Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Chess openings: 4 recent books

A few weeks ago, while standing in a Metro stop, I overheard some chess players talking about a particular opening.  They had come from the Arlington Chess Club, and I have thought about getting back and playing USCF rated chess again myself since.  I have not been “competitive” ever since I dug myself so far into self-publishing.

I ordered four books from Amazon to see what had happened in all of my pet openings.  And, no, 47 years after I played my first rated game, chess is not played out, even with all the computers and Big Blue.

The most important of these “livres” is “The Kaufman Reprtoire for Black and White”, by Larry Kaufman, published by New in Chess (in the Netherlands), 2012. The book is split into halves upsidedown from one another (a physical presentation technique that I find distracting). Each cover shows the opp\osing King knocked over in resignation.  Losing with White is like lo\sing at home in sports, when you should have home-field advantage.  
The book is very well illustrated, spelling out complete moves in full algebraic notation.

I remember Larry, and lost to him once in the 1970s. His whole repertoire strategy is based on the idea of “solid chess”.   He wants you to get to the middle game with few exchanges and a good position, and offers few easy wins or quick traps.  He refers to computer evaluations and gives some detailed pointers on counting material, with the “two bishops” a very big thing for him.  In many openings, he admits a slight persistent plus for White as normal.  For Black, against “1 e4” he recommends a double king pawn library with the Breyer Defense to the closed Ruy Lopez.  That keeps all the pieces on the board into the middle game with a balanced position that gives a better player real winning chances (once White stumbles). 
 Surprisingly, he says that White may be able to maintain a tiny plus with the Italian Game, and says that computers don’t like the Two Knights Defense for Black too much (even though in practice stronger players crush weaker opponents with it – the opening was used in the musical “Chess”).  For Queenside openings, Kaufman likes to aim for the Grunfeld, and even recommends “1 g6” as a response to “1 c4” to minimize move order problems (rather like word order in German!).   It used to be the case that some players felt obliged to learn the Kings Indian to deal with tricky move order issues.

For White, Kaufman explains his recently cultivated preference for the Queen Pawn (1 d4), as giving White the best chance to control the game and steer it into channels where he/she retains an advantage.  He gives and antidote to the Benko Gambit (trade white bishops and block the b5 square), although I’ve seen other games where White keeps the bishop fianchettoed and uses it to support a central pawn push.  He also discusses some transpositional advantages to starting with 1 Nf3.   Against the Grunfeld, he prefers the Russian system with “Qb3” early (so did Ruben Fine) as keeping a stable pawn center. Against the Nimzo Indian, he likes the dogmatic “Qc2” to keep the bishop pair without doubled pawns (but “4e3” can do that also).  He also recommends alternatives inviting a Queens or Bogo Indian. In the Kings Indian Classical, he points out that a quick Q-side by White (involving a riskly Be3-fw maneuver and “c5” at the right moment) might be almost winning.

GM’s Lev Alburt, Roman Dzindzichashvilli, and Eugene Perelshteyn offer “Chess Openings for Black Explained”,  2009, published by the Chess Information and Research Center.  These masters recommend a Sicilian Accelerated Dragon for Black where possible.  The Maroczy Bind was long thought to give White a space advantage, but there is a lot of potential  counterplay against White’s pawn chains, and weaker White players often quickly stumble.   For the QP, they like the Nimzo-Indian.

There could be something to be said for playing the Accelerated Dragon and Grunfeld as part of the same strategy, because both involve fianchetto of the QB.   Also, use of the AD makes “1.. c5” an effective response to “1 Nf3”.

Fundamental Chess Openings”, by Paul van der Sterren  (2011, Gambit) gives a well-illustrated survey of all the openings, good for beginners.  It’s like an expanded Reinfeld from the 50s! The acronym is FCO.
The “fundamental” reference, though, is MCO-15, or "Modern Chess Openings", (2008, Random House) by Nick de Firmian. At 748 pages, it doesn’t seem as comprehensive as it could be. The book has been criticized for typos and for careless or inconsistent use of computer evaluations.   MCO’s columns (leading to footnotes) don’t always represent “best play by both sides” so it is harder to assess the recent progress of variations quickly. I checked a few critical lines from my own past.  It seems as though, in the Sicilian, Black is holding his own in the Dragon Yugoslav (especially with the Soltis line), despite rumors to the contrary, and the same holds for the complicated long lines in the Nadjorf (including the Poisoned Pawn).    In the French Poisoned Pawn, the most critical lines are, regrettably (for me) favoring White’s extra pawn despite his vulnerable King in the center.  In the Ruy Lopez, there’s some reason for Black players to try aggressive, or active piece-oriented defenses like the Archangelsk or the Open.  MCO still considers the Marshall Attack sound and playable, but there are a couple of critical positions that may favor White in the ending, at long last.

They say that chess is very "therapeutic". 

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