Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kavalek on Carlsen

What could be more perfect than Magnus Carlsen's incredible performance at Medias, Romania?  Perhaps having Lubomir Kavalek comment on it in his chess column at the Huffington Post (reproduced at ChessBase), focusing on his use of the King's Gambit.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Review of "The Alterman Gambit Guide: White Gambits"

The Alterman Gambit Guide: White Gambits by GM Boris Alterman (Quality Chess 2010) is an excellent book that uses gambits as a vehicle for teaching about tempi and tactics for developing players.  I recommend it heartily and have learned quite a bit from it myself, especially as I have been playing many of the lines it recommends. I was especially pleased to get ideas on how to deal with very common amateur mistakes in the opening, which the book covers in abundance.  Though disappointed that the book does not offer a complete gambit repertoire and is sometimes shallow in its treatment of theoretical considerations (as I highlight in Boris Alterman on the Urusov Gambit), I was nonetheless quite in agreement with Alterman's approach to using the openings as a way to teach young players the most important principles.  Class players will learn an enormous amount from this book, and these wild gambit lines will score them many points.  Players of every rank will find the book fun, informative, and enjoyable to read.  And the book is worth having just for the 112 deeply annotated games (often commented move-by-move).

Alterman states his intention clearly from the outset, which is to use gambits to teach "the most important opening and positional principles," "tactics and typical combinations in the opening," "how to evaluate a position" and "how to study the principles of attack" (6).  He does not intend to write a repertoire book but only to give readers a firm foundation of knowledge and a "starting point" in their work toward creating an opening repertoire of their own. As he writes at another point: "our focus is on what the gambit can teach us, rather than trying to build a repertoire for White" (157). 

However, I think the publisher clearly recognized the desire that I and the general chess public share in wanting a more complete opening manual. As you can see from the table of contents and excerpt available online, the book practically offers a complete repertoire for White beginning with 1.e4.  The openings covered include:

The Danish Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 dxc3 Bc4)
Urusov Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4)
Philidor Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4)
The Cochrane Gambit vs the Petroff (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7!?)
The Morphy Attack (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.O-O Nxe4)
The Max Lange Attack (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.O-O Bc5 6.e5)
The Evans Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4)
The Panov Attack (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4)
The Morra Gambit (1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3)
The Milner-Barry Gambit (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3 Bd7 7.O-O)

The arrangement and selection of chapters give the impression that the publisher pushed for a "repertoire book," and though that was not his intended project Alterman gestured toward a repertoire just to satisfy them.  For example, he includes an excellent chapter on the Philidor Defense (which is hardly "gambit" related), yet he does not cover the Pirc, Scandinavian, or Alekhine's Defense (which a complete repertoire would require, though few good "gambit" approaches are available against these defenses).  The coverage within individual chapters is not thorough, but most of the chapters include a brief "theoretical overview" section.  I came to see these overly shallow "overviews" as a frequently empty gesture to publisher and audience expectations, and in some cases they are surprisingly incomplete.  The Morra Gambit section makes only passing reference to the Alapin Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 Nf6! is the most common continuation in practice).  The Danish Gambit similarly includes only the briefest mention of a few ways Black can decline the gambit, noting that "The best response for Black is the immediate 3...d5! returning the pawn" but that is "beyond the scope of the book" to analyze (so it is no surprise that he does not even mention the important 3...Qe7!? -- which Ken Smith, of Smith-Morra Gambit fame, thought a refutation of the Danish move order -- or 3...Ne7!? -- which is very playable, as I have shown).  In the chapter on the Petroff, there is no mention of the amateur's favorite and surprisingly tricky 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nxe4!?!?  And, as I show in examining one of the "theoretical overviews" in Boris Alterman on the Urusov Gambit, these "theoretical" sections do not seem very informed by "theory" and make no reference to previous books or articles (the book tellingly has no bibliography).  My impression is that Alterman relied only on database games, some computer analysis, and his own generally acute judgment in putting together these sections (and likely the entire book).

However, while I am disappointed that the book does not do more to offer a complete repertoire, I am still very impressed by what it does offer.  Personally, I find this repertoire more coherent and compelling than Nigel Davies's Gambiteer I (Everyman 2007), which focuses more on wing gambits (including b4 gambits against the Sicilian, French, and Scandinavian) than center gambits, with the exception of its treatment of the "half Danish" line 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 (by far the best chapter in that book).

I was especially interested in his discussion of the Urusov Gambit, which I have analyzed extensively.  As Glenn Flear in Starting Out: Open Games (Everyman 2010) warns anyone facing the gambit: "Don't even think about going down that road.  Play the Two Knights!" (165) with 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nf3 Nc6!  In fact, as Alterman rightly concludes, "the real problem with the Urusov Gambit is that Black may not let you play it!"  Fortunately, in this case, Alterman does offer us a good way to deal with Black declining the gambit by heading toward Max Lange lines -- and I was very pleased that he even offers coverage of the more modern ways of treating the Lange with fxg7.

Overall, I was very pleased with this book and look forward to the "Black Gambits" version, which seems forthcoming soon.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

I Shall Return...in about a Week

I have been quite busy of late with the increased workload of transitioning from Spring to Summer (when I typically wear two seasonal hats at once) and with renovating my basement (preparing to start up a little chess club for my son and his friends).  Busy at work and busy at home means there is just no time to post.  But I expect to return to posting in mid-June (which is pretty soon).  I was putting together a US Championship webliography, but it looks like I won't finish it for over a week, when it will not be so valuable anymore.  But I have several other projects in the works.  I have been reading The Alterman Gambit Guide (surprisingly good, by the way) and already have a review planned.  I am working on several pieces of opening analysis, including the Danish Gambit, Smith-Morra Gambit, Urusov Gambit (time for an update), Black Fianchetto System in the Open Games, and some lines in the French as both White and Black. I am working on a longer essay on chess and metaphor.  And I am likely to be refreshing my teaching materials as I prepare to teach a couple chess classes this summer.  I'll be back....