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.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Caveman Squeeze at the Alekhine Memorial

Ding Liren - Maxime Vachier-Legrave
For those interested in the Caveman Caro-Kann, the game Maxime Vachier-Lagrave -- Ding Liren, Alekhine Memorial 2013, is a must-see treat.   Ding Liren, who played the best game of Informant #114 and is no slouch (he beat Aronian in the first round after all), essayed the line 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4 h6 (rather than 4...h5 5.Bg5!?) and after 5.g4 Be4 (5...Bd7 is best) 6.f3 Bh7 7.e6! he tried the novel 7...Nf6!? (instead of the standard 7...Qd6 8.exf7+ Kxf7 9. f4!? discussed by Alexey Kuzmin in CBM #152).  Vachier-Legrave sacrificed two pawns to put his opponent into a bind after 8.Bf4! Qb6 9.Nc3 Qxb2 10.Kd2! Qb6 11.Nge2 a6 12.Rb1 Qa7 13.Na4 b5 14.Nc5 Bg8 15.Be5 fxe6 16.Nf4 and then played an incredible game to exploit his positional advantage. Well worth seeing, with notes at several sites (see below).

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Two Knights Anti-Modern

I have posted analysis of a line I like to call "The Anti-Modern," which opens 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.e5 Ng4!  Black's last move immediately puts pressure on White's advanced pawn on e5, making it difficult for him to both defend that pawn and to try to regain the pawn at d4. In this way, it is the perfect "dark square" system against the Modern.  The repertoire is inspired by James Schuyler's discussion of this line in his excellent book The Dark Knight System (where he reaches it via the move order 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 e5 3.Nf3 exd4 4.Bc4 etc.), and I have mostly followed his suggestions. I have mainly played these positions from the White side, but I must say that I am more likely to play them from the Black side in the future!

This is the first in a series of articles that will examine lines discussed by Schuyler, whose excellent book ends up covering a lot of varied and interesting territory.  I will also post a full review of this book, which you can meanwhile learn more about from an excerpt and video from Everyman Chess.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Yaacov Norowitz Invited to US Championship!

IM-elect Yaacov Norowitz, who won the Kenilworth Chess Club Championship in 2009 and was the club's 1992-1993 U-1800 Champion, has been invited to the 2013 US Championship!  I predicted this would happen.  Actually, my prediction was that Yaacov would be the first player without an international title to win the US Championship, but after his recent performance in Reykjavik that is no longer possible.  I am sure all members of our club offer Yaacov congratulations and you can be sure I will be following the Championship very closely this year -- with daily updates.