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    Entries in Viktor Moskalenko (2)

    Saturday
    Jul182015

    A Short Review of Moskalenko's The Even More Flexible French

    Viktor Moskalenko, The Even More Flexible French: Strategic Ideas & Powerful Weapons (New in Chess, 2015). 363 pp., $29.95/€26.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    As the title suggests, this book is a sequel to an earlier work (2008) called The Flexible French, and it's appropriate that Viktor Moskalenko has so entitled these works. Although Francophobes may feel as if all French positions are the same, characterized by the miserable interlocking pawn chains in the center, those who play the opening or have studied it with White know that Black has a huge number of possible approaches, regardless of what White plays on move 3 (or even on move 2). Where some pro-French authors pick their repertoire choices in an attempt to keep the spread manageable and to go deep in the variations, Moskalenko doesn't get as far into the weeds but gives the French player seemingly limitless options. This makes the book nice as a source of ideas and surprise weapons, but I would recommend not using this work as your only source on the French. Pair it with John Watson's Play the French, Nikita Vitiugov's The French Defence Reloaded, or one of the recent Quality Chess books on the French and you're in business.

    To give some idea of the breadth of Moskalenko's volume, he offers 3...Nf6, 3...Be7 and 3...c5 against the Tarrasch, while against 3.Nc3 he covers both 3...Nf6 and the Winawer. Within the Winawer there are still more choices: 4.e5 b6 5.Qg4 Bf8 is the first, 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Qc7 7.Qg4 f5 for the second, and 6...Qa5 (intending 7...Qa4) for the third. The absolute main lines with 6...Ne7 7.Qg4 0-0 or 7...Qc7/7...cxd4 are absent. For that matter, in the Tarrasch line 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 Qxd5 5.Ngf3 cxd4 6.Bc4 Qd6 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Nb3 Nc6 9.Nbxd4 Nxd4 10.Nxd4 Moskalenko does give one game with 10...a6, but in it he shows Black getting killed. He concludes that he "cannot understand the idea behind the popular advance 10...a6?! It seems to be a significant waste of time that allows White to develop his initiative, forcing Black to revert to safer ideas, such as ...Be7, ...Bd7 etc." He is referring to 10th move options for Black, which he covers in earlier games.

    You might get the impression that you won't learn the "real" French from this book, but only a series of sidelines. Aside from the arguable claim that today's main lines constitute the "real" French, I would disagree. Moskalenko may not cover all the absolute main lines, but he covers enough of them, and certainly enough general kinds of positions to benefit any French player.

    As usual when looking at opening books, I compared what the author had to say with what the latest book I'd seen defending the opposite side had to say; in this case, the comparison was with Parimarjan Negi's 1.e4 vs. The French, Caro-Kann & Philidor. I limited my look to the lines beginning 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3, when the books interacted on the options 7...a6, 7...Qb6, 7...cxd4 and 7...Be7. (There's the huge spread in Moskalenko, on display once again!) In general I'd say that Negi went deeper, but Moskalenko throws out so many possibilities - even one-movers - that his book does escape Negi's clutches from time to time. It is a little disappointing that Negi's book isn't in Moskalenko's bibliography, but that's not Moskalenko's fault - the former didn't come out early enough for him to address it. Let's turn to some specifics:

    A: 7...a6. After 8.Qd2 b5 9.dxc5 Bxc5 Negi recommends 10.Bd3, which isn't covered by Moskalenko. That's not really a knock on Moskalenko, as it is a rare move, but it is inconvenient for the French player looking for an answer to Negi.

    B: 7...Qb6 8.Na4 Qa5+ 9.c3 cxd4 10.b4 Nxb4 11.cxb4 Bxb4+ 12.Bd2 Bxd2+ 13.Nxd2 is a line that has long been known to be very dangerous for Black, and Moskalenko admits this. He doesn't recommend the line, but he does present some analysis, following a 2007 Freestyle game (man + machine), winding up in a draw. That suggests that the line can hold, even if it requires impractically perfect play. I analyzed this line in great depth a year or so ago, however, and concluded that White is probably winning by force, and that seems to be Negi's conclusion as well. So I think that things are even worse for Black than Moskalenko suggests.

    C: 7...cxd4 8.Nxd4 and now a further subdivision:

    C1: 8...Bc5 9.Qd2 0-0 10.0-0-0 a6 11.Qf2 and here there are two moves discussed by both books. One is 11...Bxd4, and if anything Moskalenko gets slightly the better of the coverage here. The other option is 11...Qe7, and here Negi's coverage is greatly superior. Moskalenko stops after 12.Bd3 f6 13.exf6 Nxf6 14.h3 Bd6 15.Kb1, evaluating White's last move as interesting, while Negi goes much further and offers some new analysis. Just giving his main line, there's 15...Bd7 16.Rhe1 b5 17.g4!N Rac8 18.f5! e5 19.Nxc6 Bxc6 20.g5 Nd7 21.f6! gxf6 22.g6 e4 23.gxh7+ Kh8 24.Be2 with a clear advantage for White.

    C2: 8...Qb6. After 9.Qd2 Qxb2 10.Rb1 Qa3 11.Bb5 Nxd4 12.Bxd4 a6 13.Bxd7+ Bxd7 14.Rb3 Qe7 15.Rxb7 we have a sharp position that was especially popular in 2013 and 2014. Here the overlap spans two moves, 15...Qh4+, 15...Qd8, and they can transpose into each other. Negi's coverage is superior here, but Moskalenko gets a leg up by his analysis of 15...Rc8, a move not noted by Negi.

    D: 7...Be7. Moskalenko throws out a short suggestion or two that isn't covered by Negi, but in areas of substantial overlap it is Negi's investigation that is more thorough. I'll skip the details this time, so you'll have to scare up the books for yourself.

    Now, the Negi book is really, really good and very detailed, so the fact that it often seems to get the better of the argument (and probably does get the better of the argument in most cases) doesn't mean that Moskalenko's book is substandard. Not at all. But I do think it is most useful in an auxiliary role, for instruction, inspiration, advice and variety while using another, more conventional book as the basis for one's repertoire.

    In addition to the bare moves, Moskalenko offers lots of very accessible textual help. He writes with great enthusiasm and knowledge about his beloved opening, highlights key tips, themes and tricks, and even offers some useful statistics about results and players ("heroes") to further benefit the reader. It is a very enjoyable and useful book, and is warmly recommended to lovers of the French Defense from, I'd say, approximately 1700-1800 on up.

    Saturday
    Mar222014

    Book Review: Moskalenko on the Dutch

    Viktor Moskalenko, The Diamond Dutch: Strategic Ideas & Powerful Weapons (New in Chess, 2014). 271 pp., $29.95/ €26.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    [N.B. This review will soon be published in Chess Today as well, but as both Chess Today and the publishers independently sent me copies of the book (and I don't even play the Dutch!) it seemed appropriate to post it here as well.]

    Viktor Moskalenko has written some of the most interesting opening books over the past six years or so, and he’s showing no signs of letting up. He is a very entertaining writer, but more importantly, his creativity is not restricted to his writing; he is a creative contributor to the theory of the openings he writes about. After books on the Budapest Gambit, the French and the Pirc (plus a book on method that included some interesting opening analysis) he turns his attention to the Dutch.

    Remarkably, he covers all three major branches of the Dutch: the Stonewall (characterized by Black pawns on c6, d5, e6 and f5), the Classical (sometimes called the Ilyin-Zhenevsky, which arises with Black’s center pawns on d6 and e6), and the Leningrad (Black plays …d6 and fianchettos the king’s bishop). There is also a substantial chapter on various anti-Dutch lines like the Staunton Gambit, the Improved Lisitsyn Gambit (and its unimproved namesake) and some minor lines before paying more careful attention to 2.Nc3 and 2.Bg5.

    One really gets a bit of everything, and this benefits both sides. Dutch slayers get to see the spread of options and may find something they like, and Moskalenko offers them some specific repertoire choices as well. Those who play or adopt the Dutch benefit even more. They’ll learn the full range of options available to them, which offers them some variety. Moreover, there are possibilities for one Dutch line to transmogrify into another (in particular, the Classical structure can become either a Stonewall or a Leningrad, or at least akin to them), so they will be able to handle the transitions.

    Moskalenko makes the book as user-friendly as possible, with little stories, highlighted tactics, transpositional subtleties and other helpful tidbits that help the reader orient himself to what’s important and to interesting and original ideas. His preferred format is the complete game model, but he doesn’t waste space covering the post-theoretical part of the game in great detail. Each chapter has a substantial introduction, and Moskalenko is quite “talky” in general, which is very helpful to the reader orienting his way around this opening.

    So there is a lot to like about the book’s format. What about the content? As the author is a solid professional who plays both sides of the Dutch, one would expect good things. He doesn’t mention the recent White repertoire books by Schandorff, Kaufman or Watson, so I decided to have a look to see what he offers against their suggestions. In the interest of space I’ll only make comparisons with the last two authors’ works.

    Let’s start with Watson and his recommendation of 2.Nc3. Moskalenko examines both 2…Nf6 and 2…d5 in some detail, and seems at the end to prefer 2…Nf6. Watson meets this with 3.Bf4, which is much less usual than 3.Bg5 – so unusual, in fact, that Moskalenko doesn’t cover it. It’s an odd-looking move and seemingly out of the spirit of 2.Nc3. The point is that White meets 2…Nf6 with 3.Bg5, aiming to swap on f6 and harm Black’s pawn structure, while if 2…d5 White then plays 3.Bf4 now that the diagonal is open. So 2…Nf6 3.Bf4 seems clueless at first glance (assuming of course that Black doesn’t play 3…d5), but Watson has some interesting ideas. A small bibliographical omission here, but one that may be relevant at the club level where Watson is especially popular.

    On now to Kaufman and 2.Bg5. (This is also Schandorff’s recommendation.) Moskalenko’s chapter conclusion suggests the following: French and Stonewall players should play 1…e6, Leningrad players should use 2…g6, and the risky line 2…h6 3.Bh4 g5 4.e4 is playable for Black after 4…Bg7 and 4…Nf6, but he has his doubts about 4…Rh7. Let’s see how his conclusions about 2…h6 and 2…g6 fare against Schandorff and Kaufman. On 2…h6, Kaufman prefers 3.Bh4 g5 4.e3, and now both Kaufman and Moskalenko continue 4…Nf6 5.Bg3 d6 6.h4 Rg8 7.hxg5 hxg5 8.Nc3 e6 before their move-orders vary. Moskalenko, citing Kasparov-Illescas, Dos Hermanas 1996, continues 9.f3 Qe7 10.Qd2 Nc6 11.0-0-0 Bd7 12.e4, while Kaufman’s move order is 9.Qd2 Qe7 10.0-0-0 Nc6 11.f3 Bd7 12.e4. Kaufman stops here (without citing the game) and writes that “White’s development, pawn center, and control of the open file give him a clear advantage”. Moskalenko disagrees, continuing 12…fxe4(“!”) 13.fxe4 0-0-0 and says that while “White still has some pressure”, it can be said that “in general Black has solved his main problem (his king’s position) and he has also consolidated his troops.” Illescas had to suffer a while, but he drew his prestigious opponent.

    However, Moskalenko likes 9.Qd2, and after 9…Qe7 10.0-0-0 Nc6 suggests that White can try 11.Bc4 instead of 11.f3, threatening d5. He examines 10…a6 in some depth, suggesting that White has an edge in the game Gurevich-Illescas, Sanxeno tt 2004 although Black in turn might improve with 17…Qf7, with the idea 18.Nh3 Be7.

    Now to 2…g6. Their primary intersection point comes after 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.h4 h6 5.Bf4 Nf6 6.e3 d6 7.Qf3 0-0 8.Bc4+ e6 9.Nge2. Kaufman stops here, writing that “White has more active pieces and can choose to castle on either side with a safer king in either case”. Moskalenko appreciates the danger here and thinks 8.Bc4+ is a “weapon”, as opposed to 8.0-0-0 as he himself unsuccessfully played against Bonafede in Hoogeveen 2010. His analysis (after 9.Nge2) continues 9…Nc6 10.a3, and now he suggests 10…Qe8 as an improvement over 10…Kh7?, played in Fressinet-Kindermann, Bundesliga 2002. The problem with the latter move was 11.Bg5!, allowing the “useless” bishop to re-employ and then swap on f6.

    Another important sideline arises against the Leningrad Dutch: 1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 g6 4.Nc3 Bg7 5.Bf4, used by Armenian players like Hrant Melkumyan and, most prominently, Levon Aronian. White’s best, as given by Moskalenko, is 5…d6 6.e3 Nc6 7.Be2 0-0 8.Bg3 h6 9.0-0 Nh5 (Aronian-Kamsky, St. Louis 2013) 10.Bh4! g5 11.d5! Na5 12.Nd4, with a slight advantage for White according to Alejandro Ramirez, writing on Chessbase.com. Good for White, but what is Black to do? (Perhaps play the Stonewall instead, which is Moskalenko’s preferred Dutch.)

    Anyway, the book is a fascinating collection of analyses of the Dutch Defense, and I can’t imagine why any Dutch player would want to do without it. More attention to repertoire books and the potentially important and influential line used by Aronian would have improved the work, I think, but it’s highly recommended all the same.