Denis Yevseev, Fighting the French: A New Concept (Chess Stars 2011). 384 pp. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.
A new concept, really? The idea promoted by GM Denis Yevseev isn't his invention and goes back at least a couple of decades, so it isn't brand new. I'll bet, though, that it'll be new to most of your opponents. It was new to me, and in the experimenting I've done with it the last couple of weeks it seems new to my opponents as well, even ones with titles attached to their names (and internet aliases).
What is it? It's the so-called “universal system”: the Tarrasch with Ngf3, Bd3, c3 and 0-0 against most (but not all) Black setups. By itself, that isn't new – Korchnoi's gambit of the pawn on d4 goes back many decades. The new idea is not the pawn sac, but to preserve an isolated pawn on d4. In so doing, the game often transposes to positions from other openings where the IQP (isolated d [“queen's”] pawn) is standard: the Panov-Botvinnik System against the Caro-Kann, the Rubinstein Variation of the Nimzo-Indian, the Queen's Gambit Accepted and the 2.c3 Sicilian. The irony is that the new concept isn't new per se, but is new to the French, and that's almost as good. For those of us who aren't professionals, our opponents are unlikely to have much experience playing a position that doesn't normally come from the French but the Caro-Kann or Sicilian, so as long as we can develop a good feel for playing with the IQP, it's a good choice.
Now for details. The book comprises three parts, the first two of which are relatively conventional. Part 1 (chapters 1-3) covers Rubinstein's 3...dxe4, while part 2 (chapters 4-9) is a hodgepodge of Tarrasch sidelines and normal lines where White should avoid the IQP approach. Finally, part 3 (comprising the oddly-numbered chapters “i1” through “i7”) treats different versions of the IQP arising from the 3...Nf6, 3...c5 and 3...a6 lines. (Also through 3...Be7 lines, though that move order isn't given in the table of contents.)
As is often the case for Chess Stars opening books, the chapters are often divided into three sections: “Quick Repertoire”, “Step by Step” and “Complete Games”. The first section generally gives the main line and highlights relevant themes, while the second provides all the little variational details along the way. The last, “Complete Games”, is of course just what it sounds like. All the chapters in the first two sections follow this template, while the IQP chapters of part 3 dispense with the “Quick Repertoire”.
Some specifics: as mentioned earlier, the same lines sometimes lead to an IQP treatment and sometimes not. For instance, after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Be7 4.Ngf3 Nf6 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.0-0 Black has a choice. He can swap the center pawns with 7...cxd4 8.cxd4 dxe4 9.Nxe4 0-0 or 9...Nxe4 10.Bxe4 0-0, with a position covered in part 3. but he can also choose to wait with 7...0-0. Here White doesn't have any fantastic waiting or building move, so he should push with 8.e5. Further, Black's last move is a little committal, taking away ...g5 options, so White's timing has positive value as well. The details are different, but after 3...Nf6 4.Bd3 c5 5.c3 Nc6 6.Ngf3 cxd4 7.cxd4 Qb6 8.0-0 Be7 White once again can't afford to wait around waiting for some sort of isolated d-pawn position, and should force the play with 9.e5 Nd7 10.Nb3.
There are plenty of positions where the IQP does arise, however, and if you look up the Plaskett-Short game I covered last week (or better yet, watch the video), you'll see what it looks like and how it can work. It's not a refutation of the French, and I'm sure that Black can equalize in some of the lines (indeed, Yevseev himself doesn't claim that White obtains an edge in every variation). But for its freshness, and because it avoids the kinds of typical French pawn structures its advocates know and love and many white players hate, it may be worth your while to have a look. Recommended.
Ordering info and a pdf sample (conveniently including the aforementioned Plaskett-Short game) are available here.