Alekhine Alert! – A Repertoire for Black against 1 e4 by Timothy Taylor,
Everyman Chess 2010, Figurine Algebraic Notation, Paperback, 285pp. £16.99.
By Stephen Berry
American international master Timothy Taylor has already written an entertaining book on Bird’s opening (1 f4). He has a bright and breezy approach to writing which should appeal to the club player. His latest book on Alekhine’s Defence continues the good work. Some years ago I took up the Alekhine when I discovered it was an underrated opening and its neglect curious. In addition, there are no ways for White to play for a draw and, most important, many club players don’t seem to know how to play against this opening.
Taylor’s prose is forceful and direct as we learn from the start. “Do you want to counterattack on move one? If your answer is ‘Yes’, then Alekhine Alert is for you – but the book you hold in your hands is quite different from previous works on this opening.” Taylor goes on to claim that:
1. He has written a repertoire book whilst others have tried to cover the whole Alekhine.
2. Bad lines are excluded; indeed Taylor often starts a chapter with a description of lines that Black should avoid.
3. He will give the best play against the ‘inoffensive lines’ which the Alekhine player meets quite often. Existing books have been remiss here.
The book is divided as follows:
Bibliography (2 pages)
Introduction (5 pages)
World Champions Play Alekhine's Defence – Our Hero Alekhine (23 pages)
Modern Variation 1: The White Pawn Wedge – Our Hero: Bagirov (17 pages)
Modern Variation 2: A Danish/Latvian Co-Production – Our Hero: Kengis (32 pages)
Modern Variation 3: Vikings Board the Alekhine Longboat – Our Hero: Carlsen (34 pages)
Exchange Variation: The Ox is not a Scary Animal – Our Hero: Larsen (34 pages)
The Four Pawns Attack – Fracture Him! – Our Hero: Sergeev (30 pages)
The Chase Variation – Back to the Centre – Our Hero: Korchnoi (26 pages)
Fourth or Fifth Move Sidelines – Our Hero: Vaganian (16 pages)
Third Move Sidelines – Our Hero: Varga (14 pages)
Alekhine Declined – Our Hero: Taylor (36 pages)
Repertoire and Final Note (1 page)
Index of Variations (6 pages)
Index of Complete Games (5 pages)
So, how do Taylor’s recommendations stand up? Let’s look at the three main ways White has of attacking the Alekhine.
a. 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 Nf3
b. 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 c4 Nb6 5 ed
c. 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 c4 Nb6 5 f4
After 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 Nf3 Taylor proposes 4 … de and after 5 Nxe5 either 5 … c6 (the Miles line) or 5 … g6 (popularised by Kengis).
As an appetiser Taylor gives the following game.
Give Topalov v Carlsen from the Alekhine database.
Taylor spends some time explaining why he rejects 4 …Bg4 and 4 … g6 in favour of the semi-open games you get after 4 Nf3 de 5 Nxe5 c6 or 5 … c6. The pawn structure and strategy in these lines is similar to either the Rubinstein French 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 de 4 Nxe4 Nd7 or the Smyslov variation of the Caro-Kann 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 de 4 Nxe4 Nd7. White has a slight edge but Black should equalise with accurate play. At the present stage of theory in the Alekhine, I believe this is the best approach for Black.
In the exchange variation after 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 c4 Nb6 5 ed
Taylor avoids 5 … cd because of the so-called Voronezh line – 5 ed cd 6 Nc3 g6 7 Be3 Bg7 8 Rc1 0-0 9 b3 where Black has had trouble recently. He recommends instead 5 … ed, a favourite of Bent Larsen. It should be mentioned that each chapter has a ‘hero’ or person who excelled with a particular variation of the Alekhine. Larsen is the hero of the chapter on the exchange variation.
I would make two points about Taylor’s coverage of the exchange variation, one in favour and one against.
After 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 c4 Nb6 5 ed ed 6 Nc3 Be7 7 Bd3 0-0 White can play 8 Nge2! The point of this move is to avoid the lines with the uncomfortable pin 8 Nf3 Bg4. … Taylor proposes answering 6 Nc3 with 6 …Nc6 to avoid 7 Bd3 and 8 Nge2. I think that this is a good suggestion.
Not so impressive is Taylor’s coverage of the game Yudovich v Larsen on page 132. After 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 c4 Nb6 5 ed ed 6 Nc3 Be7 (Taylor believes this move order to be inaccurate because of the possibility of 7 Bd3, but we soon transpose back to our main line) 7 Be3 0-0 8 Be2 Nc6 9 Nf3 Bg4 10 b3 Bf6 11 0-0 d5! (as Taylor notes, this is the key counter-attack by Black) 12 c5 Nc8 (the knight may be routed eventually to f5 to attack the white d-pawn) 13 h3 Bh5. Taylor recommends 13 … Bxf3 as better then 13 … Bh5. In fact, both these moves are wrong.
1) 13 … Bh5 14 Qd2 Bg6 15 Rad1 N8-e7 16 g4! leads to the black pieces stepping on each other’s toes.
2) 13 … Bxf3 14 Bxf3 N8-e7 15 g4 g6 16 Rc1 where again Black is cramped on the Kingside.
Instead, as John Cox points out in his book on the Alekhine, Black should go 13 … Be6! 14 Qd2 g6, and if 15 g4 Bg7 16 Ne1 f5, White has no time for 17 g5 because of 17 … f4. Taylor might have noted this important finesse.
In the Four Pawns Attack, after 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 c4 Nb6 5 f4 Taylor proposes 5 … g6!? This rare line can be quite devastating.
As an illustration Taylor gives the game Letelier v Fischer, Leipzig 1960 which went 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e5 0-0 5 e5.
After this move, Taylor writes, “Notice how White gets the identical pawn structure to the Alekhine’s Defence, while black’s king’s knight saves one move but goes to a worse square (e8 instead of b6). But Fischer’s general strategy is a clear beacon of how to play such a position. Nibble with …d7-d6, break with c7-c5, and don’t count the pawns!”
This is illustrated by the next few moves:5 …Ne8 6 f4 d6 7 Be3 c5! 8 dc Nc6! and Fischer won brilliantly. The following game illustrates what can happen to White in this line.
I think that Taylor’s recommendation against the Four Pawns Attack is definitely worth a look, if only because I had already been attracted to this line before reading Taylor’s book.
Let’s take a look at a couple of suggestions by Taylor for Black when White does not play the main lines – and I can testify that this happens frequently.
After the moves 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 Bc4 Nb6 5 Bb3
The moves 5 … Bf5 or 5 … de are usually recommended. But Taylor thinks that they are “… objectively inferior. In both cases White gets a terrific attack and scores very high in the database.” Against 5 … Bf5 the Icelandic GM Thorhallsen has had great success with the dangerous sacrifice 6 e6! Against 5 … de 6 Qh5 is dangerous. Taylor gives the following game.
A salutary warning.
Against the 4 Bc4 Nb6 5 Bb3 line Taylor suggests 5 … d5! and Vaganian has played this move with success. Black sets up a French structure at the same time limiting the scope of the white bishop on b3. Messa v Vaganian, Reggio Emilia, 1981 went 6 Nd2 e6 7 Ne2 c5 8 c3 Bd7 Nf3 Bb5! with a good game for Black.
The moves 1 e4 Nf6 2 Nc3 are very common at club level. What should Black do here? Again Taylor is a source of good sense.
All the major authorities tend to recommend 2 … d5. Even John Cox who writes, “personally, I recommend 2 …e5.” sticks to 2 … d5 as the pure ‘Alekhine’ move and gives a game where Black gets smashed by the Swedish GM Jonny Hector. Taylor writes that “Hector has been making a living off this move – and why not? If Alekhine players persist in playing 2 … d5, he may as well harvest the points! From this position Jonny has scored fifteen wins, three draws and just one loss. That’s 87%! His victims have included such noted (and stubborn) Alekhinists as Baburin and our heroes, Kengis and Sergeev!” The problem is that after either 1 e4 Nf6 2 Nc3 d5 3 e5 Nfd7 4 e6! or 3 … Ne4 4 Nce2! Black scores very badly.
Taylor believes that Black’s best move is 2 … e5 transposing into good lines of the Open Games. The problem is that most Alekhine players don’t play the 1e4 e5 systems. Indeed, they may well have chosen the Alekhine to avoid the Open Games. I can only say that you are transposing into 1e4 e5 2 Nc3 and the Vienna is not regarded with anything like the same esteem as 2 Nf3. This move can lead to either the Ruy Lopez or Scotch Game, both openings played by Kasparov with a view to gaining the advantage.
Taylor gives a fine example of how Black should play against the Vienna.
To reiterate; as far as the Open Games go, the less threatening lines like the Vienna are easily met. I agree with Taylor that “The Alekhine player should study these lines (rather than trying to make 2 … d5 work) and will then be able to face the popular but not so dangerous 2 Nc3 with confidence.”
The book as a whole is typical of Taylor’s non-traditional, provocative, and entertaining approach. Taylor thinks about what is practical for his readers but does not therefore recommend dubious lines. Taylor ends with the proud claim, “Now you brave Alekhine players have something against every variation that White can throw against you!” I agree and can recommend this book heartily.