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Book Reviews by Sam Collins

Sam CollinsHow should a book on the Grunfeld be written? The opening itself looks like an author’s nightmare, with fluid pawn structures permeating a maze of highly theoretical variations. Scottish GM Jonathan Rowson unveiled his approach in Understanding the Grunfeld: a concentration on key ideas with little emphasis on systematic theory.

The Grunfeld Defence (Everyman Chess 2002, 160 pages, R.R.P. £14.99) by GM Nigel Davies is an example of a completely different approach to covering this beast of an opening. Through 73 heavily annotated games, Nigel Davies offers a complete coverage of every main variation in the Grunfeld. The dangers of such an approach are twofold.

First, the author risks discussing positions and variations for which, notwithstanding his general ability and expertise in the opening, he has little feel or experience. These areas will often come across as ‘database dumps’ which, roughly translated, means an abundance of largely unscrutinised games and little independent analysis. There are a couple of areas in the book open to such criticism, most notably in the first chapter (on the Exchange Variation with Rb1) where GM Davies fails to notice several transpositions, resulting in assessments of identical positions as both ‘unclear’ and ‘good for White’, the same Black move being dealt with twice (with two different final positions), and a move which directly transposes into the main game being recommended as ‘interesting’ without pointing out the transposition.

Second, by trying to deal with everything, the author risks not being able to cover anything in sufficient depth. GM Davies tells us in the introduction that his ‘Grunfeld tastes are reflected in the material’ upon which the book is based, but there is little evidence of this. In every chapter there are interesting and offbeat suggestions, but they don’t seem to get the attention they merit because so much space is given to mainline theory.

Having said this, both these problems are inherent in any complete survey of an opening, and in general GM Davies does a good job of presenting the Grunfeld in an accessible manner. A lot of information is packed into the 160 pages, and this book will appeal to anyone wishing to try different lines against the same White system. The author seems exceptionally well versed in this opening, and manages to combine a comprehensive survey of recent games with old and forgotten analysis and suggestions by leading players of the past. Though sparse, his own original analysis is also appealing.

The book which I want to see by Nigel Davies on the Grunfeld is an in-depth survey of all his pet lines in the opening, steering clear of mainstream theory. This isn’t that book. Instead, it’s a well-researched effort to cover the whole Grunfeld in a limited number of annotated games, a very tough task with which the author copes pretty well.


Other reviews by Sam Collins

Review 1: Play the Open Games as Black, by John Emms
Review 2: The Human Comedy of Chess: A Grandmaster’s Chronicles by GM Hans Ree & Storming the Barricades by GM Larry Christiansen
Review 3: Open Ruy Lopez by Glenn Flear
Review 4: Main Line Caro-Kann by Neil McDonald
Review 5: Offbeat Spanish by Glenn Flear
Review 6: Excelling at Chess by Jacob Aagard
Review 7: Can You Be a Positional Chess Genius? by Angus Dunnington
Review 8: The Grunfeld Defence by Nigel Davies
Review 9: The Best of Chess Cafe
Review 10: How To Build Your Chess Opening Repertoire by Steve Giddins
Review 11: The …a6 Slav by Glenn Flear
Review 12: Starting Out: The Ruy Lopez by John Shaw
Review 13: Knockout Nimzo (video) by Tony Kosten
Review 14: My Great Predecessors by Gary Kasparov

All text Copyright Alexander Baburin unless otherwise noted