Review: New in Chess Yearbook 88

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NIC Yearbook 88A couple of weeks ago I wrote that the New in Chess Yearbook series was one of the few 'scientific' chess books that we have in the chess scene. So I thought this would be a good occasion to do a review of the latest Yearbook to see if that statement was actually correct.

By Arne Moll

The Yearbook series have reached number 88 already. To be honest, I hadn't seen a Yearbook for over a year, so I didn't know what to expect this time. The first thing I noted was the book reviews by Glenn Flear: this was news to me. I was especially interested in two of his five reviews: a book by Lapshun and Conticello about 1.b4 and Bologan's monograph on the Chebanenko Slav, of which I myself wrote a review in June.

Flear seems an honest and objective reviewer. Although he has written a book on the ...a6 Slav himself, he recommends Bologan's book whole-heartedly: very sportsmanlike! And since I used to play 1.b4 myself sometimes, I was also interested in his opinion on the 'main line' which runs 1.b4 e5 2.Bb2 Lxb4 3.Bxe5 Nf6. Flear writes:

Lapshun certainly has a few cunning ideas of his own, but he doesn't convince me that White pertains a particularly comfortable middlegame, especially as Black doesn't have to do anything dramatic to obtain good play.

I haven't read Lapshun's book, but to be fair I don't think advocates of 1.b4 actually claim that White has an edge in this opening. It's just that it can lead to interesting play, and Flear seems to acknowledge this when he mentions that the authors have "prefered to concentrate their efforts on explaining the strategy plus some practical tips." Well, I don't see what's wrong with this. I myself have experimented a bit with the interesting option 4.Nc3!? but the line Flear mentions (4.c4 followed by simple development) is also OK (that is, about equal) for White provided he's not too ambitious. What's so bad about that?

It's always a pleasure to read 'Sosonko's Corner'. In my opinion, this is often the highlight of any Yearbook. This time the Dutch GM talks about Ivanchuk's recent liking to 'step out very early with the black queen'. Let's first rejoice the fact that someone actually notices such 'long-term' trends: most chess players simply look at individual games and the results, and tend to ignore larger personal likings of players. I think such an observation alone can already be inspiring! Add to this the always-inspiring games of the Ukrainian genius (and others who have done the same as Ivanchuk), and you have a wonderful article full of interesting and thought-provoking moments. Let me give just one example:

Diagram 1Karjakin-Ivanchuk Foros 2008

1. e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3 Nc6 7.Bf4 Qf6!?N

That's a novelty on move seven! This is already impressive, but watch how Sosonko discusses this game. He shows the rest it (a draw was agreed on move 18) and praised Ivanchuk's creative play. But that doesn't mean Sosonko likes the idea! Indeed, he writes:

Ivanchuk's novelty did its job and passed its first exam. However, to me the early queen move looks highly dangerous.

It's this kind of objectivity that, in my view, is most admirable in Sosonko's writing. And is of course essential for all good science! Highly recommended.

We now come to the third and largest part of any Yearbook: the actual surveys. And while we're discussing the Nimzowitsch variation (5.Nc3) of the Petroff Defence, let's have a look at one of the most important articles in this Yearbook: "The Petroff Poisoned Pawn" by ChessVibes-editor Merijn van Delft. Of course, not his name or his occupation is what's important here, but the variation he's discussing. Last year, Merijn already showed me some of his home analysis which ran as follows:

Diagram 2(first 6 moves are the same as in the above-mentioned game) 6...Be7 7.Bf4 Be6 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0-0-0 and now the amazing move 9...Bxa2!?!

Now Merijn writes how he started wondering about taking on a2 during a game where he was White, couldn't find a clear refutation, and concluded that it somehow couldn't be correct. But when he started to work seriously on this line with Black, he found that the capture on a2 probably is correct (especially with the bishop on f4). But why had nobody else played or analysed this simple pawn grabbing move before?

Perhaps, Van Delft wonders, everybody in the chess world has been suffering from a kind of 'mass delusion' ever since the first match game of Spassky-Fischer, Reykjavik 1972, where Fischer took a 'poisoned pawn' on h2 with his bishop as well. This 'psychological theory' is quite plausible, although I seem to remember from match reports that even during that famous 1972 game, analysts couldn't believe their eyes when Fischer took on h2. This would indicate that the 'trauma' dates from even longer ago. In any case, Van Delft played 9...Bxa2 for the first time in the Dutch league, and scored a comfortable draw with it against a good opponent. So, White players, watch out for this devil-may-care move in the future!

There are, of course, too many surveys to discuss individually in this review. 18 surveys are on openings that start with 1.e4, and 13 with 1.d4 or other opening moves. Is this overrepresentation, or is it simply indicative for the current state op opening research?

Of the six surveys on the Sicilian, I found the article on the move 8.Qd3!? (instead of the normal Qd2) in the Najdorf Poisoned Pawn by Juan Morgado and Roberto Alvarez most interesting. They discuss a recent game Mamedov-Kokarev where White introducted a spectacular novelty that brings the whole variation (which gained some popularity in the 80s) back to life:

Diagram 3Mamedov-Kokarev Plovdiv 2008

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 8.Qd3!? Qxb2 9.Rb1 Qa3 10.f5 Nc6 11.fxe6 fxe6 12.Nxc6 bxc6 13.Be2 Be7 14.Bh5+!?

The authors offer interesting and thoughtful analysis and useful conclusions, and it seems to me this survey has a lot of practical value, since this variation will almost certainly come on the board if Black has the Poisoned Pawn on his repertoire.

Also very useful for practical players is the article by Efstratios Grivas on some recent developments in the Morra Gambit - feared and loathed by club players around the globe. Grivas's conclusions are that the Morra (and the Grand Prix Attack) is not especially dangerous and not even difficult to play against - good news for classical Sicilian lovers!

Okay, I'll quickly mention one other 1.e4 survey before moving on to the other opening realms: an article by Ren?ɬ© Olthof on the Gurgenidze Blockading System (1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 c6 4.f4 d5 5.e5 h5). This seemed to me a great opportunity because there's not much formally known about this setup: just games and many, many ideas.

Unfortunately, Olthof does not elaborate on the value of the ideas or the relative value of the whole system. Indeed, his conclusion is, rather evasively, that the system is "especially suitable for players who like pawn chains and positional manoeuvring." But are these Black or White players? I myself have played the Gurgenidze system from time to time as Black, with good results, but as soon as I seriously started to study the system with White, I found it was extremely comfortable for White even if he allowed all Black's 'dream moves'! I have not trusted the setup for Black ever since.

I was disappointed that there seemed to be no objective conclusion on how to fight this system effectively with White, nor any clear ideas for Black. In fact, the whole reason for this article seems to have been a single game analysis by Daniel Fridman (which is, by the way, rather interesting - even though it is rather vague on the opening outcome, too).

On to the 1.d4 surveys. Although I know almost nothing of the hidden subtleties of the Catalan Opening so craftly played by Kramnik and other great players, I very much liked Evgeny Vladimirov's article on the move 10...Bd6 in the Classical variation. This move was recently played by Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand, so a survey was just what we needed. Actually, now that I've read the article, I'm thinking of incorporating this line into my own repertoire, so interesting does it look. Vladimirov's conclusion here is also rather nondescript, but he's forgiven this time since the variation is still so young!

I also want to draw your attention to a survey by Tibor Fogarasi on a very interesting line in the Gr?ɬºnfeld Exchange variation because it contains a nice drawing mechanism that I didn't know yet:

Diagram 41.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 Nc6 9.Be3 cxd4 10.cxd4 Qa5+ 11.Bd2 Qd8

And now, if White wants, a draw by repetition can be reached with 12.Be3 Qa5+ 13.Bd2 Qd8 etc. Of course, White can also choose something else (12.Bc3 or 12.d5) with very interesting complications. The whole line seems rather provocative for Black, but thanks to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, the line is still "alive and kicking" as the author concludes.

Finally, a few words on the Forum that opens any Yearbook. Readers of all levels can send in their games and ideas and sometimes this leads to interesting discussions and conclusions. Here, I didn't think the games nor the ideas were particularly useful or relevant. Of course this is a personal opinion, but what are we to make of an analysis of a 1980 game, however exciting in itself, if it doesn't contain a spectacular, still unknown novelty? What to do with conclusions in ancient variations that nobody plays anyway except in correspondance games? Even a small survey of some Noguieras games in a Rubinstein French endgame (an opening that I play myself) couldn't excite me, since the line really never appears on the board in practical games unless your opponent is extremely well prepared - and even then, this letter doesn't really add anything to existing knowledge.

I'm sure there are readers who find these discussions very interesting, but for me, they lacked the relevance and the urgency of the 'real' surveys in this Yearbook. But if you're interested in the latest ideas and analysis in topical variations, the New in Chess Yearbook series is still the number one scientific standard in the chess world.


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