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7th November 2019
SICILIAN DEFENSE: THE CHELYABINSK VARIATION ITS PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE by Gennadi Timoshchenko, Russell Enterprises Inc., 440 pp., publ. 2018
This is a big book in every respect – concept, size, scope, depth, philosophy, chess worldview – but before going any further, let’s clarify what it’s about. The Chelyabinsk Variation is what is known in general chess parlance as the Sveshnikov Variation, 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e5. Chelyabinsk is a city in Russia, home town of both Sveshnikov and the author. They are much the same age, were friends who played as juniors together, came through the ranks together and often trained together. They were both involved in the early days and development of the variation. The fact that Timoshchenko doesn’t call it the Sveshnikov Variation might tell you something Read on.
For your money you get a heavy 440-page tome consisting of 200 (!) chapters featuring analysis of often exceptional depth and thoroughness, e.g. chapter 200 starts at move 23 (!). It provides as much computer-checked detail as one could realistically expect, with lots of explanatory prose and novelties, but, caveat emptor, it’s out of date. It was, I believe, originally published in Russia in 2016, and this English-language version was published in 2018. Unless I’ve missed something, the most recent games quoted are from 2014, thus there are two two-year periods during which no updating seems to have taken place, and four years is an awfully long time for such a dynamic and constantly evolving opening.
The book is divided into two parts. Part I devotes sixty-odd pages to the history and development of the variation. The author covers its early years, his own input, and analyses a number of hitherto unknown games of his from the ‘70s. There is also an essay on the name of the variation, a harbinger of the tone of the huge analytical sections of part two, because what becomes evident early on, and permeates the entire book, is Timoshchenko’s feelings about his eponymous colleague’s part in the popularisation of the variation, about which Sveshnikov wrote a book back in 1988. Timoshchenko doesn’t just reference this work; he does a hatchet job on it. He has found ‘hundreds’ of mistakes between its covers, and is not backward in pointing them out. Something obviously happened to cause such ill-feeling. We’re not told what it was, but we can infer it from his comment in the introduction ‘…many people, especially in the Western countries, forgot that I was one of the authors of the variation’. Call it what you like – sour grapes, rancour, needle, grievance – the animosity is almost tangible. Here are some examples. This isn’t just commenting on the work of another; this is the boot going in:
‘Here Sveshnikov gives a short variation with four errors in it’
‘Sveshnikov also explored the move 9…f5…but, unfortunately, with serious blunders.’
‘I have discovered more than 20 errors…and then lost count.’ (Note, en passant, an example of incorrect tense of the kind I’ll mention later – it should be ‘I discovered’.)
‘I wanted to show how many mistakes can be possibly be (sic) contained in the games that Sveshnikov quotes’
‘…it seems a bit unusual to call a variation after himself even before others have done that. “The Variation Named after Me” sounds somewhat immodest, doesn’t it?’
‘…do not let blunders surprise you, because Mr. Sveshnikov has made a little muddle of things.’
‘…within the range from move 15 to move 19 there are seven errors.’
‘...it turned out that the maestro was once again wrong’
‘…it was only another PR stunt of his’
It’s almost a leitmotif. In his afterword, Timoshchenko explains his motivation: ‘Many of you may think that I have devoted too much space both to mere enumeration and analysis of errors committed by Evgeny Sveshnikov. It was done to demonstrate the ridiculous results that the widespread method of thoughtless copying of others’ games and analyses leads to.’ Fair enough, but it borders on the obsessive and sometimes flirts with the sarcastic; after a while I found myself thinking, OK, you’ve made your point; don’t keep going on about it. Even Kasparov, in his foreword, felt moved to draw attention to it: ‘The author’s criticism of Sveshnikov’s book is perhaps too strict, but it is candid (and only rarely looks like nitpicking), and the reasons for such a great amount of errors has its place’. That last clause is illuminating. Kasparov is generous enough to acknowledge that, back in 1988, Sveshnikov did not have computer help available, never mind computers of the strength that Timoshchenko had to fillet his work. The path of the pioneer is always hard.
Polemics apart, Timoshchenko’s work is clearly aimed at strong players; our mythical friend, the ‘average club player’, could easily live without it, and probably should. S/he’s neither going to need nor encounter stuff of this magnitude in a league match or club game. On the other hand, any strong/serious player interested in the variation would find much of interest and undoubtedly learn a great deal, but, given its out-of-dateness, would need to do a lot of research to keep up to speed. When the author writes ‘Magnus Carlsen has been known to employ this move in several of his games’, he’s not referring to the champ’s current adoption of the line, but to games played pre-2010.
For such a large book, the lack of a bibliography is surprising, in fact the only book Timoshchenko refers to in detail is the aforementioned Sveshnikov work, and, as we’ve seen, he clearly has ulterior motives for doing so. Other books are occasionally mentioned, but not referenced, and although the variations are listed in great detail in the contents, there are no indexes.
The standard of production is reasonably high; the double-column format is clear enough, but the fairly small font, along with the relatively small number of diagrams (about 2-3 a page), creates quite a dense impression. The text itself does not always read smoothly. Some of this may be down to the translation, which was done by Boris Gleizerov, whose name leads me to surmise that English is not his first language. I make this point because translating from your native tongue is always fraught with more danger (and is a much more demanding skill) than translating into it. This is where the editorial staff come in, but, on the evidence of other Russell Inc. publications I’ve reviewed on this site, editing and proofreading are not their forte (see, for example, their re-issue of Réti’s classic, Masters of the Chessboard, which I reviewed here back in December 2013). This one is no exception; it is sprinkled with careless punctuation, incorrect use of tenses, awkward sentence construction, typos, clumsy style etc. Maybe chessplayers don’t care about things like this (‘All we’re interested in is the moves’), but publishers should.
Overall, the author has invested a huge amount of time and effort in this work and put a lot of himself into it – always welcome to see – and, despite my reservations, its tone provides an edge which increases the interest level. There’s not much wrong with it that some updating and a little TLC wouldn’t put right.
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.