Tag Archives: Opening Theory

The Exchange Sacrifice Unleashed: Power of Middlegame Knowledge

From the Publisher, Thinkers Publishing:

“The book you have just started reading is about a very interesting and difficult concept: the exchange sacrifice. This is the moment in chess when basic mathematics breaks down, the moment when 3 counts equal to or even more than 5. So let us leave the mathematics aside and try to figure out why this simple calculation is so difficult to understand.

The answer is largely hidden in psychology, as the ninth World Champion, Tigran Petrosian, has often told us, as the man who brought this strategic-tactical chess concept to its first peak. Chess beginners were taught the value of pieces by their teachers (parents, grandparents, perhaps at school or even later in the beginners’ sections of chess clubs).

We explain the difference between piece values to children in the simplest way possible, with the help of a unit of measurement, and in chess those units are the pawns. They tell us that a rook is worth five pawns (units) and a knight and a bishop are worth about three each. They also tell us to always be careful, especially during exchanges, to ensure we take at least as much from our opponent as he or she took from us. So, one rook at a time, perhaps for a bishop and a knight next to two pawns. This “chess thinking” is done quickly and very strongly subconsciously in most, one could even say all. Therefore, when choosing moves, we will automatically reject unfavourable exchanges. But who trades a queen for a knight, a bishop for a pawn, and the like? We know from our own life experience that it is better to have ten coins in our pocket than three, and I prefer three to one!

This psychological barrier is the most difficult step in making the decision to sacrifice. And so it is with the sacrifice of an exchange. Five for three, that is! Even five for four, if we get a pawn for the rook along with the knight or the bishop. “I am not stupid,” you think. The Exchange Sacrifice Unleashed brings different games or coaches try to explain this and that to us, we see that a material advantage is not always something to celebrate about.”

About the Author:

“Georg Mohr was born in Maribor, Slovenia in 1965 becoming a Grandmaster in 1997. He joined as a member of the FIDE Trainers Commission from 2002, becoming a FIDE Senior Trainer in 2004 and a FIDE International Organizer in 2011. Georg has been a professional chess trainer for many years. He was coach and captain of Slovenian national team from 2003 – 2010 and since 2011 he has been Turkish national youth trainer. He is a chess writer and was editor of Slovenian chess magazine Šahovska Misel from 1999 and editor of Fide Trainers Commission trainers’ surveys. He is also an organiser of chess events acting as tournament director of the European Club Cup (Rogaška Slatina 2011), the World Youth Championship (Maribor 2012) and the World Senior Championship (Bled 2018). This is his third book for ‘Thinkers Publishing’.”

FIDE Senior Trainer Georg Mohr
FIDE Senior Trainer Georg Mohr

This is the third title from Georg Mohr that we have reviewed. Previously we have examined: Understanding Maroczy Structures and Forgotten Genius – The Life and Games of Grandmaster Albin Planinc.

This interesting book has seven chapters:

Chapter 1 – The Exchange Sacrifice for the Attack
Chapter 2 – Defence!
Chapter 3 – Ending
Chapter 4 – Exchange Sacrifice in the Opening
Chapter 5 – Critical Squares
Chapter 6 – The Positional Exchange Sacrifice
Chapter 7 – World Champions and the Exchange Sacrifice

Chapter 1 is divided into seven themed subsections, each with plenty of entertaining and didactic examples of exchange sacrifices for the attack.

Here is a splendid finish from the “King in the centre” segment:

Geller-Karpov Moscow 1976
Geller-Karpov Moscow 1976

Karpov, who was crowned World Champion, in 1975, had played a rather inept French Defence, Winawer variation. The great theoretician, Efim Geller finished him off neatly with a exchange sacrifice removing a key defender:

21.Rxb8+!  Qxb8 (21…Bxb8?? 22.Qxc6+ wins quickly) 22.Qxc6+ Kf8 23.Nf4  Ra7 24.Nh4 (The knights close in to stomp on Black) 24… Qe8?! (Allowing a lovely combination)

Geller-Karpov Moscow 1977
Geller-Karpov Moscow 1977

25.Qxe6! (winning) fxe6 26. Nhg6+ Qxg6 27.Nxg6+ Ke8 28.Nxh8 Ra4 29.Rd1 Ne7 30.Bxe7 Kxe7 31.Ng6+ Kf7 32.Nf4 Bxe5 33.dxe5 Rf4 34.Rc1! (getting the rook behind the passed pawn and Karpov soon resigned)

Here is a very famous defensive exchange sacrifice from Chapter 2.

Reshevsky-Petrosian Zurich 1953
Reshevsky – Petrosian Zurich 1953

Black, Petrosian is some trouble as White dominates the centre, has more space and good attacking chances on the kingside with h4, h5 etc.

Black played 25…Re6! If White takes the exchange straightaway with 26.Bxe6 fxe6, he cannot prevent Black’s knight moving to d5, a possible continuation is 27.Rf3 Ne7 28.Bc1 Nd5 29.Qg3 Rc8 30.Bd2 b4! reaching this position:

Reshevsky-Petrosian Zurich 1953 Variation
Reshevsky-Petrosian Zurich 1953 Variation

Black has plenty of play with very active pieces and White’s rooks defensively placed. This is a Petrosian blockade at its best. Modern analysis suggests 26.h4! as best.

The game continued 26.a4 Ne7! 27.Bxe6 fxe6 reaching this celebrated position:

Reshevsky-Petrosian Zurich 1953 after move 27
Reshevsky-Petrosian Zurich 1953 after move 27

Black is almost equal, Reshevsky bailed out with a draw on move 41.

Chapter 3 is an excellent chapter about exchange sacrifices in the ending.

Here is an instructive position with a pawn up in a rook and opposite colour bishop ending:

Isgandarova - Zimina Riga 2017
Isgandarova – Zimina Riga 2017

White has just played 79.Kh3 and at first glance appears to be holding. Black played 79…Rxc5! 80.bxc5 Kd5 winning another pawn: the passive rook dooms White and Black won by pushing the b-pawn supported by the king.

A famous Fischer finish is very instructive:

Lombardy-Fischer New York 1960
Lombardy-Fischer New York 1960

White has just played 30.Re1? which Fischer ruthlessly exploited with a neat simplification:

30…Rxc3+! 31.bxc3 Rxe5+ 32.Kd2 Rxe1 33.Kxe1 Kd5 34.Kd2 Kc4 35.h5 b6! creating an outside passed pawn which won easily:

Lombardy-Fischer New York 1961 after move 35
Lombardy-Fischer New York 1961 after move 35

Chapter 4 covers some exchange sacrifices in the opening. I shall give two examples, one of which I fell into as a junior player:

Dieks - Van der Sterren After 13.Qf3
Dieks – Van der Sterren After 13.Qf3?

White has just played 13.Qf3? winning material which was met with the excellent 13…Nd4! 14.Nc7+ Qxc7 15.Qxa8+ Ke7 with a nasty threat of b4! 16.c3 b4! 17cxb4 Qb6 18.Bxa6 Qb4 19.Kf1

Dieks - Van der Sterren After 19.Kf1
Dieks – Van der Sterren After 19.Kf1

Now, the engine gives 19…Bh6! which wins prettily. The game continued with the tempting 19…Qd2 20.h3 (20.h4! limits White disadvantage, 20.Re1?? is a gross blunder as played by the reviewer, losing to 20…Bd3+ followed by a smothered mate) 20…Bd3+ 21.Bxd3 Qxd3+ 22. Kg1 Bh6! 23. Qb7 (23.Qxh8 Ne2+ 24.Kf1 Ng3+ 25.Kg1 Bf4! winning)23…Kf6 and Black won

There is a special section on some Gruenfeld exchange sacrifices:

Gruenfeld Bronsteins Exchange Sacrifice
Gruenfeld Bronstein’s Exchange Sacrifice
Gruenfeld Modern Exchange
Gruenfeld Modern Exchange Sacrifice

Buy the book to see a couple of exciting Gruenfeld games.

There are of course, plenty of Sicilian Rxc3 examples which is the most famous and important exchange sacrifice. Here is an example from the Dragon Variation in an old variation which is rare nowadays:

Kasparov-Piket Tilburg 1989
Kasparov-Piket Tilburg 1989 After 16.Bh6!?

White’s attack looks powerful, but the well-known sequence starting with 16…Nxe4! leads to equality which modern engines confirm. 17.Qe3! Rxc3! removing the key attacker 18.bxc3  Nf6! Although Kasparov won, Black’s opening was a success.

A pretty example from a Sicilian Paulsen is given  showing an offering for black square domination:

Giri-Vitiugov Reggio Emilia 2012
Giri-Vitiugov Reggio Emilia 2012

Black has just played the risky 6…Bb4 against one of the best theoreticians

Gipslis-Simagin Sverdlovsk 1957
Gipslis-Simagin Sverdlovsk 1957

which is ruthlessly punished: 7.e5! Nd5 8.0-0! Nxc3 9.bxc3 Bxc3 10.Ba3!

Giri-Vitiugov Reggio Emilia 2012 10.Ba3

Throwing in an exchange as well, Black is now in real trouble as his king is trapped in the with a weak colour complex on the black squares.

Chapter 5 Critical Squares has plenty of traditional Sicilian exchange sacrifices on c3.

Here is an example from the Sicilian Defence, Sozin Variation:

Gipslis-Simagin Sverdlovsk 1957
Gipslis – Simagin Sverdlovsk 1957 After 16.Rad1

Black played the natural 16…Rxc3! and won a nice game. The reviewer has played Rxc3 is a very similar position and also won a good game.

Chapter 6 – The Positional Exchange Sacrifice is really the heart of the book with 22 themes.

Here is a good example from the Exchange sacrifice to dominate the black squares section:

Adams – Khalifman Las Palmas 1993

Adams has played a rather insipid Classical Variation against the Dragon. Black played 17…Rxd4! 18.Rxd4 Rb8! (activating the black rook, also preventing white from playing Rb4) 19.f4?!  (19.Rb1 with equality according to the engines, but black is having all the fun) 19…exf3 20.Bxf3 Bxe5 and Black won a lovely game.

The final chapter shows many didactic examples from the World Champions.

I would suggest that the book is aimed at 1750+ players. The book is well produced in an easy to read style with plenty of diagrams and themes to learn from.

However, there are more than a few typographical errors/grammatical errors and the reviewer has spotted an incorrect diagram at the top of page 31. Although this does not detract from the many merits of the book, perhaps future publications should address this.

FM Richard Webb, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 10th May 2024

FM Richard Webb
FM Richard Webb

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 496 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (20 Jun. 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 946420186X
  • ISBN-13:  978-9464201864
  • Product Dimensions: 17.78 x 3.81 x 24.77 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

The Exchange Sacrifice Unleashed: Power of Middlegame Knowledge, Georg Mohr, Thinker's Publishing, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201864
The Exchange Sacrifice Unleashed: Power of Middlegame Knowledge, Georg Mohr, Thinker’s Publishing, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201864

The Modernized Trojan Knight 1.Nc3: A Complete Repertoire for White

From the Publisher, Thinkers Publishing:

The idea of the move 1. Nc3 is to confuse the second player, as White plays a supposedly unambitious move to mislead Black. This is why we found the name “Trojan Horse” very appropriate for the move 1. Nc3, just as the gift from Ulysses to the Trojans appeared to be a tricky and poisoned gift. The appropriate term for chess will, therefore, be the Trojan Knight to refer to the Trojan Horse.

1. Nc3 became popular among professional players, and many grandmasters have added it to their repertoire or played it occasionally in official games: Nakamura, Morozevich, Rapport, Bauer, Vallejo Pons… However, it is especially in rapid games that it has reached the world elite, and the very best players in the world have tried it: Carlsen, Mamedyarov, Andreikin and Firouzja for example. I truly hope that seeing the very best players in the world playing it will convince even the most sceptical critics.

About the Author:

The author Bruno Dieu is a FIDE Master and became French Correspondence Chess Champion in 2000. He has a rich experience in chess, having participated in various chess tournaments, both over the board and in correspondence. It’s fascinating that he has competed with notable experts and writers on the 1 Nc3, such as Dick Van Geet, Anker Aasum, and Harald Keilhack. The mention of a book being a token of his experience suggests that he has documented his insights and knowledge about this opening.

FM Bruno Dieu
FM Bruno Dieu

This absorbing and well-thought tome is a delight and covers a wealth of material after White’s opening salvo with 1.Nc3.

First encounters

As a junior, the reviewer knew this opening as the Dunst opening. I first met the Dunst on 18 January 1975 in a simul in London against the late and great Tony Miles, a year before he became the first UK-born, over-the-board chess GM.  The game transposed into the Four Knights opening  and I was inevitably steadily outplayed by Miles, who won a pawn with a neat back rank combination in a major piece middlegame. Unexpectedly, Miles faltered in a winning rook and pawn endgame at move 47, wasting a vital tempo, allowing an excited junior to escape with a draw. My next encounter with the Dunst was a few months later against another strong Birmingham player. This time, booked up, I played the so called refutation with 1…d5 reaching this position:

Ball-Webb10.Nh4
Ball-Webb After10.Nh4

The inexperienced junior, as Black, came up with the positional howler 10…f5? but managed to draw again when my opponent blundered by opting to exchange into an optically good, but drawn king and pawn endgame. This line is covered in the book, 10…f6 is certainly a better move, although the author prefers 10.Nd2 for White.

A callow player as Black may regard the Trojan Knight as just another unusual opening move which aims to avoid main line theory. On the contrary, as the author points out, 1.Nc3 is a cunning move full of transpositional possibilities whereby the second player can end up in an unfamiliar opening.

I have faced the Trojan Knight on 15 occasions replying 1…e5 in my first game, 1…d5 in my second outing and 1…c5 in subsequent encounters.

The reviewer has opted for the Trojan Knight as White in a total of 15 games; the transposition statistics are of interest:

  • Sicilian (4 games)
  • French (2 games)
  • Caro-Kann (1 game)
  • Vienna (1 game)
  • Czech Pirc  (1 game)
  • Irregular queen’s pawn (1 game)
  • 1…b6 1 (game)
  • Trojan Knight main line 1…d5 2.e4 d4 (1 game)
  • Trojan Knight main line 1…e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 (3 games)

This small sample  shows the variety of branches available.

The book is logically divided into 6 parts:

PART I – 1…e5

PART II – 1…d5 2.e4 d4

PART III – 1…d5 2.e4 dxe4

PART IV – 1…d5 – Caro-Kann, French & Alekhine Style

PART V – 1…c5 – Sicilian Style

PART VI – Other First Moves

PART I – 1…e5

This is the natural response which was the move played by the reviewer on first meeting 1.Nc3.

After the following natural moves 1.Nc3 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 this position is reached:

1...e5 Main Line
1…e 5 Main Line

This position obviously has affinities with the Scotch Game and of course can transpose if both players acquiesce. Black can can get into difficulties very quickly here with a sloppy move. A few examples given are:

4…Qf6? (played in some lines of the Scotch) 5. Ndb5! winning as c7 collapses.

4… Qh4? 5.Ndb5! (winning)

4…g6? (looks natural to fianchetto, akin to Larsen’s fianchetto variation of the Philidor Defence) 5.Nd5! a6 (5…Bg7 6. Nb5  Be5 7.f4 wins) 6.Bg5! (6.Bf4 is also excellent) 6…f6 7.Bf4 d6 8.e4 Bg7 9.h4 with a clear advantage

4…d5?! (looks natural) 5.Bf4! a6 (5…Bb4 6.Nxc6 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 bxc6 8.Qd4! with a big plus) 6. e4 with a definite edge

4…Bb4!? is interesting, White can gain an edge with the Scotch like move 5.Nxc6! bxc6 (5…dxc6 is obviously weaker) 6. Qd4! winning the bishop pair or forcing the horrid 6…Bf8?!

Black should interject the capture on c3 in the last line, after 4…Bb4!? 5.Nxc6 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 bxc6 7.Qd4! Nf6 8.Bg5

PositionAfter8.Qd4
PositionAfter8.Qd4

White has a small edge. A typical continuation could be 8…h6 9.Bxf6 Qxf6 10.Qxf6 gxf6 11. g3 Rb8 12.Bg2 Ke7 13.Kd2 Ba6

Larsen-Christiansen Denmark 2000
Larsen-Christiansen Denmark 2000

Now 14.Rhb1! with a slight edge to White in a complex endgame.

4…Bc5 is the best move along with 4…Nf6.

4...Bc5
4…Bc5

The author offers three decent alternatives for white:

  • 5.Be3
  • 5.Nxc6
  • 5.Nf5

5.Nb3 Bb6 6.e4 transposes a Scotch Game main line.

After 5.Nf5 Qf6, the author offers two interesting alternatives 6.g4 and 6.e4. He claims that 6.g4 is very strong, but the author’s analysis has a significant hole.  After 6.g4 Bb4 7.Bd2 Nge7 8.e4:

8.e4
8.e4

The author offers the anaemic 8…Nxf5 for Black, after 9.gxf5 Qh4 10.Qf3 Black is in real trouble. The reviewer smelt a rat here as Nxf5 looks too compliant: a quick check with Stockfish reveals 8…d5! equalising. This is a rare significant oversight by the author. Clearly the reviewer has not checked 450+ pages of dense variations but intuition has to be used to choose the positions to use the engine.

6.e4! is better as the author points out leading to Scotch positions where White has a space advantage and although the position is only fractionally better for White, it is easier to play for the first player.

4…Nf6 seems to be the most natural developing move. 5.Bg5! keeps the game in lesser known channels and is better than 5.e4.

5.Bg5
5.Bg5

Black has to be careful here, not to slip into an inferior position.

The passive 5…Be7 allows 6.Nf5! and White has a definite advantage.

The natural 5…d5? allows 6.Bxf6! and White has a distinct edge.

The natural 5…Bc5! is ok setting up veiled threats against f2. 6.e3! Nxd4 (6…0-0 7.Nd5! and white is a little better) 7.exd4 Be7 Now 8.Qd2 is an improvement on the author’s 8.Qf3 leading to a small advantage to White.

The pin 5…Bb4 is certainly playable, 6.Nxc6 leads to a small White edge.

PART II – 1…d5 2.e4 d4

If there is a problem with 1.Nc3, it is definitely this variation which is critical as Black gains space and time.  One of the crucial lines is 1.Nc3 d5 2.e4 d4 3. Nce2 (3.Nb1 Nf6!)  3…e5 4.Ng3 (4.f4 Nc6! 5.Nf3 Bg4!) Be6! 5.Nf3 (5.c3 Nc6!) 5…f6!

Best 5...f6
Best 5…f6

This line is the reason that the reviewer gave up on 1.Nc3.
White can try 6.Bb5+ c6 7.Be2!? (7.Ba4 Na6! 8.Bb3 Bxb3! 9.axb3 d3! 10.0-0 Nb4 11.cxd3 Nxb4 12.Ne1 Nh6 and Black has an edge.) 7…g6 (keeping the knight out of f5) 8.0-0 Qd7 9.b4!? Nh6 (9…Bxb4 10.c3! dxc3 11.d4 is better for White as Black’s development is lacking.) and Black is slightly better.

I hope that this short review gives the reader a glimpse into the complexities of this opening. My only small criticism of the book is that the author sometimes puts the best moves in an editorial side line but I realise this is to keep the featured game as the main line.

In summary, this is an excellent book.

FM Richard Webb, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 28th April 2024

FM Richard Webb
FM Richard Webb

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 475 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (1 Mar. 2024)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9464787546
  • ISBN-13:  978-9464787542
  • Product Dimensions: 16.61 x 3.4 x 23.6 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

The Modernized Trojan Knight 1.Nc3: A Complete Repertoire for White, Bruno Dieu, Thinkers Publishing, 1st March 2024, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464787546
The Modernized Trojan Knight 1.Nc3: A Complete Repertoire for White, Bruno Dieu, Thinkers Publishing, 1st March 2024, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464787546

The Caro-Kann the Easy Way

From the Batsford web site:

“An informative guide to understanding and implementing the fundamentals of the Caro-Kann, the easy way.

The Caro-Kann defence, named after the German chess players Horatio Caro and Marcus Kann, is notorious for its simple solidity and is a popular chess opening that players of all levels benefit from having in their arsenal. It is a firm favourite of grand masters past and present, including Karpov, Petrosian, Capablanca and Anand.

This is the fifth book from International Master Thomas Engqvist, and it avoids overcomplicated details and endless computer variations, focusing instead on key variations of the Caro-Kann that can be committed to memory. Examining classic games to demonstrate key moves in action, Engqvist brings the defence to life and provides you with the knowledge you need to put strategy into practice.”

International Master Thomas Engqvist has travelled the world teaching and coaching chess to a very high level for decades – and with this book, he can be your coach too.”

About the Author (from the publisher’s website):

“Thomas Engqvist is an International Master from Sweden. He has over 30 years’ experience as a chess coach and teacher. He has worked with players at world championship level in both junior and correspondence chess. He is the author of 300 Most Important Chess Positions and 300 Most Important Tactical Chess Positions, both published by Batsford.”

IM Thomas Engqvist (SWE)
IM Thomas Engqvist (SWE)

Previously we have reviewed 300 Most Important Chess Exercises and Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach making this November 2023 title the first of the authors opening books examined in this place. We were keen to take a look especially as our reviewer has a fondness for c6 & d5 structures.

Material is divided into an Introduction and eight chapters covering all of White’s possible options.

The author kicks-off with a contemporary look at four historically instructive games putting anyone new to the CK at ease straight away. “The Easy Way” is a repertoire book from Black’s perspective rather than an encyclopaedic academic tome about the entire CK defence. Each chapter also contains model games examined in detail of which there are 43 in total.

Thomas commences his “theoretical” material with the Classical Variation from White selecting Capablanca’s 4…Bf5 for Black as the first significant repertoire suggestion.

Engqvist makes zero assumptions about the reader’s knowledge of the CK apart from wanting to learn the defence from scratch. Explanations are clear without getting bogged down in reams of variations making the text easy to follow.

For each of his suggestions there is discussion of statistics in term of what move options get played, their order of significance, order of success and what standards of players employ them. These details are quite a novel approach and long way from the lists of variations of older publications TE goes on to write:

There are five variations the second player should know about, even though strictly speaking some of them are not so good and you will probably never encounter them, at least not in a serious game.

This perspective gives one confidence that plausible opponent choices are considered rather than the rather boring modern approach  (of some other authors) to only consider “top engine choices”.  This helps to reinforce our suggestion (to students) to study the so-called side-lines first and then progress to the main dish afterwards.

For example, 5.Bd3!?

is considered but experienced CK players might turn their nose up at even reading about this. The student new to the CK will meet this try many times online and Over-the-Board (OTB). Not only that but 5.Bd3!? was suggested by no less than Siegbert Tarrasch (the “Jolly Doctor”).

Another feature that endears one to the authors approach is his liberal sprinkling of significant and interesting quotations from yesteryear. For example, after

TE quotes renowned theoretician Max Euwe as follows:

Many masters of the opinion that the 6 h4 move merely denotes a weakening and would be better left out

There are a number of novel suggestions throughout the text and many spring from the authors long time experience with the Caro-Kann.

In summary, The Caro-Kann the Easy Way is an excellent primer for any second player starting out or refreshing their knowledge of this venerable and reliable defence to the King’s pawn.

Highly recommended!

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire 25th April 2024

Book Details :

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Batsford; 1st edition (9 Nov. 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:184994816X
  • ISBN-13:978-1849948166
  • Product Dimensions: 15.29 x 2.54 x 23.37 cm

Official web site of Batsford Chess

The Caro-Kann the Easy Way, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford Chess, Batsford; 1st edition (9 Nov. 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849948166
The Caro-Kann the Easy Way, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford Chess, Batsford; 1st edition (9 Nov. 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849948166

Dragon Masters – The Life and Times of The Fiercest Opening in Chess Volume 1

From the Publisher, Thinkers Publishing:

DragonMasters volume 1 charts the history of the most exciting and dangerous opening known to chess – the Dragon Variation of the Sicilian Defense.

Unlike almost all other books on the Dragon, the focus is not purely on theoretical development. Instead, the author has combined the most historically important games, the famous players who chose to fight either side (sometimes both sides!) of the opening, and the most unexpected and interesting stories featuring the Dragon. World Champions, contenders of the crown, code-breakers, revolutionaries in every sense of the world – all feature in this remarkable and entirely unique look into the history of an opening variation. as the ancient may say: Here be Dragons!

About the Author:

Andrew Burnett is a Scottish FM who represented his country on several occasions. He is the author of cult classic Streetfighting Chess and his love of the Dragon opening stretches back to his teenage years when he was looking to escape 1.e4 e5! He is currently working on the second volume of DragonMasters.

This book is volume 1 of a labour of love devoted to the history, praxis, and famous players who have unleashed the fury of the Dragon Variation or fought to quench the fire of the wyvern.

Volume 1 covers the origin of the Dragon to 1973.

The front and back cover is an engaging, colourful picture.

This publication is not a theoretical treatise on the latest developments in the Sicilian Dragon, although it does give theoretical analyses in relation to historical variations and famous clashes with some references to modern variations and theory.

Many great players have had the Dragon in their regular repertoire, although the reviewer was surprised to find a game of Mikhail Tal’s on the black side, as I had the impression that Tal always preferred the white side.  Perhaps the result of the game in this book influenced Tal’s choice: he got crushed. The reviewer will show this amusing brevity later.

The author, Andrew Burnett has a sub-variation in the Modern Variation 12.Kb1 named after him viz:

  1. e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.0-0-0 Rc8 11.Bb3 Ne5 12. Kb1! Nc4 13.Bxc4 Rxc4 14.g4! b5 15.b3! b4!?
Burnett_Variation
Burnett Variation

The work is divided into fifteen chapters:

Chapter 1 – In the beginning
Chapter 2 – Bird’s Folly
Chapter 3 – The World’s Finest Discover The Dragon
Chapter 4 – DragonMasters and DragonAmateurs
Chapter 5 – Hypermodernism and beyond
Chapter 6 – Botvinnik’s Trilogy
Chapter 7 – The War Years
Chapter 8 – The Post-War Years
Chapter 9 – When Giants take sides
Chapter 10 – Revolution in the 60s?
Chapter 11 – The Yugoslav Attack
Chapter 12 – DragonMasters and DragonWriters
Chapter 13 – Candidates and Contenders
Chapter 14 – The English Connection
Chapter 15 – The Dragon is Dead! Long Live the Dragon?

In the preface, Andrew Burnett shows a famous Dragon game which inspired the author to take up the Dragon; it also happens to be one of my favourites viz. Plaskett – Watson from Brighton 1983:

  1. e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.g4 Be6 10.O-O-O Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Qa5 12. a3 Rfc8 13.h4 Rab8 14.h5 b5 15.h6  b4! 16. hxg7 bxa3 17. Qh6 axb2+ 18.Kd2 reaching this super sharp scenario:
Plaskett - Watson Brighton 1983
Plaskett – Watson Brighton 1983

This position had been included in some theoretical treatises of the time with the +- symbol as White’s threat of Bxf6 and Qxh7# looks unstoppable. Jonathon Mestel had looked further and spotted 18…Bxg4! which muddies the waters. (As an aside, Stockfish 16 gives 18…Bxg4! as a draw and 18…Nh5! as a draw. This just shows the richness of chess and amazing hidden resources.)

19.Bxf6 Bh5!  Simply blocking the h-file, giving Black time to continue with his attack. Jim Plaskett now goes wrong which is unsurprising as he must have been shocked by Black’s revelation.

20. Bd4? losing but only 20.Rxh5! equalises

Plaskett-Watson20.Rxh5
Plaskett-Watson 20.Rxh5!

Best play after 20.Rxh5! leads to an unexpected repetition draw viz:

20…gxh5 21. Bh3 exf6 22. Bxc8 (22.Bf5? Qxc3+ 23.Ke2 Qxc2!+ 24. Rd2 Qc4+ 25.Kf2 Qc5+ 26. Kg2 Qxf5 27. exf5 b1=Q winning for Black). 22…Rxc8 23.Qxf6 Qb4! 24.Rb1 a5 threatening a4-a3-a2 25.Kd3 (threatening Nd5) Qc4+ 26.Kd2 Qb4 27.Kd3 with a draw!

Plaskett-Watson Variation
Plaskett-Watson Variation

As is so often the case in these double edged lines, the game fizzles out to an exciting draw. Brilliant stuff.

The game continuation was a massacre 20…e5! 21.Rxh5 gxh5 22. Qg5 Qb4 23.Bd3 Qxd4 24. Nd5 Qf2+ 25. Be2 Rxc2+ 26.Kxc2 Qxe2+ 27.Kc3 Qxf3+ 28.Kc4 Qb3#

Plaskett-Watson End
Plaskett-Watson End

Chapter 1 introduces the first games featuring a Sicilian with a black, kingside fianchetto.

The reviewer was under the false impression that Louis Paulsen was the first to play a Sicilian with a kingside fianchetto. Although Paulsen did play some Dragons including beating Steinitz in London in 1862, it was Marmaduke Wyvill who played the first recorded “high-level Dragon” in 1851 at the celebrated London International tournament. We all remember Adolf Anderssen winning that tournament but do we recall whom he defeated in the final? It was Wyvill.

Some of these first Sicilian fianchetto games don’t resemble the modern Sicilian Dragon move orders and are full of basic strategic mistakes but do give insights into the development of the variation and the Sicilian defence in general. Game 3 of the book demonstrates Paulsen’s win over Steinitz with an hyper accelerated Dragon although he was lost out of the opening!

Louis Paulsen was one of the great pioneers of the Sicilian Defence, not just developing the variation named after him.

Chapter 2 concentrates on Henry Bird’s contribution to early Dragon Praxis.

He was the first player to play the modern Dragon move order:
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6

As the author points out, his score with the Dragon was 16 losses, 10 wins and 9 draws which is not brilliant, but taking into account he was playing against the world’s best, it is a respectable Dragon legacy.

Game 7 shows a titanic struggle with Joseph Blackburne. This is the position after the opening:

Blackburne-Bird
Blackburne-Bird

This could be a modern game with white playing a fairly inept Classical Variation, but making sensible developing moves leaving the main struggle to the middlegame. Bird played the somewhat dubious 14…Qh5?! (better is the natural 14…Nd7 which is clearly equal). Blackburne responded with the impatient move 15.Bxf6 (Simply 15.Qf2 or 15.Rd3 leaves white with a slightly more comfortable position) 15…Bxf5 16.Nd5 Qe5 is equal. The players fought out a exciting draw to move 77. Buy the book to the see the game.

Chapter 3 introduces some of the first games with top players riding the Dragon such as Emmanuel Lasker.

This chapter features some greats such as Tarrasch, Pillsbury and Emmanuel Lasker playing the Dragon at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The game below shows a typical Dragon trap.

Brody – Pillsbury Paris 1900

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 d6 6.Be2  g6 7.Be3 Bg7 8.0-0 Bd7 9. h3 Qa5

Brody-Pillsbury
Brody-Pillsbury

White now played a natural looking move  that loses 10.Qd2?? Ne4! 11.Nc6 Qxc3! (Easy to overlook) 12.Qxc3 Nxc3 13. bxc3 Bxc6 (Black is completely winning, a pawn up with a much better pawn structure)

Brody-Pillsbury-11...Qxc3
Brody-Pillsbury-11…Qxc3

Chapter 4 shows some early games with masters v amateurs.

The first game in this chapter is famous tussle Lasker – Napier at Cambridge Springs 1904. This game is an extremely tactical queenless middlegame and is well worth a look.

Another game covered is a loss by Lasker to a modern idea of an exchange sacrifice on c3 in a simultaneous display. This idea had been seen before but this version is so thematic, it must be shown:

Emmanuel Lasker – Donald MacKay Hampstead 1908

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 g6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Bg7 6.Be3 d6 7.Be2 Nf6 8.h3 0-0 9.0-0 Bd7 10.f4 a6 11.g4 Rc8 12.f5 Ne5 13.g5

Lasker-MacKay
Lasker-MacKay

13…Rxc3! (Winning as White’s position falls apart) 14. bxc3 Nxe4 15.Bd3 Nxc3 16.Qe1 Nxd3 17.Qd3 Nc5 18.f6!? (A desperate try)

Lasker-MacKay-18.f6
Lasker-MacKay-18.f6

18…exf6 19.gxf6 Ne4 (19…Bxf6 wins as well) and Black won on move 34.

Chapter 5 features the introduction of two major Dragon lines.

They are 10…Qc8 in the Classical Variation and the DragonDorf played by another great Sicilian pioneer Miguel Najdorf.

The first variation is shown with a famous game Reti -Tartakower

Dragon-Classical-Tartakower-Var
Dragon-Classical-Tartakower-Var

The game continued 11.h3 Ne8 ?! (A modern master would shudder at this move, the natural 11…Rd8 is better, Reti won a good positional game)

The game Reissner – Najdorf from Warsaw 1934 introduces the Dragadorf which Simon Williams reintroduced many decades later.

The game began 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 a6? (Black cannot play this slowly after castling, if Black wishes to play this way, he must not castle early).

Dragadorf-Castle-Too-Early
Dragadorf Castling too early

Stockfish already gives White a big advantage. Najdorf did win this game as White did not play incisively enough. See the book to look at these two interesting games.

Chapter 6 features the famous Alekhine-Botvinnik melee from Nottingham 1936 resulting in an exciting short draw.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be2 Bg7 7.Be3 Nc6 8.Nb3 0-0 9.f4 Be6 10.g4!? (The Rabinovich Attack)

Rabinovich-Attack
Rabinovich-Attack

10…d5!? (The modern preference is for 10…Rc8 when Black may already be better) 11.f5 Bc8 12.exd5 Nb4

Rabinovich-Attack-12.Nb4
Rabinovich-Attack-12…Nb4

A critical position 13.d6!? (13.Bf3! is much stronger leading to a significant White advantage) 13…Qxd6 (leading to a forced perpetual) 14. Bc5 Qf4! 15.Rf1 Qxh2 16.Bxb4 Nxg4 17.Bxg4 Qg3+ 18. Rf2 (Any winning attempt is suicidal) Qg1+ 19.Rf1 Qg3+ 20.Rf2 Qg1+ Draw agreed

Chapter 7 introduces the Levenfish Variation with Mikhail Tal falling victim.

Game 31 showcases the game that introduced the Levenfish Variation at the highest level: Levenfish – Rabinovich Leningrad 1939. The author’s commentary on this game is full of excellent analysis showing many of the traps in the Levenfish and some brilliant white victories. Two of the greatest attacking players have games in this variation  including  a crushing win by Nezhmetdinov and a crushing loss for Tal. First the Tal miniature:

Janis Klavins – Mikhail Tal Riga 1954

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.f4

Levenfish-Variation
Levenfish-Variation

6…Nc6! (6…Bg7!? is dangerous for Black, but just about playable with care, but 6…Nc6 equalises easily, so why play an inferior risky move?)

7.Nxc6 bxc6 8. e5 (This looks dangerous but is a paper tiger) Nd7! 9.exd6 exd6 10.Be3

Levenfish-Variation-10.Be3
Levenfish-Variation-10.Be3

10…Qe7?! (10…Be7 is slightly better for black already, the pawn on f4 weakens White’s position) 11.Qd4! Nf6?! (11…Bg7 is hardly better: 12.Qxg7 Qxe3+ 13.Be2 Rf8 14.Rf1 Nb6 15.Rd1 is better for white despite white’s king on e1 as Black is behind in development and has a weaker pawn structure with black squared weaknesses.) 12.0-0-0 Bg7

Levenfish-Variation-Start-of-Crushing-Attack
Levenfish-Variation-Start-of-Crushing-Attack

White has a significant lead in development which he exploits ruthlessly in the style of his opponent:

13.Qxd6! (sacrificing a piece with check) Qxe3+ 14.Kb1 Bd7? (14…Qb6! makes it harder for White but his attack is just too strong) 15.Bb5! (A classic clearance: 15…cxb5 16.Rhe1 wins the queen and although Black has a rook and two bishops for the queen and pawn, his lack of development is fatal) 15…Qb6 16.Rhe1+ Kd8 17.Bxc6 Rb8 (threatening mate but too late) 18. Qe7+ Kc7 19.Rxd7+ Kc8

Mate-in-4
Mate-in-4

20.Bb5 (20.Nb5! is quicker mating in four moves, Klavins chooses a prosaic win going into a trivially won endgame) Rb7 21.Rxb7 Qxb7 22.Qxb7+ 1-0

Now the Nezhmetdinov game:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.f4 Bg7?! (Risky) 7.e5!  dxe5? (The only decent move here is the surprising 7…Nh5 with the idea 8.g4? Nxf4 9.Bxf4 dxe5 regaining the piece with interest, better for White is 8.Bb5+ Bd7 9.Qe2! with an edge as Black still has to solve the problem of the h5 knight, 9.e6!? looks good but 9…fxe6 10.Nxe6 Bxc3+ 11.bxc3 Qc8! is a mess but dynamically equal) 8.fxe5 (This is a very dangerous position for the unwary)

Levenfish Danger
Levenfish after 8.fxe5

8…Nd5? (8…Ng4?? 9.Bb5+ wins 9…Bd7 10.Qxg4 wins a piece or 9…Kf8 10.Ne6+ wins the queen. 8…Nfd7 is relatively best 9.e6! Ne5! 10.exf7+ gives a White a pleasant edge but Black can fight) 9.Bb5+ Kf8 10. 0-0 (Black is totally lost) Bxe5 (accelerating the inevitable defeat, and allowing an attractive finish, 10…Nc6 lasts longer) 11.Bh6+ Kg8 12. Nxd5 Qxd5 13.Nf5! Qc5+ 14.Be3 Qc7 15.Nh6+ 1-0

Levenfish-13.Nf5
Levenfish-13.Nf5!

Chapter 8 features a famous victory by a British player, William Winter over David Bronstein in the England – USSR radio match in 1946.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0 9.Nb3!? (Not the most challenging line) 9…Be6 10.Nd5 Bxe6 (Stockfish also likes 10…Rc8 with both moves giving Black a slight edge, but removing the pesky knight now is understandable) 11.exd5 Ne5

Bronstein-Winter-11...Ne5
Bronstein-Winter-11…Ne5

12. Be2? (12.0-0-0 is better but Black is at least equal) Qc7 13.0-0 (13…a5! is also good but the move played is an obvious thematic Sicilian move) Nc4 14.Bxc4 Qxc4 15. Rad1?! (The wrong rook, White needs the queen’s rook on the queenside for defence, showing how badly the game is going)  15…Rfc8! 16.Rf2 Nd7 (16…a5! increases Black’s advantage to decisive proportions) 17.Bg5!? (Trying to mix things up, but 17.c3 is better, then Black has 17…a5 with a typical Sicilian initiative and advantage) 17..Bxb2 18.Bxe7 Nb6? (Bronstein’s gamble with Bg5 has paid off as Black goes wrong, much better is 18…Bc3! 19.Qd3 Qb4 maintains a big Black advantage) 19.Bxd6 Rd8

Bronstein-Winter-20.Na5
Bronstein-Winter-20.Na5

20. Na5?? (A horrible move losing the game, 20.Qb4 or 20.Qf4 holds the balance) 20…Qa6! 21.Qf4 Rxd6 22.c4 Bg7 23.Rfd2 Bh6 24. Rd3 Rad8 25.a4 Bf6 26.Qb5 Qxb5 27.axb5 R6d7 0-1

Chapter 9 introduces some giants into the mix with players such as the great Soviet theoretician Efim Geller who played the Dragon with both colours, and the great Bobby Fischer who was a veritable St George. Fischer famously lost against Cesar Munoz, a Ecuadorean National Master: this game is definitely worth a look.

This chapter also includes the famous Fischer – Larsen clash from Portoroz 1958.  The game is in a line that has become topical recently:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Nxd4 10.Bxd4 Be6 11.Bb3 Qa5 12.0-0-0 b5 13.Kb1 b4 14.Nd5 14…Bxd5

Fischer-Larsen-Portoroz
Fischer-Larsen Portoroz 1958

15.Bxd5 (Not best, better is15.exd5! Qb5 16.Rhe1 a5 17.Qe2! Tal, M-Larsen, B Zürich 1959)

Tal-Larsen-Zurich-1959
Tal-Larsen 17.Qe2 Zurich-1959

This position used to be thought to be slightly better for White with the bishop pair and pressure along the e-file. Modern engines dispute this and reckon Black is more or less equal viz:

17… Qxe2 18.Rxe2 a4 19.Bc4 Rfc8 20.b3 (20Bb5?! Ra5=) Rc7= 21.Bb5 axb3 22.cxb3 Ra5 23.Bc4 Rb7 = (Stockfish gives White a tiny advantage)

Now back to the main game.

15…Rac8?! (Much better is 15…Nxd5 16.Bxg7 Nc3!!+ 17.Bxc3 bxc3 18.Qxc3 Qxc3 19.bxc3 Rfc8 20.Rd3 Rc5 =, or 17.bxc3 Rab8! 18.cxb4 Qxb4+ 19.Qxb4 Rxb4+ 20.Bb2 Rfb8=)

16.Bb3! and Fischer won a great game.

Chapter 10 introduces the famous Soltis Variation.

It may not be widely known, but in 1963  Heikki Westerinen introduced the Dragon Soltis Variation to the world, 8 years before Andrew Soltis popularised the variation named after him. This is the stem position:

Soltis-Variation
Soltis-Variation

Westerinen played this line against Bent Larsen, who was one of the protagonists who played the Dragon with both colours. He lost the game, but his opening and early middlegame were fine as he achieved a winning position by move 20: he was outplayed later by a world class player. Buy the book to see analysis of this ground breaking game.

Chapter 11 introduces  Geller on the Black side and Anatoly Karpov as a chief Dragon slayer. His game against Gik in the Moscow University championship in 1968 is one of Karpov’s best games.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Bc4 Nc6 9.Qd2 Qa5 10.0-0-0 Bd7 11.h4 Ne5 12.Bb3 Rfc8 13.h5 Nxh5 14.Bh6 Bxh6 15.Qxh6 Rxc3 16.bxc3

Karpov-Gik-Moscow-1968
Karpov-Gik-Moscow-1968

In this position below Gik made a fatal mistake: 16…Qxc3 no doubt expecting 17.Kb1, so 17.Ne2 came as a rude awakening gaining a crucial tempo, both 16…Nf6 and 16…Rc8 equalise comfortably.

The book analyses this theoretical scuffle in detail.

Chapter 12 is devoted mainly to famous Dragon writers: David Levy and Andrew Soltis.

David Levy, the Scottish IM famously wrote two editions of the Batsford books The Sicilian Dragon. Here Levy faces the former World Champion, Boris Spassky who is in devastating form:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.0-0-0 Qb8?! (A trendy line at the time, which is almost certainly unsound, Stockfish does not rate it.)

Spassky-Levy
Spassky-Levy

11.h4! a5? (This is a horrible move, it loses quickly, Stockfish recommends 11..Ne5 12.Bb3 h5 trying to slow down the attack in Soltis style, but Black’s misplaced queen renders this fruitless) 12.Bh6!? (Not the very best, the simple 12.h5 is even stronger winning quickly) 12…Nxe4? (Black pushes his luck with a flawed combination, better was 12…Nxd4 13.h5! Be6 14.Bxg7 Kxg7 14.Qxd4 with a big plus for White) 13. Nxe4 Bxd4 14.h5! (With a huge winning attack)

Spassky-Levy-14.h5
Spassky-Levy-14.h5

14…d5 (Desperation, trying to get the queen into the defence) 15.Bxd5 Qxe5 16.Bxf8! (Simple and effective) 16…Qxd5 17.Qh6! Nb4 18.Rxd4! (Removing the last defender) Qxd4 19.Bxe7 1-0

An opening experiment crushed by an attacking great!

Chapter 13 is mainly devoted to two fascinating clashes between Efim Geller and Viktor Korchnoi in their Candidates match in 1971 in Moscow. It also reintroduces Anatoly Karpov who is undoubtedly one of the greatest Dragon slayers, shown in action in a famous tussle with Juergen Dueball at Skopje in 1972.  It was Karpov’s endgame skill that won him that game.

The first Geller – Korchnoi shows the good old exchange sacrifice on c3 in all its glory.

Geller-Korchnoi-Moscow-1971
Geller-Korchnoi-Moscow-1971

White played the poor 12.Bh6?! provoking Black. 12…Bxh6! 13.Qxh6 Rxc3! 14.bxc3  a5! (14…Qc7 is fine as well)

Black is equal here and has a position that is easier and more fun to play. The game was eventually drawn, but Black achieved a winning game but threw it away in mutual time trouble.

Chapter 14 introduces one of the great Dragon specialists, the late and great Tony Miles.

Here is a exciting scrap with another future GM, Michael Stean.

Michael Stean – Tony Miles Hastings 73/74

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Bc4 Nc6 9.Qd2 Bd7 10.h4 h5 11.0-0-0 Rc8 12.Bb3 Ne5 13.Kb1 Nc4 14.Bxc4 Rxc4 15.Nde2 Qc7 !? (An attempt to avoid the main line theory, 15…b5 is the main line which equalises comfortably as played by Kasparov against Anand 16.Bh6 Qa5 =)

Stean-Miles-15.Qc7
Stean-Miles-15.Qc7

16.Bh6 Be6 17.Bxg7 Kxg7 18.Nf4 Qa5 (This position is equal, but Stean comes up with a faulty plan) 19.Nxe6+ (19.Nce2 is equal) fxe6 20.Rh3?! (20.Ne2 is still equal) Rfc8 21.Rg3?

Rxc3! (Now Black is better) 22.bxc3 Rc6 23.Rg5 e5! (Cutting the rook off)

Stean-Miles-23...e5
Stean-Miles-23…e5

Now Black is slightly better, somehow Miles contrived to lose this game.

Chapter 15 is devoted to one of the most famous gladiatorial contests in the Sicilian Dragon: Anatoly Karpov v Viktor Korchnoi Moscow 1974 game 2 of the Candidates final. The winner was to play Bobby Fischer.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.h4 Rc8 11.Bb3 Ne5 12.0-0-0 Nc4 13.Bxc4 Rxc4 14.h5 Nxh5 15.g4 Nf6 16.Nde2 !?

Karpov-Korchnoi-16.Nde2
Karpov-Korchnoi-16.Nde2

At the time, the position before 16.Nde2 was a topical Dragon tabiya. Korchnoi played the natural reply which is already a mistake.

16…Qa5 (16…Re8 is much better and about equal) 17.Bh6 Bxh6 (17…Bh8 18.Bxf8 Kxf8 19.Qe3 is clearly better for White) 18.Qxh6 Rfc8 19.Rd3 R4c5? (The final mistake, 19…Be6 20. 20.g5 Nxh5 21. Nf4 Qe5 22.Nxh5 gxh5 23. Qxh5 Qg7 24.f4 with a clear advantage to White) 20.g5! (Winning) Rxg5 21.Rd5! Rxd5 22.Nxd5 Re8 23.Nef4 Bc6 24.e5!+- Bxd5 25.exf6 exf6 26.Qxh7+ Kf8 27.Qh8+ 1-0 (27… Ke7 28.Nxd5+ Qxd5 29.Re1+)

It is quite possible that the whole game was prepared analysis.

This game really knocked the Dragon for six, but the Dragoneers soon came up with an antidote 16…Re8.

In summary, this is a well thought out book and an enjoyable read with plenty of exciting, fighting chess. Although it is a history of the Dragon, that story is really a microcosm of the development of modern chess from 1850 onwards.

FM Richard Webb, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1st April 2024

FM Richard Webb
FM Richard Webb

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 385 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (5 Mar. 2024)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9464201959
  • ISBN-13:  978-9464201956
  • Product Dimensions: 17.78 x 3.18 x 24.77 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Dragon Masters - The Life and Times of The Fiercest Opening in Chess Volume 1, Andrew Burnett, Thinkers Publishing, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464201959
Dragon Masters – The Life and Times of The Fiercest Opening in Chess Volume 1, Andrew Burnett, Thinkers Publishing, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464201959

The Chess Memory Palace

Blurb from the publisher, Amazon:

Chess players spend hours and hours trying to memorize openings, but even Grandmasters forget their preparation.

Meanwhile, memory competitors routinely memorize thousands of facts and random digits, using special techniques that anyone can learn.

This book explains how to use these memory techniques for chess.

  • Teaches advanced memory techniques from scratch.
  • Contains full worked examples in the Ruy Lopez Exchange and Schliemann Gambit.
  • Ideal for tournament players who want to recall their opening repertoire perfectly.

CONTENTS:
Introduction
1. Picture Notation
2. Essential Memory Techniques
3. Memory Palace Architecture
4. Example Palace: The Schliemann Transit Line
5. Example Palace: The Spanish Exchange Airport
6. Bonus: Memorising Endgames
7. Miscellanea
Notes
Appendix: Picture Words for all 64 Squares

About the Author:

Author of The Chess Memory Palace (2022) and A Curious Letter from Nebuchadnezzar (2021)

 

I don’t know about you, but I like to know something about the author before I read a book. John Holden seems remarkably coy. It’s clear from the book that he’s a memory expert,  but what are his chess credentials?

He tells us in the book that he lives in London, which is a start. His website is johnden.org, and there’s a chess.com user named John Holden whose username is NEDNHOJ (johnden reversed) with a blitz rating round about 900.

There was also a Kent junior on the grading list between 2007 and 2013, when he’d reached 160 (about 1900), who played a few rapidplay tournaments last year, giving him a 1755 rating. Are these the same person? You’d expect someone of that strength to have a higher chess.com rating than 900, especially if he’d put his memory training to good effect.

Is the author, then, either, both or neither?

If you’ve read anything about memory training in the past you’ll be aware of the Memory Palace technique which top competitive memory people use to learn the digits of pi or memorise the order of a shuffled deck of cards.

Here’s the start of the introduction. I have a few questions.

Modern chess requires its players to memorise more and more. “That’s probably the number one thing,” said top grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, “For becoming a really strong grandmaster today you have to have a really good memory because there’s so much to memorise.”

Yes, if you want to become a really strong grandmaster like Nakamura you need a really good memory. But to what extent is this necessary if you’re a 900 online rapid player like NEDNHOJ or a 1755 rapid player like Kent’s John Holden? From my own experience, playing at that level is probably not about that sort of memory at all, and learning openings in that way might even confuse you.

Most of this effort goes on the opening moves, because you have to survive the opening to demonstrate your middlegame and endgame prowess. Although chess players have a good memory for moves, even elite players can struggle to remember their preparation at the board. And it is a constant source of frustration for all of us to spend so much time rehearsing openings.

There are some (teachers as well as players) who recommend that club level players should concentrate on opening study, while others prefer the 20-40-40 rule: 20% of your time on openings, 40% on middlegames and 40% on endings. Some even think that 20% is too high: you’re better off just playing simple openings leading to playable middlegames. One of the examples here is playing White against the Ruy Lopez Schliemann (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5). How often are you going to reach this variation?

Meanwhile, a new sport of competitive memory has sprung up, which reaches new heights every year. The record for most numbers memorised in five minutes stands at over 540. In 15 minutes, 1300. A man from India has recited 70,000 digits of pi.

How is this possible? Is it a special photographic memory? Actually no, it’s the disciplined application of memory techniques – and the techniques are surprisingly simple! They tap into our brains’ natural ability to remember places, images and stories. We can all remember our route to work, and we can all understand a story, even when it’s told to us quite fast. The trick is to convert non-memorable information, like a number, into memorable images.

‘… our brains’ natural ability to remember places, images and stories’. You brain might well work like that but not everyone’s does. You might want to look at conditions such as aphantasia (the inability to form mental pictures) which would make techniques like this difficult, or perhaps impossible.

It’s like everything else: some people are very good at this sort of thing, others fairly average and others again will find it very difficult.

Here’s how it works.

We have eight consonant sounds representing the numbers 1 to 8. Therefore, each square can be associated with a word including the sound representing the file (a-h becomes 1-8) followed by the sound representing the rank (1-8). If more than one piece can move to the same square we deal with this through the number of consonants in the word. If more than one piece can move to the same square you use words with different numbers of syllables to determine which piece you should move.

You might possibly recognise this as a position from one of the main lines of the Schliemann.

Just out of interest, looking at some lichess stats (filtered on games with an average rating of 1400+:

  1. e4 e5 (35% in this position)
  2. Nf3 Nc6 (64% in this position)
  3. Bb5 f5 (2% in this position)
  4. Nc3 fxe4 (54% in this position)
  5. Nxe4 d5 (46% in this position: the other main line, Nf6 is slightly more popular)
  6. Nxe5 dxe4 (95% in this position)
  7. Nxg6 Qg5 (62% in this position)
  8. Qe2 Nf6 (93% in this position)
  9. f4 Qxf4 (73% in this position)

Realistically, even if you play the Lopez at every opportunity you won’t get the Schliemann very often, and, even then, many of your opponents will choose alternatives at moves 4 or 5. If you’re just a club standard player I’d advise you to play something sensible like 4. d3 instead and get on with the rest of your life.

Anyway, let’s continue. Your opponent has gone down this line and you have to dig into your memory to remember what happens next.

Black’s last move was Qxf4: your word for f4 is ‘shark’ (f/6 is represented by ch/j/tch/sh, d/4 is represented by r, so you choose a monosyllabic word including these two sounds.)

It’s a sharp variation and you want to remember what to do next so you look into your Memory Palace. There you find a shark biting a jester; a match catching fire and burning a lion’s nose, making the lion roar; and a frog chewing gum. The jester gives you lol (laugh out loud, your word for e5), telling you that you now play 10. Ne5+. Well, hang on a minute. Stockfish slightly prefers Nxa7+, and d4 is by far the most popular choice on lichess, but Ne5+ is also fine, so we’ll let it pass. Then we have the match, indicating c6, so we expect our opponent to evade the check by playing 10… c6 – the only good move. Now the lion’s roar tells us to play 11. d4, again clearly best. Then the frog chewing gum gives you 11… Qh4+ 12. g3. It’s still a complicated position so you may need to extend your story a bit.

(If you’re interested in this variation, I’d add that, although 9. f4 is usually played, Stockfish flags 9. Nxa7+ as a significant improvement.)

You see how it works, then, and if you want to play this variation with either colour it’s a sharp line which you need to know well, so, in this case, memory is important.

You should by now have some idea of whether or not this technique will work for you (if you have a strong visual memory it may well do, but if you don’t, it won’t), and whether or not you’re prepared to spend the time to develop your memory in this way and apply it to improving your chess.

The second and third chapters, if you’re still undecided, explain more about memory techniques. The author has helpfully made the first three chapters available for free here.

The next two chapters provide worked examples. Chapter 4 returns to the variation of the Schliemann we looked at earlier, looking at it in more detail, including other variations that Black might choose. John Holden sees this as resembling a train journey: he’s very familiar with the journey on the London Underground from Waterloo to West Ham,

Chapter 5 takes a very different variation of the Lopez: the exchange variation, which is considered from Black’s perspective.

We’re most likely to reach this position, where White usually retreats the knight to either b3 or e2. In either case, Black will trade queens.

This time, Holden’s setting is an airport, where Ne2 is a journey through security to a connecting flight, while Nb3 takes you through immigration to leave the airport.

Again, I have a question. Yes, I can understand you need to memorise the moves in a tactical variation like the Schliemann line discussed earlier, but in this quiet line with an early queen exchange, understanding positional ideas might be more helpful.

Chapter 6 is a bonus chapter explaining how you can use the Memory Palace idea to learn theoretical endings such as KQ v KR. Chapter 7 is a miscellany, answering some of the questions you may have and tying up some loose ends. Holden mentions other learning techniques such as flashcards and spaced repetition, which I’m aware other improvers have used with success.

I notice that this book has been one of the best selling chess books on Amazon since its publication. The book is well written, well produced and well researched, and is being strongly promoted by its author, including sending a review copy to British Chess News. I’m all in favour of supporting authors who are self-publishing on Amazon if their books have something worthwhile to say (and I hope you’ll support my Chess Heroes books as well). John Holden is clearly very knowledgeable on the subject of memory training and, if you’re interested, you’ll want to read this book. However, I remain to be convinced that his chess knowledge is sufficient to make a good case for his methods.

You might have read other chess self-help books in which authors explain the methods they used to improve their rating. If the author had been able to relate how he had improved his rating as a result of using these techniques I might have been impressed, but, as far as I can tell, his rating appears to be modest and perhaps lower than when he was a junior.

Perhaps at some point I’ll write more about the place of memory in chess and how different peoples’ memory works in different ways. I know I’m not alone in thinking very much in words rather than pictures: I have a good memory for words, facts and connections but very little visual imagination and a relatively poor memory for images (which is why I can’t play blindfold chess). For this reason the method outlined here wouldn’t work for me. But, if your brain works in a different way to mine, it might be just the book to help you improve your opening knowledge and endgame techniques. I’d certainly be very interested to hear from anyone who has made a dramatic rating gain by using the Memory Palace method. But until I’ve seen some evidence I’ll remain sceptical.

Richard James, Twickenham 17th October 2023

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 206 pages
  • Publisher:  Amazon (15 July 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13:979-8370251146
  • Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 1.19 x 22.86 cm

Official web site of Amazon Purchase location

The Chess Memory Palace, John Holden, Amazon, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8370251146
The Chess Memory Palace, John Holden, Amazon, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8370251146

Opening Repertoire: Queen’s Gambit Declined: Tarrasch

Here is the publishers blurb from the rear cover:

“The Tarrasch Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined is a fierce counter-attacking line arising after 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c5. In this variation Black gains free and easy piece play but in return usually has to accept the structural weakness of an Isolated Queen’s Pawn (IQP).

In the early development of chess theory this line was somewhat frowned upon due to the vulnerability of the IQP. However, Siegbert Tarrasch, after whom the opening is named, famously declared that, “he who fears an Isolated Queen’s Pawn should give up chess”. The Tarrasch has had many powerful adherents over the years including the legendary Garry Kasparov who made much use of it in the early part of his career.

In this book Cyrus Lakdawala guides the reader through the complexities of the Tarrasch and carves out a repertoire for Black, based on a modern treatment popularised by the Russian grandmaster Daniil Dubov. He examines all aspects of this highly complex opening and provides the reader with well-researched, fresh, and innovative analysis.

Each annotated game has valuable lessons on how to play the opening and contains instructive commentary on typical middlegame plans. * A complete repertoire for Black to counter 1 d4. * The question and answer approach provides an excellent study method.”

About the author:

IM Cyrus Lakdawala
IM Cyrus Lakdawala

“Cyrus Lakdawala is an International Master, a former National Open and American Open Champion, and a six-time State Champion. He has been teaching chess for over 40 years, and coaches some of the top junior players in the U.S.”

As with every recent Everyman Chess publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. Each diagram is clear as is the instructional text. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout. The usual and reliable formatting from Brighton-based typesetter IM Byron Jacobs is employed.

The diagrams do not have a “to move” indicator or any kind of caption so you will need to work out for yourself how they relate to the text that they are embedded in. However, this is fairly obvious.

There is a helpful Index of Variations and an Index of completed games.

The table of contents is:

Opening Repertoire: Queen's Gambit Declined: Tarrasch, Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess (16 Jan. 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946961
Opening Repertoire: Queen’s Gambit Declined: Tarrasch, Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess (16 Jan. 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946961

Before we continue it is worth taking a look at the pdf extract which includes the Contents, Preface and pages 87 – 108.

Everyman (and Cyrus) kicks-off in Chapter 1, The Classics  with its most welcome trait of laying out the historical development of an opening by detailing twelve significant games including this old favourite from 1969:

We very much like this feature of Everyman books and long may it continue!

In reviewing books from this author it is traditional to discuss his “Marmite” annotation style. In general, we are presented with a grammar and vocabulary rich narrative that gives you the impression that the author is coaching you one-to-one with a mixture of humour and superlatives. There is never a dull moment with his chatty style, of that we can be sure!

For example in discussing Larsen-Kasparov, Brussels, 1987

after Larsen’s 37 hxg7! Cyrus writes:

Exercise (critical decision): Even the serpent from the Garden of Eden would be impressed by Larsen’s talent for manipulative deception. His last move a good practical try in an objectively lost position. Should Black play 37…Bxg7, 37…Be7. or 37…Qaa2?”

Indeed, some reviewers become so distracted by the authors idiosyncratic style that they forget to review the content of the book!

The USP (“Unique Selling Point” for our younger readers) of this foray into Tarrasch land is to promote an alternative and albeit more active deployment of Black’s King’s bishop to c5 instead of the traditional e7. This nuance was first campaigned with success by Carl Schlecter versus Milan Vidmar at Budapest 1912 a year after becoming a novelty / TN from Georg Salwe who first punted it at Karlovy Vary in 1911. Since Netanya 2019 Daniil Dubov has played this line with success along with other notables such as Nodirbek Abdusattorov, Dommaraju Gukesh and Dennis Wagner to name but a few.

We must be grateful to the author for choosing to name this variation after Dubov rather than say Abdusattorov (!) but we think we could all appreciate a Wagner Variation / Cycle or two!

So, the Dubov Variation is:

which is, in turn an offshoot of the highly popular and reliable anti-IQP Rubinstein Variation (6.g3).

Chapter Two dispenses (via Games 13 – 15) with Whites various ninth move alternatives before focussing in Chapter Three on 9 Nxc6 (seven games) followed by the more critical 9 Nb3 (nine games) in Chapter Four.

To complete Black’s Dubov-based Tarrasch repertoire there is a nine game treatment via Chapter Five of the so-called Symmetrical Variation:

followed by an examination of the popular 6 Bg5 line:

and then positions resulting from White capturing on c5. Lastly the author tidies up by discussing the usual move order issues caused by White delaying development of the Queen’s knight.

Looking at the increasing popularity of the Dubov Variation this book is about as topical as one can get and its likely there will a gradual shift from …Be7 to …Bc5 and eventually this will filter down from the top to less giddy heights.

A constant theme of the book is learning through reinforcement of ideas and the solving of multiple combinational, tactical and positional understanding exercises.

Is there a final verdict on this line? No, and even if there was I would encourage you to obtain this book to find out!

As a taster here is a very recent smooth performance from Dubov himself:

Enjoy!

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 26th February, 2023

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 304 pages
  • Publisher:  Everyman Chess (16 Jan. 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1781946965
  • ISBN-13:978-1781946961
  • Product Dimensions: 17.3 x 1.7 x 23.8 cm

Official web site of Everyman Chess

Opening Repertoire: Queen's Gambit Declined: Tarrasch, Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess (16 Jan. 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946961
Opening Repertoire: Queen’s Gambit Declined: Tarrasch, Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess (16 Jan. 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946961

Opening Repertoire: Black Lion

Here is the publishers blurb from the rear cover :

“The Black Lion is a thoroughly modern counterattacking system that is a nightmare to face. This wild and aggressive line attempts to take away White’s initiative from a very early stage and is guaranteed to throw your opponents off balance.

The Black Lion is essentially a contemporary and aggressive interpretation of the Philidor Defence (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 d6). The Black Lion starts with a slightly different move order, 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3, and now the lion family splits into two different animals: the risky lion (3…Nbd7) or the tame lion (3…e5). Both treatments are thoroughly investigated in this book.

Simon Williams (the Ginger GM) is the ideal guide to explain how to whip up an extremely dangerous attack using either treatment. Williams is well known for his swashbuckling, attacking play and the Black Lion suits his style perfectly. His commentary and annotations are always instructive and entertaining. * The Black Lion is an unusual and dangerous system with little established theory. * White cannot rely on simple, safe moves as such a strategy is liable to be overrun. * The Black Lion is fun and exciting to play!”

About the author:

GM Simon Williams
GM Simon Williams

“Simon Williams is a Grandmaster, a well-known presenter and a widely-followed streamer, as well as a popular writer whose previous books have received great praise. He is much admired for his dynamic and spontaneous attacking style.”

As with every recent Everyman Chess publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. Each diagram is clear as is the instructional text. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout. The usual and reliable formatting from Brighton-based typesetter IM Byron Jacobs is employed.

The diagrams do not have a “to move” indicator or any kind of caption so you will need to work out for yourself how they relate to the text that they are embedded in. However, this is fairly obvious.

There is a helpful Index of Variations and an Index of completed games.

The table of contents is:

Opening Repertoire: Black Lion, Simon Williams, Everyman Chess, 15 Aug. 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946282
Opening Repertoire: Black Lion, Simon Williams, Everyman Chess, 15 Aug. 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946282

Before we continue it is worth taking a look at the pdf extract which includes the Contents, Preface and pages 128 – 141.

(One thing to note is that despite being published in August 2022, the most recently played cited games are dated from 2019 and, essentially, we have a Chessable course migrated into physical book form. I can’t imagine that this task was straightforward for editor IM Richard Palliser.)

Overall, this book offers a repertoire for Black (against 1.e4 essentially but 1.d4 d6 2.e4 Nf6 could transpose of course) after White has played 3.Nc3 as follows:

and from here on in offering Black the choice of two main continuations which are closely related but which Black can make distinctly different.

We have

which most would characterise as The Modern Philidor rather than a Black Lion (so named in the wonderful The Black Lion: The Chess Predator’s Choice Against Both 1.e4 and 1.d4 by Jerry Van Rekom and Leo Jansen (New in Chess, 2008).

Alternatively Black can essay the more provocative

which you could also term a Modern Philidor or a Lion Defence depending on Black’s subsequent handling of the position.

The Black Lion and Modern Philidor diverge based on what Black does with the Queen’s knight. If Black castles short and leaves the knight on d7 (initially) then we probably have a Modern Philidor. Deferring castling, re-routing the d7 knight to f8, playing h6 and g5 and then the knight goes to g6 and then f4 really is The Black Lion proper.

Anyway, enough of my pedantic nomenclature rambling…

As implied the transpositional possibilities are numerous so organising the material cannot have been easy. One thing to note is that the author advocates 5…Be7 in the main line which is a move order improvement over the older 5…h6 Lion move order. The Introduction lays out the ‘philosophy’ of the approach clearly differentiating the 3…e5 and 3…Nbd7 choices and together with early games provides background knowledge for those new to this …d6 dark square system.

Chapter One: Key Concepts and Lines essentially clothes the skeleton created by the Introduction and includes ideas such as the once feared Shirov Attack:

which is detailed in Chapter 11.

Chapter Two: Common Ideas is the first real exposé of the key Lion idea and spends pages 65 – 128 and 14 full games detailing the really quite profound idea of rerouting the d7 knight to f4. Anyone new to the Lion should study this chapter carefully before moving on.

Chapter Three: The Standard Set-up with Bc4 takes as its starting position

in which Black has deferred castling to allow the knight relocation manoeuvre.

Chapter Four: The Standard Set-up with 5.Be2 allocates twelve pages on a line that probably will never be seen by most second players but will be of interest nonetheless.

A consequence of the move order advocated in Chapter three is that White may attempt various ‘capturing on f7 type hacks’ and these are treated in detail in Chapters Five and Six.

Arguably the most obvious attempt to refute the 3…Nbd7 move order is the aggressive 4.f4 dealt with in Chapter Four: The Risky Lion: 3…Nbd7 4 f4

and then …e5

As indicated Black may chose to go down the “Modern Philidor” (although the author refers to this as “The Tame Lion) route as in Chapter Eight with

covering in detail the queenless middlegame variations. The more common White choice of 4.Nf3 is assumed to be covered elsewhere such as Chapters Three to Six, or is it…?

Coverage is completed with Chapters on various g4 ideas by White plus insipid ideas such as g3 and f3.

In summary, The Black Lion is a welcome take on an increasingly popular dark square defence to 1.e4 with the accent on the trademark knight manoeuvre and deferred castling providing many lessons learnt from the 2008 book which introduced the idea.

I would argue that a chapter is missing on the so-called Tame Lion / Modern Philidor move order making Qc7 less desirable and I am thinking of

arising from a typical move order such as 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4. Nf3 Nbd7 5.Bc4 Be7 6.00 00 7.a4 c6 which has 3465 games in MegaBase 2023. No doubt the author will argue that this position where White has tried around 20 (!) different 8th moves deserves an entire book in its own right and I would agree with that.

As a consequence of the migration of the contents from Chessable course to book (which cannot have made life easy for the editor!) there is degree of repeated déjà vu as one reads the same comments. Presumably this is  measure of the Chessable philosophy of learning through reinforcement and would not normally happen in a “normal” physical book.

Bearing in mind my earlier comments regarding 2019 this book is a valuable addition to opening literature. Enjoy!

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 19th February, 2023

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 336 pages
  • Publisher:  Everyman Chess (22 August 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1781946280
  • ISBN-13:978-1781946282
  • Product Dimensions: 17.3 x 1.7 x 23.8 cm

Official web site of Everyman Chess

Opening Repertoire: Black Lion, Simon Williams, Everyman Chess, 15 Aug. 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946282
Opening Repertoire: Black Lion, Simon Williams, Everyman Chess, 15 Aug. 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946282

Play the Barry Attack

Here is the publishers blurb from the rear cover:

“The Barry Attack is a highly aggressive system that arises after 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 Bf4. Although the concept of the Barry Attack has been known for a century or so, the modern interpretation (as with a number of other dynamic white systems) has mainly been developed by English grandmasters over the past couple of decades. This “modern interpretation” is often not very subtle.

If Black provides a target by castling early on the kingside, White will often let rip with moves such as Qd2, Bh6, 0-0-0 and h4-h5, playing very directly for a quick checkmate. If this strikes you as too crude to have a chance against a sophisticated and competent defender, then a quick glance through this book will undoubtedly change your mind. You will witness countless games where very strong players are destroyed on the black side in less than 30 moves. Sometimes a lot less.

This makes the Barry an ideal weapon for those who love to attack. Black’s defence has to be very accurate. If not, a quick annihilation is on the cards. Play the Barry Attack is the ideal guide to this fascinating opening. Anyone who reads this book carefully and studies all White’s attacking ideas will have a fearsome weapon in their armoury.”

About the author:

IM Andrew Martin
IM Andrew Martin

“Andrew Martin is a FIDE Senior Trainer and International Master. He teaches in twelve schools, is an experienced chess writer and has produced numerous chess DVDs.”

And now on with the review:

As with every recent Everyman Chess publication high quality paper is used and the printing is easy to read. Each diagram is clear as is the instructional text. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout. The usual and reliable formatting from Brighton-based typesetter IM Byron Jacobs is employed.

The diagrams do not have a “to move” indicator or any kind of caption so you will need to work out for yourself how they relate to the text that they are embedded in. However, this should be fairly obvious.

The cover of the paperback appears to be of thinner material than usual: We miss the versions with built-in book markers at each end.

There is a most helpful Index of Variations and an Index of completed games.

The table of contents is:

Play the Barry Attack: Contents
Play the Barry Attack: Table of Contents

Before we continue it is worth taking a look at the pdf extract which includes the Contents, Preface and pages 118 – 137.

At this point we feel the need to make a couple of small confessions: we have played the Barry (and 150/1800) Attacks with the White pieces (but not the Black side) for some years and and share an emotional bond with the opening. We have been friends with the author since we were both members of the famous CentYMCA chess club in Tottenham Court Road, London between 1978 and 1983.

It is worth noting that this book follows-on from the publication (July 2021) of a ChessBase DVD entitledThe Barry Attack (by the same author) which (we don not have but) is likely to provide a useful compliment to this book.  However, the book contains more recent content.

We were disappointed not to find  a bibliography of sources since we have a particular interest in the development of this opening. For example, there was not a single mention of Aaron Summerscale’s superb  A Killer Chess Opening Repertoire, 1998, Everyman Chess,  which was one of the first (if not the first) books to discuss The Barry in detail: never mind! Aaron also recorded a superb DVD for Foxy Openings (#7, Anti King-Indian & Grunfeld System) which is still worth watching even in 2023.

Chapter 1, A Barry Timeline is an in-depth history lesson on how the Barry (what was it called before George Hodgson named it? We presume the usual “Queen’s Pawn Opening” type label) developed by examining thirty games spanning from Tartakower – Wahltuch, 1922 to Sadhwani-Jones from 2022, one hundred years later. Fascinating stuff!  If only more opening books bothered to do this it would give them a USP over their rivals.

The first real foray in explicit theory is via Chapter Two and the unlikely named Tarzan Attack (whoever gave it this epithet? Mark Hebden or Julian Hodgson perhaps?)

The Tarzan (or Lord Greystoke)  is as subtle as a brick (rather akin to the 150 / 1800 Attack) and forms the basis for Chapter Two. We remember for some years that the Barry Attack section of GM Tony Kosten’s  ChessPublishing.com and its associated forum had many posters swooning over 5.Qd2 and it soon became the line de rigeur. Of course, adequate resources were found for Black and these are examined in detail. The author tries his best to make 5.Qd2 playable and, of course, at club level (where anything goes according to Lombardy) it is worth a punt. Nineteen games are analysed and the most plausible and critical lines covered so you should be well prepared with either colour.

Chapter three (The Modern 5. Nb5) must be one of the first serious studies of what first appears to be “a bit of a patzer” line with the ambitious

which in 2023 is “all the rage” amongst Barry experts. Thirty-two pages are used to examine eleven games in detail and 5.Nb5 would appear to be a most playable and intriguing line. Almost certainly the first player will be more up-to-date than the second so well worth a try!

For many Barry die-hards Chapter Four (The Original Barry Attack) will be their first port of call to refresh their knowledge. At Seventy-Five pages and thirty-four examined games this is the most substantial chapter covering the most interesting struggles starting with

The author provides a balanced approach showing reliable methods for Black’s defence.  Conclusions: you will have to purchase the book to find out what these are!

Chapter Five (Other fifth moves for White) tidies things up with seventeen pages and seven games. This material will mainly be of interest to the second  player but there are some idea based around early h4 attempts by White.

The sixth Chapter (4…c6 and Others) will be of interest to the first player since it contains arguably less critical tries for Black where an early …c5 is punted. All good for completeness of course.

Chapter Seven (Transposition to a Pirc) might at first glance be discussing the 150 / 1800 Attack that a Barry move order can become.

However, appearences are deceptive and it contains forty-six pages and twenty-one games where White continues with 5. Bf4 against a Pirc type structure.

(whereas the more common approach would be

which is subtly different)

This is likely to be a good choice against a King’s Indian / Pirc player who is likely not to be familiar with the set-up. I’m not sure these positions have been given a detailed treatment such as this in the literature previously. Interesting stuff!

All in all “Play the Barry Attack” is a welcome and fresh treatment with much original analysis from real games. The author has and continues to be a supporter of lines developed by British players such as the Barry.

Enjoy!

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 9th February, 2023

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 320 pages
  • Publisher:  Everyman Chess (21 Nov. 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1781946949
  • ISBN-13:978-1781946947
  • Product Dimensions: 17.3 x 1.7 x 23.8 cm

Official web site of Everyman Chess

Play the Barry Attack, Andrew Martin, Everyman Chess (21 Nov. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946947
Play the Barry Attack, Andrew Martin, Everyman Chess (21 Nov. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946947

110 Instructive Chess Annotations

From the back cover:

Senior International Master Mike Read competed 115 times for the England and Great Britain teams at correspondence chess, including playing on board one for England in the 13th Olympiad.

In this, his fourth book, he aims to instruct his readers by dissecting 110 games played by local players at all levels of chess. In doing so, he isolates typical mistakes and explains the methods of taking advantage of them.

Philidor wrote that pawns are the soul of chess. In one sense, yes, but in another sense  the soul of chess is the mass of club and tournament players, without whom the chess world wouldn’t function.  Yes, it might be inspirational to look at games played by top grandmasters, but it’s always been my view that club standard players will learn more from games played at their level than from GM games.

Mike Read shares my opinion. Here’s how he starts his introduction.

One of the surest ways for a club player to improve his playing ability is to study annotated games featuring players of similar strength to themselves. The mistakes, and the instructive methods of taking advantage of them, will be familiar to them from similar happenings in their own games. Meanwhile the notes to such moves will educate the aspiring player in both how to avoid typical errors, and also how to take advantage of them when it is his opponent who is unfortunate enough to err.

Mike was a strong junior in the 1970s who graduated to correspondence chess which he played with great success up to the year 2000, playing on top board for England and obtaining the title of Senior International Master. You don’t get to that level without being an excellent analyst.

He continues:

It is reasonable for the reader to enquire as to why my correspondence chess career ended at a time when I was still being reasonably successful. The truth is that, during the 1990s, I suffered three nervous breakdowns. I managed to continue to keep on competing during the first two of these and, in fact, had my most successful chess years during the second of them, even though I was barely capable of coping with even the simplest aspects of day to day life. However my third breakdown, which occurred in the period 1999 to 2000 was too much for me to deal with and I was forced to abruptly retire from the game that I love at the beginning of the new millennium.

I was in an absolutely desperate situation at this time, but chess was to prove to be a major factor in my eventual recovery. A number of local players, recognising the severity of the predicament that I was in, made a great effort to assist me and get me out of the house where I had been languishing alone for several months. I do not feel I would ever have recovered, had it not been for the support of the Norfolk chess community.

And again:

Contained within these pages are 110 games, played by Norfolk players of all strengths from superstars of local chess such as John Emms, Owen Hindle and Robert Bellin down to some of the county’s lower graded (but still very talented as you will see!) enthusiasts. All of the games I have included feature top quality opportunities for the aspiring player to learn a lot, and all also feature some very fine chess!

The book is published through Amazon: Mike Read is selling it as cost price as he has no interest in collecting royalties from its sales.

The games are presented, unusually, in ECO code order, so you get all the Sicilian Defence games, for example, together. The annotations, which were produced without computer assistance, are excellent, scoring highly for both clarity and accuracy as well as instructive value. Many readers will, like me, appreciate the human touch. If you look at the sample pages on Amazon you’ll get some idea of their flavour.

Most of them are tactical, often involving spectacular sacrifices, which will delight anyone (and that probably means all of us) who enjoys combinative play.

This was the first game Mike analysed. He witnessed it taking place and decided to annotate it to thank his friend Grant Turner, who had helped and supported him during his breakdown. (If you click on any move you’ll be able to play through the games in this review on a pop-up board.)

Another of Mike’s friends, Brian Cunningham, was responsible for the production of this book. In this game he demonstrates that the Stonewall Attack can be a potent weapon at lower club level.

At the other end of the spectrum, here’s a game played by Norfolk born GM John Emms.

I know many readers enjoy collections of games played at amateur level, finding them both more entertaining and more instructive than higher level encounters. If you’re one of these you’ll be entranced by this book.

There are also many readers who like to support authors who prefer to self-publish their books. An admirable sentiment, I think, and if you fall into this category, again you certainly won’t be disappointed.

The word that first comes to my mind when considering this book is ‘generous’. Mike Read generously offers this book at cost price. The size is generous, his tributes to his friends who saved his life after his third breakdown, scattered within the introductions to these games, are also generous. The annotations are also generous in every respect. Mike is generous in his comments about the winners’ play, and also, very often, about the losers’ play as well. You might think that a more critical approach might have made the annotations even more instructive, but this would have been out of place given that they were originally written for a local chess magazine.

Anyone rated between, say, 1000 and 2000 will certainly learn a lot from this book, but stronger players will also benefit. And anyone who just enjoys playing through entertaining games will, like me, fall in love with this book. Don’t be put off by the title, which makes it sound rather dull and didactic (didactic, perhaps, but certainly never dull), or the lack of an illustration on the front cover. It’s what’s inside the book that really matters.

At another level, the book is also a wonderful tribute to all Mike Read’s friends within the Norfolk chess community (a few of whom, sadly, are no longer with us), who helped him when he was going through a very difficult time. Many will find Mike’s story inspirational, and that, again, is a powerful reason why you should buy this book.

It’s my view, and I’m sure Mike, even though he was a chess champion himself, would agree, that, ultimately, chess is less about prodigies, champions and grandmasters, but about forging friendships and building communities of like-minded people who enjoy the excitement, beauty and cerebral challenge of chess.

I’d urge all readers of this review to do themselves a favour, and do Mike a favour as well, by buying a copy.  I really enjoyed this book, and I’m sure you will too. The Amazon link is here.

From https://mikereadsim.weebly.com/photos.html

 

 Richard James, Twickenham 11th May 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09M791556
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Independently published (25 Nov. 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 551 pages
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8466415964
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 12.85 x 3.18 x 19.84 cm

Official web site of Amazon Publishing

110 Instructive Chess Annotations, SIM Mike Read, Independently published (25 Jan. 2020), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1708364748
110 Instructive Chess Annotations, SIM Mike Read, Independently published (25 Jan. 2020), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1708364748

A Disreputable Opening Repertoire

A Disreputable Opening Repertoire, Jonathan Tait, Everyman Chess, 14 Jan. 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946060
A Disreputable Opening Repertoire, Jonathan Tait, Everyman Chess, 14 Jan. 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946060

Here is the publishers blurb from the rear cover :

“A highly adventurous repertoire designed to meet 1 e4 with 1…e5 and take the initiative! The main problem Black faces in answering 1 e4 with 1…e5 is the plethora of opening systems available to White: the Ruy Lopez, Giuoco Piano, Scotch, Ponziani, King’s Gambit, Vienna, Bishop’s Opening and so on.

Each is likely to be White’s pet line, which usually means conducting the chess battle on the opponent’s turf. One solution is to study the main lines of all these openings and hope to remember what to do if they appear on the board. Another, more enterprising approach is to turn the tables and make White fight on your territory.

Adopting the latter course, CC-SIM Jonathan Tait shares their investigations into a myriad of disregarded, “disreputable” responses, which can set White thinking as early as move three. These lines are greatly under-estimated by contemporary theory and include weird and wonderful variations such as the Calabrese Counter-Gambit (1 e4 e5 2 Bc4 f5), the Wagenbach Defence to the King’s Gambit (1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 h5), the Romanishin Three Knights (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 Bc5), the Two Knights Ulvestad Variation (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Nf6 4 Ng5 d5 5 exd5 b5) and ultra-sharp lines of the Jaenisch Gambit (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 f5).

The theory of the variations in this book is generally poorly understood. This has made them successful at all forms of play, including against online computer-assisted assault.”

About the author :

An ancient image of SIM Jonathan Tait, courtesy of ChessBase
An ancient image of SIM Jonathan Tait, courtesy of ChessBase

“Jonathan Tait is a Senior International Correspondence Chess Master (2002) and editor for Everyman Chess. He has been investigating and writing about opening theory for over 30 years.”

As with every recent Everyman Chess publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. Each diagram is clear as is the instructional text. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout. The usual and reliable formatting from Brighton-based typesetter IM Byron Jacobs is employed.

The diagrams do not have a “to move” indicator or any kind of caption so you will need to work out for yourself how they relate to the text that they are embedded in. However, this is fairly obvious.

There is a helpful Index of Variations but no Index of completed games.

The table of contents is:

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Before we continue it is worth taking a look at the pdf extract which includes the Contents, Preface and pages 242 – 259.

As the years have rolled by repertoire books have struggled to use attractive and eye-catching adjectives to entice readers. In the early days we have had

An Opening Repertoire for Black, for White, for Club Players and variations thereof.

Publishers became more adventurous, for example:

  1. A Startling Opening Repertoire
  2. An Attacking Repertoire
  3. A Surprising Repertoire
  4. A Killer Chess Opening Repertoire
  5. A Busy Person’s Opening Repertoire
  6. A Cunning Opening Repertoire
  7. An Idiot Proof Opening Repertoire
  8. A Simple Opening Repertoire
  9. A Gambit Opening Repertoire
  10. A Modern Opening Repertoire
  11. A Blitz Opening Repertoire
  12. An Explosive Opening Repertoire
  13. A Rock-Solid Opening Repertoire

but never a dull, tedious or boring or even totally unsound Opening repertoire which we’d say is a matter of regret(!)

Recently, in a search for uniqueness publishers have been venturing in the opposite direction with Coffeehouse Repertoire 1.e4, Volume 1, However, this was anything but coffeehouse and really rather excellent.

So, Everyman has gone all in with “A Disreputable Opening Repertoire” which cannot help but thinking it will stand out(!) at the tournament bookstall: so, what is not to like?

This is a repertoire for the player of Black pieces who wishes to play 1…e5 against the King’s pawn and wishes to allow White to chose their poison. Black is hoping to reply with something yet more toxic.

We kick-off with with the Centre Game (and miscellaneous second moves for White including Nakamura’s 2.Qh5) but it was Chapter Two which caught our eye since we like opening names hitherto unfamiliar. The Calabrese Counter Gambit (apparently named after Greco, “Il Calabrese”) is:

and this, optically at least, fits the description “disreputable” to a tee. Curiosity almost killed the cat and we consulted page 68 of Tony Miles’s favourite opening book by Eric Schiller, Unorthodox Chess Openings who recommends 3.d3! Sadly ES does not provide one of his animal or exotic names for 2..f5.

Scoring 50.6% for Black and being listed as Black’s 7th most popular move (2…Nf6 is the top choice) it has been endorsed by Ivanesivic and 7 “top games” (according to Megabase 2022) have adopted this line. We’d probably outght to ask Bishop’s Opening guru Gary Lane what he thinks of this. There is 22 pages of analysis should you need something unusual against the Bishop’s Opening.

Next up is the Vienna Game and Tait moves away from the “Disreputable” approach and goes Captain Sensible with

and then after 3.Bc4 returns to disreputable form with

which is at least consistent with the previous chapter. Statistically (based on only eight games) this line scores 62% for White OTB and has zero adherents more than once. 3…Nf6 is the reputable move of course.

Here is an unconvincing win by Black in a game when all of Black’s choices from move 4 onwards were the engine’s top choice. It was an ICCF event after all so don’t be surprised by that. There was a recent ICCF all-play-all event populated by ICCF GMs in which every single game was drawn. Of course, in reality, it was an engine vs engine tournament for the middle game onwards once the humans had selected the opening.

Moving on to Chapter Four and Five we reach the good old King’s Gambit, and, we think we know what you are thinking… Does the author recommend

as you might expect?

Well, not exactly..

Against the King’s Bishop’s Gambit the author punts

which makes 76 appearences in MegaBase 2022 versus the 1000 odd each of 3…Nf6 and 3…Qh4+. Quite unexpectedly we find that 3…f5?! has scored 62.5% for Black with two of the four “top” games coming from 1875 and 1876 between James Mason and Henry Bird. It has not been examined at exalted levels.

Chapter Five brings us up to the King’s Knights Gambit and possibly the most disreputable suggestion of the book via the Williams-esque and  wonderfully named Wagenbach Defence. If you were thinking of reaching for Korchnoi and Zak (well, mostly Zak) then we can save you the trouble of looking. The Wagenbach Defence is so-named after BBC featured Mansfield amateur player (JT team mate) János Wagenbach:

János Wagenbach, courtesy of the BBC.
János Wagenbach, courtesy of the BBC.

and we are treated to 47 pages of original analysis mostly based on online games from various servers. One of our favourite positions of this detailed work is:

which we hope you also will appreciate and enjoy.

Arriving at Chapter Six we enter territory after

and potentially more reputable lines in which Tait recommends 3…d5 versus the Ponziani, 4…d5 versus the Goring Gambit and 3…Bc5!? against the Three Knights Game. All very sensible.

The chapter on the Scotch game revolves around

with 29 pages of analysis.

Removing one knight we move on to the Two Knight’s Defence

for Black.

in Chapters eight and nine with 47 pages of analysis recommending the Ulvestad Variation in lieu of the Traxler Counter Attack which has apparently fallen on hard times in the exalted world of correspondence and engine chess.

For those unfamiliar with the Ulvestad this we have this position

which has had 1775 outings in Megabase 2022 compared with a whopping  12063 for 5…Na5. 5…b5 scores an encouraging 51.3% for Black whereas 5…Na5 scores 51.3% for White and has an army of highly rated exponents as you’d expect being the mainstream reply.

The books encore lies in Chapters 10 and 11 in which the author gives his recommended treatment of the Ruy Lopez by predictably promoting  the Schliemann Defence or Jaenisch Gambit as JT refers.

After examining White’s lesser four move alternatives in Chapter 10 we come to Chapter 11 and 4.Nc3 in which everything is really rather mainstream and, dare we say it, reputable. Tait recommends that Black steers by way of 5…d5 and 9.f4 to the following Tabiya for 3…f5 followers and fans:

in which White has tried many 16th move alternatives with varying degrees of success.

Jonathan has amassed a massive body of games to source the material for his book. The bulk of them it would seem are from the worlds of online chess and correspondence games and a huge number are of his own making under the handle of tsmenace. The analysis is thorough and makes much use of engine analysis as well as human.

JTs prose is chatty and amusing and certainly keeps the reader engaged. We learnt a fair bit about the history and development of these lines many of which has not found its way into the mainstream literature.

The repertoire is highly pragmatic and provocative and ideal for use against opponents who become “emotional” when their opponent plays something that they consider to be “unsound”, whatever that means.

In many ways the books title would have been more accurately titled “A Coffeehouse Opening Repertoire” as used by John Shaw for the books by Gawain Jones but they were published somewhat earlier.

If the second player studies the author’s recommendations well and is of the mindset that enjoys these kinds of positions then some amusing games will result and no doubt some unexpected scalps collected. After all, at club level chess must be fun and this book certainly encourages the second player to pump up the excitement levels. Most definitely a strong repertoire for blitz and rapid play time controls.

If you do play 1…e5 versus the King’s pawn then you could easily freshen up your repertoire with at least some of the books recommendations. Make it a late New Years resolution!

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 10th February, 2022

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 360 pages
  • Publisher:  Everyman Chess (14 Jan. 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:178194606X
  • ISBN-13:978-1781946060
  • Product Dimensions: 17.3 x 1.7 x 23.8 cm

Official web site of Everyman Chess

A Disreputable Opening Repertoire, Jonathan Tait, Everyman Chess, 14 Jan. 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946060
A Disreputable Opening Repertoire, Jonathan Tait, Everyman Chess, 14 Jan. 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946060