The Full English Opening by FM Carsten Hansen, New in Chess, 2018 464pp
First I’ll start with a confession. I don’t normally like to review opening books.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, like everyone else I read opening books, or at least tend to use them as a reference, but that doesn’t translate into enjoying reviewing them.
The main reason that I don’t typically like reviewing them is that I’m not a strong enough player to have a deep base of opening knowledge that shows me instinctively when something is missing.
I’ve read reviews on Amazon and the sites of other reviewers where the reviewer, typically someone around 2300+ will point out that some obscure but useful line is missing from the book or has been misevaluated, and therefore, even though the rest of the content may be valuable, the book itself loses value due to the fact that something that I would never have known about was overlooked.
So when I review an opening book I generally do so with the philosophy of caveat emptor. Also, I don’t dig deeply into the lines. Instead my goal is to give the book an overview and inform a reader who either already plays the opening or has been thinking about adopting it as to whether or not I feel it would be worth their time and money to purchase the book.
However, from time to time a book comes along where it doesn’t matter if there is a line or two missing because the author points out that their main goal is to teach the underlying themes, and that the reader will then be able to use that as a starting point to dig as deeply as they may care to.
This book is exactly such as work. In the foreword FM Hansen tells us that the book is not meant to be a theoretical work, nor is it designed to be a one size fits all repertoire.
Instead the idea behind this book it to teach the reader the underlying concepts which form the backbone of the English.
Having said that, it should be noted that this doesn’t mean that the book is free from theory. It is not. In fact, there is quite a bit of theoretical knowledge contained within the volume, and as long as the reader understands that this is a foundation rather than a move in ready house they will be well served.
My own journey with the English began when I realized a few years ago that if I was truly to push towards my goals as a player then I needed to move away from playing 1.e4 exclusively. I needed to branch out and explore other structures and get a feel for many more types of positions.
During this journey I naturally found myself playing the English for a time. I learned that my preconceived notions of the English as “slow” or “boring” were simply incorrect. The English is actually much deeper and more intricate than I had imagined it could be.
Although I have moved on from the English as my main choice with White, it was with great delight that I opened this book to read it since I do still use it from time to time.
To illustrate my earlier point of just how broad the English is, the book runs 464 pages, and as mentioned previously this is not a deeply theoretical work. This should give the reader of this review an idea of the depth of this work.
The book is broken down into three parts. Part I comprised the 1.c4 e5 lines, Part II the symmetrical lines with 1.c4 c5, and Part III the Indian, Slav, and Dutch lines.
Each of those sections is then broken down into several chapters, which are laid out according to the variation being looked at.
Included are a number of reversed Sicilians, fianchetto KID lines, Hedgehog, and others.
Also, unlike other works on this opening in the past, this is not a dogmatic 1.c4 2.g3 set of systems. In fact, the author includes a chapter at the end of Part I which outlines why 2.g3 makes sense (and why it doesn’t always…)
It should be noted that while there are deep variations when needed, the author also gives a lot of prosaic explanations which communicate the ideas. Speaking for myself I find that to be a very useful way of conveying information. While I like to see analytical proof of claims that authors make, often if they don’t clearly spell out what they are tying to prove I don’t get as much value from a book as I otherwise would have.
I know that last point varies greatly amongst different playing strengths, and a person who’s 2400 won’t need the same plain language explanations as someone who is 1400 might. However, I don’t think that a 2400 will feel that a book that contains text as well as variations is a problem, whereas a 1400 would very likely feel that a book that contains variations with no text is a big problem.
Another feature that I really enjoyed about this book is that in many cases multiple options are given for the White player. Rather than falling into the trap where only one option is given, FM Hansen ensures that readers will have a variety to choose from depending on their personal preferences.
Not to be overlooked are the included exercises designed to help the reader to gain an understanding of the underlying themes There are more than 60 of these given, and in solving them the reader is almost guaranteed to deepen their knowledge of the English.
I spent much more time going through this book than I normally would. The deeper I dug the more clear it became that the information contained within was greatly assisting me in understanding not only the English, but pawn structures which appear in other openings as well.
I recommend this book not only to anyone who plays or is considering playing the English, but also to anyone who wants to better learn closed and semi-closed pawn structures.
Til Next Time,
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