Review: Original and aggressive : 1…b6; for practical players, by GM Nigel Davies

By Davide Nastasio

About a year ago, I studied the wonderful Chessbase DVD made by Dejan Bojkov on the English Defence. Such study paid off, because I won 2 out of 3 games in a subsequent tournament, and the one I lost was a rapid game against a young International Master. When this product was published, I was curious to refresh my knowledge, because obviously after one year I didn’t remember much, and meanwhile I studied other openings. GM Davies begins showing 1…b6 as an answer to the main first moves generally played by White, but then right away clarifies: “I’m more interested in showing how Black can transpose into other openings, if the opportunity presents itself.”

At this point Davies made caught my attention, because we all know that 1…b6 against 1.e4 shouldn’t give problems to White. But if from 1.d4, one is able to enter a Queen’s Indian, then it becomes worth it, because it is a way to muddy the waters and bring White into a territory with which he is not familiar, and which could lead our opponent into making a mistake.

The first eleven videos are dedicated to 1.d4,e6; 2.c4,b6: the English defense.




But why would someone begin to use this opening?  The explanation is given by Davies in the introductory video: “It can be low maintenance.”  Yes! That is the point. The English Defence is based on ideas and some typical maneuvers which tell us where to place some pieces, or which pieces one would want to exchange. But it is not based on rote memorization like in some branches of the Sicilian where one must memorize the first fifteen moves and is still within the opening theory.

There are also some sharp lines in the English Defence, but Davies says he will avoid them because they are generally analyzed by engines, and one also needs to memorize them. The following position is one of the lines Davies doesn’t treat, which can become quite sharp.




Instead, Davies proposes Nc6, which is also leading to a fighting game but with little theory.




Davies covers 1.c4,b6 with ten videos, explaining in detail the nuances of move order, and how Black needs to react to them. The following is a very exciting game where we see one of the top GMs of the 1980s, many times Hungarian champion, collapse in just few moves.



The book also covers 1.Nf3,b6; 2.g3,Bb7 with six videos.  I find this section of the DVD to be really important because some players open with 1.Nf3, and I generally tend to enter into the Dutch, but Davies explains well how to use 1…b6, and which moves we need to play in depth.  Here we can see an impressive game played by Larsen, following the ideas explained by Davies:



Davies also explains the Owen’s defense, for those who don’t want to go into a French after 1.d4,e6; 2.e4, and now instead of 2…d5; Black should play 2…b6. Davies right away says that he doesn’t recommend to play 1…,b6 versus 1.e4, because it can become difficult for Black to fight White’s broad pawn center. But there are some games, such as those played by GM Blatny, which are impressive and can teach us the way to fight White and win!

Here we have one of Blatny’s games which can be interesting for the amateur who wants to employ this repertoire in blitz games:



The DVD ends with fifteen videos of test positions where Davies tests the viewer to see how much   was remembered, or understood. This is the point where the Chessbase training system is better than any book. Throughout the video lectures, Davies, thanks to the Fritz trainer system, is able to pause the video and ask the viewers a question. Like in the introductory video, Davies asks what you would play at this point if you were Black.




I chose the wrong move (Bc5), and Davies explained why it was the wrong move, and what would happen as a consequence of such a wrong move.




But let’s return for a minute to think upon what Davies is saying. He is trying to give us a flexible move order which could lead to some of the openings we know without our opponent being prepared for them. Because from 1.d4,e6; 2.c4, we can also try to enter into a Nimzo-Indian with Nf6.

I’d like to give one last game as an example so the reader can start to have a feeling for this opening repertoire. This game is not coming from the databases given with the DVD. Davies has given two databases, one based on the games taught in the videos with 34 games, and one called Owen’s extra games with 50 games.

Video n. 6 shows us the following line: 1.d4 e6 2.c4 b6 3.e4 Bb7 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.d5




I found this nice game, played nearly 100 years ago by two of the main players of that time.  This game  should be known by the student interested in adopting this opening repertoire:



In conclusion: it is clear, and Davies is quite honest upon this point, that the Owen’s Defense or English Defence cannot be used in all instances.  The DVD and the repertoire proposed are more useful to tournament players who already know how to transpose into other openings they normally play, but keeping open the option of playing the English defence and surprising opponents who are prepared for our common repertoire.

I did find this DVD very useful because I do know, and use, the French, the Dutch, the Queen’s Indian, I’m keeping the English as a surprise opening to avoid my opponent’s preparation. But I wouldn’t be honest if I wouldn’t advise to have a good classic repertoire into which a player can transpose from the English. Hope to see more DVDs from Davies, since he is a good teacher who clearly knows well his field.


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