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Squeezing the Gambits

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Squeezing the Gambits: the Benko, Budapest, Albin and Blumenfeld

By Kiril Georgiev

Chess Stars, 2010

ISBN: 9789548782753

Squeezing the Gambits: the Benko, Budapest, Albin and Blumenfeld

An outstanding opening book which could also be viewed as a case study-based textbook on strategy and positional play.

It is written for the player who opens with 1.d4 and wants a principled and practical way of meeting four gambits: the Benko, the Budapest Defence, the Albin and the Blumenfeld.

Georgiev’s general approach is to recommend lines that have a sound positional basis, that minimise Black’s counterplay and allow White to gradually take control of the game. The recommended lines are easy to play (relatively speaking) and make no undue demands on memory; there are few forcing variations.

Against the Benko Gambit (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5) Georgiev gives 4.Nf3 as his main recommendation, intending to meet 4…g6 or 4…d6 with 5.cxb5 a6 6.b6: the king’s knight will often find an inviting square at c4 in this variation (Nf3-d2-c4). He also gives the direct 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6, but believes that after 5…e6 6.Nc3 Nxd5 the position is rather dry and drawish. Still, if this is Black’s best, the opening can hardly be said to be a success for him.

If the Benko player meets 4.Nf3 with 4…e6, then we reach the Blumenfeld Counter Gambit by transposition. White should now play Duz-Khotimirsky’s move 5.Bg5! in order to enable e2-e4, according to Georgiev.

The remaining two gambits, the Albin Counter Gambit (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5) and the Budapest Defence (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5), involve the sacrifice of the king’s pawn. In both cases, Georgiev’s remedy (as before against the Benko) is to return the pawn in such a way as to place Black in a passive or strategically suspect position, then to slowly drain it of all vital possibilities.

This is quite a focused work and the lion’s share of it is devoted to the Benko, the most reputable of the gambits under consideration. Georgiev demonstrates that these gambits are not to be feared; so no need to avoid the Albin or Budapest by playing 2.Nf3. Indeed, they are to be welcomed. By playing sound and sensible chess you can get the upper hand and win.

The author is occasionally disdainful (or merely candid) when discussing these gambits, as when he opines that ‘nowadays the Budapest Gambit is played mostly by weaker players who do not care too much about the strategic laws of chess’ (page 141), but on the whole he comes across as an engaging, perspicacious and impressive writer and thinker about the game. This is especially apparent in his annotations to the 20 or so illustrative games, a fair few of them his own. Georgiev’s outline of the basic plans, pawn structures and typical tactical motifs to be found, in particular, in the 4.Nf3 line versus the Benko, is masterly. It gives the reader a revealing insight into the thinking and preparation of a world class grandmaster.

It was welcome also to see a bibliography and a comprehensive index of opening variations. You don’t always get that.


Written by P.P.O. Kane

October 20, 2018 at 1:11 pm

The Complete Hedgehog, Volume 2

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The Complete Hedgehog, Volume 2

By Sergey Shipov

Mongoose Press, 2011

ISBN: 9781936277223

The Complete Hedgehog, Volume 2

In the second volume Sergey Shipov looks at how the cute woodland creature copes with three distinct White set-ups.

Here they are:

  • The first set-up sees White with a Maroczy Bind and a pawn on f3. The bulk of the book is concerned with this system, which can arise from the Symmetrical English, the Paulsen or Taimanov Sicilian and very many other openings. Usually, White’s bishops are stationed on e2 and e3.
  • Another set-up sees the king’s bishop going to d3 and the queen’s bishop often taking up a post on b2. White will often play f4 and advance in the centre (with e5) or attack on the kingside (say by throwing in a rook-lift with Rf3-h3) but he may just sit tight and hope his space advantage intimidates the opposition. Fat chance of that happening.
  • With the final set-up, we see White castling queenside and advancing his pawns on the kingside. It’s a double-edged approach which normally arises from the Petrosian Variation of the Queen’s Indian Defence.

Our favourite insectivore, seemingly so passive yet full of dynamic bite, is well able to fend for itself against all of these.

If you play the Hedgehog or intend to adopt it, Shipov’s magisterial two-volume work is well nigh essential reading. But even if you have no great interest in the Hedgehog (or investment in its successful adaptation and evolution), I’d recommend both volumes because they are intelligent books about modern chess strategy. Shipov’s annotations and analyses are breathtakingly brilliant: insightful and rigorous yet replete with poetic, sometimes surreal images. In this volume, his fulsome annotations to two Andersson games (Fischer –Andersson, Seigen 1970 and Karpov-Andersson, Milan 1975) are terrific. Throughout, there is a swagger to the prose and credit must be paid to Sarah Hurst’s excellent translation.

The publisher’s description of The Complete Hedgehog, Volume 2 can be read here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

September 4, 2018 at 12:26 pm

Lessons with a Grandmaster

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Lessons with a Grandmaster

By Boris Gulko and Dr. Joel R. Sneed

Everyman Chess, 2011

ISBN: 9781857446685

Lessons with a Grandmaster

This very instructive book has a unique format, well worth describing in detail.

First and foremost, it is a collection of 25 of Boris Gulko’s best games, each one quite different in character and full of incident and interesting moments. His opponents include Kasparov (in fact, there are two victories against him), Karpov, Korchnoi, Smyslov, Adams and the current world title challenger Boris Gelfand. So, they are games of an extremely high-calibre indeed. As far as I can see, there are no gross errors in any of the games; Gulko prevails by gradually outplaying the opposition.

What makes the book special is that the games are commented upon by Dr. Joel R. Sneed, one of Gulko’s students, as well as by Gulko himself. Sometimes, Sneed will ask a question – and more often than not they are very astute questions – which Gulko will answer, authoritatively and (if need be) at length. At other moments, Gulko will ask Sneed a question, to test his understanding, and then either praise, gently correct or expand upon his student’s response. It is a continuous Socratic process and, in addition to this ongoing dynamic, Gulko sets certain specific exercises, based around the critical positions in each game. On a prosaic note, there are several diagrams to each game, many more than normal (I counted 19 diagrams in one game), so you can easily follow the play without board and pieces.

In comparing Sneed’s often quite reasonable and sensible evaluations and conclusions with Gulko’s, you’re struck by the grandmaster’s deep understanding and seemingly complete grasp of the subtleties of each position, which seems of a different order entirely.  He has, of course, lived each and every one of these games and has no doubt analysed them exhaustively. Still, there is a palpable qualitative difference in understanding and cognition between the two authors.

I believe that all players will learn an immense amount and benefit mightily from this book. Essentially, you are given 25 in-depth tutorials by a world-class grandmaster. It is a (grand) masterclass and a half.

It is impossible to recommend this book highly enough.  Ten out of ten.

The publisher’s description of Lessons with a Grandmaster can be read here.

The Modern Reti: An Anti-Slav Repertoire

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The Modern Reti: An Anti-Slav Repertoire

By Alexander Delchev

Chess Stars, 2012

ISBN: 9789548782876

The Modern Reti: An Anti-Slav Repertoire

Yes, we have yet another opening book with the word ‘Modern’ in the title.

Here, however, the sobriquet seems to be warranted. Alexander Delchev discloses key details of the analytical work he undertook when preparing Antoaneta Stefanova for the FIDE Grand Prix in 2010. The suggestions and analyses are fresh and fascinating, and have up until now been confidential – for Stefanova’s eyes only – so one cannot really quibble with the title too much.

The book sets out a repertoire for White following the moves 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 and now:

  • There is the option of a bayonet attack should Black plumb for a Slav set-up (2…c6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.b3 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.Bb2 0-0).  White can go 8.Rg1 intending 9.g4, though the much quieter 8.Be2 is also possible. Delchev covers both these options in considerable detail, which perhaps explains the subtitle.
  • A double fianchetto is Delchev’s favoured response to 2…e6, arising usually like this: 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.0-0 0-0 6.b3…
  • If 2…dxc4, White goes 3.e3 and develops as in the Queen’s Gambit Accepted (with Bxc4, 0-0, Qe2, Rd1 and so on) although with the quirk that he delays or even does without d4. I like Delchev’s approach here very much.
  • Probably Black’s best response is 2…d4, taking the opportunity to gain space in the centre.  In The Dynamic Reti (2004), Nigel Davies recommends 3.g3 with a reversed Benoni set-up.  This is how Bent Larsen played the position and Jon Speelman has played this way in the past also: it is a straightforward, low-maintenance option.  As for Delchev, he devotes a large amount of attention and analysis to two complex gambit lines: 3.e3 Nc6 4.b4!? and the (at first sight slightly perplexing) sequence 3.b4 f6 4.e3 e5 5.c5 a5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.Bc4.  Now on 7…axb4 8.Nxe5 can follow, with complications which may not necessarily favour White. See Reinhold Thiele’s analysis here.

All in all, this is an excellent, well thought out opening book, which presents Black with some new and pressing problems in attaining equality against the Reti.

A sample from The Modern Reti: An Anti-Slav Repertoire can be read here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

September 4, 2018 at 11:39 am

Chess Informant 135

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Chess Informant 135

Edited by Aleksandar Matanovic and others

Chess Informant, 2018

ISBN: 9788672970937

ISSN: 03511375

Chess Informant 135

There is plenty to enjoy in this, the latest volume of Chess Informant.

For a start, you have got about 300 annotated games, classified by opening, played in all major tournaments that took place between November 2017 and March 2018. I note that Anand was in excellent form during the whole of this period, and his game against Caruana at Wijk aan Zee in January, featuring the spectacular final move 42 Rd6!, was reminiscent of the scintillating games played in his prime. Besides the games, you have also got 9 combinations and 9 endgame positions to solve, and there is also a studies section, showcasing 9 beautiful studies by David Gurgenidze. I will present one of these studies (many have magical moments) in a future post.

As well as the traditional content above, which will be familiar to chessplayers from Chess Informant‘s earliest days, there are several interesting articles in the current volume. Three tournament reports, two on Gibraltar and the other on Riyadh, and three opening surveys, each one quite different in character. Ivanisevic looks at a curious line in the English Opening: 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.e3 intending (can you guess?) a quick bayonet attack with 4.g4. It looks wild and wacky, but Carlsen himself has experimented with this line. Then Delchev comes on and casts not so much a critical eye as a warm and welcoming smile (for you can smile with your eyes) over an unusual move in the Exchange Slav: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 and now the skydiving leap 4.Bg5. This was a typically classy essay from the Bulgarian grandmaster. Finally, Markus examines a quiet positional system could arise after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 (or 3…Bb4 4.Nbd2 or 3…b6 4.e3: there are many transpositional possibilities) 4.e3, etc. It can hardly be bad but nor is it particularly testing. Somehow, this system reminds me of a lot of Keres games where he had hanging pawns at c4 and d4, Horwitz bishops at d3 and b2, and typically won with a pawn advance in centre and / or a kingside attack involving a bishop or knight sacrifice on h7 or g7 and a rook lift across to h3 or g3. So maybe if you make this voyage there will be stormy seas ahead and not necessarily all ‘calm waters’, as Markus puts it.

In an interesting contribution, ‘Chess In The Fast Lane’, that maverick spirit Jobava analyzes 5 blitz and rapid games (he plays in two of them) and reflects on how the faster time control influences decision making and choice of move (do players tend to take more risks?). Perunovic has a neat, instructive essay on the issues arising when you’re thinking of liquidating into a pawn ending. Some well-chosen examples here, together with astute advice. Finally, the featured player in the ‘Best of Chess Informant’ section is the French grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. He may look a little like Clark Kent or an art historian specialising in the Northern Renaissance (he is the spitting image of a friend of mine who does exactly that), but he is also one of the strongest, most creative and exciting chessplayers in the world at the moment. This section has a selection of his best games and combinations, his best opening novelties and endgame play. Inspirational.

All in all, this is a royal feast of fine chess from the world’s premier chess periodical! The publisher’s description of Chess Informant 135 is here.

The Benko Gambit: Move by Move

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The Benko Gambit: Move by Move

By Junior Tay

Everyman Chess, 2014

ISBN: 9781781941577

The Benko Gambit: Move by Move

Junior Tay has written an excellent, workmanlike survey of the Benko Gambit.

In presenting the theoretical material, he poses a series of questions which proactively explore your understanding of the opening, and of chess in general. Alongside these questions, scattered throughout the book, there are 40 exercises or test positions in chapter 10 (not all tactical puzzles), which has an excellent title: ‘Benko Dojo Time’.

The fianchetto variation (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6 g6 6.Nc3 Bxa6 7.g3) and the so-called ‘king walk’ variation (7.e4 Bxf1 8.Kxf1) garner most attention, and not without reason. By far, they are the most popular choices. Still, declining the gambit by 4.Nf3 or giving the pawn back by 5.b6 remain viable positional approaches, and both moves require relatively little analytical work. Tay presents a thoroughly worked out black repertoire which takes account of these moves and others.

The Benko Gambit gives Black pressure on the queenside early on, and an initiative that often persists well into the endgame. One practical advantage of the opening is that Black’s position is generally easier to play. On the whole, the investment of a pawn represents good value.

An enjoyable study of what seems (still) to be a sound, positionally-based gambit.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

June 5, 2018 at 12:53 pm

Wojo’s Weapons, Volume 3: Winning with White

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Wojo’s Weapons, Volume 3: Winning with White

By Jonathan Hilton and Dean Ippolito

Mongoose Press, 2013

ISBN: 9781936277452

Wojo's Weapons, Volume 3: Winning with White

This is the third and final volume devoted to Aleksander Wojtkiewicz’s pragmatic, positionally based opening repertoire.

Most of the book deals with the Fianchetto Grunfeld, however the main weapon of choice is not Wojtkiewicz’s 11.Bg5 (following on from 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0-0 5.d4 d5 6.cxd5 Nxd5 7.0-0 Nb6 8.Nc3 Nc6 9.d5 Na5 10.e4 c6) but co-author Dean Ippolito’s pet line of 10.Qc2 (that is, instead of 10.e4). It would seem that Black can comfortably equalise after 11.Bg5, hence the switch of emphasis here.

We stick close to Wojtkiewicz’s repertoire in the rest of the book, mind, where later chapters deal with the Slav Grunfeld (where Black plays …c6 and then …d5), various English Opening lines (including the Maroczy Bind, the Hedgehog and Rubinstein’s Variation) and some species of the Dutch (the Leningrad, Stonewall and Classical). If the Black Knights’ Tango ever reared its rowdy head, Wojtkiewicz would deftly transpose into the Bogo-Indian (1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6 3.d4 e6 4.g3 Bb4+) rather than seek a direct refutation; and he had similarly cultured methods of meeting the respectable Old Indian, Wade’s 1.Nf3 d6 2.d4 Bg4, the ‘interesting’ and always welcome 1…b5 and various other odds and ends.

All these openings are thoroughly covered in the book, which is another solid contribution by Dean Ippolito and Jonathan Hilton. As before, they combine detailed analysis of Wojtkiewicz’s chosen lines with lucid discussions of the underlying strategic ideas. Taken as a whole, the three volumes in the series will give the positional player a tried and tested, low-maintenance repertoire based around 1.Nf3 and 2.c4 or 2.d4, leading in due course to myriad closed openings, the Catalan, the Queen’s Gambit and the King’s Indian Defence among them.

Besides their functional value in providing an opening repertoire for White, these books serve as a fine monument to a fine player.

The publisher’s description of Wojo’s Weapons, Volume 3: Winning with White is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

May 15, 2018 at 12:09 pm