John Watson is known to every serious chess player as one of the greatest chess writers in the known universe. His reputation reached epic status when he completed his now legendary books on the English Opening, his theoretical tomes on the French Defense added to his fame, and then Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy, Chess Strategy in Action, and the highly celebrated Mastering the Chess Opening series firmly established his place in chess history. His latest, A Strategic Opening Repertoire for White, is yet another winner.
A Strategic Opening Repertoire for White offers everything the 1.d4 player needs if he wants a sound but dynamic set of systems. We’re not talking just 1.d4 d5 here, we’re talking 1.d4 followed by replies to everything Black can throw at you, all in one book! I found his choices to be solid as a rock, practical, and combative.
One thing that shocked me was his recommendations versus the Grunfeld: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Qa4! (he also analyzes the very interesting 7.Bg5). This surprised me since I viewed it as “my” line during the late 80s through the mid 90s, and I tossed it out every chance I got. Watson shows that 7.Qa4 still has pop, just as it did when I was using it. He also gives 6…c5 7.Bb5+ Bd7 and now 8.Rb1 when he says, “isn’t mentioned in the opening books, but looks promising.” His analysis shows that it is indeed hard for Black to find a way to full equality. Oddly, my 80s and 90s repertoire included this very move (which I thought was my discovery), and I held it in high esteem during that time.
His recommended line against the King’s Indian almost followed my old repertoire too: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.h3 (Yes! I thought he was going to walk down Silman lane again, but…) 5…0-0 6.Bg5 No go! I played 6.Nf3 for several years, with excellent results, but this Bishop move is modern, popular, and far sharper than my old choice. Actually, he also recommends 6.Be3 (offering a very nice analysis of it), and this often transposes to my old system if White follows up with Nf3.
In the case of 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 Watson doesn’t cower with a Queen’s Indian, and instead allows the Nimzo-Indian via 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3, which I also embraced those millions of years ago (with excellent results too). Though 4.Qc2 took over the limelight for a long time, the highly strategic 4.e3 has come back into vogue. I think this was an excellent decision for his repertoire.
His handling of the Benoni really does deviate from the way I used to play: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.Bd3 Bg7 8.h3 0-0 9.Bg5 which is not only highly interesting, but also is complimentary with his recommendation vs. the King’s Indian Defense. When creating a repertoire, the author should try his best to allow transpositions between openings (in this case, the KID to the Benoni) to merge into each other in seamless fashion. He looks out for this kind of thing all through the book.
I was very curious as to how he was going to meet the Benko Gambit. White has some very sharp choices at his disposal, but choosing these runs the risk that a complete antidote might be found, thereby leaving part of your repertoire laying in a ditch. Watson tried hard to avoid that from happening throughout the book, and here he made sure his recommendation would stand up to anything Black could muster after the quiet, positional 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.Qc2, which simply intends 5.e4 with very real chances of obtaining an edge. Other main line systems like the Queen’s Gambit Declined, the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, the Dutch, and the Slav and Semi-Slav all follow this “Long live the repertoire!” philosophy.
I need to add that Watson goes far beyond black’s main systems. In fact, he treats just about everything with respect and does his best to find the best way to deal with them. This includes 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Bf5, 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6, 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5, 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 cxd4, 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c5, 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5, 1.d4 d6, 1.d4 g6, 1.d4 e6 2.c4 b6, 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6, 1.d4 Nc6, 1.d4 b5 2.e4 a6, 1.d4 b5 2.e4 Bb7, 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 a6, 1.d4 e5.
Watson’s A Strategic Opening Repertoire for White is a superb buy for any 1.d4 player who is rated 1800 to 2400. Complete one volume repertoire books just don’t get better than this.