Welcome to Easychess

A Strategic Opening Repertoire (Second Edition, Revised & Enlarged) by John Donaldson & Carsten Hansen, 2007 Russell Enterprises, Soft cover, 272pp, $18,00.

Reviewed by the Duke of Brunswick

This is a repertoire book with a difference.  Most works in this field have advocated systems after either 1 e4 or 1 d4 for White.  And this is fair enough when around ninety per cent of all games begin these moves.  The downside of going with 1 e4 or 1 d4 is that you have an awful lot of theory to learn.  Those of us whose memories are not what they used to be and hanker for the quiet life also deserve a place in the sun.  With this book we may have found it.

Donaldson writes in the introduction:  “Your first move will be 1.Nf3 and, in ninety-nine percent of the cases, you will follow up with 2.c4 and 3.g3. Many amateur players play 1.d4 and 1.c4, but few non-professionals open 1.Nf3. There are good reasons for this move, and surprise is certainly one of them. Using this repertoire, you will almost invariably find yourself on more familiar ground than your opponent. To use but one example, the number of players below 2400 who have a well-considered answer to the Catalan is minimal.

“By playing 1.Nf3, we are aiming for queenside openings that restrict Black’s counterplay. That means no 1.c4 e5 and no Modern Benoni, Benko Gambit, Budapest Gambit, King’s Indian, etc. The flip side is that we don’t have quite the initial knockout punch of 1.e4 or 1.d4, but look at the trade-offs.

“Less to learn – though let’s not kid ourselves that it will be really easy –
more strategically connected and understandable ideas, and the likelihood
that we will have the home-court advantage, these are the main advantages of this repertoire.”

I don’t know that Kramnik and most of the other GMs whom Donaldson cites in his introduction particularly fear the Modern Benoni, Benko Gambit, Budapest Gambit and King’s Indian.  I get the feeling that strong 1 d4 players rather look forward to these openings.  More likely they use the 1.Nf3, 2.c4 move order to avoid the super solid Nimzo-Indian.  But Donaldson is definitely right when he says that  by 1 Nf3, the lines with 1.c4 e5 are avoided.  Many grandmasters think that Black is fine in a Reversed Sicilian Dragon.

Let’s look at the book in a little more detail.  The Table of Contents reads:

Chapter One: Closed Sicilian Reversed with 9...h6 (22)
Chapter Two: Closed Sicilian Reversed with 9...Nd4 (37)
Chapter Three: Closed Sicilian Reversed – Others (52)
Chapter Four: Closed Sicilian Reversed without ...a5 (67)
Chapter Five: Closed Sicilian Reversed without ...Nc6 (81)
Chapter Six: Closed Sicilian Reversed with ...e5 & ...f5 (101)
Chapter Seven: Symmetrical English (118)
Chapter Eight: Symmetrical English with ...c5 and ...d5 or ...d6 (133)
Chapter Nine: Double Fianchetto & Hedgehog (149)
Chapter Ten: The Tarrasch and Semi-Tarrasch (184)
Chapter Eleven: The Catalan (204)
Chapter Twelve: The Queen’s Indian (226)
Chapter Thirteen: Odds & Ends (240)

The book does a good job of outlining the fundamental ideas and strategies of a complete 1.Nf3/English Opening scheme. He substitutes concepts for variations wherever possible, an approach which many players (and I am one of them) will appreciate.  The chapters on the Reversed Closed Sicilian (the core of the book), the Hedgehog, and the Double Fianchetto systems give the reader the basic concepts to play these White systems.

In short, this is an excellent book for the club player,  The analysis is so very clear and educational that one can glean lessons on proper positional play as a result. There is little excessive analysis. Here are two nice games from many which bring out this feature:


Note that in the Jan Smejkal v Orazly Annageldiev game, everything is explanation with hardly any analysis.  Typical for the book.

One caveat about this book.  An index of variations is an important aid for the reader, and absolutely mandatory for any book on Flank Openings where transpositions are the norm.  Here, you will look for one in vain, dear reader.   If you want to track down coverage of a specific line, you must read the chapter titles in the Table of Contents. Then you must hunt around within that chapter for a game that mentions the move in question.  I hope that the next edition repairs this omission.

Donaldson wrote in his Introduction to the first book:

“This book is aimed at players from 2000 to 2400 USCF who have played 1. e4 or 1.d4 earlier in their careers. I’m a firm believer that everyone should start with 1.e4 and 1.d4 and play classical chess at the beginning of his career and I cringe whenever I see 1600 players wheeling out the King’s Indian Attack!

“Players below 2000 who are ambitious may also derive benefit in improving their positional understanding.”

This is a book that's been needed for years, and the average player has an opportunity to pick up a self-sufficient repertoire for White, taught by a chess writer who knows how to put ideas across simply.  A Strategic Opening Repertoire has the potential to last you a  chess lifetime.

wpe1.jpg (27094 bytes)

Purchase from chess.co.uk