Larsen's old statement that the Scandinavian Defence represents an improved Caro-Kann. It's hard for White to prevent Black from simply developing his Bc8 and then playing ...e6 and ...c6, with a typical Caro-Kann structure. Lowinger latches on to a second Larsen quote to reveal inspiration for his chosen lines: ''When in doubt, push a rook's pawn''. This explains the use of ...a6 and ...h6 we'll see later.

I liked the first chapter, explaining the history and development of 3 ...Qd8. It's surprising how many powerful players have used it, from the likes of Staunton and Blackburne in older times up to specialists Dorfman, Garcia and Djukic today.

Larsen's rook's pawn quote manifests itself after 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qd8 4 d4 Nf6 5 Bc4 a6!


 ...and 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qd8 4 d4 Nf6 5 Bg5 h6!

Both ideas are challenging and force White to make early decisions. In the first variation he needs to work out whether Black is really going to expand on the queenside with ...b5 and if so, what should he do about it (the reflex action 6 a4 is shown to be wrong). In the second position the bishop must make a big choice: to chop off the knight or retreat. And if the latter, which square is best? This is the good thing about this line; if the player with black knows his stuff and White doesn't then the second player may easily be able to obtain exactly what he wants from the opening.

American Master Dan Lowinger has clearly worked hard on this book and he presents his case for 3 ...Qd8 in very enthusiastic and engaging fashion.  There are 122 illustrative games (not all end in smooth victories for Black!) over the course of the 176 pages. The players are from a large spread of ratings and strengths, so some serious independent work will be required to test the lines before sending them into battle over the board. All in all, it's an interesting and thought provoking book - fully accessible to club players - and I can't see any big reason not to give 3 ...Qd8 a try, especially as the main ideas seem relatively simple to learn.

Two final thoughts:

1) There is no analysis on any any deviations from 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3, so this is not a full repertoire and extra reading will definitely be required, especially as 3 Nf3 is becoming more popular.

2) Some years ago, Andrew Martin wrote a very interesting article on 3 ...Qd8 for CHESS Magazine, in which he dubbed the line ''The Banker.'' I don't have the article to hand and it's not mentioned in Lowinger's bibliography. It would worth tracking down to compare the analysis.

Meanwhile, what to play if the opponent ignores the e-pawn and plays 1 d4 instead? Well, maybe it's time to dust off an old favourite.

Metropolitan Chess Publishing are new to me but a look at their website shows a number of chess books and DVDs are in the pipeline.

Bojkov has history with the King's Indian Defence; he already a ChessBase DVD on the same subject to his name. He clearly believes in the defence.

''My passion for the King's Indian remains undiminished all these years. For some people it is a religion. Many of my friends have tried to convince me that this opening is positionally unsound. White is taking more space and controls the center better. I strongly disagree. The KID is founded on strong fundamentals; the center is temporarily given up but can later be attacked and destroyed, while Black's control of key squares can compensate for his lack of space.''

He then gives this position.

Skembris vs. Van Wely
Skei 1993
''White indeed has more space, but his position is strategically lost.'' A bold statement, yet the weakness on d4 - White's penalty for seizing space - tells against him once the black knight lands on there (0-1, 42). More motivational examples follow in the introduction, with Kasparov, Gligoric receiving most of the plaudits as various model black games are presented, with plenty of sacrifices - from pawns to queens - along the way.

We then see chapters on each of the main variations. Some of the recommended repertoire follows the same lines as given on the ChessBase DVD. Here's a brief summary of the backbone.

The Classical Variation is met by an early ...exd4. For example, 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 Nf3 0-0 6 Be2 e5 6 0-0 exd4.

The Saemisch Variation - 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 f3 0-0 6 Be3 - runs into the controversial sacrifice 6 ...c5.

The Four Pawns Attack, in which White hogs all the space going - 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 f4 0-0 6 Nf3 - is met by the uncompromising and challenging 6 ...e5, with an early ...Na6 to follow.

The Averbakh System - 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 Be2 0-0 6 Bg5 - is met by 6 ...Na6, as is The Bagirov Line, 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 Nf3 0-0 6 h3.

The Kavalek variation is recommended against the Fianchetto System 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 Nf3 0-0 5 g3 d6 6 Bg2 c6 7 0-0 Qa5.

Exercises are given at the end of each chapter and there are useful ''memory markers'' too. The index of variations is welcome and good but an index of games would have been an obvious addition.

At 366 pages, this is a chunky book aimed at strong tournament players. Lesser experienced players may find themselves out of there depth amid the sea of variations. This is not a good book from which to learn the learn about the King's Indian Defence for the first time but it will suit more experienced KID experts who are looking to add more depth to their existing anti-1 d4 repertories.

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