Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Weeramantry - Bisguier, USATE 2008

I have annotated the game Weeramantry - Bisguier, U.S. Amateur Team East 2008, which would be interesting enough because of the players themselves, who have been so important to the history of chess in the U.S. But it also features a very interesting theory duel from these Open Game specialists in the rare line 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 g6!?

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 g6!?

You don't see that very often, in part because theory says Black cannot afford such a slow development of the Bishop with White opening up lines so rapidly. In fact, several books recommend that White play in gambit style with 5.Bg5 or 5.c3, though (as I indicate in my notes) these are not necessarily refutations. More dangerous, perhaps, is 5.Ng5!? which I have not seen discussed before, though the existing games greatly favor White. Weeramantry played the relatively straightforward recapture 5.Nxd4 and after 5...Bg7 6.Be3 Black uncorked a novelty with 6...Na5!? I was surprised that no one had ever played this before, since the position is far from unknown. I wonder if it is something Bisguier has analyzed or if he just thought it up at the board? In any case, it makes me want to take a closer look at the whole variation.

As I mention in my Review of Dangerous Weapons 1.e4 e5, I have experimented with an Open Game system for Black built around an early ...g6. Lines might include:
  • 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6 (The Smyslov Variation of the Ruy Lopez)
  • 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 g6 (Three Knights)
  • 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 g6 (Scotch)
  • 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3 h6 5.O-O g6!? (Two Knights Defense, Closed Variation)
  • 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4 Nc6 4.Qe3 g6!? (Center Game)
I actually gave it up to some extent because of the line featured in the game with an early Bc4 for White. Perhaps it's time to have another look?

If you like this system against 1.e4, you might also consider playing the King's Indian Defense as Black -- especially what some have called the Glek Variation of the Classical (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.O-O exd4 8.Nxd4 Re8 9.f3 Nc6 10.Be3 Nh5), as seen in the game Van der Sterren - Glek, Germany 1994. After all, the two systems are not only thematically related but they can actually begin to converge on occasion, as in the line 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.c4!? Bg7 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Nc3 Nf6 8.Be2 O-O 9.Be3 Re8 etc. -- though you are not likely to see that transposition from someone who plays 1.e4. In any event, it's nice to have an opening system that feels coherent.

I saw the Weeramantry - Bisguier game in the latest issue of Atlantic Chess News, which arrived in the mail just yesterday and includes several games from the U.S. Amateur Teams East. Chess Life (May 2008) also offers several interesting USATE games, including a remarkable loss by our club champion, NM Mark Kernighan, against a rising young star... I won't go into the details since I'm sure Mark is still smarting from that loss, but it is worth a look. I'll have to take another browse through the games file at NJSCF.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Review of Joel Benjamin's "American Grandmaster"

Though ostensibly a games collection, GM Joel Benjamin's American Grandmaster: Four Decades of Chess Adventures (Everyman 2007) is definitely a chess book you can read and enjoy without a board in front of you. Filled with amusing anecdotes and commentary on American chess and chess players, it has a lot to offer anyone who has followed the U.S. chess scene for any of the "four decades" that Benjamin discusses. You might say it adds faces and stories to recent U.S. chess history, especially the U.S. Championship (Benjamin participated in 23 from 1981-2006) and the infamous Kasparov-Deep Blue match (where Benjamin served as the computer's chess tutor). For this reason alone it is practically a must have for anyone who has read Andy Soltis and Gene McCormick's The United States Chess Championship, 1845-1996 or seen Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine. Readers in search of a more standard "best games" collection, however, will definitely be disappointed that American Grandmaster does not offer new analytic details on its author's best games. And at some level, as I will return to below, I share their disappointment. But I think anyone interested in New Jersey GM Joel Benjamin and the history of U.S. chess, as I am, will want to spend some time with it.

For "Bobby-boomers," like myself, who saw "little Joel" grow up on the pages of Chess Life (expecting him to be the next Fischer), Benjamin is a very important player in the history of American chess. He may not have the same legendary status as Fischer or Reshevsky (not having achieved the same international success), but he has had both longevity and prominence on the national scene. In his review of American Grandmaster in a recent Chess Life, Bruce Pandolfini aptly compared Benjamin to GM Larry M. Evans. I might add that both have a strong domestic following as chess players and writers, and both write with a similarly amusing and anecdotal style (witness Evans's recent This Crazy World of Chess). There are differences, of course: Benjamin may not yet have matched Evans's literary output (he has time). Meanwhile, I don't think Evans was quite as much the prodigy as Benjamin, as a brief chronology reveals.

GM Joel Benjamin Chronology

  • 1964 Born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 11
  • 1972 Learns chess at age 8
  • 1972 Mother starts P.S. 222 chess program; brings Joel to scholastic tournaments.
  • 1976 National Elementary Champion
  • 1977 National Master title at age 13 (breaking Fischer’s record)
  • 1978 National Junior High Champion
  • 1978 Manhattan Chess Club Champion
  • 1980 U.S. Junior Champion
  • 1980 National High School Champion
  • 1981 National High School Champion
  • 1981 World Open Champion
  • 1982 U.S. Junior Champion
  • 1983 Beats Nigel Short 5.5-1.5 in London Exhibition Match
  • 1984 World Open Champion
  • 1985 B.A. in History from Yale
  • 1985 U.S. Open Champion
  • 1986 Grandmaster title at age 22
  • 1987 US Chess Co-Champion (closed)
  • 1993 NY Open Co-Champion
  • 1996 World Team Championship, team gold medal
  • 1996 FIDE Olympiad, team bronze
  • 1997 Computer chess consultant, IBM’s “Deep Blue”
  • 1997 U.S. Chess Champion
  • 1998 U.S. “Grandmaster of the Year”
  • 1997-1999 FIDE World Championship participant
  • 1999 World Open Champion
  • 2000 U.S. Chess Co-Champion
  • 2001 U.S. Open Champion

Benjamin has been a player that I have followed from the early days of his career. The first issue of Chess Life & Review (now Chess Life) that I ever received as a USCF member and subscriber was that of July 1978, featuring an article by 13-year-old NM Joel Benjamin on his victory in the 1978 Manhattan Chess Club Championship, with wins over George Kramer and Larry D. Evans, which I have annotated. I still remember playing over the Evans game several times to absorb some of its ideas, and it probably influenced me more than any Fischer game in adopting the Exchange Variation of the Caro-Kann (which I still play on occasion).

Joel Benjamin Takes Manhattan (1978)

When he soundly defeated future World Championship contender Nigel Short in a 1983 exhibition match (see my notes on Benjamin - Short, London 1983), he proved that he was at least among the best chess talents of his age group. Though some might speculate that he would have had greater international success if he had spent the years 1981-1985 focusing on playing rather than on getting his college degree from Yale, there is no doubt that he had good results through those college years, winning the World Open, U.S. Open, and U.S. Championship in quick succession and gaining the GM title at the age of 22.

More critical were his post-college years, and I think that if Benjamin had received the support for international travel and play that he deserved, he would have achieved very different results in the period following 1987. I wish Benjamin would spend more time analyzing his difficulties during this period since they might speak to how we can support other players at that critical juncture.

What I liked best about the book was that it never tries to romanticize the past but instead reports the often gritty realism behind the scenes of various historic U.S. chess events. I especially liked his story about the 1997 U.S. Championship, where he defeated Christiansen (see my notes on Christiansen - Benjamin, U.S. Championship 1997) in the final knock-out match:
During this time I learned the drawback of the new format. With all the eliminated players gone home, the site felt like a ghost town. It's a bit weird hanging out with the guy you are trying to crush, but there wasn't any alternative. One night we were sitting in the hotel sports bar watching a game. 'Buy me a drink,' Larry suggested. Before I could alert the bartender, he added, 'It's in your best interest' (204).
I also found his discussion of computers fascinating and the story of how he was chosen to be the Deep Blue team's chess consultant very interesting reading. I have always thought that Kasparov's claims about a human agent behind Deep Blue's unexpectedly good moves were suspect, and I was completely unpersuaded by the idea that IBM had some nefarious plot against him. Benjamin seems to tell it like it is, and his discussion of Deep Blue's thought processes during the famous 1997 match with Kasparov is the most persuasive I have read.

Where I think the book is lacking is in the serious analysis department, and I must confess that my first impressions of the book were very negative as I realized it contained so few of my favorite Benjamin games -- and those that were discussed received little or no annotation! Eventually, I realized that my problem with Benjamin's book may be that I take him more seriously than he takes himself. The opening lines are symptomatic of what sometimes comes across as a snarky attitude:
"Hi, my name is Joel. I'm a forty-three-year-old Pisces. I like sports, crossword puzzles, nature programs, and controlled mating attacks. Welcome to my story" (5).
Some may find this charming, but it struck me (especially at first blush) as more appropriate to an article in Chess Chow than the autobiography and games collection of one of the finest American-born GMs in history. While I eventually enjoyed the book, I can't help but think even now of the missed opportunity to have a deeper analysis of Benjamin's best games from the Hall of Fame GM himself preserved for posterity.

Let me quantify this criticism: I counted 114 games and 14 game fragments, only 36 of which receive analytic commentary (some much better than others). The vast majority are printed with no analytic comments at all, which seems almost pointless today with game databases. By way of comparison, there are three recent volumes documenting Canadian GM Duncan Suttles's Chess on the Edge, and the first volume alone contains 100 annotated games. Granted, there are a few dozen games that are very well annotated, but why not all of them? I don't want to speculate on the answer, but I think a more substantial games collection that featured only the choicest anecdotes (along with only the choicest games) would have been a much better book with greater longevity in the marketplace.

Benjamin's games have as much to offer as any other GM's "best" or most "memorable." I have annotated several of his more recent games at my blog that would have been worthy of extended treatment in his book (including Benjamin - Bryan Smith, World Open 2006; Benjamin - Gregory Kaidanov, U.S. Open 2006; and Benjamin - Pascal Charbonneau, USCL 2007 -- the last of which Benjamin himself annotated online but not in American Grandmaster). And I have tried to convey in my articles on The Brooklyn Defense, Benjamin's Classical Hippopotamus, and Benjamin's Games with the Nimzovich Defense that he may be the greatest U.S. GM practitioner of unorthodox openings. That's why I'm disappointed that the games in American Grandmaster do not receive the serious analytic treatment that they deserve -- and that some of what I consider to be his best games are not treated there.

I think that a more aggressive editing of the book would have improved the final product and encouraged more notes, especially on the games in the second half. As it stands, it appears the editors have only occasionally stepped in to offer corrections to the text in brackets (though it is not exactly clear if this is the editors or Benjamin himself). The most interesting aspect of the book is where Benjamin weighs in on the question of the future of American chess. In the end, his comments here do not amount to much more than a plea to "send money." His recommendations:

  • Make chess more lucrative. By focusing on scholastic chess over professional chess, we are not doing enough to encourage excellence and a long-term commitment to the game in young people. Chess shouldn't be an expensive kid's hobby but a potentially lucrative job that could pay for college and beyond. Without money in the sport, it is not going to attract the best and brightest.

  • Where players receive appearance fees (which they always should), require minimum move numbers to help combat "draw death."

  • Fix American swiss tournaments (like Goichberg's World Open) by holding them in resort locations where they will more resemble vacations than gambling junkets and by redistributing prizes in reverse pyramid structure with the greatest rewards for the true professionals at the top.

  • Clean up the USCF and have it follow more of a business model that corporate and philanthropic sponsors can understand and support.
While I agree with many of Benjamin's complaints, I don't think he offers much of an action horizon for bringing about change. To whom are these recommendations addressed? They may as well be a prayer to God. Simply complaining about problems doesn't do anything about them. In fact, without thinking through possible solutions, you are not going to be able to identify the real problem to address.

To take just his critique of scholastic chess -- that chess should not just be a kid's game and that resources should be more directed at sustaining pros. It's surprising that someone who makes most of his living these days by teaching chess in a scholastic setting and who was himself the beneficiary of one of the first scholastic chess programs in the country would make this argument, but in any event it seems very short-sighted. I think there is not much chance of creating a culture of professional chess in the U.S. without first creating a deep and genuine interest in the game among young people. You probably need at least 1,000 serious amateur players for every professional if you are going to create a base of support for players, sponsors, writers and tournament organizers to draw upon -- and that is probably a low estimate. Basically, by saying that we have to have lucrative professional chess opportunities to sustain young people's involvement you are basically putting the cart before the horse. Where is the money going to come from? Until chess becomes more deeply ingrained in the culture, you are not going to see the broad fan and player support necessary to sustain professionals, as I have argued before in my essay on Chess Amateurism.

And besides: if you were to just pump more money into the professional chess circuit, you would basically create a feeding frenzy, with players from all over the globe coming to the U.S. to compete for that money. In the end, you are more likely to feed a few hungry former Soviets than to sustain the young Americans.

The most intriguing if perplexing issues Benjamin raises (without truly engaging) have to do with native-born versus "foreign" players in U.S. events. Benjamin basically asks: Who is "American" enough to participate in the U.S. Championship? in U.S. qualifiers for the World Championship? in the Olympics, playing on the U.S. Team? Should Tony Miles have been allowed to play in the U.S. Championship, for example, taking the chair of a more "native" player? And more generally, how are we to build a native tradition of chess talent when the competition from foreign imports is so intense?

The book jacket and title, which seem designed to appeal to fans of Lou Dobbs and Tom Tancredo, would seem to suggest Benjamin favors a particularly right-leaning response. And as one of the few GMs in the United States who could actually run for president (at least until the Arnold Schwartzenegger Amendment changes the rules), one suspects that he may have an axe to grind. He does say that he thought glasnost "the greatest disaster in the history of American chess" (248). But in the end he does not seem to offer any answer to the questions he has raised, leading you to wonder why he raises them in the first place. This is what he writes:
When Russian chessplayers first began to arrive on our shores they provided competition necessary to stimulate American talent. But the numbers have gotten so out of whack that any young player would be discouraged from a career as a professional player. My Fischer-boom generation encountered few immigrants in our early years and hung around for thirty years. Young stars of later eras...moved on to new chapters in their lives. Competition is healthy, but so is the opportunity for success. The market has not grown to support the huge numbers of grandmasters we have now. [The rest of the world also has a problem with a market overloaded with players.] (248)
So what are we supposed to do about it? Send them home? The bit in brackets at the end of the quote seems to come from one of the editors, though it is never clear who is inserting those remarks... In any event, the bracket man makes a good point! This is not just an American problem, and the former Soviet Union clearly is responsible for a terrible rate of unsustainable over-production of GMs. But what to do about it? In the end, Benjamin has no answers beyond this simple statement: "It saddens me that it is harder than ever for an American to have the kind of career that I had" (248).

I don't want to end on a sad note, but there is no question that American Grandmaster is not exactly the sort of book I would have liked to see from the New Jersey GM. Yet I did enjoy it, and it did get me thinking a lot about chess in the U.S. and about the history of U.S. chess. It is definitely a book worth owning. And maybe in a decade or so, Benjamin (or someone else) will get around to writing the "best games of Joel Benjamin," fully annotated, which is what I'd most like to see. Until then, maybe I will try my best to fill the gap!

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Mammoth Traps II: Catching the Queen in the French Wing Gambit

mammoth traps
I have posted some analysis of Catching the Queen in the French Wing Gambit, which can now be taken as the second installment of the Mammoth Traps series. It features the line 1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e5 c5 4.b4 cxb4 5.d4 Bd7 6.a3 Qa5 7.Bd2.

In an earlier article on The Caveman Caro-Kann, I wrote about the unusual Rook sac line that begins 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4 h5 5.Bg5!? Qb6 6.Bd3!? Bxd3 7.Qxd3 Qxb2 8.e6!! and Black gets in trouble if he takes the Rook at a1. It struck me then that this was a true caveman tactic: the Queen is trapped "like a wooly mammoth ... blundering its way to extinction." Since then I have been collecting such "mammoth traps," which make for an interesting study, especially because it's a bit unclear whether these traps actually work! After all, it is no small matter to kill a wooly mammoth even after it has fallen into your trap!

french wing gambit

White to Play

The line I analyze from the French Wing Gambit is a case in point. Though the Queen becomes trapped at a1 (following 8.axb4! in the diagram above), it is not clear that White can win her against best play. But with the Queen exposed to threats and out of play, White has plenty of opportunities to generate an attack!

Our main game (found at ChessBase) was played in 1967, yet remains strangely unknown to theory. This game is important to theory since it puts into question a line that is offered by many books as the simplest "refutation" of The French Wing Gambit.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Keeping Chess Shops Afloat

The New York Observer's "Rival Thompson Street Chess Clubs Remain in Middle Game" profiles New York City's Chess Forum and Village Chess Shop, offering real insight into the difficulties of keeping a chess shop afloat in the internet age. It also relates the history of bad blood between the two clubs, which began when the Chess Shop's manager decided to go into the same business less than a stone's throw down the street.... Hat tip: Tom Panelas's The Knights of the Castle Kimbark.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Review of "Dangerous Weapons: 1.e4 e5"

It was with the highest possible expectations that I awaited my copy of Dangerous Weapons: 1.e4 e5 -- Dazzle Your Opponents in the Open Games! (Everyman 2008) by GM John Emms, GM Glenn Flear, and IM Andrew Greet. As I have mentioned before in these pages, I am a great fan of SOS-style books like the Dangerous Weapons series, and I was impressed with their volume on the Sicilian (to which Emms contributed). And Emms and Flear have had a profound impact on my 1.e4 e5 repertoire as both White and Black with books like Attacking with 1.e4 (Everyman 2001), Play the Open Games as Black (Gambit 2000), Offbeat Spanish (Everyman 2001), and The Ruy Lopez Main Line (Everyman 2004) -- not to mention the many other great books they have written. So when I saw mention in the ChessPub forum that they were teaming up to do a Dangerous Weapons volume on 1.e4 e5, my expectation level went practically through the roof.

Well, the bubble of my seemingly irrational exuberance has not burst -- it has instead floated off into space! I have been carrying Dangerous Weapons: 1.e4 e5 around with me since it arrived in the mail yesterday, and even fell asleep with it in my hands. I tell you in all honesty: this is "the missing manual" on 1.e4 e5, and if you love the theory of the open games from either side you will have to own this book. I either play or have been curious about practically every line that they discuss, and I think they have done a fabulous job not only in the analysis but in the selection. All the lines are unusual, forgotten, or little-known yet quite sound. And I have even written about some in these pages, as Emms very nicely acknowledges in his section on what I have dubbed "The Modern Horowitz Variation of the Max Lange Attack."

Here is the chapter outline:

  • The Max Lange Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.O-O Nf6 5.d4)
  • Reviving the Max Lange Attack (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.O-O Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.e5 d5 7.exf6 dxc4 8.fxg7)
  • Calming the Romantics (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 Nxe4 and 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Ba5)
  • L'Oiseau (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nd4)
  • Twenty Years of Obscurity (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Bc5)
  • Facing Up to the Exchange Variation (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.O-O Be7!?)
  • Denying Black His Fun (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Nd4 5.O-O)
  • Livening Up the Three Knights and Scotch (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 g6 and 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6)
  • Don't Be Boring against the Goring! (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3 Nf6 5.e5 Ne4 and 3.c3 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.e5 Ne4)
  • Fighting the Pseudo King's Gambiteers (1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d3 Bc5 4.Nc3 O-O)
  • The Vienna Poisoned Pawn (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.Qg4 Nd4!?)
  • Play Like a Victorian: The King's Bishop Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4)
  • The Centre Game Revealed: Part I (1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4 Nc6 4.Qe3 Nf6 5.Nc3 Bb4 main line)
  • The Centre Game Revealed: Part II (1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4 Nc6 4.Qe3 Nf6 5.Nc3 others)
  • The Centre Game Revealed: Part III (1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4 Nc6 4.Qe3 others)
What I most appreciate about the Dangerous Weapons treatment of the openings is that the authors tend to be very thorough in their coverage of related lines, making it possible for you to adopt one of their suggestions right out of the book rather than having to do additional research on your own. Andrew Greet's three chapters on The Centre Game with 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4 Nc6 4.Qe3 are a case in point. He covers all of the major defenses that White might face. I have been intrigued by this old fashioned line since seeing some games where White players post the Queen to g3 and gambit the e-pawn in order to recoup development and exploit the open d-file. Tim Harding looked at these lines in Kibitzer #103 ("The Center Game Takes Center Stage") and I recommend you play through Greet - Georgiev, Hastings 2008 to see how difficult this line can be to handle as Black. I think what attracts me to this (besides its simplicity and relative lack of sub-variations) is that it reminds me of my favorite Urusov Gambit positions, where White castles queenside, gets tremendous play down the open central files, and often develops piece pressure against Black's King. I also like getting my Queen into the action whenever possible (as Kenilworth regular Geoff McAuliffe likes to point out!) While Harding gave me enough to sharpen my curiosity, Greet has given me everything I need to add the Center Game to my repertoire. And I appreciate that.

I feel the same about their treatment of the Four Knights from White's perspective in "Denying Black His Fun." I have analyzed this idea myself in "Sutovsky's Anti-Rubinstein Line," where I also discussed 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Nd4 5.O-O! as a way of combating the bane of all Four Knights players -- Rubinstein's 4...Nd4. But I have never gotten around to giving readers a complete Four Knights repertoire, even though I think I've written quite a lot on it (see The Spanish Four Knights, Part II and Part III, and my Spanish Four Knights Bibliography). The treatment in Dangerous Weapons gives you ideas against all of Black's replies, including the unlikely 4...Bd6!? which received positive treatment in Jan Pinski's book on the Four Knights and in an article in SOS a while back.

I was especially pleased by their very thorough digest of the Bishop's Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4) which I have played on occasion and would like to know better. It does seem to carry with it a very old fashioned sensibility, so "Play Like a Victorian" sounds about right for the chapter title. There is almost something baroque, in fact, about the Bishop's Gambit, mostly because Black has a large number of playable replies at move 3, which you do not usually see covered in superficial modern treatments. You can find some analysis of the Bishop's Gambit on the web (see Tim McGrew's "The Bishop's Gambit," my own treatment of variations arising after 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nc6 3.f4!? and Mjae's Le Gambit de Fou), and there was also a nice introductory essay by Susan Polgar in Chess Life back in 2005 I think (the Polgar sisters may have been its most vital modern practitioners). But the only place I have previously seen a thorough survey of Black's many replies was in Thomas Johansson's The Fascinating King's Gambit (Trafford 2005), which is a must have for anyone serious about this under-rated opening. I was surprised that no mention is made of Johansson's book in the Dangerous Weapons treatment, though I have often remarked that it has seemed almost standard practice for many years to leave out bibliographies and any form of reference in chess opening literature. In any case, the Dangerous Weapons chapter should be enough for most players.

I realize I have focused so far on the White lines that interest me, but I should also emphasize that there is at least as much (if not more) for the player interested in 1.e4 e5 from the Black perspective.

I was especially thrilled to find analysis of Bird's Defense to the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nd4!) which has long been my favorite. Spanish-expert Flear wrote this chapter, and he wrote the previously most up-to-date treatment of the opening from the Black perspective (in Offbeat Spanish.)  I don't know why he whimsically calls it "L'Oiseau" (the Spanish "Pajaro" seems more catchy), but perhaps it's because the analysis emphasizes the whimsy and originality to be found in "the Bird," where Black will often dominate the center with pawns (after 4.Nxd4 exd4 5.d3 Bc5 6.O-O c6 7.Bc4 d5! 8.exd5 cxd5) and then push forward with his wing pawns by ...h5 or ...a5 (sometimes followed by the fun Rook lift Ra8-a6-g6 with attack!) reaching very unusual positions.  Watson has discussed the ...h5 idea online, but you will almost never see anything written about the Bird today except to trot out the supposed refutation with 7.Ba4 and 8.f4 for White. Needless to say, Black has more than adequate ideas against that and Flear does an excellent job of updating his previous work.

I was also pleased by their treatment of 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 g6 and 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 which I have been playing for some time, inspired by games of Geller and Steinitz -- including Rosenthal - Steinitz, Vienna 1873. If you like these lines with an early Black ...g6, you might also consider the Smyslov variation against the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6) which is treated best by Flear himself in his article "The Solid but Tricky Fianchetto Spanish" in SOS #2. Also worth considering is the line 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3 h6 5.O-O g6!? out of the Two Knights Defense.

There are so many fascinating lines here for Black that it's tough to decide what to recommend, and taken together they practically make up a complete repertoire -- yet one that gives Black a lot of choice and flexibility. The only one I have any doubts about is the Vienna Poisoned Pawn (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.Qg4 Nd4!?) which I saw mentioned in Opening Lanes #56 ("Identity"), but I have never seen an extended treatment until now.  I probably will try it out myself, but I do not think we will see many GMs doing so.

I don't know why some of the other lines are not more popular, and it may just be because they are not yet well known or GM-tested. Like Emms, I have been waiting to see GMs pick up on "The Modern Horowitz Variation of the Max Lange Attack," especially since these lines have been analyzed in great detail by Lev Guttman and Stefan Bücker in several recent issues of Kaissiber. Their analysis of the Max Lange Gambit system, which Emms treats in the first two chapters of Dangerous Weapons: 1.e4 e5, has been discussed at ChessCafe by Gary Lane in Opening Lanes #103 ("Poirot Investigates") and Bücker himself in Over the Horizons #14 ("The Magic of Move Orders") but I think Emms offers the most cogent summary of the Kaissiber analysis along with some of his own thoughts. Perhaps Emms's treatment will be the tipping point for titled players to take it seriously? Who can say. But you can be the first at your club to give this a try.

I hope this review conveys some of the reasons why this book receives my highest praise and strongest recommendation. Long live the open games where there are still many twists and turns to explore!

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Another good reason to slow down...

In what will likely be the most blogged about story today, The New York Times reports that "In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop." Bloggers are literally dying while "toiling under great physical and emotional stress created by the around-the-clock Internet economy that demands a constant stream of news and comment."

I think it's time to kick back, open up a board, set up the pieces, and play a nice long game of chess.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

April Fools

There are a few good chess hoaxes to greet us this morning. Ah, if only some of them were true!