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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

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

Leningrad System: A Complete Weapon against 1.d4

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Leningrad System: A Complete Weapon against 1.d4

By Stefan Kindermann

Edition Olms, 2005

ISBN: 9783283004781

Leningrad System: A Complete Weapon against 1.d4

An unusual opening, named after a city that no longer exists.

In this well-structured book Stefan Kindermann sets out a complete defence to 1.d4, the centrepiece of his repertoire being the Leningrad Dutch with Malaniuk’s move 7…Qe8! – although, as he explains on page 11, the move may actually have been Chernin’s brainchild. (The move is played in the position arising after 1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.0-0 0-0 6.c4 d6 7.Nc3.)

After a brief historical overview, we are taken on a comprehensive strategic tour, looking at typical themes and plans for White and Black. The detailed theoretical information is then set out through a series of illustrative games. Naturally, Kindermann looks at all the important and wayward and downright awkward set-ups for White: the Karlsbad Variation, characterised by 4.Nh3 intending Nf4; the system with 4.c3 and 5.Qb3, momentarily preventing castling; lines where White plays b3 or even b4, to fianchetto the queen’s bishop or begin a concerted pawn advance on the queenside; and so on. He also looks at general anti-Dutch systems at moves two (2.Nc3, 2.Bg5 and the Staunton Gambit, 2.e4) and three (for example, 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bg5).

In general, you have to conclude that Black comes out OK. The Leningrad Dutch itself can be characterised as a complex and indeed curious opening, which leads to positions that are difficult to handle for both sides. You could view it as a hybrid of the King’s Indian and the Dutch proper, or a King’s Indian where Black has already played …f5, saving a tempo or two (the king’s knight no longer has to move) and exerting control on e4, but weakening the king’s position and the e6 square. On …g7, the bishop points towards the centre and the queenside, a different kind of posting to, say, the …Bd6 in the Stonewall Dutch, but hardly less aggressive in the long run. If you like to play interesting and unusual chess, the Leningrad Dutch is definitely an opening to explore.

Lenin’s reputation may have taken a bit of a battering with the publication of a recent book by Robert Gellately, but the Leningrad Dutch is alive and well.

You can buy Leningrad System: A Complete Weapon against 1.d4 at Amazon here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

May 15, 2018 at 12:59 pm

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.