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Grandmaster Reference Guides
This month we feature four recent titles: one in the popular Move by Move series by Everyman Chess, and three distinctly more complicated and advanced works, all written by grandmasters and opening specialists. It would be nice to say that there is something for everyone in this month's harvest, but they are either decidedly for advanced and strong players or for average players. Nevertheless, enjoy.
The Alekhine Defence: Move by Move by Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess 2014, Figurine Algebraic Notation, Paperback, 464pp. $29.95 (ChessCafe Price $23.97)
Another column and another Move by Move title by Cyrus Lakdawala, who once he got started with this series has never slowed down. Much to his credit, the books are all very good. No drop in quality has occurred despite his huge production output, which is now at seventeen (!) if I have counted correctly. And I know that several more titles have been announced for publication over the coming months. It is an amazing accomplishment.
In the present volume, the material is divided as follows:
I should stress to those that are not familiar with the MBM series that the books generally do not strive to cover all lines, or delve deeply into the theory of the lines covered. The presentation of the material is usually based on a "repertoire" recommended by the author, who then selects some instructive relevant main games on which to build the theory. More importantly, the main games are annotated in considerable depth in an entertaining and pedagogical fashion. In terms of the latter two features, Lakdawala does a phenomenal job. The books truly instruct the reader on what these chosen lines are all about, the tactics, the strategies, the pitfalls, and why they have been chosen by the author. Lakdawala does this with a solid dose of humor, which makes the books well worth reading, even if you are strictly not in the target audience for these books. I estimate that the target audience is anywhere from 1500 up to 2000 in rating, though anyone just outside of that range will still benefit from reading this and other books in the series.
The reader should not be scared off by the number of pages here, because there is a fair amount of white space and the material is presented in a single column format with large diagrams. If presented in a more traditional format, the page total could be 100 pages less, but that is beside the point.
For those interested in learning about the Alekhine Defense, 1 e4 Nf6, and about chess in general, then this book is a fine place to start.
Kotronias on the King's Indian, Volume One: Fianchetto Systems by Vassilios Kotronias, Quality Chess 2013, Figurine Algebraic Notation, 720pp. Hardcover, $45.95 (ChessCafe Price $36.47); Paperback, $34.95 (ChessCafe Price $27.97)
Some opening books will stand the test of time and this one certainly is a candidate. For starters, the book is only the first of a multi-volume repertoire series on the King's Indian. Yes, it only presents a repertoire, and only from Black's perspective, and only in the Fianchetto Systems. The Fianchetto set-up for White represents one of the more serious systems against the King's Indian, and it was the line of choice in Avrukh's repertoire books on 1 d4.
This volume is massive: 710 pages! So let's see how Greek grandmaster Kotronias has divided the material:
I had to summarize the above list, because this is what can happen when an author is given no limit with regards to how many pages to write. I still remember the painful process I endured when cutting fifty or so pages from my book on the Nimzo-Indian some years ago. I do pity the editor who had to plow through this seemingly never-ending coverage of a black repertoire against the Fianchetto System.
That being said, I am in absolute awe of the amount of work the author has put into these lines. Clearly, he cares for the subject, is passionate about defending it against all comers, proves it viable in all lines included in the repertoire, and keeps analyzing until satisfied with the outcome.
Having played some of these lines as white for nearly forty years, I was very interested in how bullet-proof Kotronias's conclusions were. There is still scope for further analysis in many lines; there are many positions that are fairly unclear, with plenty of play left in them; and some where the solidity of the author's evaluation can be questioned; but as a whole Kotronias has done an outstanding job advancing the theory much further. There are hundreds of moves marked as novelties (if not well past 1,000), and those that I checked were indeed new moves. The vast majority of which are supported by loads of analysis that perhaps even takes things a little too far. As an author, it can be difficult to stop yourself when you have uncovered something you find interesting. Yet, as Bent Larsen hinted with his comment "long analysis, wrong analysis," there is something to be said for simpler solutions.
In the main lines Kotronias tends to be reasonably accurate in his assessments. Even if many are open to interpretation and can be seen in a different light from the other side of the board, there are opportunities to be explored in the "sidelines" or "inferior" alternatives. For instance, let's look at the following line:
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.g3 0-0 5.Bg2 d6 6.Nf3 c6 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.e4 e5 9.h3 Qb6 10.Re1 exd4 11.Nxd4 Re8 12.Nc2 Qc7 13.b3 Nh5 14.Qd2 Nc5
The main line continues with 15.Ba3!?N Be6 16.Rad1 Rad8 17.Qe3 Bc8 18.f4 b6 19.Qf3 Here 19.b4 is also analyzed: 19...Nxe4 20.Bxe4 f5 (the author claims that 20...Bf5!? "also leads to equality," but I am not entirely sure about this verdict, though White's edge is quite small) 21.Bd5+ cxd5 22.Qxe8+ Rxe8 23.Rxe8+ Bf8 24.Nxd5 Qd7 25.Rde1 Bb7 26.Nd4 Qa4 27.Bb2 Bxd5 28.cxd5 Qxb4 with equal chances accordingly to Kotronias. This seems like a reasonable assessment, and Houdini agrees him.
19...Bb7 20.Bb2 a5 21.Nd4 Nf6 22.a3 b5 23.b4 Na4 24.Nxa4 bxa4 25.Qf2 axb4 26.axb4 Nd7 27.Ba3 Nb6, and here the author uses the sign for counterplay and suggests "Black maintains a good share of the chances." Again this seems valid, and again Houdini agrees. Of course, there is a lot left to play for in the final position. Along with this conclusion the author offers some alternatives, including his initial recommendation, 21...Re7, but that proved less reliable than the main continuation.
However, on move fifteen, where the main continuation was indicated as a novelty, he does mention the earlier game, where White played differently. Kotronias: "I think 15.Bb2 is simpler for Black to deal with: 15...Be6 16.Rad1 Rad8 17.Qe3N (17 Nd4 occurred in Sage-Krapivtsev, e-mail 2006, and now both 17...Bc8 and 17...a6 should be fine for Black.) 17...Nf6 18.Nd4 Bc8=." The evaluation may prove correct, but these positions are exactly the type of positions White wants to play in this line. I would feel quite comfortable, particularly after 17 Nd4.
However, I like 17.Ne3 even more:
17...a5 18.Ng4 Bxg4 19.hxg4 Nf6 20.g5 Nfd7 21.f4, looks pleasant for White, though by no means decisive, but who is expecting that. Alternatively, 17...Qd7 18.b4!? is also worth a look, e.g., 18...Na6 19.Bf3 Nf6 20.g4, and I favor White. The pawn on b4 looks like it is hanging, but, after some convincing from Houdini, Black may want to keep his pawns to himself due to some kingside issues that are worth exploring.
I should stress that this is no final verdict, nor for that matter a real criticism of the book, which is pretty amazing. It is just an indication that despite Kotronias's fantastic analytical effort, there is still room for more ideas, more perspective, and more independent analysis. I will not be deterred from playing the Fianchetto System because of this book, but I will study this book carefully before playing them. Therefore, that is also my recommendation for those who play these set-ups as white: you will want to study this detailed and first-class book. Players on the black side of the King's Indian should definitely invest in this book. Even if you do not play the precise lines covered in this volume, you will learn an awful lot about the King's Indian as an opening, the resources it contains, the tactical ideas, positional themes, and strategic framework. If you happen to play the chosen repertoire as Black, then this book is required reading.
However, this book is extraordinarily complex, it is heavy on variations and light on explanatory prose. So you need to be at a certain level to get the full benefit from this book. If I put 2100 as a threshold, I may harm some in the process, because you need to be an ambitious 2100-rated player to benefit from this work. I am looking forward to the next volumes!
A Cutting-Edge Gambit against the Queen's Indian: Hit the Nimzowitsch Variation with 6 d5! by Imre Hera & Ufuk Tuncer, New In Chess 2014, Figurine Algebraic Notation, Paperback, 174pp. $24.95 (ChessCafe Price $20.67)
Imre Hera has been a grandmaster since 2007, and Ufuk Tuncer is a somewhat regular contributor to the New In Chess Yearbooks, yet they may not be familiar to most readers.
The topic of this book is a "little" sideline in the Queen's Indian that has been quite popular at the grandmaster level:
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 b6 4 g3 Ba6 5 Qc2 c5 6 d5 exd5 7 cxd5 Bb7 8 Bg2
Several spectacular games have been played with it, and it became a regular guest in the repertoires of Gelfand, Topalov, and Aronian; whereas Leko has been a source of discoveries with black. Many players are willing to test this position from either side of the board.
The foreword is written by Alexey Shirov, who is easily one of the most creative and aggressive players of the last couple of decades. Naturally, he has also tried this line, but abandoned it because he thought he had found "a safe and easy way of getting good play" for Black. Yet, through the efforts of the authors, he now knows there were other options to pursue. Shirov states, "nobody claims that the moves 5 Qc2 and 6 d5! win the game by force. But this book shows exactly why the line is so attractive for white players. Fascinating chess, great complexity, chances to create fantastic attacking possibilities."
In his introduction, co-author Hera writes that "[A]lthough I recommend it mostly for White, I am also giving many examples how to equalize with black in other main lines." Before moving on, let's get a glimpse of what this line is about. The notes to the game are far more extensive than what is offered here:
Topalov, Veselin (2769) - Nisipeanu, Liviu Dieter (2668)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Ba6 5.Qc2 Bb7 6.Bg2 c5 7.d5 exd5 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.0-0 Be7 10.Rd1 Nc7 11.Nc3 a6 12.Bf4
The authors of this book actually prefer 12 Be3.
12...0-0 13.e3 Ra7 14.Rd2 Ne6 15.Rad1?!
According to the authors, this moves "throws away the initiative," instead indicating 15 Bd6 as the better ooption.
15...Nxf4 16.exf4 Qc8?! 17.h4!? d6
Not the best according to the authors, who would have liked to see 18.Ng5!.
And here 18...h6 was best, though White still has compensation for the pawn.
19.Nd5+= Bd8 20.Ne3 Bf6 21.Rxd6+/- Nd4 22.Nxd4 Bxd4 23.Bxb7 Rxb7 24.Nf5 Qb8
With the next couple of moves, White unnecessarily complicates matters.
25.Qe4!? g6 26.Ne7+!? Kg7 27.R1xd4 cxd4 28.Qxd4+ f6 29.Nc6 Qc8 30.Kh2 Rc7 31.Qd5 Re8 32.Nd4 Rce7 33.f5!
Black collapses. Instead 33...Re5 34 Rf3 gxf5 35 Rxb6+= would have been to be preferred.
34.Ne6+ Kh8 35.Qd4 Qc2 36.Qxf6+ Kg8 37.fxg6 Qxg6 38.Qxg6+ hxg6 39.Nf4 Rg7 40.Rxb6 a5 1-0
The material is divided as follows:
Curiously, on the contents overview for Part II and Part III, the moves are given as "6...cxd5 7 exd5," which of course makes no sense, so I corrected it above.
There is a massive amount of original analysis, fresh ideas, countless suggestions, and many novelties that overturn current evaluations; however, this is not surprising given the youth of the variation. For instance, ChessPublishing.com covered the line about two years ago, but theory has developed since then, with a fair amount of grandmaster involvement as well.
The present book tries to get to the bottom of these lines, but their complexity prevents any ultimate verdicts in the critical lines. Still, the goal posts have been moved considerably. The analysis is solid, and massive variation trees, such as D2221131, make for very difficult reading. If they wanted to dig so deeply into some of the side lines, then they should have made those main lines.
The authors do provide plenty of explanatory prose, which is certainly helpful because the lines are complicated, the tactics everywhere, as are the hanging pieces, and the normal concepts of where you can put the pieces is very unclear. For lower-rated readers, it can be difficult to discern whether there is sufficient positional compensation for the sacrificed material, and the authors make every effort to explain this.
I like this book, but the presentation could be better. It is for players rated, say, above 2100-2200, because to invest this much energy in such a minor line will quite possibly prove to be a massive waste of time below that level. Yet for ambitious players, and those rated above 2200, especially those who allow the Queen's Indian, this book could prove to be a decent investment.
Grandmaster Repertoire 12: The Modern Benoni by Marian Petrov, Quality Chess 2013, Figurine Algebraic Notation, 304pp. Hardcover, $38.95 (ChessCafe Price $31.47); Paperback, $29.95 (ChessCafe Price $23.97)
A repertoire book featuring the Modern Benoni, 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6, followed by 4...exd5 5 cxd5 d6 and 6...g6 is a bit unusual. It is a rare bird, I guess like the bird that Petrov is shown with on the back cover of the book.
The Modern Benoni has been a favorite of players such as Tal and Fischer, and more recently Topalov, Ivanchuk, and Gashimov, as well as an occasional weapon by players such as Kramnik, Gelfand, Nunn, and many others who wish to unbalance the game and play for more than a draw as black. Thus, it is a double-edged opening for uncompromising players who are not afraid of complicated, unbalanced positions and very sharp play. Black also has to be able to handle positional build-ups and well-timed counter-strokes with equal efficiency.
The author, Marian Petrov, a grandmaster and former Bulgarian champion, is a seasoned veteran of Benoni battles. I tried to go through some of his games for illustrative purposes, but they are far too complicated for the layperson, so I have skipped that this time.
The material is divided as follows:
The division of the material is entirely reasonable. The fact that the chapter on the Fianchetto System commands the largest of number of pages again shows the influence of Boris Avrukh. He recommend the Fianchetto System against the Modern Benoni, just like he did against the King's Indian, and as a result of his thorough investigations the authors who subsequently cover the same openings have to do something similar. As with Petrov in this book and Kotronias in the book reviewed above.
Petrov has done a very good job, as did Kotronias, of taking on Avrukh and presenting a repertoire for black. The Grandmaster Repertoire series is supposed to be good enough to be used by grandmasters and it is; there was only one book that disappointed me. All I can say is that Quality Chess is serious about their books and the authors reflect that obligation and do their best to live up to it.
Nevertheless, I have never been a great expert on the Modern Benoni. In fact, it was somewhat of a mystery to me for some years, whether I allowed it as white or played it occasionally as black. A person has got to learn somehow, and what better way than play some games with it, then analyze them, and hopefully learn something in the process. Yet, the Modern Benoni is so strategically complicated that it has the capacity to make even strong players look like confused headless chickens. This also makes it an opening that average players should mostly stay away from, because they will simply not understand it. So any effort to explain the Modern Benoni for beginners is not a productive use of anyone's time.
Petrov has pieced together a very respectable repertoire for Black. It is combative and affords Black the opportunity to play to equalize and then work towards more. One of the issues for Black though is the Modern Main Line, which was tremendously popular and heavily analyzed. It arises after 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 d5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nf3 g6 7 h3 Bg7 8 e4 0-0 9 Bd3.
The main remedy and the line that is covered in chapter nine is 9...b5, which has been played and analyzed extensively. It is very difficult to come up with anything that steers the evaluation towards an advantage; in fact, in many cases it is a boring, dead-level equality, which may not be what an uncompromising player will want as black, particularly if he is the higher rated player.
There is so little room to outplay your opponent that Petrov has had to offer an alternative in chapter ten. In fact, he offers a couple of alternatives for those games where a drawn position in the opening or early middlegame is not acceptable. He succeeds in offering playable alternatives that carry a smaller theoretical burden and are therefore easier to memorize and implement, although I do feel that the author sees these moves as bailout options.
There is an abundance of original analysis, author input, and moves that overturn existing theory, as well as many suggestions that change the direction of the game just a bit. I like that in a book, especially one that is written for strong and ambitious players. The book does have a larger text to variation ratio than the Kotronias book, but it is still primarily for those in the 2100-2200 rating threshold, and, as the series title indicates, grandmasters as well.
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