BOOK REVIEW by Carl Portman
An idiot-Proof Chess Opening Repertoire
1st edition (softcover, 191 Pages)
What is this book about?
The author knows of course that the reader is not an idiot – after all they purchased his book didn’t they? He states that he can help the reader to learn a chess opening repertoire for both White and Black in a week. That is some claim! He proposes to do this offering a simplified repertoire but not a boring one, whereby if you commit the basic ideas to memory it will stand you in good stead going into the middlegame. The openings steer clear of boring exchanges and symmetry and they will not require long variation memorisation, so if you forget a move somewhere you should still be in the game without tragic consequences. All of this in a week? That’s the sort of claim that a very naïve author makes, but Graham Burgess is a very accomplished and trusted one, so he won’t have made it lightly. Can he do it? I switched on my ‘idiot mode’ which is not difficult to do, and began the journey.
There are nine chapters in the book. The first half is the Black repertoire and the second half is White. This is an unusual example of ‘Black moving first’ in chess as it is more usual to begin with White. I would take this opportunity to remark that I would like to see chess diagrams (in books in general) being printed from either Black or White’s perspective. For example, if you read András Adjorán’s books from Black’s point of view the diagrams have the black pieces at the bottom – as you would see them over the board. This helps to get your head in the zone. Of course, in Gambit’s online Chess Studio App you can simply flip the board and do this but how hard would it be for any publisher to invert diagrams according to colour perspective in hard copy books? It might be very difficult, I simply don’t know.
The repertoire for Black incorporates the Scandinavian as the only response to 1.e4. It also covers the Queen’s Gambit Accepted (which I don’t see played very often at amateur level so it is interesting to learn some lines), The Slav, Queen’s Pawn (often seen in club games) and Flank Openings such as 1.Nf3 which is always challenging to meet.
For White, who will always open with 1.c4 there is the Closed English, Other Reversed Sicilians, Symmetrical English and English – Other 1st moves. Don’t worry, the symmetrical is not symmetrical for too long and I already picked up a great tip in this line – which I am not going to share here!
After this there is an index of variations. As there are no actual games there is no requirement for an index of players.
Let me also say this. Just before the book arrived, I had been looking at an article in New in Chess Yearbook 135 regarding the Scandinavian Defence. In that article, Peter Lukacs and Laszlo Hazai looked at the line 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 c6 6.Ne5 Nb-d7 7.f4!? saying that it is a powerful weapon against the 3…Qd6 Scandinavian. Therefore, before I opened the Gambit book, I wondered if this would be covered in the pages. It was! So, Burgess is well up to speed with current events. He does discuss 7.f4 and indeed states that it has ‘some good press recently’ so well done on being on top of the game.
What does (some of) the official Blurb say?
‘Ever wanted a complete chess opening repertoire – for White and Black – whose basics can be learned in a week? A strategic low maintenance repertoire that does not require memorizing of long variations, and yet can frustrate both stronger and weaker opponents’.
‘These will become your special lines, where you will know and understand more than most players, even much stronger ones’.
Does the book achieve its aim?
It certainly does provide a repertoire with both colours. It is presented in a way that a hard-working chess player can learn the basic concepts in a week – but there are a lot of sub-variations which will take considerably longer to memorise. It all depends on where you are in your chess strength when you pick up the book. For some it will be easy to memorise the material but not for others. This is rather obvious. I think the author assumes a decent knowledge of chess to begin with to accomplish the task in a week.
Therefore, if the reader wants a repertoire consisting of 1.c4 as White, only answering 1.e4 with the Scandinavian as Black, and then sticking to QGA and Slav, hybrids then this is a great book for you.
The author states that some of the lines that appear most threatening have not actually appeared over the board. I can believe that. I have not gone through the book cross referring with any database. Some of the lines appear but there are just a few games such as one If you want to see a very interesting line indeed involving 3…g5!? As Black against a flank opening pop to you tube and let GM John Nunn take you through the idea.
This is the basic position after 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 d4 3.b4 g5!?
David Howell played David Navara in a Blitz tournament on Chess24.com earlier this year and this line appeared. Black (Navara) won! It is a fascinating line, proving indeed that some of the opening lines in Burgess’s book are (as he says) definitely not meant to be ‘safe’. It does mix it up at the board and will certainly catch many people by surprise.
Incidentally, my point about the board being inverted when looking at an opening from the Black perspective can be supported here. It just helps.
My final point is this. Will the amateur chess player who does learn and employ these lines actually improve their game as a result? There is only one way to find out. Purchase the work and try it, perhaps for a season. After reading it I also believe that you can get some exciting positions taking you into a playable middlegame. The middlegame to the endgame is your affair but Graham Burgess will set you on your way with the opening. Have a go at this repertoire and don’t feel like an idiot if it is not to your liking.
Who is the author?
Graham Burgess is an award-winning author, having written some 28 chess books including the ‘Chess for Kids’ series, so he is very well known and his work is of a very high standard.