Playing The Queen’s Gambit

A Grandmaster Guide

Lars Schandorff

Reviewer: John Donaldson
Quality Chess
248 pages

The United Kingdom has been an important center for chess book publishing since the early 1970s. First Batsford and later Gambit and Everyman dominated the English language market. The latter continue to do so today, but not without tough competition from a newcomer – Quality Chess.

The Scottish firm headed by GMs Jacob Aagaard and John Shaw has made a name for itself the past few years by publishing some excellent titles, particularly by Mihai Marin. Its latest two offerings, Boris Avrukh’s Grandmaster Repertoire 1.d4 – Volume One and Lars Schandorff’s Playing The Queen’s Gambit – A Grandmaster Guide will only add to its reputation.

At first glance it might seem strange for a company to publish two similar books so close together and on such well-covered ground. Indeed it is not hard to recall earlier works by Keene, Palliser, Cox and Berliner all advocating a repertoire based on 1.d4. None can compare with the present books by Avrukh or Schandorff.

The two books, though both devoted to 1.d4, have surprisingly little overlap. Avrukh’s work, the first of a two volume series (the second devoted to 1.d4 Nf6) has the Catalan 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 at its heart while Schandorff’s key is the Queen’s Gambit Declined 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5. Avrukh battles the Slav/Semi-Slav structure with the move order 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bf5 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nh4 and 4……e6 5.b3 while Schandorff favors a more main line approach with 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 against the Slav, Bg5 versus the Semi-Slav leading to the Botvinnik – 4……e6 5.Bg5 dxc4 and the Moscow Gambit 4……e6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4. Avrukh favors e3 setups against the 4……a6 Slav while Schandorff prefers 5.c5. The two also disagree on the Queen’s Gambit Accepted with Arukh favoring 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 Nf6 4.Bxc4 e6 5.Nf3 c5 6.0-0 a6 7.Bb3 and Schandorff the more direct 3.e4.

It looks like the two authors finally share common ground with their recommendation against the Chigorin – 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 dxc4 5.Bg5 is not well known and both authors feel it contains plenty of venom – but their interpretation is completely different! After 5……h6 Schandorff likes 6.Bxf6 and Avrukh recommends 6.Bh4.

Where the two really butt heads is in their approach to combating the Tarrasch – 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5. Both authors recommend the main line 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.g3 Nf6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.0-0 0-0. Here at the tabiya for this defense, Schandorff recommends 9.Bg5 against what he feels is a positionally unsound setup by Black, but Avrukh prefers 9.dxc5 as he cannot find an advantage for White after 9.Bg5 c4. Who is right? Typical of Avrukh, he doesn’t just write there is no advantage for White, he shows what he feels is the critical line – 10.Ne5 Be6 11.b3 Qa5 12.Qd2 Rad8 13.Nxc6 (13.bxc4 Nxd4!) 13……bxc6 14.bxc4 dxc4 equalizing. Schandorff, whose book came out three months later, continues beyond this giving the paradoxical 14.Rfd1 Bb4 15.Rdc1 which improves over the more natural looking 15.Rac1 as 15……c5 is strongly met by 16.Bxf6 gxf6 17.bxc4 dxc4 18.d5! A key point compared to 15.Rac1 is that with 15.Rfc1 there is never a potentially unprotected Rook on d1 to deal with.

To call Avrukh conscientious would be an understatement. Consider his handling of the Schlechter Slav line reached after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 g6 5.Nf3 Bg7 6.Be2 0-0 7.0-0 dxc4 8.Bxc4 Bg4 9.h3 Bxf3 10.Qxf3 Nbd7 11.Rd1 e5 12.d5 e4 13.Nxe4 Nxe4 14.Qxe4 Nb6.

Now Ivan Morovic – John Donaldson, Lindsborg Rapid 2003, saw 15.Bb3 cxd5 16.Bxd5 Re8 17.Qf3 Nxd5 18.Rxd5 Qc7 19.e4 Qc4 20.Rd7 b6 21.Be3 Bxb2 22.Rad1 Bg7 23.Rc1 Qxa2 24.Rcc7 Rf8 25.Bf4 Rad8 26.Rxa7 Qb1+ 27.Kh2 Rxd7 28.Rxd7 Qb5 29.Rb7 Be5 30.Bxe5 Qxe5+ 31.g3 Qe6 32.Qe3 Re8 33.Rxb6 Qxe4 34.Qxe4, ½-½.

This all looks very nice, but 19……Qc4 turns out to be insufficient as shown in later games. I assumed that this was the end of the line but Avrukh points out that after 19……Qe7! 20.Be3 Qxe4 21.Qxe4 Rxe4 22.Rad1 Bxb2 23.Rb5 Bc3 24.Rb7 Rb4! “White advantage is rather symbolic”. Unfortunately for fans of this line of the Schlechter Slav he goes on to prove that 15.Rb1! is the way to an advantage.

Both books are nicely laid and easy to use but which is the right one to get? There is no question that Avrukh’s book features an unusual level of detail, and the claim by the publisher’s that it “will certainly be read by grandmasters” is right on the mark, but should this be the reader’s choice only because it is so much thicker (458 pages to 248)? This really depends on whether you are a Catalan player. Avrukh devotes over half of his book (246 pages) to the Catalan. Point one is if you play the Catalan you must have his book as his coverage is fantastic.

If you don’t play the Catalan the matter is a bit trickier. Take out the Catalan and Schandorff’s analysis of the Queen’s Gambit Declined Exchange variation (with Ne2 and not Nf3) for White and the two books offer about the same amount of coverage of the QGA, Slav/Semi-Slav and irregular choices. While Arukh’s book is billed as the main line approach, Schandorff’s is actually more principled as he combats the Semi-Slav with Bg5 facing the Botvinnik system and Moscow variation head on. Schandorff even meets the Cambridge Springs sharply with 7.cxd5, a variation he could have ducked by suggesting Exchange lines with Nf3. Those looking for a more maximalist approach may like his lines better though there is more to study. By contrast, Avrukh’s suggestion of 4.e3 and 5.b3 is more likely to meet one of the stated goals of his book – to hold up for a long time.

So if you play the Catalan the choice is easy – get Avrukh’s book. If you like sharper theory against the Semi-Slav (Bg5) then Schandorff is your man. If you already have a repertoire in place that may make the decision easier. If not also consider that Avrukh uses a traditional opening book format for the presentation of his material while Schandorff uses a model game approach. This often, but not always, means you get a little more meat on the bone with the Israeli GM. By contrast Danish GM Schandorff has the livelier writing style although I found both authors to be clear and to the point. One other thing to consider is how your answers to Indian defenses mesh with these two books. If you play 3.Nc3 after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 the Schandorff’s suggestion of the Exchange Variation works very well, much less so if you play 3.Nf3.

One last and very important point is to consider your playing strength when considering whether to buy either or both of these books. They are principally aimed at players over 2200 on up (no limit!). Players from 2000-2200 will definitely have their hand full whether it is trying to learn to play the many types of middle game positions that offer White small advantages that Avrukh recommends or the main line theory of Bg5 against the Semi-Slav or 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 lines in the Slav advocated by Schandorff. Those below Expert level should concentrate on improving their overall game before taking on such demanding material.

Both books are highly recommended. I give them my strongest recommendation.