Hedinn Steingrimssons Book Reviews

Grandmaster Repertoire - Lubomir Ftacnik

The Sicilian DefenceTired of bad positions? Try the main lines!
Quality Chess, 427 pages in English, Das Rezensionsexemplar wurde zur Verfügung gestellt von Schachversand Noggemann, www.niggemann.com

In this book a complete repertoire for black against 1.e4, which is based on a Scheveningen, that is with …e6, interpretation of the Najdorf Sicilian, is presented. The Najdorf has currently a high reputation and is generally believed to be a correct opening. Some grandmasters, like Ftacnik even goftacnik_najdorf150
further and state that 1.e4 is an inaccurate first move because after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 white has made long term positional concession because he has exchanged one of his central pawns.Generally speaking I quite like this book. It presents a part of Ftacnik´s own repertoire against 1.e4 and includes a lot of original analysis. I also find it a big advantage that Ftacnik often recommends lines for black, which have until this book came out not been discussed much in books on the Najdorf. In short this book contains a lot of original work and is not some copy paste of what has already been written. In some cases Ftacnik´s recommended variations are today rarely played although I expect that to change. Generally the coverage of different variations reflects their merit and popularity very well. Against some anti-Sicilian lines which where black has a clear way to gain at least equality, Ftacnik presents one reliable way to play for black. Against lines which black has to take more seriously Ftacnik usually presents two lines for black. Lines which are currently popular for white against the Najdorf like e.g. 6.Bg5 and 6.Be3 get a specially thorough coverage. Thus the coverage of different possibilities for black fits well to the currently most popular lines for white. It goes without saying that finding correct lines, which are not fashionable, is not so easy. Most often the lines presented are sound and interesting, but there are also exceptions to be found e.g. according to one of my team mates at the last Olympiad, one of Ftacnik´s recommendations against 2.c3, that is the line starting with 2…d6 is slightly suspect. It goes 3.d4 Nf6 4.Bd3 g6 5.Nf3 Bg7 6.00 00 7.h3 Qc7. This is all found in Ftacnik´s book. Here white played 8.Bg5!? which is not discussed by Ftacnik. My teammate played 8…e5 (the setup recommended by Ftacnik) 8.Na3 a6 9.dxe5 dxe5 10.Nc4 Nc6 11.Ne3 and white was slightly better in the game Homayoon-Thorfinnsson Khanty Mansiysk 2010, because of the weak d5 square in black´s camp. Here black has a tedious defense ahead with no real chance to play for a win, which is not really what Najdorf players are looking for. It must be said that Ftacnik also covers 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 g6!? so that here like in most other cases the reader has some alternatives and can also be flexible which is quite important in modern chess.In short this is a book with a lot of own contribution and in which a lot of thought has been given to the lines recommended, although a careful reader might find an exception or two.The first 147 pages cover anti-Sicilian lines, that is lines where white does not play the before mentioned first 4 moves that lead to the mainline of the open Sicilian. This is quite a good coverage, which makes this book very useful not only to Najdorf or Scheveningen players, but also to Sicilian players in general.Another highlight of the book is very deep coverage of the classical Scheveningen which arises after 4…Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e6 7.00 Be7 8.f4 00 with black following up with …Qc7 and …Nc6. Players that play this position e.g. via the Taimanov move order with 2…e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Be2 a6 7.00 Nf6 8.Be3 Be7 9.f4 d6 are recommended to look closely at this chapter.Generally speaking I find the coverage positional and traditional lines like the classical Scheveningen very good. This is because Ftacnik´s deep understanding and long experience of playing these positions is reflected well in the book. The quality of the modern lines, where computer analysis dominates the field, which are among others found in the Bg5 variation does not quite reach the same very high standard although also here you see a lot of original analysis and suggestions and generally an unusually high amount of own contribution. In these lines a reader equipped with the latest chess engines will find some improvements for both sides here and there.Fazit:Ftacnik´s Sicilian Defence gets 4.5 out of 5 possible stars.
Some of the chapters are among the best that have been written about the lines in question e.g. the ones on the traditional Scheveningen. It is obvious that Ftacnik has invested a lot of time in working on this book and he can be proud of the result. To get the remaining half star a bit more exact coverage of some of the wilder lines where the computer plays a major role would have been needed.


The Cutting Edge 1 - The Open Sicilian 1

GM Milos Pavlovic, Quality Chess, 168 pages in English 

This book is the first in a new series from Quality Chess examining the cutting edge of opening theory. The idea is to identify the most important theoretical battlegrounds of the moment and then analyse as deeply as possible in search of improvements. Thus the reader will be ahead of the current state-of-the-art, rather than lagging behind trying to memorize old games.  In The Cutting Edge1 - The Open Sicilian 1 the variations covered are: Sveshnikov 13.Nxb5 piece sac: 9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.Nd5 f5 11.Bd3 Be6 12.c3 Bg7 13.Nxb5 axb5the-cutting-edge150
14.Bxb5 Sveshnikov 18.h4 pawn sac: 9.Nd5 Be7 10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.c3 0–0 12.Nc2 Bg5 13.a4 bxa4 14.Rxa4 a5 15.Bc4 Rb8 16.b3 Kh8 17.Nce3 g6 18.h4!? Sveshnikov: 9.Nd5 Be7 10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.c4 Rauzer, doubled f-pawn variation: 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 a6 8.0–0–0 Bd7 9.f4 b5 10.Bxf6 gxf6 Chinese Dragon: 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.0–0–0 Rb8 Dragon, 12...Re8 system: 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.0–0–0 Rc8 11.Bb3 Ne5 12.Kb1 Re8 Dragon, Topalov variation: 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.0–0–0 Rc8 11.Bb3 Nxd4 12.Bxd4 b5 Taimanov, English Attack main line: 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Be3 a6 7.Qd2 Nf6 8.f3 Bb4 9.0–0–0 Taimanov, English Attack with 8... Be7: 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Be3 a6 7.Qd2 Nf6 8.0–0–0 Be7 9.f3 Taimanov with 5...a6: 5.Nc3 a6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bd3 Kan: 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Bd3 Nf6 7.0-0 Bc5  Kan: 5.Bd3 Bc5 The Sicilian has the reputation to be one of the sharpest openings possible and many of the lines covered in this book are among the sharpest of the Sicilian. It is thus clear, that we are talking about very complicated lines here.It goes without saying, that these are exactly the variations where chess engines are able to contribute a lot. Generally there is no lack of suggestions and variations when one uses a chess engine, but the main weakness of the engines is estimating the positions that are the results of the tactical skirmishes and complications. Another interesting point is that while a chess engine can estimate a position as equal, it can be almost lost for a human player if it occurs in a practical game, if the only way to survive is to find many only moves e.g. when facing a dangerous mating attack. For this reason to some extend there can be two evaluations of the same position, one for the engines and another one for a human player sitting behind a chess board with the clock ticking. That raises the interesting question, which evaluation does a book that concentrates on these sharp lines follow?It is my impression, that Pavlovic to some extent takes the human view on the position and evaluates the lines based on how comfortable it would be for a human player to play. He has many new suggestions. Some of them are not necessarily improvements, but rather new possibilities which would be uncomfortable for an unprepared player to face over the board. It happened now and then, that the engines where able to refute his suggestions. What I like about the book is that in other cases we are simply taking about the most critical lines that according to current knowledge have the best chance to contain the refutation of the corresponding variation. The fact that in many of the lines the critical games are brand new is ofcourse also very positive. In these variations there are fewer new suggestions, but the quality of the proposals is also higher.I like about this book, that it has a certain repertoire character, that is it does not jump randomly around the Sicilian, but e.g. concentrates on the Yugoslav attack against the Dragon and English Attack setups against the Taimanov. Also a repertoire for black against the most popular moves that white can play against the Can, that is 5.Nc3 and 5.Bd3 is presented.

Conclusion:The Open Sicilian 1 gets 4 out of 5 possible stars.

To get the remaining star it would have been necessary to be slightly more selective and focus more on quality than quantity of new ideas in some variations. In other cases the material presented is as new as it gets and the analysis of high quality.
I can recommend The Open Sicilian 1 for players that are interested in how various lines in the Sicilian might be refuted according to the current cutting edge theory and are looking for valuable new ideas that


Prepare to attack

Gary Lane, Everyman Chess, 192 pages in English
In this book IM Lane presents various strategical and practical advices that are very useful for club players. As the title of the book suggests, handling of the initiative and instructions on how to attack are covered especially deeply.
In the first chapters several guiding lines on how one should attack are presented.
  • Chapter 1 Count the pieces
  • Chapter 2 Carry on Attacking
  • Chapter 3 Direct Attacks from the Opening
  • Chapter 4 Secrets of Success
  • Chapter 5 Cashing in Your Chips
  • Chapter 6 History Always Repeats Itself
  • Chapter 7 Tricks of the Trade
Appart from strategical instructions on how one should attack and handle the initiative, with concrete examples, which are often from well known, classical games, there are various practical recommendations like how to avoid time trouble, how to play in time trouble etc.
Generally speaking many of the most important things for practical players are covered in this book. It may not be too original and to be honest I had seen most of the things that IM Lane writes before. For less experienced chess players, this book, however, has a substantial practical value and is in fact quite good.

Prepare to attack gets 3,5 stars out of 5 possible.

I specially recommend it to club players up to 2200 EL0, that have not read too many chess books. It´s practical value may be higher than the amount of stars given, because the most important chess knowledge is presented here in one single book. For more stars, however, I would have liked to see a greater amount of original work e.g. more recently played games which have not already been analyzed extensively in other books.

Bird Eröffnung

Timothy Taylor, Everyman Chess, 234 pages in German

The Bird opening 1.f4 has a unique charm. It often leads to original positions where the players get an opportunity to play very creatively.
In some variations, white is playing the Dutch defense with an extra tempo. Taylor presents a rather broad system for white, which depending on what black does, includes both classical Dutch setups, which can lead to a Queens-Indian type of position and also a Leningrad setup.
As an example white can play a Nimzo Indian setup with e3, b3, Lb2 and if e.g. …d5, …c5 and …Sc6 then Lb5. If allowed white will also often play e4, following up with d3, Le2, Sf3, 00 and a possible attack on the kingsside. A Leningrad setup with Sf3, g3, Lg2 is also covered. In general white can to some extent chose a setup based on the line that black plays.
It should not be forgotten, that black has the sharp and critical 1…e5 move. IM Taylor looks at this line in detail and shows interesting ways for white to fight black´s initiative.
I can recommend this book to players that like original and creative chess. I can also recommend it to players that are interested in broadening their chess understanding and in looking at a bit unorthodox positions. In the Bird it is all about plans and setups, which is quite different from the computer dominated analysis current times. This book can also be recommended for players that play the Bird. They will no doubt find ideas on how they can broaden their handling of this opening and see interesting analysis in the critical 1…e5 line.

Bird Eröffnung gets 3,5 out of 5 possible stars.


Play the Scandinavian

Christian Bauer, Quality Chess, 303 pages in English

GM Christian Bauer is a strong grandmaster from France. This is his 3rd book. He has a certain preference for slightly unorthodox openings and has previously written high quality books on 1…b6 and the Philidor Defence. He plays the Scandinavian regularly with black with excellent results.
In this book GM Bauer presents his own Skandinavian repertoire. He interprets this opening in a rather classical way and only considers after 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Dxd5 3.Sc3 the move 3…Da5 (3…Dd6 is very fashionable now). His main line runs 4.d4 Sf6 5.Nf3  Lf5 6.Bc4 e6 7.Ld2 c6. The American GM Nakamura and the women ex-World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk have been playing this line recently , getting good positions out of the opening and achieving excellent practical results.  Here GM Bauer analysis all possible continuations for white in great detail. Also efforts to trick black by choosing a different move order e.g. 5.Ld2, after which 5…Lg4 is interesting, are covered thoroughly. Apart from deep analysis of the mainlines, a strong point of this book is that GM Bauer has put in a special effort on finding ways for black to deviate to less trodden paths, e.g. by playing 4…Lg4 or even 4…Lf5 5.Lc4 e6 with the idea to play after 5.Sf3 a setup involving the original …Se7!?. He also presents analysis of lines that he considers from a theoretical point of view to be slightly dubious for black although in a practical game one could give them a try like 5…Sc6?! and 5…Se4?!. One of the advantages of the Skandinavian is that it is a rather simple opening, mainly because the same pawn structure arises in almost all the lines and black´s plans are also rather similar.
GM Bauer manages to present a very detailed and thorough coverage of the Skandinavian in his book. He more or less covers every sensible try for white after 1.e4 d5 and also gives black ample possibilities to deviate to unexplored paths. In the hands of an attentive reader of this book, the Skandinavian will be a sound and reliable opening with ample practical chances.
A very good book, which leaves nothing to be desired when it comes to the depth of the coverage of the chosen line and amount of original analysis. The practical aspect of chess is also by no means neglected.
I can recommend this book to players that are looking for a straight forward line to play against 1.e4, where there is not too much theory to be learned. After carefully going through the high quality analysis of GM Bauer an attentive reader will know what he needs to do and what he should avoid and be very much up to date on the opening theory and fit to play the Skandinavian on all levels.

Play the Skandinavian gets 4,5 stars out of 5.

The only improvement that I see is that GM Bauer could here and there provide slightly more detailed analysis of black´s attempts to go off the well trodden path. Admittedly there are not many practical games in these lines and going to an unexplored territory also has its charm.