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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.

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Written by P.P.O. Kane

July 10, 2018 at 4:38 pm

Arthur Kaufmann: A Chess Biography, 1872-1938

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Arthur Kaufmann

A Chess Biography, 1872-1938

By Olimpiu G. Urcan and Peter Michael Braunwarth

McFarland, 2012

ISBN: 9780786461455

Arthur Kaufmann: A Chess Biography, 1872-1938

While never a professional chessplayer and now little known, Arthur Kaufmann nonetheless made significant contributions to the game.

For a start, there are two important opening variations associated with his name: in the Petroff Defence (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.c4) and the Vienna Game (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 d5 4.fxe5 Nxe4 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.Qe2). For another thing, he was a fine analyst, frequently praised by Marco, who aided the latter in writing his several celebrated tournament books. And he was also a strong player, in his best years perhaps of grandmaster strength. One early game against Englisch, played at Vienna 1896, had a wonderful finish. His best game, though, was probably this victory over Spielmann at Vienna 1914:

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3.Nge2 e6 4.d4 d5 5.exd5 exd5 6.Be3 c4 7.g3 Nf6 8. Bg2 Be6 9.O-O Be7 10.Re1 O-O 11.a3 h6 12.Nf4 Qd7 13.Qd2 Rae8 14.Nxe6 fxe6 15.f4 Bd8 16. Kh1 Ba5 17.Bg1 Nd8 18.b4 cxb3 19.cxb3 Nf7 20. b4 Bb6 21. Re2 Nd6 22.Rae1 Rf7 23.Qd3 Qc8 24.Bh3 Rc7 25.Nxd5 Nxd5 26.Rxe6 Rce7 27.Qb3 Rxe6 28. Qxd5 1-0

Some may also be familiar with the consultation game that he and Fahndrich played against Capablanca and Reti in the same year (1914): it is quoted in chapter 4 of Reti’s Modern Ideas in Chess.

This book covers Kaufmann’s chess career and includes over 70 of his games; in addition, there is an outline of his life outside of chess, and that’s fascinating in itself. Our main source here was the great Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler, for the two men struck up a deep friendship when young and corresponded frequently. Some of Kaufmann’s writings, notably an essay on Einstein’s theory of relativity, are alluded to and quoted from also – he had a diverse range of intellectual interests. It is puzzling, then, that he didn’t publish more or produce a substantial philosophical work. One would have thought him well capable of it.

Kaufmann died shortly after the Nazis entered Austria in 1938. He was Jewish, and the authors suggest that the most likely reason for his death was suicide. On the evidence marshalled here, they’re likely correct.

The publishers description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

June 13, 2018 at 10:22 am

Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking

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Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking

By Neil McDonald

Batsford, 2004

ISBN: 9780713488944

Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking

Neil McDonald presents 30 modern games – all were played from 1978 to 2002 – and adds a comment to each and every move.

It is a nice idea that has been seen before: Irving Chernev wrote a book along these lines, Logical Chess: Move by Move, some time ago. He may even have created the genre, come to that. While John Nunn’s excellent Understanding Chess Move by Move took a similar tack.

The games are beautiful and instructive and have been chosen to illustrate the variegated splendours of chess. There are smooth positional victories as well as explosive attacks on the king. There are games that serve as models of their type (so: emulate and win), while others are spectacular, original and inimitable (danger: do not enter). The endgame is a prominent feature of a fair few of them. For ease and convenience, the games have been grouped according to opening and, to some extent, theme (same opening = similar middlegames = recurrent themes). Most games open with either 1.e4 or 1.d4.

A difficulty with the book – and with the whole genre – is that there are only a limited number of things that you can say about the opening moves, about 1.e4 and 1.d4, say, or about 3…cxd4 in the open Sicilian, before you begin repeating yourself. When you’ve said of 1.e4 that it frees the queen and king’s bishop, facilitating quick development and early kingside castling, and that the pawn advance occupies the centre and controls the d5 and f5 squares, you are pretty much at a loss as to what to add next.

Hence that McDonald has recourse to flights of fancy, metaphors (If White were seeking to build a house, then 1.e4 is the first stone laid at its foundation), digressions, conceits (the pieces are akin to Dracula entombed in a coffin…), historical waffle and such like rhetorical devices is hardly surprising. And that is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. His notes to 1.e4 never take the form of a haiku though, or an instance of fixed-form poetry (double sestina, anyone?), so maybe he missed a trick there.

This is an excellent collection of beautiful and interesting games and Neil McDonald does a sterling job of elucidating and explaining their finer points.

Another description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

June 13, 2018 at 10:00 am

Grandmaster Chess Strategy

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Grandmaster Chess Strategy: What Amateurs Can Learn from Ulf Andersson’s Positional Masterpieces

By Jurgen Kaufeld and Guido Kern

New in Chess, 2011

ISBN: 9789056913465

Grandmaster Chess Strategy: What Amateurs Can Learn from Ulf Andersson's Positional Masterpieces

Many will recall John Nunn’s remark about how, in one of their frequent games, ‘Ulf characteristically went straight for my little toe.’

Indeed, it is true to say that Ulf Andersson’s games rarely feature a lunge for the jugular or an attack on the king. He has quite a rarefied style as a player, being closest perhaps to Flohr, Petrosian and Rubinstein. At any rate he is of the same ilk as those three, being an elegant positional player with superb endgame technique. The closest to him among current top players is perhaps Kramnik, and the two share a fondness for the Catalan.

In this highly instructive book, each chapter is devoted to a particular positional theme (e.g. prophylaxis, the two bishops, control of an open file) or a certain sort of endgame (such as rook endings and minor piece endings), with each topic being illustrated by Andersson’s games. There are 80 games all told, a sizeable number.

Most games include positional themes other than the one emphasised, of course, but the idea behind the book is still a good one. You are given a textbook on strategy and also a timely reminder of what a fine player Andersson was when in his prime. There is instruction, entertainment and aesthetic pleasure in equal measure.

The publisher’s description of Grandmaster Chess Strategy: What Amateurs Can Learn from Ulf Andersson’s Positional Masterpieces is here.

Aron Nimzowitsch: On the Road to Chess Mastery, 1886-1924

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Aron Nimzowitsch: On the Road to Chess Mastery, 1886-1924

By Per Skjoldager and Jorn Erik Nielsen

McFarland, 2012

ISBN: 9780786465392

Aron Nimzowitsch: On the Road to Chess Mastery, 1886-1924

Anyone with an interest in the great thinker and theorist will find this valuable book to be essential reading.

Nimzowitsch was the most profound of the hypermodern pioneers. He invented and revived numerous opening systems. And, from about the mid-1920s until his death in 1935, he was one of the strongest players in the world.

This book covers his life and chess career up to the eve of the publication of his major writings: Die Blockade came out in 1925 and Mein System followed shortly thereafter (1925-1927). What do we know about the life? Well, we know that Nimzowitsch was born into Riga’s Hasidic Jewish community, which was where he learnt chess from his father at the age of eight. And we know that he had many intellectual interests, notably in philosophy, psychology and the arts (at one time he worked as a theatre critic for a Riga newspaper, as well as writing the chess column), as well as an obsession with chess that gradually took hold of him. It is interesting to note that for Blumenfeld, recalling the Nimzowitsch whom he knew as a teenager in the cafes of Berlin, it was ‘incredible that this lively, gifted youth should only become a chess player.’ Blumenfeld’s little-known memoir of Nimzowitsch appeared in the Russian magazine 64 in 1927: one indication of the extensive research that has gone into the writing of the book.

An illness of some seriousness – Nimzowitsch contracted tuberculosis, the first attack coming in 1908 – may well have played a role in curtailing his other ambitions. Never mind the First World War and the Russian Revolution, two world historic events occurring back-to-back that impacted upon his life directly. He was conscripted into the Russian army at one point, despite his medical condition, and he witnessed at close quarters the Bolshevik occupation of Riga. These experiences must have left their mark and may explain some of his eccentric behaviour in later life. He left Riga for good in 1920, first settling in Sweden and then later moving to Denmark.

The authors don’t speculate whether the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – a process whereby events at the periphery led eventually to the dissolution of the centre – may have influenced or given rise to the hypermodern mindset. Or indeed whether in managing an unpredictable malady like tuberculosis Nimzowitsch may have hit upon prophylaxis as a richly suggestive metaphor when thinking about chess strategy. One doesn’t have to be (or to have read) Stephen Toulmin, though, to realise that ideas always have a context, both external (historical and cultural) and internal (psychological).

Be assured that, besides the biography, there are plenty of games here too (well over 400), most of them with annotations by Nimzowitsch himself, and many of these culled from out-of-print tournament books, his chess columns in Riga and Scandinavian chess magazines.

All in all, this is an excellent book, well researched and well written, and produced by McFarland to their usual very high standards. I very much look forward to the sequel.

The publisher’s description of Aron Nimzowitsch: On the Road to Chess Mastery, 1886-1924 is here.

The Art of the Tarrasch Defence: Strategies, Techniques and Surprising Ideas

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The Art of the Tarrasch Defence: Strategies, Techniques and Surprising Ideas

By Alexey Bezgodov

New in Chess, 2017

ISBN: 9789056917685

The Art of the Tarrasch Defence: Strategies, Techniques and Surprising Ideas

The Tarrasch Defence is an opening that promises classical play, proper grown-up chess.

The book is an excellent introduction, looking at the opening mainly from Black’s viewpoint, and is in five parts. Part 3, let us begin in the middle then time-shift later, presents a detailed survey (I count some 50 pages) of what Alexey Bezgodov calls the Kasparov System, which is clearly Black’s best approach. It arises after the moves: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.g3 Nf6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Bg5 cxd4 10.Nxd4 h6. All very logical and efficient and understandable. Here, White usually goes 11.Be3 but 11.Bf4, or indeed the capture 11.Bxf6, are decent enough alternatives. There is thorough coverage of them all.

Part 2, to backtrack a bit, is the largest section of the book (80 pages). We look here at a range of ways by which White might deviate from the logical sequence of moves (I won’t repeat them again; see above) leading to the Kasparov System. White might plumb for the quiet Symmetrical System on move 4 (4.e3) or essay the reckless Marshall Gambit, an act of self-harm more than anything, a move later (5.e4). An early development of the queen’s bishop to g5, f4, or e3 comes into consideration as well (mind, avoid Romanishin’s 4.Be3 because of the devastating reply 4..e5! and Lputian, his opponent, won in 24 moves). Or the bishop might go to e3 at a later stage (9.Be3) or be developed on the flank (following 9.b3). Other logical approaches involve capturing on c5 (9.dxc5 Bxc5) then following up with 10.Bg5 to pressure d5 or 10.Na4 Be7 11.Be3 and 12.Rc1, focusing fire-power on the dark squares on the queenside. In summary, Bezgodov concludes that while White has plenty of options, Black can equalise.

These two sections, Parts 3 and 2, are the grand heart of the book and will equip you to play the Tarrasch Defence in the form of the Kasparov System, its most modern treatment. But there is more…

Part 1 (let us turn all chronological, all of a sudden – it has 30 pages, by the way) is entitled ‘Four Bad Lines That Are actually Good’ and it sets out – well, actually, the title has said it all. There are brief, in one case a very brief, surveys of:

  • the Curt von Bardeleben System (I follow Bezgodov’s nomenclature): 6…cxd4 7.Nxd4 Bc5 intending ..Nge7
  • an active line favoured by Keres: 6…Nf6 7.Bg2 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5
  • the Salwe System: 8…Qb6 instead of 8…Bc5 as in Keres’ line
  • and finally, the Lasker-Capablanca System: 7…Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Bg5 Be6

While these lines are unfashionable at the minute, they lead – as Bezgodov shows – to decent, playable positions for Black. Salwe’s move has a bad reputation because, in response to it, Rubinstein created one of his positional masterpieces (the game versus Salwe at Lodz, 1908), but Black can undoubtedly improve. Half a century after Rubinstein-Salwe, Bronstein played 8..Qb6 against Kortchnoi and drew.

Part 4 (70 pages) examines how a quartet of great champions – Kasparov, Spassky, Keres and Gligoric – played the Tarrasch Defence, and played against it. There is an abundance of entertaining and instructive chess on display here, and a special highlight is Kasparov’s theoretical duel with Smyslov, four high-quality games from their final candidates match in 1984. Finally, Part 5 (55 pages) is all about training, testing your knowledge and understanding of the opening. You are given 96 challenging exercises, followed by detailed solutions in the form of complete games.

Two minor criticisms, so let’s get them out of the way. First, no mention of John Nunn. He played the Tarrasch Defence well, though rarely, in his chess career and has some decent games with it. I would have liked to have seen one of them. Second, the book raised a few move-order questions but never really answered them. Here is one: in the Lasker-Capablanca System, should black play …Be6 before …0-0? (say, 8…Be6). What are the pros and cons of doing so? It seems from a Marshall-Capablanca match-game in 1909 that 9.Bg5 Ne4! equalises when Black goes with an early …Be6. How then should White best respond? This question might have been addressed in the context of games 23 and 24, or indeed game 168 (the Marshall-Capablanca game above), but wasn’t.

Overall though, this is a brilliant book on a venerable opening that possesses a lot of vitality still. The Tarrasch Defence is a sound, principled and positionally based way of fighting for the initiative from move 3: just look at its pedigree, an ardent advocacy over many years by Spassky, Kasparov et al. It leads to middle-games where Black’s active centralised pieces and use of open lines fully compensate for the isolated queen’s pawn (IQP). Indeed, even when this pawn is sacrificed (or inadvertently lost) Black’s pieces are often active enough to ensure a draw. There are 217 annotated games here, and a close study of them will give you a feel and fluency for the Tarrasch that will be invaluable in actual play. Finally, Bezgodov equips you to play five (count them: five) different systems in the Tarrasch Defence. Now that’s good value in anyone’s book.

The publisher’s description of The Art of the Tarrasch Defence is here.

Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura

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Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura

By Karsten Müller and Raymund Stolze

Edition Olms, 2012

ISBN: 9783283010232

Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura

A compelling portrait of one of the most exciting players in the world.

Each chapter begins with a game or two from Wijk aan Zee 2011, arguably Nakamura’s breakthrough tournament – he won it, finishing ahead of Anand and Carlsen and several other elite players – 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 (of course) 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 with the book is the constant comparison with Fischer (particularly prevalent 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. Perhaps the comparison is a curse that all talented American grandmasters must endure (Seirawan got it to some extent). Anyway, recent results and interviews suggest that Nakamura has found his own path.

There’s plenty of chess in the book, 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 timely too, in that Nakamura will likely prove to be one of Carlsen’s most dangerous rivals over the coming years.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

April 12, 2018 at 6:30 pm