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    Entries in ChessBase DVDs (1)

    Friday
    Aug262011

    Bologan on the Catalan: A Review

    Viktor Bologan, The Catalan: A Complete Repertoire For White! (ChessBase DVD.) Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    With at least three books on the Catalan published over the last 2-3 years, including Boris Avrukh's magisterial 1.d4! Volume 1, it's not too surprising that the opening is now being covered on a ChessBase DVD (also available by download). Of course a video series on the Catalan can't cover as much material as Avrukh's book without running to about 100 hours, but the video format can have its advantages too.

    For one thing, the Catalan is a somewhat esoteric opening by club standards. It's not an open game, there aren't that many forcing variations, quick mating attacks are extremely rare and one doesn't see an awful lot of Catalans in the list of great classic games. Some of the development patterns are pretty unusual and the ideas that apply to one branch are often completely irrelevant to another (very much unlike, say, most of the lines of the Open Sicilian). So it's not surprising that it's largely neglected at the club level, but that also means there's an opportunity lurking about. Club players who are willing to take the time to learn this fascinating opening will not only expand their chess knowledge, they'll have an upper hand against the vast majority of their peers who have precious little idea of what to do against it.

    If learning this opening required the meticulous line-by-line study of Avrukh's book, it would be worth sticking to simpler openings. Fortunately, while that book is worth having, there are faster ways to get up and running. Viktor Bologan's presentations hit important specifics, but what he does particularly well is to present opening lines in a conceptual way. The danger of that approach is that it can over-simplify (and that's a reason why it's good to have further source material), but it's a great way to orient oneself in an opening. If I know what kinds of things I need to care about in a given line, and what the usual plans are for both sides, then I can often figure out what to do next - even if I can't remember the theory or my opponent deviates from my prep. As I said, Bologan does this well, as readers of his opening books have probably noticed, and that's a big plus for a video presentation.

    As noted, though, this can lead to oversimplification, and given the limited amount of material one can cover in videos there are bound to be gaps. In what follows I note some places where one might need to take a closer look and perhaps consult with other sources.

    (1) The Closed Catalan line 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Bg2 0-0 7.0-0 c6 8.Qc2 is quite important, and it seems that Bologan skipped a main line in this complex. From here he considers two moves: 8...Nbd7 and 8...b6. Both can reach the key position, but he doesn't get there!

    (a) 8...Nbd7 9.Bf4 b6 10.Rd1 and now 10...Bb7 is the main line, but here he only covers 10...Ba6.

    (b) 8...b6 9.Rd1 Bb7 10.Bf4 and now 10...Nbd7 reaches the aforementioned main line through a transposition of moves. The good news is that he mentions it; the bad is that he stops here and goes no further.

    (2) Having mentioned something he missed, let's note something he covers that isn't in Avrukh: 5...Bd6. It's a weird-looking move, but it is becoming popular (for instance, it was played in the high-level game Meier-Ponomariov, Spanish Team Championship 2010). So far it has scored reasonably well, so Bologan's coverage of this move is a feather in his cap.

    (3) Bologan deserves kudos for his coverage of 4...dxc4 5.Bg2 Bd7 - he does a nice job with 13.Rd6 in Gleizerov-C. Horvath, Budapest 1989.

    (4) Here's a place where he's a little too quick. In the line 5...c6 6.Ne5 b5 7.Nxc6 Qb6 he gives Korchnoi's ingenious 8.Na5! (Korchnoi) but doesn't cover 8...Qxa5. This is a mistake, because it's not quite as simple as 9.Bd2 and game over. Black has 9...c3, and now 10.Bxc3 b4 11.Bxa8 bxc3 is equal. White should play 10.bxc3! instead.

    (5) If the previous example is a simple omission, the following is a significant gap. 6...Bb4+ 7.Bd2 Be7 8.Bc3 (Avrukh gives 8.e3 "!") and now Bologan gives 8...a5 9.a4 Ra6 etc., but as Avrukh notes both 9...Nd5 and 8...b5!? (9.Nxc6 Nxc6 10.Bxc6 Bd7 11.Bxa8 Qxa8 12.0-0 0-0) are both reasonable alternatives for Black.

    (6) Still exploring this same line more deeply, I'm a little unsure about his coverage of 7...Qxd4 8.Bxb4 Qxe5 9.Na3 b6 10.Bd6 Qxb2 11.0-0 Nd5 12.e4 Nc3 13.Qg4. He's happy about White's position, but at the end of the line he gives from this point the computer claims that Black has a serious edge.

    (7) Bologan also covers 13.Qh5, which is his main move. He continues 13...Nd7 13.e5 Bb7 15.Qg5 f6 16.exf6 0-0-0 17.fxg7 Rhg8 18.Rae1 (given by both Goloschapov and Avrukh) 18...Nd5 19.Bxd5 exd5 20.Re7 Qf6 21.Qxf6 Nxf6 and now he gets confused. White should play 22.Rc7+ first (22...Kb8 23.Be5 Ng4 24.Bf4 Rde8 25.Rf7+ Ka8 26.Nc2 "and White's g7-pawn should be a decisive factor" (Avrukh). Instead, Bologan gives 22.Be5(?) Ng4(?) 23.Bf4(?). Black could play 22...Nd7= or 22...Ne8=, White should again have preferred Rc7+ on move 23, and Black in turn could improve with 23...Rd7-/+. This is the sort of error that sometimes happens when giving a video lecture that wouldn't happen in a traditional book or other text format.

    (8) Another omission: In the line 5...c5 6.0-0 Nc6 7.Qa4 Bd7 8.Qxc4 b5 9.Qd3 Bologan doesn't mention 9...c4, which is an important second option. (There are more than 100 games with 9...c4 in the database.)

    (9) 5...Bb4+ 6.Bd2 a5 7.0-0 0-0 8.Bg5 b5 9.Ne5 Ra6 10.a4 and here he only gives 10...bxa4 rather than Avrukh's main line with 10...c6. This is a minor point though, as it's a rare line and the only move played by Black on move 10 was in fact 10...bxa4.

    (10) 5...Nc6 6.Qa4 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 Nd5 8.Bxb4 Ndxb4 9.0-0 Rb8 and here Avrukh and Bologan apparently disagree. Avrukh thinks 10.Na3 is the best try and that the traditional main move 10.Nc3 promises nothing against best play, but Bologan advocates it all the same.

    Here it's worth a brief digression about Catalan and chess expertise. Boris Avrukh is an outstanding player and perhaps an even better theoretician, but it's worth remembering that Bologan is at the very least an even stronger player than Avrukh! That doesn't entail that he's a superior theoretician in general or Avrukh's superior when it comes to the Catalan, however (nor, obviously, can we deduce the opposite result). I'm sure there are lines Bologan knows and understands better than Avrukh, but it would be surprising if the reverse wasn't also true. The point is that both are outstanding players, and that one disagrees with the other (or seems to) doesn't imply anything about either man's competence. At any rate, while Bologan acknowledges the Avrukh book and seems to have used it more than once as a reference, his (unofficial) Catalan "guru" appears to be Vladislav Tkachiev. Budding Catalan aspirants thus have a third source at their disposal: Tkachiev's games, past and future.

    We finally come to the main line of the Open Catalan: 4...dxc4 5.Bg2 Be7 6.0-0 0-0 7.Qc2 a6 8.Qxc4 b5 9.Qc2. Before going further, it should be noted that 7...b5 has very recently become slightly popular, and isn't covered by Bologan. Before panicking, it's still an open question whether 7...b5 suffices for equality [look up the analysis in the latest CVO]. Better still, you can make it a non-issue by playing 7.Qa4, when Black seems to have nothing better than 7...a6, leading to an immediate transposition to the usual move order after 8.Qxc4.

    I haven't done a detailed check or comparison of all his analysis of the main line, but what I did check seems to pass muster. Further, I think his presentation of the main line is excellent, especially for amateurs/club players who are unlikely to be especially familiar with standard Catalan patterns. Bologan does a fine job of presenting the variations in such a way that the key ideas become clear like running motifs. Interestingly, some of these motifs are somewhat counterintuitive, and that makes their repeated appearance useful.

    For instance, White is often willing to surrender the bishop pair. Sometimes this happens by Bd2-g5xf6; sometimes with the dark-squared bishop on e3 or f4 getting captured by a knight on d5. (Note that in the latter case this not only entails surrendering the bishops but also taking on a seemingly weakened pawn structure after recapturing with the g-pawn.) Another slight surprise is that while White's most common idea is to prevent Black from playing ...c5, there are lines where Black achieves it and White is better anyway. As for preventing ...c5, it will look horrible to those new to the Catalan, but plans with Ba5 (once Black's queen's knight has committed to d7) followed by (a3 and) b4 are standard. The bishop is stranded on the edge of the board, and yet it often proves extremely effective there! Still another example: the Catalan bishop on g2 is a mighty piece, but White is often willing to exchange it, starting with Ne1. That knight is on the way to c5, and as a rule of thumb if White prevents ...c5 and has nice control over squares on the c-file (c5 and c6 [thanks to the rook on c1 and knights on some combination of b3, d3, a5 and e5 - not to mention their actually landing on c5 and/or c6]) and is sufficiently stable everywhere else he's likely to be better.

    In sum, I think the disk offers a very helpful introduction to the Catalan. Strong players will want to supplement Bologan's DVD with other standard sources (e.g. Avrukh, Mega Database with CBM, etc.), but even they can benefit from it as a quick tutorial to the opening.

    Ordering info here.