By Tim Brookshear
A note on Peach Ratings: They are different than the conventional stars. 4 peaches: a classic that belongs in every library. 3: An excellent book. 2: A worthwhile book. 1: Duplicates material already available. Pit: Why did they even bother?
Starting Out: Slav And Semi-Slav, by GM Glenn Flear. Everyman Chess, 2005. 256 pp. Paperback. $21.95 (www.everyman.com)
Starting Out: Sicilian Dragon, by GM Andrew Martin. Everyman Chess, 2005. 208 pp. Paperback. $21.95 (www.everyman.com)
This month we take a look at two recent releases from the Everyman Chess “Starting Out” series of opening books. This publisher has been producing many high-quality opening books in recent years, the majority of which would be of use to players even as high as master strength. The Starting Out volumes are intended primarily for intermediate players (in the 1200-1800 range) although anyone can enjoy the books simply as collections of fine grandmaster games. These have less theory and more explanations than the books intended for stronger players. The names of the major variations are given, the basic strategies for each side are laid out, and then each line is displayed in one or more annotated games. The notes are less dense and the game references fewer than other works, but there is much more narrative instruction. Throughout the books there are highlighted notes, tips and warnings which are designed to steer you around common pitfalls. I enjoy these rules-of-thumb as all strong players seem to know this stuff, but you seldom see it written down.
In each chapter, the line’s performance statistics are given, and at the chapter’s conclusion the authors give a summary that gives some guidance as to which lines each player should be steering for. At the end of Flear’s book there is a short quiz section containing positions encountered in the text. Both authors are well-known British grandmasters and experienced writers.
In Starting Out: The Slav and Semi-Slav, GM Glenn Flear attempts to cover a large body of material. The Slav and Semi-Slav are extremely popular these days at all levels. This work should have appeal for many players as both openings are very solid choices against the Queen’s Gambit. The first seven chapters are devoted to the Slav proper. These include the Main Line Slav (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf5 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5), the quiet 5.e3 system, the Exchange Variation, and the Schlechter Slav, which is sometimes called the Slav-Gruenfeld. The last six chapters cover the Semi-Slav where Black sets up a triangle of pawns on c6, d5, and e6, keeping the bishop inside the pawn chain for a time. The material includes the wild Botvinnik Variation, the Moscow Variation, the always popular Meran, and the many attempts to avoid the Meran. A quick look at the game index shows us a “Who’s Who” of contemporary chess, with games by Kasparov, Kramnik, Topalov, Ivanchuk, Kamsky, and others.
Starting Out: The Sicilian Dragon by GM Andrew Martin covers just one line in one opening as opposed to two entire openings, so the variations are more detailed than in the previous work. Still, this is no opening encyclopedia. Of course, an encyclopedic work is not the intent. The focus is more on teaching the player how to play the opening, focusing on the major motifs and laying out the framework of the major variations so that a player will be able to do further research on his own.
The first four chapters are devoted to the sharp Yugoslav Attack, where the players castle on opposite sides and attack each other’s king. This is certainly the main line of the entire Dragon complex. The Dragon is one of Black’s most ambitious attempts against 1.e4 and the Yugoslav Attack is White’s strongest attempt to crush it, so the games are almost always hard fought.
Other chapters are devoted to the Classical lines, where both players castle kingside, and the Levenfish Variation, which involves an early f4 by White. For many years Sergey Tiviakov has been considered the strongest player to use the Dragon regularly and I was disappointed to see only one of his games given, a loss to Anand from Wijk aan Zee 2001. Three Kasparov games are featured where he scored 2 1/2 out of 3 against Anand in their 1995 World Championship match. If you like uncompromising fights, then the Dragon might be the system for you.
Both of these works are attractive, user-friendly books, with many diagrams. I like the rules-of-thumb that are liberally distributed throughout, helping to acquaint the reader with the main opening ideas. They both contain many complete games, which I like very much too. At the back there is a detailed index of variations as well as the games index. Both authors attempt to give a balanced, objective view of their subject, as opposed to a “White/Black to Play and Win” type volume. For players who go on to become regular users of these systems, more information is certainly required, but these books are good places to get a solid foundation. They are well-made books that are reasonably priced at $21.95.
2 1/2 Peaches for each book
Ruy Lopez Exchange, by Krzystof Panczyk & Jacek Ilczuk. Everyman Chess, 2005. 192 pp. Paperback. $23.95 (www.everyman.com)
The Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez (or Spanish Game, as it is also known) occurs after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6. This 192-page volume from the Everyman Chess series of opening books gives a detailed look at the current state of this line. The authors are International Master Panczyk, who has worked on a few earlier works from Everyman, and world-class correspondence player Ilczuk. Neither one has a game given in the book, so we do not know if they have much experience with this variation.
The Exchange Ruy Lopez is an unbalancing line where White gives up the bishop pair in order to weaken Black’s pawn structure. The general strategy is that if the game retains a closed character and further exchanges ensue, then White will have a much better ending. This is due to the fact that Black’s queenside pawn majority has trouble producing a passed pawn while White has a healthy majority on the kingside. Therefore, Black must strive to open the game up for his two bishops. This line was a favorite with the young Bobby Fischer and was also a workhorse for my favorite player, the second World Champion, Emanuel Lasker. The most famous game in this system is undoubtably Lasker-Capablanca, St. Petersburg 1914, which is given in the introduction. Capa failed to obtain active play and went down hard in that clash of titans.
After 4.Bxc6, play usually runs 4. …dxc6 5.O-O. Most of the book is devoted to lines stemming from this position. The book is divided into six chapters. Chaper one covers the seldom seen 4…bxc6?! The old saying about capturing toward the center does not hold up here. Also covered are White’s fifth move alternatives, most notably 5.d4, which was used in the above-mentioned Lasker game. Chapter two covers Black’s minor choices after 5.O-O. Several different moves are covered including 5…Bd6, 5…Ne7, 5…Qf6, 5.Qe7 and 5….Be7. Although none of these moves are very popular, it seems that Black has reasonable play in all of them, so there is a vast area here for theory to develop further.
Chapter three covers the wild 5…Bg4. Like other books in this series, Ruy Lopez Exchange uses a complete-game approach to presenting the material and there are ten annotated games in this section. After 5…Bg4 play usually runs 6.h3 h5!?, with exciting and complex play ensuing. Chapter four covers Bronstein’s 5…Qd6, which has a solid reputation. Fourteen games are analyzed in this chapter. Chapters five and six are devoted to the current main lines after 5…f6. White almost always continues 6.d4 here. Queens are often exchanged in a few moves, leading to an early endgame. Black tends to find it necessary to allow these queen trades but is advised to eschew further exchanges. Twenty-six games are chewed up in these two chapters. I feel that the unbalanced nature of the Exchange Lopez gives the better player a good chance to outplay his opponent from either side of the board. At the end of each chapter there is a summary by the authors and a helpful opening tree showing how the material in the section is laid out. There is also an index of complete games.
I noticed that the two Lasker games given in the introduction are not included here. I was also a little disappointed that not one Fischer game was used, although he played the line quite a few times.
The printing and binding is very good and the price of $23.95 is about average for today. Specialists in this line with White will find the book a necessity, while players who defend the Black side of the Lopez can find a lot of new ideas, too. I think the authors do a good job covering the material and the prose is clear and concise. Overall, a very well-done opening book.
Play 1…b6: a dynamic and hypermodern opening system for Black, by GM Christian Bauer. Gloucester Publishers Everyman Chess Series, 2005. 224 pp. Paperback. $23.95 (www.everymanchess.com)
This book by French GM Christian Bauer gives in-depth coverage to some little covered areas of opening theory. Divided into four sections, the book examines 1.e4 b6 (Owen’s Defence), 1.d4 b6, 1.c4 b6, and 1.Nf3 b6. These Queen’s Bishop’s Fianchetto defences have long been considered inferior on general principles. Common complaints are that they neglect the center and delay Kingside development. In the introduction, the author makes the case that since they are less explored than traditional openings, your opponent is likely to be unprepared. I think this is a valid point, the sooner your opponent has to start thinking for him or herself, the better. Bauer (which means pawn in German, by the way) also speaks of the flexible nature of the setups Black can employ.
After scanning the material, I realized that the Owen’s Defence has a different character than the other three lines. Many of the positions reached in the latter three sections resemble the Queen’s Indian or Dutch Defences, although Bauer is careful not to include move orders which would be classified as part of these openings. The book uses the popular complete game approach to laying out the material. Each major branch of the opening is illustrated by one or more well annotated games. Looking through the list of games one see’s that late English GM Tony Miles was a pioneer of these systems. The author also has many of his own games included. The fact that GM Bauer is experienced with this line lends creedence to his views. Many other world class players have used these systems from time to time as surprise weapons, also. One of the best selling points for this book is that the lines covered are almost impossible to avoid. I think that this book would be primarily of interest to advanced players.
2 1/2 peaches
The Bb5 Sicilian, by IM Richard Palliser. Gloucester Publishers (formerly Everyman Publishers), 2005. www.everymanchess.com. 208pp. $23.95.
This release from Everyman Chess covers one of the most popular of a group of systems known as anti-Sicilians. White avoids the move 3.d4 and with it the reams of theory associated with the classical variations of the open Sicilian. Since Black has been scoring well in the main lines of Sicilian, particularly the Sveshnikov Variation, lines with an early Bb5 have become popular at the highest levels. Kasparov, Adams, Morozevich, and Svidler are 2700+ players who have games in this volume. The author is an English International Master with a growing reputation as a writer and researcher. A regular columnist in several British chess journals, his first book, Play 1. d4!, was well received by the chess public.
The first part of the book covers 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+, which is known as the Moscow Variation. The second part is devoted to 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5, the Rossolimo Variation. Using the popular complete game format, The Bb5 Sicilian contains 82 well-annotated main games and a handful of complete, mostly short, games in the introduction. Part 1 has five chapters, covering Black’s three responses to White’s 3.Bb5+. Chapter 1 covers 3…Nc6, where the two systems tend to overlap. Chapter 2 looks at the least tried alternative, 3…Nd7. Palliser considers this to be an aggressive approach from Black which avoids simplification and leads to very unbalanced positons. Chapters 3–5 are devoted to Black’s main response, 3…Bd7. White almost always continues with 4.Bd7+. Then we have 4…Nd7 (Chaper 3) and 4…Qd7(the main line). Now White has two main plans, 5.O-O (Chapter 4) stresses rapid development, while 5.c4 (Chapter 5) leads to a Maroczy bind without light-squared Bishops. Since White’s light squared Bishop is his worst minor piece in most Maroczy bind type positions, I have always liked this line. Part 2 also has 5 chapters. Chapter 6 covers Black’s rare third moves, Chapter 7 gives 3…Nf6, which is rapidily increasing in popularity, and Chapter 8 is on 3…e6. This is considered a very dynamic response. The book’s last two chapters cover 3…g6, which is considered the main line of the Rossolimo Variation.
This is a very well writen book which gives ample coverage to all the major lines. As always these days, the games shown in the book are only a fraction of the available material. Palliser says that his database has over 40,000 games with these systems. Therefore, an author’s main goal should be to lay out a framework from which a player can begin his own explorations, and IM Palliser has done a nice job of it here. Objectively speaking, these Bb5 systems promise White no big advantage, The main point is to avoid whichever Sicilian complex that your opponents like to play and probably are well prepared for. A good read for all 1.e4 players as well as those who play the Sicilian.