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    Saturday
    Jul312010

    Part One of A Long Review of Nikita Vitiugov's The French Defence: A Complete Black Repertoire

    Nikita Vitiugov, The French Defence: A Complete Black Repertoire (Chess Stars, 2010). 228 pp. No price given. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    The French Defense is a major opening, but it's perhaps a bit under-represented in chess literature. That makes the prospect of a brand-new book on the French, and by a young 2700-rated player to boot, all the more exciting for fans of the opening. Chess Stars generally puts out very good material (the Khalifman books on Anand's opening repertoire, for instance, and the new Kiril Georgiev book Squeezing the Gambits looks very good to me too, as far as I've been able to tell so far), so one would expect something really terrific here.

    The book does have its strengths. For one thing, it's very up to date. Chess Stars is always great about that - somehow they manage to get their books translated and published with remarkable speed, and in this book there are games from earlier this year. Second, I think Vitiugov succeeds in directing the reader to the crucial lines, so if nothing else the reader will know where he needs to do further research for the future.

    Third, the reader is always given several major alternatives to choose from. Against 3.Nd2, for instance, one can play the very classical 3...c5 4.Ngf3 cxd4 5.exd5 Qxd5 variation. If you want something a bit more avant-garde, he has a chapter on Morozevich's 3...Be7. And finally, if you're in a super-solid mood, there's Rubinstein's 3...dxe4. Likewise, you can choose Rubinstein's 3...dxe4 as well, but he also presents the Winawer (3...Bb4) and Classical 3...Nf6. This is a definite strength of the book.

    Now let's turn to problems. In chess, it's sometimes difficult to tell whether an apparent weakness really is one. (For instance, a player might have a pawn that's isolated but absolutely inaccessible to the enemy pieces. In that case, despite its isolation, it's not weak.) Likewise, some readers of this book have taken Vitiugov to task for omitting or at least dealing in cavalier fashion with some lines - see especially the thread in the ChessPublishing.com forum dedicated to the book. Let's consider some of their complaints.

    1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Nc3 d4. Vitiugov spends two and a half pages on 4.Ne2, but about 4.Nb5 he says this: "White has played 4.Nb5? too. Fortunately, this book is not an opening encyclopaedia and I do not feel obliged to analyze moves like this". One reader on the aforementioned forum, and he's not kidding, as far as I can tell (and I've re-read his remark several times to be sure!), finds Vitiugov's omission and attitude "intolerably arrogant".

    Seriously? The preceding post is in large measure a parody of this objection. And maybe less of an exaggeration than you might think. There are 61 games in my database with 4.Nb5, and 36 with the ridiculous 2.Be2. So if it's "intolerably arrogant" to brush 4.Nb5 aside with the wave of a hand, isn't it at least objectionable snobbery to ignore altogether the noble 2.Be2? Even worse, some further research reveals a whopping 114 games in one of my databases with the move 2.c3. How in the world can Vitiugov even look at himself in the mirror, writing a book on the French without mentioning that move? Talk about hubris - this man would make Napoleon blush with shame!

    Enough satire; let's make a serious point. If you include everything, you might as well tell the readers to buy the Mega database and wish them luck. If you include nothing, then there's no product. You have to make choices based on what you think is important in terms of relevance and instructional value, together with considerations of space and effectiveness. And all of this is going to be indexed by the reader's presumed abilities. It's simply impossible to cover every move, and at a certain point you have to have faith in your reader (and the reader needs to have a little faith in himself as well). If you're seriously concerned about a move like 4.Nb5, then you need to develop more as a chess player before you get a book like Vitiugov's. (I don't mean that 4.Nb5 is a blunder, only that it's nothing anyone should be worried about.) The same is true of my 2.Be2 "brilliancy". It has an idea behind it, but the previous post was at least 90% humor. It's very easy for Black to handle that move, and to obtain an advantage against White's extravagant play. (Black is probably somewhat better after 6...0-0 in the "main line", for instance.)

    So I don't take this first example too seriously, but "Sleepy kitten" has a more interesting example. After 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Qb6 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.a3 Nh6 7.b4 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Bb2 Bd7 Vitiugov covers 10.g4, which is the most common (and best) move, but doesn't so much as mention 10.Be2, which is also played fairly often - over 400 times, in my database. Shouldn't Vitiugov have covered this move?

    Here I think the answer is a qualified yes. The reason White plays 10.g4 most of the time is that Black's knight on f5 is extremely strong, and once it's kicked it will take Black several moves to put it on a tolerable square still inferior to f5. It was worth a couple of sentences to explain that and to give a mini-plan of what Black should aim for after 10.Be2, but that's about it. 10.Be2 is not a good move, and Black has scored over 50% against it.

    Next, another complaint from the first critic. In the Exchange Variation with 4.Nf3, Vitiugov prefers 4...Bd6 to 4...Nc6. The reason is that after 4...Nc6 5.Bb5 Bd6 6.c4 dxc4 7.d5 a6 8.Ba4 b5 9.dxc6 bxa4 10.0-0 Ne7 11.Qxa4 he thinks that "White does not risk anything while Black must still make several very accurate moves." The forum commentator finds this unacceptable too, noting that after 11...Rb8 Black has scored very well and has gone undefeated in the databases. He therefore thinks that Vitiugov owes it to the reader to show where White gets the advantage.

    I wouldn't mind further details myself (if they can be provided quickly, without taking space from material Vitiugov thinks is important to his readers), but I disagree with the objection on two counts. First, Vitiugov didn't say that White was better. He said that Black would have to find some very accurate moves. In one sense you might think that means White is better, but if so it's not the same sort of "better" as += in ECO. As I interpret that symbol, it generally means that White has some sort of stable advantage; there's no clear-cut series of moves such that Black can prove that the game is fully equal. It's open-ended. As I understand Vitiugov, that's not the story. My impression is that if Black can successful clear some hurdles in the short-term, then White won't have anything.

    Second and more importantly, I disagree that Vitiugov has any such obligation. He's responsible for what he does advocate for Black, not for what he doesn't. Unless 4...Nc6 is clearly the superior choice according to current theory, there's no reason why he should have to "prove" that it's actually inferior. And if he does need to prove it, then I demand an explanation why Vitiugov should even be allowed to write a book on the French unless there's analytical proof that 1...e6 is superior to 1...e5 and 1...c5!

    That's enough by way of preliminary skirmishing. In part two of this review, we'll look at some serious theory.

    Saturday
    Jul312010

    A Bust of the French Defense

    Dear chess fans!

    Are you tired of the French Defense and its annoying, blocked-up positions? Do you wish the people who invented the French pawn chain were themselves chained up? Well, have I got the solution for you! Here at Monokroussos Labs, Inc., our leading research scientist* came up with the answer this morning in the shower and several seconds of intense thought**.

    Ready?

    It's 1.e4 e6 2.Be2!!, and after 2...d5 3.exd5! exd5 4.Bf3!

    Now, I must distinguish this from two lines which might look similar but are in fact incredibly different. There's 1.e4 e6 2.g3 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Bg2, but this isn't as good. The move g3 is weakening, and now after 4...Nf6 5.Ne2 (if 5.Nf3, what is the bishop doing on g2?) Black has 5...Bg4! The Monokroussos Variation is aimed to prevent this!

    Second, 1.e4 e6 2.d4? d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Be2 is not the same either, because Black can profitably develop his light-squared bishop to f5 and fight for the e4 square. In the Monokroussos Variation, White still has the option of d3!

    Indeed, our new variation has two principal points. The first is to avoid the gruesome French pawn chain, which has probably caused mass suicides and unprecedented levels of depression worldwide. Second, the aim is to avoid this chain while simultaneously keeping Black's bad bishop bad. Thus we keep g4 under control and make f5 (and a6 and b7) worthless. Having achieved these aims, the game will win itself.

    Here's a sample variation illustrating the nightmares facing Black:

    1.e4 e6 2.Be2!! d5 3.exd5! exd5 4.Bf3! Nf6 5.b3!

    White will play Ne2 in due course, but here it would allow ...Bg4. We may play h3 at some point to prevent it, but we'll get Black to waste a tempo with the Bc8 first if we can. Note too that not playing d4 lets White avoid the traditional bad Bc1 in the Exchange French - and indeed, many variations of the French.

    5...Bd6 6.Bb2 Qe7+

    Aiming to force Ne2. Be careful what you wish for, French fiends...

    7.Ne2! Bg4 8.Bxf6!! Qxf6 9.Bxg4! Qxa1 10.Nec3

    The cage is shut! 10.Bc8 is good, too.

    10...d4 11.Qe2+ Kd8 12.0-0! dxc3 13.Nxc3 Qb2 14.Qb5 b6 15.Qd5 Qxc2 16.Qxa8

    16.Bf5 first might be even better.

    16...c6 17.Qb7 Rf8

    If 17...Re8, then 18.Qc8+ Ke7 19.Re1+ wins. Or if 17...f5, then 18.Qxg7 Re8 19.Qf6+ and 20.Qxf5, with two free extra pawns.

    18.Qc8+ Ke7 19.Nd5+! and here Black resigns, as he loses the queen (19...cxd5 20.Qxc2). (This exquisite masterpiece can be replayed here.)

     

    As it turns out, 2.Be2 actually exists in the databases, though my interpretation of it seems to be unique. Neverthless, the mere fact of its existence demonstrates that all the existing monographs on the French are utterly worthless, and their authors should hang their heads in shame. They should return their royalty checks (or better, forward the proceeds to me) and start from scratch, being sure to cover this new, brilliant line in tremendous detail. (While they're at it, the Bücker/Monokroussos Variation 1.e4 e6 2.c4 d5 3.cxd5 exd5 4.Qb3 should finally get mentioned by a French Defense author, too.)

     

    * That would be me. After all, I'm its only research scientist.

    ** It wasn't that intense.

    Friday
    Jul302010

    The Daily Update: Adams Keeps Rolling, Plus Pamplona and the Latest Computer Event

    In the British Championship, Michael Adams moved to 5-0 with his victory over Russian FM Alexei Slavin. (I guess citizen of the world Alexandra Kosteniuk was unavailable.)  The key moment came when Slavin rejected the obvious (and correct) 20.Qxe4 for 20.Ng5(?). After 20.Qxe4 Ne7 Black will regain the pawn (e.g. 21.Qe3 Nf5 22.Qd3? Ba6-+) with a slight advantage thanks to his better bishop, but nothing serious. 20.Ng5? just gifted Black a pawn, and Slavin compounded his troubles with the outright blunder 23.Nxf7??

    Several players are a point back, but Jack Rudd isn't one of them. His position against Jovanka Houska started off fine, but he fell apart in the complications. His piece sac 12.Bxd5 wasn't a blunder, though I wouldn't be surprised if he missed Houska's 13...Qc6! (Maybe he expected a quick draw with 13...Qd8 14.Bb6 Qh4+ 15.Bf2 Qd8 16.Bb6 etc.) The point is that 14.Nxa5 is met by 14...Bb4+!, but the funny thing is that it's just what Rudd should have done. After 15.Nxb4 Qxh1+ 16.Kd2 Qxh2+ 17.Kc1 Black must play very well to prove an advantage; indeed, if she's careless bad things can happen to her position.

    Apparently Rudd just saw that the rook could be captured and got scared off, but the result of his 14.Qd4? was a completely lost position. After 14...Nxb3 15.axb3 Ne7 16.c4 Bxg4 White had a pawn and no attack in return for the piece, and after Black's 20th move it was already time to resign.

     

    Pamplona: The status quo was maintained, as all five round 7 games were drawn. Wojtaszek and Fressinet lead with five points; Fedorchuk, Zvjaginsev and Morozevich have four.

     

    Computers: First, the Houdini 1.03a - Stockfish 1.8 match is over; Houdini won 17.5-14.5. Second, there's a new event underway, a round-robin with Rybka 4, Houdini 1.03a, Stockfish 1.8, Shredder 12, Naum 4.2 and Critter 0.80. Here too the book is truncated, only going through move 8. (At this point I'm inclined to say let the computers use their books. One reason is that it's part of the product, and it's worth knowing, before spending money buying Rybka or whatever program, just how much of a difference the book might make. Maybe the best way is to run the events twice: once with practically no book, and once with it.)

    Friday
    Jul302010

    This Week's ChessVideos Show: Viewer Games for July 2010

    It's just what it sounds like: viewers submit their games, and every so often (about once a month) I go through them in a video presentation. For the latest crop, featuring almost exclusively attacking games, have a look here. (The video is free [free registration required] and will be available on-demand for the next month or so.)

    N.B. For some reason there were problems with the sound quality, so you'll have to crank your speakers a bit. I'll do what I can to make sure that doesn't happen next time.

    Friday
    Jul302010

    The Daily Update: Caruana Wins Biel and Adams Wins Again. Plus Pamplona and Computers

    As was the case at the U.S. Junior, the player with the bye in the tiebreak stage failed to benefit. Against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Fabiano Caruana won the first game with White and lost the second with Black, and it was on to Armageddon. Caruana had Black, and his draw odds forced his opponent to overpress in the queen and rook ending: 0-1. Against Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son he was fortunate to draw his white game, but managed to win with Black. He is thus the winner of Biel - a fine accomplishment! He is now over 2700 - a fine achievement for anyone, and all the more so in his case, as he is currently the youngest 2700 (though not the youngest ever).

    In the British Championship, Michael Adams put an end to Jack Rudd's Cinderella story, at least for now, bludgeoning him in just 23 moves. Ouch. Even so, Rudd is having a great tournament, and if he can maintain the form he showed in the first three rounds, he'll have terrific chances for a GM norm. Meanwhile, Adams is in clear first with a 4-0 score, half a point ahead of Alexei Slavin (of Russia?! - eh??) and Adam Hunt.

    Pamplona: Wojtaszek and Fressinet won again, and they continue to lead with 4.5/6, a point ahead of pre-tournament favorite Morozevich, Zvjaginsev and Fedorchuk.

    Houdini 1.03a vs. Stockfish 1.8: This battle of computer engines, based loosely on Magnus Carlsen's 2005-2010 opening repertoire, is down to its last game. Houdini leads 17-14 and has clinched overall victory in the match, but Stockfish seems to have the advantage in the final game. Note, by the way, that both engines are freely available on the internet.

    Wednesday
    Jul282010

    The Daily Update: Biel, British Championship, Pamplona

    (1) It was another good round in Biel, and there's more chess to come. The leaders coming into the "last" round, Vachier-Lagrave and Caruana, both drew their games (against Negi and Howell, respectively), which allowed Nguyen to catch them by beating Giri. (The other two games were drawn.) Tomorrow (Thursday), therefore, there will be a playoff at 11 a.m. local time. Nguyen gets a first-round bye while the other two face off in a pair of blitz games (followed by an Armageddon game, if necessary). He'll take on the winner in a pair of 10' + 10" games, followed by 5' + 2" if necessary, followed (if necessary) by an Armageddon game.

    (2) In the British Championship, an intriguing story is afoot. Michael Adams won again in round 3, over Richard Pert, and now stands alone at 3-0...or rather, almost alone. Joining him there, and thus ready to face him tomorrow, is the 2236-rated IM Jack Rudd. (Yes, the Jack Rudd.) In round 1, as already noted, he beat GM Keith Arkell. In round 2 he demolished IM Andrew Greet (with Black), and in round 3 he had no problem crushing GM Simon Williams. Very impressive!

    (3) In Pamplona, the 4th AD San Juan International has a new leader. Morozevich was upended by Polish GM and sometime Anand second Radoslaw Wojtaszek in round 5, and now Wojtaszek and French GM Laurent Fressinet co-lead with 3.5/5, half a point ahead of Morozevich, Sergey Fedorchuk, Vadim Zvjaginsev and Julio Granda Zuniga.

    Wednesday
    Jul282010

    Candidates News

    There are several very interesting pieces of information about the 2011 Candidates matches to report here.

    (1) Pairings. This is the most interesting bit, of course, and here they are:

    Veselin Topalov - Gata Kamsky (Hmm, where have we seen this before?)

    Magnus Carlsen - Teimour Radjabov

    Vladimir Kramnik - Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

    Levon Aronian - Boris Gelfand

    (2) Location. Note that Aronian is playing, which leads to this: in what is at least in part a concession to Aronian's unwillingness to play in Azerbaijan (the originally intended location was Baku), the event is now scheduled for Kazan, Russia. And this in turn leads to...

    (3) Topalov's Protest. Based on his experience against Kramnik in Elista, where he suffered by receiving a free point and destroying Kramnik's equilibrium by accusing the latter of cheating, Topalov has pronounced himself unwilling to play against a Russian (i.e. Kramnik, the only Russian in the event) in Russia. What arrangement, if any, will be made for this is unclear, but in the unlikely event that no concession is made and Topalov cuts his nose to spite his face, he will be replaced by Alexander Grischuk. (Note: though I find the behavior of Topalov (and Danailov) extremely unpleasant, I do hope that if he and Kramnik meet in a final match, it occurs in a neutral site. It would be even better, however, if he simply lost to Kamsky in the first round.)

    More info here.

    Tuesday
    Jul272010

    The Daily Update: Biel Comes Alive! Plus Adams, Morozevich Roll On - and More

    1. I doubt any of the competitors at Biel read my blog, but it's likely that the sorts of sentiments expressed here about their consistent non-play have been expressed by many others. Perhaps this weighed on their consciences or provoked the organizers to harangue them. Whatever the story, something happened and they FINALLY played some real chess today. It was excellent! All the games were hard-fought, four of the five games finished in a win, and the only draw was a real battle and the last game to finish.

     

    Vachier-Lagrave - Rodshtein 1-0

    Andreikin - Caruana 1/2-1/2

    Giri - So 1-0

    Tomashevsky - Nguyen 0-1

    Howell - Negi 1-0

     

    Vachier-Lagrave - Rodshtein was a Gruenfeld that generally saw things going White's way, but the game was decided after 35...Rxe6?? (35...Rg8! 36.Qxh7+ Kf8 favors White, but Black is very much alive). White could have won more easily than he did, but Black was never able to completely extricate himself.

    Andreikin - Caruana was a quasi-Rossolimo turned Open Sicilian turned quasi-French, but through all the twists and turns the position remained fairly even. Caruana gradually obtained a slight initiative, but in the end it was only enough to force a draw by repetition.

    Giri - So was decided in a queen ending. So's clever 19...Bxh3!? led to that ending, where White was slightly better but a draw looked the likeliest result. The game was decided when So chose 34...f4?! 35.Qh4 Qxh4?, voluntarily transposing into a lost king and pawn ending. No doubt So missed White's triangulation maneuver on moves 42 and 43, but it was a bad risk to enter the pawn ending in the first place. Live and learn.

    Tomashevsky - Nguyen was bad for White almost from start to finish. The ending - from move 35 on, say - was quite interesting, in that White desperately wanted to eliminate Black's d4-pawn while Nguyen kept finding ways to keep the pawn alive and meaningful. Black succeeded, and in the end White's preoccupation with the pawn left him unable to cope with threats to his king.

    Howell - Negi saw the "Botvinnik System" of the 2.c3 Sicilian. Black was doing fine, but his plan of doubling rooks on the d-file followed by 26...Rd3 ingeniously forced White to beat him. White had no choice but to sac the exchange, and the result was a position where Black had no meaningful active possibilities whatsoever while White could try this and that. Soon White's position was not only easier to play but simply winning, and Black forced him into it!

     

    With eight rounds down and one to go, the standings look like this:

    1-2. Vachier-Lagrave, Caruana 5

    3-4. Nguyen, Andreikin 4.5

    5-8. Giri, So, Tomashevsky, Rodshtein 4

    9. Howell 3

    10. Negi 2

     

    The last-round pairings:

    Rodshtein - Tomashevsky

    Negi - Vachier-Lagrave

    Caruana - Howell

    So - Andreikin

    Nguyen - Giri

     

    It's not likely, as the leaders are playing tailenders, but it's possible to have half the field tie for first.

     

    2. The British Championship: It had its first GM vs. GM pairing, with Adams taking on Summerscale. Of course, not all GMs are equally strong, and Adams outrated his opponent by more than 200 points and won quickly. Quite a few of his main rivals drew their games, so although it's still very early the tournament is shaping up nicely for him.

    3. The 4th AD San Juan International in Pamplona is up to round 4 today, but only the games and results through round three are available as of this writing. Morozevich leads with 2.5/3.

    4. Finally, the Houdini 1.03a - Stockfish 1.8 match continues, and after 22 games Houdini leads 12.5-9.5. Stockfish won game 1, Houdini games 2, 11, 12 and 17. The games have been more accessible, I think, to human eyes, thanks to the opening selection this time around, but the percentage of draws has been very high. Is the moral that the more theoretical the opening, the more objectively drawish the position? I'm not sure. After all, the Rybka 4 - Houdini match wasn't terribly theoretical in its opening selection, but the drawing percentage was high there as well. Maybe Houdini's "style" leads to a greater than average number of draws? Those with access to more data might have something more intelligent to say about this matter.

    Monday
    Jul262010

    The British Championship, A Website Alert, And A Surprised Pat on the Back

    Round 1 of the British Championship is complete, and while neither Michael Adams nor the highest rated GMs in the next tier down were upset, one GM lost. That was Keith Arkell, to IM Jack Rudd, rated almost 230 points below him.

    About Adams, he has an official website you might wish to browse. It has chess content, and who knows - you might get a discount on a Florida condo rental for your next vacation. To my surprise (HT: Srinivas Patri) it also links to what I hope is one of your favorite websites...guess which? I'm guessing I have Mark Crowther or the Streatham & Brixton bloggers to thank for this, but if it Adams himself has browsed the site and made the decision, it's a very pleasant surprise. Whoever did it, thank you!

    Monday
    Jul262010

    Another Clever Diaz Cartoon

    But the caricature of Ponomariov is rather unflattering.