Monday, April 21, 2014

Review of Dejan Bojkov's "Modernized: The King's Indian Defense"

One of the most original King's Indian repertoire books to appear in print is GM Dejan Bojkov's Modernized: The King's Indian Defense (Metropolitan Chess Publishing, 2014), which can be purchased from USCF Sales or via Amazon. I was so taken by the repertoire that I decided to check out some of GM Bojkov's games with the lines he recommends, and I have written up Dejan Bojkov Plays the Modernized KID (PGN / Replay) to give you an overview of his system.  You can also find a "sneak peek" at

Most repertoire books lead KID players toward a closed center to play for an attack on the kingside, as in the Mar del Plata Variation, which is most amateurs' idea of the King's Indian.  But many different ways of playing the King's Indian have emerged over the years.  In my own quest to bring the KID back into my repertoire, I have been exploring a wide range of flexible systems, so I guess I have been very well prepared psychologically -- sufficiently "modernized" you might say -- to understand and appreciate a repertoire that focuses exclusively on fighting for the center, always seeking to blast open lines with pawn advances or sharp sacrifices there.  And while some of the lines where Black breaks in the center can result in potentially lifeless equality, they are clearly quite principled.

The Table of Contents and a Sample can be viewed online, and each chapter deserves some discussion:

Introduction (pp. 5-14)
The introduction might have been a good place to explain why Bojkov eschews more familiar KID territory for the "modernized" approach. Instead, he gives what reads like a personal argument for the beauties of the King's Indian, commenting on the brilliant games Skembris - Van Wely, Skei 1993; Naumkin - Smirin, Ischia 1995; Kamsky - Kasparov, Manila ol 1992; Kotov - Gligoric, Zurich 1953; Avery - Gligoric, USA 1971; Miroshnichenko - Bojkov, Plovdiv 2008; Piket - Kasparov, Tilburg 1989; and Kramnik - Kasparov, Munich blitz 1994.  While some of the lines and ideas in those games are reflected to some extent in the system that follows, fewer than half are directly relevant to the repertoire.  So this chapter, while interesting in its own right for anyone who loves the KID, feels to me like a missed opportunity to present Bojkov's brilliantly original concept of the book as a whole.  A more focused introduction, in my view, might have pointed to the fight for the center theme and perhaps analyzed two great games of Kramnik's: Kramnik - Ponomariov, Dortmund 2011 (annotated by Gustafsson!) and Gustafsson - Kramnik, Dresden 2012 (one of the very few times Kramnik played the Black side of the KID, and annotated at ChessBase and by Claus Jensen on YouTube); both games nicely illustrate the way the center-focused approach can be used against White's Classical set-up.   

1. The Classical Variation: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 (pp. 15-120)
The focus on blasting open the center is most clear in Bojkov's approach to the important Classical Variation, where he shows Black surrendering the center with ...exd4 with the plan later to blast through with ...c6 and an eventual ...d5.  The Classical Variation makes up the core of the book and comprises about a third of its pages. Main sample games include Fier - Bologan, Aeroflot Open Moscow 2011; Eljanov - Bologan, Croation Team Championship Sibenik 2010; Kramnik - Ponomariov, Dortmund 2011; Shankland - Vorobiov, Dresden 2011; Popov - Giri, Olginka 2011; and Onischuk - Bacrot, Poikovsky 2011 among many others.  I think the book is worth having for this section alone, which will repay close study by players of either Black or White.

2. The Sämisch Variation - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 O-O 6.Be3 c5 (pp. 121-188)
Bojkov offers excellent coverage of this standard gambit line, which is widely recommended and very likely responsible for sending the Sämisch into retreat at the GM level.  However, other than its invitation to play a wide-open position with the center blasted to bits, it does not seem thematically related to the rest of the repertoire.  What's more, White has several ways to respond (grabbing the pawn with 7.dxc5, maintaining the center with 7.Nge2, or closing the center with 7.d5), each of which leads to completely different types of positions.  I think a better fit for the repertoire and a more original approach to the Sämisch would have been the Byrne System with ...c6, ...a6, and ...b5, where Black often is able to clear the way for a later ...d5 advance.  But this is my personal prejudice.  Those who like the ...c5-gambit approach to the Sämisch will find this chapter valuable.

3. The Four Pawns Attack - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f4 O-O 6.Nf3 e5!? (pp. 189-212)
Though I was persuaded by Bojkov's ChessBase DVD "A Modern Way to Play the King's Indian" to play 6...Na6 against the dangerous Four Pawns, I mostly liked the lines (such as 6...Na6 7.Be2 e5!) where Black goes for a quick pawn break, immediately challenging White's giant center.  So it makes sense to look again at the gambit 6...e5!? This line was discussed in Dangerous Weapons: The King's Indian, where the illustrative game Mamedyarov - Svidler, Baku 2008 shows how play might tend toward a draw between very  well-prepared opponents -- but a less prepared opponent would definitely be in some danger.  Main sample games here include Jobava - Jianu, Brasov 2011 and Bromberger - Nyzhnyk, Bahia Feliz 2011, both very deeply annotated.  This is another excellent chapter.

4. The Averbakh System - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Be2 O-O 6.Bg5 Na6 (pp. 213-236)
Here Bojkov returns to his other "modern" approach with ...Na6, presenting games where Black plays ...c6 and then often brings the Na6 to c7 and then e6 to harrass the Bg5.  In several games, Black also plays a ...d5 break as well, as in Dumitrache - Golubev, Bucharest 1996.  An interesting approach.

5. The Bagirov Line - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.h3 Na6!? (pp. 237-272)
Again, the early Na6 returns, to be followed by an ...e5 break.

6. The Fianchetto System - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.Nf3 O-O 5.g3 d6 6.Bg2 c6 7.O-O Qa5 (pp. 273-306)
Bojkov recommends the Kavalek System, which I discussed in a previous post.  Main games are Laznicka - Vachier-Lagrave, Sestao 2010 and Harikrishna - Radjabov, Khanty-Mansiysk 2010.  Rather than playing the main lines (covered in my bibliography), Bojkov chooses a different idea with 8...e5 to be followed by ...exd4, ...Nbd7-e5, and possibly an early ....d5 push, which resembles his approach against the Classical.

Solutions to the Exercises (307-354)
When Al Lawrence designed Alburt and Chernin's excellent Pirc Alert! book, he set the standard for effective opening training manuals. Modernized is the first I have seen, besides Lawrence's other work for Alburt and company, to adopt some of those innovations -- especially lots of diagrams, including "memory markers" and tactical exercises at the end of each chapter to assist with training.  I especially appreciate the great tactical exercises, which are important for a repertoire build around tactical and positional themes.  

Overall, this is a very exciting book. And while I might wish it had a more inspired introduction, maybe a better cover (why lettering in all caps and dark against a dark background? and what is the cover image supposed to represent?), and one or two different sub-variations in the repertoire, I think it is a very sturdy and well-analyzed opening book -- one that would be useful for players at all levels.

Here are some exercises from Bojkov's own games.  Solutions can be found at Dejan Bojkov Plays the Modernized KID.

Castaneda - Bojkov, Montreal 2012
Black to play and completely equalize.
Vucic - Bojkov, ICC 3-minute 2005
Black to play and gain a clear advantage.
Nordahl - Bojkov, Gothenburg 2005
Black to play and equalize or draw.
Navara - Bojkov, Greece 2005
Black to play and gain the advantage.