Independent Pursuits: Chess

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JUST AFTER the new year I enthused about the reissue of Vladimir Vukovic's The Art of Attack in Chess (Everyman Chess, pounds 16.99). Good middlegame books are thin on the ground so it's pleasing to be able to welcome a completely new one: John Watson's Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy (Gambit, pounds 19.99).

Watson, an experienced American international master and chess teacher, is among the admirable minority of chess authors who always include plenty of their own original analysis. His latest ambitious project is best characterised by the subtitle Advances since Nimzowitsch, referring to the great Aaron Nimzowitsch's three books in the mid to late Twenties - Blockade, My System and Chess Praxis, which, roughly speaking, set out the hypermodern manifesto in reaction to earlier classical theories of chess.

Watson has divided his material into two parts: "The Refinement of Traditional Theory", essentially a reprise of the old ideas and Nimzowitsch's emendations with some small further modern twists; and the more radical "New Ideas and the Modern Revolution".

In the earlier chapters, there are many gentle references to bombast from the past. One interesting case is in the Ruy Lopez after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 0-0 Be7 6 Re1 b5 7 Bb3 d6 8 c3. Here Black always used to play 8 ...Na5 9 Bc2 c5 but Bogoljubow introduced 8 ...0-0 which the great Jose Raoul Capablanca strongly criticised.

Nowadays play usually continues 9 h3 when Black can if he wishes continue Na5 10 Bc2 c5, so this seemed to make no sense at all. But when I looked for the stem games between 1922 and 1924, it turned out that several players, including Capablanca himself, had attempted to punish Bogoljubow starting 9 d4!? Bg4 - initially supposed to be strong but nowadays not greatly regarded.

The second part is best characterised by the chapter headed "Rule Independence", for modern play is refreshingly free of general preconceptions. Watson's project consists mainly in mapping out the new principles which underlie players' choices: but the great problem is to decide which of these principles, new or old apply specifically. While no book, however good, can substitute for experience at the chessboard, this excellent tome gives a splendid grounding.

White: Tigran Petrosian

Black: Svetozar Gligoric

Varna Olympiad 1962

In this example from the Chapter on the "Exchange Sacrifice", White is faced with the threat of ...Raf6 followed by ...e4. The solution is obvious today.

26 Bf3! Raf6 27 Re1! Nd3 28 Rfe2 Nxe1 29 Qxe1 Re8 30 c5 Rff8 31 Ne4. Here Gligoric offered a draw which Petrosian was happy to accept.