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.


Anonymous said...

If you read the chess forum discussion, skip to the last post, unless you are really interested in a re-incarnation flame war !
The comments on this book/opening vs Timothy Taylor's Bird book are interesting.
I have the latter as I wanted to see if Bird's really was similar to a Reversed Dutch, and I find it quite interesting.
Maybe a view on the Bird's ( as Dutch ) sometime, Sverre ?

Sverre Johnsen said...

I must agree regarding the ChessPub discussion and added a remark in the main entry.

The Bird/Dutch relationship is quite interesting and it's very likely that I some day will write a piece on it. For the moment I am picking 'easy subjects' for this blog as I am quite busy with my Stonewall manuscript and some other projects.

Philosophically I like the Dutch better than the Bird for two reasons:
1) After 1.d4 Black can claim that White has weakened the e4 square.
(however, if White is flexible his extra move in the Bird should at least compensate for that missing target).
2) White should normally be fighting for a stable advantage while Black should be happy to reach a complicated position.