18 May 2020

Video completed - Studies in: The Caro-Kann Defense 2

I recently completed the "Studies in: The Caro-Kann Defense 2" DVD. This second volume, including content from IM David Vigorito and IM Bryan Smith, is more systematic than volume 1 in examining several different Caro-Kann variations, although example games still play a role in the presentations. As with the first one, the comments about typical plans involving piece placement and how to evaluate the resulting positions are for me the most valuable parts.

This volume's contents are actually an older collection of ChessLecture.com videos than were in the first one, so the order of the two "Studies" volumes seems backwards. You're probably better off starting with volume 2, although it doesn't matter all that much. This volume is somewhat more oriented toward looking at the opening from the Black point of view, although different White approaches are objectively looked at as well, and the White point of view is taken in the "Fantasies" sections at the end.

Summary of contents, with comments, follows. Note that the "PGN included" mentioned on the cover is a file with just a single unannotated game (Tiviakov-Dreev) and does not include any of the other games mentioned in the lectures, which is a bit disappointing (and deceptive marketing - come on guys, you're better than that).

Classical Caro-Kann 4...Bf5: Part I (Tiviakov - Dreev)
  • First part is general concepts and theory
  • Looks at two Black responses to 5. Nc5
  • Shows move-order trick if White delays playing h4
  • Looks at 6. N1e2 with early ...Bd6 response from Black
  • 6. Nf3 - good explanation of why Black does not exchange bishops on d3; a "let's just play chess" type of move; Black plan is to go for ...c5 or ...b5 advance
  • 6. f4 - again an early ...Bd6 response followed by ...Ne7
  • 6. Bc4 is considered the main sideline, followed by N1e2; 7...Bd6 response again considered the most safe
  • Tivakov-Dreev is shown as a miniature win for Black in the 6. Bc4 line
Classical Caro-Kann 4...Bf5: Part II
  • Covers main line with 6. h4
  • Good explanation of move-order significance of 7. Nf3 vs. h5 as follow-up for White
  • Gets into the Bf4 vs Bd2 options for White and Black's responses, with kingside castling plan
  • IM Vigorito then focuses on the old queenside castling plan for Black, which is still playable
  • Analysis extends into middlegame and endgame in these lines
Advance Caro-Kann for Black: Part I
  • Done by IM Vigorito from Black's point of view, with 3...Bf5; says 3...c5 is "interesting but risky" and doesn't treat it further
  • Focuses on "sharp" lines by White (4. Nc3 followed by g4)
  • Black should reply with a plan involving ...c5, according to Vigorito
  • Some similarities to French structures, including Winawer
  • A few possibilities are highlighted in response to White moves, but a clear recommendation is given in each case, with evaluations explained succinctly for both strategic and tactical points
Advance Caro-Kann for Black: Part II
  • "Slower" lines overview - more positional
  • 4. Nf3 - Short system; White idea of opening the position with c4
  • As with other lectures, examines what doesn't work for strategic/tactical reasons and why
  • 4. Be3
  • Other miscellaneous possibilities on move 4; have to be careful with 4. h4 as Black
  • Talks about knowing where the pieces should go, not rush with ...c5 as the main principles
Fantasies in the Caro-Kann
  • IM Bryan Smith - looks at the Fantasy Variation (3. f3), from White's point of view; has played it a dozen times in tournaments, with good results
  • Original critical line is 3...dxe4 followed by 4...e5
  • Both sides can get in trouble early if not following optimal path; Black's problem is getting too greedy or neglecting development, White's is allowing exchanges instead of developing
  • Other main options for Black include 3...e6, 3...g6; former can turn into an Advance French
  • Some stream of consciousness instead of preparation and analysis when discussing example games
Fantasies in the Caro-Kann: Part II: Odds & Ends
  • Fantasy variation from the White point of view again, with less common Black replies (3...e5, 3...Nf6, 3...Qb6)
  • Some slightly annoying microphone issues (rasping sound) degrade the audio quality
  • A fairly detailed look at the various options for both sides
  • Of interest mostly for White players of this variation, although if Black wants to play one of the choices it's worth a look.

17 May 2020

Annotated Game #244: Is it equal?

This second-round tournament game, against an Expert in a Classical Caro-Kann sideline, is an interesting look at what "equal" means and how it can be wrongly evaluated. One of the recurring themes found in my own game analysis, mentioned before here, is that the result of an assumed "equal" piece exchange in reality favors one side. As Black, one of the strategic errors I make early on is 9...Bxf3, which is an unforced trade of bishop for knight while the position is relatively open. A common amateur mistake is to blindly follow a strategy of trading down pieces against a significantly higher-rated opponent, thinking that fewer pieces automatically means a more "equal" game. In reality, it usually just plays into the strengths of your opponent, who is probably better at endgames and exploiting small positional advantages than you are.

Despite a few other inaccuracies, I actually do manage to achieve real equality in reaching a K+P endgame - which shows the benefits of stubborn and careful play - but I crack under pressure eventually with a miscalculation. Having a better "automatic" idea of what to do during endgames should help avoid this in the future, as it is too draining energy-wise to have to try to switch on your full internal calculating machine all the time, especially in a long game.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Expert"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "107"] {B18: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 sidelines} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. h4 Nh5 {my opponent was surprised by this move-order trick, clearly had not seen it before.} 8. Nxh5 Bxh5 9. Be2 { pursuing normal development by breaking the pin on the Nf3.} Bxf3 $146 { this is a novelty because it is a bad idea strategically. The position is too open to give away the two bishops advantage so quickly.} (9... Nd7 {remains equal.} 10. Bf4 e6 11. Ne5 Bxe2 12. Qxe2 Be7 13. O-O-O O-O 14. Kb1 Nxe5 15. Bxe5 Re8 16. Rd3 Bf8 17. h5 f6 18. Bf4 Qd5 19. Rg1 Rad8 20. g4 Qb5 21. Qe4 c5 22. Rb3 Qa4 23. Qxb7 cxd4 24. Bc1 Re7 {Garcia,G (2485)-Campora,D (2550) Zaragoza 1992 0-1 (70)}) (9... e6 {is the other choice, which also looks reasonable.}) 10. Bxf3 $16 {Komodo already evaluates White as significantly better here.} e6 11. g3 {protecting the h-pawn so White can castle.} Bd6 12. O-O Qc7 {there's no need to commit the queen this early.} (12... Nd7 $5) 13. Qe2 Nd7 14. Be3 O-O {I had felt pretty good about the position here, in terms of keeping it solid, although objectively White has all the pluses. However, unless he plays vigorously, I should be able to improve things, which is what happens in the game.} 15. Bg2 (15. c4 {would be more to the point here, among other things taking away ideas of Nd7-f6-d5.}) 15... Rfe8 {thinking about a potential ...e5 break and lining up on White's queen. The rook was doing less on the f-file, I felt.} 16. Rad1 {White centralizes a rook in turn, supporting the d-pawn.} Nf6 17. Bg5 Be7 18. c3 {a solid choice.} h6 {with the idea of prompting an exchange and getting rid of the two bishops advantage.} 19. Bf4 Bd6 20. Bxd6 {my opponent couldn't come up with anything better.} Qxd6 $11 { now White has a slight space advantage, but not much else.} 21. Rfe1 Qc7 { allowing for a potential transfer over to the queenside.} 22. Qe5 {this looks like a strong queen centralization, but White does not have enough material on the board for it to translate into a meaningful attack. Best would be to continue with maximizing the Black queen's scope.} Qxe5 (22... Qb6 {keeps more tension.} 23. Rb1 Red8 24. Bf3 Rac8 25. Qe2 a5) 23. dxe5 {my opponent has the evident strategy of outplaying me in the endgame, which the exchange of queens has assisted. The advanced e-pawn, along with the h-pawn, is a better endgame structure for White.} Nd5 {the knight is well centralized, but unfortunately has no targets.} 24. Rd4 Kf8 {with the idea of centralizing the king and moving it to help cover the d-file.} 25. Kf1 Ke7 26. Ke2 Red8 {correctly contesting the d-file.} 27. Red1 Nb6 $6 (27... Rd7 {with the simple but effective plan of doubling rooks, since White cannot do anything useful in the interim.} 28. c4 {was what I was avoiding, but after} Nb6 29. Rxd7+ Nxd7 $11 { Black is completely equal.}) 28. Rxd8 Rxd8 29. Rxd8 Kxd8 $14 {White now has a slight advantage in the BvN endgame, due to his king position and ability to restrict my knight. His bishop is not very effective either, though.} 30. Kd3 Ke7 {this seems logical, but leaves my knight doing nothing. Might as well get it back into the action immediately.} (30... Nd7 $5) 31. b3 {restricting the knight's squares.} Nd5 {this again looks nicely centralized, but the knight would be more effective from d7.} 32. a3 Kd7 33. c4 Ne7 34. Be4 {White is consistently gaining space with his moves. In the absence of an obvious breakthrough, this is a good plan, especially since I do not really understand what I should be doing here to disrupt his plans.} b6 (34... f5 $5 35. exf6 gxf6 {would leave my kingside pawns on squares that could not be targeted by the bishop, and help control the 5th rank.}) 35. g4 (35. c5 {is a more dangerous try.} bxc5 $2 (35... b5 $11) 36. Kc4) 35... c5 {it was good of me to see the dangerous idea and block it for the future.} 36. f4 {the engine shows complete equality, but of course with White pressing forward it did not feel like it at the board. A pawn disruption is what is needed.} Nc6 (36... f5 37. exf6 gxf6 38. g5 fxg5 39. hxg5 hxg5 40. fxg5 Kd6 $11) 37. Bxc6+ Kxc6 $11 { still perfectly equal, but it's easy to go wrong in a K+P ending, which is what my opponent was counting on.} 38. h5 Kd7 39. Kc3 a6 40. Kd3 Ke8 41. g5 { I thought for a long time here and calculated incorrectly.} f6 $4 { unfortunately, this pawn break is now a bad idea with a pawn on g5.} (41... Ke7 $11 {is probably the simplest.}) 42. exf6 $18 gxf6 43. g6 $2 {my Expert-level opponent also goes wrong here, so we blunder back and forth.} ({White should play} 43. gxh6 Kf7 44. f5 exf5 45. Ke3 $18 {with White's rook pawns able to hold off the Black king for a couple of tempi, White's king can gobble the Black f-pawns then head over to the queenside.}) 43... Ke7 $2 (43... f5 $1 { would take away White's access square.}) 44. b4 $2 (44. f5 $18 {with a similar idea as in the above variation.}) 44... a5 $4 (44... f5 $11 {still draws.}) 45. bxc5 $18 {now White finds the killing blow and the rest is forced.} bxc5 46. Ke4 Ke8 (46... f5+ 47. Ke5 $18) 47. f5 Ke7 48. fxe6 Kxe6 49. Kf4 a4 50. Ke4 f5+ 51. Kf4 Kf6 52. g7 Kxg7 53. Kxf5 Kf7 54. Ke5 {White now wins the queenside pawns and can queen a pawn first.} 1-0

13 May 2020

Video completed - Studies in: The Caro-Kann Defense

I recently completed the "Studies in: The Caro-Kann Defense" DVD; a second volume is pending. As with other videos in the ChessLecture.com series, IM David Vigorito uses several games to narrate ideas in the Caro-Kann and also provide concrete analysis of the play into the middle and endgame phases. This is valuable both for a deeper understanding of opening options and - especially important - of the early middlegame plans (good and bad) that may result. A small bonus here is that an (unannotated) PGN file of the five games is included.

Summary of contents, with comments:

The Not-So-Boring Caro-Kann, Game 1 (Gashimov - Ivanchuk)
  • Format limitation: no board flip option in lecture, which has White at the bottom; PGN included, at least, to look at it from the Black perspective later
  • Advance Variation with 3...Bf5
  • Ivanchuk not a frequent C-K player
  • Comparison with Advance French ideas (bishop development vs. less pressure on d4)
  • Useful context on different C-K variations, with 4. Nf3 played in game (Short system)
  • Ideas clearly, succinctly explained from both sides
  • "Poisoned pawn" variation for Black and its endgame refutation
  • Good for general chess understanding / learning
The Not-So-Boring Caro-Kann, Game 2 (Balogh - Rodshtein)
  • Black displayed at the bottom this time
  • Classical Caro-Kann main line
  • Does a good job of explaining move-order effects (Bf4 vs Bd2 for White) and "newer" (1980s actually) castling short plan for Black
  • Looks at White's attacking plan with Ng3-f1 and then g2-g4
  • Black has an amazing sacrificial defense
  • Narration is a little confusing towards the end, as it's not always clear what is analysis and what is the actual game being looked at
The Simple Caro-Kann, Game 3 (LaRocca - Vigorito)
  • How to win with technique; pay attention to details, but not a sharp line like the previous game
  • Demonstrates how a higher-rated opponent can win with it (IM Vigorito vs a master-strength opponent in a club game); somewhat one-sided, but no big blunders
  • Classical Caro-Kann main line
  • More move-order insights, for example regarding the issue of what to do with White's Ng3
  • Discusses best plans for both sides, in terms of piece placement; exactly the kind of explanations that are most valuable, looking at different ideas and their results (including not only the best moves)
Losing the Must Win Game, Game 4 (Ivanov - Vigorito)
  • Tournament position (last round) dictated IM Vigorito (Black) had to try to win to be in the prize money
  • Picked Caro-Kann as his defense due to the lack of (draw) forcing lines; hadn't played before against GM Ivanov, so was a surprise
  • Caro-Kann Exchange variation with 5...Qc7
  • Black ends up with IQP position in the chosen continuation, but with easy development and White has some positional issues (pawns on f3, c3 blocking normal knight development)
  • As with other games, talks about different plans/ideas for early middlegame, including ones that aren't the best, providing insight on what not to do and why
  • Good insight into thinking and evaluation process during the game
Waving a Red Flag at a Bull, Game 5 (Nakamura - Mamedyarov)
  • White displayed on the bottom of the board
  • Advance variation, Short system; discussion of fundamental ideas
  • A follow-up to game 1, with delay of "poison pawn" capture on b2
  • Black overextends in a slightly awkward yet solid position; White in response employs an instructive attacking line

10 May 2020

Annotated Game #243: Battle in the center

This next first-round tournament game features a strategic and tactical battle over the center. Both my opponent and I make a number of key choices about how we fight for it in the opening and early middlegame, with some key points being:
  • The early choice of 3...Nc6 by Black can be solid, but it means the c-pawn will not be involved in the central fight.
  • 8. b3!? would have been an improvement for me, allowing recapture on c4 if necessary and maintaining influence over d5, as well as developing the dark-square bishop.
  • 9. c5! would have created a queenside and central bind in space. 
  • 10. d4 would have controlled e5 and reduced Black's counterplay, but at the time I valued more having an open long diagonal.
  • 11...Ne4 is the root of my opponent's difficulties for much of the game, as the knight looks good there but is too easily undermined, with the game becoming tactical after this.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class D"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A17"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "75"] {A17: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...Bb4} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 Nc6 { normally Black plays ...d5 or ...Bb4 here, aiming respectively for a QGD or Nimzo-Indian type setup.} 4. e3 {White has a large number of options here, with d4 probably being the most straightforward.} Bb4 5. Qc2 {keeping with standard Nimzo-Indian type ideas, to recapture on c3 with the queen if needed.} O-O 6. Be2 Bxc3 7. Qxc3 $14 {the queen now has a great diagonal and is unopposed by the dark-square bishop.} d5 8. O-O {I figured I would castle eventually anyway, so did it here, but there are other ways to improve the position first.} (8. b3 $5 {would prepare to recapture on c4 with a pawn, helping control d5, and also open a path for the Bc1 development.}) 8... Qd6 ( 8... dxc4 9. Bxc4 $11) 9. a3 {a missed opportunity. I was concerned about restricting Black's knight, but can do that in a more aggressive manner.} (9. c5 Qe7 10. b4 $16 {Black's remaining bishop is now sealed off from the action and White can implement a bind on the queenside and/or center.}) 9... a5 { this restrains b2-b4, but there were more active options for Black.} (9... e5 $5) 10. b3 {sticking with flank play. I wanted to keep the long diagonal open for the bishop.} (10. d4 $5 $14 {would control e5.}) 10... e5 11. Bb2 Ne4 $6 { a one-move threat against the Qc3 which also puts the knight in a precarious position.} (11... Re8 {would proceed with developing the rook and reinforcing the center.}) 12. Qc2 $16 {a simple retreat that strongly threatens cxd5, undermining the Ne4.} Bf5 {perhaps hoping for some tactics involving the bishop (such as ...Ng3). It would have been best just to retreat with ...Nf6.} (12... f5 $2 {fails to} 13. cxd5 Ne7 (13... Qxd5 $4 14. Bc4) 14. Bxe5 Qd7 15. Qxc7 $18) 13. Bd3 {I spent a lot of time here evaluating the different possibilities, to try and figure out the best way to pressure the Ne4 and use the cxd5 idea that undermines it. I ended up playing the text move as it increased pressure on the b1-h7 diagonal against both e4 and the currently hanging Bg6. It also takes away tactical ideas for Black such as ...Ng3 in some variations, which would otherwise simultaneously attack the Qc2, temporarily protect f5 and attack the Rf1.} (13. d3 {would have been the best "safe" choice.} Nc5 14. cxd5 Qxd5 15. e4 Qxb3 16. Qxb3 Nxb3 17. exf5 Nxa1 18. Rxa1 $16 {material is roughly equal, but White's two bishops confer an advantage.}) (13. cxd5 {is the tactical choice, which I wasn't able to fully calculate.} Qxd5 (13... Ng3 14. d3 Nxe2+ (14... Nxf1 15. dxc6 Nxh2 16. Nxh2 Qxc6 17. Qxc6 bxc6 18. Bxe5 $18) 15. Qxe2 Ne7 16. Bxe5 Qg6 17. e4 Bh3 18. Bg3 $18) 14. Nh4 (14. d3 {goes into the other main variation}) 14... Ng3 15. Nxf5 Nxf5 16. Bd3 $18 {winning a pawn, with the two bishops and White queen running rampant.}) 13... Rfe8 $6 {this does nothing to address the tactical vulnerability of the Bf5/Ne4/d5 structure, so now I am able to find a solution. } ({Better is} 13... Bg6 $1 {and the bishop no longer hangs.}) 14. Nh4 $18 { Black now loses a pawn, but finds a way for the Ne4 to escape.} Bg6 $2 { right idea, just played a move too late.} (14... g6 15. f3 Nc5 16. Nxf5 gxf5 17. Bxf5 d4 18. Bxh7+ Kg7) 15. Nxg6 {this is good enough for a significant advantage, although again cxd5 is a better idea.} fxg6 $2 {this opens the a2-g8 diagonal and weakens the center.} 16. cxd5 {now I play the key tactical idea.} Nc5 {I admit that I didn't initially see the retreat when I began the sequence calculation on move 14, which was a blind spot in my visualization. Backwards moves like these are simply harder to spot, especially when it puts the piece concerned en prise. Although the Nc6 is still hanging - what I saw later - taking it by dxc6 would now expose the underprotected Bd3 to capture, which I missed.} 17. Bc4 {I took some extra time here as well. This move is winning, although not optimal.} (17. dxc6 {is not as good.} Nxd3 18. cxb7 Ra7 $16 19. Qc4+ Kh8 20. Bc3 $18 {here White is two pawns up, but I thought it simplified things too much.}) (17. Bb5 {wins more material, as the Nc6 is now pinned against the Re8.}) 17... Na7 {while this doesn't block one of the defenders of the e5 pawn and allows Black to think about playing ...b5, I can immediately challenge the other knight and pre-empt this idea.} (17... Ne7) 18. b4 axb4 $6 {opening the a-file does not help Black.} (18... Nd7 {immediately is better, although it loses a pawn.} 19. bxa5 Kh8 20. d4 $18) 19. axb4 Nd7 { although I'm only a pawn up, my two bishops are far better than Black's knights, with great diagonals that I can threaten to exploit. My pawn structure gives me a space advantage, and I have various targets to potentially go after, including the Na7, c7, and e5.} 20. Ra2 {the b4 pawn is tactically protected, so I decide to go with a simple plan of increasing pressure along the a-file against the Na7, since it has nowhere it can go without losing material.} Qb6 (20... Qxb4 $2 21. Ba3 Qb6 22. Rb1 Qf6 23. d6+ Kh8 24. dxc7 $18) 21. Rfa1 Kh8 {removing the king from the threat of d5-d6 with a discovered check.} 22. d4 e4 {my opponent makes the best choice in response, as exchanging on d4 would bring my dark-square bishop to life.} 23. Qb3 {without an immediately obvious best way to continue, I choose to generally strengthen my queen position. The b4 pawn is now protected and I have a battery on the a2-g8 diagonal, strengthening the bishop's effectiveness. This in fact proves decisive later on.} Rf8 {my opponent seeks counterplay against f2, with the evident idea of following up by ...Qf6.} 24. Bc3 {this move overprotects b4 and is designed to continue ratcheting the pressure up on the queenside, with the idea of following up by b4-b5 and playing the bishop to either b4 or a5.} Qf6 {an understandable bid for counterplay, including a trappy offer of the Na7. However, I now have a largely forcing continuation that leads to material loss for Black.} 25. d6 {this move wins, although in a more complicated way. I recognized that the pawn could be mobile and the sacrifice would open key lines.} (25. Be1 $5 {is the simplest path to victory, as by protecting f2 the Na7 now truly hangs.}) 25... cxd6 26. Be6 $6 {good enough, although the threat is still not enough to lose a piece for Black, given the continuing weakness on f2.} ({Avoid the trap} 26. Rxa7 $2 Qxf2+ 27. Kh1 Rxa7 $19) 26... Nb6 $2 (26... Rad8 $18 {defends for the time being, although Black is still losing.}) 27. d5 {the point of this move is that now Black can no longer maintain his queen on the f-file. With the threat to f2 gone, the Na7 is now truly hanging and Black must lose a piece. My opponent missed the discovered attack on his queen, having focused on saving the knight on d7.} Nb5 {this would have worked if there was no attack on the queen, as the Ra8 is also now sufficiently protected, but...} 28. Bxf6 Rxa2 29. Bxg7+ $1 {I figured I should buy the bishop's life as dearly as possible; this is known as a desperado tactic.} Kxg7 30. Rxa2 {the game is now effectively over.} Ra8 31. Rxa8 Nxa8 32. Qb2+ {leading to a forced mate. I didn't bother trying to calculate the absolute quickest path, which seemed like a waste of energy by that point.} Kh6 33. Qh8 Nb6 34. Bg8 Kg5 35. Qxh7 Nc4 36. h4+ Kf5 37. Qf7+ Ke5 38. Qe6# 1-0

04 May 2020

Book completed: The Stonewall Attack

In searching for an alternative opening as White (although I expect to continue to use the English Opening as my primary), I eventually settled on learning the Stonewall Attack, largely because I had put a good deal of time into studying the Dutch Stonewall as Black. While the defense has a robust if not particularly large collection of book and video publications dedicated to it, the White side has relatively few - really, almost none - professional-level ones. The Kenilworthian's 2012 blog post on "The Stonewall in Black and White" is probably the best compilation of resources on the Stonewall, although now somewhat dated from the Black perspective. (It's not dated for White because so little has been done on it.)

Andrew Martin's Foxy video on the Stonewall Attack and Colle Zukertort is still being produced (my summary of the e-DVD content is in the link), but the only dedicated book by a GM is The Stonewall Attack by Andrew Soltis (Chess Digest, 2nd edition, 1993). I recently completed it using the legit downloadable (PDF) version you can find on Scribd.com; the book itself has been out of print for some time. The Kenilworthian post mentioned above praised it as a resource, but offered no details.

It was interesting to see that the structure and recommendations of Andrew Martin's video closely parallel those of Soltis, although to be fair Martin focuses on more recent example games that are not included in Soltis' work. I expect it would be better to read the book first when beginning a study of the opening, since it provides a deeper conceptual foundation, then look at the video presentation for additional commentary and updated modern examples.

I have to say that The Stonewall Attack has become one of my favorite chess opening books - probably chess books in general - because it is both enjoyable to go through and effective in its presentation. Soltis is a prolific and excellent writer; here he clearly enjoys his subject, digging into some of the opening's history - games from Capablanca, Marshall, Pillsbury and other top players from the first part of the 20th century are featured in the chapters - while discussing the various setups and approaches. There is for me a near-ideal balance of conceptual explanations, variations and examples. Some repetition of material occurs from certain example games, but from a learning perspective I felt this was actually a good thing, to help reinforce particular ideas.

Soltis also does certain things I appreciate, such as not sugar-coating things (the Stonewall is respected but not over-sold as a wonder weapon for White), highlighting move-order options that are often neglected, and calibrating his annotations and explanations to an amateur audience, including explanations of variations and moves which are bad/losing, not just focusing on best play for both sides. For improving players, I find this to be a crucial point in gaining chess strength, since rarely will both sides follow the "best" plan in an opening below master level (or even then).

I find studying the Stonewall Attack to be useful for both general chess skill and as a practical opening weapon. It's not just for historical purposes, either, as I was reminded when I saw Anand using it as White to beat an expert-level player in the recent Indian GM online simul at Chess.com (see the game vs. Fllinc, with a full transposition by move 14). Maybe Anand wouldn't play it at a top-level GM tournament, but he nevertheless knows how to play it successfully.

Below is a summary of the contents of the book, for those who may be interested in taking a closer look. It's worth noting that this is not a repertoire book, so both White and Black sides get examined from a number of different perspectives, with many options presented in the text.

This is a narrative introduction to Stonewall Attack ideas and history, covering five games from 1890 (Gunsberg-Tchigorin) to 1992 (Mohammed-Denker).

CHAPTER ONE: The Matter of Move Order
This is a more sophisticated introduction to early concepts and move-orders, for example using a Colle System to start and later playing Nf3-e5 and f2-f4. One point is that the Stonewall Attack should not be treated as a "system" opening in which the same moves are always made in the same order, regardless of what your opponent does, although Soltis recommends beginning with 1.d4 followed by 2. e3 and 3. Bd3. The chapter also contains the high-level clash Yusupov-Anand, Linares 1991.

CHAPTER TWO: Stonewall Strategies
(1) Simple Kingside Attack
(2) Good vs. Bad Bishops
(3) Queenside Play: The Open and Half-Open C-file
(4) The Pawn Re-Capture on d3
(5) Double Stonewall
(6) The Advance of the e-Pawn

CHAPTER THREE: The "Theoretically Best" Defense
Here Soltis deals with the primary theoretical recommendation for Black (3...Nc6) and also points out the move 3...Bg4 as a strong alternative idea.

CHAPTER FOUR: The Traditional Defense
This covers what most Black players are likely to play if not very familiar with the Stonewall Attack, which is a Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD) formation with ...c5 included.

CHAPTER FIVE: Black Fianchettoes
Here we see Black going into either a reversed Dutch Stonewall, where standard plans/ideas apply, or setting up a King's Indian Defense (KID) or Queen's Indian Defense (QID), which require different treatments from White.

Although these games are sometimes quoted in the main text, here Soltis presents them in full. It's great fun to play over these old games and feel that they are still relevant to our understanding of the positions.
#1: Sultan Khan - A. Rubinstein, Prague (Olympiad) 1931
#2: Marshall - Rubinstein, Vienna 1908
#3: Horowitz - Amateur, New York 1950
#4: Kmoch - Nagy, Budapest 1926
#5: Santasiere - Adams, United States 1940
#6: Lipke - Zinki, Leipzig 1894
#7: Lipke - Schiffers, Leipzig 1894
#8: Pillsbury - Hanham, New York 1893