Book review: 'The Chigorin Defence'

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CoverWhat's the first thing you do when you see a new opening book? Look up the variation you know most about and?Ǭ†check what is said?Ǭ†about it.?Ǭ†Surprisingly enough, this?Ǭ†is often a disappointment, and usually you don't even buy it because?Ǭ†of this first impression. "This will never work." But it's wrong to think like that.

The expectations were high, when it was announced that no one less than Alexander Morozevich, one of the strongest chess players of these days, had written a book about the Chigorin Defence, which arises after

1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6!? ChigorinIt's rare anyway?Ǭ†when an abolute top player reveals opening secrets.?Ǭ†?Ǭ†Admittedly, it does happen from time to time. Euwe is a famous example. Polugaevsky wrote a book about his variation in the Najdorf, Shirov wrote about the Botvinnik-variation, and more recently Khalifman has written an excellent series about the opening repertoire of Kramnik and Anand.

And now we have the book The Chigorin Defence according tot Alexander Morozevich,?Ǭ†published, as always very neatly, by New in Chess. Just like Kasparov in his ''My Great Predecessors'-series, Morozevich, too, has worked with a co-author: IM Vladimir Barsky.?Ǭ†What's with these co-authors anyway? If they're even necessary at all, then why not say (especially when one author is so much stronger than the other!) what's by Morozevich and what's by Barsky? But, of course, that's not how it works. People would skip Barsky's work and move directly to what the world's number five has to say. More confusion is added by the fact that sometimes a text is preceded explicitly by a statement that Morozevich wrote it?Ǭ†('Alexander Morozevich: ...'). It seems a bit sloppy to me?Ǭ†that the editors of New in Chess?Ǭ†haven't asked for more clarity from the authors?Ǭ†on this point.

Alexander Morozevich is, as is well known, an eccentric?Ǭ†guy.?Ǭ†Eccentric ideas about the game of chess, obstinate humor, an obstinate, not to say self-conceited personality. He can mess up terribly (as I witnessed once during a Donner Memorial tournament in Amsterdam, where he played on in a completely hopeless rook ending?Ǭ†where he was?Ǭ†three passed pawns down, until it got really embarrassing.) But he can also do truly brilliant things,?Ǭ†that nobody else can think of, and that's the reason that Morozevich, despite his weird actions, is justly very much loved?Ǭ†as a?Ǭ†top chess player. Take, for instance, the following position:

Harikrishna-Morozevich Hyderabad 2002?Ǭ†

This position arised from the variation?Ǭ†3.Nf3 Bg4 4.Nc3 e6 5.cxd5, about which more later on.?Ǭ†How?Ǭ†would you recapture on d6??Ǭ†

16...cxd6!? Morozevich: "A radical solution to the problem of the c7-pawn, typical of the Chigorin Defence. Black takes control of the c5- and e5-squares (giving the f-pawn the possibility of advancing), and it is not easy to exploit the weakness of the d5-pawn - it is securely defended." The book is full of such great moments.

How is Morozevich as a writer??Ǭ†His style of writing (let's for convenience's sake accept that writing is Morozevich's and the heavy variation stuff is Barsky's) is full of dry humor and that makes him quite sympathetic. In the preface he writes about WGM Maria Manakova: "who at that time was not yet a grandmaster and our chess sex symbol". And when he describes how Granda Zuniga thinks for three quarters of an hour about his third move, Morozevich writes:?Ǭ†"If Julio had warned me beforehand about his thoughtfulness, at that time I would possibly have arranged to meet some charming lady." This is not a boring opening book, but a personal testimony.

Morozevich is also honest and open about the scepsis and sometimes even scorn by his colleagues when they're confronted again with this weird Chigorin opening?Ǭ†- without?Ǭ†saying this scorn is dogmatic or?Ǭ†simply stupid. After describing the stern criticism he received from his former trainer Vladimir Yurkov, he writes: "In some way Yurkov was right, because at a young age it is not good to become obsessed by one opening." And there are more examples of such honesty. On the cover of the book is the following teaser: "With more than 50 previously unpublished games!" This is indeed the case, but the fact that these are mainly blitz games, is conveniently left unsaid. You can feel screwed about this, but it soon turns out that Morozevich himself doesn't take these blitz games (some of which were played on the internet, some of which in training matches) very seriously either, and also that he actually regrets that he hasn't been able to reconstruct all his games with the Chigorin Defence. Such curious but funny openness characterizes Morozevich's style.

Back to the variation you're gonna look up first. I have played the Chigorin Defence occasionally in the past with Black, but have also fought against it with White.?Ǭ†In 1994 I played a rapidmatch?Ǭ†with a club member, and in one of these games I had an interesting idea:

Moll-Janse Amsterdam (rapid) 1994

Qd43.Nc3 dxc4 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.e4 Bg4 6.d5 Ne5 7.Qd4!?N

White sacs a pawn hoping to develop fast.?Ǭ†After 7...Nxf3+ 8.gxf3 Bxf3 9.Rg1 e6 10.Bxc4 an interesting position arose, where White probably has the better chances.

In my next game with White I played the even stronger 10.Rg3!?Ǭ†and again White obtained good play. I also showed the pawn sacrifice 7.Qd4 to several strong players, including Zsusza Polgar, when I happened to meet her in Holland one time. She found it a very?Ǭ†interesting idea, and she suspected that Black was having a tough time after Qd4. But, she said, Black is having a tough time anyway in the Chigorin Defence...

However, in later rapid games Janse discovered a very strong possibility for Black, namely:

7...Nxf3+ 8.gxf3 Bxf3 9.Rg1 Rg19...e5!?Ǭ†A splendid move. If White takes on e5, Black exchanges queens after which the pawn on e4 becomes rather weak. A few years later, I got this position in a tournament game (against Dennis Helvesteijn). After 10.Qxe5+ (10.Qxc4 a6!) 10...Qe7 11.Qxe7+ Bxe7 12.Bg2 Bxg2 13.Rxg2?Ǭ† resulted an unclear position, which, however, is not better for White I think. I concluded that 9...e5 more or less refuted the idea of Qd4, and I didn't repeat the variation after that.

Now, the reader will?Ǭ†understand?Ǭ†that?Ǭ†of course I wanted to know immediately whether Morozevich mentioned this idea at all. I found the poistion after Black's 5th move on page 187. Morozevich writes: "One of the most critical positions of the Chigorin Defence." Ah, now we're talking. And on the next page he indeed gives 7.Qd4, as an alternative for the more usual 7.Bf4. "7.Qd4 looks promosing for White," he writes, and then after 7...Nxf3+ 8.gxf3 Bxf3 9.Rg1 e6?Ǭ†he gives variations with?Ǭ† 10.Bxc4 en 10.Rg3, ending with advantage to White. So, according to Morozevich, 7.Qd4!? was a serious assault on the whole Chigorin Defence,?Ǭ†like I had thought thirteen years ago.

But the idea of 9...e5! is mentioned nowhere, and this was a disappointment after all. A top-5 player had looked at the same idea, but had not found what two club players had.?Ǭ†How would that be with another critical position I had some experience with, this time with Black, and unfortunately not a?Ǭ†particularly good?Ǭ†experience:?Ǭ†?Ǭ†

B?ɬ?dicker-Moll Amsterdam 2002

3.Nf3 Bg4 4.cxd5 Bxf3 5.dxc6 Bxc6 6.Nc3 e6 7.a3!??Ǭ† 7a3At the time I had never seen this move before. Already during the game it seemed very unpleasant for Black that he could not play his beloved Bf8-b4 anymore. What does Morozevich write? "A rather cunning move".?Ǭ†Indeed! And next: "Generally speaking, it is not so simple for Black to find a place for his dark-squared bishop." Indeed!

7...f5?! According to Morozevich, this is "a way to create counterplay." My thoughts?Ǭ†exactly.?Ǭ†He now gives a game Dumitrache-Bukal, Zagreb 1997 in which White played 8.e3, and Black soon obtained counter-chances. My opponent played a much better move:

8.e4!N?Ǭ†This is not mentioned by Moro. I now thought Black was in big trouble and played the weak move 8...fxe4? Perhaps this was too pessimistic, since I later found a game in which played the stronger 8...Nf6! after which White?Ǭ†only has a small advantage.?Ǭ†(By the way, Morozevich does give another way for Black to get counter chances, namely with 7...Nf6 8.f3 Nh5! with unclear play.)

Okay.?Ǭ†I was disappointed twice,?Ǭ†and I consider this a point of criticism,?Ǭ†for I don't think of myself as a particularly great connaisseur of the Chigorin system at all. How often will die-hard Chigorin-fans will be disappointed? I don't know. Morozevich and Barsky seem to have done all the analysis work themselves, since they don't mention any other opening books about this line. It often strikes me how little the top players know of existing opening books anyway. They seem to prefer their own thoughts rather than being spoiled with what others have to say about it.?Ǭ†I imagine this can be somewhat confusing for readers who do like references to other theory?Ǭ†books, so that they can update their knowledge more efficiently.

But let me state clearly that?Ǭ†I am enthousiastic about this book, and that it's wrong to let?Ǭ†such first impressions decide whether you're going to buy the book. When a top player writes a chess book, that's always interesting.?Ǭ†First of all there are also a lot of variations where I think Morozevich and Barsky?Ǭ†certainly contribute to the existing theory of the opening. It's beyond the scope of this review to go into the tricky complications they analyze - opening freaks will study them for a long time to come. More important is that the positional variations are discussed at great length, though even there I sometimes would like a little more explanation. For example in the variations that arise after:

5.e33.Nf3 Bg4 4.Nc3 e6 A?Ǭ†somewhat old-fashioned, quiet variation. White can now choose?Ǭ†between?Ǭ†5.e3 straight away or first placing his?Ǭ†bishop outside the pawn chain. It's not clear to me what the advantages and disadvantages?Ǭ†of both ways of play are?Ǭ†exactly for White, except the first one looks rather passive at first sight and the second doesn't. (But I always have that problem with the Meran Defence and the QGD with Bg5 or Bf4 as well, so maybe it's just me, or maybe it's just a matter of taste.) Fortunately, many can be understood from the various?Ǭ†comments. After

5.Bf4 Nf6! 6.e3?Ǭ†Bb4 7.Rc1 0-0 arises what Morozevich calls "a typical position and one that is very important for an understanding of the entire system." The following quote is instructive and also applies to other positions:

"Initially?Ǭ†in this scheme I endeavoured as quickly as possible to develop my?Ǭ†bishop to b4 and play ...Ng8-e7, but in time I came to the conclusion that the plan with the development of the knight to f6 is more promising. When Black chooses the Chigorin Defence, he aims above all for active piece play, and at e7 the knight is more passively placed. It makes sense to place the knight on e7 only?Ǭ†if White has already exchanged in the centre (cxd5 exd5). Then Black disposes of the plan with ...f7-f6 and ...g7-g5 and a pawn offensive on the kingside."

A?Ǭ†big?Ǭ†bonus is that great attention is being paid to?Ǭ†classic games by Chigorin and his contemporaries, and also the ideas?Ǭ†of that time. It's very nice, because historical perspective in?Ǭ†an opening book is something to cherish. I enjoyed reading that Morozevich approves of Steinitz's?Ǭ†play,?Ǭ†but somehow?Ǭ†had the feeling he didn't quite understand what the position was?Ǭ†all about. Somewhere else he writes that Chigorin hated the Queen's gambit,?Ǭ†but that he nevertheless realised it was a very good opening for White. Or that Karpov stubbornly?Ǭ†kept believing that?Ǭ†White's centre should result in opening advantage in the end, but?Ǭ†that time and again?Ǭ†this?Ǭ†was?Ǭ†impossible to show in the?Ǭ†blitz?Ǭ†games they played. Those are the insider-pearls we get to hear far too little from the top players. Why is the subject always politics or direct colleagues? Let the top players talk about the players?Ǭ†who inspire them, not the players they dislike for some reason or another!

By the way, Morozevich?Ǭ†is never biased. He doesn't want to suggest that the Chigorin Defence?Ǭ†is a great opening, or that it's sufficient to fight against 1.d4 if you know something about his system.?Ǭ†Funny are also the examples in which he shows that his colleague-grandmasters,?Ǭ†in their effort to copy-cat the great Morozevich, actually hadn't understood much of the deeper ideas of the Black opening.?Ǭ†All Morozevich wants to show is that the opening is playable - on all levels. That alone is already refreshing and inspiring to hear from a top player who makes his money studying (among others)?Ǭ†opening lines. Also instructive are the 'rules of thumb' he gives now and then: in the Chigorin Defence, White should never castle queenside; Black must always be 'mentally prepared' to give up the pair of bishops; as long as the black queen can maintain herself in the centre, White can never claim an advantage.

Morozevich writes that he probably will not play the Chigorin Defence in the near future, but you still?Ǭ†keep wondering why not. After all, it's not clear how White can get a substantial?Ǭ†opening advantage (except?Ǭ†perhaps in the above mentioned variation with 7.Qd4...;-) ). Or maybe that's exactly the point: White is always searching for an opening advantage, and this becomes boring after a while.

But fortunately, he has now written his ideas down in this book.?Ǭ†The Chigorin Defence according to Morozevich is not only a good opening book, and a beautiful collection of games, but it also gives deeper insight into the more general question how top players study openings. It seems that sometimes it's not about concrete moves, as we may be tempted to think, but about will power,?Ǭ†being stuborn and historical perspective. Lesson for opening?Ǭ†students: look at a quiet game of the old masters once in a while, instead of?Ǭ†a crazy tactical game in the Najdorf. If Morozevich does it, who are we to do?Ǭ†differently??Ǭ†
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