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:

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