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Review: The English Opening Vol. 1, by Simon Williams

By Davide Nastasio

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I don’t know GM Williams personally, but I’ve followed many of his videos from last year, and even bought some of his books through the years. He is an exceptionally passionate teacher on the openings he plays. He begins volume 1 of these DVDs saying that the English opening is an extremely interesting opening, where one does not need to know a lot of theory but can navigate it by knowing the main ideas. Now, while that may be arguable, he adds one idea which totally makes sense: “if one learns the ideas and the setups, this opening is one in which theory doesn’t change too drastically, and what one learns today will still be valuable ten, even twenty years from now.”

Of course we shouldn’t just take GM Williams’ word for it; Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, during a commentary of games in the super strong Norway Chess tournament (held in Stavanger), when asked why so many top players with White were playing the English answered, “Because it is one of the most exciting openings.”

In the first DVD, GM Williams uses an array of 22 top games to explain how to play with White against most of the possible answers given by Black after 1. …  e5;

The first line examined (with seven games) is the Reti Variation of the four knights English:  1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 d4!?

 

reti_var_4_knights

 

It is followed by a quick  … f5:  1. c4 e5  2. Nc3 Nc6  3. Nf3 f5  4. d4,  three games.

 

quick_f5

 

Then it covers with two games.  An early  … g6:   1. c4 e5  2. Nc3 Nc6  3. Nf3 g6

 

early_g6

 

With three games is covered an early …Bb4:  1. c4 e5  2. Nc3 Bb4.

 

early_Bb4

 

One game-video is dedicated to rare tries from Black.

After that follows The Mikenas-Carls Variation:  1.  c4 Nf6 2.  Nc3 e6 3.  e4, 4 games

 

mikenas_carls_var

 

And a “Unique Approach”:  1.  c4 e6 2.  Nc3 d5 3.  e3!? with two games.

 

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This part was called a unique approach because Williams said that in the beginning he found it difficult not to re-enter into a d4 vs d5 opening.  However, GM Williams at this point shares some good advice: he said that in the beginning of his chess journey he would play 1.c4,e6; 2.d4, because he wanted to learn, as a player, how to play against such structures.  If this is a repertoire for someone who wants to exclusively learn and play the English, GM Williams warns us that it is better to become universal players and learn how to deal with other pawn structures and opening ideas.

There is a conclusive video for Volume One, which is followed by 12 video of exercises in which GM Williams shows many different positions, and asks us students to solve them.

A database of 60 model games accompanies the DVD to reinforce the material taught in the videos.

In the introductory video to volume One, GM Williams tells us about himself, and that is something to pay attention to because it tells us the path a player must follow. He says that he began to play at age 6, and didn’t become good till he was 12 years old.  He adds that up to the age of 18 or 19 he always played the English opening. He is conveying the idea that the English formed him as a player, since he reached the level of IM strength with such an opening system.

In volume one, GM Williams gives us a repertoire which is based on 1.c4,e5; 2.Nc3. Now many of you who studied Marin’s work on the English will right away ask: “What? He doesn’t give us 2.g3…?”  Williams argues that GM Magnus Carlsen, as Black, played in a recent game against GM Peter Svidler, and got into a winning position quite quickly. I tracked the game and it was a draw, because White was able to find a way to give check by repetition.

The main objection made by GM Williams is that once Black plays Pf7-f5, White should be able to meet such a move with d4, because the fight is always for the center. But in this case White cannot, because Black is controlling d4. Here is the interesting game mentioned by GM Williams:

 

 

Instead GM Williams proposes the following type of structure to fight against f7-f5:

 

Nf3_vs_Pf5_structure

 

The main idea of his repertoire is to develop both the knights, and then play d2-d4.

Williams doesn’t treat positions which are clearly a reversed Sicilian, not because he can’t, but because he doesn’t like to give Black a lot of space and good development. He doesn’t deny that such positions are very rich of sharp lines, but maybe not really good for the amateur who would love to play the English without learning the intricacies of the Sicilian. Here is an example of a position which is not treated:

 

reversed_sicilian

 

The advantage is that Black’s players are surely more accustomed to these kinds of positions. Avoiding them means to bring our opponents in a territory they don’t like or know so well.

I’d like to add that GM Williams targeted the 1800-rated player who wants to grow. But what does this statement mean? He showed in the videos some lines that he avoids teaching, because those are clearly difficult to understand for the player who has not developed a full positional understanding. I would say these two DVDs (there is a second volume which will be reviewed later) are perfect for players up to 1800 who want to grow further. And that is the reason he puts so much emphasis on how to learn some transpositions into d4,d5 openings.
Williams also adds that the lines he teaches are good for White because they give White space advantage. From the emphasis in his words, it means that the player around 1800 needs to learn how to capitalize on the space advantage and win in order to improve his game.

From the first DVD I loved the following game. GM Williams could honestly consider a career in comedy. He says that after this game the other player, a strong GM, changed job and career–and he was the reason. On the other hand, there is an important theoretical novelty in this game which was missed even by the Informator 7-8 years after this game was played. I don’t want to spoil all the story that GM Williams tells because it is quite interesting. However, I’d like everyone to enjoy this great game which shows how good a player must be today in the endgame if he wants to aspire to the Master title.

 

 

In conclusion, I am happy with this DVD.  I am now watching all the videos of the second volume.  I’m also planning on taking a look at the DVD GM Williams mentions briefly: A Dynamic Weapon Against the QGD – 5.Bf4, because that would allow me to cover possible transpositions from this English repertoire which couldn’t be covered adequately in the two videos. “A Unique approach.” Williams reiterates the concept a few times in different videos, that in order to grow one needs to learn how to deal with pawn structures arising from the QGD, and his honest opinions are a treasure which will surely help me to improve as a player.

 

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