In Part 1, we discussed 1.e4. I opined that the King Pawn universe is not for everyone. That begs the question:
What About the Closed Openings?
This is a much broader topic, because it includes basically everything except 1.e4!
Still, there’s an obvious place to start.
1.d4 — Have it Your Way
Generally, you’ll prefer 1.d4 to 1.e4 if you don’t want to play directly for kingside attacks most of the time. 1.d4 tends to lead to White seeking an advantage on the queenside. That doesn’t mean you can’t play aggressively if you choose to! Far from it.
Botvinnik and Keres met in 20 tournament games. Photo: Verendel.com
White can go for the throat against even Black’s most solid options: consider the classic game Botvinnik — Keres, 1952 (given at the end of this post).
The 6th World Champion meets the Queen’s Gambit Declined with the seemingly dry Exchange Variation … and then plays directly for a central and kingside attack! He won in crushing fashion; even now this is considered a model game for the QGD Exchange.
Against the solid Nimzo-Indian(1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4) White has many solid approaches, but he can also satisfy his bloodlust with the Sämisch Variation.
When Black tries more double-edged systems like the Modern Benoni Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6), Dutch Defense (1.d4 f5), King’s Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 and 3…Bg7), or Grünfeld Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 and 3…d5), White can play solidly (the first player could choose a quiet kingside fianchetto against each of these, for example) or meet fire with fire.
If you’re a 1.d4 player looking for several good recommendations against Black’s options in one place, I recommend taking a look at Beating the Fianchetto Defensesby Efstratios Grivas. The esteemed Greek trainer is not always my favorite author, but this offering is very well done.
He chooses sensible systems against the Benoni, Benko, KID, Grünfeld, and Modern Defenses, and then delves into the typical middlegames and endgames that arise from them.
I hope I’ve provided some food for thought. Below is, as I promised, Botvinnik — Keres, 1952. Note that it arises from a Nimzo-Indian move order.
The fun doesn’t stop here. In Part 3, we’ll discuss the Flank Openings — perhaps the most interesting way to open a game! Stay tuned!
Boris Spassky (born 1937) was the tenth World Chess Champion (1969-1972). Before that, however, he was one of the greatest prodigies of early modern professional chess.
Boris Spassky. Photo: Britannica.com
Born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Spassky defeated Mikhail Botvinnik in a simul as a ten-year-old in 1947, a year before Botvinnik became World Champion.
With a third-place finish in his very first USSR Championship, Spassky qualified for the 1955 Gothenburg Interzonal. At Antwerp he captured the World Junior Championship a point ahead of Edmar Mednis. He next qualified for the 1956 Amsterdam Candidates Tournament — earning an automatic Grandmaster title.
At 18 years old, Spassky became the youngest GM ever, eclipsing Tigran Petrosian‘s record by five years.
He established himself as a top player in the early 1960s. Highlights include the 29th USSR Championship (Fall 1961) and the 1964 Moscow zonal.
Spassky battled through the World Championship cycle to earn a title match with Petrosian in 1966. The match went the full 24 games, but Iron Tigran narrowly retained his title.
Undeterred, Spassky immediately won the Second Piatigorsky Cup. In the next Championship cycle he defeated Petrosian in June 1969 to become the new Champion.
Why he is underrated
Unfortunately, Spassky was outshone by two meteors: first Tal, then Fischer.
Mikhail Talwas born less than three months before Spassky. He won back-to-back USSR Championships, an Interzonal, a Candidates Tournament, and a World Championship match within four years! Just 23 years old, he shattered the record for youngest World Champion ever.
Bobby Fischer broke Spassky’s youngest-ever GM record by three years. Later, he won 20 consecutive games en-route to victory in the 1970 Interzonal and 1971 Candidates series with tallies of 6-0, 6-0, and 6½-2½. Then he took Spassky’s World Championship title in 1972.
This is a loss for chess! The casual fans who only know Spassky as “the guy who lost to Fischer” should play through some of his best games — they are as enjoyable and imaginative as those of any player in chess history, full stop.
After losing his title, Spassky won probably the strongest-ever USSR Championship, the 41st, in October 1973. The field included established stars like Lev Polugaevsky, Viktor Kortschnoj, Efim Geller, Paul Keres, and Mark Taimanov, youngsters Evgeny Sveshnikov and Alexander Beliavsky … and four other World Champions — Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, and Karpov.
Andrew Soltis (1947 – ) was born in Hazelton, Pennsylvania but grew up in New York City. By contemporary standards “Andy” started in chess late, not playing tournaments until his teens.
In an exceedingly difficult age for American chess players to make a living from the game, Soltis nevertheless became an International Master in 1974 and a Grandmaster in 1980.
Soltis twice won the U.S. Open (1977, 1982) and Reggio Emilia1971/1972.
It is fitting Andy Soltis is Part 9 of this series, as he won the Marshall Chess Club Championship a record nine times!
Like Mednis, Znosko-Borovsky, Reinfeld, and Marin — Soltis is another author in our series for whom writing was a full-time career. He worked at the New York Post as his day job for over 40 years, writing more than 100 chess books during that time. He has also written the Chess to Enjoy column in Chess Life magazine, a great representation of his pithy writing style.
A Tour of the Andrew Soltis Library
This won’t be an exhaustive list, but I’ll cover some highlights in different categories.
Soltis discusses his chess career and lightly annotates many of his games. Progress didn’t come easily, but he persevered on the path to Grandmaster when few of his peers crossed that hurdle. In some ways this is an inspiring book, as few of us are stars and have to grind away for years to reach our chess dreams. I couldn’t put it down. A very underrated book!
Soltis has written several books in this genre, but it’s just not my cup of tea.
This is maybe the most highly-regarded Soltis book. The idea was perhaps revolutionary at the time, but I was never a fan. I have not read the new version, however. A big plus for Pawn Structure Chess is the “supplemental games” at the end of each section — they are well chosen and annotated with typical instructive and to-the-point Soltis comments.
There aren’t too many books on chess defense. I haven’t read the Soltis books, so I can’t really comment. Paul Keres wrote an instructive chapter on “How to Defend Difficult Positions” in classic The Art of the Midddle Game. Another title is in this genre is The Art of Defence in Chess by Lev Polugaevsky and Iakov Damsky.
Endgames and Strategy
An interesting early Soltis book is Catalog of Chess Mistakes (1980), which introduces a variety of different errors a player can make playing chess or in their approach to the game. These include tactical, strategic, and especially attitude or psychological failings that can doom a player.
The book I really want to emphasize in this section, however, is my favorite Soltis book of all: Turning Advantage into Victory in Chess (2004). This book will really help reframe how you think about chess technique — which is often regarded as elusive and mysterious.
I find a lot of players don’t appreciate static nuances the way they could, and this book will help with that.
As a 2000+ player, I found this book quite instructive as a middlegame text generally! I think this may be because the Fianchetto Pirc/Modern doesn’t have a ton of theory, so the author discusses more strategy than reams of variations. Many of the ideas can be applied against other fianchettoes.
I’ll stop here. There are so many more Soltis books that I have either not read or simply missed!
After starting his pro career in 1932, Reuben Fine (1914-1993) had a claim to being the best player in the world during the late 1930s. He won a string of elite tournaments including Hastings 1935/36, Zandvoort 1936, Amsterdam 1936 (tied with World Champion Max Euwe), Margate 1937 (tied with Paul Keres), and AVRO 1938 (also tied with Keres). AVRO is considered one of the strongest tournaments ever held. World Champion Magnus Carlsen also rates Fine very highly.
Fine wrote Basic Chess Endings in 1941, and it covered endings of just about every type. BCE was a monumental work at a time when endgame books were scarce, especially one authored by a player of Fine’s caliber.
Unfortunately, such an extensive book published in the pre-computer era had errors and was notoriously tough to slog through. It was also written in Descriptive Notation (P—K4, Kt—KB3, etc.), which put many readers off.
So in 2003, Random House published a new edition revised by Pal Benko (1928-2019), former world championship candidate and renowned endgame expert. It also includes a forward by another renowned endgame authority, Yuri Averbakh. This version of BCE was written in algebraic notation (e4, Nf3, etc.) and is much easier to read.
What I like about Basic Chess Endings
The explanations are very well done; but many contemporary books could say the same.
What sets BCE apart is the sheer number of instructive examples: 1,131 in all. Not all of them have diagrams; often, just the positions of the white and black pieces are listed and the line of play given. But these are supplemental examples, and never the main teaching positions.
Too many endgame books skimp on the number of examples, especially positions with several pawns for each side. Another favorite endgame book of mine is A Guide to Chess Endings by Euwe and David Hooper, which contains only 331 examples. That one is a pocket guide, but still.
What I don’t like about Basic Chess Endings
My only complaint is that a hardcover edition isn’t available. A softcover reference book 586 pages long? I try to be very careful with my copy. Economics were surely a factor; most readers wouldn’t shell out $40+ for a hardcover edition, but couldn’t they have done a limited run?
I recommend picking a section and working through all of the examples. Not all of “Knight endings” in one sitting, but a section, e.g. “One Knight and Pawns vs. One Knight and Pawns — Material Advantage.” Pick a section and work through the examples — you’ll learn exactly how you should play similar positions.