In this book, the first of two volumes, Sergey Shipov examines the Hedgehog when it is used as a defence against the English Opening.
On 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 c5 3.g3 e6 4.Nf3 b6 5.Bg2 Bb7 6.0-0 Be7, he mainly looks at 7.d4 cxd4 8.Qxd4 (8.Nxd4 gives Black a comfortable position and easy equality after 8…Bxg2) and 7.Re1 (with the plan of playing e4 and only then d4 and of meeting …cxd4 with Nxd4: the pawn on e4 making it impossible for Black to now exchange bishops); and he touches very briefly on 7.b3. His coverage can fairly be described as exhaustive, for over 250 pages are devoted to 7.d4 (which is Part 1 of the book) and just a little less than that number is allocated to 7.Re1 (Part 2).
It is clear that Shipov is an advocate, or perhaps more accurately still a zealot, when it comes to the Hedgehog; but he gives White a fair shout. His analyses and evaluations have integrity and approach objectivity. As he writes, ‘I love the Hedgehog dearly, but the truth means more to me.’ The story is told through a slue of deeply annotated games, where he looks at the genesis and history of each variation and not just its current theoretical status. This approach aids strategic understanding and it adds as well an intellectual excitement to the work, as though one were alongside these pioneers (Uhlmann, Andersson, Ljubojevic and others) as they grappled with the problems of playing the opening as White and/or Black.
Shipov demands much of his readers. He doesn’t simplify matters unnecessarily, and in fact he seems sometimes to delight in making things even more problematical than they need to be. You’d like to urge, on occasion: Give it a rest, Sergey lad, don’t think too deeply! But he gives a lot to the reader. His writing has wit and candour, and he clearly has a deep understanding of the opening and an enthusiasm for it. Along the way, Shipov acquaints us with the philosophy behind the Hedgehog, an inkling of which can be garnered from Sergey Makarichev’s musings on the origin of the opening, as quoted on page 39 of Revolution in the ‘70s by Garry Kasparov:
There is also another version of how the legendary system [the Hedgehog] was born. Long, long ago, back in the 1960s, one of the future grandmasters – perhaps the young Ljubomir Ljubojevic – was so captivated by the play of Inter Milan under the management of Helenio Hererra, that he firmly decided: ‘When I grow up, I will think up something similar in chess. My pieces, just like the Italian footballers, will completely concede space, but at the same time, when standing in defence, they will be constantly pressing, and when my opponent hesitates, even for an instant, they will punish him with a deadly counterattack.’
Shipov makes the point that, to play the Hedgehog well, you need to play purposefully and accurately, paying close attention to the smallest detail. You need always to be aware of your opponent’s possibilities as well as your own. Of course, you need to do this anyway in chess, but with the Hedgehog these qualities are accentuated because there is such constricted space in which to operate and manoeuvre. He concludes that the opening breeds good habits and makes you a better chess player and, no doubt, a nobler person.
As a final comment, let me praise the terrific translation by James Marfia; he has done much to make this such a lively and vibrant book and to give Sergey Shipov an English, albeit an American English, voice. It is impossible to recommend the book too highly.
If the Hedgehog has a poster boy, it is the game Polugaevsky-Ftacnik, Lucerne 1982. It is the subject of a lecture by Mato Jelic which can be seen here.
By Sergey Shipov
Mongoose Press, 2009