Friday, 8 August 2014

Chess Reviews: 246

This is the last review column of a very busy week. More will follow later in the month.

I have saved Peter Lalic's book until the end of this particular series and I must declare an interest right at the start. Peter has been my friend for a number of years and he gave up a lot of his time to create monthly videos for the Mike Closs Memorial website during the initial memorial season.

In fact, the Accelerated Dragon - 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 g6 - was one of Mike's favourite openings. Back in the mid-1980s we prepared some lines together (it was the first opening we analysed together in depth) and went on to try them out in county matches and Open tournaments.
The much-missed Mighty Mish
Mike had great success with the opening while I struggled to generate any play on the black side of a Maroczy Bind rather too often for comfort. I dropped the Accelerated Dragon from my repertoire but Mike kept it for the next couple of decades. Various memories of those days came back to me while I was reading Peter's book and some of those memories will follow towards the end of this review.

In Play the Accelerated Dragon, his debut book from Everyman Chess, Peter Lalic presents a repertoire for Black and splits his analysis into six main parts.

The Main Line: Yugoslav Attack Attempts
The Main Line:  7 Bc4
The Main Line:  Classical Variation
White Deviations
Maroczy Bind:  Strategic Ideas
Maroczy Bind:  Gurgenidze Variation

The introduction explains why he prefers the Accelerated Dragon to the normal Sicilian Dragon. ''The critical difference'' is ''in waiting flexibly with the d-pawn: in the majority of variations, when it does advance, it will accelerate straight to d5.''

Peter also makes six promises in his introduction regarding the content and repertoire:

1) Prepared with this repertoire, you'll never have to fear the Yugoslav Attack

2) Clear, consistent plans instead of transposing into (sub-)standard Dragons

3) Flexibility to fight for a win or to simplify for a draw

4) A reliable scheme of development (....g6, ...Bg7, ...Nf6, ...0-0 in that order) against almost anything

5) Positional understanding, transcending move orders

6) The most effective variations

Staying with the introduction, we find the first manifestations of two key features of Peter's writing style: 1) his humour and 2) the frequent references to pop culture (especially films; ''Enter the Dragon'' being an easy starter). Anyone familiar with Peter's articles for CHESS Magazine - or who has spoken with him in real life - will already know what to expect. Knowing him and then flagging up his stylistic writing preferences in a negative manner is a little bit like walking near the sea wearing sandals and complaining that one's feet are getting wet. So it is safe to say that readers can expect a bombardment of humour, some of it certainly gratuitous.
Peter at the 2011 British Chess Championship.
His mother, Susan, is on the next board.
A major selling point of the Accelerated Dragon over it's regular cousin is, of course, the option of playing ...d7-d5 in one go rather than wasting a tempo on ...d7-d6 along the way. Peter is at his best when he is explaining how, when and why Black should make the pawn lunge. It is effective against both the Yugoslav Attack and the Classical Variation (coverage of which takes us almost exactly to the halfway point of the book's 176 pages) as these snippets show:

Peebo vs. Kupreichik
USSR Team Ch. 1968
8 ...d5! and Black won in just 18 moves.

Fuller vs. Miles
London 1975
 8 ...d5! (0-1, 38)

White Deviations is a brief overview - 15 pages - of early options to the main lines. Peter doesn't see any reason to fear any of them and he offers dynamic play for Black in each case, or at least an easy transposition back to the main lines.

The Maroczy Bind is covered over the course of 59 pages. It's a tricky subject and Peter admits ''5 c4 basically kills our thematic ...d5 counterstrike and with it any dynamism for the foreseeable future.'' He offers an outline of Blacks options, boiling down the advice into five main parts.

1) Trading pieces to relieve congestion.

2) Manoeuvring through a dark-square strategy.

3) Provoking b2-b3 for further weaknesses.

4) Undermining c4 with ...b7-b5.

5) Flanking e4 via ...f7-f5.

The specific line Peter recommends against the Maroczy Bind is 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 g6 5 c4 d6 6 Nc3 Nf6 7 Be2 Nxd4 8 Qxd4 Bg7 - the Gurgenidze System.

It seems to me that this is the weak point in Black's repertoire. If White is happy to draw there's not a lot Black can do about it. See, for example, Peter's illustrative game number 45, showing Spassky vs. Petrosian (Game 3, World Championship match1969). That's fine for Grandmasters in top-level tournaments and matches, but not so good for club players or those who regularly compete in weekend Swiss tournaments. I am never happy to play an opening that allows the opponent to draw more or less at will. It is precisely in this section of the book that I would recommend further reading an extended study to try and come up with an alternative way of playing, probably by avoiding the Gurgenidze System altogether.

Apart from my reservations regarding the Gurgenidze System, I can recommend Play the Accelerated Dragon to club players who would like to learn a new opening from scratch. Peter's lively writing style and genuine enthusiasm for the subject make for an interesting and engaging reading experience. This is an instructive book and good attempt to try something a little different to the norm (in some ways similar to Charlie Storey's book on The Sniper).

Meanwhile, going back to the 1980s and our own experiences with the Accelerated Dragon, I recall two grim experiences playing against the Maroczy Bind.
G. Smith vs. S.M.
Cleveland vs. Northumberland, 1986
I must have mistimed something because White forced a clear edge here 20 b4 Nd7 21 c5 and try as I might I couldn't shake off the pressure. There was once chance towards the end but I missed it.
G. Smith vs. S.M.
Cleveland vs. Northumberland, 1986
I played 37 ...Bb8? view a view to blockading the passed pawn, but as it turned out the fact that the bishop was en prise to the rook limited my options. Both 37 ...Be5 and 37 ...Rd2+ would have given reasonable chances of holding the game. As it happened, we reached move 40 and the was adjudicated as a win for White. (Adjudications! Remember those...?)

An earlier game on the Black side of a Maroczy Bind wasn't from an Accelerated Dragon, but from a 3 Bb5+ Anti-Sicilian. I struggled throughout the game and should have lost.
G. House vs. SM
Penrith Major 1985
42 a4! bxa4 43 b5 looked to put White on the path to victory, but by some miracle I managed to scramble to the next position...
G. House vs. SM
Penrith Major 1985
...when a draw was agreed.

That was another thing about preparing the Black side of Open Sicilians back in the 1980s; so many opponents ducked the issue with 3 Bb5+ or 2 f4/2 Nc3 3 f4 that one could go months without being able to play 3 ...cxd4 and show off one's preparation. Luckily, John Nunn came to the rescue in the mid-1980s with his classic book Beating the Sicilian and more and more 1 e4 players suddenly switched back the main lines.

John Nunn to the rescue!
It's clear, looking back, that the Accelerated Dragon simply didn't suit my style. In both of the examples given above I managed to leave my opponent with his better bishop, giving me no opportunity to head for the standard endgame of good black knight vs. bad white bishop (the one operating on the white squares!). It was some time later that I saw how to head for such endgames, when I spent a decade playing alongside John Garnett at Elmwood chess club. John, who recently finished as runner-up at the prestigious Major Open section of the British Championship, is an expert in such matters and his best Accelerated Dragon games are very instructive indeed.
John Garnett, with 2014 British Champion 
Johnathan Hawkins looking on
Mike Closs had rather more success against Maroczy Binds than I did. Instead of putting up with a slightly worse position and a long, grim defence, he usually found some wonderful tactics to solve his problems.
R.McDermott vs. Mike Closs
Cleveland Open 1987
White set a little trap here, but Mike saw further. 15 ...Ba4 16 b3 Bxa1 17 bxa4 Bg7 18 Bxc5 dxc5 19 Nf6+ Bxf6 20 Rxd8 Rfxd8 21 f4 Bd4+ 22 Kf1 e5 and it is clear to see that Black has the advantage (0-1, 42).

R.McDermott vs. Mike Closs
Cleveland Open 1987
His best result with the Accelerated Dragon came later the same year when he played A.J. Norris, who was graded 208 (Mike and I had both recently been pleased to crash the 170 barrier). It was another Maroczy Bind and another tactical solution.
A.J. Norris vs. Mike Closs
Tyne and Wear Open 1987
34 ...Rxg2!! A thunderbolt! 35 Nxg2 Rxc4 is checkmate and 35 Rxa5, intending 36 Nxg2, fails to 35 ...bxa5 with check.

Norris battled on but fell for another tactical blow shortly afterwards.
A.J. Norris vs. Mike Closs
Tyne and Wear Open 1987
39 ...Nc6+! and 0-1, 49. (Incidentally, this was the year Mike remembered to pack his chess books for the congress but forgot to pack his underwear.)

When people didn't play the Maroczy Bind, Mike's tactics simply came earlier on. I lost count of the number of times I saw him uncork this trap.
Ron Stather vs. Mike Closs
Cleveland Championship 1986-7
8 ...Qb4 9 Bb3 Nxe4! and White cannot avoid the loss of material. Ron proceeded to sacrifice large amounts of material and succeeded in chasing Mike's king around for a while, but the Mighty Mish has the last tactical laugh.
Ron Stather vs. Mike Closs
Cleveland Championship 1986-7
 42 ...Qxg1+! 0-1.

A good note on which to finish this extended column.

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