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Strike first with the Scandinavian

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Strike first with the Scandinavian

By Christian Bauer

ChessBase, 2017

EAN: 4027975008479

Strike first with the Scandinavian

There are a fair few reasons why the Scandinavian might serve you well as a defence to 1.e4.

First off, it is an opening that players on the White side might be inclined to underrate, not least because it breaks a cardinal rule drummed into us all as beginners: do not develop the queen at an early stage of the game (1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5). White players may take the tack that simply by playing sensible developing moves they will obtain an advantage. Secondly, theoretical knowledge develops slowly in the Scandinavian and, while there are certainly some critical lines, it is a low-maintenance defence. There are not many such defences around, frankly, so when you find one, cherish it. Third, Black can create the pawn structure he wants (essentially W: d4 versus B: c6 and e6) virtually by force. Larsen somewhere characterised the Scandinavian as an improved form of the Caro-Kann, and so in a sense it is. Certainly, it is more straightforward to play. Black doesn’t have to contend with interlocking pawn chains or isolated queen’s pawn positions, as he does when playing the Caro-Kann (think of the Advance Variation, the Panov-Botvinnik Attack).

At move three (following the usual sequence 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3), Christian Bauer recommends the once standard 3…Qa5 rather than Titiakov’s new-fangled (once, at any roads, it is now quite common) 3…Qd6 (which offers ‘only distant chances to equalise’ according to Bauer) or 3…Qd8, a move essayed by the current world champion. He presents the detailed theoretical material in the form of 30 or so video tutorials, with a further 13 videos being used to test tactical skills and understanding of Scandinavian structures. There are also two accompanying databases: one is a summary of the analysis in the videos, consisting of key games and lines, the other is a collection of 78 instructive Scandinavian games, about 30 of which are annotated by Bauer. In the ‘Analysis’ database I had some difficulty locating Bauer’s fine victory over Zinchenko (played at Metz, 2010), given in video 12, but found it eventually (the complete game) in the annotations to the main game Pavasovic-Bauer. Apparently, games given in the annotations are not searchable in the database (Pavasovic delivers a search result, Zinchenko does not).

Now a confession: I am a 1.e4 player myself and only intermittently Scandinavian (I like to watch Ibsen, eat Ollebrod and drink Sloe Gin on occasion, though not all at the same time), so let me take the opportunity to suggest three options for White:

  1. The mainline pawn sacrifice of 10.Qe2!? Bxc2 is worth exploring (this following 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.d4 Nf6 5 5.Nf3 c6 6.Bc4 Bf5 7.Bd2 e6 8.Nd5 Qd8 9.Nxf6+ gxf6), when the most accurate continuation is 11.0-0 Bg6 12.Rfe1… with decent compensation.
  2. An interesting positional sideline involves fianchettoing the king’s bishop and then, after the …Bc8 develops, hitting the Queen with b4 and following up with a later b4-b5 to try to pry open the long diagonal. Look, for example, at this game: 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.g3 c6 6.Bg2 Bf5 7.b4!? Qc7 (7…Qxb4 8.Rb1) 8. 0-0 e6 9.Rb1 Be7 10.b5, etc. (Shabalov-Minasian, New York 1998).
  3. Finally, there is 3.Nf3, a move that is still relatively unexplored. This reserves the option of kicking the Queen with c4 rather than Nc3 (there is a view that the knight is misplaced on c3, sitting as does in front of the c-pawn). And a tricky line is 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.Nc3 (notwithstanding the previous comment) Qa5 5.Bb5 when White’s active pieces crowd around the …Qa5 and Ne5-c4 might easily become a threat.

This is an enjoyable and useful DVD by the experienced French grandmaster. His calm and considered presentation effectively communicates the sometimes intricate theory of the Scandinavian, an opening that he clearly knows inside and out. Both methodical and perspicacious throughout, he will undoubtedly give Black players a thorough grounding in the 3…Qa5 Scandinavian. Furthermore, 1.e4 players should be able to glean several ways by which they can fight for an advantage.

The publisher’s description of Strike first with the Scandinavian is here.


Written by P.P.O. Kane

July 10, 2018 at 4:38 pm

Winning in the Chess Opening: 700 Ways to Ambush Your Opponent

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Winning in the Chess Opening: 700 Ways to Ambush Your Opponent

By Nikolay Kalinichenko, with the collaboration of Kirill Kuznetsov

New in Chess, 2018

ISBN: 9789056917623

Winning in the Chess Opening: 700 Ways to Ambush Your Opponent

Every chess game tells a story.

And here every one of the 753 miniature games (the subtitle is an underestimation) carries a moral too: Develop your pieces. Control the centre. Keep your king safe. Pay attention to your opponent’s threats. And so forth.

What is interesting about chess (though it is certainly true for other fields as well, as has been demonstrated by Tversky and Kahneman’s work) is that experts make the same mistakes as novices. So we have Uhlmann greedily grabbing a pawn with his queen and being punished by Tal in characteristically spectacular style: a knight sacrifice followed by a lethal switch of a bishop to its most efficacious diagonal (as it happened, a3-f8) and, well, curtains. This masterpiece being their game at Moscow 1971: a win in 19 moves.

Most world champions (though not Botvinnik, interestingly enough) and plenty of world-class players are represented, from various eras and periods. You have Anderssen, Alekhine and Anand, if I can put it like that. Steinitz has the highest number of games: 16. Surprisingly, perhaps, Glek has several games – and deservedly so. He is a sharp and alert and, on this evidence, attractive player, clearly. There is the famous game attributed to Napoleon, which I remember coming across many years ago in an old library-worn copy of Irving Chernev’s The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess.

The games are arranged by opening, but not only that: there is an introduction to each opening, outlining the ideas behind it and something of its history and background. I have used this book as a teaching resource for a couple of months now and found it be especially useful when working with junior players who know opening principles, but have a rudimentary knowledge of specific standard openings and certainly not an established repertoire. (Indeed, they may be attracted to some openings simply by the name: the Four Knights, say.) The games, as you can imagine, are often quite short and pithy, which is very welcome since juniors can sometimes have a short attention span. All that activity on electronic devices, but alas no Settings screen within their precious noggins where a coach can enable Focus.

When coaching junior players, you can use the book to practice tactics (‘What was the winning move here?’) while learning about various openings (typical piece-placements and plans) and general principles too, because Nikolay Kalinichenko’s perspicacious annotations emphasise sound play. Sometimes a premature attack is beaten back, at other times excessive passivity is at fault. A few games are decided by tricks and traps, which means what? That one player was oblivious to the other’s malign threats. You can use the book as a point of departure in various ways. By talking about chess history and past champions (a great way of engaging junior players and sparking their imagination) or by encouraging juniors to seek out other games by the many fine players featured. All in all, this fine book will help you to provide a liberal chess education to your tender charges.

In such a large, salubriously produced book (of grand dimensions, over 450 pages, a diagram to every game) it is very difficult to avoid typos and I found one, but only one. In game 693 (Kramnik-Beliavsky), in variation A in the note to Black’s thirteenth move, it should surely be …Qf8 that is meant and not …Rf8 as given.

The publisher’s description of Winning in the Chess Opening: 700 Ways to Ambush Your Opponent is here.



How to Play against 1.d4

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How to Play against 1.d4

By Richard Palliser

Everyman Chess, 2010

ISBN: 9781857446166

How to Play against 1.d4

Yet another excellent opening book from the pen of Richard Palliser.

Within its pages, Palliser examines two closely related defences to the queen’s pawn:

  1. The Czech Benoni, arising after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e5. This is an old system, though still hearty and healthy: the wonders of modern medicine, you might say. It has been revived and revitalised in recent years by the likes of Nisipeanu and Marin especially. Palliser provides an iron-clad repertoire for Black from his second move; in other words, he looks at White’s third move alternatives (e.g. 3.Nf3), but not any alternatives on move two. Note that if White plays 2.Nf3, Black cannot reach the Czech Benoni.
  2. The ‘Closed Benoni’, as it is called here: 1.d4 c5 2.d5 e5 3.e4 d6. It is a neglected and underestimated defence, this one. In the given position White can profitably omit 4.c4 (which would transpose to the Czech Benoni after 4…Nf6) by playing 4.Nc3 immediately. Note also, however, that Black’s omission of the development of his king’s knight gives him the additional option of an immediate …Be7-g5 (after say 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Nf3 a6 6.a4 Bg4, he can follow up with …Bxf3 and …Bg5, etc.). Once the bishops are exchanged by …Bg5, White will be left with a bad bishop and will be a little vulnerable on the dark squares as well. Here, Palliser provides a complete repertoire for Black; he even examines 2.e4, transposing to the Sicilian!

From Palliser’s considered analysis, it seems that the Czech Benoni leads to approximate equality provided Black plumbs for 9…Nh5! versus the so-called ‘Modern System’ (i.e. following 4.Nc3 d6 5.e4 Be7 6.Nf3 Nbd7 7.Bd3 0-0 8.h3 a6 9.a4), rather than the older move 9…Ne8. (Though that move also has its champions.) Against the Closed Benoni, White gets a slightly better ending if he plays the most testing line, but that’s all.

Both defences are low-maintenance and certainly playable and would suit players with a sound positional understanding who are not afraid of tactics, since Black’s …f5 break when it eventually comes can create quite hair-raising complications. Besides positional nous and the ability to calculate accurately, the other key quality that the Czech Benoni in particular requires of a player is strategic focus: the ability to carry out a plan in the most efficient way possible. If you can meet all that it asks of you, you will excel with the Czech Benoni.

The publisher’s description of How to Play Against 1.d4 can be read here.


Written by P.P.O. Kane

July 3, 2018 at 11:55 am

The Spanish Exchange Variation

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The Spanish Exchange Variation: A Fischer Favourite

By Stefan Kindermann

Translated by Phil Adams

Edition Olms, 2005

ISBN: 9783283004798

The Spanish Exchange Variation: A Fischer Favourite

This is a fine book on an opening line that was a favourite of two world champions, Lasker and Fischer.

Following 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 (Timothy Taylor in Slay the Spanish! makes the case that the move 4…bxc6 deserves serious consideration), Lasker would usually play 5.d4 or 5.Nc3, whereas it was Fischer who gave his stamp of approval to the now universally played 5.0-0 (a move that should probably be attributed to Johan Barendregt), playing it successfully at the 17th Olympiad held in Havana in 1966. It netted him three wins there and Fischer continued to play the Exchange Variation throughout his fractured career. It featured, for example, in his matches with Spassky in 1972 (the 16th game, a draw in 60 moves) and in 1992 (one of them, game 9, being a win in 21 moves).

As Stefan Kindermann points out, the Exchange Variation is not for everyone. If you’re an aggressive tactician or a gung-ho attacking player, it is probably best to look elsewhere. However, if you enjoy endgames (for the queens usually come off early) and are content with nursing a small yet durable positional advantage, confident in the knowledge that there are few risks of actually losing, then this is an opening that’s right up your street. You can also learn a lot about endgame strategy by playing this particular opening line, paradoxical though that might sound. And Kindermann’s second chapter, ‘Typical Positions’, is especially helpful in this respect.

The detailed theoretical information is set out in several illustrative games and it may need to be updated slightly. But it is robust enough to form the basis of a more detailed study of the line. Most attention is devoted to Black’s main choices of 5…f6, 5…Qd6, 5…Bd6 and 5…Bg4 but offbeat and unusual fifth moves (such as Smyslov’s 5…Qe7) are adequately covered too.

If you want a speedy, effective and relatively painless way of familiarising yourself with the various intricacies of the Exchange Variation, this book provides the ideal solution. There’s some superb study material here and Kindermann is a fine writer who clearly knows his stuff. The English prose is perspicacious and even elegant in places, for which we must also thank the translator, Phil Adams.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

June 26, 2018 at 12:48 pm

The Open Games for Black

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The Open Games for Black

By Igor Lysyj and Roman Ovetchkin

Chess Stars, 2012

ISBN: 9789548782883

The Open Games for Black

Another excellent opening book from Chess Stars, containing plenty of detailed and original analysis.

Let us say you meet 1.e4 with 1…e5 and you’ve got your defence against the Ruy Lopez sorted. Perhaps, when it comes to the Lopez, you avoid 3…a6 altogether and play one of the defences outlined by Ivan Sokolov in The Ruy Lopez Revisited. Or you might play the venerable Steinitz Defence Deferred, as advocated by Timothy Taylor in Slay the Spanish!. Then again, the sharp Marshall Attack may be more your cup of tea, for which see Milos Pavlovic’s Fighting the Ruy Lopez. Never mind, no matter: the Ruy Lopez is sussed and sorted.

There still remains, however, the question of what to do against White’s other opening systems, and there are a lot of them. How will you meet the King’s Gambit, the Bishop’s Opening, the Ponziani Opening, the Scotch Game, the Giuoco Piano… and all the rest? Think panacea (well, almost) and you’ll have a good idea of what Igor Lysyj and Roman Ovetchkin’s book is all about: they provide defences to all of the above-mentioned systems, as well as others. They seem to have overlooked Mengarini’s Opening (1.e4 e5 2.a3), but apart from that everything has been covered, even Nakamura’s ridiculous 2.Qh5 and the rarely seen Philidor Reversed (2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d3).

As for the author’s repertoire recommendations, there are some interesting choices: Falkbeer’s 2…d5 versus the King’s Gambit; 2…Nc6 (rather than a line involving …c6 and …d5) versus the Bishop’s Opening; and against the Four Knights’ Game (following 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bb4 5.O-O O-O 6.d3 d6 7.Bg5) the interesting 7…Ne7, an old move revived by Ponomariov. Most attention is paid to the Scotch Game (including the Scotch and Goring Gambits) and the Giuoco Piano (Evans’ Gambit included).

The Open Games for Black is a comprehensive, one-stop shop of defences to openings other than the Ruy Lopez, for those who play 1…e5 as Black. It does a very good and useful job.

The Content’s Page of The Open Games for Black is here.

The Gambit Files: Tactical Themes to Sharpen Your Play

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The Gambit Files: Tactical Themes to Sharpen Your Play

By Bill Harvey

Mongoose Press, 2011

ISBN: 9781936277117

The Gambit Files

A book that kills two birds with one stone.

There are 15 chapters all told, each one devoted to a gambit or an attacking opening line. The openings covered include the Scotch Gambit, the Albin Counter-Gambit and the Milner Barry Attack in the French Defence. After an introductory discussion of each opening, we are given a set of tactical puzzles, all of the positions having arisen from games played with the opening in question.

The aim is to illustrate typical tactical themes, tricks and traps that you are likely to come across if you take up the opening. In most cases, it is the gambiteer who plays to win; but in some positions these roles are reversed. Naturally, you need to be aware of the perils and pitfalls of careless play; your opponent’s tactical possibilities as well as your own. There are almost 250 puzzles in total, and they vary in level of difficulty.

The book would be most suited to gambiteers or attacking players who want a profitable way to brush up on their tactics. You can glean a flavour of the book by looking at Bill Harvey’s excellent tactical puzzles website, which is here. Look in particular at the section ‘Puzzles by Opening (ECO)’. You’ll need to scroll down a little bit to do so.

In summary, The Gambit Files is a useful tool, combining as it does opening study and tactical training.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.


The Black Lion

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The Black Lion: The Chess Predator’s Choice Against Both 1.e4 and 1.d4

By Jerry van Rekom and Leo Jansen

New in Chess, 2008

ISBN: 9789056912574

The Black Lion

The Black Lion, as it is called here, is an opening that can be played against virtually any White first move; it has been named in part as a nod to co-author Leo Jansen, who has been its champion for many years.

Typically, the Black Lion arises after the moves 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nbd7, followed by 4…e5. Black can play 3…e5 immediately, to rule out 4.f4, and this option is covered in Chapter 5, which is here entitled ‘The Lion’s Yawn’.

There is plenty to admire about the book. The prose is engaging and it is clear that the authors have a real enthusiasm for the opening, and a deep understanding of it. Also, the analysis is substantial and thorough and often original. Plainly, there are sharp and interesting possibilities for each side, such as Shirov’s 4.Nf3 e5 5.g4!? or (for Black) the Palatnik Gambit, which arises after 4.f4 e5 5.Nf3 c6 6.Bc4 exd4 7.Qxd4 d5! However, lines where White plays 1.d4 and follows up with 2.c4 are not analysed at all; there is a solitary game where co-author Jerry van Rekom faces this move order (on pages 27-29), and it has quite a neat finish, but that is about it. So a reader would not be well-prepared, or feel especially confident, when playing the Black Lion against 1.d4 after reading the book.

On a more fundamental level, you may end the book feeling rather like the children in Whistle Down the Wind, when they realised that it was not Jesus in their barn but just a fellow who looked like him. Let me explain.

The most commonly played moves (after 3…Nbd7) are 4.Nf3 e5 and they are examined in Chapters 3 and 4, entitled ‘The Lion’s Claw’ and ‘The Lion’s Roar’ respectively, as well as in part of Chapter 6, here called ‘The Lion’s Mouth’. Now despite the relentless reference to a certain big cat, it might occur to you that this sequence of moves simply leads to the Hanham Variation of the Philidor Defence, and I would be inclined to agree. The authors would argue, perhaps, that what distinguishes the Black Lion from the Hanham Variation of the Philidor is a plan involving a regrouping of forces on the kingside and a possible attack there. After playing …Be7, …c6 and …Qc7, Black will follow up with … h6 and …g5 if allowed. The queen’s knight will then go to …f4 (via …f8 and …g6), the king’s rook to …g8, and so on.

The problem for the authors is that this kind of regrouping has been seen before, and in the Hanham Variation, so it is not actually distinctive or new. See, for example, the game Yates-Marco, The Hague 1921:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nd7 4.Bc4 c6 5.Nc3 Be7 6.O-O h6 7.Be3 Ngf6 8.Bb3 Qc7 9.Nd2 g5 10.a4 Nf8 11.a5 Ng6 12.Re1 Nf4 13.f3 Rg8 14.Nf1 Be6 15.Ng3 Qd7 16.d5 Bh3 17.gxh3 Qxh3 18.Qd2 N6h5 19.Qf2 g4 20.Kh1 gxf3 21.Rg1 Bh4 22.Bxf4 exf4 23.Nxh5 Bxf2 24.Rxg8+ Ke7 25.Nxf4 Qh4 26.Rg7 Kf8 27.Rxf7+ Kxf7 28.dxc6+ Kg7 29.Ne6+ Kh8 30.Nd5 bxc6 0-1

One has to conclude that this ‘new’ opening (The Black Lion) amounts to little more than a re-branding, a re-branding which is relentless (the chapter titles show) and, after a while, becomes rather tiresome. Indeed, one could go further and say that bringing together the Hanham Variation of the Philidor Defence and the Old Indian, and treating them collectively as a universal system versus 1.e4 and 1.d4, is an enterprise at once spurious and absurd. There are similarities, granted, but there are similarities too between the Pirc and the King’s Indian. Would it make sense to regard these two openings as one universal system because they both involve a king’s fianchetto and an advance in the centre with …e5 or …c5? Clearly not.

The Black Lion is an interesting, thought-provoking opening book which will equip you with a little-known, under-regarded yet worthwhile defence against 1.e4. However, most of the time the Black Lion looks a lot like the Hanham Variation of the Philidor Defence. Mind, the name seems appropriate as a quiet system which disguises an aggressive intent, a lazy beast of prey.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

June 12, 2018 at 1:12 pm