How to Play Against 1. e4 – Chess Life Web Extra

For John Hartmann’s original review, see “How to Play Against 1. e4” in the May 2017 issue of Chess Life Magazine.

One of the great difficulties of reviewing chess books is dealing with all of the analysis. The days of Fred Reinfeld and his breezy notes are long gone, and in their place, we get variations analyzed into the ground with the help of our ‘metal friends.’ The results can be mind-numbing. Sometimes I wonder whether today’s authors don’t analyze more than even they think they need to, lest a Stockfish-armed reader loudly find them sloppy.

In this month’s Chess Life column, I reviewed six books and one database dealing with 1.e4 e5 from the Black side of the board. I generated a lot of analysis along the way, but the realities of word counts and page space intervened, and the bits I’d wanted to include were relegated to the cutting room floor.

But there are no word counts on the Internet.

Perhaps it’s appropriate here to make something of an admission. There is no human way for me to play through every variation on every page of modern books, much less subject everything to critical scrutiny with the machine and my limited common sense. This is particularly true in cases like this month, where I try to give readers useful reviews of more than one title. Some strategy is required, where I can balance the requirements of objective criticism with the limits of my time and capabilities.

After some trial and error, I have settled on a standard methodology. The first thing I do when reviewing a book is read through it without a board, trying to get a sense of it on a macro-level. After that initial read, I try to engage the author on a micro-level, going through the text in ChessBase and with an engine. Here two different tasks become important.

First, I try to find points of convergence between books, places where the analysis overlaps. What do different authors recommend? Why? And what does that reveal about their authorial style, the quality of their work, etc.?

I also like to ‘drill deep’ into certain positions to test depth and originality. This usually (in the case of opening books) involves subjecting key opening tabiya to heavy computer-aided scrutiny. It can also include choosing lesser-known side lines to see if the authors bring anything new to the table, or if they are content to trade in the usual solutions.

Both of these elements came to bear on my May review. I spent some time comparing the various responses to the Belgrade Gambit, for example, and I discovered that the main lines of the Breyer can be incredibly complicated to analyze. It was a lot of fun, especially for this sometimes 1…e5 player, but man… there is a ton of theory.

For this web extra, I chose two bits of analysis that might be of use to readers while also giving some sense of the books in the May review. The first is an overview of recommendations in the Italian, with a focus on the trendy variations that include an early a2-a4. The second is a more in-depth study of a popular line in the Zaitsev, where we see something of the divergent approaches of Kuzmin and Solozhenkin.

The Italian

(A) Avrukh (via the 3…Bc5 move order) and Bologan prefer:

(B) Bologan, Lokander, and Ntirlis recommend:

In this position, Bologan, Lokander and Ntirlis recommend different moves for Black:

Black to move.

Bologan

Lokander:

Ntirlis:

The Zaitsev

Alternatives for White include:

The position after 15. Bb2 is the key tabiya. No less than four moves are analyzed by Kuzmin and Solozhenkin. 15…g6 is Black’s most popular try, but Solozhenkin dismisses it, saying that Black will “need to defend several possible positions… all of them are much easier to play with White.” (p.176)

Black to move.

Variation #1:

Alternatives for White include:

Variation #2:

Variation #3:

Variation #4:

John Hartmann is a columnist for Chess Life Magazine and the Chess Journalists of America winner for the “Best Review” category. For more information, visit his Chess Book Review Website and his Twitter account: @hartmannchess

Comments

  1. This is for the webmaster, not the author. This article is hard to read. For example, Variation #2, Zaitsev 15…a5: On Firefox45, the text is cut off at the end, the last I can read is “19.Nfxd4 c5 20.bxc5 dxc5 21.Nxb5 Nxe4 = 2001,”. On IE11 it is the opposite, the text is cut off at the beginning, the first I can read is “axb4 19.cxb4 Qb6 1-0, Zhigalko-Saric,”.

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