No Passion For Chess Fashion

Fierce Openings For Your New Repertoire

Alexander Raetsky, Maxim Chetverik

Reviewer: Randy Bauer
Mongoose Press
234 pages

Over the years, the exponential expansion of chess opening theory has spawned a new chess opening book genre devoted to non-mainstream opening variations and approaches. Most recently, this is epitomized by the ‘SOS’ (Secrets of Opening Surprises) series. While in past times regular series have been devoted to game collections (Chess Informant) and mainstream theory (New in Chess Yearbooks), things have progressed to the point where unusual variants have their own regularly published series – the unusual has gone mainstream.

No Passion For Chess Fashion seeks to fill a similar need – perhaps with a bit more authoritative analysis and discussion. In the book, the authors focus on 11 relatively less analyzed variations, with the goal that the reader will be able to ‘enjoy setting fashions rather than merely following them.’

Of the 11 variations, 10 are presented for the black side, with just one (The Advance French after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Qg4) dedicated to the white side. As a starting point, it is evident that the authors are not trying to present an entire repertoire for either side – particularly not for the white side. Instead, this is something of a smorgasbord of possibilities that may be assimilated into an existing repertoire.

The variations covered in each chapter, and the number of key games and pages devoted to each are:

1) King’s Gambit Accepted (1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d6 4.d4 g5 5.h4 g4 6.Ng1 f5), covered through five key games over 10 pages.
2) Petrov’s Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 Nxe4 4.dxe5 Bc5), covered in four key games over nine pages.
3) Ruy Lopez Alapin’s Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Bb4), covered in 10 key games over 20 pages.
4) Scandinavian Defense (1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.d4 Nxd5 4.c4 Nb4), covered in six key games over 13 pages.
5) Alekhine’s Defense, Cambridge Gambit (1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.f4 g5), covered in four key games over eight pages.
6) French Defense, Advance Variation, covered in seven key games over 17 pages.
7) St. George Defense (1.e4 a6), covered in 24 key games over 48 pages.
8) Sicilian Defense, Cobra System (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Ndb5 Bc5), covered in five key games over 13 pages.
9) Albin Countergambit (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 d4 4.Nf3 Nc6), covered in 20 key games over 52 pages.
10) Chigorin Defense, Fianchetto Variation (1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nc6 3.d4 Bg4 4.Bg2 Qd7), covered in 13 games over 26 pages.
11) English Opening (1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Bb4 3.Nd5 Ba5 4.b4 c6 5.bxa5 cxd5), covered in six key games over 14 pages.

From the descriptions above, it is obvious that some variations are covered more thoroughly than others. The Albin Countergambit and St.George Defense make up 43 percent of the book’s pages, and including the Chigorin Defense puts it well over 50 percent. The extensive coverage of the Albin is understandable, as the authors wrote a 1998 book on this variation. The coverage of the St. George Defense is a bit more surprising – to its credit it could be adopted as a ‘repertoire’ response to 1.e4 (should somebody really be willing to make it their primary defense), which is different than many of the variations presented.

In looking at my own repertoire, the only chapters that might conceivably fit into my black/white repertoire were numbers 4, 5 and 6. Interestingly, some may be more useful as an inoculation against ways that players might play against my repertoire – I found the discussion of the transposition in chapter 10 interesting, for example, as well as the variation in chapter 11. I suspect that most players will find this a ‘hit or miss’ exercise with only a handful of chapters of real use.

Some lines do seem promising – while my grasp of ‘latest greatest theory’ is largely lacking, the discussion of the Alapin Ruy Lopez in chapter three appears solid. It’s notable that many of the types of positions that are reached are similar to those that arise when black first develops his bishop to c5. It’s notable that several of the illustrative games are the product of co-author Chetverik, which gives the analysis a certain authoritative stamp. This brings up an important point: the authors are individually responsible for chapters. Chetverik is responsible for four chapters (3, 5, 7, 9), while Raetsky is responsible for the remaining seven. While Raetsky has the majority of the chapters, Chetverik is responsible for the two largest chapters and a majority of the actual page count (128 of 230).

The chapters generally contain a fair amount of useful discussion about what is going on, in terms of key ideas and alternatives. Each chapter also comes with a conclusion box that summarizes the status of the variation. The authors should be commended for their honesty – this is not a case where, for example, every black variant leads to full equality. That is a refreshingly different approach than can be found in some similar kinds of books by other authors.

The key games appear to be a reasonable mix of older and new games, with about one-third of the 104 being played prior to the year 2000. Of course, every variation has its starting points, and examining the games that lay the foundation is certainly useful (how could you discuss the St. George variation without including Miles’ 1980 victory over Karpov?). The games from 2000 and beyond form something of a bell curve, with the most prevalent year being 2005 and no games after 2008.

The book was translated by Sarah Hurst; while the text generally flows pretty well, there are a few points where you’ll have to reach your own conclusions. In the introduction, the black-oriented coverage is explained as ‘the authors play White more strictly than Black, and with the ten plans for Black there’s just one for White.’ I assume this means that the authors believe that white should play more solidly and according to theory, which is why the (according to the title) ‘fierce openings’ that are not part of ‘chess fashion’ are mostly lines for Black. OK, but I think the translation could have better expressed this.

As noted above, the obvious point of comparison for this book is with the SOS series, which is now working on its 14th volume since 2003. In terms of the pages of content to price ratio, this book holds up well to the SOS series. SOS Volume 13 runs 144 pages with a list price of $21.95 – although the font size is smaller for SOS, which somewhat balances this out. However, the overall production values for No Passion for Chess Fashion are generally superior to SOS, with bigger pages, better paper and nice clear print.

In the end, the choice between this and a volume of SOS probably comes down to the specific content in the competing volumes. The SOS volumes tend to have more of a ‘sampler’ feel to them – the chapters are generally no more than 5 to 10 pages, much smaller content-wise than the largest chapters of No Passion for Chess Fashion. That said, the smaller chapters in this volume have some of the same feel/approach as in the SOS volumes. It also is worth asking whether the longer chapters with greater coverage here may defeat the purpose of developing alternate lines with less theory. That, of course, is the balancing act that all of these volumes must address on a case-by-case basis.