Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Philidor Files

The Philidor files, detailed coverage of a dynamic opening

Christian Bauer,
Everyman 2006,

304 sider, paperback

Even though it may not be entirely obvious from the main title, the sub-title makes it clear that Bauer’s book is an opening monograph. More specifically it’s a book about Philidor’s Defence. Traditionally this opening was defined by the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 and regarded as a difficult defence for Black who - unless he was well prepared - risked being mated remarkably quickly. Lately this reputation has improved somewhat as many players have turned to the Pirc move-order 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 followed by either 3...Nbd7 and 4...e5 or the immediate 3...e5.

As can be seen from the Table of Content, Bauer’s book deals with both move-orders. In addition it covers the systems (1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6) 3.f3 and 3.Bd3 which frequently have been ignored or underestimated in previous works.

A Traditional Opening Manual

Basically ‘The Philidor files’ is a traditional opening manual where the variations are organized in a three structure. However, the author has in addition attempted to achieve some of the advantages of Everyman’s favoured ‘Illustrative Games’ approach by adding entertaining games in full wherever natural - frequently with diagrams and full annotations.

Despite being a solid 308 densely written pages, the book is a fairly comfortable read as there is plenty of prose in between the moves. Unfortunately some of the prose appears to have been added mainly in order to allow the eye some rest from long reams of moves. When Bauer after 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 first lists White’s alternatives to 4.Nf3 (A: 4.f4, B: 4.Nge2, C: 4.dxe5) and then in line B: comments: ‘1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nge2!? An interesting alternative to the usual 4.dxe5 and 4.Nf3’, the information value is so low that you are reminded of the Norwegian chess writer who annotated 14.Qd2 as follows: ”White moves his queen to d2”. Fortunately this is an exception, and not the rule in Bauer’s book.

‘The Philidor files’ comes closer to being an encyclopaedia than a repertoire book. In most key positions the book offers alternatives for Black as well as for White. Actually the book frequently offers more than one way to advantage against dubious variations. However, this approach isn’t entirely consistent and if Bauer consider a variation unsatisfactory for Black he frequently concludes his analysis very quickly.

Some Omissions

Even though Bauer’s book is the incomparably most detailed overview of Philidor’s defence so far, it doesn’t cover everything. And although some omissions seem to have been deliberate, others probably are accidental.

After the classical move-order 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6, Bauer primarily analyses 3.d4. The only alternative to receive any serious attention is 3.Bc4 which is not much weaker. This is particularly popular at club level - possibly because White hopes to get in Blackburne's ancient trap 3...Bg4?! 4.Nc3 g6? 5.Nxe5! Bxd1?? 6.Bxf7+ Ke7 7.Nd5 mate. Bauer recommends 3...Be7, and mentions several alternatives but gives no repertoire advice if Black was heading for the Larsen-variation (3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 g6).

Against the main line 3.d4, Bauer recommends 3...exd4 but he also examines the older mainlines 3...Nd7 and 3...Nf6. Even Philidor’s original 3...f5?! receives full coverage with 4.Nc3; 4.dxe5; 4.exf5 and 4.Bc4 which really is an overkill. In contrast there is little of interest for fans of Blackburne’s old gambit 3...Bg4. Admittedly Bauer offers one of White’s very best lines - 4.dxe5 Nd7 5.exd6 Bxd6 6.Nc3 Ngf6 7.Be2 Qe7 8.Nd4 - but that’s about it. And it’s at this point that Buecker - the gambit’s modern spokesman - really starts his analysis.

It would not be fair to criticize Bauer for his sparse coverage of these rather minor lines. However, when it comes to Larsen’s variation (4.Nxd4) 4...g6, I don't find his explanations adequate regarding 5.c4. In practical play this is not a popular choice but this probably is mostly because players opening 1.e4 prefer quick development over space gaining. Actually, after 5.c4 (Dia) Black has to choose between to systems which are not too highly regarded:

a) After the natural 5...Nf6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Be2 Black hardly has anything better than 7...0-0 which after 8.0-0 is a King’s Indian (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7) position which would normally arise from the line 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0–0 6.Be2 e5 7.0–0 exd4 8.Nxd4. This is playable for Black but considerably less popular than the alternatives 7...Nc6, 7...Na6 and 7...Nbd7.

b) If Black isn’t tempted by the transposition to a rare King’s Indian line, he can - as Bauer suggests - play 5...Bg7 6.Nc3 Nc6 7.Be3 Nge7. What he doesn’t mention is that this position is a quite deeply researched line from the Modern Defence (1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7), and normally reached via the move-order 3.c4 d6 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.Be3 e5 6.Nge2 exd4 7.Nxd4 Nge7.

Bauer’s conclusion is slightly surprising: ‘...for those who find 5.c4 annoying, there is no disadvantage in starting with 4...Nf6 5.Nc3 and only then 5...g6!’. This may well be correct but should in any case have been accompanied by some variations and explanations as 6.Bg5 seems to be an important extra option for White. And even if 6.Bg5 should prove harmless, the knight on f6 blocks the dark-squared bishop’s diagonal - a factor which in certain lines seems to offer White additional options over the 4...g6 line.

After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4, Bauer discusses almost all of Black’s playable continuations - even some which seem rather pointless, like 4...Bd7. In contrast, after the main continuation 4...Nf6 5.Nc3, only Antoshin’s 5...Be7 is considered. Admittedly this clearly is Black’s most popular move. But there are alternatives that deserve a mention - if for no other reason to show why they are weak:

a) This would be the natural place for a closer look at 5...g6, and in particular the reply 6.Bg5.

b) 5...Nbd7 has been played by strong grandmasters like A.Sokolov, Vorotnikov and Nicolaidis.

c) 5...Nc6 can arise from several move-order and has been employed by Piket, Wahls and Istratescu among others.

d) 5...a6 is extremely flexible and has been tested by up and coming players like Nepomniashchy, Sedlak og McShane.

After an admirable treatment of the Antoshin variation, Bauer moves on to the modern move-order 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6. Here his coverage seems relatively complete. Actually I doubt that anybody would have missed it if the author had skipped White’s alternatives to 3.Nc3.

Instead Bauer offers the most detailed examination of 3.f3 I so far have seen, 3...e5, 3...d5 as well as 3...Nbd7 get full coverage. As a consequence it seems slightly inconsistent when he after 3.Bd3 only discusses 3...e5 (in a exemplary way), and almost in passing mentions that 3...c5 and 3...g6 seem to be Black's most interesting alternatives. To me it appears that 3...c6 and 3...Nbd7 could be alternative paths to a Philidor position. If that's not the case, an explanation to the reader would have been very useful.

The Hanham Lives

In the book's final part, Bauer treats the classical Hanham variation which today normally arises after 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nbd7 4.Nf3 e5 5.Bc4 Be7 6.0–0 (Dia).

Bauer offers an impressing coverage of the mainline 6...0-0. There is however, very little for the many amateurs who were hoping for some advice on the lines where Black delays castling and rather plays ...h6. Following Jansen's and Rekom's bok 'The Lion', (which will soon come in a new version) this has become a popular weapon in online blitz. Admittedly Bauer gives a game with 6...h6, and suggests some improvements for both sides. But he fails to mention the less committal move-order 6...c6 7.a4 Qc7 which allows Black to await White's set-up before deciding whether to go for a direct attack with ...h6, ...Nf8, ...g5, ...Ng6 and ...Nf4.

Table of Content

5 Introduction

Part 1: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 d6

10 1 Early Deviations

44 2 3 d4 exd4: Introduction and Larsen's Variation

83 3 Antoshin's Variation: Introduction

109 4 Antoshin's Variation: 6 Bf4

Part 2: 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6

132 5 Early Deviations and 3 f3

147 6 3 Bd3

264 7 3 Nc3 e5

275 8 3 Nc3 Nbd7: Introduction and 4 f4

197 9 3 Nc3 Nbd7 4 g4

Part 3: The Philidor Hanham Variation (1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nbd7 4 Nf3 e5)

207 10 Introduction and 5 g4

218 11 5 Bc4: Introduction and Bxf7+ Lines

232 12 Main Line: 7 Qe2 and 7 a4

247 13 Main Line: 8 Re1 without 8...b6

280 14 Main Line: 8 Re1 b6

299 Final Thoughts

301 Index of Variations

Despite the constant flow of opening monographs, it's far from an everyday occasion that as strong a grandmaster as Bauer authors an opening book. In this book he writes on lines he knows very well from his own games. The book is fairly well penned and inspires confidence with many new suggestions, deep analysis and generally clear explanations of the ideas behind the moves. I recommend it to all players already playing Philidor's defence and to everybody looking for a good defence to 1.e4.

This review is based on my review in Norwegian for the online newspaper Nettavisen which has an excellent chess section.

1 comment:

Signalman said...

I've owned this book for some time, maybe more than a year, and am using it a lot as a repertoire guide.

However, maybe because I'm only now looking at the mainline Hanham, I see that variations in the chapter headings are wrong !

I thought it might have been just me, but I see you have listed the contents and have the same.

Chapter 13 lists 8.Re1 without 8...b6 and chapter 14 is even worse, showing 8.Re1 b6.

Not only is this plain wrong, but once you start reading the text it is very confusing at times, especially when you refer back to the chapter headings ( printed at the top of each page ).

Its bad enough to try dealing with real chess variations, but when the publisher ( and I am assuming it is so, not the author ! ) has it wrong, you begin to wonder.

The correct headings should be:

Chapter 13 as "7.Re1 without 8...b6"
and chapter 14 as "7.Re1 c6 8.a4 b6".

One thing this does highlight is that there is no published errata for everyman books(or none on the web), which is a little worrying, as proof-reading may not be their strongpoint !

Good job your own publisher is Gambit !

I like your mention of the 6...c6 7.a4 Qc7 variation. There are quite a few games in my database with it, and I will have a look through them.

I am also looking at the 7.Re1 b6 option mentioned by Bauer, as a slight deviation from the mainline that might put White on the wrong foot !

Excellent reviews, by the way, please keep them going.

Books Awaiting a Review

  • Attacking the Spanish (Brunello)
  • Build Up Your Chess 3 Mastery (Yusupov)
  • Dangerous Weapons: The Pirc and Modern (Palliser, McNab & Vigus)
  • Kaissiber (German Magazine)
  • Zuke 'Em (Rudel)

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