Triangle System, The

Noteboom, Marshall Gambit and other Semi-Slav Triangle Lines

Ruslan Scherbakov

Reviewer: John Donaldson
Everyman Chess
448 pages

The standard for opening books has been continually rising the past decade, primarily for three reasons. First is the use of electronic tools like ChessBase which makes the act of gathering material and sifting through it infinitely easier than in times past. Second is the huge jump in analytical ability of chess engines which do double duty searching for and testing new ideas as well as blunder checking. Finally there is the globalization of chess writing which has made it possible for publishers (chiefly from the United Kingdom) to find great writers from around the world.

The recent publication of Russian Grandmaster Ruslan Scherbakov’s The Triangle System: Noteboom, Marshall Gambit and other Semi-Slav Triangle Lines is an excellent example of what happens when you pair up a knowledgeable and hardworking Grandmaster with modern technology – this sort of book could not have been written twenty years ago. The triangle title of this book refers to Black placing his pawns on …d5, …e6 and …c6 on the first three moves against 1.d4, 2.c4 and either 3.Nc3 or 3.Nf3. This branch of the Semi-Slav is distinct from the Botvinnik System (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 c6 5.Bg5 dxc4) and Meran (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 c6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5) in that Black temporary delays the development of his king knight. This little nuance leads to two very sharp systems in their own right, namely the Noteboom (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.Nf3 dxc4) and the Marshall Gambit (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Qxd4).

The former, named after the young Dutch master Daniel Noteboom who first brought it to prominence, produces one of the most imbalance positions in chess that can be reached in a dozen moves:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.Nf3 dxc4 5.a4 Bb4 6.e3 b5 7.Bd2 a5 8.axb5 Bxc3 9.Bxc3 cxb5 10.b3 Bb7 11.bxc4 b4 12.Bb2

There can be few other openings in which Black emerges with connected passed pawns right of the opening and White with a mighty center and two strong bishops. Scherbakov makes an examination of this variation the heart of the book and with close to 200 pages devoted to it leaves no stones unturned.

The tabiya for this variation is reached after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.Nf3 dxc4 5.a4 Bb4 6.e3 b5 7.Bd2 a5 8.axb5 Bxc3 9.Bxc3 cxb5 10.b3 Bb7 11.bxc4 b4 12.Bb2 Nf6 13.Bd3 Nbd7 14.0-0 0-0 15.Re1

I used to think this position was much better for White based on several nice wins by Alex Yermolinsky, but after reading Scherbakov’s book it now becomes apparent the problems came after Black’s inferior tries 15…Qc7? and 15…Re8?! – that occupying e4 with either 15…Ne4 and 15…Be4 leads to exciting play with mutual chances in which all three possible results are very much in play.

The other huge chapter in this book is devoted to the Marshall Gambit and the position reached after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Qxd4 7.Bxb4 Qxe4+.

Unlike other parts of the book here Scherbakov examines the position for both sides and lesser variations for Black (like 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4 Bb4) are covered enabling this book to have utility not just for Semi-Slav players but also those who fight against it.

The depth of coverage is impressive. A year and half ago at the Khanty Mansisyk Olympiad, Yury Shulman won a key game against Li Chao in a line that looked at the time very important for theory. Sherbakov shows why it was yesterday’s news.

Li Chao – Yury Shulman, Khanty-Mansiysk (ol) 2010 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Qxd4 7.Bxb4 Qxe4+ 8.Be2 Na6 9.Ba5 Bd7 10.Nf3 Nf6 11.Qd6 Qf5 12.Ne5 Qxf2+ 13.Kxf2 Ne4+ 14.Kf3 Nxd6 15.Rhd1 Ke7 16.Rd2 Be8 17.Rad1 Nf5 18.Rd8 Rxd8 19.Bxd8+ Kf8 20.g4 Nh6 21.Nd7+ Kg8 22.Kf4 f5?!

22…f6 is Sherbakov’s main line which continues 23.Nxf6+ gxf6 24.Bxf6 Nf7 25.g5 Kf8 26.Bxh8 Nxh8 27.Rd8 e5+ 28.Ke3 Nf7 29.Ra8 Nd6 30.Bd3 c5 31.Bxh7 Nxc4+ 32.Kf2 Nd6 33.Bc2 Nc7 34.Rxa7 Ne6 35.h4 Bc6 “when the passed e-pawn and active pieces should give Black sufficient counterplay” – Sherbakov.

23.g5 Nf7 24.Be7 g6 25.Nf6+ Kg7 26.Nxe8+ Rxe8 27.Rd7 e5+ 28.Kf3

28.Ke3! should have been preferred 28…Rc8 29.Rxb7 Rc7 30.Rxc7 Nxc7 31.b4 h6 32.gxh6+ Kxh6 33.a4 “when Black still has to fight for a draw” – Sherbakov.

28…Rc8 29.Rxb7 Rc7 30.Rxc7 Nxc7 31.h4 h6 32.Bf6+ Kh7 33.c5 Nd5 34.Bc4 e4+ 35.Ke2 Nxf6 36.Bxf7 hxg5 37.hxg5 Kg7 38.Be6 Nh7 39.b4 Nxg5 40.Bd7 Nf3 41.Ke3 Ne5 42.Bc8 Kf6 43.a4 Nd3 44.b5 Nxc5 45.bxc6 Nxa4 46.c7 Nb6 47.Bb7 Ke5 48.c8-Q Nxc8 49.Bxc8 a5, 0–1.

The chapters on the Noteboom and Marshall make up the bulk of this book (327 of 438 pages) but there is still room for extensive coverage of White’s lesser attempts based on different ways to guard the c4 pawn. Against e3 setups Scherbakov examines going Stonewall with …f5 which leads to reliable and solid play for Black. He also takes time out to cover lines based on an early Qc2 or Qb3 with the result that The Triangle System provides a complete repertoire against 1.d4 d5 2.c4.

There is a real tendency when dealing with theory, especially as complicated and detailed as the Noteboom and Marshall Gambit, to miss the forest for the trees and produce an unreadable and unusable book. That isn’t the case here. Scherbakov provides plenty of explanatory prose to explain what is going on without watering things down.

Grandmasters and International Masters interested in the “Pawn Triangle” will love this book as will masters up to 2400. It can be recommended to them without reservation. Those lower rated than this will find it harder going and are less likely to reach the positions that are covered.

A list of the contents of this book is as follows:

Part One: The Noteboom Variation 5.e4, 5.Bg5

White Plays an Early g2-g3

5.a4 Bb4: Various Deviations

On the Road to the Main Line

8.axb5: Introduction and 11.d5

Approaching the Main Line

The Main Line with Qc2

The Main Line with 15.Nd2

The Main Line with 15.Re1

Part Two: The Marshall Gambit

4…Bb4 and Other Deviations

4…dxe4 5.Nxe4 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Qxd4 7.Bxb4 Qxe4+ 8.Ne2

8.Be2: Various 8th Moves

8.Be2 c5

8.Be2 Na6 9.Bd6

8.Be2 Na6 9.Bc3

8.Be2 Na6 9.Ba5!?

Part Three: Anti-Triangle Systems

The Triangle Stonewall

3.Nf3 c6 4.Nbd2

3.Nf3 c6 4.Qc2 

3.Nf3 c6 4.Qb3

White doesn’t protect c4