Chess

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The Independent Culture
THE PETROFF or Russian Defence - 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 - was once thought of as a relatively safe option. However, Black's immediate counter- attack, which in some sense claims immediate field equality, can instead be seen as mildly hubristic or an over-assessment of his chances. So it is that this once placid opening has today developed a huge body of theory, some of it immensely sharp.

Artur Yusupov is a genial bear of a man, ferociously concentrated at the chessboard but utterly charming away from it. Born in Moscow, he has since the break-up of the old Soviet Union made his home in Germany. A world expert on the Petroff, Yusupov has now written a massive treatise on it (in English) for the German publishing house Olms - The Petroff Defence - pounds 20.

In 434 packed pages, Yusupov treats the opening in three distinct ways: tabular analysis as in opening encyclopaedias, illustrative games and - this an innovation for me and an excellent idea - numerous exercises to help the reader assimilate the often highly volatile material.

With this excellent format, the book will age considerably more slowly than habitual opening works; just as well, for Yusupov, who has obviously put in a huge amount of work, was unlucky in that Olms took a considerable time to process it.

Rather than an example from the book, here instead is another position from last weekend's Bundesliga showing Yusupov's innate common sense and kindness.

In the diagram, Nils Michaelsen is Black to play; Christian Gabriel is White.

White has just captured a bishop on f6. Both sides played their next move almost instantly:

1 ...Kg3 2 Re6 Kxh3!

Not 2 ...Kf2 3 Ke4 e2 4 Kf4 e1Q 5 Rxe1 Kxe1 6 Kg4 Kf2 7 Kxh4 Kf3 8 Kg5 and wins.

3 Rxe3+

If 3 Ke4 Kg2 4 Kxe3 h3 5 Rg6+ Kf1! draws - but not 5 ...Kh1 6 Kf2 h2 7 Kg3 Kg1 8 Ra6 h1N+ 9 Kf3 winning.

3 ...Kg2 4 Ke4 h3 5 Kf4 h2 6 Re2+ Kh3!

Drawing but not 6 ...Kg1?? 7 Kg3 h1N+ 8 Kf3 Kf1 9 Rg2

But Yusupov showed that White could have won with 2 Ke4! e2 3 Rf3+ Kg2 4 Re3 Kf2 5 Kf4 e1Q 6 Rxe1 Kxe1 7 Kg4 etc. So 1 ...Kg3?? was a gross blunder - 1 ...Kg2 would have brought about the game continuation.

Yusupov got right to the heart of the matter. There was no need to rush. Whatever the result it will assuredly be over in just a few more minutes; so in any game you should be able to withstand the tension, keep calm, and play the best moves available.

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