A Review of Sabino Brunello's Attacking the Spanish. (Quality Chess 2009.)
Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos
Quality Chess Publishing has been putting out some terrific opening books the past several years, so as a general rule if they publish a book on an opening I'm even mildly interested in it's time for my credit card balance to increase. (Fortunately, this was a review copy, but I would otherwise have purchased the book.) Was my faith justified in this case? The answer is given below.
Let's start with a description of the author and the book. The book is by Sabino Brunetto, a young (19 or 20-year-old) Italian IM rated 2550 at the time of publication (down to 2507 now). The book has all the features it should: it covers all the obviously relevant material as of its writing, includes a healthy dose of independent analysis, and is honest (no “Winning With the Latvian/Damiano's Defense” nonsense here!). The material is well-arranged and the book's physical presentation, as is typical of Quality Publishing's books, is outstanding. There are significant explanatory sections in each chapter noting various strategic themes and key theoretical highlights, and the chapters all have useful conclusions summarizing which lines are key in Black's battle for equality. Finally, the book concludes with a useful index of variations, listing in a very readable format the key lines and deviations of each chapter, giving page numbers and evaluations! That's a nice touch that other writers should adopt.
Turning to the book's three sections, let's start with the Schliemann. Here I have good news and bad news. The good news is that his coverage is thorough, up-to-date and honest, and he supplies some ideas of his own. The bad news is that in the main lines with 4.d3 and 4.Nc3, the situation remains unpleasant for Black. In the 4.d3 line, Radjabov's games from Morelia/Linares 2008 are still the last word, and the word is that Black should draw (as Radjabov did against Topalov and Carlsen) after suffering indefinitely. He does offer 7...Nd4 (after 4.d3 fxe4 5.dxe4 Nf6 6.0-0 Bc5 7.Qd3), rather than the usual 7...d6, as a way to avoid the annoying ending. Svidler-Radjabov from Baku 2008 continued 8.Nxd4 Bxd4 9.Nd2, when Black is probably okay, but 8.Nxe5 looks like a problem – as Brunello acknowledges! He gives 8.Nxe5 Qe7 9.Nf3 Nxf3+ (Brunello also considers 9...Nxb5, concluding that White can achieve a “very comfortable position”) 10.Qxf3 0-0 (10...Qxe4 is also slightly better for White, according to Brunello) 11.Nc3 d5 12.Bg5 c6 13.Bd3 with a White edge, but adds hopefully that Black is very active. As far as I can determine, however, White's pawn is bigger than Black's activity, e.g. 13...h6 14.Bxf6 Rxf6 15.Qg3 Be6 16.e5 followed by 17.Qg6 when White might get both the pawn and the action. So perhaps the major piece ending from the Topalov-Radjabov and Carlsen-Radjabov games is Black's best here, but it's not much fun.
Likewise, 4.Nc3 fxe4 5.Nxe4 d5 6.Nxf6+ Qxf6 7.Qe2 Be7 8.Bxc6 dxc6 9.Nxe5 is still another line where Black has the pleasure of suffering for a long time in hopes of getting a draw. The variation often reaches an opposite-colored bishop ending where Black is a pawn down, and while it can be drawn (I survived it against then-IM Stripunsky in the late 90s, and Brunello gives the reader plenty of guidance in handling that ending), it isn't much fun. Worse, while I as a 2300 (but then 2400) player might be able to hold this ending against IMs, I'm also only going to hold it against experts, too. (And on at least one bad day, I didn't!)
So let's turn to the second line, Gajewski's “Marshall” gambit in the Chigorin Ruy: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 d5!? This bombshell was exploded by the Polish grandmaster Grzegorz Gajewski in 2007, and what was an unknown backwater has become a hot variation. At this point, thanks to its novelty, there are no monographs on the variation, but can at least see how Brunello's coverage compares to discussions on sites like ChessPublishing.com.
There are two main moves here, 11.exd5 and 11.d4. After 11.exd5 e4 12.Bxe4 (12.Ng5 was played in the stem game Kuznetsov-Gajewski, Pardubice 2007, and it didn't go well for White) 12...Nxe4 13.Rxe4 Bb7 and now the usual move is 14.d4, but ChessPublishing.com – and Rybka – like 14.d3. It was played a couple of times in 2008, but received high-level approval this year (2009) in the high-level games Navara (2687) – Stevic (2624) (1-0, 26!) and N. Mamedov (2607) – Teterev (2530), Neustadt an der Weinstrasse (1-0, 63). Unfortunately but understandably, Brunello doesn't cover 14.d3, but those who want to give the Gajewski Gambit a spin should prepare something for it. At least at first glance, White seems to have an edge after 14...Bxd5 15.Re1. Rybka suggests 15...Qd6 16.Nbd2 f5, while both Stevic and Teterev played 15...c5, but in neither case does Black seem to equalize.
As for 11.d4, Black can reply with either 11...dxe4 or 11...Nxe4 – both are common, and Brunello covers both. The former has been under a cloud for some time, however, thanks to improvements on the game Kononenko-Gajewski, Pardubice 2008 found by Korneev and others, and Brunello agrees, concluding that White is indeed clearly better there in the variation starting 11...dxe4 12.Nxe5 c5 13.Be3 Bb7 14.Nd2 Qc7 15.Qb1! So that leaves 11...Nxe4, when 12.Nxe5 is considered more testing than recapturing with the pawn. There are 13 pages of analysis of this move, including many new suggestions, and I will leave its exploration to those who get the book for themselves. He is much more sanguine about Black's chances here, as opposed to what arises after 11...dxe4, but this may be academic until someone finds a fix for the problems in the 11.exd5 variation.
Finally, there's the Marshall Gambit and the various anti-Marshalls along the way. Brunello examines all the anti-Marshalls that arise after 7...0-0 in addition to spending three substantial chapters on the gambit positions after 8.c3 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 c6. It was interesting comparing his book to Milos Pavlovic's Fighting the Ruy Lopez, which came out at almost exactly the same time. There was a great deal of overlap in their basic recommendations, though various interesting points of divergence as one went further into some of the lines. I'd recommend both books to Marshall addicts, but with a slight nod to Pavlovic's work. Both offer excellent coverage, but my feeling is that Pavlovic knows the Marshall a bit more deeply in his bones – not surprisingly, since he's more than twice Brunello's age! Still, I emphasize that you won't go wrong with the youngster's coverage of the Marshall, which seems current through the end of 2008.
Of course, you're not only getting the Marshall and Anti-Marshall from Brunello, but the Gajewski and Schliemann as well, so you're getting your money's worth from the book. Players interested in these systems with either colors should consider the purchase very seriously.
Bonus: You can replay some of the analysis and game references discussed in the review, here.