Review: Rocket Repertoire: The Four Knights, by Simon Williams

Chessbase 2017

By Davide Nastasio

Williams admits right away that he didn’t play the Four Knights much, but found it interesting because he learned a lot while preparing the material for the DVD.




I find this approach extremely interesting, because it mirrors what many top GMs are doing in this period. But let me rewind a little and explain in context how the chess world evolved in the last 20 to 30 years

Kasparov would often complain that he played a lot against Karpov, and when he signed up to play chess, he didn’t sign up to play only against Karpov. Now notice if we use Chessbase Megabase 2017  we can pull up all the games played between the two, and in fact there are 5 matches!  We find that t hey played a total of 193 games! Now the two players in question are passed their 50s, and their last match (a blitz/rapid match) was from 2009. Their first game was in 1975, but if we consider their historic rivalry from 1984 to 2009, their 193 games were played over a period of 25 years, which makes an average of 7 games a year.

Let’s take another couple of famous opponents, for example Carlsen and Nakamura.  I found 87 games between them, the first one being in 2005, which means a period of 12 years. Again more or less 7 games average per year, but neither of the two is complaining about playing only with the other! And what about Carlsen vs. Anand? 105 games, the first one also in 2005, again a period of 12 years.  Now we have nearly 9 games per year, and again neither of the two complained of playing exclusively with the other, and in a shorter time frame (12 years instead of 25).  They already played many more games, and I cannot imagine by the end of their respective careers how many more games they will play against each other, many more than what Kasparov and Karpov played! Why? Because clearly modern chess is much more frenetic, complicated, and hard on the players who like mice in a maze continue to run against each other. How is this related to this review, and Williams’ attempt at introducing us to a repertoire he himself didn’t play much? Simply said, the reason is the following: Carlsen’s second, GM Nielsen, lost a game against the Bird, an opening not often seen in top level. But at top level they need to surprise the opponents constantly with something the opponent is not prepared for, so what did Nielsen do? He said to Carlsen, “Why don’t you play this?” And Carlsen did, winning easily.

Here is the game in question for those who are curious.



Since we don’t have the money to keep a second like Nielsen on the payroll, Chessbase has given us the great opportunity to have Williams whispering in our ears, “Hey, why don’t you play this?” And it is up to us to listen and win some games, or remain entrenched in our repertoire that other players know, and discover they have neutralized it!  Like Carlsen, I meet the same opponents over and over. I play around 15 to 20 tournaments a year, and 4 to 5 matches of 5 to 6 games each.  Like Carlsen, I do need to keep myself anew in order to avoid bad surprises. Differently from Carlsen, I don’t have the time to study a new repertoire and don’t have the money to pay a GM. But I do have the money to buy a Chessbase DVD every month.  I don’t smoke, so I can even buy 2! And if you add the fact that I don’t drink either — I can buy 4!

Williams’ book, in my opinion, is very user-friendly. He is a GM with great experience in writing books and making videos. His presentation is flawless.  He could work as a professional speaker, or work on TV.  He is very professional. Clearly he is the guide we want to hire for navigating the unknown waters of a new opening. Now let’s go to what the Four Knights is after the moves 1.e4,e5; 2.Nf3,Nc6; White doesn’t go for the well-known Bb5 (The Spanish) or Bc4 (which could be The Italian), but plays 3.Nc3,




I like the introductory video because Williams begins to show us how we can re-enter into the Four Knights from other openings. For example, he mentions how after 1.e4,e5; 2.Nf3,Nc6; 3.Bb5 we need to learn tons of theory, and keep ourselves updated. Obviously Black could play 3…a6; typical Spanish, but nowadays the fashion is 3…Nf6; entering the Berlin. And now we can direct the game where we wanted, toward the Four Knights, simply playing 4.Nc3!  In fact, the first batch of videos and games shows us how to play this position.




Williams also shares the advantages of learning the Four Knights:

1. It’s easier to learn than the Spanish and easier to manage, since it requires less theoretical knowledge, and updates.

2. After studying the DVD, just 5 hours, one has all he needs to play the opening.

3. Notice the Four Knights can be used against the Petroff! (This wasn’t mentioned by Williams, but I have a friend who uses it, and I don’t want to play against it.  So in this way I can avoid it.)

4. This opening is a good opening for club players who are trying to improve. This is a very important point: in order to acquire a lot of middlegame themes, one must play the open games.  The Four Knights is definitely the opening which will teach them to us, and Williams also conveys the important middlegame ideas we need to understand throughout the DVD.

The first part of the DVD deals with the symmetrical variation that we have after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bb4 5.0-0 0-0




Then we pass to the Rubinstein variation 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Nd4




This line is quite interesting because Williams says there is a way to force a draw, and in case we are playing someone with a higher rating than ours, to draw is surely better than losing. However, in his typical fashion Williams shows some ways to avoid the draw and play for the point, that is if we like fighting and winning at all costs!

Aronian has played 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bd6, watch what happened!



Then we have the Four Knights Scotch variation: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.Nxd4




This particular opening can be reached from the Scotch Game.  Differently from Williams’ association, it has nothing to do with a drink, but with a historical correspondence match between Edinburgh and London.
For example after the moves: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3.




This is the famous fifth game in the Deep Blue vs. Kasparov match.



Williams has the heart of the gambiteer, a pirate of the chessboard! And he always tries to cover some risky lines where theory is not clear. In this case he covers the Belgrade Gambit, which we have after the moves: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. Nd5




About the line given by Williams in the DVD, I must tell you to take caution. What I mean is, play it against an engine a few times.  Certainly don’t go into a tournament game without knowing it well, because it could spell disaster.

There are 22 interactive testing videos where Williams presents positions and asks us to find the right continuation, giving feedback when we don’t get it right, but also giving feedback when we do get it right, so at least we can confirm we have a similar rationale and it wasn’t just based on luck.

The DVD comes with a database of 55 model games, then there is a database of 20 annotated games on which most of the videos are based.

Pro and Cons

Around 7 minutes and 30 seconds into the introductory video, Williams says one move in the Belgrade Gambit was used only one time by a player rated 2300 to defeat the great Bologan. Honestly, I couldn’t find the game mentioned in the Megabase 2017. I think Williams refers to the game below. Black loses, but he didn’t play the best moves. At the 12th move there was a blunder, and then I don’t understand what happened, but at the 23rd move White made a huge blunder. Or maybe there is a mistake in the recording of the game (or maybe time trouble, who knows?). In any case, this is the game, and Bologan is not the GM who lost the game.



As I mentioned before, some people find it bad that a professional writes a book or makes a DVD without actually playing that opening. In this case, I think Williams has a good excuse: he plays the King’s Gambit, which is clearly more sharp and dangerous than the Four Knights.



For those interested in the King’s Gambit, Williams has made two DVDs with Chessbase.  I like Williams as a teacher; he has a dynamic style, and he always tries to find lines which are sharp.

Final thoughts: for those who, like me, make 15 or more tournaments a year, to have variety in one’s opening repertoire is a necessity. But if, like me, you cannot afford a assistant who prepares for you some novelties, then a new Chessbase DVD proposing some new opening repertoires or ideas is a MUST!  If the DVD is authored by a veteran like Williams, then it is a no brainer. The goal of the DVD is to give us the confidence to play this opening in tournament. The Chessbase tools and databases help us to create that confidence, then we need to practice in a few games before a tournament to be sure we understood the material and know how to react to different situations.



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