Monday, April 29, 2013

"The Dark Knight System" Review

FM James Schuyler's The Dark Knight System: A Repertoire with 1....Nc6 has been my constant companion for the past month or so and is definitely among my favorite opening books of recent years.  Schuyler presents a "New York approach to 1...Nc6," striving always for dark square pressure with a quick ...e5 or, if that is prevented, playing for a Pirc set-up with ...g6 and ...Bg7.  There is much to admire in his repertoire and I recommend it to anyone looking for an off-beat and easy to learn system as Black that is sure to befuddle your opponents while guaranteeing that you are always in the game even against the most prepared.  Schuyler's system is ultimately very solid and very coherent, with many innovative ideas that are clearly the product of his own analysis.   

I have already discussed Schuyler's extremely logical "dark square" system against the Scotch Gambit with 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 e5 3.Nf3 exd4 4.Bc4 Nf6 5.e5 Ng4! in my article on "The Two Knights Anti-Modern," and I would suggest the book is worth having for his repertoire against the Scotch and Scotch Gambits alone as the specific lines he recommends have not been well analyzed in the literature.  For today, I have taken a close look at what I call "The Dark Knight's Zugzwang" which arises after 1.d4 Nc6 2.d5 Ne5 (Schuyler indirectly makes a good case for 2...Nb8!?) 3.e4 e6 (3...d6!? is a safer and more "dark-square focused" approach, as I discuss) 4.dxe6 fxe6 (4...dxe6 might eventually equalize but is hardly the type of thing you want to play) 5.Nc3!  (see diagram).  You can find Schuyler's analysis of these lines in the excerpt at Everyman Chess.


At this point Black has to be careful, and one book on these lines suggests that Black is almost in zugzwang because so many logical moves practically lose, including 5...Bc5?? 6.Qh5+ handing White a piece and 5...Bb4?! 6.Qd4! forking over the two Bishops and a big positional edge due to pressure on c7 and g7 after 6....Bxc3+ 7.Qxc3.  Schuyler recommends 5...b6 6.Nf3 Nf7, which is logical enough, but I am not a big fan of this so I explore several alternatives in my notes that actually seem a little more in keeping with his recommended "dark square" approach.  Overall, I think there are several good ways for Black to play, which is very encouraging since I had always thought that this position was probably the most critical for Black after 1.d4 Nc6.

The contents of the book are as follows:


  • Introduction 
  • Weak Colour Complex (ideas behind the "dark square" system)
  • Section One: 1 d4 Nc6 (unusual second moves for White) 
  • Ch. 1 - 2.Nf3 d6
  • Ch. 2 - 2.c4 e5 3.d5 Bb4+!?
  • Ch. 3 - 2.d5 Ne5
  • Section Two: 1 e4 Nc6 
  • Ch. 4 - 2.d4 e5
  • Ch. 5 - 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nc3 g6
  • Ch. 6 - 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.d4 d6
  • Section Three: Others
  • Ch. 7 - 1.c4 Nc6 2.Nc3 e5 3.Nf3 (3.g3 f5) 3...f5
  • Ch.  8 - 1.Nf3 Nc6
  • Ch. 9 - Others 
  • Ch. 10 - Miscellaneous Topics
  • Illustrative Games (pages 134-212)
  • Indexes 
The overall concept of the system that Schuyler recommends is quite easy to grasp.  In general, if White allows it, Black should play a quick 2...e5, as after 1.d4 Nc6 2.c4 e5 or 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 e5.  And if White discourages Black from playing 2...e5 with 2.Nf3 (as after 1.d4 Nc6 2.Nf3 or 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 when 2...e5 would simply transpose to the Open Games), then Black should generally seek to transpose to Pirc lines with 2...d6, ...Nf6, ...g6 and ...Bg7, encouraging White to play d5 and thus weaken his dark squares.  This approach has been tried by the tricky Jens Fries Nielsen, but it was pioneered by Frederick D. Yates, a strong British player from 1910-1931 -- see Janowski - Yates, Marienbad 1925 and Kmoch - Yates, Hastings 1927-1928 for example, but there are a number of other games worth exploring (especially Alekhine - Yates, Karlsbad 1923) and I hope to return to the subject of Yates's opening ideas in the King's Indian and Pirc at a future date. 

By incorporating this Pirc approach, Schuyler has really simplified his 1...Nc6 repertoire, and in a section titled "Reducing the Workload - The Dark Knight for Dummies," he offers that readers could even simplify the repertoire further by adopting 1.d4 Nc6 2.d5 Nb8!? and Mestrovic's favorite 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d6!? - both of which should generally transpose to the "Yates system." 

Among Schuyler's more interesting recommendations is  2.c4 e5 3.d5 Bb4+!? (see here for sample games) which has not been much played and is therefore easier to learn than the complex and increasingly well explored possibilities of the Black Knights Tango after 3...Ne7 etc. -- though in Schuyler's system Black still gets to play the best lines of the Tango via the move order 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 e5 3.d5 Ne7 4.c4?! Ng6.

I am constantly impressed by Schuyler's solid choices that adhere to the "dark square" concept and by the very logical and interesting repertoire he presents.  Because of his preference for sharp play on the dark squares, Schuyler eschews the rather standard transpositions to the Chigorin as recommended in Keene and Jacobs's classic A Complete Defense for Black and Christoph Wisnewski's Play 1...Nc6! -- the latter of which doubly sins against the dark square approach by recommending 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5 lines as well as the direct approach to the Chigorin via 1.d4 d5 2.c4 (or 2.Nf3) 2...Nc6, which is not even true to his title.  Meanwhile, books like T. Kapitaniak's Nimzovich Defence, Harald Keilhack and Rainer Schlenker's 1...Nc6 aus allen Lagen, and Igor Berdichevsky's 1...Nc6 Modern Practice (as well as his 2005 Convekta CD Modern Chess Openings 1...Nc6!?) are very useful for reference and for exploring alternatives, but increasingly dated and a bit too unfocused for today's busy chess player.  So while I think there are many interesting ways of playing the 1...Nc6 system, I also think Schuyler has done a very good job of presenting a repertoire that works and is easy to learn.  He has also provided a useful selection of sample games (which make up almost half of the book) so that you can get a feel for common middlegame positions.

Highly recommended.

13 comments:

Javi Martínez said...

Very good analysis.
I bought the book two weeks ago and I find it excellent in most chapters, but it is quite incomplete in the first one. For example, after 1 d4 Nc6 2 c4 d6 3 Nf3 g6 Schuyler does not analyze 4 e4 (4 ... Bg7 5 Be2 or 5 h3!?). After 4 Nb8 5 Nc3 d5 e4 Bg7 6 e4 Nf6 7 Bd3 (or 7 h3 0-0 8 Ad3) is stronger, in my opinion, than 7 Be2, black and find it more difficult to find counterplay.
Excellent blog, thanks for sharing analysis.

Javi Martínez said...

Sorry, 4 d5 Nb8 5 Nc3 Bg7 6 e4 Nf6

James Schuyler said...

Thank you for your review! It means a great deal to me to know that I have succeeded in doing what I set out to do, at least for one reader.



Michael Goeller said...

James -- thanks for the note. Glad you saw the review. I think it is a great book and it has really helped expand my 1...Nc6 repertoire. I look forward to your future writing, if you are planning any.

James Schuyler said...

Hi Michael,

I do have another book in the works, though it will be a much different type of book. (I may have liked to write a book of the same type, but I don't know of any other opening that is nearly so underrated, unexplored, and misunderstood.)

You make a very good point that 1.d4 Nc6 2.d5 Ne5 3.e4 d6!? is a sound option and furthermore that it leads to dark-square positions whereas 3...e6 will lead to light-squared positions (if both sides play correctly) so 3...d6 might have made more sense in the repertoire. (You may be interested to know that I did not really set out to create a dark-squared repertoire--it is only that the dark-squared choices almost always seemed like the strongest.)

On the other hand, it is still not clear to me that the Dark Knight's Zugzwang (DKZ) is all that much to worry about: 1.d4 Nc6 2.d5 Ne5 3.e4 e6 4.dxe6 fxe6 5.Nc3 b6 6.Nf3 Nf6 7.Bf4 Bb4 8.Qd4!? (This move, thematic to the DKZ, should have been dealt with in the book. Nonetheless, I don't think it's a problem.) 8...Bxc3+ 9.Qxc3 Qf6! is nothing for white worth talking about.

James Schuyler said...

As for Javi's comment, "1 d4 Nc6 2 c4 d6 3 Nf3 g6 Schuyler does not analyze 4 e4 (4 ... Bg7 5 Be2 or 5 h3!?). After 4 Nb8 5 Nc3 d5 e4 Bg7 6 e4 Nf6 7 Bd3 (or 7 h3 0-0 8 Bd3)" that is an omission, and worse yet, the position is not as simple as I first thought--in other words, it is not necessarily best (or even good) for black to simply pretend the bishop is on e2 rather than d3. One idea I'm looking at is 8...e5. Black's tempo loss in this King's Indian type of position may be balanced by white's h3 and Bd3. Another is to go back and play 1.d4 Nc6 2.Nf3 d6 3.c4 g6 4.d5 Nb8 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.e4 Bxc3!? or 6...Nd7. Or 5.e4 Bg7 6.h3 Nd7 as used successfully by GMs Kunin and Aronian.

Michael Goeller said...

Thanks for using this forum to post your analysis! I will have to take a look at your suggestions.

I have completed the research (including finding all notes by the old players) on the Knight-retreat King's Indian and Pirc, which I had been calling the Yates System, though I find that Chigorin played it earlier(!) I even found a book by Yates of his best games, which is pretty rare but available in Princeton). I am meaning eventually to write an article on that, which could be a system of its own against both 1.d4 and 1.e4.

Mario said...

Hi James,
Thank you for writing this book. I really liked the content and also your suggested inprovement to Javi Martinez.

[quote]
I may have liked to write a book of the same type, but I don't know of any other opening that is nearly so underrated, unexplored, and misunderstood[/quote]

Your suggested improvement (Bc3:) did remind me of an opening that is a little bit unexplored and underrated:
1. d4 g6 2. c4 Bg7 3. Nc3 c5 4. d5 Bc3: 5. bc3: f5
I think this is an opening that is worth exploring.

Mario said...

Anyways, already looking out to any book you will write in the future. Michael: thumps up for a really good blog.

Best regards,
Mario.

Anonymous said...

On May 6, 2013, James Schuyler wrote:
"Hi Michael,
.
.
.
"On the other hand, it is still not clear to me that the Dark Knight's Zugzwang (DKZ) is all that much to worry about: 1.d4 Nc6 2.d5 Ne5 3.e4 e6 4.dxe6 fxe6 5.Nc3 b6 6.Nf3 Nf6 7.Bf4 Bb4 8.Qd4!? (This move, thematic to the DKZ, should have been dealt with in the book. Nonetheless, I don't think it's a problem.) 8...Bxc3+ 9.Qxc3 Qf6! is nothing for white worth talking about."

There is something amiss here...6.Nf3 Nf6 7.Bf4 makes no sense. What's holding up the N on e5? And how does the black Q move to f6 with 9...Qf6! if there is a N on that square? I must assume that 6...Nf6 is in error, and maybe 6...Nf7 was played? Or maybe 6...Ng6? Can someone help us out here?

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

1.E4 Nc6 2.Nf3 ? Any better responses than d6(to passive) or nf6 (statistically horrible) maybe d5 or f5? What are your thoughts?

Michael Goeller said...

I agree that 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 is the hardest to meet if Black wants to play something sharp and fun. I generally play 2...e5 here and have developed an extensive open games repertoire as Black -- so that I now generally meet 1.e4 with 1...e5. I think Schuyler's Pirc-like system is quite viable and probably the most sound if you want to avoid transposing to the Open games. However, if you do want something sharp and interesting, I recommend you look for an article by Vlassov on 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 d5!? which he makes out to be quite viable -- and certainly exciting. There is also a good video at Chess.com by Charles Galofre that presents the entirety of Vlassov's article along with a couple useful additions. That is really worth checking out if you want to try this line.

Michael Goeller said...

The Vlassov article appears to be available in Russian here:
http://bazar-wokzal.narod.ru/Debut/Skandi/skandi.htm

It was originally published on Kasparov's defunct website way back when.