Friday, May 04, 2007

The Bryant Variation?

It must have been twenty years ago that I first discovered the Main Line against the French Defence loses a pawn. No, really.

Idly pushing the pieces around one day it suddenly occurred to me that after 1. e4 e6, 2. d4 d5, 3. Nc3 Bb4, 4. e5 c5, 5. a3

instead of …Bxc3+ or …Ba5, Black can play 5. … cxd4

If 6. Qxd4 then … Nc6 gaining time so White should probably play 6. axb4 dxc3 when 7. bxc3 looks pretty ugly after 7. … Qc7.

Instead White needs to give up a pawn with 7. Nf3 cxb2, 8. Bxb2.

I showed this idea to a friend at the club I was playing for at the time. To be honest we were fairly dismissive of 5. … cxd4. Both of us thought it was far too ropey to play in a formal club match although we eventually came to the conclusion that it might be worth a punt in a rapid or casual game.

Now I must confess my claim to the naming of this variation is somewhat weakened by the fact that I never did play the line in the end (and I’ve played all sorts of unsound rubbish over the years I assure you). Also, in chess there’s never anything new under the sun and … cxd4 is really an ancient idea anyway. The oldest example my not particularly diligent researches have come up with so far is Maroczy playing it against Lasker in the 1924 New York tournament.

Mine or not, I was (and remain) quite fond of the idea, if for no other reason than I discovered it for myself. Imagine my surprise, though, when that well known purveyor of French Defence oddities, Viacheslav Eingorn, gave 5. … cxd4 an outing against John Nunn at the 1990 Reykjavik Four Nations Team tournament.

Eingorn played 7. … Ne7 instead of capturing on b2. Apparently this was a Theoretical Novelty at the time although the very amateur (both of us sub 130s) analysis school in that club room all those years ago had already concluded this was the superior plan.

True, Black got chopped up in short order (1-0, 25) but Nunn found the game interesting enough to include in his ‘Best Games’ (Batsford, 1995). Nunn suggested that had Eingorn played 14. … Qc7 instead of 14. … Nxe5?, White would have had the edge anyway but he, “… would have had to continue very accurately to justify his attack ….”

Fast forward to April 2007 and the publication of John Watson’s new book, Dangerous Weapons: The French. Now in a recent column in the Guardian, Danny King and Ronan Bennett suggested this book would supercede Watson’s classic, “Play the French”, the latest edition of which was published in 2003. In fact they are totally different kinds of book altogether.

PfF is a repertoire book for Black but in DW, to quote the publisher’s blurb,

“Instead of travelling down well-trodden and analyzed paths, Watson concentrates on fresh or little-explored variations of the French, selecting a wealth of 'dangerous' options for both colours. Whether playing White or Black, a study of this book will leave you confident and fully-armed, and your opponents running for cover!”

One of the chapters is, as you might have guessed by now, dedicated to 5. … cxd4. Watson, even concludes that it might be playable for Black. To be honest I’m not so sure but if you want to check it out amazon have it here.

Amazon’s dispatch time is 1-3 weeks so those of you who are like me and can’t delay gratification might want to go to your traditional chess book supplier – although you should be prepared to pay an extra fiver on top of the amazon price.


Anonymous said...

If you want to avoid theory and play something playable the problem is that either it isn't very playable or if indeed it is very playable then it will probably become mainline theory over time. You can then of course find another line, however this is likely to mean that you are continually having to find new lines and having to learn more stuff than if you started out learning theory in the first place. John Nunn came out with this argument quite some time back. Of course there are shades of being playable or indeed theory. Of course as you go below GM strength, more lines are feasible. Also Robin's Qh5 in the French has served him very well for ages- perhaps he is lucky that it has never entered the GM radar as it would either be rendered relatively harmless or would have acquired a large body of theory.

Tom Chivers said...

6.Qg4 might be amusing, aiming to capture on b4 with the queen!

I'm not sure about these dangerous weapons books. A friend of mine played against me a line from one on the Nimzo, that was talked up by the authors and that he was convinced would go well for him as white. (I was black.) The game went 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 O-O 5.Bg5 c5 6.d5, and I continued 6...b5 7.dxe6 fxe6 8.cxb5 d5, with the initiative and a big centre for the pawn. My opponent blundered a piece about three moves later - out of the opening, into the pub.

Now, it's true this line of his is a 'dangerous weapon': it's dangerous for *white*, because he invites immediate counter-attack, by ignoring kingside development. I'm sure at a high level this is dangerous for black too - but at ours I would take black any day in this equation.

So anyway. I remain unconvinced by these DW books. I agree with Andrew's comments too.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about the other books but some of the lines in the French books are sounder than others.

E.g. I am less convinced by
e4 e6, d4 d5, Nc3 h6
than I am by
e4 e6, d4 d5, Nd2 a6

(I remember Speelman winning a game as Black against Illescas in TV tournament many years ago in this line).

I had hoped that Watson might cover the Haldane Hack in this work - he ignores it completely in PtF - but sadly not. However he does look at:

e4 e6, d4 d5, Nc3 Nf6, Bg5 Be7, e5 Nfd7, Bxe7 Qxe7, Qh5

The thing about the DW series is that most of the book is going to be irrelevant to most people. E.g. if you only want a line to as White against the French half the book will be of no use to you whatsoever.

If, like me, you play the French but not 1.e4 at least half the book will be a waste of paper - more than half in fact since you might not be interested in many of the suggestions in the Black section.

I bought the book anyway - on general grounds of if it's about the French and John Watson's written it then it's probably going to be interesting.

I'm not sure the series will sell that well though.

Tom Chivers said...

Did "The Secrets of Opening Surprises" (SOS) books come out first? Perhaps they're trying to capitalize on that market in a different way.

It seems fitting to mention in this thread, btw, that I had an N mentioned in an SOS, in an update on the piece-gambit line in the Glek variation (i.e. in the line 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.g3 Nxe4!?). I forget which SOS it was, but I think Bosch wrote my move obliges white to return the piece. Something I'd not, of course, realised myself.

Jonathan B said...

SOS books are based on a series from New in Chess that's years old. Dangerous Weapons are relatively new in comparison I believe.

Qg4 is way more common on move 7 (after 6. axb4 dxc3).

if 6. Qg4 dxc3 7. Qb4 can't Black just play ... cxb2?

Tom Chivers said...

SOS are that old are they? I have book number two somewhere although I didn't buy it (I guess I won it). I don't really recall when, as might be obvious...

It's true that Qd1-g4xb4 loses a pawn at the end to ..axb2. But, it's an amazingly unusual manoeuvre!

Anonymous said...

Well the orginal SOS series goes years back - it must do because I haven't subscribed to New In Chess for a good while and it was going back when I used to read the magazine avidly.

The newer books are probably based on more recent material. For all I know NiC is still publishing the articles.

Tom Chivers said...

They do, but the books are largely separate material now, apparently. Btw, I found my SOS#2: it was published 2004.