Book Review - The Complete Ragozin by Matthieu Cornette, Chess Evolution

Book Review - The Complete Ragozin by Matthieu Cornette, Chess Evolution

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My apologies for the delay - I've been really busy at work and when I'm not working, I was busy with chess! I in fact just finished playing a tournament in Iran and I am typing this out in a PAUL cafe in Dubai, awaiting my next flight back home. 

All the books that I'll be covering in the next few updates are books that I've either purchased on the Forward Chess App or review copies. A quick note on the Forward Chess App - anyone that owns an Ipad, or a tablet that functions like a mini laptop should seriously consider downloading this app. The interface is such a joy to use and it makes travelling to tournaments so much more convenient when you have all your materials ready on a tablet. I understand there are still many out there who love an old fashioned hard-copy but in this age and time, it can be useful to be able to downbooks the minute they are available. These days, I quite enjoy studying chess like this:


Not the best picture because of the lighting, but good enough to give some advertising for PAUL. 

You can find out more about Forward Chess here. Now, to the real stuff.

Review: The Complete Ragozin by Matthieu Cornette, Chess Evolution


Chess Evolution is one of the few chess publishing houses that have been around for some time but doesn't seem to really market themselves that much. Approximately 5-6 years ago, then led by Arkadij Naiditsch, they launched a series of quarterly journals, dubbed "Chess Evolution" with the idea of top-notch Grandmasters (2600s and above only) annotating the most recently played games using the best chess engines. That series stopped in 2014 presumably because the sales were not sufficient enough to sustain the amount of work put into it which is why the publishing house has switched its strategy to the more traditional book publishing business model. Still, the quality left a lasting impression and I saw a number of interesting titles while I was briefly browsing through its shop. I might just review a few more of their books soon.

The Ragozin Defence arises after the opening moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 and it is an extremely popular companion to the Nimzo-Indian defence at all levels. It has a reputation of being a solid opening with the potential of getting complicated positions which allows Black to play for a win. Unfortunately as we shall soon see, White can direct the lines to something quiet and mild but I guess you can say that about every opening under the sun. 


A screenshot of the content page - I initially thought "XXX" was either an error or stood for something vulgar but it apparently meant all other moves not mentioned specifically! I like the systematic classification of the chapters given that the large number of transpositions can cause a fair bit of confusion.

A quick search on Megadatabase indicates that the French GM Matthieu Cornette (Live 2637) has played 24 games with the Ragozin, and he has undoubtedly played many more games that are not in the base. Obviously when a 2600 GM writes an opening book, you hope to receive his GM-level of insights into the opening and hopefully some of his own analysis as well.


Photo credit @ Matthieu Cornette

And in this respect, The Complete Ragozin did not disappoint. The book is chocked full of analysis and novelties that I believe all players up to the Grandmaster level will be delighted to read and digest. White has many systems at his disposal and as usual, I will give a few examples of some of the most critical lines in this variations. For instance, one of the most popular lines against the Ragozin begins with the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.cd5 ed5 6.Bg5 h6 7.Bh4

Here, Cornette analysed both the popular 7..0-0 and the dynamic 7..Bf5 in two reasonably sized chapters. I really like the level of depth and thoroughness that Cornette has put into this book. After 7..Bf5, White has many moves such as Qb3, Qa4+, a3 at various junctures and e3 and he covers every single line with a very high degree of detail. For instance, after 8.Qb3 Nc6, Cornette analysed the move 9.a3N deeply as he felt it was a natural and logical move.


Interestingly enough, I happened to have analysed this particularly line before receiving the book and I had the opportunity to compare notes with this book. It turned out that we both felt it was essential to sacrifice the queenside pawns in order to gain the initiative although there are concrete differences. Here's an excerpt of my analysis combined with Cornette's notes:

One of the biggest issues in the Ragozin is that the Qa4+ lines tend to be pretty safe for White and he retains some chances to obtain a very small edge with minimal losing chances. 


Unfortunately, such "safe" lines exist in every mainstream opening and there is nothing else better to do than to work out a clear path to equality. Once again, Cornette's lines are bullet proof and convincingly equalise for Black. Here's another excerpt.

The book includes a chapter with 5.e3 and a direct transposition to the Rubenstein variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defence. The line he recommends after 5..0-0 6.Bd3 dc4 7.Bxc4 c5 8.0-0 Nc6 9.a3 Ba5!? is fairly topical and has been played by some very strong players. 


Once again, Cornette covers 7 different moves here in considerable detail. I have gone through the lines and despite my best efforts, I couldn't find anything that disputes Cornette's analysis and evaluation. Black is doing well here and in some lines he even takes over the initiative. 

The book's concluding chapter covers the "Accelerated Nimzo" with the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4!? which is a recent line favoured by Hou Yifan. I suppose that Cornette wanted to provide a full repertoire for Black starting with the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 but this line has always struck me as rather passive and it will take a lot to convince me to test it OTB. Still, its more like a bonus chapter really and one can't really complain when the author decides to give a bonus chapter that might easily surprise your opponent given the rarity of the line.

I really like this book and I think all players who play the Ragozin or 1.d4 exponents will do themselves a big favour by getting it. The only issue I can see is that the Ragozin is a concrete move by move opening and I highly doubt that you can play this variation by feel alone. As such, the large number of concrete and complex lines might be a turn-off for amateur players below the strength of say, 1800. However, hardworkers who want a life-long repertoire to go along with the Nimzo-Indian will do very well with this book. Highly recommended.

Final Rating: 5* out of 6.