Saturday, 12 April 2014

Chess Reviews: 237

The Diamond Dutch
By GM Viktor Moskalenko
272 pages
New in Chess
I'm always eager to get stuck into a Viktor Moskalenko book. I enjoyed his volumes on the French Defence, Pirc and his highly original Revolutionize Your Chess. I was pleased to see the subject of his new book was none other than the tricky and intense Dutch Defence (1 d4 f5). I have plenty of experience with both colours and I was keen to see what new wrinkles and novelties Moskalenko had to offer.

I agree with the author's rallying cry:

''The Dutch Defence has become a new gorgeous diamond in the treasure box of modern chess openings - full of resources and surprising ideas.''

This is not a repertoire book; rather, it is a book full of ideas for both White and Black. The material is split naturally into three chapters:

The Anti-Dutch
The Stonewall Dutch and the Classical Dutch
The Leningrad Dutch

Seven symbols crop up throughout the book at important moments, highlighting when the reader is encountering a ''trick'', ''puzzle'', ''weapon'', ''plan'', ''statistic'', ''workshop'' and things to ''keep in mind.'' It all aids the learning process, as does the book's beautiful layout (enhanced by lots of diagrams, a page count allowing the material to breathe, photos of many of the featured players).

Anyone replying to 1 d4 with 1 ...f5 absolutely must study anti-Dutch systems to avoid being simply wiped out. The point is that Black's king is already feeling a little exposed after the f-pawn's lunge and he would like a few moves of stable development before the action starts. White can try a large number of moves designed to immediately rattle the gates of the enemy king: 2 Nf3, 2 Nc3, 2 Bg5, 2 e4, 2 d3, 2 Bf4, 2 h3, 2 Nh3, 2 g4 and even 2 Qd3 all requiring careful attention. Some of them look ridiculous but they can all bite the unwary. Moskalenko provides plenty of ideas in this chapter, even looking into the rarer options, such as 1 d4 f5 2 Bg5 h6 3 Bh4 g5 4 e4 Rh7, which led to a famous defeat in Gormally vs. Williams, but is by no means theoretically exhausted. 5 Qh5+ Rf7 6 Bxg5!? hxg5 7 Nf3 is one suggested ''weapon'' which may appeal to players with the white pieces. The dual threats of 7 Nxg5 and 7 Ne5 are difficult to meet.

The mainlines of the Stonewall, Classical and Leningrad Dutch all receive excellent coverage. It's important to see Moskalenko practising what he preaches; many of the illustrative games are his, mostly with black but he displays some powerful play as White too.

As Black, he nails his colours to the mast. ''The Stonewall is my favourite defence against 1. d4.'' (He prefers to start with 1 ...e6, which of course suits an expert on the French Defence and skips a lot of the annoying anti-Dutch options). The author runs through a suggested repertoire and presents his best Stonewall games, which are full of instructive and memorable moments.

A. Petrosian vs. V. Moskalenko
Black activated the ''bad'' Stonewall bishop with 20 ...e5!! 21 dxe5 d4! and won on move 47.

Indeed, anyone put off the Stonewall by the prospect of suffering a completely inactive bishop should find plenty of food for thought in this book.

J. Gonzalez Rodriguez vs.V. Moskalenko
Readers may like to find the winning move for themselves here...

With a plethora of new ideas, sparkling games and delivered in very enthusiastic style, The Diamond Dutch is a significant addition to the literature on 1 d4 f5. It is entirely accessible to players from ''improving club player'' standard upwards.

Viktor Moskalenko is one of my favourite authors and I can happily recommend his latest book, which keeps up the very high standards of his previous volumes.

Chess Reviews: 236

A Cutting-Edge Gambit 
against the Queen's Indian
By GM Imre Hera and FM Ufuk Tuncer
174 pages
New in Chess
Yesterday, we looked at an interesting book for 1 e4 players in need of an original way of meeting the Caro-Kann Defence. Today's book is for ''left-handed players'' (1 d4!) who would like to develop a serious initiative against the Queen's Indian Defence. Hardly an easy task and the initiative comes at the price of a pawn sacrifice.

The line starts 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 b6 4 g3 Ba6 5 Qc2 c5 and now 6 d5! is the book's recommendation.

This can lead to very complicated play, a world away from the normal Queen's Indian scenarios. So much so that GM Shirov is happy to contribute a foreword, praising the scope for ''fascinating chess, great complexity, chances to create fantastic attacking possibilities.''

The first part of the book deals with Black's ways of declining the pawn sacrifice, none of which seem to rob from White the lion's share of the fun. So Black may as well take the plunge and accept the gambit with 6 ...exd5 7 cxd5 Bb7 8 Bg2...

...and now to choose between the two main moves, 8 ...Bxd5 and 8 ...Nxd5. White is hoping to see the former option appear on the board. Formerly popular, 8 ...Bxd5 is now dubious, according to the authors. 9 Nc3 offers ''a durable initiative'' as none of the bishop moves offer equality. The pick of the bunch - 9 ...Bc6 - leaves White very well placed after 10 e4.

So that just leaves 8 ...Nxd5 and over half of the book is devoted to coverage of this important move. Play usually continues 9 0-0 Be7 10 Rd1 and now 10 ...Qc8 and 10 ...Nc6 are both placed under the analytical microscope, with the latter being presented as the main line of the whole variation. It gives rise to some brain-twisting complications and the authors admit 10 ...Nc6 ''caused a lot of difficulties for us.''

Fast forward a few moves (you'll have to buy the book to follow the trail) and we reach this complex position, which proved a tough nut for the authors to try and crack.

Readers can have fun analysing the complications arising after the best move, 18 Ne5!

If strong tournament players find the above snippets appealing, and they are prepared to work very hard with the material given in the book, then A Cutting-Edge Gambit against the Queen's Indian could make a valuable addition to a 1 d4 armoury. Inexperienced players will be overwhelmed by the depth of analysis, especially when confronted with improvements on move 18.

I didn't know anything at all about the 6 d5 gambit before I studied this book. It opened my eyes to dynamic way of injecting life into one of the most solid of all defences to 1 d4. Even the World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, has played this way!

Friday, 11 April 2014

Chess Reviews: 235

New in Chess have just released three new opening books. All are interesting and we will give each one its own review column.

First up is a volume which may be of interest to ''right-handed players'' (1 e4!) as they seek to spice things up against one of the toughest defencive nuts to crack.
The Extreme Caro-Kann 
Attacking Black with 3. f3
By GM Alexey Bezgodov
272 pages
New in Chess
1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 f3 has not proved a particularly popular way to play against the solid Caro-Kann Defence. Nevertheless, as the author points out, the move has been played successfully by ''former greats'' Maroczy and Smyslov, plus ''modern world-class players like Vassily Ivanchuk, Alexander Morozevich and Judit Polgar.''

What is the point of the modest pawn move, 3 f3? According to the blurb, it ''considerably complicates life for Caro-Kann players, as it makes Black's main problem bigger: the development of his bishop on c8.'' True enough, the squares f5 and g4 look unlikely to be available for the bishop for some time to come.

GM Bezgodov considers all of the normal black replies, with chapters devoted to 3 ...g6, 3 ...e6, 3 ...Qb6, 3 ...e5 and 3 ...dxe4 4 fxe4 e5. There's also a chapter on the rare continuations 3 ...f5, 3 ...h5, 3 ...c5, 3 ....Na6, 3 ...Qc7, 3 ...Nf6, 3 ...Nd7, 3 ...b6 and 3 ...a6, so it's clear to see that the author has taken his task very seriously and left no stone unturned.

Anyone thinking of playing 3 f3 probably shouldn't lose too much sleep over the minor black alternatives 9although it's great to see them receive space and time in the book), but should instead save their main study time for the heavyweights - namely, 3 ...e6 and 3 ...dxe4 4 fxe4 e5. These responses have both been recommended elsewhere as antidotes to 3 f3 and are therefore almost certainly to me met over the board, so it would make sense to focus attention there.

3 ...e6 is called The Semi-French Variation in this book. The author admits:  ''This chapter was the hardest one for me, in truth. The fact is that at this moment, the theory of this particular variation is not yet established. Even many top players treat the positions after 3 ...e6 more on the basis of experiment and luck than solid preparation, even in our scientific times!''

Two solutions are offered: 4 Nc3 and the gambit-style 4 Be3. The latter is somewhat speculative but would suit players of a certain style. The former ''may be stronger'' but unfortunately players with the white pieces will have to look elsewhere for coverage of 4 ...Nf6, after which ''White has to play 5 e5 Nfd7 6 f4 c5 7 Nf3, transposing into a popular Steinitz Variation of the French Defence'' as it's not analysed in this book. I know there's only space for so much analysis, but it seems to me that there's a big chance of ending up going down that exact line. If I had the black pieces, I would make sure that's what would happen, partly because it's not covered here. White is really hoping for 4 ...Bb4, when 5 a3 and 5 Bf4 are given as interesting tries. After 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 dxe4 7 Qe2, White is happy to turn the opening into a real gambit. 7 ...exf3 8 Nxf3 Nf6 White has the unexpected try 9 Qe3!, which ''makes way for the light-squared bishop.''

There are similarities here to various French Winawer lines. The illustrative games are crushing for White but there are plenty of new avenues for both players to explore.

3 ...dxe4 4 fxe4 e5 is a tricky line too, especially with the continuation 5 Nf3 Be6 being a well-known route for booked-up Black players. Indeed, Black's light-squared bishop doesn't have much trouble finding a good square in this variation (5 ...Bg4 is good too) so logically it must be a very tempting option for Black.
Three options are given, namely: 6 c3 (''traditional''); 6 Nc3 (''relatively new'') and 6 dxe5 (''greedy''). This chapter is vitally important for prospective fans of 3 f3 but it's fair to say that a lot of the lines need further tests.

The book concludes with a look at ''Three Important New Games'' and a host of useful exercises, to test the reader's understanding of the material. The book's target audience would appear to be experienced club players.

The material nicely presented, with lively prose explanations and welcome chapter summaries. As usual for New in Chess books, there are good photos of some of the featured players, including a very young Smyslov (page 74) that I found interesting to compare with the old Smyslov (depicted on page 8).

There's plenty of fresh material and inspirational games in The Extreme Caro-Kann. Unprepared opponents who run into 3 f3 will struggle to get the sort of game they are hoping for and could well end up on the wrong end of a crushing miniature. However, if Black knows his stuff or has experience of the Steinitz Variation of the French Defence then the boot may end up on the other foot. This is undoubtedly the best book on 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 f3 but readers must be prepared to check the lines carefully before entering into battle.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Chess Reviews: 234

ChessBase Magazine 159
The latest issue of ChessBase Magazine offers the usual blend of top tournament coverage, instructional material and opening surveys.

The tournaments at Zurich and Wijk aan Zee featured numerous top players. Indeed, the World Champion himself - Magnus Carlsen - made a rare post-title winning appearance at Zurich. He won the tournament (a double round-robin, half classical limit and half blitz) but should definitely have lost to Nakamura in the first cycle. Danny King presents excellent video coverage of the 'game of the round' for the two aforementioned tournaments and his analysis of the key games is typically insightful.

Nakamura vs. Carlsen
Nakamura, in time-trouble, played 37 d6? here but lost after 37 ...Nxd6 38 Nxd6 Rd8 39 Nc4? (39 Nc8! is better) and after 39 ...Qxe4 White's king is in too much trouble (0-1, 62). Danny analyses the far superior alternative 37 Qf1! attacking the stray knight and leading to some beautiful lines after 37 ...b5 38 Rxh7!! when it is relatively simple to see what happens after either 38 ...Kxh7 or 38 ...Qxh7.

It's good to spend time playing through expert analysis of top games. 'Live' commentary on the Internet is all very well, but a considered approach reveals far more secrets and creates a more lasting impression.

Incidentally, Aronian was on great form at Zurich (sharing second with Caruana) and Wijk aan Zee (clear first, by a remarkable 1.5 point margin) and consequently went into the subsequent Candidates tournament as the favourite in the eyes of many chess fans. Yet somehow his form deserted him. No doubt we will get the full story on CBM 160.

The eye-catching performance in the second tier at Wijk aan Zee was that of the popular veteran and former title challenger Jan Timman. He eventually shared second place in the tournament after many adventures. Indeed, he could have added to his impressive score if he had taken all of his chances.

Timman vs. Jobava
Stohl's excellent annotations to this key game show how Timman could have clinched a well-earned victory here. White played 74 g5? ''White was winning for more than 20 moves, with many different options to clinch his victory. However, the text move is a serious error, which will cost him half a point.'' He gives  74 Rh6 Bf4 75 Rhg6 a5 76 g5 and 74 Kf3 a5 75 Rh6 a4 76 g5 a3 77 Ra7 a2 78 Rxa2 Rxh7 79 Ra6 as both winning for White. In the game, Jobava played 74 ...Nd5 and drew after 80 moves.

Of the opening surveys, the two I enjoyed most were Moskalenko's on the Budapest Gambit (he even shows a key improvement on Spassky vs. Illescas (Linares, 1990) that seems to turn the evaluation on its head) and Marin on an underrated variation of the French Winawer (4 e5 b6). Black may have to put up with some funny looks after both 5 a3 Bf8 and 5 Qg4 Bf8, but Marin weighs up the pros and cons - highlighting the deficiencies of the two White tries - before providing a strong case for the Black side of the board. Games by Korchnoi and Petrosian are used as model examples of Winawer power.

For further details regarding CBM 159, please head for the relevant ChessBase product page.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Marcus Malone: Stand or Fall

Stand Or Fall
Marcus Malone
''If you're feelin' low down and dirty, there ain't nothin' better than a shot of rhythm and blues...''

So sings Marcus Malone on the opening track of Stand Or Fall, his sixth album. This pertinent observation sets the scene for all that follows as he takes the listener on a journey through the spectrum of the blues, from up-tempo rockers to slower, bluesy ballads.

Hailing from Detroit, Michigan bluesman Malone started his musical career in the world of heavy metal, with his popular Marcus album. Now based in the UK, he is currently working the European blues circuit, touring Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Track List

Living The Blues
Stand Or Fall
Ain't No Tellin'
It's Gonna Take Time
Detroit City Blues
Slow Down
Jealous Kind
One Woman Man
Can't Stop Lovin' You
Under Pressure
Living The Blues (feat. Julian Burdock)
It's Gonna Take Time (extended version)

All of the tracks - which were, incidentally, all either written or co-written by the talented Marcus - feature notable musicianship, with the scorching guitar solos and impressive harmonica leading the line more often than not. Highlights include the heartbreak ballad It's Gonna Take Time and the really bluesy Slow Down.

Stand Or Fall will be released on Monday 21 April. Blues fans should definitely prepare to purchase.

Follow the latest news and tour dates over at the official Marcus Malone website.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Goldfrapp At The Sage

The Sage, Gateshead
The Sage was packed to the rafters for Goldfrapp and the show certainly lived up to expectations.

The opening segment of David Bowie's narration of Peter and the Wolf preceded Goldfrapp's appearance. Having introduced the instruments and characters, Bowie said: ''Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin...'' and at that moment the band took to the stage, closely followed by Alison Goldfrapp.
As soon as the opening number, Jo, started up, it was clear we were in for a very special evening. The lighting was very effective, picking out the band members one by one as the music continued to build. Jo is a particularly good opener, with the insistent piano riff weaving itself into the bass line and creating a solid and consistent platform for the more ethereal aspects of the song.

Seven out of the 10 songs on their latest album - the superb Tales of Us - formed the backbone of the set list, but old favourites were not neglected. The performance built up strongly towards the finale and there were plenty of people dancing throughout Number 1, Ride a White Horse and a particularly powerful Train.
The four-song encore continued the run of crowd-pleasing hits, displaying Goldfrapp's mastery of several genres, from electronica, through other-worldly ballads to glam rock.

Set List

Yellow Halo
Little Bird
You Never Know
Number 1
Ride a White Horse


Lovely Head
Strict Machine

This will undoubtedly prove to be one of the shows of 2014.

Follow the Goldfrapp news and tour dates over at their official website.

Monday, 7 April 2014


Great show at The Sage tonight.

Full review to follow....