Thursday, April 6, 2017

The English, written by David Cummings, 2016, 399 pages, Everyman chess - A review by Davide Nastasio

To read and review a good book takes a while, but it may be worthwhile to discover what this author has to say!

I learned the English using 2 DVDs made by GM Williams for Chessbase around 2 years ago.

I tried it for 6 months, nearly a year in various tournaments, but the results were definitely bad. I realized one mistake I made was my lack of understanding how I should study an opening. For example, one error was relative to the amount of games I should have watched and played, before using it in a tournament. I had to become more mature as player in order to use it. Now, I'd like to give it another try, because often I play the same players in the state where I live, and play some of these players even in matches, consequently I do need to be able to vary my openings. This is the reason I got this volume, to see if I will be able to play it successfully in tournament. The author begins the book telling us why is a good idea to play the English, the main reasons are: avoiding to study tons of theory, since it can be used like a system, similar to the London, and Black players tend to spend more time studying and preparing for 1.e4 and 1.d4, instead of 1.c4. But the most important point, which made me decide I wanted to read the book, was at page 8: "Most of the existing English opening repertoire books offer White systems involving an early g2-g3. Most notably, the seminal works by Tony Kosten and Mihail Marin are based on playing 1.c4, and 2.g3 against any of Black's replies. One key decision I made early on was not to follow in their footsteps..." and then he continues: "the theory after 1.c4,e5; 2.g3 which Marin covered in close to 500 pages in 2009, is the very domain that has exploded most dramatically." the author makes the example that at the Moscow Candidate tournament 2016 a 20% of the games were 1.c4,e5; with White playing 2.g3. Cummings is trying to teach us how to avoid the most fashionable path, used by all the Top GMs at the moment, and which would be known by our opponents who pay minimal attention to the video commentary of the main tournaments.

 Let's begin with an overview of Chapter 1, the author dedicates about 8 pages to explain the theory, and the reasons behind the moves he proposes for his repertoire. Then he begins to show some games. This position is reached after the moves: 1.c4,e5; 2.Nc3,Nf6; 3.Nf3,Nc6; 4.e3, 

 Next, he continues to explain the theory till a quite distinct crossroad which happens at move 8, when White takes on F6. 1.c4,e5; 2.Nc3,Nf6; 3.Nf3,Nc6; 4.e3,Bb4; 5.Qc2,0-0; 6.Nd5,Re8; 7.Qf5 (the author explores in Chapter One also some alternatives) 7...,d6; 8.Nxf6,

Now I'd like to show you one game, because the story behind is quite funny. The author chose as first game in the book a loss by Giri as Black against Grischuk in 34 moves, played in 2013. Now the game you are going to see, is a win, by Giri as White, in 2015, in 30 moves, using the same opening Grischuk used against him in 2013! As we can see, one can learn from the losses, and eventually use them against new opponents who will lose too! 
[Event "Qatar Masters op"] [Site "Doha"] [Date "2015.12.20"] [Round "1"] [White "Giri, Anish"] [Black "Sunilduth Lyna, Narayanan"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2784"] [BlackElo "2494"] [ECO "A28"] [EventDate "2015.12.20"] [PlyCount "59"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "QAT"] [SourceTitle "CBM 170"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2016.01.15"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2016.01.15"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.e3 Bb4 5.Qc2 O-O 6.Nd5 Re8 7.Qf5 d6 8.Nxf6+ gxf6 9.Qc2 e4 10.Ng1 d5 11.a3 Bf8 12.cxd5 Qxd5 13.Ne2 Bf5 14.b4 a5 15.Nc3 Qe6 16.b5 Ne5 17.Nxe4 Nd7 18.d3 Bxe4 19.dxe4 Nc5 20.Bb2 Rad8 21.Rc1 Nxe4 22.Bd3 Nxf2 23.Bxh7+ Kg7 24.O-O Nd3 25.Bxd3 Qxe3+ 26.Kh1 Rxd3 27.Rxf6 Kg8 28.Rcf1 Qe2 29.Qc4 Rd7 30.Rg6+ 1-0

In the first chapter there are a total of 5 games heavily annotated to show possible alternatives for both colors.

The second chapter deals mainly with 5...Bxc3; and White's responses, while also outlining some alternatives to 5...Bxc3.
After 1.c4,e5; 2.Nc3,Nf6; 3.Nf3,Nc6; 4.e3,Bb4; 5.Qc2,Bxc3;

Also this chapter, like Chapter One, follows the same pattern, 2-3 pages of theory, followed by 4 games heavily annotated.
While I follow this book, I also use other tools to keep my research updated. For example thanks to Megabase 2017, 
which I update every couple of weeks, I can discover if games with the lines explained in Chapter Two, were played lately, and I discovered the following game, just played a little over a couple of months ago.
[Event "Hastings Masters op 92nd"] [Site "Hastings"] [Date "2016.12.31"] [Round "4"] [White "Rasmussen, Allan Stig"] [Black "Kjartansson, Gudmundur"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2502"] [BlackElo "2468"] [ECO "A28"] [EventDate "2016.12.28"] [PlyCount "79"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [SourceTitle "Mega2017 Update 12"] [Source "Chessbase"] [SourceDate "2017.01.14"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2017.01.14"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.e3 Bb4 5.Qc2 Bxc3 6.Qxc3 Qe7 7.d3 d5 8.Be2 e4 9.dxe4 dxe4 10.Nd4 Ne5 11.b4 Bg4 12.f3 exf3 13.gxf3 Rd8 14.h4 Rxd4 15. exd4 Nxf3+ 16.Kd1 Qe4 17.Qe3 O-O 18.Rf1 Qxe3 19.Bxe3 Nxh4 20.Bg5 Ne4 21. Bxh4 Nc3+ 22.Kd2 Nxe2 23.Bf2 Rd8 24.d5 b5 25.Bh4 f6 26.Rae1 bxc4 27.Rxe2 Rxd5+ 28.Ke1 Bxe2 29.Kxe2 a5 30.Be1 axb4 31.Bxb4 Rb5 32.Bc3 h5 33.Rf4 Rc5 34.a4 f5 35.a5 g5 36.Rf1 f4 37.a6 Rc6 38.a7 Re6+ 39.Kf2 Re8 40.Rb1 1-0

Chapter 3 is dedicated to the alternatives to Black's fourth move 4...Bb4 examined in the previous chapter. The author examines 4...Be7; 4...d5; 4...g6; 4...d6;

Of these 4 alternatives the one we must really pay attention to is: 4...d5; because it can lead to an open Sicilian with reversed colors.
Practically after the moves: 1.c4,e5; 2.Nc3,Nf6; 3.Nf3,Nc6; 4.e3,d5;

we must take in d5 with 5.cxd5,Nxd5; now the author proposes to continue with 6.Bb5.

Often in books we just see games in which the opening we are going to play is winning. This is the reason why I use the Megabase 2017, with nearly 7 million games on it, I found out less than 500 games were played in this line in over 140 years! I gave a quick look at all the games with names of important players, independently from the result, in order to better understand what are the pros and cons of playing this particular line. This is an example of a game between two big names of the past:

[Event "Berlin Tageblatt"] [Site "Berlin"] [Date "1928.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Nimzowitsch, Aron"] [Black "Spielmann, Rudolf"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A28"] [PlyCount "128"] [EventDate "1928.10.11"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "12"] [EventCountry "GER"] [SourceTitle "HCL"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceVersion "2"] [SourceVersionDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bb5 Nxc3 7. bxc3 Bd6 8. d4 Bd7 9. e4 exd4 10. cxd4 Bb4+ 11. Bd2 Bxd2+ 12. Qxd2 O-O 13. O-O Qe7 14. Qf4 Ne5 15. Be2 Nxf3+ 16. Bxf3 Rac8 17. d5 Rfe8 18. Rfe1 Qd6 19. Qe3 b6 20. Red1 Re7 21. Rac1 Rce8 22. Qc3 Bc8 23. Qc6 Qxc6 24. Rxc6 f5 25. e5 Bb7 26. Rc3 Rxe5 27. h4 Re1+ 28. Rxe1 Rxe1+ 29. Kh2 Re7 30. Kg3 Kf7 31. Kf4 Kf6 32. g4 fxg4 33. Kxg4 Rd7 34. Kf4 Bxd5 35. Bxd5 Rxd5 36. Rc6+ Rd6 37. Rxc7 Rd4+ 38. Kg3 Ra4 39. Rc2 h5 40. f3 g5 41. hxg5+ Kxg5 42. Rg2 Ra3 43. Re2 h4+ 44. Kg2 Ra4 45. Rc2 Kf4 46. Rb2 h3+ 47. Kxh3 Kxf3 48. Rh2 Ke3 49. Kg3 Kd3 50. Kf3 Kc3 51. Ke3 Rb4 52. Rh7 a5 53. Rh2 b5 54. Rd2 a4 55. Rf2 Rb2 56. Rf5 Kb4 57. Kd3 Rxa2 58. Rf4+ Kb3 59. Rf3 Rh2 60. Kd4+ Kb2 61. Rf5 b4 62. Kc4 a3 63. Kxb4 a2 64. Rf2+ Rxf2 0-1

The book finishes to treat all possible deviations on 2nd and 3rd move to 1.c4,e5 in chapter 4.

The next 5 chapters are dedicated to the symmetrical English. In Chapter 5 the author makes a really nice introduction to the symmetrical English  giving some simple rules to remember in order to fight Black possible different move orders. I think chapter 5 is essential, and shows why one cannot really study an opening like the English without an experienced guide like David Cummings. 

(image symmetrical_english)

The rest of the book is based on 7 chapters, where the author analyzes different setups Black can use to throw us off-guard and lead us into our opponent's theoretical preparation. Therefore Cummings develops the chapters with the names of the major openings used by Black like: anti-slav system, anti-nimzo system, anti-Grünfeld, King's Indian, Dutch etc. The book ends with the index of the variations, and the index of the complete games.

In conclusion: I think the English is a very important opening that everyone should try to learn and use for at least a couple of years in their chess lives, also if they don't like it, or it is not part of their nature, because the pawn structures, ideas, and plans, learned from the English can be used in other openings as well. David Cummings did a good job in synthesizing all the material, and a good game selection for a total of 44 games! The annotation of the games helps the learner to see more sidelines and ideas on how to contrast Black's plans. The English is the kind of opening which can be used to surprise the opponent, or transpose into other openings we know well, avoiding our opponent's preparation, obliging him to think from the beginning.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review - though I do not recommend the e3 English as it seems that essentially one does not fianchetto light-square-bishop to g2 (from the review). Essentially, White is then playing a reverse Kan setup, which, in my opinion, is "passive".