Alexander Delchev, The Modern Reti: An Anti-Slav Repertoire (Chess Stars, 2012). 212 pp. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.
Chess Stars have put out reliable opening books for years, and Alexander Delchev's The Reliable Reti: An Anti-Slav Repertoire is no exception. Delchev examines 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 in this 212 page book, and contrary to the title it's not just an anti-Slav repertoire (taking "Slav" to include Semi-Slav setups) but one that also handles Queen's Gambit Accepted, Queen's Gambit Declined and Reverse Benoni setups as well. (Oddly, while most publishers offer misleading titles and jacket prose to help push book sales, this title undersells the book.)
As usual with Chess Stars (CS) opening books (not counting the Khalifman series), the chapters (or "parts", in CS parlance) are each divided into three sections. (I'd say "parts", but the word is already occupied.) First there's a "Main Ideas" section (in earlier CS volumes this was usually labeled "Quick Repertoire"); it's essentially an overview of key strategic ideas and the fundamental variations. If you're new to the opening, you might just go chapter by chapter through all the Main Ideas sections, leaving the other sections for later.
Next comes the complete repertoire in the "Step by Step" section; here's where the details and hard work comes in. Or at least that's generally the case. In a few instances, Delchev pushes some of the specific details into the third section, "Complete Games". These tend to have two functions: one we've already mentioned, which is to fill out some final theoretical details; and the other is to present model games that illustrate what the sides are up to - especially the white side, for this book.
It's a very useful and reader-friendly format. But what about the content, and why play the Reti at all? Let's start with the second question. Delchev discusses this in the foreword, offering arguments that will be familiar to and resonate with most club players (and not just club players): one's opponents will be less prepared while you'll have an easier time preparing, particularly as it's not a memorization-heavy opening. Having a good understanding will go a long way here, and the book (and the experience one accrues once he's playing the Reti) will help.
On the other hand, the book doesn't cover all possible responses to 1.Nf3. If Black plays 1…c5, or goes for a King's Indian or Gruenfeld-style setup or a Dutch, for instance, you'll need to look elsewhere for opening advice. That's not a flaw in the book, of course, which isn't advertised as a complete repertoire. Rather, I'm pointing this out so that club players don't infer from the relative ease of preparation in this book that an entire 1.Nf3 repertoire will be relatively light work.
Let's turn to what is covered in this book, and that's enough to keep the reader occupied for a while.
Chapter 1 addresses the QGA-like 2…dxc4. White plays 3.e3, and after regaining the pawn will, depending on Black's choices, will either opt for a setup with d3 and e4 or go into a favorable line of a normal QGA with an eventual d4.
Chapter 2 examines the Reversed Benoni with 2…d4. Interestingly, Delchev admits that he tried for a long time to find a clear path to an advantage, but couldn't. He even asked some of his fellow Chess Stars authors for advice, but they too thought that Black should be okay. Nevertheless, Delchev has put in a lot of original analysis, and offers several reasonable tries for White. The most fascinating of his lines starts with 3.b4 f6 4.e3 e5 5.c5 a5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.Bc4, which he analyzes very deeply. Black can survive, but only after crossing multiple minefields.
Chapter 3 looks at Slav setups for Black that don't entail a Semi-Slav (Meran) structure. That includes Chebanenko-style setups with …a6, along with attempts to get the bishop outside the pawn chain on f5 or g4.
The next three chapters focus on Meran-like setups for Black. Indeed, if White plays an early d4 the game will transpose to the Meran, but here the d-pawn stays home, to the benefit of White's dark-squared bishop once it reaches b2. All three chapters begin with 2…c6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.b3, and the next two chapters continue 5…Nbd7 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.Bb2 0-0. Here Delchev (as elsewhere) offers White two plans: going for the throat with 8.Rg1 and a quick g4 (chapter 5) and the more restrained 8.Be2 (chapter 6).
Finally, chapters 7 and 8 address the Queen's Gambit response 2…e6. This time Delchev recommends 3.g3, with the main line in chapter 8 starting 3…Nf6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.0-0 0-0 6.b3 (rather than 6.d4, transposing to a Catalan).
While verbal explanations are the order of the day in the "Main Ideas" sections of each chapter (or "part", in Chess Stars-ese), Delchev doesn't restrict himself to anything remotely like bare Informant-style analysis elsewhere. Here are a couple of nice excerpts from the Step-By-Step section of chapter 8.
The position in question comes after 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 e6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.0-0 0-0 6.b3 c5 7.Bb2 Nc6 8.e3 d4 9.exd4 cxd4 10.Re1(!), which leads to a reversed Modern Benoni. Delchev says this:
It is pointless to count the tempos here. Bb2 may be considered a step in the wrong direction, but the hit on d4 prevents the thematic Benoni redeployment Nf6-d7-c5. It is more important that Black cannot achieve …e6-e5, which is the cornerstone of any active play for him.
That's a helpful comment for amateurs, as is the following. After 10…Ne8 11.Ne5(!) Nxe5 12.Rxe5 f6 13.Re1 e5 he suggests 14.Ba3(!) and writes the following:
I recommend this exchange in most branches of the reversed Modern Benoni. In my opinion, it is principally wrong to play with bad pieces in one's camp. Tarrasch's formula was: one bad piece equals a bad game.
While 14.Ba3 is his main suggestion, he notes an interesting tactical line starting with 14.f4 instead: 14.f4 exf4 15.Qf3 fxg3 16.Qd5+ Kh8 17.hxg3 Qxd5 18.Bxd5 Bd6 19.Bxd4 Nc7 20.Bf3 Bxg3 21.Bf2 Bxf2+ 22.Kxf2. I like his comment here as well:
This crazy endgame occurred in Kosten-Luther, Austria 2009. The only thing I can say is that it is totally unclear to me. Only a very deep computer analysis can shed some light on it, but I prefer to play chess and not to spend my time on memorising long variation [sic], where even a considerably weaker opponent might beat me thanks to better computer assistance.
So, dear readers, if avoiding lots of memorization sounds good, then you've found a friend in Alexander Delchev. His earlier Chess Stars book The Safest Sicilian and The Safest Gruenfeld were both very good, and I think this one is as well. Recommended to those interested in this repertoire, 1800 and up!