Friday, May 30, 2008

Adventures in Sokolsky's Jungle

It's always a pleasure to discuss something you know nothing about and don't care that much about either. Whether 1.b4 e5 2.Bb2 Bxb4 3.Bxe5 Nf6 4.c4 0–0 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Bb2 Re8 7.e3 d5 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Be2 Rxe3!? is correct or not will not have a great impact on my repertoire but the complications are nevertheless enjoyable.

In a recent entry my preliminary conclusion was that 10.fxe3 Nxe3 11.Qb3 Nxg2+ 12.Kd1 doesn't look like a clean winning line. Consequently it seems sensible to examine White's alternative king move, 12.Kf2. Even if alternatives have been tested, I will assume that 12...Bh3 (Dia) is the critical test. Black develops another minor piece while protecting his advanced knight.

This looks natural.

a) White should avoid 13.Rg1? Bc5+.

b) Unsurprisingly 13.Bf1 also fails: 13...Bc5+ 14.Kg3 Qd7 15.Qc4 Nd4 16.Nxd4 Qg4+ 17.Kf2 (Gross-Grehl, corr 1991) 17...Qf5+! 18.Kg1 Re8 and Black is winning.
c) 13.Bc4 Qe7 (13...Bc5+ 14.Kg3 Qd7 15.Bxf7+ Kh8 16.Qc4 Rf8–+ Alvarez-Roldan, corr 1998) 14.Bxf7+ Kh8 15.Bd5? Bc5+ 16.Kg3 Qd6+ 17.Kxh3 Nf4+ also wins for Black Nebe-Vorlop, corr 1988.

d) 13.Kg3 looks suspect and 13...Qd7!? probably is sufficient:

d1) 14.Ng5 Bd6+ 15.Kf2 Qf5+ 16.Nf3 (or 16.Bf3 Bc5+ 17.Ke2 Qxg5) 16...Bc5+ 17.Kf1 Nf4+ 18.Ke1 Re8 and Black wins.

d2) 14.Ne5 Bd6 15.d4 Nxe5 16.dxe5 Be7 17.e6 Bxe6 18.Qd3? Bd5 was winning for Black in Seifert-Nebe, corr 1991.

d3) 14.Qc4 b5 15.Qxb5 Bd6+ 16.Kf2 Rb8 17.Rc1 Rxb5 18.Bxb5 Qf5 –+ Gross-Grehl, corr 1992.

d4) 14.Ng1 Bd6+ 15.Kf2 Bc5+ 16.Kg3 Bxg1 17.Rxg1 Qd6+ 18.Kxh3 Nf4+ 19.Kg4 Nxe2

e) 13.Rd1 Qe7 14.Ba3 (14.Ng1? Bc5+ 15.d4 Nxd4 16.Rxd4 Qh4+ 0–1 Zschalich-Leisebein, corr 1987) 14...Re8 (14...Nd4!? 15.Qd3 Bxa3 16.Nxa3 Nxe2 17.Qxe2 Qxa3 with advantage to Black could be an improvement) 15.Bf1 g5 16.Bxb4 Nxb4 17.Na3 g4 18.Re1 Nxe1 19.Rxe1 Qc5+ 20.d4 Rxe1 21.Bxh3 Re2+ 22.Kxe2 gxf3+ 23.Qxf3 and White was slightly better in Zschalich-Preussner, corr 1997.

13...Qe7 (Dia)

This is the critical moment. White is relatively free to improve his position but nothing looks particularly convincing.


a) After 14.Bc4? Na5 15.Bxf7+ Kh8 Black was winning in Gedigk-Grehl, corr 1990.

b) 14.Nbd2 is strongly met by 14...Bxd2 15.Nxd2 Nxd4 16.Qxh3 Qxe2+ 17.Kg3 f5 18.Rhf1 (18.Qxg2 f4+ 0–1 Ritter-Reyes, corr 1996) 18...f4+ 0–1 Oakes-De Smet, corr 1992.

c) 14.Na3?! Re8 15.Ne5? Nxe5 16.Qxh3 Nf4 was winning for Black in Perrson-Grehl, corr 1989.

d) 14.Rg1!? deserves a look.

e) 14.a3 should be taken seriously as it has been tested by one of the real experts: 14...Re8 15.Bc4 Na5 16.Qxb4 (16.Bxf7+ Kh8 17.Qd5 Qe2+ 18.Kg3 Ne3 –+) 16...Qe3+ 17.Kg3 Qf4+ 18.Kf2 Qe3+ 19.Kg3 h5 –+ Trokenheim-Ronneland, Sweden 1994.


14...Nf4!? may be an improvement. 15.Qxf7+ Qxf7 16.Nxf7 Nxe2 17.Nh6+ gxh6 18.Kxe2 Re8+ is clearly better for Black.
15.Qxf7+ Qxf7+ 16.Nxf7 Nxe2 17.Ng5 Bc5+ 18.Kxe2 Nf4+ (Dia)

Black still has only got three pawns for his rook but White's king is exposed and his rooks are exposed in their corners.


Giving back the exchange with 19.Kf3 Bg2+ 20.Kxf4 Bxh1 looks fairly balanced but Black may have less losing chances.

19...Rd8+ 20.Kc2?

This seem to lose. 20.Nd2 doesn't look safe at all and I suspect a good PC programme would find something for Black if given some time and gentle guidance (but 20...Bg4+ 21.Kc2 Bf5+ 22.Nge4 Be3 23.Rhd1 Rxd2+ 24.Rxd2 Bxe4+ 25.Kd1 Nd3 26.Bc3 b5 is only a little better for Black).

20...Bf5+ 21.Kb3 h6 0–1 Zschalich-Poetzsch, corr 1987 (22.Nf3 Rd3+ –+)


Based on available games and some quick checks by Fritz and Rybka, 12.Kf2 looks even less convincing than 12.Kd1. It probably will pay for both sides to examine alternatives to 11.Qb3 - that is 11.Qc1 and 11.Qa4.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Chess Book Covers Revolutionized

Thinkers' Press announces a new book on the Colle Zukertort. The cover and the title "Zuke 'Em, The Colle-Zukertort Revolutionized" certainly promise something special. I have found no high resolution picture so it's hard to judge the artistic quality but the book certainly will stand out in my book shelves. Only Basman's "The Killer Grob" (Pergamon 1991) may stand up in comparison.

Probably the best book on the Zukertort (and some complementary lines) is Aaron Summerscale's "A Killer Opening Repertoire". I really wonder what exactly Summerscale means when he admits that Rudel "solved a problem that had vexed him" and says that he is "Very impressed by the sheer amount of brain power." Could this actually be a good book? Until further notice I remain sceptical about the content as in this case the playing strength of the author seems to be a legitimate concern.

No matter what the book actually delivers, the Zukertort in my opinion is a valid try for a small pull with White - at least against set-ups with an early ...e6. I have played the system myself on occasion and have my own small ideas about White's optimal move-orders - but I honestly don't see the potential for a Zukertort Revolution.

Addendum May 29th.
There now is an ad for the book at Chessco's homepage. Many big words but not that much new information. I replaced the previous picture with one with a higher resolution.

Addendum June 1st.
In a comment (below) the author, David Rudel, points to the book's website which contains a lot of excerpts from the book.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A New Orang Utan in Town

I have very rarely played the Sokolsky opening (also known as the Orang Utan opening) as it doesn't lead to the kind of positions I enjoy to play as White. That doesn't necessarily mean it leads to bad positions and I have always had a certain interest in the opening and some of the original positions that can arise.
Now there is a new book on the opening available. The reviews so far haven't been too favorable so I am waiting for a chance to browse the pages at a chess book stand but I suppose I eventually will buy it.

Here is the Table of Content:

4 Bibliography
5 Introduction
11 The Sokolsky Gambit
35 1b4 e5 2Bb2 Bxb4
48 Black Plays ...e5 and ...d6
73 Queen's Indian Systems
100 Black Plays ...d5 and ...e6
121 Black Plays ...d5 and ...Bf5/Bg4
143 1 ...c6, 1...f5 and Unusual Moves
171 Index of Complete Games

If you too are still skeptical to the book you may want to see this interesting discussion at the ChessPublishing forum before you order (unless you are interested in re-incarnation flame wars you will do well to fast-forward to page 3).

In his review (in German) at Niggemann, Martin Rieger points out that one of the critical lines is quite superficially handled:

1.b4 e5 2.Bb2 Bxb4!? 3.Bxe5

This is the quintessential Sokolsky variation. White gets a central pawn in return for his b-pawn but allows Black a certain lead in development.

3...Nf6 4.c4

It's possible for White to speed up development by delaying this move and giving priority to the development of his kingside. However, this (or 4.Nf3 followed by 5.c4) is White's most popular as it makes it likely that White will be able to exchange his c-pawn for Black's d-pawn, enlarging his numerical superiority in the centre.

4...0–0 5.Nf3 Nc6!?

From a purely positional point of view, this looks premature. Now Black must rely solely on his piece play to compensate for White's central dominance. Most theoretical manuals recommend 5...Re8 and White probably should avoid 6.e3 d5 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Be2 (8.Bb2 Nc6 may transpose to the mainline below) 8...Rxe5! 9.Nxe5 Qf6 when 10.f4? is met with 10...Nxe3 -+.

6.Bb2 Re8 7.e3 d5 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Be2

It's not easy for White to improve on this, a3 and ...Ba5 doesn't seem to change too much but there certainly are sub-variations where it could make a difference.

9...Rxe3!? (Dia)

This controversial sacrifice has mainly been tested in correspondence games. If nothing else it's a fascinating starting point for analysis.

10.fxe3 Nxe3 11.Qb3!?

This apparently is Conticello and Lapshun's (C&L) attempted refutation. If this proves OK for Black, there still is 11.Qc1?! and 11.Qa4 to deal with.

11...Nxg2+ 12.Kd1

There also is 12.Kf2!? but again that's only necessary to investigate if C&L's mainline fails to convince.

12...Be6 13.Qd3 (Dia)


It's easy to forget that exchanging queens is an options after sacrificing a rook. This is Rieger's suggested improvement over 13...Qe7 which is the only move I could find in my databases (and which scores rather poorly). It would be interesting to know whether it's an invention of his own or if it can be found in specialist literature. Lapshun - Sinn, World op (Philadelphia) 2003 continued 14.Nd4 Nf4 15.Nxc6 bxc6 16.Qd4 Bb3+ 17.axb3 Qxe2+ 18.Kc2 1–0.

14.Bxd3 Bg4 15.Be2

15.Be4 Re8 16.h3 Bh5 seems no better:

a) 17.Bd5 Rd8 18.Bxc6 bxc6 19.Kc1 Bxf3 –+.

b) 17.d3 Rxe4 18.dxe4 Bxf3+ 19.Kc1 Nf4 and Black's advantage is obvious.

15...Nf4 16.Rf1

Again it's hard to find a real improvement:

a) 16.Rg1 h5 17.Nd4 (17.Rf1) 17...Nxe2 18.Nxe2 Re8 19.Rg2 Bc5 20.Nbc3 Bf3 =+.

b) 16.Nd4 Nxe2 17.Nxe2 Re8 18.Re1 f5!? (18...Bc5) 19.a3 (19.h3 Bh5) 19...Bd6 20.Nbc3 (20.d4 f4 -/+) 20...Nd4 21.d3 Bxh2 and Black is probably winning.

16...Nxe2 17.Kxe2 Bc5 (Dia)

This position may be crucial for the evaluation of one of the Sokolsky mainlines.


Here Rieger gives 18.Bc3 Re8+ 19.Kd3 b5! and claims that Black is winning. The position is hard to evaluate but it seems White's king escapes and the position after 20.Kc2 b4 21.Bb2 Bxf3 22.Rxf3 Nd4+ 23.Bxd4 Bxd4 24.Nc3 bxc3 25.dxc3 Bc5 looks fairly equal.

18...Rd8+ 19.Kc4

White attacks the bishop. 19.Kc3 looks safer but then it will still take White several moves to co-ordinate his pieces and 19...b5 looks quite promising for Black.


Also 9...Bb6 20.d4 Be6+ 21.Kd3 Nb4+ 22.Kd2 looks playable. White's winning chances must be rather limited after e.g. 22...c5.

20.Kxc5 Rd5+ 21.Kc4 Re5+

21...b5+ 22.Kc3 Rc5+ 23.Kd3 Bc4+ 24.Ke3 Bxf1 is not too different from the main continuation.


22.Kd3 Bf5+ 23.Kc4 Be6+ 24.Kd3 Bf5+ is a perpetual as 25.Kc3? Rc5+ 26.Kb3 Bc2+ 27.Ka3 Ra5 is mate.

22...Rc5+ 23.Kd3 Bc4+ 24.Ke3 Bxf1

The position is unbalanced with Black having three pawns for a piece but chances look fairly equal.


These lines are very hard to analyze but I cannot see that 11.Qb3 Nxg2+ 12.Kd1 lead to a convincing advantage for White and both players must investigate 12.Kf2 and possibly White's 11th move alternatives.

I will return with a Sokolsky bibliography at some point. In the meantime I can only recommend Marek Trockenheim's online Sokolsky Encyclopaedia. There's a huge amount of information there and it's quite well organized in a way. Yet it's not really easy to utilize it. You will find some games with the above lines here.

Addendum June 3rd.

Steve Giddins' review for British Chess Magazine points out a strange slip:

'I noticed only one major editorial lapse, albeit an embarrassing one – games 75 and 76 are actually the same game, annotated quite differently, and with different conclusions as to Black’s losing move!'

I wonder if this is somehow connected to John Elburg's observation that parts of the book is directly translated from Sokolsky's book:

'included are also the best of the great Sokolsky himself all directly translated from Sokolsky’s well known b4 openings book from the 1960s.'

Could it be that this is a Sokolsky game annotated by Sokolsky as well as by Lapshun/Conticello? I suppose I will have to buy the book in order to find out.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Norwegian Variation in Norwegian

If you ever want to master the Norwegian variation in the Ruy Lopez you eventually will need to learn the Norwegian language (stop complaining - it's a beautiful language and a lot of chess players have already learned Russian!). In a few months a biography on Svein Johannessen, written by Øystein Brekke, will appear - hopefully in time for Svein's memorial tournament. One main ingredient in the book no doubt will be Svein's experiences with his pet variation.

As a foretaste, today there is an article about the Norwegian variation by GM Leif E Johannessen (my co-author for The Ruy Lopez: A Guide for Black) in the Norwegian internet newspaper Nettavisen. The games can be found below but I assume you will be able to extract the essence of Leif's annotations with the help of my word list below.

Norwegian Chess Dictionary
Konge = King
Dronning = Queen
Tårn = Rook
Løper = Bishop
Springer = Knight
Bonde = Pawn
Hvit = White
Sort/Svart = Black
Vinne = Win
Tape = Lose
Felt = Square
Linje = File
Rad = Rank
Sentrum = Centre
Fløy = Wing
Trekk = Move
Rokade = Castling
Slå = Capture
Matt = Mate
Sjakk = Chess/Check
Brett = Board
Motstander = Opponent
Kvalitet = Exchange
Fordel = Advantage
Motspill = Counter-play
Uklart = Unclear
Offiser = Piece
Åpen = Open
Lukket = Closed
Åpning = Opening
Midtspill = Middle game
Sluttspill = Endgame
Avbytte = Exchange
Løperpar = Bishops-pair
Angrep = Attack
Forsvar = Defence
(the list will be updated whenever I discover an essential omission)

The Games:
Feoktistov - Agdestein, Vadsosjakken 2002
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 b5 5.Bb3 Na5 6.0–0 d6 7.d4 f6 8.c3?!
8.dxe5 Nxb3 9.axb3 dxe5 10.Qe2 Ne7?! (10...Bb7 11.Rd1 Qc8) 11.Rd1 Bd7 12.Nc3 Ng6 13.Be3 c6 14.Ne1 Be7 15.Nd3 0-0 16.Bc5 Rf7 17.Qe3 Qc7 18.Bxe7 Rxe7 19.Qc5 Be8 20.Nd5 cxd5 21.Qxd5+ Kf8 22.Qxa8 +- Arakhamia Grant-Agdestein, Gibraltar Masters 2008.
8...Nxb3 9.Qxb3 c5 10.a4 Bd7 11.axb5 axb5 12.Rxa8 Qxa8 13.dxc5 Qxe4 14.Nbd2 Qc6 15.cxd6 Bxd6 16.Re1 Ne7 17.Ne4 Bc7 18.Qa3 Be6 19.Qc5 Bd5 20.Qxc6+ Bxc6 21.Nfd2 Kf7 22.Nc5 Ra8 23.Kf1 h6 24.Nd3 Nd5 25.Nb3 g5 26.h3 h5 27.Nbc5 g4 28.h4 Kg6 29.Ne6 Bd6 30.Nec5 Rd8 31.Kg1 Ne7 32.Ne6 Re8 33.Nec5 Rd8 34.Ne6 Rc8 35.b4 Nd5 36.Bd2 Ra8 37.Nec5 Nb6 38.Ne4 Bxe4 39.Rxe4 Nc4 40.Be1 f5 41.Re2 e4 42.Nc1 Be5 43.Nb3 Ra3 44.Nd4 Bxd4 45.cxd4 Kf7 46.Rc2 Ra1 47.Kf1 f4 48.Re2 f3 49.gxf3 gxf3 50.Re3 Kf6 51.Rc3 Nd2+ 52.Kg1 Rxe1+ 53.Kh2 Nc4 0–1

Senff- S.Johannessen, Norwegian Ch op (Oslo) 2006
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 b5 5.Bb3 Na5 6.0–0 d6 7.d4 Nxb3 8.axb3 f6 9.Nc3 Bb7 10.Nh4 Ne7 11.f4 exd4 12.Qxd4 d5 13.exd5 Nxd5 14.Kh1 Nxc3 15.Qxc3 Qd7 16.Be3 0–0–0 17.Nf3 Bd6 18.Qd2 Rhe8 19.Qf2 Qg4 20.c4 Bxf4 21.Bxf4 Qxf4 22.cxb5 axb5 23.Qc2 Qe4 24.Qc5 Rd5 25.Qa7 Rd2 26.h3 Qd5 27.Rac1 Ree2 28.Qa5 Qd6 29.Qxb5 Qg3 30.Qf5+ Kb8 31.Qg4 Rxg2 32.Qxg3 Rxg3 33.Rc3 Rxh3+ 34.Kg1 Rg3+ 35.Kh1 g5 0–1

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Transpo Trick

Andrew Soltis has written some of my favourite chess books. He has also written some chess openings books that he obviously has not put sufficient effort into.

His relatively recent "Transpo Tricks in Chess" (Batsford 2007) seems to fall in between these two main groups of Soltis books. It's a kind of 'Chess Openings Transpositions Encyclopaedia' but yet a surprisingly easy read. As one had to expect, its coverage of different openings is a bit uneven but generally it's quite good. Soltis doesn't cite his sources extensively and is often a bit brief. Consequently you sometimes have to wonder how trustworthy his evaluations and suggestions are. There is however little doubt that he knows a great deal about the book's subject. Soltis was a strong player and is good at conveying his knowledge to the reader.

I had a check of the London System and the Dutch Stonewall and was not particularly impressed but then there was nothing obviously wrong either. His coverage of the Closed Ruy Lopez was much more interesting. His explanations of the old 8...Na5 variation (the Proto-Chigorin) are very thought provoking. I must make a closer study of that variation when I can find the time and then Soltis will be among my main sources (together with Larsen's and Radulsky's games).

However, what really made me raise my eyebrows was his (surprisingly brief) comments on the Zaitsev variation. He writes that 'Zaitsev's original move order [9...Re8 S.J.] is inexact if Black wants to avoid a draw [9...Re8 10.Ng5 Rf8 11.Nf3 S.J.] as well as the complications of 9...Re8 10.a4 Na5 11.Ba2. More precise is 9...Bb7! first and then 10 d4 Re8, transposing.'

(Position after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0–0 9.h3, when Black can head for the Zaitsev with 9...Re8 or 9...Bb7)

In this brief passage there are two quite remarkable claims without much supporting analysis or explanations:

1) Soltis indicates that it's easier for Black to avoid the draw after 9...Bb7 10.d4 Re8 11.Ng5 Rf8 12.Nf3 than after 9...Re8 10.Ng5 Rf8 11.Nf3.

2) Black may want to avoid the complications after 9...Re8 10.a4 Na5 11.Ba2.

The first statement is more than adequately covered in 'The Ruy Lopez: A Guide for Black' as Flear indicates something similar in his 'Ruy Lopez Main Line'. We conclude that exactly the opposite is true: the move-order 9...Re8 gives Black some extra opportunities to avoid a draw by repetition. I so far have no reason to doubt this conclusion.

Statement number two is more worrying: In our Ruy Lopez book we do not discuss 10.a4!? as a possible reply to 9...Re8 at all. Did we miss something very basic or critical in our research?

A quick check with my database was enough to calm me: There is only one high-level game with 9...Re8 10.a4 - Kholmov-Hennings, Chigorin Memorial 1973 (which is actually a couple of years before Igor Zaitzev developed his system!). The game continued 10...Bb7 and although White won the game, Black appeared to have a fully playable position after 20 moves. The game did nothing to reduce the interest in 9...Re8 and 10.a4 has had no other GM outings. I could find no examples continuing 10...Na5 in my database.

A check with Rybka and Fritz confirmed that we hadn't missed anything very basic. 10.a4 starts up around 6th place on their list of candidate moves but slowly climbs upwards. After a couple of minutes it seems to stabilize somewhere around 2nd to 4th place with an evaluation very close to '0.00'.

This of course doesn't exclude the possibility that 9...Re8 10.a4 Na5 11.Ba2 is an important variation for the understanding of the Zaitsev variation. If there ever is an update of our Zaitsev book, it will certainly be mentioned. However, I suspect it will concentrate on the natural 10...Bb7 rather than on 10...Na5.

Returning to Soltis' book: I believe my experience could well be typical: As a grand overview over move-order tricks in the opening it's about as good as you could possibly wish. However, if you have researched a subject yourself, you will probably find Soltis book a bit superficial or even disappointing. However, there is also a realistic chance that you could also stumble over something really thought-provoking.