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18th June 2020
THE CLUB PLAYER’S MODERN GUIDE TO GAMBITS by Nikolai Kalinichenko, Russell Enterprises Inc., 255 pp., publ. 2019.
This book looks at the current status of a wide range of gambits, either pure gambits where one side gives up material early on, or lines which involve a later sacrifice of material, such as the Poisoned Pawn, Botvinnik Variation etc. It is divided into sections on the open, semi-open and closed games, each represented by white and black gambits, and each gambit is illustrated by a handful of games lightly analysed and with explanatory text.
It’s worth bearing in mind that there are gambits and there are gambits. Openings such as the Benko and Marshall have become respectable and mainstream. Some, such as the King’s Gambit and Budapest, tend to be met with a raised eyebrow nowadays, but are still considered, well, sort of OK if you fancy a punt. Going to extremes you have stuff like the Englund (1 d4 e5) and Latvian (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 f5) which usually elicit a disapproving tsk-tsk and are pretty much regarded as coffeehouse. All of these types feature, but the emphasis is by far on the ‘saner’, more respectable, gambits.
The main objective is to illustrate that typical gambit themes such as rapid development, use of open lines, king safety, time etc. etc. are still as viable as ever despite the rise of the machines, indeed amongst the games, most of which are from the present century, including many from the teens, there are a couple of Leela/Stockfish/AlphaZero efforts from 2018-19. There are also plenty of games involving current big names, illustrating that gambits or gambit-type play is not just the preserve of the club hacker.
Overall the book is well produced, although, as often the case with Russell publications, there seems to have been no proofreader, as evidenced, for example, by the uncertainty over how many games it contains. The blurb says ‘Almost 140 games…’, while the author’s intro claims ‘Almost 135 games…’. It’s 138, so I guess they’re both right, depending on your point of view.
More irksomely, only the gambits are page numbered in the table of contents, so if you want to find an individual game, you’ve to do a bit of thumbing. And there’s no index of player’s names; you have to hunt for them in the contents.
This is the type of book which could provide inspiration for youngsters, providing they don’t make the same mistake as I did. I recall finding a similar sort of effort in my local library back in the days when I was starting out as a kid. It was full of gambits and quickies, and made me think that chess was easy and I’d win all my games in about twenty moves. You could say I missed the point!
CHESS TESTS by Mark Dvoretsky, Russell Enterprises Inc., 208 pp., publ. 2019.
This posthumous work by the great Russian trainer is what it says on the cover – a collection of test positions designed to train seven areas of the game: combinational vision, candidate moves, calculation, attack and defence, positional play, realising an advantage and the endgame. The exercises are designed not only to instruct, but to provide pleasure in the solving process. Each chapter generally starts with a few easier, warm-up puzzles before moving on to meatier examples which, as the author warns, are often demanding enough to test the strongest of players.
This caveat more or less defines the target readership. This is not a book for inexperienced or casual players, but is aimed at more ambitious or stronger players looking for challenging material. The implication is that you’re not going to get everything right, but, equally, it is fair to assume that revisiting difficult exercises will bring its rewards.
The solutions are very detailed and provide deep insights into the topic under discussion and amount to virtually a mini-textbook in their own right.
It’s not a big book in terms of pages, but it is a big and absorbing book (easy to get drawn into the positions!) in terms of content and potential benefits for the diligent reader. It is well produced with clear diagrams and text; I only have one gripe – there is no index of either players or themes addressed in the solutions.
CHESSBASE COMPLETE by Jon Edwards, Russell Enterprises Inc., 93 pp., publ. 2019.
This 2019 supplement of the author’s original work covers all that’s new in ChessBase 13, 14 and 15. If you want to know about, for example, the Cloud or ChessBase on the web, this is the place to look. The author, a CCIM, guides you through these and more and discusses their uses and implications. There are plenty of screenshots to illustrate what he has to say, always a good idea in a field where a picture really does often paint a thousand words, and a comprehensive index of all the features covered. If you’re looking for a handy one-stop guide to what’s new in ChessBase, this is it.
Lifetime Repertoires - The Nimzo Ragozin by Chessable.com
This book is not available in any paper format – it’s completely online www.chessable.com
It uses the ChessAble ‘Movie Trainer’ technology to teach you the concepts and there is an optional 13+ Hrs of Video lecture which you can purchase to compliment the training. Like other ChessAble courses, the video parts could be considered expensive but the quality of training provided here is very high. ChessAble also offer an unconditional ‘money back if not completely satisfied’ guarantee and if you keep an eye on promotions - special offers and discounts come up frequently. 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).
Lines that knit together well:
At the heart of this book is the Nimzo-Indian defence 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 which has been combined with the Ragozin to deal with 3.Nf3 via d5 4.Nc3 Bb4.
The ever popular Catalan 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 is tackled alongside the London, Veresov, Trompowsky, Torre, Colle and all the deviations you need are covered in surprisingly good detail.
I say ‘surprisingly’ because usually book repertoires that attempt to encompass everything fall short on the sidelines. I checked what it suggested against the London system and the authors go straight down one of the theoretically best main lines with ease (early Bd6) explaining the equalising plans so lucidly that I understand this better now than when I looked at it from the white side some years ago! I found equally excellent explanations for the mainline 4.e3 Nimzo and particularly clear explanations as to when Black’s Bishop is better placed on a6 rather than it’s natural home on b7.
I don’t think anyone can doubt the soundness of the Nimzo-Indian Defence itself (almost all top players have played it – often with both colours) so I’m not going to comment on that.
The Ragozin’s strengths seem to lie in the combination of classical Queen’s Gambit ideas (a solid d5 pawn in the centre) with the dynamics of the Nimzo-Indian (Bb4 pin) and after moves like c5 and Qa5 can put real pressure on White’s position.
The given Ragozin line against the ever popular Catalan 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Nf3 Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Bg2 0-0 7.0-0 c6 8.Qc2 Nbd7 is also very interesting. This is the real starting position of this variation, which can be reached via a variety of move orders. The author goes into some details explaining the concepts and plans for both sides! e.g. the White plans
• Note Bd2 - usually in the Closed Catalan, White plays Nbd2 then e4 with a good position but here this isn't possible because of Bd2
• White may try to make use of Bd2 or move it to Bf4 (or sometimes Bc1)
• Often, White wants to see what black is doing with Bb7 or Ba6 before committing his queenside knight e.g. with Ba6 pressurising c4 - then Nc3 is not good
• So, in most cases we will be developing our light bishop to a6 so that it can pressurise c4, as this limits White's options
• White’s main waiting/improving moves are Bf4, Rd1 and b3 - the order of these can be swapped around quite easily
The same points also contribute to what some may call the weaknesses of the Ragozin in that drawish or equal positions with 3-fold repetition can be reached in a few of the recommended lines. If White is not inclined to play aggressively, you could easily get an equal (some may say slightly boring) position and need to be patient to outplay your opponent later in the game. In my opinion this is hardly ever a problem at club level so I think most players will like the mix of solidness and active piece play that make up these lines.
The Chapters in this book are:
• Nimzo-Indian with 4.e3
• Nimzo-Indian with 4.Qc2
• Nimzo-Indian with 4.a3 and 4.f3
• Nimzo-Indian Deviations
• Ragozin with 5.Bg5
• Ragozin with 5.cxd5
• Ragozin with 5.Qa4+
• Ragozin Deviations
• Catalan (Bb4+ then Be7)
• 1.d4 Deviations (Colle, London, Trompowski, etc)
• Model Games
Complete Repertoire for Black against 1.d4
Core Solid lines unlikely to be refuted
Clear and straightforward explanations
The course works well with Move-Trainer and helps us understand the ideas
IM Christof Sielecki does another excellent job with the (optional) videos!
Some Ragozin lines tend to be drawish or ‘too equal’ and some players may prefer more exciting or dynamic play early on.
I have completed this course from start to finish and I am now running through it for the second time in review mode – it’s that good!
THE PETROFF DEFENCE by Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess, 320 pp., publ. 2019
This is Lakdawala’s second book on the Petroff. A lot has happened since his first one published back in 2015, not least Caruana making it his go-to weapon in elite events and in the 2018 World Championship match. (Six of his games from 2018 appear amongst the illustrative games.)
Lakdawala examines 58 illustrative games (all new, bar one reannotated) in six large (or large-ish) chapters covering the Cochrane Gambit (4 Nxf7!?), the Scotch Petroff (3 d4), the Main Line (3 Nxe5), Main Line Sidelines, the New Main Line (5 Nc3) and the Three Knights Petroff (3 Nc3). The Petroff is not a wham-bam opening and although Black scores his fair share of quick points, longer games are often the order of the day, and fourteen of the games are of 60 moves or more. Lakdawala reminds the reader that “The Petroff isn’t one of those instant gratification lines. Our reward often comes after long plodding and toil. So don’t expect the joyous surge of an attack by move 15.” Sage words, and fair comment, but is it really necessary to follow some of them to the very end of their 97, 98 and 104 moves? I guess if you didn’t, they wouldn’t be complete games. Having said that, the games are good examples of the lines in question, twenty-four of them from 2015 or later, and despite the opening’s dull reputation, there is plenty of fighting chess.
Lakdawala’s trademark style is much more under control in this one. There are far fewer rambling digressions, and the writing is all the better for it, although ‘When your stocks are quoted at ten times their actual worth, then every good broker will tell you not to delay and sell, since a market crash is coming and you may find yourself selling pencils on the street corner.’ suggests that he’s not going down without a fight. His notes and explanations are generally short, sweet and relevant, and he relies more on words than tons of variations.
The bibliography raises some interesting questions. It consists of four (!) books, all published by this publisher, only two of which are Petroff-specific. One of those was published in 2005 and the other is Lakdawala’s own previous Petroff work from 2015. The others are general 1 e4 books, one a ‘Starting Out’ title. Conspicuous by its absence is Cohen’s detailed work of 2014, which, even apart from the depth of its coverage, you’d have thought might have been worth a shufti, given that it’s more recent than 75% of anything else on the author’s list.
It also seems that no online or digital sources were consulted, which I find hard to believe, nor is there any mention of which engines were used in the writing process. In short, the reader has next to no way of doing any independent checking of his or her own, and knows not where to continue further research. In short, as bibliographies go, it’s disappointingly threadbare.
If you glance back at the contents in paragraph two, you’ll see that everything’s pure Petroff. It crosses my mind that one thing worth including would have been the author’s advice for those occasions when inconsiderate Whites punt a second move which renders these 320 pages irrelevant (as Cohen does in his book). A few ideas versus the Bishop’s Opening or King’s Gambit would surely not have gone amiss, the more so since many Whites, even (or especially) strong players, tacitly acknowledge the qualities of the Petroff by playing 2 Bc4. You could argue that it says ‘Petroff’ on the cover, but you don’t want to ‘study the living daylights’ out of the Main Line, only to get suckered by 2 Bc4. Perhaps the prodigious author will devote a future volume to non-2 Nf3 open games.
Despite these reservations, overall this is a very nice work on the Petroff, with enough material in it to get the reader up and playing the opening, and probably playing it well.
May 2020: We are currently living in strange and difficult times which affect us all in some way or to some degree. Like all other businesses, chess publishers are feeling the pinch.
No tournaments or congresses means no bookstalls; along with closed bookshops this means no live sales. Books lying in a warehouse are not generating revenue and returns only add to their number. Any books that are shipped are at the mercy of issues in the logistics business. Schedules are subject to revision since no-one wants to add to existing stockpiles, and falling sales mean authors’ royalties are affected (and nobody gets rich writing chess books in the first place).
And this is only week six of lockdown. Nobody knows how long it will last, or what form the exit strategy will take. All that is certain is that we have a long way to go and that it will take a long time for things to get back to normal – whatever ‘normal’ might be.
What has this got to do with CS book reviews? Chess publishing is a small cog in the global economy. Chess publishers are doing their best for us and we can all do our bit to help. Whether or not I gave the books reviewed here a thumbs up, they will be of interest to someone somewhere and somebody will enjoy them. The authors all invested a great deal of time and effort in them, as did the editorial and production teams who helped turn the manuscripts into the finished product. Why not buy a couple? Why not buy a couple that don’t appear here? Be your own reviewer! Chess players are good at buying books; in these unprecedented times something as simple as doing so might make the difference between a chess publisher (or dealer) staying in business or sinking. Our support could save people’s livelihoods.
And if publishers do go out of business, there ain’t gonna be no new chess books when this is all over.
Stay safe, folks.
KAUFMAN’S NEW REPERTOIRE FOR BLACK AND WHITE by Larry Kaufman, New in Chess, 457 pp., publ. 2019.
If ever a book title needed no further elucidation, it’s this one! But I’ll elucidate anyway. This is Kaufman’s third black and white rep book. For those of you unfamiliar with the format, he avoids theory-laden mega main lines, opting instead for reliable safe lines with a proven track record that will provide a modest edge going into the middlegame, which is really all you can expect from any mainstream opening anyway. This he does in a genuinely accessible fashion without battering you to death with endless variations. In short, you get something that will stand you in long-term good stead without massive time investment.
For this volume he has reverted to 1 e4. He advocates lines with an early d3 against the Ruy Lopez, 3 Bb5 v the Sicilian (with some 2 Nc3 lines as variety) and the French Tarrasch. It’s hard to argue with these; they are all sturdily reliable, enjoy the patronage of leading players and are not going to be refuted tomorrow. He also covers less common lines and gambits so you know how to deal with those pesky southpaws down at the club. (more…)