Play 1…Nc6!

Christoph Wisnewski

Reviewer: John Donaldson
Everyman Chess
268 pages

Play 1…Nc6! by German IM Christoph Wisnewski is one-stop shopping for players looking for a complete Black opening repertoire. As the title implies …Nc6 is the glue that holds Black together against 1.d4, 1.e4, 1.c4, 1.Nf3 and lesser lines, but fear not, Wisnewski is not advocating 1.d4 Nc6! The main openings that make up the backbone of his repertoire are the Nimzovich (1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5) and Chigorin (1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6) defenses. Against 1.Nf3 and 1.c4 he likes 1..…Nc6 followed quickly by …e5.

Nimzovich’s defense against 1.e4 has never enjoyed the popularity of its more famous cousin versus 1.d4, but it has never been refuted either. Wisnewski advocates 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 e6 against White’s most testing line, noting that the more traditional 3…dxc4 “lives virtually on the brink of refutation every day.” While transposition to the French with 3…e6 is not unknown, GM Rozentalis and IM Reefschlager having played it frequently for many years, it is not so common. My first question was how Wisnewski intended Black to improve on the highest profile game ever played with the 3…Nc6 French: Fischer-Petrosian, from game nine of their Candidates Match. Bobby played 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.exd5 exd5 6.Bb5 and after 6……Bg4 7.h3 Bxf3 8.Qxf3 White was already better.

Play 1…Nc6! doesn’t mention the Fischer-Petrosian game, but suggests the line is harmless and that Black does better to play 6……Bd7. After 7.0-0 play follows a game between Ebeling and Kekki with 7……Bd6 8.Re1+ Ne7 9.Bg5 c6 10.Bxf6 gxf6 11.Bd3 Qc7 12.h3 0-0-0 with the impression that Black is doing well. Maybe, but it leaves many unanswered questions like why not 9.Bxd7+ Qxd7 10.Ne5 or 8.Bg5 Be6 9.Ne5? Space considerations clearly prevented the author from analyzing all relevant lines (this is a big book at close to 300 double column pages) but it does hint at one danger with using this line as one’s primary weapon against 1.e4 – a lack of high quality games by top level players on both sides of the board.

The choice of 3……e6 over 3…dxc4 is not the only line where Wisnewski goes against the old Nimzovich canon advocated in several Hugh Myers books. Try 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5 3.e5. Everybody plays 3……Bf5 here, right? I mean one of the advantages of playing 1……Nc6 is that you have not locked in your Queen Bishop. The unquestioned advocacy of 3……Bf5 might have been true at one time, but with everyone and his brother playing 3.e5 against the Caro-Kann these days it is not surprising that 3.e5 has gotten another look against the Nimzovich. According to Wisnewski, 4.Ne2!, played by J. Te Kolste against Nimzo himself back in 1925, leaves Black struggling. Wisnewski’s answer to 3.e5 is 3……f6, leaving his queen bishop to develop at a later date. One miniature he quotes to illustrate its efficacy is T. Heinemann-Wisnewski, German Club Cup 2004 which continued 4.f4 Nh6 5.Nf3 Bf5 6.Be3 e6 7.exf6 gxf6 8.Be2 Rg8 9.Nh4 Be4 10.Bh5+ Kd7 11.0-0?? Nf5 and White was already lost.

I was very curious how Wisnewski intended to treat 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 in a way that let Black draw up his own map. Most games with this sequence have seen a transposition back to double King Pawn openings with 2……e5 and 2……d6 and 2……d5 have never proven themselves fully reliable. The authors remedy? Try 2……Nf6! I must confess to not being aware of this move prior to reading Play 1…Nc6. It can transpose to Alekhine’s Defense related lines after 3.Nc3 d5 4.e5 Ne4 or 4……d4 but 4…Nd7 is Wisnewski’s favorite choice. More testing are the lines arising from 3.e5 Ng4 where Black’s Knight often settles on h6. The author gives about 20 pages on this variation, drawing heavily on his own games and analysis.

While 1.e4 gets about 80 pages devoted to it, the bulk of Play 1…Nc6! – close to 120 pages – is devoted to the Chigorin (1.d4 d5 2.c4) and attempts to avoid it. Wisnewski gives lots of analysis, well-annotated games and plenty of prose explanation but it has to be pointed out that the author did not have access to Morozevich’s book on the Chigorin, likely as he completed his manuscript before Moroz’s book was printed.

Against the English it should come as no surprise that the author advocates systems based on …e5 followed by …Bc5 or …Bb4 depending on White’s setup. Against 1.c4 Nc6 2.Nc3 e5 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3 he likes 4……Nd4. All this is along well-established roads – more so than his recommendations against 1.e4 or 1.d4, but what to do about 1.c4 Nc6 2.g3 planning 2……e5 3.Bg2 Nf6 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Nd5? In analogous lines in the English after 1.c4 e5 2.g3 Black could contemplate an early …c6 planning …d5. But that’s not possible after 1…Nc6! Wisnewski proposes 1.c4 Nc6 2.g3 d5! (author’s exclamation mark). The idea is after 3.cxd5 Qxd5 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Nc3 Black plays 5……Qh5 followed by …Bh3 and …0-0-0. Against 3.Bg2 Black transposes into a reverse Schmid Benoni with 3……d4, a rare occasion in this repertoire where Black has a space advantage.

Play 1…Nc6! is arranged around 77 model games. This format, as opposed to that of a traditional theoretical opening manual, makes a lot of sense when dealing with openings like the Nimzovich versus 1.e4, which are not mainstream. The author’s enthusiasm for his subject permeates each page. Clearly a lot of time was put into developing this repertoire, testing it in practice and writing about it. I give it a thumb’s up with the following caveats:

1) The section on the Chigorin should be supplemented by Morozevich’s book — no fault of Wisnewski as he didn’t have access to the book.
2) The student should realize that in many cases the ice beneath the line advocated might not be that thick – there is a lot of original analysis here.
3) Along the lines of point two and mentioned before, keep in mind there are few GM versus GM examples outside of 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6.