Sunday, July 29, 2007

Chigorin or Zaitsev

The Chigorin or the Zaitsev - that's the question; at least if you have decided to buy a book on the Closed Ruy Lopez for Black.

While there certainly are other aspects to be taken into account, one main consideration when choosing a repertoire based theory book, is the quality of the recommended lines.

In my and GM Leif E. Johannesen's "The Ruy Lopez: A Guide for Black" we primarily recommend the Zaitsev variation, starting 9...Bb7 10.d4 Re8 11.Nbd2 Bf8.

In "A Spanish Repertoire for Black" on the other hand, GM Mihail Marin recommends the Chigorin variation, starting 9...Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Qc7.

So, what is best - Chigorin or Zaitsev?

Obviously there is no definite answer to that question. Both lines have been played at absolute top-level and have withstood detailed computer assisted analysis. But there nevertheless are some differences that may help you decide:
  • Zaitsev development is quicker and more natural.
  • Black's knight on a5 tends to create problems in the Chigorin.
  • The Chigorin is the oldest line, and has developed a correspondingly larger body of theory.
  • The Zaitsev tends to lead to sharper lines where both players must follow a narrower theoretical path.
  • In the Zaitsev Black must worry about weaker players going for a repetition of moves.
  • In the Chigorin Black tends to be a little passive for quite a long time.
  • In the Zaitsev mainlines Black's kingside tends to come under fire.
  • Experience pays well in the Chigorin and your results are likely to improve over time.
  • Strategic ideas tend to be clearer and easier to understand in the Zaitsev.
  • Chigorin strategy tends to be extremely slow and often quite subtle.
  • In the Zaitsev mainline the centre frequently becomes quite open.
  • In the Chigorin White can close the centre permanently with d5.
If that didn't help, I suppose the best you can do is comparing the mainlines and try to decide what suits your style the best. For the Zaitsev you only need to check my entry "Worthy of Study" to find the critical position. It's a bit harder when it comes to the Chigorin - actually I think identifying the Chigorin mainline could be a nice topic for a future blog entry.

In the meantime it's nice to know that even if you should happen to choose the wrong line (it could even be that the Breyer variation is the line for you!), there will be very little work wasted. Your study of one Closed Ruy Lopez line is almost guaranteed to deepen your understanding of any other line within that complex. And whenever you decide to do a switch you will save a lot of time.


Dragan said...

I like Your book very much. After 25 years of playing chess, just started with 1..e5 and I am quite happy.Solution is simple for me: Zaitsev with one Chigorin variation at reserve ( for me 11..Nd7 ).Anyway, thanks for your effort and pleasant reading.

Sverre Johnsen said...

I am glad to hear that you like the book. Combining the Zaitsev and the Chigorin is indeed a natural option. Good luck with 1...e5!

Anonymous said...

I'm enjoying the book also. I played 1. . .e5 years ago intending a Marshall, but I have no intention of trying to keep up with Marshall theory these days. The Zaitsev looks active and should give winning chances, so long as I don't get mated. Thanks for many hours of fun!


Sverre Johnsen said...


Unfortunately the possibility of getting mated is frequently quite real in the Zaitsev mainlines. If you fear that a particular opponent may be dangerously well prepared, you may consider one of the lines with ...Qd7 (not necessarily on the 9th or 10th move). They may not be quite as dynamic, but are less analyzed and generally quite active too.

Anonymous said...

I bought your book in July of 2007 and after having tested the lines in blitz and tournament play during that time, I can say that The Ruy Lopez: A guide for Black is for me by far the best book on the closed ruy lopez and related lines in recent years (if not in all of time). I own both Davies' and Marin's repertoire books but although they are fine works themsevles, i have found that my repertoire relies almost exclusively on yours. The reason? Your choice of lines seem to offer more active play and the analysis is quite thorough and trustworthy. I have also found it very useful that in various places there were alternative variation suggestions (for instance, 5..Ne7 has served me well in tournament practice!). The book has been a tremendous investment for me, and I can say that I have been waiting for such a book for many years. So Bravo on your very fine work gentlemen!!

Sverre Johnsen said...

Thank you for the nice words!

The number of alternative lines offered in a repertoire book can be a difficult decision. On the negative side it adds pages (and possibly increases the price). There is also the risk that the extra lines may clutter the message and make the book harder to read.

On the positive side some extra options may give the book a broader target audience. Adding some less topical back-up lines also ensures that the book will not be entirely worthless in case sub-sequent top-level games should make the main lines unattractive.