Pursuits: Chess

WHEN I was getting to grips with chess in the late Sixties and early Seventies, the standard opening work was Modern Chess Openings (MCO). Nowadays, this single volume has been superseded at the professional level by numerous monographs on particular openings and Chess Informant of Belgrade's five meaty volumes of The Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings (ECO). But there is still a serious market for single-volume opening encyclopaedias, satisfied in the interim by Batsford Chess Openings, new editions of MCO - the 14th is due out soon - and now, from the Everyman Chess stable in co-operation with John Nunn's own company Gambit: Nunn's Chess Openings (NCO) which packs 544 large pages for pounds 19.99.

As he explains in the introduction, Nunn knew from the outset that this was a task too great for any single person and he drafted in the excellent team of Graham Burgess, John Emms and Joe Gallagher to help him in preparing this massive tome which, he recently told me, took about three man-years to produce. His great innovation has been the integration of the process with the maximum possible input from software. The games were first chosen from a large database in ChessBase of Hamburg's format. The authors then worked on them with a chess-playing program in the background to check for mistakes; as a result , they found some errors in previous analysis, one of which appears below. When the lines were ready, they were converted into publishable format by Nunn's own software.

Opening theory has now proliferated to such an extent that no single volume can attempt to be comprehensive. There was therefore pressure on space with the bulk of the coverage on popular variations. So I was pleased to find that the treatment of some of my own rather obscure pet lines is reassuringly scanty - but then the same can be said about the flagship of opening theory - the five volumes of ECO itself.

The references in NCO are modern and in the popular areas, especially the Sicilian defence where Nunn is so expert, the coverage is intensive. This example, though, which is telegraphed in Nunn's introduction, is from a side line of the Marshall Gambit and stems from a game which Ian Rogers won against Stefan Djuric in San Bernardino in 1988.

Black usually plays 11 ...c6, to which NCO devotes 14 columns. In the game Black played 18 ...Be4 but Rogers, and after him ECO, recommended the continuation given, ending up with 22 ...Qd6 unclear. Unfortunately White can win as shown. At the end both 25 ...Qg4 26 Qxg4 fxg4 27 h5 and 25 ...Rg8 26 Bxg8 Rxg8 yield White a decisive material advantage.

1 e4 e5

2 Nf3 Nc6

3 Bb5 a6

4 Ba4 Nf6

5 0-0 Be7

6 Re1 b5

7 Bb3 0-0

8 c3 d5

9 exd5 Nxd5

10 Nxe5 Nxe5

11 Rxe5 Bb7

12 d4 Qd7

13 Nd2 Nf4

14 Ne4 Ng6

15 Nc5 Bxc5

16 Rxc5 Rae8

17 Be3 Kh8

18 Rh5! h6

19 h3 f5

20 Bxh6 gxh6

21 Rxh6+ Kg7

22 Qh5 Qd6

23 Rh7+ Kf6

24 h4! Qf4

25 Rh6!