Publisher: Everyman Chess £19.99/$29.95 464 pages ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Prior to reading “The Classical French – move by move” my experience with opening books was less than pleasant. The books were a series of moves to be memorised and assumed that the reader understood the reason behind them, not ideal for someone wishing to learn a new opening. I am glad to say this is certainly not the case here.
The popular “Move by move” series from Everyman Chess teaches by giving clear explanations of the ideas and possibilities for each side as the games progress. The author (prolific writer International Master Cyrus Lakdawala) anticipates the reader’s questions about the positions and these questions are highlighted with a shaded background so they may be considered before continuing to read the answer. These can be related to the understanding of the position, a decision on the best strategic plan or an alert to a tactical possibility.
A quick example of each:
Game 14. Macieja – Ivanchuk, Moscow 2001.
Position after 7…Be7.
“Ivanchuk holds back on …Qb6. To my mind this may be Black’s sneakiest and best move order in the chapter.
Question: But won’t the game simply transpose when Black plays …Qb6 later on?
Answer: It would but this is under the assumption that Black will play the move, which he may or may not.
Question: What would be the point on holding back on …Qb6?
Answer: If we briefly review the Anand-Shirov game from earlier in the chapter, Shirov retreated his queen from b6 to c7. In this case, Ivanchuk may be trying to reach the same position a full move up.
Question: Why does Black sometimes move the queen back to c7 in this line?
Answer: Two reasons:
- Black may opt to develop the c8-bishop with …b6 and …Ba6 (this plan was suggested in the notes to the Anand-Shirov game). In order to do so, the queen must be removed from b6.
- If you recall, Shirov retreated his queen to c7 to set up a piece sac on e5. Imagine what Shirov could have done if he was handed a full tempo in that game.
“Exercise: Combination Alert! Ivanchuk found a beautiful combination here. Take your time on this one. For now the solution appears shrouded in an obscuring mist. Where is it?”
(Black to play. Solution at the bottom of the post.)
“Exercise (planning): Grandmaster So composed an effective plan to systematically strengthen his game and display the unsoundness of Kamsky’s previous intent. What would you play here as Black?”
Game 20: Gata Kamsky – Wesley So, 2009.
Answer: Principle: Counter in the centre when attacked on the wing. 29…Qe7! Intending …Nc6, followed by …d4, after which Black takes over the initiative. 30 Rf2 Nc6 “Be very aware that I call the shots!” the knight reminds those around him. 31 Qd2 d4 Now Black’s idea reverberates with power, akin to a pipe organ’s sound overwhelming the cathedral. 32 Re4 dxc3 33 Qxc3 Rf8 34 g4!? The g-pawn ceased to be amenable to reason and pushes forward with a risky scheme. White is busted so he tries desperately to fix the f6-pawn as a stationary target and have his bishop re-enter the game, at a cost to his own king’s safety. 34…Rd6 35 Bg2 Ne5 36 g5 This undermining attempt doesn’t bother Black. 36…Rxe6 Ah, the relief. So exorcises a great evil from his position. 37 gxf6 Rfxf6 38 Rxf6 Qxf6 Black is up two pawns without a trace of compensation for White.”
The book is comprised of 57 superbly annotated games which cover the various possibilities of the Classical French (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6). The Winawer variation (3…Bb4) is more popular currently although, as the author points out, not at the very highest level. His reasoning behind this is that the Winawer gives up the dark-squared Bishop and is therefore strategically not so strong, having weakened the dark squares for Black.
There are 8 chapters in the book, covering:
The Classical Steinitz Main Line (1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3 cxd4 8 Nxd4 Bc5)
The Shirov-Anand line (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Nce2 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. f4) So-called because Anand employed it in the final game of his match against Shirov for the FIDE World Championship 2000. Anand won the game and the match.
The Poisoned Pawn Variation (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be3 cxd4 8. Nxd4 Qb6)
The Old School Classical Line (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Nf3)
The Burn Variation (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 dxe4 5. Nxe4 Be7 6. Bxf6 gxf6).
and 3 chapters on the intricate McCutcheon variation. The Main Line (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Bb4 5. e5 h6 6. Bd2 Bxc3 7. bxc3 Ne4 8. Qg4), Lines with 6. Be3 and 6. Bc1 and a chapter on deviations.
I have to say that IM Lakdawala’s instruction is excellent – you can tell he is an experienced chess coach. The ideas, alternative moves and mistakes in the games are explained very clearly and the reader will not just be learning an opening, he/she will be improving his/her understanding of chess as a whole too.
The author is known for his poetic language and this book has plenty of it too as can be read in the text for the Kamsky – So game above. Another example, describing Black’s light-squared Bishop becoming a strong presence on d5, goes “Who dares call this upstanding member of society ‘bad’ now? White’s stalemated Knight now realizes the glib Bishop is not to be trusted. Up until now, the Knight monopolized the conversation. Now it’s the Bishop’s turn to speak as the stranded Knight’s shortcomings are now quite apparent to all.” Clearly, this could have been written more succinctly but it is the author’s style and I found it amusing on more than one occasion and it didn’t bother me at all. There may, however, be some readers who find this not to their taste.
When I first got the book, I looked for one of my favourite lines (playing as White) 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e5 Nfd7 6. h4!? the Alekhine-Chatard Attack but found that it was not featured. The reason for this is simply that Lakdawala prefers the move 4…dxe4 and so recommends this for Black. The book, then, does not cover every possible line in the French Defence but gives you a very strong repertoire and teaches it to a high level.
Saying that, there is still a lot of material here. This is a heavy paperback with 464 large pages of quality information. The text is set out nicely with bold for the main moves, well-sized diagrams and shaded boxes for the questions and exercises. It is easy to study from and the layout and large amount of verbal explanation (as opposed to chess variations) mean that some parts of it can be read quite easily without a board.
“The Classical French: Move by move” is a great book. It will teach the reader a quality opening, not just as a series of memorised moves but with great understanding of the positions, the pieces and the plans. The annotated games are complete so the transitions from opening to middlegame to endgame can be experienced with all their attacks, defences and tactical combinations. This is, in my opinion, how an opening book should be. It will improve your understanding of chess as well as provide you with a repertoire.
Solution to Ivanchuk tactic: “Deflection/Overload. 21…Rf1+!! 22. Kxf1 [a) After 22 Nxf1 Bxe5 picks up the Queen. b) 22 Ke2 Bb5+ forces mate in 2] 22…Qd3+! 23 Kf2 Bxe5 Black is up material and continues to attack. White can resign here.”)