Kindred’s Special: Strategic Chess–Mastering the Closed Game A BOOK REVIEW

Highly instructive and worth the time and effort to study thoroughly is what I remember most about the author, Edmar Mednis, one of the premiere chess artists of the latter part of the twentieth century. Here, he produces a book which might be termed a forerunner of what a book on the opening strategy should contain.  He has done that!  Still a question remains as to who this book addresses.  Does it reach the broad audience within my readership?  It is principally meant for the advanced student of the game who has at least a class 1600-2200 rating for the above average reader of my column who has taken the time to delve into my articles on chess.

As opening books go, it is small having thirty games that feature seventeen openings pretty thoroughly examined from the opening moves to the finis, which as I said is geared for the serious student of the game, especially those needing guidance toward how to study any opening the student finds attraction for inclusion in their repertoire.  The copy I have gives a list price of $9.95 USA funds.  It is an unabridged Dover (1999) republication of the work published by Summit Publishing, Los Angeles, CA. 1993.

GM Mednis’ approach is to explore lines that lead to closed positions, describing the important themes of strategy of each opening reviewed and carried through each phase of the battle.  Mednis’ record as both a powerful American Grandmaster and perhaps better known as chess writer and teacher brings clarity and depth to his explanations and analysis.

Who wins and who loses, what openings to choose from a vast storehouse and how those results come about was the author’s attempt to dissect the play of great players in tackling the Benko Gambit, Benoni Defense, Catalan Opening (4-games), Dutch Defense, English Opening (3-games), Gruenfeld Defense (2-games), King’s Indian Defense (2-games), Nimzo-Indian Defense (2-games), Queen’s Gambit Declined (Botvinnik’s Variation) one game with two games within the annotation, Meran Variation (2-games), Orthodox Defense, Semi-Tarrasch Defense, Slav Defense, Tarrasch Defense (3-games), Queen’s Indian Defense (3-games), Torre Attack. Because opening systems can lead to a chess position in the opening from various move orders, he found this an important element to factor into the chess study.

This was not a book of error free games. In real life errors are made and it is important to learn how to minimize the frequency of them and how to take advantage of errors by the opponent.  Thus, in real life some games effectively end in the opening, while in others the decisive element comes in the middlegame or endgame.  The author achieves purpose I think which was the backbone of this treatise–To help all of us to better understand that once “book” variation play ends or is altered and both sides are tossed on creating their own work of art, he provides guidance with better understanding through the theory behind the opening played, just how to proceed.

Here is a sample of one game from the English  Opening group:

White:  Edmar Mednis     vs.    Black:  Igor Ivanov

1. c4  Nf6

Now we have the English Opening–true or false? The correct answer is both or another way of saying it depends. About half the time the game will transpose into something else, most likely 1. d4 opening or a Reti opening system or a reverse Sicilian type game ala 2. Nc3 e5. From choosing 1. c4 White conveys the intention of preparing the battle on the Queen-side.

2. g3

Most common is the immediate 2. Nc3….  Yet there are two practical reasons why Nc3 is delayed.  Black can respond with 2…e6 heading for either a Nimzo-Indian Defense or a sundry of systems the White player must be prepared for and this does not give away entirely his own possible system setup.  One idea is 2…e5  3. Nc3 Bb4 from which a number of plans can evolve.

2. … e5   3. Bg2  d5

Again the most demanding plan. Black opens up the position while ensuring active piece development for himself, yet at the strategic cost of exchanging the important primary d-pawn by the c-pawn.

4. cxd5  Nxd5  5. Nc3  Nb6  6. Nf3  Nc6  7. O-O  Be7

It is time to take a deeper look into the position. With 8. d3 White will be playing the Dragon variation of the Sicilian system with added tempo so if reasonable for Black, then the extra tempo should benefit White even more so. The strategic themes for both sides now are:

  • WHITE’S thematic arena of early activity will be the Queenside.  The half-open c-file is the traditional route of pressure, with the square c5 being the weak square in Black’s Queenside.  The Bg2 is a significant force in applying pressure against the enemy Queenside.  The e5 pawn can be attacked by Bb2 and/or a b-pawn sally to b5. If Black plays to defend the e5 pawn, then a timely d4 by White can be considered.
  • BLACK’S needs to make use of the central presence provided by having the only primary central pawn on the fifth rank.  In general, this means that Black’s attacking chances are on the Kingside but hindered by freely giving away a tempo. And the normal idea of ….f5 advance can leave the e-pawn weak as well as the a2/g8 diagonal.

Therefore the primary use of the e5-pawn will be as a support of a …Nd4 sortie and prevention of White d4 attack idea.  However, carelessness in the center could lead to a strong action by the e-pawn.

I shall stop now to give some game play from this position because the notes are extensive.  Buy the book get the meat of all the action!

1) 8. a3  a5 /  So,  9. d3  O-O  10. Be3  Re8  11. Rc1  Bf8 12. Nb5  a4  13. Bxb6  cxb6   14. Nc3  Nd4  15. Nd2  b5  16. e3 // 2) 9. b4  Be6  10. Rb1! f6  11. d3  Nd4  12. Nd2  Nd5  13. Bb2  Nxc3  14. Bxc3  c6  15. Bxd4  Qxd4  16. Nb3  Qd7  17. Nc5  Bxc5  18. bxc5  Bd5  19. Qc2  Rf7  20. Rb4  Rd8  21. Rfb1 with pressure  against b7.

8. … O-O  9. a3  Be6  10. b4  a5  11. b5  Nd4  12. Bb2!?  Nb3  13. Rb1  f6  14. Nd2  Nxd2 ?!

A misstep. Refer back to move. Black’s prospects come from active piece development. 14….Nc5!  15. a4  Rc8! 16. Qc2  c6!  17. bxc6  bxc6  18. Ba3  Nd5!  Black’s piece activity and central influence led to equality.

15. Qxd2  Nc4  16. Qc1  Nxb2  17. Qxb2  Rb8  18. a4  Qd4  19. Qc2  Rfd8  20. Ne4  Rbc8  21. Nd2  c6  22. bxc6  bxc6  23. Rb7  Bb4  24. Rc1  c5  25. Nc4  h5  26. Be4  Rf8  27. e3  Qd8  28. Qe2  Bg4  29. Bf3  Bxf3  30. Qxf3  Qxd3  31. Rd1!!  Qg6  32. Rdd7  Rcd8  33. Rxg7  Qxg7  34. Rxg7  Kxg7  35. Qxh5  Rd3  36. Qg4+  Kh6  37. 37. h4  Rdd8  38. Qf5  Kg7  39. h5  Kh8  40. Kg2  Bc3  41. Qc2  Bb4  42. Qf5  Bc3  43. h6  Bf7  44. Qc6  Rdf8  45. Nd6  Resigns (1-0). Resigned with resuming play.

This game, with some missteps still was good enough to win the best game award in the tournament.

I did not do a great job on accurately featuring all the commentary that made up this game.  There was insufficient time.  I hope what notes I made reflect the spirit of the book.

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