Sunday, August 16, 2009

Stonewall Omissions II

While the more or less 'professional' reviewers have all been very kind to 'Win with the Stonewall Dutch', there have been some critical remarks by what may possibly be called 'Dutch enthusiasts'. I will have a look at one of these reviews which can be found at Chess Publishing Forum.

In the thread 'New Book - Win with the Stonewall Dutch' a poster called 'Ametanoitos' in post #18 starts a debate. I will not go into analytical details as I think the analysis provided mostly speaks for itself. I will rather comment on his points from an author's viewpoint.

  • Ametanoitos doesn't trust our recommendation 1.d4 e6 2.Nf3 f5 3.d5 Bb4+ 4.c3 Bd6 because in his notebook he some years ago wrote 'Do not trust the ...Bd6 idea'. He doesn't remember his exact analysis but found that following some suggestions that were recommended as leading to equality (in some other books) didn't quite equalize against natural moves. So he instead decided to go for 3...d6.

Well, a book cannot reasonably be expected to agree with every reader's preferences. 3...Bb4+ has been by recommended by various books and played repeatedly by Dutch specialists Gleizerov, Ulibin and Simons so it doesn't seem likely it's that bad.

  • On page 168 we say that 1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bg5 Be7 4.h4 'looks unsound and is likely to backfire after 4...Nf6.' Ametanoitos claims that 'this is not as bad as they say' and gives some examples demonstrating that the line can be quite dangerous but none of them with our recommendation 5.Nc3 Ne4.
Firstly I must say that our comment wasn't meant to be a total condemnation of the line. In my vocabulary there is a difference between 'looks' and 'is'. I would be surprised if this line offers White an advantage against sensible play but I have been surprised before. More importantly I again fail to see how this can be a weakness of the book. I will admit that we in addition to 6.Nxe4 might well have added the game Gohlil-Keitlinghaus, 2nd Bundesliga 2002 which continued 6.Qd3 d5 7.Qe3. However, there is always a matter of space and the line doesn't look frightening. I honestly think you should be able to reach a playable position against such a line without any concrete preparation.

Then Ametanoitos moves on to a main variation: 1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 e6 4.Bg2 d5 5.0–0 Bd6 6.c4 c6 7.Qc2!?:

  • Firstly he is not satisfied with our 'recommendation' 7...Nbd7, offering the game Taimanov- Lisitsin, Leningrad 1949 which continued 8.cxd5 cxd5 9.Nc3 a6 10.Bf4 Bxf4 11.gxf4 0–0 12.Na4 with a quite clear advantage to White.
Well, I must agree that the position after 12.Na4 is not pleasant for Black and that the reader deserves guidance. It's a bit strange that we overlooked this game even if it's a bit old. Most likely we missed it because the game begun 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c6 4.Qc2 Nd7 5.g3 Bd6 6.Bg2 f5 7.0–0 Ngf6 thus only merging with our repertoire in the last minute. Another possibility is that we sorted the games according to rating and forgot to check for 'pre-Elo' games - that happens from time to time.

Then it must be pointed out that 7...Nbd7 isn't strictly a 'recommendation'. Rather we point out that this is how Black could respond if he prefers to leave his king in the centre against Bf4 lines (which White may still enter). With this basic premise in mind I will suggest that 11...b5!? is a very natural try for Black. Actually, after allowing Rybka chew on the position until it reaches 18 plys' depth it has 11...b5 on top ahead of 11...0-0 with the evaluation '= (0.23)'. That may not be ideal for Black but it's the kind of positions you sometimes have to be content with playing Black. Maybe I in a future entry will elaborate on the value (or lack of so) of these Rybka or Fritz evaluations.

  • Next Ametanoitos is unhappy that we after our recommendation 7...0-0 doesn't mention Cox' suggestion in 'Starting Out: 1.d4', 8.Ne5!?.

I Plead Guilty!

This line should have been covered. I don't really know how we missed it but must assume I got too carried away mapping possible transpositions between 7.Qc2, 7.Nc3 and 7.Bg5 and missed some independent lines.

As can be seen from our bibliography, Cox' book wasn't among our sources. My chess library is quite extensive (3/4 of it has been deported to my parents' home for space reasons) but it doesn't contain that book and I didn't really consider buying it for the sake of writing this Dutch book. That may have been a mistake as I have been informed that the book is quite good. Nevertheless, this is not a sufficient explanation as there have been 42 games played, some of them with strong white players and with well known Stonewall experts on Black's side (Vaisser among others).

That being said, I am not really impressed by the move's pure chess qualities. In this position Rybka is greatly helped by its inability to understand the concept of 'consistency' and happily suggest 8...c5! (Dia) with what seems like instant equality.

As you can see for yourself this is just the start of the debate on the forum. I will follow up with another entry or two but not really enter the analytical discussion.


Anonymous said...

Have you decided what opening will be the subject of your next chess book? Also, have you considered writing a chess book on something other than the opening, for example a tactics or endgame book?

Sverre Johnsen said...

I am toying with different ideas but have not settled for anything yet.
For the rest of 2009 I will be busy with various small projects. One of them is a booklet with 200 gamelike mating problems created by a friend. My task will be to add some prose in order to place the tasks in a context and hopefully increase the instructional value. The manuscript will first be completed in Norwegian but after that it may well be translated into English if we can find a publisher that is interested.
I am also updating a booklet I wrote in 1996 called 'Vinn med 1.e4'. As you may guess that translates to 'Win with 1.e4'. However, it's very different from my recent 'Win with the...' books so in case it's translated for the English market the title will be something different - possibly 'Play 1.e4'.
I am also preparing a few other manuscripts but they are in a very early stage and may never materialize into completed books.

Anonymous said...

I would not call it an "omission" in the same way as some of the other examples that you discuss, but is there anything beyond what is covered in your text to derail White's preparation in the Staunton Gambit? The book says not one word about declining the gambit, not even by way of explaining why in your view declining is bad. Is declining, like in Black's win in Elson over Emanuel Lasker in 1892, really any worse than the French defence? Some players as white only play the gambit when facing the Dutch and will know their pet lines, in an arena where theory is not well developed, better than White. The book recognizes this risk and simply advises black to(1) develop sensibly and (2) be careful, which is all well and good. I trust, however, that you can appreciate that one might well hope for more than this general advice from a repertoire book. Even if Black accepts the gambit pawn, does black have any offbeat but ok continuations to better meet a booked up opponent? Any ideas for home exploration of alternatives would be appreciated.

Sverre Johnsen said...

I am a little busy now and will return to your question later. For now I will only reply to your question of whether Black after 1.d4 f5 2.e4 can decline White's offer with another move than 2...fxe4.

I am afraid that in short the answer is no. White's second move attacks Black's pawn on f5 so it seems that only 2...e6 and 2...d6 are possible alternatives. Almost any strong player will tell you that these moves (and in particular 2...e6) instinctively look wrong. However, they are not blunders and proving analytically that they are weak is not at all easy.

One way to look at it is to twist the argument a little and say: If 2...e6 or 2...d6 really were good moves, it would almost be too good to be true because then you would simultanously have a good answer to 1.e4.

Unfortunately 1.e4 e6 2.d4 f5?! has no strong proponents that I know of (I will check the databases later) while all attempts to prove the Balough defence (1.e4 d6 2.d4 f5?!) playable have to my best knowledge failed.

Hope this helps a little. I will return to other alternatives later.

Sverre Johnsen said...

My apologies for forgetting to follow up on this subject.

First: If you are not convinced that the Balough defence (1.e4 d6 2.d4 f5 or 1.d4 f5 2.e4 d6) is unsound, you should have a look at this source: It's a quite objective study by a player who has tried hard to make it work. If this is not sufficient, check the analysis with your favorite chess engine and test it in your own games. I wouldn't expect the line to be fully rehabilitated but given the right circumstances it may score well in practical play.

The main advice given in our book for those who fear/dislike White's 2nd move alternatives after 1.d4 f5 is to check the alternative move-orders 1.d4 e6 (which allows 2.e4 and the French) or 1...d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 e6 followed by 4...f5 after 4.e3, 4.g3 and possibly 4.Qc2 (but not after 4.Nc3, when 4...f5 5.Bf4! is very uncomfortable for Black.

Finally there is one more option for Black to which I will soon return. It's not necessarily better or safer but it avoids the main lines of the Staunton Gambit.

Sverre Johnsen said...

Another delayed follow-up to the 'Declined Staunton' question: I am not going to add much about the line 1.d4 f5 2.e4 e6?! as it doesn't appeal to me. As for the Balough Defence it can be argued that if you like this line, it would a much more important defence against 1.e4 as you can reach it via the 1.e4 e6 2.d4 f5 move-order. However, I was surprised to see that the opening has a name: 'the Kingston Defence'. Some information can be found in Wikipedia: My advise is to stay away.

More information on declining the Staunton is to follow in due time.