Strategic Chess Opening Repertoire for White, A

John Watson

Reviewer: John Donaldson
Gambit Chess
271 pages

A Strategic Chess Opening Repertoire for White by John Watson is something rare these days. Not so long the idea of writing a comprehensive opening repertoire book just a little under 300 pages seemed pretty reasonable, but the bar was reset with the publication of a massive two-volume work (over 1000 pages) on 1.d4 by Boris Avrukh. With expectations raised, it requires a very skillful selection of lines to meet all of Black’s defenses major defenses to 1.d4 in the space Watson has to work with and still have them pack a punch. He is up to the task.

The index below gives an idea of how the veteran American International Master gets the job done. He has selected lines that while well-respected are not on the cutting edge of theory. By doing so he has limited the amount of theory that must be learned but in such a way that Black is not given a free pass.

Watson’s proposed repertoire:

QGD: Exchange with Nf3/h3 (Karpov/Yermolinsky)
QGA: Main line with 7.Bd3 Slav: 3.Nc3 and 4.e3
Semi-Slav: Anti-Meran system with an early b3
Tarrasch: Main Lines with g3.
Nimzo-Indian: 4.e3 with 5.Ne2 (in most cases)
King’s Indian: 5.h3 with Be3 or Bg5
Grünfeld: Exchange with 7.Qa4 or 7.Bg5
Modern Benoni: Bd3, h3 and Bg5
Benko: 4.Qc2
Dutch: 2.Nc3 (but all move-orders covered, and therefore some lines with c4)
Modern: 2.c4 and 3.e4
English Defense: 3.a3
1…e6 2.c4 Bb4+ 3.Nc3
1…d6 2.c4 e5 3.d5

A case in point is the proposed anti-Dutch weapon 1.d4 f5 2.Nc3, which packs plenty of punch and yet avoids the reams of theory in the Leningrad, Ilyin-Genevsky and Stonewall. Another example is the Anti-Benko weapon 4.Qc2, which turns out to be quite respectable and demands accurate play for Black. Ditto the Anti-Chigorin line 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 (and 5.Bf4). Watson consistently recommends lines that aim for a small advantage of the risk-free type.

This can be clearly seen by his treatment of the Budapest Gambit. Watson follows Tim Taylor’s main line after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.Bf4 Bb4+ 5.Nd2 Nc6 6.Nf3 Qe7 7.e3 Ngxe5 8.Nxe5 Nxe5 9.Be2 0-0 10.0-0 Ng6 11.Bg3 Bd6 12.Bxd6 Qxd6 13.Rc1 Qe5 14.Qc2 d615.Nf3 Qe7. Here the Los Angeles IM’s book on the Budapest praises Black’s position. Watson does not agree. He proposes 16.Nd4! Rd8 17.Rfd1 Ne5 18.Qe4 g6 19.Nb5!? a6 20.Nc3 with a slight edge. The final position is hardly a forced win for White but is the type of position where the first player is not far away from playing for two results.

A Strategic Chess Opening Repertoire for White not only offers sensible ways to answer Black’s defenses to 1.d4, it also utilizes variations that work well together. This means meeting 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 with 3.Nc3. Facing the Nimzo-Indian is not the easy way but it has a bonus in that the Queen’s Gambit can be met by the Exchange Variation – a line that would not pack any punch after an early Nf3.

A Strategic Chess Opening Repertoire for White can be strongly recommended for players of a positional bent rated 1800-2400.