Ilya Odessky’s book is an ode to the Nimzo-Larsen Attack, an opening that he calls ‘a Friend for Life’.
Mind you, the book is also something of a lament; a tone of playful pessimism pervades much of it. Odessky seems to regard an opening (or 1.b3 in particular) as akin to a football team you’ve followed all your life, or an unfaithful wife that you love and cannot divorce. You are honour-bound to give your support. You absorb the small hurts because, just occasionally, there are resplendent moments of joy.
This is not a typical opening book, as the chapter titles alone make clear. Just to give three examples: ‘Wanderer, There is No Path Through’ is chapter 2 and it is concerned with a promising variation which, apparently, leads only to equality; ‘Don’t Interfere’, chapter 7, is a rubbishing of the Dutch: the title is a riff on Petrosian’s remark that ‘if your opponent wants to play the Dutch Defence, you shouldn’t try to prevent him’; and the 14th chapter is entitled ‘Casus’, a Latin term which refers to ‘an action, outwardly appearing criminal, but which is free of any element of blame’. It is about a principled yet trappy variation where Black often comes to harm.
Rather than presenting an exhaustive survey of Black’s possible responses to 1.b3, Odessky examines closely a number of key variations and positions. One chapter looks at the fashionable line 1.b3 e5 2.Bb2 Nc6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bd6!? (intending …0-0, …Re8 and …Bf8); another explores the curious Litus Gambit (1.b3 d5 2.Bb2 Bg4 3.f3 Bh5 4.e4!?). Two chapters provide a substantial examination of the Nimzowitsch Attack (1.b3 d5 2.Bb2 c5 3.e3 Nc6 4.Bb5). Three chapters focus on Petrosian’s experiences with 1.b3, and these are undoubtedly the most fascinating part of the book.
Odessky is a genuinely engaging and entertaining writer and Steve Giddins’ smooth translation ably captures his mock-melancholic voice. As an introduction to the Nimzo-Larsen Attack, this book cannot be bettered, and the author has many interesting things to say about positional play, chess strategy and the difficulty of playing good chess. Ultimately, the book is as much about these matters as an opening which, we are made to understand, has been the bane and joy of the author’s chess career (‘Don’t Grieve!’ is the title of the last chapter, incidentally: No, don’t!).
By Ilya Odessky
New in Chess , 2008
You can read a description of Play 1.b3! by Ilya Odessky at Amazon here.