The Campbell Report
Hard Chess
with USCF Senior Master Mark Morss

November 1999
Dear Santa; A Fancy Gambit Against the Slav

Dear Santa,

17. O-O-O Qb3!!
18. Resigns

You win again! I must say, I didn't foresee your thrusting your queen straight into my mass of pawns like that. I can capture it five ways, but I'm always checkmated! It reminds me of Levitsky-Marshall. Thanks for the advice about getting castled sooner. Also, I'm fine with your request not to play again till January, what with this being such a busy time of the year for you. I just feel lucky to be getting free chess lessons from one of the world's top players! The little service you've asked me for in return, secretly gathering information about the naughtiness or niceness of the neighborhood children, hasn't been too much trouble. I bless the day I was inspired to send a card with "1. d4" to "Santa Claus, North Pole."

I'm sending a letter instead of a card this time, so that you can have my Christmas list. I've drawn it up not only for me (you'll see that you've already given me some of the things I've listed), but for all the other correspondence players, and chess players in general, who've been good this year. I supply my review of the things on the list, just in case you're thinking of getting them for yourself, dear Santa.

1. Bookup

Without reservation, I recommend this outstanding software to all serious chess players. It's an extremely useful spreadsheet-like system for storing and accessing trees of chess analysis, whether from the initial position or any other. Anyone who has worked on a chess opening repertoire is missing a great deal by not keeping his lines in Bookup, and the same can be said also of any set of related variations, say theoretical endings, to which a player expects to be able to refer conveniently. Bookup works by position, not by game, showing a diagram, all the candidate moves that lead to immediate descendants of the given position, and if the user has supplied them, his evaluation and position-specific commentary. Clicking on a candidate move instantly and appropriately changes the position, and brings up a new set of candidate moves and comments.

A notable aspect of Bookup is that it will automatically "backsolve" positional evaluation across a tree of positions. The result is that each position's evaluation is consistent with the evaluation of the critical path through its descendent positions. The evaluation of early moves thus reflects new information added deep in the analysis. Analytical structures can be radically transformed simply by deleting positions and adding new ones. It's amazingly convenient to review a tree of variations using this program, and for that reason, Bookup is extremely useful for openings or endings familiarization. But even purely for purposes of reference, analytical variations are best stored and studied in Bookup.

The most brilliant feature of Bookup is that it instantly recognizes all transpositions, which can sometimes be quite surprising even to the player doing the analysis. This saves a lot of time and trouble, and it can also lead to deep insights. When I was using Bookup to assemble a very large set of variations of the Open Defense to the Spanish, more than once Bookup showed me remarkable transpositions that were not recognized in the theoretical literature.

The transposition-recognizing feature of Bookup really puts to shame game-based data storage systems like ChessBase or Chess Assistant, but it comes at a cost. Bookup must store entire positions, not just the moves that lead to them, so that any given number of positions require much more space to store in Bookup than in a game-based system. Therefore Bookup is not a substitute for a game-based database. The easiest way to use Bookup in conjunction with such a database is to export in PGN format the latest games relevant to your repertoire, or other analysis, then load them into Bookup. They instantly become part of your tree structure in the Bookup domain, where you can then add comments and do further analysis.

Bookup is able to communicate with all the leading chess engines though the standardized files that these produce. The only engine immediately accessible within the program is Zarkov, a good, but definitely second-tier, analytical program. When I want to use a chess engine with Bookup, I simply keep Hiarcs open on my desktop and switch back and forth between the programs using the Windows task bar.

Bookup is extremely well-designed software. It has been around a long time, and it has a large, world-wide client base. There are several very nice files of repertoires, designed by strong players, available in Bookup format. This program, about which more can be learned at http://www.bookup.com, is great Christmas gift for any serious chess player.

2. Hiarcs 7.32

I discussed in Hard Chess for July, 1999 how chess engines can be used to help with analysis. Hiarcs 7.32 the best and most reliable chess engine on the market, and an improvement on the older Hiarcs 6. I was already very pleased with the older version, and Version 7.32 seems to be even stronger, possibly because it makes use of Windows' facilitation of 32-bit processing. I gather that the program's author has made some technical improvements, also. Hiarcs is distinguished by a very human-like style of play, and it seems to know more about chess than other chess engines. Of course, being a machine, it suffers from myopic materialism and often makes funny decisions in positional situations. Like Hiarcs 6, it is too willing to play with the rook and pawn versus two minor pieces.

Although Hiarcs 7.32's Windows interface is a big improvement on the older version's clunky DOS one, I do have some problems with it. It was designed by the people at ChessBase, the new version's supplier, and it shows their characteristic unwillingness to supply documentation and their "we'll do your thinking for you, you stupid user" mentality. (These same problems afflict Almighty Microsoft, of course, but do we have to suffer from the same things in the software designers?) Hiarcs 6 came with a very useful manual; Hiarcs 7.32 comes with a not-very-useful help button (which curiously leads to a page entitled "Fritz 5").

It's irritating that Hiarcs 7.32 takes a while to load, spending most of it in a "preparing tablebases" phase. The delay seems to be significantly longer when the program is invoked from within ChessBase. But the time taken for tablebase preparation appears to be completely wasted, because when you get down to something like R+B versus R, where you would expect a tablebase to kick in, nothing happens. I have no idea what the source of this problem is, though I do note that there is separate "compile tablebase" software provided. Well, do you have to compile a tablebase before you before Hiarcs can use it? Nowhere does it say, but I've tried compiling one or two tablebases, and the program simply takes forever -- after more than 24 hours of cranking on an old Pentium 75, it still had not finished compiling R+B versus R. Also, it appears that a tablebase will take a huge amount of space on your hard drive. So the tablebase feature looks like a total washout. But I consider this a minor complaint, since the ability to access tablebases is not that useful for most analytical purposes.

The installation material tells you to install Hiarcs in your ChessBase folder, but it works fine if you don't have ChessBase. In that case, just install it in any folder you want. If you do have ChessBase, you'll find that you can have access to a good deal of database functionality from within Hiarcs. For example, you can store your work in an existing CBH file or load up a game from a CBH file for analysis.

Even bearing in mind my complaints, for about $50 this program is a fantastic bargain (maybe you could get a discount for a quantity purchase, Santa), and I think it really should be under the tree of every correspondence player who's been good this year.

3. Nunn's Chess Openings

This impressive compendium of modern chess opening theory is surprisingly reliable, more reliable, indeed, than the latest volumes of ECO. Of course, it is less complete, but it's a work that no serious player should be without. The theoretical judgements of its strong team of authors deserve serious consideration.

4. Basic Chess Openings

This is actually two books: Basic Chess Openings and More Basic Chess Openings, Gabor Kallai, Cadogan, 1997. This well-written set is the modern descendant of Fine's The Ideas behind the Chess Openings, but it is an even better work because Kallai beckons the reader to a somewhat higher level of chess understanding than Fine did. Kallai lays out, in very readable form, the main variations of all the chess openings (1. e4 is treated in the first volume, everything else in the second). Where each line concludes, he offers a discussion of further plans for each side. These books appear to be elementary, but that impression is deceptive. While they are entirely accessible to lower-rated players, chess masters also will benefit from reading them. Kallai's insights are always useful, and in several cases, he offers fresh ideas not found in the leading compendiums. There is no better work for gaining a broad understanding of the main ideas and themes of the chess openings.

5. Basic Endgames

Yuri Balashov and Eduard Prandstetter, Prague Chess Agency, 1992. I am not certain if this is still in print, but you can still find copies at Chess Digest, a most excellent bookseller. This is by far the best single-volume work on the theoretical endings. It is a no-nonsense book, terse and to the point, but it presents the endings with surprising completeness. It is much more complete, for example, than Keres' better-known survey. I think quite a few correspondence players expect to be able to pick up an endings book and find what they need when a given situation arises. The great weakness of this approach is that you need to know your endings to play well in the earlier phases of the game, particularly the late middle game. The theoretical endings considered here, those with a relatively small number of pieces and with known methods of winning or drawing, are the very foundation of chess.

6. King and Pawn Endings

GM Alex Fishbein wrote these excellent lessons (American Chess Promotions, 1993). These endings are amazingly difficult to play well, and this work is a superior guide to them that goes beyond what is found in a survey work like Balashov's and Prandstetter's.

7. Sharpen Your Tactics

GM Anatoly Lein and Moscow chess coach Boris Archangelsky put together this outstanding exercise book (Hays Publishing, 1996). Nothing is here but 1,125 tactical situations and their solutions, almost all taken from top-level games (a few are taken from endgame studies), and all are magnificently entertaining. Here's one that I particularly enjoyed (a variation of a 1988 study by Van Vliet):

Diagram 1
White to move

8. The Art of Combination

Maxim Blokh, a strong Russian correspondence player, devised this highly educational set of tactics exercises, grouped by theme and nicely graded by level of difficulty (International Chess Enterprises, 1993). Unfortunately it's out of print, and it's unobtainable at any bookseller of which I am aware. But it's so good, Santa, that I hope you will work your Christmas magic and deliver a copy to every good correspondence player. Or at least convince the publishers to renew publication!

Well Santa, that ends my Christmas list. You asked that I send you my annotated games in that fancy gambit against the Slav: 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. e4 b5 6. Qc2!?, and I've linked two of them here.

Diagram 2
Position after 6. Qc2

Black has alternatives, but in practice this usually transposes, by means of 6e6 7. Bg5, into a Botvinnik System (C43 or C44 in the ECO classification scheme). Then after 7h6 8. Bh4, a position arises that most often comes up these days when White tries a topical gambit against the Moscow Variation: 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bh4!? dxc4 7. e4 b5 8. Qc2. But 8. Be2, not 8. Qc2, is what most top practioners are playing. Still, the line with 8. Qc2 (or 6. Qc2) gives dynamic play. White's idea is simply to put his pawns on e4 and d4 and play chess, almost always following up with a2-a4 and potential play on both sides of the board.

Diagram 3
Position after 8. Bh4

The main question Black faces is whether or not to grab the d-pawn with 8g5 9. Bg3 g4 10. Ne5 Qxd4. In the first game below my opponent did not grab, then soon allowed me to rip open the center and get a winning attack. In the second game my opponent chose to grab the d-pawn, and followed up with strong defense. Fortunately, he later played imprecisely and allowed me to escape into an opposite-color bishop ending where his extra pawn made no difference. In spite of that, I think White's play can be improved, and I'll probably try this line again for White. One thing I really like about this gambit is that it can be played against almost any Slav or Semi-Slav structure. For example, 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 a6 5. Qc2!? dxc4 6. e4 or 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Bg5 dxc4 6. e4 b5 7. Qc2!?

Santa, you'll find in the two linked games a reasonably complete treatment of this line. The first game will show everything except Black's grab of the d-pawn, including Black's alternatives to 6e6. The second game will focus on the pawn-grab.

Your chessfriend and student,


Game 1: Morss-Bellatalla, WT-G-M-365

Game 2: Morss-Thompson, 1997 U.S. Absolute

Download game and main text analysis
for a zipped file (with commentary) in new ChessBase (CBH) and PGN formats.

Next Month: Noteboom Variation

Copyright © 1999 by Mark F. Morss

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