Armed and Dangerous
Dangerous Weapons 1 e4 e5: Dazzle Your Opponents in the Open Games by John Emms, Glenn Flear and Andrew Greet, Everyman Chess, London 2008. 335 p.p. £15.99
Dangerous Weapons 1 e4 e5 is one of a series of books which takes a slightly different slant on opening theory. The publisher's blurb goes something like this:
“Are you tired of constantly following the same old opening moves? Fed up with always having to keep up with modern chess theory? Or perhaps you simply wish to try something new and exciting, but cannot decide between the numerous choices available? We have the answer!”
“ Dangerous Weapons is a brand-new series of opening books which supply the reader with an abundance of hard-hitting ideas to revitalize his or her opening repertoire. Many of the carefully chosen weapons are innovative, visually shocking, incredibly tricky, or have been unfairly discarded; they are guaranteed to throw even your most experienced opponent off balance.”
Wow! I decided to check the truth of the above claims by buying and critically reading the book on the Open Games, Dangerous Weapons 1 e4 e5 . Are the bold claims of the series justified?
The book is divided into the following chapters:
1: The Max Lange Gambit (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 O-O Nf6 5 d4)
2: Reviving the Max Lange Attack (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 O-O Nf6 5 d4 exd4 6 e5 d5 7 exf6 dxc4 8 fxg7)
3: Calming the Romantics (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 c3 Nf6 5 d4 exd4 6 cxd4 Bb4+ 7 Bd2 Nxe4 and 4 b4 Bxb4 5 c3 Ba5)
4. L'Oiseau (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 Nd4)
5. Twenty Years of Obscurity. (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 O-O Bc5)
6. Facing up to the Exchange Variation (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Bxc6 dc 5 O-O Be7)
7. Denying Black his fun (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bb5 Nd4 5 O-O)
8. Livening up the Three Knights and Scotch (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 g6 and 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 g6)
9. Don't be Boring against the Göring! (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 c3 Nf6 5 e5 Ne4 and 3 c3 Nf6 4 d4 ed 5 e5 Ne4)
10. Fighting the Pseudo King's Gambiteers (1 e4 e5 2 Bc4 Nf6 3 d3 Bc5 4 Nc3 O-O)
11. The Vienna Poisoned Pawn (1 e4 e5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 Qg4 Nd4)
12. Play like a Victorian: The King's Bishop's Gambit (1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf 3 Bc4)
13. The Centre Game Revealed: Part 1 (1 e4 e5 2 d4 exd4 3 Qxd4 Nc6 4 Qe3 Nf6 5 Nc3 Bb4 main line)
14. The Centre Game Revealed: Part 2 (1 e4 e5 2 d4 exd4 3 Qxd4 Nc6 4 Qe3 Nf6 5 Nc3 others)
15. The Centre Game Revealed: Part 3 (1 e4 e5 2 d4 exd4 3 Qxd4 Nc6 4 Qe3 others)
As you can see from the above list, each chapter deals with one particular line. Most of the early chapters deal with lines from the Black point of view. The final three chapters by Andrew Greet (around 100 pages) redress the balance somewhat by advocating the Centre Game for White.
The first two chapters (by John Emms) form a mini-repertoire in themselves. Most of my chess life I have assumed that after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 O-O Nf6 5 d4 Bxd4 was a sufficient answer for Black. It now turns out that 6 Nxd4 Nxd4 7 f4 d6 8 fe de 9 Bg5 offers White a dangerous initiative, especially if, like me, your opponent thought he was on safe ground. In fact, so tricky is this line that Emms thinks that 4 … d6 may well be the safest way for Black to play. But what happens if Black plays 5 …ed and wants to transpose into the old main line Max Lange, also long regarded as satisfactory for him? The answer is that after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 O-O Nf6 5 d4 exd4 6 e5 d5 7 exf6 dxc4 White does not play the old main line of 8 Re1+, but 8 fxg7!? After 8 …Rg8 both 9 Bg5 and 9 Re1+ appear promising for White. Certainly, there is a lot for Black to learn in these lines, and if Black wants to try the Two Knights (4 …Nf6) he could be met by the complexities of 5 Ng5. All in all, 3 Bc4 may be in for something of a revival.
The chapter Calming the Romantics offers ways to neutralise both the sequence 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 c3 Nf6 5 d4 and the Evans Gambit. I appreciate that each author is tackling different variations, but having read the first two chapters of the book, many readers will by now be wondering how to deal with the Max Lange and they will not get an answer. An unfortunate hazard with books of this format.
The chapter L'Oiseau (Flear's little joke) is Bird's Defence to the Ruy Lopez 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 Nd4. The main recommendation goes 4 Nxd4 ed 5 O-O Bc5 6 d3 c6 7 Ba4 d6 8 Nd2 Nf6. Strangely Flear does not mention the finesse 8 Bb3! which allows White to answer 8 … Nf6 with 9 Bg5 and 8 … Ne7 with 9 f4. I say ‘strangely' because this move has previously been mentioned by Fear's co-authors, Emms and Greet. Beware dear reader, you might get into hot water if you unthinkingly follow Flear's analysis in this chapter.
The chapter Twenty Years of Obscurity . (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 O-O Bc5) is much better. The title refers to the fact that Flear played this line as Black against strong opposition 20 years ago. He was quite successful (beating Chandler), but moved on to other things. In fact, ‘twenty years' is an understatement. Alekhine played this line more than 80 years ago, again with success. I think this line is an underestimated way of getting your opponent out of mainline Ruy Lopez theory.
Somehow it's hard to believe that either Facing up to the Exchange Variation (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Bxc6 dc 5 O-O Be7) or Denying Black his fun (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bb5 Nd4 5 O-O) will catch on. For instance, in the second line, can Black really have problems after 5 … Nxb5 6 Nxb5 c6 7 Nc3 d6 8 d4 Qc7 9 h3 Be7 with the two bishops and a solid position?
I particularly liked the chapter ‘Livening up the Three Knights and Scotch' (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 g6 and 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 g6). Let's not beat around the bush. Because of Kasparov's influence, the Scotch game is the second most popular white opening after 1 e4 e5 and it's useful to have something sharp against it. Equally, it's very difficult to get a lively game against the Scotch Four Knights. Playing … g6 in both these openings is definitely a breath of fresh air. Each chapter of the Dangerous Weapons book begins with a game illustrative of what can happen if your opponent fails to surmount the problems likely to be posed. For instance:
(1) Slovineanu - Santos [C46]
This game is a good representative sample of what you can expect in the Dangerous Weapons series.
‘Don't be Boring against the Göring!' (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 c3 Nf6 5 e5 Ne4 and 3 c3 Nf6 4 d4 ed 5 e5 Ne4) can also be played against the Ponziani. I don't think that Black gets much after 6 Qe2 f5 7 exf d5 8 Nbd2 Qxf6 but neither is he worse. And if White does not play 8 Nbd2, Black could well turn out to be better after 8 fxg? Bxg7 9 Nxd4 O-O 10 Be3 Nxd4 11 cd Nxf2!
‘Fighting the Pseudo King's Gambiteers' (1 e4 e5 2 Bc4 Nf6 3 d3 Bc5 4 Nc3 O-O) is a way of foiling the people who play the Vienna Game and the Bishop's Opening with a view to reaching a King's Gambit declined. I think its good. ‘The Vienna Poisoned Pawn' (1 e4 e5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 Qg4 Nd4) is a frankly offbeat line, though Larsen did play it once with White. You may be able to incorporate both these lines into your repertoire.
‘Play like a Victorian: The King's Bishop's Gambit' (1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf 3 Bc4) is, in my opinion, dubious. Not satisfied with giving up an important pawn, you then allow a disruptive check to your king. This is not the way to play chess. There are several moves to play against this opening and I would recommend either 3 … Nc6 where even Flear admits that “…several typical White ideas just seem downright bad.” or …Qh4+ in combination with …d5. This chapter should come with a health warning – “only to be approached by mad, hacking King's Gambiteers”.
The final three chapters on the Centre Game by Andrew Greet form a small book in themselves. Personally, I do not think that 1 e4 e5 2 d4 ed 3 Qxd4 Nc6 4 Qe3 is ever going to take off as a major opening but, as with many slightly offbeat white lines, it is definitely playable. White can indulge himself a little in the opening, and if this means that you are able to take your opponent into unfamiliar terrain, the exercise may well prove worthwhile. The main line is 1 e4 e5 2 d4 exd4 3 Qxd4 Nc6 4 Qe3 Nf6 5 Nc3 Bb4 6 Bd2 O-O 7 O-O-O Re8 8 Qg3 Rxe4 9 a3 where White sacrifices a pawn for an initiative. My feeling is that Black can defend and should eventually come out ahead. But such a strategy is not to everyone's taste: most club players prefer to attack rather than defend.
It is the recognition of this salient fact of chess life that means that the producers of the Dangerous Weapons series are undoubtedly on to a winner – and good luck to them. Most of the chapters in this book have something interesting or valuable in them and the authors have generally steered clear of the downright unsound. I can imagine that the books of the Dangerous Weapons series will be found on the shelves of club players for many years to come -- and that will be no bad thing. .