Imbalances and the Exciting Chigorin Defense

Imbalances and the Exciting Chigorin Defense

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Anemone asked:

I would like to start to study imbalances. I have the basics of chess but mainly try to find tactics or find the best move to improve my position. Which of your books should I start with? I am also starting to use chess mentor. Are there any courses written by you here that could help me? Finally, can you recommend a good online coach who would help me to understand imbalances/positional play? Not sure if this is one and the same thing?

Dear Anemone:

As I’ve said on many occasions, I recommend a well-balanced chess education for players of all ratings. Thus making a study of basic tactics and constantly trying to solve tactical puzzles is very important. To this end, excellent books are Seirawan’s & Silman’s WINNING CHESS TACTICS, and also the slightly more advanced Vukovic classic, THE ART OF ATTACK IN CHESS. Even more advanced is Aagaard’s new (but very good) two-book set, ATTACKING MANUAL 1 & ATTACKING MANUAL 2. There’s a ton of material on tactics and attacking, and any online chess bookstore will overwhelm you with the choices available.

I think it wise to create a solid opening repertoire. Expect to screw it up, but by doing so you’ll learn from your mistakes and, after a long period of suffering, you’ll find that you’ve become King Kong in the beginning phase of the game. There are more books on chess openings than there are humans on Earth, so choosing a couple can lead to a total mental breakdown. In general, those starting out should avoid openings that demand a lot of memorization. Instead, look for idea driven systems, and though you’ll have to memorize the most basic sequences (take as long as you need to do this), most of your opening study should be directed at the openings pawn structures and common plans. I have recommended this book before, and I’ll do so again here: FCO: FUNDAMENTAL CHESS OPENINGS by Paul van der Sterren gives you the basic ideas of all the openings. Beginners won’t need anything but this, and can pick up other opening books (on their favorite systems) once they’ve mastered the ABCs found in FCO (hmmm … just saying the ABCs in FCO sounds more than a bit strange!). Players 1200 and above can pick up the “every opening under the sun in one tome” MODERN CHESS OPENINGS (by De Firmian), or any one of the many opening-specific books that give detailed plans and analysis of whatever system you’re in love with at that time – the STARTING OUT series (Everyman Chess) is a good one.

You should also learn endgame basics. My SILMAN’S COMPLETE ENDGAME COURSE will be all you’ll need for years to come. Only look at the endings for players in your rating group (or one class higher), then put the book away until you’ve improved and are ready for more. Don’t let people confuse you with far more complex endgame recommendations – your study time is limited and you should keep things as simple as possible.

Finally we get down to positional understanding. This is extremely important! There are some very good books on this topic, but I’ll recommend two of my own (since you specifically asked which of my books to get). First pick up THE AMATEUR’S MIND. This is very useful for players in the 1,000 to 1600 (tournament rating) range. It’s designed to make you feel like you have a private teacher working with you, and the examples should give you a feeling that they are speaking directly to you and your own needs.

After that, pick up my soon-to-be-published HOW TO REASSESS YOUR CHESS 4th Edition (still being typeset). This is a complete rewrite of the 3rd edition, and it gives a detailed study of the imbalances, how to use them, and why they are so important. It also discusses areas of chess psychology that have never been written about before.

If you get both, you can read Part One of HOW TO REASSESS YOUR CHESS 4th Edition (this gives you a quick primer on imbalances), then put the book down and read all of THE AMATEUR’S MIND. As you go through THE AMATEUR’S MIND, feel free to look over master games/tactics/openings/endgames whenever the desire hits you. However, when doing this make sure you practice reading the board – this helps you train yourself to quickly pick out all the position’s imbalances at a glance (or two).

It sounds like a lot, but all this should be done slowly (years, if you wish), and you should enjoy the process as you explore the mysteries of chess.

Again, there are countless chess books out there (there are more books on chess than there are books on all other games and sports combined!), but you really don’t need that many – the one’s I’ve mentioned here will keep you busy for ages and ages.

Good luck and have fun!


Zephyr asked:

I was wondering what you think about the Chigorin Defense against the Queen’s Gambit?

Dear Zephyr:

This combative opening (1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6) is MUCH better than its reputation! I used to play it in my teens, and it’s always had its fair share of fans. Back in 1996 Angus Dunnington came out with a book titled, THE CHIGORIN QUEEN’S GAMBIT (Batsford), but more recently the opening was given serious attention in THE CHIGORIN DEFENSE ACCORDING TO MOROZEVICH, by Morozevich (New in Chess, 2007), and in THE CHIGORIN DEFENSE by Valery Bronznik (Schachverlag Kania 2005 – available in both English and German). Bronznik’s book covers the Chigorin in great depth and is a must own if you intend to do a serious study of this opening. One nice thing about the Chigorin is that you can use it against everything but 1.e4 (well, I guess you can play 1.e4 Nc6, but that’s a completely different kettle of fish), thus 1.c4 Nc6 and 1.Nf3 Nc6 are also fully playable.

One nice thing about the Chigorin is its dynamism – instead of defending, it seeks to create immediate structural imbalances and serious piece activity right off the bat. There are also many lines where Black happily gives up his Bishops for white’s Knights (Chigorin tended to favor Knights). Here’s an example of Black chopping off his Bishops for enemy Knights:

Masternak - Zajaczkowski, correspondence 1989: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.cxd5 Bxf3 5.gxf3 Qxd5 6.e3 e5 7.Nc3 Bb4 8.Bd2 Bxc3 9.bxc3

Black has a free and easy development, and the better pawn structure. White has more center pawns and the two Bishops. This case of dueling imbalances leaves both sides with chances in a sharp struggle.


9…Nf6 is also logical and common. The idea of 9...Qd6 is to avoid c3-c4 hitting the Queen. Now, after 9...Qd6, c3-c4 would hang the d-pawn. 

10.Rb1 0–0–0 11.Qb3 b6 12.Qxf7 Nf6 13.Bb5 exd4 14.cxd4

As you can see, the Chigorin is an extremely dynamic opening! Though Black is a pawn down, white’s King is still in the middle and Black enjoys a significant lead in development.

14…Ne5! 15.dxe5

15.Qxg7 Rhg8 16.Qh6 Nxf3+ 17.Ke2 Nxd2 18.Qh3+ Kb8 19.Kxd2 Ne4+ 20.Ke2 Qd5 21.Rb3 Nxf2 - Bronznik.

15…Qxd2+ 16.Kf1 Nd5 17.Qe6+ Kb8 18.Qc6 Qc3 19.Kg2

19.Qxc3 Nxc3 20.Rb3 Nxb5 21.Rxb5 Rd1+ 22.Kg2 Rxh1 23.Kxh1 c5 leads to an endgame with mutual chances according to Bronznik.

19…Nxe3+! 20.fxe3 Rd2+ 21.Kh3 Qxe5 22.Qe4


22…Qh5+ 23.Kg3 Qg5+ 24.Qg4

24.Kh3 Qg2+ 25.Kh4 Rd6 wins for Black. 

24…Qxe3 25.Bc6?

25. Rhf1! when Bronznik says that Black might not have more than a draw after 25…h5 26.Qxg7 h4+ 27.Kh3 Qe6+ 28.Qg4 Qxa2 29.Qf4 Qe6+ 30.Qg4 Qa2. 

25…h5 26.Qg6 Rf8 27.Rb3 Qf4+?!

27…Rd6 was simpler – Bronznik. 

28.Kh3 Rd6 29.Qe4 Qh6 30.Rc3? g5 31.Ba8 g4+ 32.Kh4 Qf6+ 33.Kg3 c6! 34.Rxc6 Qxf3+ 35.Qxf3 Rxf3+ 36.Kh4 Rh3+ 37.Kg5 Rd5+ 38.Kg6 Kxa8, 0-1.


Here’s an example of a classic Chigorin Defense by the creator himself:

H. Pillsbury - M.Chigorin, St Petersburg 1895: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.cxd5 Bxf3 5.dxc6 Bxc6 6.Nc3 e6 7.e4 Bb4 8.f3 f5

8…Qh4+ 9.g3 Qh5 is Morozevich’s choice.


9. Bc4 is better.

9…Ne7 10.a3 Ba5 11.Bc4 Bd5 12.Qa4+ c6 13.Bd3 Qb6!

Threatening to trap white’s Queen by ...Bb3.

14.Bc2 Qa6! 15.Bd1 Bc4 16.f4 0–0–0 17.Be3 Nd5 18.Bd2 Nb6 19.Qc2 Rxd4 20.Rc1 Bd3 21.Qb3 Nc4 22.Kf2 Nxd2 23.Qxe6+ Kb8 24.Bf3 Qb6 and Black easily won.


And finally a more modern battle between two extremely strong grandmasters:

A. Goldin - A. Morozevich, St Petersburg 1993: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 dxc4 4.d5 Ne5 5.Qd4 Ng6 6.e4 e5 7.Qxc4 Bd6

7…a6 is more accurate: 8.Be3 Bd6 9.Nf3 h6 10.h3 Nf6 11.Nd2 0–0 12.b4 Bd7 13.Qb3 Qe7 14.Rb1 b5 Depriving the d2-Knight access to c4. 15.a3 c6 16.dxc6 Bxc6 17.g3 Qb7 18.Bg2 Ne7 19.0–0 Rad8 20.Rfd1 Rfe8 21.Rbc1 Nf5 22.Nd5 Bxd5 23.exd5 e4 24.Nf1 Bf8 25.Qc2 Rxd5 26.Rxd5 Qxd5 27.Qc6 Re6 28.Qxd5 Nxd5 29.g4 Nfxe3 30.Nxe3 Nf4 31.Rc8 g6 32.Rd8 Kg7 and Black went on to win the blindfold game, Ljubojevic - Morozevich, Monaco 2002.


8.Qb5+ is annoying, according to Morozevich.

8…Nf6 9.h4? h6 10.h5 Ne7 11.Be3 0–0 12.Be2 a6 13.Nd2 c6 14.dxc6 Nxc6 15.Rd1 Nb4 16.Qb3 b5 17.Ra1

Creating a retreat square on d1 for the white Queen.

17…Ng4! 18.Nf1 Nxe3 19.Nxe3 Bc5 20.0–0 Be6 21.Ned5 Nc6 22.Qd1 Nd4 23.Rc1 Qg5 24.Ne3 Rac8 25.Qd3 Rfd8 26.Ncd5 f5! 27.b4 fxe4 28.Qd2 Rxd5, 0-1 since 29.bxc5 Nf3+ 30.Bxf3 Rxd2 is completely hopeless.

Look tasty? Then give the Chigorin a shot (after studying it a bit with the recommended literature), and if it works say, "Silman is a genius! I'm sending him a large check and my first born tomorrow!" However, if you find that you're crashing and burning in every game, say, "The Chigorin is total garbage! Why oh why did GM Morozevich force me to play this?"
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