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Reviewed this Month

Techniques of Positional Play
by Valeri Bonznik & Anatoli Terekhin

The Panov-Botvinnik Attack: Move by Move
by Lorin D'Costa

The Nimzo-Larsen Attack: Move by Move
by Cyrus Lakdawala

Unfulfilled Potential

This month we look at the two latest offerings in the ever-expanding Move by Move series from Everyman Chess in which two different approaches lead to two wildly different results. First, we open with a book about positional chess aimed at more inexperienced players.

Techniques of Positional Play: 45 Practical Methods to Gain the Upper Hand in Chess by Valeri Bonznik & Anatoli Terekhin, New In Chess 2013, Figurine Algebraic Notation, Paperback, 254pp. $29.95

Techniques of Positional PlayThe foundation of the present book was written by FIDE master Anatoli Terekhin. This was then revised, updated, and translated into German language through the efforts of international master Valeri Bronznik, thus putting his name on as co-author. Now, eight years after the original German edition was published, it has now been translated into English by Ian Adams.

From the back cover, we learn the following:

"Opening preparation is essential, but for aspiring players understanding the middlegame is even more important. Techniques of Positional Play, an improved edition of a Russian classic, teaches amateur chess players 45 extremely effective skills in a crystal-clear manner.

"Quite a few of these techniques will be revelations for club players, as they offer solution for problems amateurs are often only subconsciously aware of. For example:

  • How do you restrict the efficacy of your opponent's pieces?
  • What is the best way to exchange a piece?
  • How do you prevent your opponent from opening a file?
  • Which rook belongs on the c-, d- or e-file?
  • How do you castle artificially?

"The techniques are easy to understand and memorize. The authors present a wealth of practical examples and do not burden the reader with unnecessary deep analysis. There is a special training section at the end of the book where you can test your newly acquired skills."

Having written a book on positional chess myself, I am naturally curious to see what topics the authors have chosen to cover and how they go about it.

The material is divided as follows:

  • Symbols (1 page)
  • Introduction (2 page)
  • Restricting the enemy pieces (7 techniques, 41 pages)
  • Create breathing space for your pieces! (4 techniques, 16 pages)
  • The clash between pawn formations (2 techniques, 16 pages)
  • The rook pawn – an underrated fighter (3 techniques, 24 pages)
  • Techniques in the fight for an open file (5 techniques, 19 pages)
  • Some aspects of piece exchanges (5 techniques, 17 pages)
  • Working with the king (4 techniques, 28 pages)
  • Developing and activating pieces (6 techniques, 26 pages)
  • Along the diagonals (7 techniques, 24 pages)
  • X Other methods (2 techniques, 6 pages)
  • Practical exercises (20 pages)
  • Index of players (4 pages)
  • Index of Techniques (2 pages)
  • Openings and types of position (2 pages)
  • Bibliography (1 page)

All of the above topics are worthwhile and interesting, but there is no mention of imbalances, a concept that Jeremy Silman introduced in his classic How to Reassess Your Chess. In my humble opinion this topic is key to understanding all types of positions, whether of a positional, tactical, or dynamic character, as well as in terms of making effective plans. Moreover, the term weakness, also a keyword when discussing positional chess, is conspicuously absent. When going over the list of techniques, a similar picture emerges, it is only when we reach Technique #45, "The principle of the two weaknesses," that we see the term weakness mentioned. This is very odd.

As with any book that covers so many topics, there will be some that are covered well, some average, and some that appear as if the author is mailing it in. Further, there will be observations that are genuinely worthwhile, and others that seem chosen almost at random with no particular conviction.

For example, chapter seven "Working with the king" starts off weakly with Technique #27, "Artificial castling," which I cannot grasp as a positional technique, and to which the authors barely assign two pages. It is as if they cannot even convince themselves that this should constitute a technique. Three of the examples are with the same pawn structure, and one other from a line in the Benko Gambit, which ends the example as soon as the artificial castling has been completed in the middle of a theoretical line that brings no clarity to the topic.

Then follows Technique #28, "Precautionary evacuation of the king," where one side sends the king on a march to the other wing. In some cases it is as a precaution, but just as often it is as preparation to attack. The examples for this technique are quite well-chosen and instructive.

Technique #29, "h2xg3 (...h7xg6) or f2xg3 (...f7xg6)?," is an interesting topic of discussion about when it can be worthwhile to recapture away from the center, rather than toward the center as conventional wisdom would have it. The coverage starts out strong, but concludes weakly. The final technique of the chapter #30, "The attack down the h-file," contains some good examples, but nothing out of the ordinary. However, I fail to see how the last two techniques fall into a chapter headed "Working with the king."

In many ways this is symptomatic of the entire book; there is plenty of good material, but some is mislabeled and some is not well-chosen. Overriding all is the fact that in many of the examples the authors do not establish the thinking behind the decision to, for example, attack down the h-file, or decide to evacuate the king to the other wing, etc.

Checkpoint
[FEN "r4rk1/pp1b1ppp/1q2p3/3pPn2/
3P4/5N2/PP1QBPPP/R1R3K1 b - - 0 15"]

Antoshin – Averbakh
USSR Ch (Moscow) 1955

Here the authors write, "Thanks to his advantage in space White is slightly more active, but if Black manages to exchange all the rooks on the c-file without that file finishing by falling into the hands of the white queen he will be out of danger." [CH: That is a very odd and long sentence]. They continue, 15...Rfc8! 2.Bd3 Qd8! 17.Bxf5 [CH: This move is unnecessary, after 17.Qf4 h6 18.h4 Rxc1+ 19.Rxc1 Rc8 20.Rxc8 Qxc8, the rooks are exchanged, but White still has a strong initiative in the endgame; e.g., 21.g4 Ne7 22.h5 Qd8 23.g5] 17...exf5 18 Rxc8 [CH: 18.Qb4 leaves White with a solid advantage] 18...Rxc8 19 Rc1 h6 20 Rc5 Be6 21 h4 b6 22 Rxc8 (After 22 Rc1 Black can claim by 22...Rc7! intending ...Qc8 control of the open file) 22...Qxc8 23 Ne1 Bd7 24 b3 ½-½

Even though a draw was agreed in the final position, White is still better, which makes this game an odd example to use.

Checkpoint
[FEN "r1k4r/ppp1b2p/2n1p3/4pp2/2P5/
2N1P3/PP3PPP/2KR1B1R w - - 0 13"]

White to move in a position from the exercise section, the text under the diagram reads, "Here too, as well as the correct idea a sense of timing is required."

Before moving on to the solution, let's take a quick look at what is wrong with Black's position:

Black has issues with his king, his rooks are not easily connected, his central pawns are doubled and the e6-pawn is unguarded and stuck on the color of the light-squared bishop. White's problem, however, is that there is only an open file to work with at the moment and no entry squares. All the remaining white pieces are not doing anything in particular. So if White is to do anything in this position, he has to break with the pawns. After having gone through that process, you can start eliminating options: 1 e4 weakens d4 and the dark squares as a whole, so that cannot be it. 1 f4 is met by 1...Bc5, which solves all of Black's problems. Then we have 1 g4 which is interesting. If Black captures the pawn not only will White gain control over the e4-square, he will also open files for his rooks and diagonals for the bishop. So that has to be our solution.

Turning to the solution we find the following:

"Technique No. 11, blasting open outposts:

13.g4! fxg4

Otherwise g4xf5 is played and then Bf1-h3 and Rh1-g1, e.g. 13...b6 14 gxf5 exf5 15 Bh3 Rf8 16 Rhg1 with a strong initiative.

14.Ne4

Also 14.h3 came into consideration. Now the mastery of the e4-square together with the active positioning of White's pieces promise him the better chances despite his being a pawn down, e.g.:

14...b6

14...h5 15 h3 gxh3 16 Bxh3 Rh6 17 Rhg1 b6 18 Rg7 with a clear advantage for White.

15 h3 gxh3 16 Bxh3 Kb7 17 Bxe6

White has recovered his pawn and claimed the initiative. The threat of Bd5 is very unpleasant.

In the game Gheorghiu-Titov, Moscow 1989, however, White missed the moment and after 13 Be2?! b6 14 g4 (bad timing) 14...Kb7 15 h4 h6 16 gxf5 exf5 17 Bh5 Raf8 ½-½ Black has consolidated."

Yes, Gheorghiu's play was particularly tame, but even after 13.Be2, Black is still in danger: 13.Be2 b6, and now White has to follow up with 14.c5! Kb7 (14...Bxc5 15 Ba6+ Kb8 16 Rd7 leaves White with amble compensation for the pawn) 15.Bc4 Bxc5 16.Bxe6 Raf8 17.a3 Rf6 18.Bd5 and White has an enduring initiative.

While this book contains many good examples that may help readers see new possibilities in their own games, the authors do not give the target audience, which I estimate to be rated from 1400 to 2000, many tools to work with in terms of being able to apply these techniques.

My assessment of this book: Uneven
Techniques of Positional Play
by Valeri Bonznik & Anatoli Terekhin

The Panov-Botvinnik Attack: Move by Move by Lorin D'Costa, Everyman Chess 2013, Figurine Algebraic Notation, Paperback, 253pp. $27.95, Ebook $19.95

Panov-Botvinnik AttackThe Panov-Botvinnik Attack is considered White's sharpest way of countering the solid Caro-Kann and typically arises after 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 cxd5 4 c4. This position can also be reached upon 1 e4 c6 2 c4 d5 3 exd5 cxd5 4 d4, although White also has the opportunity to play 4 cxd5 followed by 5 Nc3, which leads to similar positions that have their own character traits.

Interestingly enough, despite the heavy use of the Caro-Kann by several top players over the last two decades, and the subsequent fast-paced development of the theory in several lines, the theory of the Panov-Botvinnik has moved at a more pedestrian pace even though the positions are extremely dynamic and often incredibly sharp, and requires excellent understanding from both players. The reason for this is that the Panov often leads to positions with an Isolated Queen Pawn (IQP) or associated pawn structures, such as those with the hanging pawn chain (c3-d4) or hanging pawn pair (c4, d4). Several books have been devoted to these types of positions, because they can be difficult to understand, and yet are relatively common. For instance, the Panov positions are often reached from openings such as the French Defense, Sicilian 2 c3, Nimzo-Indian Defense, and the Queen's Gambit Accepted to mention just a few.

The material is divided as follows:

  • About the Author (1 page)
  • Series Foreword (1 page)
  • Strategic Introduction (33 pages)
  • Black Plays 5...e6 6 Nf3 Bb4 (33 pages)
  • Black Plays 5...e6 6 Nf3 Be7 (39 pages)
  • The 5...Nc6 Variation (52 pages)
  • White Plays 2 c4 (33 pages)
  • Black Plays ...g6 Lines (33 pages)
  • Minor Lines (16 pages)
  • Index of Variations (8 pages)
  • Index of Games (2 pages)

This looks acceptable, but I found it peculiar that the lines covered in chapter two and three did not receive even more coverage, particularly since these are the lines that can be reached via transposition from other openings. The author could easily have spent twice as many pages, either presenting more illustrative games, or devoting more time and space to explain the resultant positions. Were I amongst the target audience for this book, I would certainly have wanted and expected this.

Compared to one of the more prolific authors in this series, particularly Lakdawala, D'Costa is far less wordy in his annotations. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because Lakdawala can get overly chatty and easily sidetracked on tangents. Yet, D'Costa is almost the polar opposite in style, and he handles the question-and-answer format somewhat awkwardly. The questions tend to be short and specific, thus requiring similarly short and specific answers, whereas Lakdawala often asks broader questions that allow for answers with greater scope in terms of understanding.

It may not be entirely fair to compare the two authors, but if D'Costa had just written and explained more the book would have been much better. As it is, the book is not bad, it contains a plenty of good games and solid material, but it falls short of being a great book.

One of the games from the "Strategic Introduction" is one of the author's own, so I will offer this to the reader here:

L. D'Costa – L. Webb
Bury St. Edmunds 2003

1 d4 e6 2 Nf3 d5 3 c4 dxc4 4 e3 c5 5 Bxc4 Nf6 6 0-0 Nbd7 7 Qe2 cxd4 8 exd4 Be7 9 Re1 Nb6 10 Bb3 0-0 11 Nc3 Nbd5

Checkpoint
[FEN "r1bq1rk1/pp2bppp/4pn2/3n4/3P4/
1BN2N2/PP2QPPP/R1B1R1K1 w - - 0 12"]

Co-incidentally, we have a typical position that was arrived at via transposition.

"Here we see a typical white set-up with the IQP. Moves like Ne5 and Bg5 suggest themselves as attacking moves. It is important that White should go Rad1 and not put the rook on c1, because White doesn't want to exchange rooks (or pieces) in IQP-style positions."

12 Ne5 Qd6 13 Bg5 Re8 14 Qf3 Rf8 15 Rad1 Nxc3 16 bxc3 a5 17 Qh3 g6 18 c4 Nh5 19 c5 Qd8 20 Bh6 Ng7 21 Qf3 a4 22 Bc4 Bg5

Checkpoint
[FEN "r1bq1rk1/1p3pnp/4p1pB/2P1N1b1/
p1BP4/5Q2/P4PPP/3RR1K1 w - - 0 23"]

23 Ng4

Here D'Costa offers a line with the stronger alternative 23 d5! that demonstrates White's superior position.

23...f5 24 Bxg5 Qxg5 25 Ne5 Kh8 26 a3 Nh5 27 d5 exd5 28 Bxd5 Qf4 29 Nf7+ Kg7 30 Qc3+ Nf6 31 Re7 Qh4 32 g3 Qh5 33 Bf3 1-0

The entire game with diagrams and annotations encompasses slightly more than two pages, which is almost nothing in terms of this series. Equally odd is the fact that the author did not provide any punctuation to any of the moves, because the game was rather one-sided.

Prospective readers in the target audience will learn something from this volume, but it falls short of its potential and could have been executed better.

My assessment of this book: Uneven
Order The Panov-Botvinnik Attack: Move by Move
by Lorin D'Costa

The Nimzo-Larsen Attack: Move by Move by Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess 2013, Figurine Algebraic Notation, Paperback, 416pp. $29.95, Ebook $21.95

Nimzo-Larsen AttackLakdawala may not be the creator of this series, but he could well be the godfather of it. As documented in this column, Lakdawala has been writing more than his share of books in the series, and the output seems on-track to continue in the future according to the publisher's website. This will be good news to many, because Lakdawala's books stand out as excellent, informative, and instructive.

The material is divided as follows:

  • About the Author (1 page)
  • Series Foreword (1 page)
  • Bibliography (1 page)
  • Introduction (11 pages)
  • Nimzo-Larsen vs. Classical set-up (55 pages)
  • Lines with ...e7-e5 and ...d7-d6 (73 pages)
  • The Beginner's Variation (46 pages)
  • The Reversed Open Sicilian (33 pages)
  • Reversed Nimzo-Indian (33 pages)
  • Reti set-ups (27 pages)
  • Reversed London, Torre and Trompowsky (44 pages)
  • The Trompowsky Nimzo-Larsen (17 pages)
  • Nimzo-Larsen vs. Dutch (14 pages)
  • Odds and Ends (51 pages)
  • Index of Variations (4 pages)
  • Index of Games (2 pages)

It is interesting to note that this volume has only four more main games than the book by D'Costa above, but Lakdawala fills an additional 150 pages! Even about an opening as relatively insignificant as the Nimzo-Larsen Attack, no disrespect intended. Lakdawala is incredibly chatty, drops quotes, movie references, silly and meaningful stories, instructive dialogue, etc. And he sells his material. After reading this book and enjoying the games in it, you cannot help but want to try out the opening in your own games. I already have in my online blitz games.

One game that does not exactly follow the standard blueprint for this opening is the following example, which can be found in chapter seven:

A.Kharlov – H. Ernst
Bern 1992

1 b3 d5 2 Bb2 Nf6 3 e3 Bf5 4 Nf3 e6 5 c4 Bd6 6 Nc3 c6 7 Be2 h6 8 cxd5 exd5 9 Nd4!? Bh7 10 g4!?

Checkpoint
[FEN "rn1qk2r/pp3ppb/2pb1n1p/3p4/3N2P1/
1PN1P3/PB1PBP1P/R2QK2R b KQkq - 0 10"]

Now the game really changes character.

10...Qd7 11 h4! Ne4 12 Nxe4 Bxe4 13 f3! Bg3+? 14 Kf1 Bg6 15 h5 Bh7 16 f4! Qe7 17 Nf3! Be4 18 Rh3 Bxf3 19 Bxf3 Bh4 20 Bxg7 Rh7 21 Bc3 Bf6 22 Qc2 Rg7 23 g5!

Checkpoint
[FEN "rn2k3/pp2qpr1/2p2b1p/3p2PP/5P2/
1PB1PB1R/P1QP4/R4K2 b q - 0 23"]

White breaks through by creating a passed pawn.

23...hxg5?! 24 h6 Rg8 25 h7 Rh8 26 fxg5 Be5 27 g6! Qe6 28 Rh5! 1-0

If you want a thorough introduction to this opening, you cannot go wrong with this volume. Lakdawala entertains and instructs in a manner you will not soon forget; thereby making it more likely that you will remember the ideas, strategies, and theory in this opening. I have enjoyed reading this book, and so might you. The target audience is rated up to around 2000, but even stronger players will benefit as well.

My assessment of this book: Great
Order The Nimzo-Larsen Attack: Move by Move
by Cyrus Lakdawala

A PDF file of this month's column, along with all previous columns, is available in the ChessCafe.com Archives.


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