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Review: The English, by David Cummings

2016, 399 pages
Everyman Chess

By Davide Nastasio

I learned the English using 2 DVDs by GM Williams for Chessbase around 2 years ago.

 

english_opening_vol1 english_opening_vol2

 

 

I tried it for 6 months, nearly a year in various tournaments, but the results were definitely bad. I realized one mistake I made was my lack of understanding on how I should study an opening. For example, one error I made was relative to the amount of games I should have watched and played before using it in a tournament. I had to become more mature as a player in order to use it. Now I’d like to give it another try, because often I play the same players in the state where I live, and I play some of these players even in matches. Consequently, I do need to be able to vary my openings.  This is the reason I got this volume, to see if I will be able to play it successfully in tournaments.

The author begins the book by telling us why it is a good idea to play the English.  One of the main reasons is avoiding the study of tons of theory, since it can be used like a system similar to the London, and Black players tend to spend more time studying and preparing for 1.e4 and 1.d4, instead of 1.c4. But the most important reason (which made me decide I wanted to read the book) was on page 8: “Most of the existing English opening repertoire books offer White systems involving an early g2-g3. Most notably, the seminal works by Tony Kosten and Mihail Marin are based on playing 1.c4, and 2.g3 against any of Black’s replies. One key decision I made early on was not to follow in their footsteps….” He continues: “the theory after 1.c4,e5; 2.g3 which Marin covered in close to 500 pages in 2009, is the very domain that has exploded most dramatically.”  The author makes the example that at the Moscow Candidate tournament 2016, 20% of the games were 1.c4,e5; with White playing 2.g3.  David Cummings is trying to teach us how to avoid the most fashionable path, used by all the Top GMs at the moment, and which would be known by our opponents who pay minimal attention to the video commentary of the main tournaments.

Let’s begin with an overview of Chapter 1.  The author dedicates about 8 pages to explain the theory, and the reasons behind the moves he proposes for his repertoire. Then he begins to show some games.  This position is reached after the moves: 1.c4,e5; 2.Nc3,Nf6; 3.Nf3,Nc6; 4.e3,

 

4_e3_main_,move

 

Then he continues to explain the theory until a quite distinct crossroad which occurs at move 8 when White takes on F6.  1.c4,e5; 2.Nc3,Nf6; 3.Nf3,Nc6; 4.e3,Bb4; 5.Qc2,0-0; 6.Nd5,Re8; 7.Qf5 (the author explores in chapter 1 some alternatives) 7…,d6; 8.Nxf6.

 

8_Nxf6

 

Now I’d like to show you one game, because the story behind it is quite funny.  The author chose for the first game in the book a loss by Giri as Black against Grischuk in 34 moves, played in 2013. Now the game you are going to see is a win by Giri as White in 30 moves, using the same opening Grischuk used against him in 2013! As we can see, one can learn from the losses, and eventually use them against new opponents who will lose too!

 

 

In the first chapter there are a total of 5 games heavily annotated to show possible alternatives for both colors.  The second chapter deals mainly with 5. … Bxc3, and White’s responses, while also outlining some alternatives to 5. … Bxc3.  After 1.c4,e5; 2.Nc3,Nf6; 3.Nf3,Nc6; 4.e3,Bb4; 5.Qc2,Bxc3;

 

chapter2_5_Bxc3

 

This chapter, like chapter 1, follows the same pattern: 2-3 pages of theory, followed by 4 games heavily annotated.  While I follow this book, I also use other tools to keep my research updated, for example, Megabase 2017.

 

mega_database_2017

I update my copy every couple of weeks. I can discover if games with the lines explained in Chapter 2 were played lately.  I discovered the following game, just played a little over a couple of months ago.

 

 

Chapter 3 is dedicated to the alternatives to Black’s fourth move 4. … Bb4 examined in the previous chapter.  The author examines 4. … Be7; 4. … d5; 4. … g6; 4. … d6;

 

move_4th_alternatives

 

Of these four alternatives, the one we must really pay attention to is 4. … d5, because it can lead to an open Sicilian with reversed colors.
After the moves: 1.c4,e5; 2.Nc3,Nf6; 3.Nf3,Nc6; 4.e3,d5

 

4_d5

 

we must take in d5 with 5.cxd5,Nxd5; now the author proposes to continue with 6.Bb5.

 

6_Bb5

 

Often in books we just see games in which the opening we are going to play is winning. This is the reason why I use the Megabase 2017, with nearly 7 million games on it. I found that less than 500 games were played in this line in over 140 years.  I gave a quick look at all the games with names of important players, independently from the result, in order to better understand what are the pros and cons of playing this particular line. This is an example of a game between two big names of the past:

 

 

The book concludes by examining all possible deviations on 2nd and 3rd move to 1.c4,e5 in chapter 4.  The next five chapters are dedicated to the symmetrical English. In Chapter 5, the author makes a really nice introduction to the symmetrical English, giving some simple rules to remember in order to fight Black’s possible different move orders. I think chapter 5 is essential, and shows why one cannot really study an opening like the English without an experienced guide like David Cummings.

 

symmetrical_english

 

The rest of the book is based on seven chapters where the author analyzes different setups Black can use to throw us off guard and lead us into our opponent’s theoretical preparation. Therefore Cummings develops the chapters with the names of the major openings used by Black, like anti-Slav system, anti-Nimzo system, anti-Grünfeld, King’s Indian, Dutch, etc. The book ends with the index of the variations and the index of the complete games.

In conclusion: I think the English is a very important opening that everyone should try to learn and use for at least a couple of years in their chess lives.  If they don’t like it, or it is not part of their nature, at the very least the pawn structures, ideas, and plans learned from the English can be used in other openings, as well.  David Cummings did a good job of synthesizing all the material, and provided a good game selection for a total of 44 games! The annotation of the games helps the learner to see more sidelines and ideas on how to contrast Black’s plans. The English is the kind of opening which can be used to surprise the opponent, or transpose into other openings we know well, avoiding our opponent’s preparation, obliging him to think from the beginning.

 

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