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Fighting the French: A New Concept

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Fighting the French: A New Concept

By Denis Yevseev

Chess Stars, 2011

ISBN: 9789548782838

Fighting the French: A New Concept

Let’s cut to the chase.

The ‘new concept’ is that White can play the Tarrasch Variation (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2) with the aim of reaching an isolated queen’s pawn (IQP) position. So there might plausibly follow: 3…c5 4.c3 (4.exd5 is usual) cxd4 5.cxd4 dxe4 6.Nxe4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Nf6 8.Bd3 0-0 9.Nf3 b6 10.0-0 Bb7 11.Re1, etc. Or you could see a sequence that looks something like this: 3…Nf6 4.Bd3 (refraining from the usual 4.e5) c5 5.c3 Nc6 6.Ngf3 cxd4 7.cxd4 dxe4 8.Nxe4 Bb4+ 9.Nc3 0-0 10.0-0, etc. Such IQP positions, which more often than not arise from the Nimzo-Indian, the Queen’s Gambit, the Panov Caro-Kann and even the 2.c3 Sicilian, may objectively give White only a slight edge. But White, if well prepared, can count on having the upper hand here, from a psychological point of view at any rate, because your average French Defence player will likely be uncomfortable in such relatively open positions. They tend to prefer closed positions with interlocking pawn chains and not much going on by way of direct threats.

The book provides a complete repertoire for White against the French Defence, taking in the Rubinstein (3…dxe4) as well as those Tarrasch lines where the first player really must go e4-e5 if he is to have any hope of a serious advantage. For example, after 3…Nc6 4.Ngf3 Nf6 5.e5 is the best move, since playing according to program with 5.Bd3 runs into 5…Nb4=. Denis Yevseev demonstrates, through detailed and original analysis, that an IQP structure can be obtained from the French Defence. Surprising, really: you wouldn’t necessarily think that it could. A number of James Plaskett’s games are included in the book; he used to meet the French Defence in the manner advocated by Yevseev, and even defeated Short with it on one occasion. (So it can’t really be very new, you might say.)

This is a solid opening book. Naturally, it will be of primary interest if you play 1.e4 or meet that move with the French. But I’d recommend the book also to players who want to study and explore positions with IQP structures; in particular playing with the isolani, handling it as an attacker. Yevseev shows you how to reach these types of position against the French.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.


Written by P.P.O. Kane

February 28, 2018 at 4:53 pm

The Safest Grunfeld

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The Safest Grunfeld

By Alexander Delchev and Evgenij Agrest

Chess Stars, April 2011

ISBN: 9789548782814


The Grunfeld Defence is a dynamic opening which has been played by several world champions, not least Bobby Fischer.

The American used it to good effect in two brilliant victories over the Byrne brothers, Donald (1956) and Robert (1963), though he was less successful against Boris Spassky. A big reason for this high-level advocacy is that the opening is genuinely testing for White: Black’s active, centralised pieces are fiendishly threatening and the play can become very sharp, very fast.

In this book, the authors provide a repertoire based around the Grunfeld (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5) and, as well as 3.Nc3, they look also at the Fianchetto Variation (3.g3) and the Anti-Grunfeld (3.f3), against which they recommend the rare 3…Nc6. They as well look at the Grunfeld when played versus the English opening (1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5) and examine a few off-beat, SOS lines like the Barry Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bf4).

You could argue that the title is paradoxical or unintentionally ironic, since the Grunfeld by its very nature is an opening that is double-edged and therefore dangerous for both sides. It’s uncertain whether White’s pawn superiority in the centre will turn out to be a strength or a liability. But what’s meant by ‘safest’ here is an advocacy of those lines that are relatively straightforward, positionally based and, insofar as is possible, not dependent on long forcing tactical variations to make them viable. These lines are ‘safest’ because there is less possibility of them being refuted outright anytime soon.

Usually, the authors give two Black options versus each White system: one main line and one line as back-up. I’d perhaps query one of their back-up lines. Against the Russian System, they recommend an early advance of the e-pawn (4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Qb3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 0-0 7.e4 Nc6 8.Be2 e5!?) and state that it was first played in Carlsen-Dominguez, Sofia 2009, which they describe as ‘the stem game’; this on page 167. In fact, the move was played as long ago as 1965. After 9.d5 Nd4 10.Nxd4 exd4 11.Qxd4 c6, Uhlmann played 12.Qc4 against Shamkovich (instead of Carlsen’s 12.d6) and came away with an advantage. But their other back-up recommendations seem, to my mind, to be fairly sound.

As with the majority of opening books from Chess Stars, each separate system is covered in three sections:

  • ‘Main Ideas’ gives you an outline of what’s to come, looks at some strategic themes and typical tactical motifs, and presents a few classic games: it gives you the gist
  • ‘Step by Step’ gives you the gen, the detailed must-know information
  • finally, ‘Complete Games’ gives you an opportunity to see the opening in operation, into the middlegame and through to the endgame

Overall, The Safest Grunfeld is another excellent opening offering from Chess Stars, and further details about the book can be seen here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

December 19, 2017 at 3:25 pm

The Scotch Game for White

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The Scotch Game for White

By Vladimir Barsky

Chess Stars, 2009

ISBN: 978-9548782739

The Scotch Game for White

Those who don’t have the time or the energy to learn all there is to know about the Ruy Lopez (and, quite frankly, who does?) might wish to turn their attention toward the Scotch Game.

The Scotch Game (arising after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4) offers White many advantages: a natural development of his forces, an early spatial superiority and greater central control. Before Kasparov employed the opening, most opening authorities (such as, for example, Paul Keres) held that 3.d4 opened up the position too early, needlessly dissipating the tension; 3.Bb5 was much the preferred move. But take a look at some of the players who have adopted the Scotch in recent years: Ivanchuk, Radjabov, Morozevich and Carlsen. They’re not the kind of customers who’d readily seek out a simple position, gladly settle for a draw or play an innocuous opening. It is only because the Scotch, while solid, has a real drop of poison that such super-GMs choose to play it.

Just study Vladimir Barsky’s excellent book and you will be sure to agree with this assessment. There is full, comprehensive coverage of all Black’s options and against the main one, 4 … Nf6, the author gives three lines:

  • Mieses’ 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5, very much favoured by Kasparov
  • 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.Bd3 d5 7.e5, a sharp line involving a pawn sacrifice
  • And finally 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.Bd3 d5 7.0-0, with a slightly better endgame for White in prospect

Don’t be surprised, incidentally, if Soloviov’s 12.Nxg7! (on page 68) leads to the permanent abandonment of Steinitz’s 4 … Qh4. Gutman’s magisterial 4 … Qh4 in the
Scotch (2001) makes no mention of this move (see page 239 of that book), and it seems a genuinely significant discovery.

The publisher’s description of The Scotch Game for White, a solid survey of an opening that has been played at the highest level but is still underestimated, can be read here.


Written by P.P.O. Kane

October 4, 2017 at 1:40 pm

My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black

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My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black

By Vincent Moret

New in Chess, 2017

ISBN: 9789056917463
 My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black

This thoroughly thought-out book presents a black opening repertoire for novice chessplayers keen to chalk up attacking victories.

When meeting 1.e4, the author’s recommendation is that you should play the Scandinavian with 2…Nf6 (so 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6), leading in due course to the Icelandic Gambit (3.c4 e6) or the Portuguese Variation (3.d4 Bg4), which can become a gambit too, of course, after say 4.f3 Bf5 5.c4 e6.

The Albin Counter-gambit (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5), a line played on occasion by the young Boris Spassky, is the author’s remedy to the Queen’s Gambit. Against the other queen’s pawn games (all of them!), as well as against the Reti (1.Nf3 d5), the author recommends a Stonewall set-up (pawns at …d5, …f5, …c6, …e6; knight at …f6 and bishop at …d6: you castle, play …Ne4, …Rf6-h6, …Qh4 and mate! Simple as.).

On 1.c4, the English Opening, Black plays 1…e5 and a sort of Grand Prix Counter-attack (…f5, Nf6, Nc6, Bc5 or …b4 or …e7, etc.). Offbeat and irregular openings are well covered too (e.g. From’s Gambit against Bird’s Opening, naturally enough) and I particularly liked one of the author’s three (!) sensible suggestions against the Sokolsky: 1.b4 d5 2.Bb2 Qd6!? 3.a3 (3.b5 Qb4 picks up a pawn) e5: Black develops his pieces on sensible squares while supporting his pawn centre. Uhlmann essayed these moves in a game played in 1980; Black can hardly fail to get a playable game.

All in all, this ‘ready-to-go package for ambitious beginners’ creates a positive impression. Take up the gambit lines and you will have active piece play for the price of a pawn, while the attacking set-ups (the Stonewall and the Grand Prix) are aggressive and not at all easy to defend against. These openings are principled and lively and exciting to play, requiring also that you learn how to develop an initiative and plan an attack, how to spot a combination and calculate accurately. So they will develop you as a players too. They will yield victories against lower-rated players and valuable learning experiences against higher-rated players as well – because to win your opponent will, equally, need to show imagination, positional play, strategic skills and accuracy.

One could quibble and say that, objectively, the Scandinavian with 2…Nf6 is probably less good than 2…Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6, a line made fashionable by Tiviakov. Indeed, Sergey Kasparov in his recent Understanding the Scandinavian (2015) states that ‘2…Nf6 definitely doesn’t lead to equality’. But this is beside the point: the openings that strong grandmasters play are sometimes not appropriate for beginners, and vice versa. This is a terrific repertoire book for beginners.

The publisher’s description of My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black by Vincent Moret can be read here.


The Colle-Koltanowski System

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The Colle-Koltanowski System: Deceptive Peace behind the Stonework

This book is an essential reference work if you play the Colle-Koltanowski System.

To be clear, it is a monograph on the Colle-Koltanowski System (1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 c5 5.c3), which should not, of course, be confused with the Colle-Zukertort System (1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 c5 5.b3) – as though anyone would be silly enough to do that.  The very idea is absurd! The Colle-Koltanowski is a ‘plain bloke speaking on a radio phone-in’ kind of opening: it makes a sensible argument, initially at any rate. White plumbs for quiet, straightforward development and will only later turn his (or her) attention to active operations in the centre, typically with e3-e4 or Nf3-e5. Even so, the opening has more than a drop of poison and has produced its fair share of sparkling miniatures.

There are five chapters in total and the format is to present most of the detailed analysis within a series of annotated games, and then to end with a summary of variations, findings and evaluations.  In chapter 1, Bronznik devotes close to 100 pages to lines involving …Nbd7.  Play goes 5…Nbd7 6.Nbd2 and now the king’s bishop can go to …d6 (which is covered in games 1-14) or …e7 (games 15-21), or Black can take a different tack entirely and play 6…Qc7 in order to forestall Nf3-e5 at the earliest opportunity.  If Black goes 6…Be7, White will have quite a difficult job to get an advantage out of the opening.

Bronznik considers the other knight development, 5…Nc6, in the second chapter.  Against this, White usually takes on c5 and pushes e3-e4, so it seems immaterial whether the bishop is developed on …d6 or …e7 initially (for example: 6.0-0 Bd6 [or 6…Be7] 7.Nbd2 0-0 8.dxc5 Bxc5 9.e4, etc.).  Yet 6…Be7 would allow an early Nf3-e5, while 6…Bd6 may well leave the bishop exposed to 7.Nbd2 0-0 8.Qe2!? and an immediate e3-e4 advance; without an exchange on c5 first, that is.  As with the more mainstream openings, there are subtleties here too: there always are.

These first two chapters are quite substantial, clocking in at 93 pages and 73 pages respectively, and the theory of both lines seems to be well-developed.  Later chapters, however, are slighter. Chapter 3 (13 pages) examines lines where Black plays an early …b6, followed by …Bb7 or perhaps …Ba6, the latter move made possible with the queen’s knight on its home square.  Chapter 4 (8 pages) looks at an early …c4 for Black, including the line 5.0-0 c4 6.Be2.  An important variation, for it raises the question of whether White can defer the choice of c3 or b3 for a further move.  Finally, Chapter 5 (17 pages) considers several ways by which Black can avoid the Colle (of either variety).  Let us be clear: it is not advisable to play the Colle-Koltanowski against all set-ups (such as the KID or the QID); you need more than one gun in your arsenal.

Bronznik provides plenty of original analysis and suggested improvements throughout in his notes to the games.  He also discusses certain common strategic and tactical motifs arising out of the opening, such as the queenside pawn majority, the isolated queen’s pawn, the Pillsbury Attack and the Bxh7+ sacrifice.  It is all very interesting, useful and insightful.  His book ends with a bibliography and a comprehensive index of variations: efficient organisation, you’d expect no less from a German publisher.

Speaking of which, the Schachverlag Kania website seems to be down at moment, but a description of The Colle-Koltanowski System: Deceptive Peace behind the Stonework can be found at the New in Chess website here.

Book Details

The Colle-Koltanowski System: Deceptive Peace behind the Stonework

By Valerij Bronznik

Schachverlag Kania, 2004

ISBN: 3931192253


The English: Move by Move

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 The English: Move by Move“ width=

Just because you may have been raised on 1.e4 (or 1.P-K4), it doesn’t mean that other openings must remain forever foreign to you.

Rather than offer a detailed repertoire based around 1.c4, Steve Giddins aims instead to explain the most important positional and strategic ideas underpinning the English Opening: the key one being to pressurize the central light squares, in particular d5. And in this respect he succeeds admirably.

Like other books in the Move by Move series, this one uses a Question and Answer format. The register of the prose is more conversational than usual, I’d say, in keeping with the author’s style.  Yet even so, it’s a concentrated conversation: the discussion is always pertinent and to the point. You learn a lot.

All the main variations are covered in a mere five chapters and, although not a necessary component of Giddins’ remit, there’s plenty of detailed and up-to-date theory, notably in chapter 3, whose topic is the Mikenas System (1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 3.e4).  There are 26 illustrative games in total, with a fair few more in the notes.

At the end, in a final sixth chapter, Giddins gives some advice about constructing an English Opening repertoire.  Here, it is undoubtedly useful to be familiar with some 1.d4 lines, to use 1.c4 in part as a transpositional tool: purely English lines are not especially effective against e.g. a King’s Indian set-up.  Quite a dilemma apparently arises after 1.c4 e5 (or 1…Nf6): should White play 2.Nc3 or 2.g3?  Giddins explores this question in some (some might say unhealthy) detail, without coming to any definite conclusion.  OK, it’s not a moral dilemma along the lines discussed by Julian Nida-Rumelin at a recent Wittgenstein conference, but it is important if you intend to take up 1.c4.

Those for whom English is not their native tongue will find in Giddins’ book an accessible and indeed quite excellent introduction to the opening. It is an ESOL primer par excellence, and will set you on the road to fluency in no time at all.

The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.

Book Details

The English: Move by Move

By Steve Giddins

Everyman Chess, 2012

ISBN: 9781857446999


Written by P.P.O. Kane

May 31, 2017 at 12:11 pm

The Modern Philidor Defence

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The Modern Philidor Defence

Barsky’s book is an excellent study of the Hanham Variation of the Philidor Defence in its modern guise.

When it is reached, in other words, via the Pirc move order: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 (the author considers other moves as well, such as 3.Bd3 and 3.f3) e5. Although the opening is sound and easy to learn, it gives rise to a fair range of complicated and interesting positions.

There is the queenless middlegame that occurs after 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8; both players are still able to set problems for their opponent here. There are the various double-edged options for White, such as Shirov’s bayonet thrust (4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.g4!?) and the lines involving a bishop sacrifice on f7 and the king’s knight landing on e6 (two ways in which this can happen are 5.Bc4 Be7 6.Bxf7+ Kxf7 7.Ng5+ and 6.Ng5 0-0 7.Bxf7+ Rxf7 8.Ne6). Black can equalise here, rest assured, but only if he defends (and in time counterattacks) accurately. Finally, there is the complex and strategically rich middlegame that arises in the mainline of the opening (that is, after 5.Bc4 Be7 6.0-0 0-0 7.Re1 or 7.Qe2, etc.). The best player, assuming preparations are equal, is certain to come out on top.

Alekhine used to play the Hanham Philidor in his early days and some grandmasters who essay the opening now are Ivanchuk, Morozevich and in particular Bologan: 6 of the 50 illustrative games in this book see Bologan taking the black pieces.

To end, it might be helpful to compare The Modern Philidor Defence to The Black Lion, a book which I will review shortly on this site. Naturally, there is some overlap of material between the two books and in many key lines (involving Bxf7+, say) similar conclusions are reached. The Black Lion gives Black the further option of 3…Nbd7, so avoiding the exchange of queens after 3…e5 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8; however, Black need not fear this simplifying line. But The Black Lion focuses on Marco’s antiquated and, to my mind, not very sensible plan of …Nd7-f8-g6–f4, whereas The Modern Philidor Defence presents mainlines that are more positionally based, sounder and (in my view) more mature. On a bare body count, the Hanham lines in Barsky’s book have more grandmaster adherents. And the ubiquitous ‘branding’ of The Black Lion (it is the Philidor!), an irritating feature of the book, is wholly absent from The Modern Philidor Defence.

Barsky’s fine study ably allows you to add the Hanham Philidor to your repertoire of defences against 1.e4.

You can read a pdf sample from the book here.

Book Details

The Modern Philidor Defence

By Vladimir Barsky

Chess Stars, 2010

ISBN: 9789548782777


Written by P.P.O. Kane

May 25, 2017 at 11:59 am