Thursday, June 3, 2010

Chess Cafe Reviews the Killer Repertoire

In his influential monthly chess book column - Checkpoint, Carsten Hansen yesterday reviewed (among others) "A Killer Chess Opening Repertoire" under the heading 'Happy Days for Queen's Pawn Enthusiasts'. Generally his review is favourable and his conclusion is:
'However, the meat of the book is on the Colle and Colle-related set-ups, and in those chapters the book really proves its worth. Overall, it is an easily approachable book; the repertoire is by and large not too difficult to follow, even if some of the surprise value has been eliminated by the original book being on the market for more than ten years. In many ways, this present work is a considerable upgrade over the original, and, even by today's high standards for opening books, it is a very good book. It can be enjoyed by players rated up to around 2000.'

He awards the book with three stars (out of a maximum of four). I obviously would have liked one more star but cannot really complain. According to the Rating Chart three stars is 'good' and four stars 'excellent'. So when Hansen says it is 'very good' I will assume the extra star was within shooting range.

I don't really agree that the chapters on the Colle (Zukertort) are the core of the book. As I see it, the book's starting point is the Barry Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bf4). With this as a basis it adds other low-theory systems - including some Colle related systems - in order to supply the reader with a complete 1.d4 repertoire. However, this is mainly a question of perspectives and in support of Hansen's view it must be admitted that Colle-related systems take up at least 68 of the book's 192 pages.

I note with interest that Hansen recommends the book for players up to 2000. In his 'Introduction to the First Edition' from 1998, Summerscale writes: 'This book is aimed primarily at club-level players with a playing strength of up to about 2200 Elo (or 200 BCF)'. I briefly considered commenting upon this when writing my 'Updater's Notes' as I had a feeling that today's 2200 players generally prepare a bit deeper than they did a decade ago. When I after all decided not to comment on Summerscale's original estimate, it was because I felt that in general the added material compensated for theory's development.

What I really don't understand is this remark:
'There are even some bizarre recommendations towards the end of the book, such as how White is to meet 1 d4 d6, where the book recommends 2 e4, which allows Black to take the game to a Pirc or Modern Defense or even the Philidor after 2..Nf6 3 Nc3 e5 4 Nf3. I can't see too many club players, who employ the Colle as white, also going for 2 e4, which changes the entire nature of the game.'

This is a bit mysterious as 2.e4 clearly isn't a bizarre move in itself. It leads to a positions of a different nature than the Colle but so do many other of the books proposed lines. Hansen's point must be that allowing a transposition to the Pirc, Modern and Philidor doesn't fit well with the rest of the book's proposed repertoire. This criticism would make sense if there wasn't a full chapter in the book on the 150-Attack against the Pirc and Modern.

Summerscale's original work didn't mention 1...d6, and I must admit that I too originally missed this gap in the repertoire. So when Gambit's editorial staff pointed this out and suggested  2.d4 and a condensed repertoire to cover the non-Pirc lines, I was happy to accept their suggestion. The only sensible alternative seemed to be 2.Nf3, when 2...Bg4!? would require some analysis as well as some prose discussing the strategic points of Black's ...Bxf3 option. In addition there also was 2...f5!? which didn't quite fit into the proposed repertoire against the Dutch.
So in my opinion the only bizarre aspect of 1.d4 d6 2.e4 is the book's attempt to offer a repertoire against the Czech and the New Philidor in half a column. This clearly isn't sufficient to be well prepared in the professional sense of the word. But for the sub-2200 readers it doesn't seem too bad. 1...d6 is after all only Black's 6th most popular move and will normally lead to the Pirc. The Czech (3...c6) seems to be out of fashion (I think there are theoretical problems in the 4.f4 lines) and not that hard to face unprepared anyway. That leaves the Philidor which is an interesting opening where Black has good prospects to outplay a weaker player in the middlegame. However, it's mainly Black that has to be careful in order to survive the first 15 moves.

When re-reading the text on Black's non-Pirc options I notice one unfortunate omission. After 1.d4 d6 2.e4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3, Black may try the Antoshin variation 4...exd4 5.Nxd4 Be7, which isn't mentioned at all. However, this too is a very quiet option where White scores well above average, so if a reader should happen to meet it and lose the game, I would expect him to blame his own middlegame play rather than the book.


Edwin said...

I think that professional players like Hansen and other, overestimate the theoretical knowledge of players between 2000 and 2200

Åsmund said...

I thought 5 stars was maximum at chesscafe?

Sverre Johnsen said...


I am not so sure. These days preparing is relatively easy, and quite a few players in that range will spend quite a lot time with Chessbase comparing repertoires, guessing which positions may appear and then prepare quite deeply with Rybka and a database. Others will just use the databases to identify opening lines they reasonably can hope their opponent will be unprepared for.

Sverre Johnsen said...


ChessCafe has a 'Rating Chart' on the left hand side of their Checkpoint column with this scale:

* Poor
** Useful
*** Good
**** Excellent

Anonymous said...

Hi Sverre,

great update of a book that shaped may repertoire for years. Playing the white side of the pirc is absolutely logical considering the barry attack as a main weapon. One thing is missing - as in the first edition: an antidote to a setup with Nf6, e6, b6, Bb7, d5 and Be7 or Bd6 (without c5, most often followed by Ne4 and f5): this kind of setup is often played at club level and was even recomenden in some dvoretsky/yussupov book sincerely Gregor

Sverre Johnsen said...

Dear Gregor,


It seems you are right. A Colle Zukertort where Black doesn't play ...c5 isn't covered. It doesn't seem very critical from a theoretical point of view but I am sure you are right that it occurs regularly at club level, so it should have been mentioned. Do you have any idea in which Dworetsky/ Jussupow book it was recommended?

Anyway, the Killer Repertoire doesn't really claim to cover everything. For instance you will find that it's extremely light on the Schlechter Slav (with ...c6 and ...g6) and some other perfectly sensible lines for Black where Summerscale (and I) assume that White will do fine by common sense development.

Dreamtrequiem said...

Hello. I was curious about this book as an alternate repertoire to the Mainlines and i was quite enthusiastic and also quite pleased with the result when i purchased the book. However, the problem(s) i discovered (and others have as well esp. in chesspublishing) is your recommendation of 1.d4 d6 2.e4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.Bc4 Be7 6.0-0 0-0 7.a4 c6 8.Re1. Now, this is a relatively important option to cover (in my opinion) and i don't think that you have covered it sufficiently. In fact, in Barsky's book in May 2010 (even though it has the advantage of being published after your book) there would definetely be far more coverage for the variation that you recommend.
I also understand that the book is 1. A repertoire for the philidors defence, and therefore the author must cover White's alternatives and hence inherently there will be more coverage and;
2. Your book is not on the philidors defence since it is primarily a 1.d4 not 1.e4 book in which the philidor normally falls under.
However, i still think that the coverage on this opening is still limited. Even 1 page or 2 of extra ideas/analysis would be sufficient in my view (perhaps an update!?).
I also wonder whether you had also included the book 'Dangerous Weapons the Pirc and Modern' in your analysis especially Chapter 2 'Castling into the 150 attack' as you did not indicate (at least directly) in your sources consulted.
Anyway i was overall quite happy for the most part, and i also noticed some omission left out that you mentioned yourself, but i'm not really too worried about them.
Thankyou for your time.