The Petrosian System Against the QID

an excellent monograph on the Petrosian system, still reckoned to be White’s best response to the Queen’s Indian Defence.

The Petrosian system is introduced by White’s distinctive fourth move in the sequence: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.a3. Part 1 of the book covers the consequences of 4 … c5 and 4 … Ba6, but the main focus is on 4 … Bb7 (Parts 2-11). A final section (Part 12) focuses on gambit lines. Surprisingly perhaps, the purpose of 4.a3 is to fight for the e4 square. White spends a tempo to prevent … Bb4 in response to Nc3, which enables the knight to support e2-e4.

After the usual 4 … Bb7 5.Nc3 d5 6.cxd5 Nxd5, the first player has three options. The older 7.e3 generally leads to quiet positional play; the e-pawn will reach e4 in two moves, not one. The modern 7.Qc2, aiming for an immediate e2-e4, is much sharper. White will meet … Nxc3 with bxc3, capturing toward the centre, and castle kingside after Bd3. Sharpest of all, mind, is the Dementiev system, characterised by 7.Bd2. White aims to play Qc2, 0-0-0 and a later e2-e4, recapturing on c3 with the bishop. If Black responds with … c5 at some point, as he really should, the situation can get very dicey for both sides. Whatever option he chooses, White can usually count on a smooth harmonious development.

Each section has the same format: ‘Main Ideas’ to give the gist – a general overview – of a particular variation or system; ‘Move by Move’ to present the analytical nitty-gritty. This format strikes me as an effective, user-friendly way to set out the theoretical material, though some complete illustrative games would have been welcome. The prose is fine overall, though the translation does read peculiarly in a few places: ‘that’ where ‘this’ would be appropriate, the omission of an indefinite article here and there. There is plenty of helpful explanatory text alongside the often heavy-weight analysis and a conclusion ends each section.

That Beliavsky is the co-author is a virtual guarantee of quality, and so it turns out. All in all, this is a balanced and authoritative examination of the Petrosian system.

You can view a pdf extract (contents page and foreword) from The Petrosian System Against the QID here.

Book Details

The Petrosian System Against the QID

By Alexander Beliavsky and Adrian Mikhalchishin

Chess Stars, 2008

ISBN: 9789548782685

Karlsbad 1907 International Chess Tournament

Karlsbad 1907 International Chess Tournament

It has taken well nigh a century for this classic tournament book to be translated into English. Much too long, of course, but it has been well worth the wait.

Karlsbad 1907 was a fairly strong tournament. Although it lacked the presence of Lasker and Tarrasch, the rest of the best players of the day participated. Rubinstein, then in his prime, came first and was closely followed by Maroczy. Other participants included Chigorin, Janowsky, Marshall, Duras and Nimzowitsch. The future author of My System was 20 years old at the time and shared fourth and fifth place with Schlechter. We are told by one contemporary commentator (in a newspaper account of the tournament that is given in the book) that he was ‘a young, upcoming talent, whose supporters will have to help curb his temperament if he is to attain successes at the chessboard and in the intercourse of society’. What the latter comment refers to is left unsaid.

All of the 210 games are annotated, about three quarters of them by Marco and the rest by Schlechter. The translator, Robert Sherwood, has added to these annotations: expanding, correcting and validating the authors’ analysis as appropriate. As an aid, Sherwood has made use of both his faithful Rybka and notes from a few other sources (such as Kmoch’s book on Rubinstein). From the many splendid games on show, here my favourite five:

  • Maroczy-Marshall
  • Janowsky-Rubinstein
  • Vidmar-Dus-Chotimirsky
  • Leonhardt-Maroczy
  • Tartakower-Maroczy

Marco has a high reputation as an annotator, and he more than lives up to it here. The breadth of his mind is everywhere evident; his notes are by turns poetic and methodical and rigorous. He has the knack of identifying critical moments and turning points in a game. Indeed, his annotations are often of greater interest than the games themselves. Or rather, the annotations are so penetrating and instructive that they make even pedestrian games seem interesting, so adept is Marco at showing a game’s internal logic. One modest example: Mieses-Maroczy, a bishop and pawn ending, was agreed drawn after 46 moves. Does this sound appealing? Well, perhaps not. Yet Marco’s note to Black’s 37th move, which extends over two pages and is full of detailed analyses and intricate explanations, compels you to look at this game with renewed appreciation. And this is by no means a solitary example; e.g. the note to move 48 in Salwe-Cohn is of a similar length and depth.

Often, Marco’s notes are of a more general nature. Recurring themes are the role of  risk, uncertainty and chance in chess and the ineluctable nature of human fallibility and folly (‘It is remarkable how often, in the realization of its aims, the human mind uses the most impractical methods,’ begins one such exasperated meditation). His note to the fourth move of Marshall-Cohn is a reflection on why paradigms are so slow to change, in science, religion and chess, and it anticipates the thought of Thomas Kuhn. (Well, perhaps I am exaggerating  a little here.)

Karlsbad 1907 International Chess Tournament is, without a doubt, a classic of chess literature and this beautifully produced edition, bound in red cloth, is commensurate with its worth. Ideally, it should be read in a wood-paneled library with a glass of port by your side and your faithful bulldog napping by the fire. It is an absolute pleasure for all who love chess.

The best online summary of Karlsbad 1907 International Chess Tournament is at the  New in Chess website – read it here.

Book Details

Karlsbad 1907 International Chess Tournament

By George Marco and Carl Schlechter

Translated by Robert Sherwood

Caissa Editions, 2007


1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

Fred Reinfeld’s venerable book, consisting of 1001 checkmate puzzles arranged by theme, has been edited and recast into algebraic notation by Bruce Albertson.

It is a puzzle book whose various themes include the queen sacrifice, discovered check, double check, pawn promotion (etc.). Only the last chapter, a collection of composed problems, seems out of place. What you have got otherwise are positions taken from actual games that are of, at most, a medium level of difficulty. As such, this is an ideal workbook for beginners and junior players.

My prime advice would be to study a few examples from one chapter, a few from another, and so on, all within a single session. To ‘interleaf’ the puzzles, rather than attempting to solve them chapter by chapter, block by block. It is far more enjoyable that way and as a learning strategy it is much more effective (for evidence see, for example, the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel, pages 85-86).

The publisher’s description of 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate by Fred Reinfeld and Bruce Alberston can be read here.

Book Details

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

By Fred Reinfeld and Bruce Alberston

Russell Enterprises, 2014

ISBN: 9781936490820

Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura

Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura

A compelling portrait of the winner of the 2017 Tradewise Gibraltar Masters, who also happens to be the most exciting player in the world right now.

Each chapter begins with a game or two from Wijk aan Zee 2011, Nakamura’s breakthrough tournament – he won it, finishing ahead of Anand and Carlsen and a slue of other elite players – and then goes on to discuss a key aspect of his game. Nakamura’s prowess in the endgame, his opening repertoire and in particular his penchant for the King’s Indian Defence, the risk-taking and fighting spirit that’s so characteristic of his style, and his enthusiasm for bullet and blitz; these are some of the topics under discussion. A wide-ranging interview takes up the bulk of chapter 6.

My only slight qualm is with the constant comparison with Fischer (particularly rife on pages 109-124), which doesn’t do Nakamura any favours and, anyway, is beside the point. He is an elite player certainly, but he is not and is unlikely to be the dominant force that Fischer once was. And he plays much more than Fischer ever did – a different approach entirely. Perhaps the comparison is a curse that all talented American grandmasters must endure (Seirawan got it to some extent). Anyway, results and interviews (e.g. this one at Chessbase) suggest that Nakamura has found his own path.

There’s plenty of chess here, the final chapter including five of Nakamura’s best games (four chosen by the player himself), but as intimated it is more than simply a games collection. This is a terrific book overall and important too, in that Nakamura may well be Carlsen’s next challenger.

Hikaru Nakamura’s website is here.

The publisher’s description of Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura by Karsten Müller and Raymund Stolze can be read here.

Book Details

Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura

By Karsten Müller and Raymund Stolze

Edition Olms, 2012

ISBN: 9783283010232

Wojo’s Weapons: Winning With White, Volume 1

 Wojo's Weapons: Winning With White, Volume 1

this book examines the opening repertoire of the late Aleksander Wojtkiewicz (1963-2006), a strong and successful grandmaster.

A piece of advice one quite often hears, when presented with the problem of deciding on an opening repertoire, is to take a famous player as a model – a player whom one admires or feels an affinity towards – and to adopt his or her openings en masse. The point is that one will thereby benefit from the great player’s experience, for why reinvent the wheel when there is a perfectly acceptable wheel that you can profitably emulate?

There are 40 of Wojtkiewicz’s games here and they show a player with an attractive positional style and an emphasis on technique. He had as well an impressive feel for the coordination of his pieces. On the whole, the opening systems reflect this in that they are solid and carry very little risk for White. Barring a gross error, there is always the possibility of a draw if matters do not turn out as well as expected.

As the subtitle indicates, we are looking at matters from White’s perspective. Also, bear in mind that this is the first of a series of three volumes and it only covers the position following 1.Nf3 d5 2.d4. The lynchpin of the repertoire is the Catalan, usually reached after 1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.g3, and the authors devote the bulk of the book (just short of 250 pages) to this opening system. Although the emphasis throughout is on strategical themes and ideas, there is quite a lot of detailed analysis too, spread out amongst the 75 annotated games. Wojtkiewicz’s efforts on the White side are supplemented by guest appearances by the likes of Kasparov, Kramnik, Gelfand et al in the other 35 games.

Wojtkiewicz had certain favoured ways of meeting the Slav Defence (he went with 4.Qc2 rather than the standard 4.Nc3); the Queen’s Gambit Accepted (he played 7.dxc5, a move Spassky essayed a fair few times in the 1992 match versus Fischer; and the Tarrasch Defence (where he preferred the line 9.b3). All of these lines are fully covered. I would have welcomed a consideration of 2…Bg4, Chigorin’s ‘other defence’, that’s my only slight criticism of the book. It is a curious omission, actually, since chapter 17 looks at 2…Bf5 fairly thoroughly.

Wojo’s Weapons: Winning With White, Volume 1 is a good introduction to the Catalan and the selected games are generally attractive and instructive, though unspectacular. It can be recommended for players who open 1.d4 or 1.Nf3 and who don’t mind playing a sometimes slightly boring position, so long as their opponents are bereft of counterplay. All in all, a thumbs-up.

The Wikipedia entry on Aleksander Wojtkiewicz can be read here.

The publisher’s description of Wojo’s Weapons: Winning With White, Volume 1 by Jonathan Hilton and Dean Ippolito can be read here.

Book Details

Wojo’s Weapons: Winning With White, Volume 1

By Jonathan Hilton and Dean Ippolito

Mongoose Press, 2010

ISBN: 9780979148200