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Modern Preparation or Same Old
This month we feature three recent titles from New In Chess by three well-known grandmasters and authors.
Sacrifice and Initiative in Chess: Seize the Moment to Get the Advantage by Ivan Sokolov, New In Chess 2013, Figurine Algebraic Notation, Paperback, 255pp. $29.95
In recent years we have several new books from Bosnian grandmaster Ivan Sokolov, who has been domiciled in and representing the Netherlands the last several years. His book on isolated queen pawns, Winning Chess Middlegames, was quite interesting; whereas his The Strategic Nimzo-Indian on the 4 e3 Nimzo was simply amazing.
The content is divided as follows:
The material is based around ninety-one well-annotated main games, of which twenty-two are Sokolov's own. One of these games is the following from chapter 12, "Sacrifice for Development."
Dmitriy Jakovenko – Ivan Sokolov
1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 c5 5 cxd5 cxd4 6 Qa4+ b5!?
7 Nxb5 Bd7 8 d6 Bxb5! 9 Qxb5+ Nbd7 10 Qa4 Bxd6 11 Qxd4 Bc5 12 Qa4 0-0!
Black has sacrificed a pawn but has already secured a solid lead in development. As Sokolov comments at this juncture: "Black has all the reasons to believe that his compensation is sufficient, so he should not be in a hurry to get his pawn back and simplify to a draw."
13 e3 Rb8 14 Bb5 Nb6 15 Qd1?! Nbd5 16 Bd3 Bb4+! 17 Kf1 Nc3! 18 bxc3? Bxc3 19 Ba3 Bxa1 20 Bxf8 Kxf8 21 h3 Bc3 22 g4 Rb2 23 Kg2 Nd5 24 Qc1 Qb6 25 Kg3 Qd6+ 26 Kg2 Qc5 27 Kg3 Rxa2
Now Black has the extra pawn and the compensation. The a-pawn will cost White material and thus decide the game.
28 Rd1 a5! 29 Bb1 Rb2 30 Ng5 a4 31 Ne4 Be5!+ 32 f4 Qxe3+ 33 Qxe3 Nxe3 34 Rd7 Bb8, and White resigned.
Naturally Sokolov was happy with his play in this game, particularly considering the opposition, Jakovenko is a very strong grandmaster who has been in the world top ten and is still rated above 2700. Sokolov spends the better part of five pages on the annotations to this game, so he is really going into depth with the material. Though not every game is annotated in as much detail.
I have a couple of bones of contention with this book. Firstly, the book does not engage the reader very much. There are no exercises or puzzles for the reader to solve; therefore, the reading of this book consists of playing through games and following the annotations and variations. Granted these are very good. Secondly, some of the tips at the end of the chapters are sometimes so obvious that it makes you wonder why he even bothered. For instance, at the end of chapter 12: "A Sacrifice for development is especially effective when your opponent's king is still in the centre." And that is it. So really, that is the only advice for the purposes of sacrificing for development.
However, as a whole the book is excellent, instructive, and largely a joy to read. I can recommend it to any player eager to improve his or her game. I know that I will be working a bit with this book to find the sharpness in my game, but it would have been better with some exercises to test my skills on as well.
Modern Chess Preparation: Getting Ready for Your Opponent in the Information Age by Vladimir Tukmakov, New In Chess 2012, Figurine Algebraic Notation, Paperback, 286pp. $26.95
A book from the hands of someone with Tukmakov's resume always calls for attention. For those not in the know, Tukmakov was a strong Soviet era grandmaster, with three runner-up placings in the Soviet Championships, countless tournament victories, and several times a team member of the Soviet national team. Later on he has become a celebrated coach and captained the Ukrainian national team that won the gold medals at the 2004 Calvia Olympiad.
From the back cover blurb, we learn the following:
"Winning starts with planning before the game, teaches legendary chess coach Vladimir Tukmakov. In this ground-breaking book he shows how chess preparation has become a systematic process and how today's top players make their game plans.
"The most important aim of modern preparation, both for professionals and for ambitious amateurs, is to get a playable position that you understand better than your opponent. "The role of the computer in preparation has grown tremendously and Tukmakov explains how top grandmasters use their 'Metal Friend'. He warns that professionals should not put too much trust in chess engines and should analyse more deeply themselves.
"Club players, on the other hand, should reduce their time in front of the machine to a minimum. Tukmakov explains what amateurs should do in order to arrive at the board well-armed: study the classics, analyse your own games without a computer, and know yourself.
"A special chapter is devoted to must-win situations: when the outcome of a tournament, a match or even a whole life depends on a single game. With lots of brilliant examples, inside information and amusing anecdotes, Modern Chess Preparation is not only highly instructive, but also a joy to read.
"Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent, and having a sober awareness of your own shortcomings, will pay dividends at any level, from beginners up to World Champions."
OK, that sounds interesting and worthwhile, so let's take a quick look at how the material is presented:
The first chapter is devoted to how opening and game preparation has developed. This makes for fairly interesting reading, and some of the anecdotes were new to me; however, the games up to around page 110 were very familiar and have been seen in many previous works, in some cases with much more thorough annotations. Even several of his own games that are presented in the latter part of the chapter have been seen before, but the more personal annotations made the reading and study of this part more interesting and enjoyable than the first part. For instance, he brings up the concept of zigzagging in the preparation to the games, something to change the tension away from the game and take the preparation phase in a different direction.
From the anecdotes from the recent world championship match, it seems as if Magnus Carlsen has been employing this kind of preparation style for years, which is a relief to those that neither have the time nor the inclination to endlessly study opening preparation prior to a game. This part of the chapter should have been given a greater emphasis than the rehashing of the old games with inferior annotations.
To round out the first chapter he has an epilogue that suggests studying the old masters. This has been advocated in many other books, but it is not in keeping with the overall theme of the first chapter. If that were the intention, then it would have been nice to have some thoroughly annotated examples that Tukmakov himself found particularly enlightening. Tukmakov suggests that students should study games by Capablanca not Alekhine, Botvinnik not Bronstein, and Karpov not Kasparov. I agree, but then there should have been more examples from those players in the first chapter.
The second chapter focuses on the role of computers in preparation, referred to by Tukmakov as "metal friend" (MF). This second chapter contains many excellent examples of preparation gone right and gone wrong, where the MF has persevered, and where it has failed or cannot be used effectively. The annotations in this chapter are also quite interesting, though they often could go much deeper than is the case.
Curiously, in the epilogue to chapter 2, Tukmakov tells the reader to analyze their own games without a computer. This happens without any such examples in the preceding chapter. If that was the declared goal, why not cover it with some examples of his own. Discuss with examples how it will help the reader and how it has helped himself.
The last chapter, "Deciding Games," makes for fascinating reading. It is clearly a subject that has not been covered in great detail in any book that I can think of. It discusses how to approach those key games that can be last-round deciders, but even crucial games earlier in the tournament against key opponents. The games here are well-analyzed and worthwhile. The key to these games really is to play to your own strengths, keep pressing, and have confidence, even if you are a little nervous; such tension, according to Tukmakov, is fine.
Of the three chapters, I found the last one to be clearly the most interesting and insightful, even if the second one also had something to offer.
Overall, I found the book a bit uneven, but it had some pluses that make the book worth reading, even though it did not deliver on all its promises. It will mostly be relevant for players rated between 1800 and 2200.
Steamrolling the Sicilian: Play for a Win with 5.f3! by Sergey Kasparov, New In Chess 2013, Figurine Algebraic Notation, Paperback, 239pp. $26.95
Not too long ago we reviewed Kasparov's book on the Benko Gambit, which was definitely worth reading for Benko enthusiasts, while not perfect. In the present volume, he covers another specialty of his: the 5 f3 Sicilian. This steers the game clear of the traditional lines available to Black after 5 Nc3, such as the mainline Dragon (5...g6), Najdorf (5...a6), and Scheveningen (5...e6).
The variation arises upon 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 f3!?
The material is divided as follows:
As mentioned above, White aims to stay clear of the heaviest mainstream theory. Of course, Black can still play these moves, and all of them are indeed playable, but Black will then have to contend with the possibility that White will likely play 6 c4, creating a Maroczy Bind type of position. After 5...g6 6 c4 Nc6, the game actually transposes into a proper Maroczy, which usually arises from the Sicilian Accelerated Dragon. Kasparov claims that White has the easier game and for some reason feels the need to vindicate his opinion by quoting other players. However, as someone who has played and written about the Accelerated Dragon extensively, I can say that this is hardly a line that worries Black. It is okay to put a spin on it for White's side to sell the opening you are advocating, but in this case he overplays it.
The key answer to 5 f3 according to most theoretical manuals is 5...e5, which should promise Black a relatively easy path to equality. While this generally holds up, the author offers some insights to these supposedly equal positions and how White can play for more. He does make a decent case for his arguments, but even so, Black is still OK in these lines. However, it is not necessarily as clear or straightforward as other authors or theoreticians would like you to think.
On the back cover blurb we are promised the following:
"Are you looking for a way to outwit theory-sharks in the Open Sicilian? Then this may just be the book for you. The concept is simple: surprise your opponent with 5.f3, build up a strong pawn centre, avoid all of Black's main lines and steamroll his Sicilian!
"Experienced grandmaster Sergey Kasparov presents a complete repertoire for White which has all the right features for ambitious and creative chess players:
While some of these statements are true, I would seriously question the validity of the steamrolling statement. Yet it does open the possibility of taking the game into territory that has not necessarily been heavily studied by your opponent.
As a fan of offbeat and unusual lines, I can appreciate the appeal of this opening and the opportunities it offers the first player, but I would hardly consider this variation a main weapon, rather it is a decent alternative to surprise a well-armed opponent. The book as a whole is enthusiastically written and there are many new ideas that make it worth a read. This line definitely does not steamroll the Sicilian, it simply offers a decent alternative to the main lines.
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