An unexamined life is not worth living.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Book review: Modern Chess Openings by Nick de Firmian

In the age of computers being used for nearly all opening preparation, are opening books, especially opening encyclopedias, still useful? In the end - all they contain is just moves that can be found in databases anyway? I think it is still useful to have one book that gives a high level picture of all major openings, shows what the main lines are, and can help to do a sanity check to make sure I do not have any major gaps in my repertoire.

So I picked up "Modern Chess Openings - 15" by Nick de Firmian in the library with great excitement but was quite disappointed. Everything that the NCO (Nunn's Chess Openings) has done brilliantly - seems to have gone wrong in this volume:

- Layout - using columns versus rows in the tables is very unusual, since virtually all other known Opening Encyclopedias use rows, this one is very hard to read. Tables also don't have evaluations in the end of each line, so you have to find a footnote to learn who is better in the end.

- There is no consistency over when verbal evaluations and when symbols should be used. What is the point of sometimes wasting space on "white is a bit better", if the book already requires that reader knows the informant symbols?

- There is generally a lack of consistency over where games get chopped off. The whole game Kasparov-Smyslov, 1984 is given (40+ moves), with the annotation - "great technique by Kasparov". This is an opening encyclopedia!!

- No proper references are given, other than mentioning "some opening book", "Chess Life" (is there ever opening analysis in this magazine??) and "commentary from the ICC" - the place where people mostly play bullet. This just makes the author look unprofessional and unwilling to give credit to proper sources. Which database did you guys use??

- Lots of wasted white space (maybe up to 15%?)- sometimes a section ends with more half of than a blank page. Apparently during creation of NCO, John Nunn used special software to efficiently distribute material across pages, but in this case even a bit of thought on the editor's part could have helped.

Replay Game Two Knights defense - MCO-15,

Two Knights defense - MCO-15 [C57]

I was curious to find out how MCO-15 evaluates variations that I am somewhat familiar with, so one of the first lines I picked was this sharp line in Two Knights defense. The coverage seemed quite superficial and basically incorrect. Note that I don't mind if coverage was limited, after all this is a sideline of a non-major opening. However, it seems like they pretended to have updated this line by giving a fresher game reference (to make it look like an upgrade from 1999 edition), but did not even bother to check evaluation of the final position with a computer.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 b5 6. Bf1 h6 7. Nf3 In its confusing table layout, MCO has Nf3 as the main line, for whatever reason. Also, MCO mentions that 'promising' is 7. Nxf7 Kxf7 8. dxc6 Bc5 9. Be2 Rf8 10. d3 Kg8 11. O-O Qe8 12. Nc3 quoting Hossain - K. Islam, Bangladesh, 2003. Now, if this is , then why is Nf7 only a sideline? After all, they end Nf3 with only . Don't you want promote the line that is a stronger continuation for White? To me this sounds like a lack of desire to analyze either line and bail out by giving what appears to be a safer line (but on a quick check is actually likely quite drawn). In my opinion, 7.Nf7 is a more ambitious try for an advantage, and this is where real analysis should be done - Black's initiative for two pawns seems a bit insufficient. 7... Qxd5 8. Nc3 Qe6 9. Bxb5 Bb7 10. Qe2 O-O-O 11. Bxc6 Qxc6 12. d3

12... e4 according to MCO. However if the author(s) ever looked at this position, with or without computer - Black's initiative seems to be easily worth a pawn. 13. dxe4 Nxe4 14. Nxe4 Qxe4 15. Qxe4 Bxe4 16. c3

16... Bc5 It appears that Black has full compensation for the pawn - two bishops and better development in an open position! 17. Be3 17. O-O Bxf3!? 18. gxf3 Rhe8 19. Bf4 Re2 20. b4 Bb6 21. a4 a5 22. Rac1

22... Rd3 I'd really rather be black here. 23. Kg2 g5 24. Bg3 f5 25. f4 Re4 26. fxg5 hxg5 27. bxa5 Bxa5 28. c4 Re2 29. h3 f4

17... Bxe3 18. fxe3 Rhe8 19. Ke2

19... Rd6! 20. Rad1 Rde6

21. Kf2 There is no way White can keep his pawn, and the position becomes equal. 21... Bxf3 22. gxf3 Rxe3=

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