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    Entries in Marin (2)

    Sunday
    Jan092011

    A Review of Mihail Marin's The English Opening, Volumes 2 & 3

    Mihail Marin, The English Opening, Volumes 2 & 3. Quality Chess 2010. €35.99 for Volume 2, €32.99 for volume 3 (hardback prices). 432 & 275 pp., respectively. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    The Romanian GM has a well-earned reputation for writing great chess books, and these are no different. They complete a trilogy on the English Opening based on 1.c4 followed whenever possible by 2.g3. The first volume looked at the reverse Sicilian (1.c4 e5), and volume three presents the Symmetrical English (or “Double English”, as he calls it, as the symmetry after 1…c5 rarely lasts for long). Volume 2 covers everything else, and might be thought of as including everything Black might play when he doesn’t want to play against the English: Queen’s Gambit Declined-style approaches, Slav-type systems, attempts to play a King’s Indian, Dutch, Grünfeld, etc., etc. In all of these cases Marin does his best to keep White’s solutions within the realm of the English, which is doubly commendable. First, it doesn’t force the poor reader to spend another $20-30 on another book to fill in the gaps. (And after already buying three volumes on the English!) Second, it will annoy those opponents who are hoping to transpose to their favorite openings. The English is a rare enough opening that many players try to find some transposition to their preferred anti-1.d4 systems, and Marin won’t let them get away with it.

    As always in Marin’s books, you’ll find lots of prose, a clear sense that the man loves to teach, and a ton of original analysis. More than any other chess writer I’ve come across, he’ll go on minor sidetracks that are illuminating and downright interesting, but there aren’t so many sidetracks that you wonder if the book you have is the one you paid for.

    The quick conclusion is this: if you have any interest in playing the English at all, this series is well worth your money. In the remainder of this review I’ll point out some of the things that caught my eye; I’m sure you’ll find many others when you see the books for yourselves.

    I checked a number of lines I’ve investigated over the years, and browsed the rest of the material, and in every case (as you’d expect) he had something new and illuminating to say. I’ll present three points (of many) of interest.

    (1)  Symmetrical (“Double”) English with …Nh6. Two or three years ago I grew interested in this line with Black, and did reasonably well with it from a theoretical perspective. Magnus Carlsen himself trotted it out recently, but it seems from Marin’s work that this line, despite its logic, is in trouble. Here’s the idea: 1.c4 c5 2.g3 Nc6 3.Bg2 g6 4.Nc3 Bg7 5.Nf3, and now the …Nh6-f5 plan looks good in theory but not in practice. If Black plays …Nh6 right away, then 6.h4! takes advantage of Black’s inability to play …h5 and the fact that White’s rook is still on h1.

    Ok, suppose Black makes a waiting move first: 5…d6 6.0-0 and now 6…Nh6. Better? Nope: 7.d4! is very strong. After 7…cxd4 8.Bxh6 Bxh6 9.Nxd4 Marin makes a convincing case that Black is in trouble after either 9…Nxd4 or 9…Bd7. Against Luke McShane (in London 2010) Carlsen tried a new move – 9…Ne5 – but after 10.Qb3! McShane was better and went on to win a fine game. (More about this game here.)

    (2)  The Tarrasch: Some players like to use the Tarrasch as a one-size-fits-all response to non-1.e4 openings. Marin allows the Tarrasch against his suggested repertoire, but Black doesn’t get to reach the standard tabiya. After 1.c4 e6 2.g3 d5 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.0-0 0-0 6.d4 c5 White doesn’t play 7.cxd5 exd5 8.Nc3 Nc6, transposing to the starting position of the Rubinstein Tarrasch, but 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.a3. Delaying the capture on d5 inconveniences Black relative to the standard version, and the attempt to avoid the isolani with 8…dxc4 has its drawbacks too. Black – as Marin explains very clearly – has a difficult time developing his queenside in anything like a harmonious fashion.

    Nevertheless, I dare to disagree with Marin’s assessment of one of the lines. After 8.a3 dxc4 9.Qc2 Nc6 10.Qxc4 Be7 11.Nc3 e5 12.Rd1 Be6 13.Qb5 he considers two moves: 13…Qc7 and 13…Qb6, concluding in each case that White is slightly better. I think he’s right about the latter, but after 13…Qc7 14.Be3 he quotes Veingold-Illescas, Zaragoza 1991, which continued 14…Rac8 15.Ng5 Bf5 16.Rac1 h6 17.Nge4 Nxe4 18.Bxe4! Bxe4 19.Nxe4, with a slight edge to White. (His analysis continues a bit further, but this is enough for our purposes.) It seems to me that Black can improve with 14…h6. This keeps the bishop safe on e6 and impedes the Ng5-e4 maneuver. True, White can play 15.Nd2, but Black looks to be in good shape after either 15…Rfd8 or 15…Nd4. The slightly odd-looking 13…Qb8 may be good too, e.g. 14.Ng5 a6 15.Qb6 Bd8 16.Qc5 Be7 and now 17.Qb6 repeats while 17.Qe3 allows 17…Bb3.

    (3)  A (Nearly) Symmetrical English Endgame. As noted above, Marin prefers to speak of the “Double English” because the symmetry, pace the name “Symmetrical English”, tends not to last very long. The following line is somewhat of an exception. 1.c4 c5 2.g3 Nc6 3.Bg2 g6 4.Nc3 Bg7 5.Nf3 d6 6.0-0 Nf6 7.a3 0-0 8.Rb1 a5 9.d3 Bd7 10.Bd2 Ne8 11.Ne1 Nc7 12.Nc2 Rb8 13.b4 axb4 14.axb4 Nxb4 15.Nxb4 cxb4 16.Rxb4 b5 17.cxb5 Nxb5 18.Nxb5 Rxb5 19.Rxb5 Bxb5 20.Qb3 Qd7 21.Rc1 Ba4 22.Qb4 Qb5.

    Many of us would dismiss such a position as drawish – assuming we managed to stay awake here – and even if we felt that White had a little pull we’d make some cursory comment to that effect and leave it there. Not Marin, and it’s to his credit! He first takes a careful look at the game Bagirov-Suetin, Baku 1962, and demonstrates some of White’s deep ideas in this endgame. Then a little later, he comes back to the ending and improves on Bagiro’s 23.Qxb5 with the new move 23.Rc4. This takes away a resource Suetin had in the game, and when he finishes his analysis a couple of pages later the reader not only knows how concretely to play the position, he also knows, from Marin’s analysis of the Bagirov game, what general plans ought to be tried as well.

    Incidentally, in case anyone gets the wrong impression from the last two examples, these volumes are full of ridiculously sharp variations too. If Marin has a stylistic preference for either crazy or technical positions, you won’t discover which it is from these books. That puts a big burden on the reader, as he takes the analyses where the positions take it and not in the direction of a one-size-fits-all approach. Marin aims to make chess players out of his readers, not efficient zombies! So if you’re willing to work, then these books may be for you; if you’re looking for something quick and simple, probably not.

    Finally, I was fortunate to receive hardback copies of these volumes from the publisher. They are superb from a physical standpoint as well. The books are highly recommended.

    Sunday
    Jan172010

    Book Notice: Mihail Marin, The English Opening Volume One

    Romanian grandmaster Mihail Marin is one of the best chess authors on the planet, and a big reason is that he has the heart of a teacher. There are opening books - even excellent opening books - that are great at providing information (even offering novelties by the truckload), but don't help the reader to understand the broader context. Marin does a better job than any author I've seen at explaining what each side is trying to do in a particular variation, the sub-variation, and at the end of the line; in helping the reader to understand move order issues and the evolution of a variation - and indeed, of Marin's own thinking. One interesting feature of his opening books, that I've almost never seen anywhere else, and then only in passing, is that he will sometimes spend a few pages on a line he won't recommend because it will help illumine something later on.

    The particular book I'm (briefly) reviewing is Marin's 2009 work The English Opening, Volume 1, published by Quality Chess in the same series as the Boris Avrukh book on 1.d4. Over the course of 477 pages, Marin offers a full White repertoire with 1.c4 against 1...e5. Like Tony Kosten's old The Dynamic English, Marin opts for 2.g3, but it's almost always followed by a quick 3.Nc3. Rather than discuss the ins and outs of his recommendations, however, I'd like to present an excerpt that demonstrates the clarity of his presentation. It was taken pretty much at random - there's nothing special about the variation in question from my point of view. It's simply that anywhere you turn in the book, you'll find helpful explanations, and this is where I turned. So:

    (1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Bc5 4.Bg2 Nf6 5.e3)

    B2) 5...d6

    This normal developing move is of crucial importance if Black chooses the move order that is characteristic of Chapter 19. [DM: Without worrying about what's in chapter 19, note the very helpful cross-indexing and the implicit mention of move order issues.]

    6.Nge2

    White creates the positional threat of d2-d4. Black can choose between opening a retreat for the bishop with B21) 6...a6 and ignoring the threat with B22) 6...0-0.

    B21) 6...a6

    7.0-0 0-0

    7...Bg4 is premature because there is no pawn tension in the centre yet, and after 8.h3 the exchange on e2 simply gifts White the bishop pair. The bishop cannot retreat to e6 because of d4 followed by d5, winning a piece. After other retreats the extra move h2-h3 is useful for White, as will be seen at a later stage of the main line.

    8.d4 Ba7

    White has occupiece the centre with pawns, but has to be careful to avoid losing stability after an exchange on d4 followed by ...Bc8-g4.

    9.h3

    This generally useful move, preventing the aforementioned threat, prepares a later kingside expansion based on g3-g4.

    9...exd4

    Black releases the tension, hoping to obtain counterplay by building up piece pressure. 9...Bf5 10.d5 more or less transposes to B22.

    10.exd4 Re8

    Preparing ...Bc8-f5 followed by occupying the e4-square.

    The immediate 10...Bf5 can be strongly met by 11.g4 Bg6 12.f4 h6 13.f5 Bh7, as in the classic game Koltanowski-Colle, Belgium 1925. Both black bishops are out of play and White should have simply continued his development with 14.Bf4 +/-.

    10...h6 can also be met by 11.g4 followed by Bc1-e3 and Ne2-g3, or Bf4-g3 followed by f4-f5.

    11.g4!?

    White increases his space advantage and prevents Black's natural development.

    11...h5

    The logical reaction, aiming to make the f5-square available for his bishop by provoking the further advance of the g4-pawn.

    The restrained 11...Bd7 would allow White to consolidate his domination with 12.Bg5 h6 13.Bh4+=. In order to get rid of the pin, Black would have to weaken his position with ...g7-g5, leaving his king much more exposed than White's, mainly because of the isolation of the dark-squared bishop on the other wing.

    11...h6?! would be simply bad because of 12.g5 hxg5 13.Bxg5+/- when Black cannot escape the pin without allowing his structure to be spoiled.

    12.Bg5!

    The start of a spectacular but entirely logical sacrificial attack.

    12...hxg4 13.Nd5 gxh3 14.Bxf6 gxf6 15.Bf3

    In view of the threat of Kg1-h2 followed by Rf1-g1, Black faces a difficult defensive task. The engines are quite sceptical about White's attacking chances and consider that Black is much better due to his extra pawns.

    The course of the following e-mail game (in which, supposedly, the part played by engines was significant) illustrates the machines' weakness in this type of position.

    15...Kg7 16.Kh2 Rh8 17.Rg1+ Kf8 18.Qd3 Rh4 19.Rg3

    Only now did Black (and/or his engine) understand the danger, and retreat his rook.

    19...Rh8 20.Rag1 Ne7 21.Nxf6

    White has a devastating attack, N. Oliver - M. Lane, e-mail 2000. (pp. 77-78 in Marin's book)

    There is of course far more detail in this book than the average club player needs, and especially if you're under 1800 you should be far more concerned with tactics and endgames than with the delicate nuances of the English. But for anyone over 2000 (or ambitious players a little below that) who wants to play the English or just to receive an education in positional chess from Marin, it's an excellent book worth your money.