FM James Schuyler's The Dark Knight System: A Repertoire with 1....Nc6 (get the e-book at Everyman Chess) 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 below).
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:
- 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)
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.