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14th October 2019
AN ATTACKING REPERTOIRE FOR WHITE WITH 1.d4 by Viktor Moskalenko, New in Chess, 367 pp., publ. 2019
1 d4 with 2 c4 by Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess, 448 pp., publ. 2019
d4 rep books are like buses - you wait for ages then two come along at the same time. These ones are devoted to d4/c4 main lines, almost a breath of fresh air in these times when the London System is all the rage and AlphaZero is pushing the boundaries of what has hitherto been considered playable or not. Both lean towards an active/aggressive repertoire: Moskalenko’s subtitle promises ‘Ambitious Ideas and Powerful Weapons’, while Lakdawala is aiming at the ‘aggressively-minded player, who craves confrontation, both strategic and tactical’.
The first thing to be aware of is that, while Moskalenko has been researching and playing his lines for ages, his book isn’t a complete repertoire. As he explains in his foreword: ‘These opening choices…are an important factor in my personal approach to chess’, thus what’s on offer is more a reflection of his own interests and fields of activity than the whole 1 d4 spectrum. His aim is ‘to help you understand (and play) the main opening systems that arise after White’s first move 1.d4’, and he presents ‘a selection of opening variations…10 fundamental openings plus 4 original defensive systems for Black’. The key words are ‘main’ and ‘selection’. There’s no Dutch, Tarrasch, Budapest or sidelines. Since Moskalenko has written extensively on two of these, my initial (unkind) thought was that he wants you to shell out for those books too! It seems I wasn’t far off the mark, since he also says ‘for anti-Dutch lines for White, see my book The Diamond Dutch, New in Chess 2014’.
The four black defensive systems referred to are the Snake Benoni (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 Bd6), the Baltic Defence (1 d4 d5 2 c4 Bf5), Chigorin’s Defence (1 d4 d5 2 c4 Nc6) and the Albin Counter-Gambit (1 d4 d5 2 c4 e5). While the last two have attracted the attention of creative spirits such as Morozevich, it’s legitimate to ponder why such rare birds should merit coverage while the likes of the Tarrasch and Dutch don’t. Presumably it’s to do with his personal approach mentioned above.
Anyway, you’re probably wondering what his ‘ambitious ideas and powerful weapons’ are. Against the main replies to 1 d4, he suggests the Exchange Variation of the Queen’s Gambit, the Four Pawns Attack versus the King’s Indian, 4 f3 versus the Nimzo and Taimanov’s aggressive 7 f4/8 Bb5+ against the Benoni. No quibbles with that; all healthy, overtly aggressive lines (although a cynic might suggest that if the Four Pawns Attack doesn’t come off it tends to end up as a Four Pawns Defence). But when we come to the Grünfeld, we find 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Bd2!?, and against the Slav he proposes the Exchange Variation, both of which offer more positional aggression. While these lines might deprive Black of a lot of fun, it strikes me that if positional squeezes and playing for a tempo aren’t your cup of tea, you might be inclined to look for something else against these two sturdy openings.
Having said that, the book contains lots of interesting ideas, a Moskalenko trademark, is well produced in an easy-on-the-eye double column format, and will provide d4-players with plenty of new ammunition.
Lakdawala is a newcomer to d4/c4 main lines (see his introduction) and this, his 40th (in the last decade, let’s call it four books a year, one every three months, which to this reviewer seems a tad conveyor-belty, but, hey, what do I know?) covers everything that White is likely to face after 1 d4, including the absentee Dutch, Tarrasch and Budapest, and even junk like 1…e5 (which gets half a column!). Comparing his suggestions with Moskalenko’s, we find that he too advocates the Exchange QGD, f3-Nimzo and Taimanov’s sharp anti-Benoni line, but against the KID he suggests Petrosian’s 7 d5 in the main line, Bf4 lines v. the Grünfeld and the gutsy Meran in the Slav. This is fairly high-maintenance stuff. As he points out in his introduction, ‘If you are a theory hater, this repertoire may not be right for you’, and, in the Slav chapter, he says that ‘the variations are forcing, with little or no leeway for personal taste’, thus some solid homework and memorisation is going to be the order of the day. (I found it amusing that the first game in this chapter featured Rausis on the white side. I wondered en passant if it was one of those he won with computer assistance before he was rumbled!?) Kudos to Lakdawala for taking this approach. I’m convinced that lots of openings authors advocate less-played lines just so they have less research to do!
You get plenty of meat for your money (how could it be otherwise with such a rep?), but, given the amount (and occasionally depth) of material, I found it strange that Lakdawala’s bibliography contained only six books, one of them not an openings volume (but written by him) and the most recent (openings one) of which was published in 2012. Seven years is a long time in theory. Clearly he must have used other sources; they should have been referenced. (By comparison, Moskalenko’s features twelve books, the NiC yearbooks, databases and internet resources.)
One thing which bugged me was the index of variations, where moves are listed by ‘see game such-and-such’. This is useless; you still have to go and hunt for game such-and-such with no clear idea of where it might be, the more so since game numbers only appear in the text, not, say, at the top of the page. Why not give the page ref, for heaven’s sake? An index is supposed to take readers to a location quickly and efficiently.
In terms of style, Moskalenko writes with what I’d call controlled enthusiasm. It’s obvious he cares deeply about his lines (as per his foreword), but he doesn’t hit you over the head with them, e.g. talking of life on the white side of the King’s Indian, he says, ‘…the Four Pawns Attack was exactly what I was looking for: underdeveloped theory and active play for White…I would like to share with the reader a few secrets that have been discovered during a long period’. Good sales technique which makes you want to know what’s coming next! His explanations of themes and ideas are clear and succinct.
Lakdawala writes with his usual, often irrelevant and distracting, prolixity (‘When I unearth a theoretical novelty, I imagine myself as the Indian Jason Bourne, as he infiltrates CIA headquarters, makes a digital copy of top secret classified information, and then escapes, leaving ten or twelve unconscious or dead bodies behind.’), which, as I’ve said in previous reviews of his books, could easily be omitted to the overall benefit of his work, since, when he cuts to the chase, his wisdom is generally pretty much on the money. I sometimes wonder if his books are edited; there are no attributions. This is obviously a matter of taste; lousy style might sit well with some publishers (why!?), but it clearly doesn’t with guys I’ve heard mutter that they couldn’t stand the thought of another Lakdawala book. Concentrating on the chess content, there is much of interest for any d4-player either looking at their existing lines or for something new.
In terms of production, both feature clear, easy-to-read text, although I give the nod to NiC’s double column format. Everyman’s current single column house style looks awfully ‘spread out’. They used double columns in the past. I wonder why they dropped them. Everyman uses a larger font, so the books are in effect about the same length.
Which to buy? If you’re a d4-player you’ll probably be interested in both; no harm in the pick ‘n’ mix approach to building your opening repertoire. In terms of content there’s not a lot to choose. Both feature aggressive lines designed to put Black under pressure and, if you’re more familiar with them than your opponent, then you’re bound to rack up a few points.
DEVOTED TO CHESS The Creative Heritage of Yuri Razuvaev, compiled by Boris Postovsky, New in Chess, 365 pp., publ. 2019
This is a collection of interviews with, memories of, and articles and games by the well-known Russian GM who, like so many talented individuals, was taken from us far too early at the age of 66 in 2012. Those remembering him include stellar names like Carlsen, Kasparov and Spassky, and there are numerous historical flashbacks to the days of Botvinnik and Smyslov. (Razuvaev rubbed shoulders with all the good and great of Soviet/Russian chess.) The reminiscences paint a picture of a warm, friendly, erudite human being, genuinely interested in others and, as the title says, devoted to the game he loved.
The fifty-two selected games (just under half the book) are crisp and clear, and those annotated by Razuvaev himself often reveal a touching honesty and baring of the soul. This begs the question: since he was obviously a powerful GM, why did he never achieve the very top results? The answer is hinted at by many of those who knew him well: he lacked the killer instinct; too nice and probably interested in too many other things. (Apart from being a GM, Razuvaev was also a history graduate, a theoretician, a writer and trainer of renown, and enjoyed a wide range of interests from football to art. In his later years he was heavily involved with children’s chess and the use of chess as an educational tool.)
Devoted to Chess has been put together with love, care and attention. It is a great chess read with lots of insights into Soviet and Russian chess life, and features lots of incidental (or not so incidental!?) good advice. It is presented in a common-sense blend of single column format for text and double column for games and similar-type articles, and is sprinkled with a generous selection of photos. Chess biographies aren’t that common, but this is a good ‘un.
Chessable: Keep it simple 1 d4
IM Christof Sielecki
Link to course https://www.chessable.com/keep-it-simple-1-d4/course/23396/
This is a 1.d4 opening repertoire based on the Catalan for white but covering much, much more!
For what exactly Chessable is and the differences using this software instead of a printed book, please see my previous review Chess Structures - A Grandmaster Guide, May 2019 (below).
When I started reading this, I was a bit bored with the repetition during the introduction - playing 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 over and over. However, once I got past that part, the repertoire began to unfold and started making sense.
It's clear the author has put a great amount of time and effort into the move orders and transpositions (something which is really difficult to do in a book!) and the software has a great feature called Repertoire Tree which lets you play the moves on screen then shows you the chapter to jump to – amazing for transpositions and understanding various move orders!
This course offers a very strategic repertoire based on the moves d4, Nf3, g3, Bg2, 0-0 and c4 usually in that order. It also has some original ideas in meeting Black’s other openings e.g. b3 against the King’s Indian and a really interesting idea of dxc5 idea against the early g6/c5 move orders.
The main chapters deal with:
• Reversed Grunfeld
• Main Catalan
• Bf5, Bg4 Setups
• King’s Indian
• b5 to stop c4 idea
• Queens Indian
• Odds & Ends
The author has done a great job explaining the motives while trying to maintain the ‘keep it simple’ concept. However, do not mistake simple for ‘easy work’ as you will need to invest a lot of time to gain the maximum benefit from this repertoire. There are over 1,000 lines to play through and although a lot contain similar themes – there really is a lot of material here! I have been working though it for about 3 months now (average an hour a week) and I am only about 25% through. There is a (more expensive) version of this course where the author has recorded Videos walking you through the lines. In fact, there are almost 29Hrs of video covering every detail of the repertoire and if you can get into it it’s very motivating stuff!
Although there are hundreds of chess training clips on YouTube for free – you just need to look at the quality and effort put in here – to conclude that this really is incredible tuition! I personally have enjoyed many of the lectures CS/QualityChess, etc organised in the past and this is of similar quality but for 29 Hrs! Taking this into consideration and (more importantly) if you are going to watch them, the cost may not seem so bad after all.
All in all, I have enjoyed working through this one and I fully intend to complete it in the coming months as the later chapters are very relevant to other 1.d4 repertoires as well.