Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Ruy Lopez Revisited

Title: The Ruy Lopez Revisited - Offbeat Weapons & Unexplored Resources
Author: Ivan Sokolov
Publisher: New In Chess
ISBN: 978 90 5691 297 0
Pages: 271
Pdf extract

5 Introduction
9 Part I - Jaenisch Gambit
10 Chapter 1: Main Line with 7...Qd5
27 Chapter 2: Main Line with 7...Qg5
65 Chapter 3: Fully Playable - 5...Nf6
74 Chapter 4: The Risky 5...Be7
79 Chapter 5: The Main Deviation 4.Nc3 Nf6
109 Chapter 6: The Practical 4.d3
125 Part II - Delayed Jaenisch Gambit
126 Chapter 7: A Provocative Choice: 3...a6 4.Ba4 f5
139 Part III - Cozio Variation
140 Chapter 8: An Occasional Weapon: 3...Nge7
165 Part IV - Smyslov Variation
166 Chapter 9: The Sound 3...g6
177 Part V - Bird's Defence
178 Chapter 10: Development - 6.d3
192 Chapter 11: The Accurate 6.Bc4
203 Part VI - Classical Variation
204 Chapter 12: 4.c3 - The Interesting 4...f5
212 Chapter 13: 4.c3 - The Uncommon 4...Nf6
219 Chapter 14: 4.0-0 - The Puzzling 4...Nge7
229 Chapter 15: 4.0-0 - The Viable 4...d6
235 Chapter 16: 4.0-0 Nf6 5.Nxe5 Nxe5 6.d4 - The Inferior 6...c6
241 Chapter 17: 4.0-0 Nf6 5.Nxe5 Nxe5 6.d4 - The Improvement 6...a6
247 Chapter 18: 4.0-0 Nf6 - Main Line 5.Nxe5 Nxe4
251 Chapter 19: 4.0-0 Nf6 - The Complex 5.c3
263 Index of Variations
267 Index of Players

When taking up a new opening, should you first go for a sideline and only later add the mainlines? In 'The Ruy Lopez: A Guide for Black' we argue that in the Ruy Lopez you quite early should take on the mainlines as the sidelines are easier to handle when you understand what's going on in the critical mainlines. In his preface to 'The Ruy Lopez Revisited', Sokolov quite convincingly argues for the opposite view. I guess the correct answer depends on your approach to theory, your personality and not least on the opening in question. There is no doubt good reasons to - at least for some time - play one of Black's alternatives to 3...a6 in the Ruy Lopez.

As can be seen from the Table of content, except for the main line 3...a6 and the fashionable Berlin variation 3...Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4, Sokolov covers almost everything inside the Ruy Lopez complex. That is:
  • 3...f5, The Jaenisch Gambit
  • 3...Nd4, The Bird Variation
  • 3...Nge7, The Cozio Variation
  • 3...g6, The Smyslov Variation
  • 3...Bc5, The Classical Variation
  • 3...Nf6, followed by ...Bc5
When waiting for the book, the title made me wonder whether Sokolov would include some of Black's 'weird and wonderful' 3rd moves, like 3...Qe7, 3...a5 or 3...Bb4. There is no discussion of these moves, and there really is no room for them in top GM chess. There are no explicit information on how the variations that actually were included were selected. However, they are all pragmatic choices demanding relatively little preparation and - most importantly - it seems Sokolov has played them all. The most respectable 3rd move not considered probably is 3...d6. That may be because the delayed version (3...a6 4.Ba4 d6) is better in almost all respects. But probably it was left out simply because Sokolov never has played the line himself.

From the introduction you may get the impression that the material offered is something close to a sixfold opening repertoire against the Ruy Lopez, but that isn't quite so. As a matter of fact entire chapters seem to be written for White's benefit. For instance Sokolov makes no claim that 'The Puzzling 4...Nge7' really is playable. But the book isn't entirely encyclopaedic either. Some lines are left out without any explanation. This is mainly the case with dubious alternatives for Black, and confirms that the book has a certain repertoire slant for Black. But also some of White's options are left out. For instance there is no mention of 3...Bc5 4.Nxe5!? which fairly recently was advocated by Greet in 'Play the Ruy Lopez'. The explanation may be that Sokolov considers 3...Bc5 4.0-0 Nf6 and 3...Nf6 4.0-0 Bc5 only as two paths leading to the same variation (in this position he explores the 5.Nxe5!? in two full chapters).

In addition to the 3rd move deviations mentioned, Sokolov - a little inconsistently in my opinion - covers one and only one line with 3...a6: Zagorovsky's 4...f5!?.  In a way this seems quite natural as the line obviously is related to 3...f5 and comparing these lines is a quite interesting exercise. Nevertheless Sokolov's decision is a little surprising as it doesn't seem he has played the line himself, and he doesn't really offer improvements that make the line attractive. As a matter of fact he warns that the variation is best suited for blitz. It would have been easier to understand his logic had the line been added in order to give the reader useful insight into 3...a6, including an introduction to the Exchange variation 4.Bxc6, but Sokolov doesn't exploit this opportunity. However, this chapter only takes up 12 pages so it's a kind of parenthesis anyway.

Don't get me wrong - it is a rare occasion when a genuine top grandmaster writes on openings he plays himself. So when this happens, you take what you are offered and don't complain when something you were hoping for isn't there. What Sokolov does offer of analysis does indeed appear to be a treat. The only lines about which I have (had may be more accurate) any detailed knowledge are 3...f5 4.Nc3 Nf6 and 3...a6 4.Ba4 f5!? so I had a closer look and must say I was impressed by the details. On page 95 I found my game against Thomas Ernst at Gausdal in 1993 far better analyzed than my own old notes - with plenty of improvements and alternatives for both sides.

As you can expect from New in Chess, the book's production value is quite high - roughly on par with Quality's, Gambit's and Everyman's products. Nevertheless I have some small remarks:
  • The book is logically organized and it's not difficult to locate a variation you are looking for. That doesn't mean that the book is very reader friendly. The variations are structured in games and in my opinion too many game fragments lines have been squeezed into the notes. Some notes run over several pages and it takes a lot of attention from the reader not to lose his way. For the reader's convenience it would have been better if some of these notes had been made into separate games.
  • It's a pity that there's no bibliography. However, it's frequently quite unclear what a bibliography really tells anyway, so the problem is not great. 
  • As a kind of compensation there is a remarkably detailed index of players, where you not only find all complete games but also all game references - even small game fragments. This I found very useful as it gives a very good overview over the lines a particular player prefers (but it would have been even more useful if you could see which colour he was playing). 
My evaluation (for players interested in the Ruy Lopez from Black's viewpoint):
  • For players below 1300: Not a bad introduction to the Ruy Lopez but a little more prose would have been useful.
  • For players 1300-1800: A very useful book but you must fill in some small gaps yourself if you want to be fully prepared.
  • For players 1800-2300: Some of the suggested lines are perfect for open tournaments and this book is the ideal guide.
  • For players above 2300: A lot of useful ideas and some very high class analysis. However, some of the lines considered are probably best employed as surprise weapons.
It should be added that book is close to indispensible for those who want to be thoroughly prepared for playing the White side of the Ruy Lopez.
Some supplementary reviews:
British Chess Magazine by John Saunders
John's Chess Book Reviews by John Elburg


cheese said...

great book

BRF Fågelsången said...

I really like to "usefulness per rating span" summary. Great Job!

Unknown said...
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