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Ask club players today if they subscribe to any opening periodicals or purchase opening books and you’ll often get a response from some of them that goes something like this “Why would I do that? I can just look stuff up in my database.”
Yes, this is undoubtedly true. Anyone can absolutely look up all of the games played in any line they like and get results. For titled players this may be enough. What about the rest of us though? How can we tell if the games we’re reviewing in a line are the critical last word in that line right now? The truth is, we can’t.
Sure, sure…you can run an engine to and accept it’s word full stop, but again, if you don’t understand what you’re looking at, the engine won’t help you. No less a luminary than Hikaru Nakamura said something to this effect after defeating Wesley So on the Black side of the King’s Indian in their 2015 Sinquefield Cup game. In his post game interview Naka said something along the lines of Wesley was probably too trusting of the computer eval coming out of the opening which gives White something like +1, but as Hikaru said, the computer simply doesn’t understand the position.
So again, how can WE know which games are critical to review when learning a new line or brushing up on new theory in one we already play?
Each Yearbook comes packed with opening surveys in which strong, sometimes world class, players give their opinions on various openings. Some topical, some better used as surprises, and some that are just new takes on old ideas.
Included in Yearbook 133 are a “Trends & Opinions” section, which features vignettes of interesting games along with fascinating tidbits from within the chess world.
Next comes the heart of the book, which is the opening surveys section. Yearbook 133 sees 26 surveys including lines such as the 10.Qd3 Winawer (used a couple of weeks ago by great effect by Naka in his win over Nepo in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational), the topical 6.Nb3 Najdorf, the 5.d4 line in the Italian, the 6…dxc4 Open Catalan, several variations of the Exchange Grunfeld, and much more.
Finally the volume finishes with a section including book reviews by English GM Glenn Flear, along with solutions to the exercises presented throughout the book.
So is this worth the expense? A quick glance at my own bookshelf shows that I have 12 copies of the Yearbook which were not provided as review copies, so to me the answer is a qualified yes.
Why qualified? Well, the truth is that I generally buy them one by one and have never subscribed. The reason I don’t subscribe is that I tend to only pick up issues which have openings that are a serious part of my repertoire.
Some of the surveys included in the various Yearbooks are marked as “SOS” variations, which are the types of variations found in the Secrets of Opening Surprises series. This is to say that while they may be playable, they are neither common nor good.
An example from Yearbook 133 is the survey on 3.h4 in the KID/Grunfeld. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.h4, etc. While I play the KID every chance I get, and consider it my favorite opening, this is not something I’m going to book up against as I don’t consider it something I’m likely to face often, if at all.
So normally when I purchase a copy of one of the Yearbook’s it’s because there are surveys which I consider to be highly useful.
These last few paragraphs may read like I’m not overly enthusiastic about the book, but that’s not the case. I just want readers of this review to know that caveat emptor is in full effect here.
So let’s talk about the material that makes up the bulk of this periodical and why I feel like this issues is particularly worthwhile.
First of all, the survey on the 10.Qd3 Winawer was something I found to be informative. I had switched from 3.Nc3 to 3.Nd2 against the French a while back because it seemed like my results were always terrible against it. This survey, written by Robert Ris, has given me food for thought about returning to 3.Nc3.
Based on some ideas given new life by Alpha Zero, this survey includes five annotated games in various lines and concludes with three exercises.
Another survey I very much enjoyed was the one written by Mickey Adams. This one is on the 5.d4 Italian, and contains nine annotated games, again followed by three exercises.
I also very much enjoyed Glenn Flear’s review of The King’s Indian According to Petrosian, which is a book that I myself read and loved. It was clear in reading his recap that GM Flear had dove deeply into this book and his enthusiasm came shining through.
So who should read the New in Chess Yearbooks? Honestly, these books are for everyone. They’ll have something for any reader at almost any level. Whether you choose to subscribe or to purchase them ala carte is completely up to you, but whichever direction you go you will find something that you enjoy.
Til Next Time,