Thursday, February 28, 2008

Norwegian Variation Sources

From Norwegian chess enthusiast, chess author and chess shop owner (Sjakkbutikken) Øystein Brekke, I recently received two very interesting sets of photo copies. The most recent one is from the Swedish chess magazine "Tidsskrift för Schack" 1964 with the heading "En ovanlig variant i spanskt parti" (An Unusual Variation in the Spanish Game). It was written by the late Svein Johannessen and is a five part article on the Norwegian variation in the Ruy Lopez.

Even more ancient is the second set of photo copies which is from "Deutsche Schachzeitung" 1901 with the heading "Eine neue Vertheidingung der spanische Partie" (A New Defence in the Spanish Game). This set consists of an article by editor Carl Schlechter (February issue), a summary of some readers' letters regarding the variation 6.Bxf7+ (June issue) and finally a second article by Schlechter focusing on the 6.Bxf7+ variation (September).

This new information obviously calls for an update of my list of Norwegian variation sources:

The Norwegian Variation Bibliography
Below is a list of the significant sources that I am aware of. I will update it whenever I find the time or stumble over anything new.

Alternative names:
English: Wing variation, Taimanov variation, Furman variation
German: Jagdvariante
NIC-code: RL 9.3
ECO-code: C70

Major sources:

  • New In Chess Yearbook 37 (1995):
    (25 pages article by Jonathan Tisdall)
  • Norsk Sjakkblad 1993 and 1994 (Norwegian language):
    7 articles by Jonathan Tisdall (drafted by Sverre Johnsen): 2/93; 3/93; 4/93; 5/93; 1/94; 2/94; 6/94 and 7/94. There is also an annotated game Ernst-Tisdall, Gausdal 2002 (Zwaig variation) in 1/93.
  • Sjakkmesteren Svein Johannessen, Brekke, Norsk Sjakkforlag 2009 (Norwegian language). Contains many annotated games - some previously unknown - and an overview chapter.
  • Opening for White according to Anand 1.e4 (vol.2); Khalifman, Chess Stars 2003
    (I don't have the book available but have read it and as expected it offered a serious try for White to extract a genuine advantage)
  • Chesspublishing 1.e4 e5; Davies, February 2003
    (mainly for subscribers)
  • Play the Ruy Lopez; Greet, Everyman 2006
    (13 well researched pages from White's point of view).
Minor sources:

  • Easy Guide to the Ruy Lopez; Emms Everyman 1999
    (quite good coverage but mainly from White's perspective)
  • The Lopez Grip Part 3; Martin, Bits and Pieces (Chessville) 2004
  • Norsk Sjakkblad #4 and #5 2005 (Norwegian language)
  • Older issues of Norsk Sjakkblad (I will eventually try to make a list of the relevant issues).
Historic sources:

  • Tidsskrift för Schack 1964 #7, 8 and 9; Svein Johannessen (Swedish language)
  • Deutsche Schachzeitung 1901 #2, 6 and 9; Carl Schlechter (German language)

General sources:
The encyclopedic works (ECO, NCO, MCO, BCO2 etc.) almost by definition have some coverage of the line. I will add some details on this whenever I find the time.

  • ECO C (4th edition) has 1,5 pages
  • NCO has 0,5 pages

This is an updated version of an entry I originally posted August 30th, 2007. Some information added August 26th, 2009)

Monday, February 25, 2008

A German Competitor

When I a few weeks ago was searching for reviews of the German translation of "Win with the London System", I stumbled upon another new German book on the London system -"Das London-System" by Marcus Schmücker. I immediately ordered it from my local chess dealer but have not yet received it. Consequently I have not had much useful to say about it.

Today I found a review at the German site That was not by chance as I check it quite regularly. It used to be one of the better chess review sites - and I suppose it still is, as there is always useful information to be found. This time it was interesting to see the link to the author's home page.
Yet I must say I agree with the reader letter complaining that the reviews have gootten too kind lately. No big problem when it's my own products that are under the microscope but a little irritating when it's a competing work.
For a table of content, see Schachversand Niggemann.
More info will follow as soon as I receive my copy!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Two More Retro Challenges

In my entry of July 20, 2007 I offered three games to reconstruct:
1) Black's 4th move is 4...Re1+.
2) White plays the moves 1.f3, 2.Kf2, 3.Kg3, 4.Kh4. Black's 4th move is to give mate.

3) A game opens 1.a3. White's 5th move is to give mate with a rook.

Here are the solutions:
1) 1.e4 h5 2.Qxh5 Rxh5 3.e5 Rxe5+ 4.Kd1 Re1+.
2) 1.f3 e6 (1...e5 will also do) 2.Kf2 Qf6 3.Kg3 Qxf3! 4.Kh4 Be7 mate.
3) 1.a3 e5 2.Nc3 Bxa3! 3.Ne4 (Dia) 3...Bf8! 4.Ra5 Ke7! 5.Rxe5 mate.

For those who enjoy these puzzles I offer two more challenges. For a change I know (or think I know) the originator - American (ex Hungarian) GM Pal Benko - more known for his development of the Benko Gambit than for his endgame studies.

1) Black's 5th move is to promote a pawn to a bishop with mate.
2) Black's 5th move is to promote a pawn to a knight with mate.

The first is relatively simple and I suspect there may be more than one solution. At least I had forgotten the solution, and when I tried to reconstruct it, the solution I found seemed rather unfamiliar. The solution to the second task I find rather surprising and I suspect I would have had problems finding it without the hints I got from an impatient task giver.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Question of Style

As a comment to my entry 'A Grossly Unfair Test', a reader has sent the following question:

"In your book, 'The Ruy Lopez: A Guide for Black', you recommend the move 8...d5 after the moves 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 Qe2 b5 6 Bb3 Be7 7 0-0 0-0 8 c3 (Dia) and you say that 'the more conservative 8...d6 9 Rd1 Na5 10 Bc2 c5 11 d4 Qc7 leads to standard Chigorin positions where White's chances should be slightly preferable.' The 8...d6 line is recommended by Nigel Davies in 'Play 1 e4 e5!' and by Mihail Marin in 'A Spanish Repertoire for Black' which came out after your book. You have 'Play 1 e4 e5!' in your bibliography so you must have thought that White has improvements over Davies' lines. What do you think about Marin's analysis of this line? How does both books analysis compare to Greet's Play the Ruy Lopez?"

Actually the decision to recommend 8...d5 was not mainly a result of any dissatisfaction with 8...d6 or Davies' analysis of the move. The two moves have a roughly equal theoretical status so our choice was more a matter of taste and of finding a move that fitted into our general repertoire. Space considerations also was an issue as the Worrall clearly had to be considered a minor line - even more so before the arrival of Greet's book.

It must be taken into consideration that Davies and Marin both are recommending a Chigorin based repertoire where 8...d6 followed by ...Na5 and ...c5 fits very nicely in - the main strategies are the same whether White's rook is on e1 or on d1. We, however, offer a Zaitsev based repertoire. That doesn't totally exclude Chigorin like lines but it would require extra space for strategical explanations. Another factor is more subjective: we chose to recommend the Zaitsev variation because it involves rapid and natural development. Correspondingly we avoided the Chigorin because we were not really happy with the knight excursion to a5. It is a fact that Black often finds it quite hard to activate this knight in the Chigorin. These considerations apply in the diagram position too.

So, why didn't we recommend a Zaitsev development scheme with ...Bb7 and ...Re8 then? That is indeed a good question and this should have been stated clearly in our book: Against the Worrall attack, 8...d6 9.Rd1, 9...Bb7 doesn't seem to be working very well, as 10.d4 creates threats to e5, thanks to the pin in the d-file.

Fortunately this isn't a great problem as 8...d5 is an active and strong move which fits well with the general philosophy behind the Zaitsev. It takes a bit more theoretical preparation than 8...d6 but once Black masters a few sharp lines he can expect quite a pleasant life against the Worrall. This claim has to be backed up by analysis (and in our book we supply some). But to some extent it can also be supported by visual evidence.

If you compare these two diagrams which shows the positions after 11 moves in the two mainlines there can be no doubt that Black appears more active in the second:
  • In the first diagram (arising from 8...d6 9.Rd1 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Qc7) White has achieved an central advantage (e4&d4 vs. e5&d6) while Black's knight on a5 appears somewhat misplaced.
  • In contrast White in the second diagram (arising from 8... d5 9. d3 Bb7 10. Nbd2 Re8 11. a3 Bf8) has spent a move on the modest a3 while Black is almost fully developed (Zaitsev style!) and has even taken the active stance in the centre (e5&d5 vs. e4&d3).
Obviously this doesn't prove that 8...d5 is better than 8...d6 but I think it shows that 8...d5 is a more ambitious approach (and consequently better if it actually works).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

1.a3 - the Final Hurdle

It would be very surprising if 1.a3 were sufficient for a genuine opening advantage. But if White could expect comfortable equality in a position more familiar to himself than his opponent it would not be a bad opening option at all. To some extent I think I have demonstrated that this can be achieved against 1...e5, 1...g6, 1...c5 and 1...d5. Consequently the main challenge for White seems to be the flexible 1...Nf6:

1.a3 Nf6! 2.e3!? (Dia)

This is my best shot. It doesn't promise White an advantage but it may give unbalanced equality in a position where White can hope to be the best prepared. White has also tried:

a) Prie himself has declared that 2.d4 g6! leads to a King's Indian where the pawn move to a3 is mostly a waste of time.

b) 2.g3, planning a King's Indian set-up with Bg2, d3, Nd2, Nf3, 0-0 and e4 probably is sufficient for equality as a3 normally is vaguely useful in these set-ups.

c) 2.b4 may at first look consistent with White's first move. But when you look more closely at the position you realize that it could just as well have occured from the move-order 1.b4 Nf6 2.a3?! which looks rather pointless. A recent practical example went 2...d5 3.Bb2 g6 4.e3 Bg7 5.c4 c6 6.Qc2 0–0 7.Nf3 Bf5 8.d3 dxc4 9.Qxc4 Nbd7 10.Nbd2 Nb6 11.Qc2 Re8 12.h3 a5 = Suba-Moya Hernandez, Almeria 2006.


a) After 2...e6, I quite like 3.Bc4 d5 4.Ba2 with an original position which I suppose is roughly equal.

b) 2...c5 3.b4 may have a little less bite than 1.a3 c5 2.b4 but still gives White fair chances for a central superiority. 3...b6 may be best.

c) 2...g6 3.c4 (3.b4 Bg7 4.Bb2 d6 5.c4 0–0 6.g3 c6 7.Bg2 Nbd7 8.Nf3 e5 9.d3 Qe7 10.Nbd2 Nh5 11.Qc2 f5 unclear Emelianov-Ozgibcev, Novokuznetsk 1999) 3...d6 4.Nc3 Bg7 5.Be2 c6 6.d3 a6 7.Bd2 Nbd7 8.Rc1 Rb8 9.Nf3 e5 10.0–0 0–0 11.Qc2 Ne8 12.d4 f5 unclear Patuzzo-Giordano, Lugano 2003.

d) 2...d5 of course is very sound, but it seems White can unbalance the play:

d1) 3.b4 e6 4.Bb2 leads to a position that frequently has occurred from the Sokolsky move-order 1.b4 d5 2.Bb2 e6 3.e3 Nf6 4.a3.

d2) 3.Nf3 e6 4.c4 Be7 and now White has tried:

d21) 5.b3 0–0 6.Bb2 c5 7.Be2 b6 8.0–0 Bb7 9.d3 Nc6 10.Nbd2 Ne8 11.d4 cxd4 12.Nxd4 Nxd4 13.Bxd4 dxc4 14.Nxc4 Nd6 15.Be5 Nxc4 16.Bxc4 Bf6 17.Qxd8 Rfxd8 18.Bxf6 gxf6 19.Rfd1 += Gelashvili-Miladinovic, Kavala 1999.

d22) 5.g4!? is the trademark move for the new 'no rules' generation of chess players. 5...c5 6.b4 Nxg4 7.Rg1 Nh6 8.bxc5 Bf6 9.d4 was unclear in Bosboom-Sonntag, Germany 2006.

d23) 5.b4 seems like the logical move. 5...0–0 6.Bb2 b6 7.Qc2 c5 8.bxc5 bxc5 9.Bd3 Nc6 10.cxd5 exd5 11.0–0 Bb7 12.Bxf6 Bxf6 13.Nc3 g6 = Kozul-Sosonko, Bled 1997.

d3) I like 3.f4!? even if Black has somewhat reduced White's options compared to the 1.a3 d5 2.f4 lines I discussed in a previous entry (e3 is unnecessary or even damaging in a reversed Dutch Leningrad).

d21) 3...g6 4.b4 is an interesting Bird/Dutch set-up which is not easy to achieve as Black. Note that a3 is not wasted as 1.f4 d5 2.b4? is refuted by 2...Qd6! (1.f4 Nf6 2.b4? Nd5! is a variation of the theme).

d22) Also after 3...c5, 4.b4 is an interesting option, e.g., 4...cxb4 5.axb4 Qb6?! 6.Nc3 Qxb4? 7.Bb5+ Bd7 8.Ba3 Qa5 9.Bxe7 and White's advantage is sizable.

White is hoping for a reversed Paulsen/Kan Sicilian. Other possibilities include:
a) 3.d4 exd4 4.exd4 Be7 5.Nf3 0–0 6.Bd3 d5 7.0–0 Bg4 8.c3 Bh5 9.Bf4 Bg6 10.Ne5 Bxd3 11.Qxd3 Nbd7 = Filzmeier-Marjanovic, Nova Gorica 1999.

b) 3.b4 d6 4.Nf3 g6 5.h3 Bg7 6.Bb2 0–0 7.c4 Re8 8.Nc3 Nbd7 9.Be2 e4 10.Nh2 Ne5 =+ Basman-Kinlay, Bristol 1980.

c) I have a weak spot for 3.Bc4 d5 4.Ba2 which leads to a quite unique position. However, objectively I must admit that White is unlikely to achieve full equality.

3...c6 (Dia)

Probably this is best. It's known from the O'Kelly Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6) that ...a6 (here a3) is not particularly useful in set-ups with c3 (here ...c6).

a) 3...b6 4.Nc3 Bb7 5.Nf3 e4 6.Nd4 c5 7.Nf5 g6 8.Ng3 Bg7 9.Be2 0–0 10.0–0 ½–½ Galkin-Malaniuk, Sochi 1997.

b) 3...g6 4.Nc3 (4.b4 Bg7 5.Bb2 d6 6.d3 0–0 7.Nf3 Ng4 8.h3 Nh6 9.Qb3 a5 10.Nbd2 axb4 11.axb4 Rxa1+ 12.Bxa1 Be6 13.d4 exd4 14.Bxd4 Nc6 15.Bxg7 Kxg7 16.Be2 += Bosboom-Gulko, Wijk aan Zee 2001) 4...Bg7 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Qc2 a5 7.Rb1 0–0 8.Be2 Re8 9.d3 d6 10.0–0 Bf5 11.Nd2 Rb8 ½–½ Hulak-Tkachiev, Istanbul 2003.

c) I was surprised to discover that there are quite a few games continuing 3...d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5. This seems quite accommodating as White is playing a Kan/Paulsen Sicilian a move up. It may tell something about the importance of one tempo in an unbalanced position that White in this line scores 61% (in 41 games) while Black in the corresponding position after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 scores 51% (in 39.435 games) - which is still an amazingly good result for Black. Maybe I will return to this in a later entry.


Also 4.d4 seems reasonable: 4...exd4 (4...e4!?) and now:

a) 5.Qxd4 seems relatively safe (isn’t this somewhat reminiscent of the French line 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 Qxd5!?). A recent game went 5...d5 6.Nf3 Bd6 7.Nc3 dxc4 8.Bxc4 0–0 9.e4 Bc7 10.Qxd8 Rxd8 11.Ng5 Rf8 12.f4 h6 13.Nxf7!? Rxf7 14.e5 Nfd7 15.Be3 Nf8 16.Bxf7+ Kxf7 17.0–0–0 and it seemed that Black had slightly the better chances in a difficult position in Bosboom-Tiviakov, Hilversum 2007.

b) 5.exd4 would follow the parallel main line in the reversed 2.c3-Sicilian. After 5...d5, 6.Nf3 most likely would lead to an IQP position where a3 probably would be marginally useful. Also 6.c5, planning to meet 6...b6 with 7.b4 and a queenside space advantage makes sense.

4...e4 5.Nd4 d5
5...g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Qc2 Qe7 8.b4 0–0 9.Bb2 d5 10.cxd5 cxd5 11.Be2 Nbd7 12.0–0 Ne5 unclear Kuligowski-Sosonko, Amsterdam 1982.

6.cxd5 cxd5 (Dia)


a) I like 7.Qc2 here but it hardly changes the evaluation that White must thread carefully in order to keep the chances equal.

b) 7.b4 seems consistent but is hardly sufficient for equality:

b1) 7...Nc6 8.Bb2 (8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.Qc2 Bd7 10.d3 exd3 11.Bxd3 Bd6 =+ Haapasalo-Rantanen, Salo 1998) 8...Bd6 9.Be2 0–0 10.f4 Bd7 11.0–0 Rc8 12.Nb3= Talon-Dal Borgo, Belgium 2002.

b2) 7...a5 8.b5 Bd6 9.Be2 0–0 10.Bb2 Nbd7 11.f4?! (after 11.Nc3 White is close to equality in an unbalanced position) 11...Nb6 =+ Talon-Van den Brande, Westerlo 2004.


Or 7...a6 8.Nc3 Bd6 9.dxe4 dxe4 (Bosboom-Van Wely, Wijk aan Zee 1999) 10.Qc2 +=.

8.Nc3 0–0 9.Be2 Qe7 10.0–0 Rd8 11.b4 Bxd4 12.exd4 Nc6 13.Be3 Bf5
= Milov-Godena, Cannes 2006.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Size Matters

I recently bought James Vigus' 'The Pirc in Black and White' (Everyman 2007) in order to update my knowledge of the various 150-attacks against the Pirc. I have not yet had the time to study it any depth. It seems thorough and well organized but what immediately struck me was the size of the book. At 381 pages it beats 'The Philidor Files' (Everyman 2007) by Bauer (304 pages) by a large margin and even 'Play the Ruy Lopez' (Everyman 2007) by Greet (376 pages). But even these books are dwarfed by the monster sized 'Practical Endgame Play' (Everyman 2007) by Flear, which at 544 pages equals Nunn's Chess Openings (Everyman 1999).

These are examples of what may be a trend: It seems that chess books are getting heavier - bigger page formats and more pages. For Everyman the new standard seems to be 250 pages or more, with 350 pages being no rarity. Gambit's books too have been growing - most notably their standard format is now B5 (248 mm by 172 mm) as opposed to the earlier A5 (210 mm by 145 mm) standard.

These new books often have an impressive coverage of their subject with detailed strategic explanation in combination with full coverage of variations and game references. And there should be no complaints about the price - it's often only a fragment more expensive than the sub-200 pages volumes.

Yet... a book with 300+ pages will always be intimidating to some readers - maybe even the majority of potential buyers. So I wonder if there will be a reversal? Is there a growing market for the really slim book or booklet? If so, how can a reduction in quantity be achieved without compromising quality? Cutting the prose, reducing fonts or squeezing more text on each page would hardly attract many customers. To narrow the focus and concentrate on sub-lines could work for certain openings but generally I don't think it's the way to go.

One obvious solution is to cut the number of game references drastically. I have a theory that many social players don't bother much with parenthesis and long lists of alternatives anyway; they play through the main lines and read the prose. The minor alternatives are consulted only if the mainline cannot easily be understood. It’s also obvious that books are getting outdated quite quickly these days and there is a growing number of chess book buyers who actively (and skilfully) use databases and analysis engines to supplement their books.

I would like to write a 'Outline Book' which assumes that the reader has access to a database and a strong analysis engine where I on roughly 100 pages offer:

  • An introduction with some suggestions about how to best make use of a database (players to watch, critical lines etc.) and an analysis engine (what is it good and bad at?).
  • A fairly detailed 'outline' of a repertoire but with very sparse game references.
  • Some inspirational games with verbal and rather light annotations.
  • All necessary warnings about 'dangerous terrain' - traps and lines where you cannot survive without detailed theoretical knowledge.
How would this kind of book sell? Do the average club player like to have all the 'extra' information available just in case he will need it some day? Or would he prefer to pick up a slim volume which presents a playable repertoire can which be read from cover to cover over the week-end - even if it doesn't offer all your opponents alternatives at all junctions?