Friday, December 4, 2009

Fighting the Ruy Lopez

Title: Fighting the Ruy Lopez
Author: Milos Pavlovic
Publisher: Everyman
ISBN: 978 1 85744 590 9
Pages: 174

Preface 5
Introduction: The Ideas Behind the Marshall Attack 7

Part One: Gambit Lines
1 The Main Line 15
2 The Modern Rook Shuffle: 15 Re4 26
3 The Mysterious Retreat: 13 Re2 40
4 The Kevitz Variation: 12 Bxd5 cxd5 13 d4 45
5 The Dangerous 12 d3 49
6 The Tricky 12 g3 64
7 Declining the Marshall 69

Part Two: Anti-Marshall Lines
8 The 8 h3 Anti‐Marshall 75
9 The 8 a4 Anti‐Marshall 96
10 The 8 d4 Anti‐Marshall 107
11 The Steinitz Variation: 8 d3 119

Part Three: Other Lines
12 The Worrall Attack 130
13 The Delayed Exchange Variation 137
14 Early d4 and Nc3 Variations 144
15 The Exchange Variation 156
Index of Variations 168

Fighting the Ruy Lopez is a repertoire book for Black against 1.e4. The repertoire is based on the Marshall Attack and after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 (the moves characterizing the Ruy Lopez), most of White's serious tries are covered.

I must say I was a bit sceptical before receiving the book: could really the main subject of the book - the Marshall Attack be dealt with satisfactorily in only 55 pages? Knowing that Everyman's opening books usually are based on complete games it seemed rather unlikely. Well, it turned out that there are very few complete games in Pavlovic' book. In certain respects that's a drawback but together with the autor's decision to recommend a fairly narrow repertoire (normally only one move for Black but occasionally two) it made him able to offer a nearly complete coverage of this ambitious opening in his rather limited space.

Much of the same can be said of the rest of the material covered. The Anti Marshalls and White's early deviations, including the exchange variations, are well explained in prose and variations in a relatively small number of pages. However, although the mainlines and White's most dangerous systems generally are covered in the necessary detail, Pavlovic has been a bit short on some of the quieter lines:
  • The book doesn't even mention the 8.a3 Anti Marshall. Admittedly the line isn't very popular but it contains some poison as 8...d5 may be dubious and after 8...Bb7!? White can try to omit or delay h3. One good reaction is to play 8...d6 and transpose to Suetin's line in the Closed Ruy Lopez which is generally considered harmless. But in order to play that position sucessfully you need at least a basic schooling in standard Closed Ruy Lopez positions.
  • It was a bit surprising to see that against the Worrall Attack the book recommends the line 5.0-0 Be7 6.Qe2 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d6, only mentioning the 'Pseudo-Marshall' 8...d5 in passing (noting that White with good reason usually declines the pawn with 9.d3). I believe most Marshall players would have preferred to have the 8...d5 line in their repertoire (and now may be left wondering whether there is a theoretical challenge hidden in these lines).
  • In his introduction to the 8.d3 Anti-Marshall (which he interestingly calls the Steinitz Variation) Pavlovic briefly points out that the resulting positions also can arise from the move-orders 5.d3 and 6.d3 (and even from the Italian Game). Therefore it's a bit disappointing that there is no discussion to be found over the merits and finesses of these moves - there actually are some points to note.
In my opinion these minor omissions don't really detract from the book's value. What Pavlovic really offers is a strong Grandmaster's guide to a very interesting opening, complete with improvements wherever necessary. I must, however, point out that I am still awaiting the book 'The Marshall Endgame Explained'. Any volunteers?

My evaluation:
  • For players below 1300: Probably preparing for 3.Bc4 and 2.f4 will pay better dividends.
  • For players 1300-1800: A quite useful book but how often do you actually reach the Marshall?
  • For players 1800-2300: Here is everything you will need in order to face the Ruy Lopez confidently.
  • For players above 2300: A very useful resource but you will need to do some work yourself and stay updated by following the top GMs.
Some supplementary reviews:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

1.b4 - Theory & Practice of the Sokolsky Opening

Title: 1.b4: Theory & Practice of the Sokolsky Opening
Authors: Jerzy Konikowski and Marek Soszynski
Publisher: Russell Enterprises 2009
ISBN: 978-1-888690-65-1
Pages: 315

  • Preface (1 page) Acknowledgements & Selected English
  • Bibliography (1 page)
  • The Name (1 page)
  • Signs & Symbols (1 page)
  • Playing the Sokolsky (3 pages)
  • Introduction (12 pages)
  • 1.b4 a5 (11 pages)
  • 1.b4 c6 (21 pages)
  • 1.b4 e6 (45 pages)
  • 1.b4 d5 2.Bb2 Nf6, 2…Qd6, 2…Bf5 (35 pages)
  • 1.b4 Nf6 2.Bb2 g6 (33 pages)
  • 1.b4 f5 (13 pages)
  • 1.b4 e5 2.Bb2 f6 (55 pages)
  • 1.b4 e5 2.Bb2 d6 (27 pages)
  • 1.b4 e5 2.Bb2 e4 (8 pages)
  • 1.b4 e5 2.Bb2 Bxb4 3.Bxe5 Nf6 4.c4 (22 pages)
  • 1.b4 e5 2.Bb2 Bxb4 3.Bxe5 Nf6 4.Nf3 (16 pages)
  • Afterword (1 page)
  • Index of Games (3 pages)
The first few tournaments I played - more than 30 years ago - left lasting impressions. One of these was the enthusiasm displayed by a somewhat older junior from a neighbouring chess club for the first move 1.b4. He was preaching its virtues to anybody willing to listen and his main message was that with his first move White put his mark on the game. Since then I have been following the move but very rarely played it myself. Except for a few rapid games with 1.Nf3 followed by 2.b4, the nearest I have come was a time when the Budapest gambit (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5) figured in my repertoire and I decided to meet 2.Nf3 with 2...b5!?.

Although I was tempted I didn't buy Lapshun and Conticello's 'Play 1.b4' (Everyman 2008) as it seemed to be rather short on analysis (this was my impression from browsing through it and reading online reviews - not the result of any real investigation). This book, however, I couldn't pass over as it was immediately evident that it contained a huge amount of analysis, research and knowledge about this somewhat esoteric opening.

Let me state it immediately: All serious practitioners of 1.b4 need this book - there simply is no way around it. Every page is packed with game references and there is a fair amount of fresh analysis. The variations are logically organized and there are lots of complete and interesting games. Even with the huge databases that are now available you realize that there must be an enormous amount of research behind this project. I seem to sense some of the same fanatism

That doesn't mean the book is perfect:
  • In my opinion there is too little prose to really make the book a good read and more seriously there generally is a lack of strategic explanations.
  • Some of the information is of little practical value and mainly confuses the larger picture. Possibly you grow more tolerant regarding unorthodox moves after having played a large number of 1.b4 games. Nevertheless I dare to say that the book would have been better if the line 1.b4 Nh6 2.Bb2 Rb8 had been cut and replaced with some prose in the mainlines.
  • There is no detailed Table of Content. Only the first few moves are given and then comes the game information (name of players, site and year). This makes it harder to locate a particular variation that interests you. When looking for the line 1.b4 e5 2.Bb2 Bxb4 3.Bxe5 Nf6 4.c4 0–0 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Bb2 Re8 7.e3 d5 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Be2 Rxe3!? (for some analysis see these entries in Sverre's Chess Corner) it took me some time to locate the variations on page 277. The analysis was a little less exhaustive than I had hoped for but quite likely I will follow up this variation in my analytical blog.
  • There are a few editorial lapses. When looking for the line above in Chapter 10, I was several times referred to Chapter 10. In at least one of the cases that turned out to be correct but that didn't make the reference any more informative. Some mistakes of this kind are unavoidable but I suspect that there may be more than average of them as found several other minor errors in a relatively short time.
My evaluation:
For players below 1300: Not really worth the money.
For players 1300-1800: Recommended as your second book on the Sokolsky.
For players 1800-2300: An extremely useful reference work if you want to play 1.b4.
For players above 2300: I suspect you would score better with another first move.

Some supplementary reviews:

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Blog Lives

Unfortunately this blog has been dormant for more than a year. The main reason I haven't closed it, is the link collections which have been quite useful for my own web searching. However, it now has a "follower" and I take that as an obligation to revitalize it.

The main reason it never really got started probably was too high ambitions coupled with a few books that were very difficult to review fairly. Therefore my first project will be a series of mini reviews starting December 1st.

In 2010 I will try to have at least one monthly collection of reviews. In addition I will occasionally add some other thoughts on chess reviewers, publishers, authors and maybe even chess readers.

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)

Note for Chess Book Publishers

If you would like me to review a book, please send it to my postal address:

Sverre Johnsen
Bogstadveien 30B
0355 Oslo

I cannot guarantee that all received books will be reviewed but I will do my best. There of course is no guarantee that a review will be positive but if it seems relevant I will point out positive aspects even if my overall impression is negative.

I can be reached by email at: