Book Review: The Modern Vienna Game

The first chess opening repertoire book I bought was An Opening Repertoire for the Attacking Player by Raymond Keene and David Levy. This presented a wild and woolly collection of systems for the “Attacking Player” for both White and Black. The White repertoire was based on 1 e4 and consisted of a series of sharp, offbeat systems, while the Black repertoire was based on the Pirc Defence and Benko Gambit. While superficially attractive, closer examination showed some problems with the systems recommended, so apart from the Pirc Defence, which I played for about a year before taking up something more suitable, I did not employ any of the lines in a serious game.

My biggest issue was with the cornerstone of the White repertoire, which was the Scotch Gambit. This line started:

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Bc4 Nf6 5. O-O

While this line can be dangerous if Black is unprepared, objectively it should offer White nothing. Indeed, Keene and Levy included one variation against it which went:

5… Nxe4 6. Re1 d5 7. Bxd5 Qxd5 8. Nc3 Qa5 9. Nxe4 Be6 10. Bd2 Qd5 11. Bg5 Bd6 12. Bf6 O-O

White now regains the pawn, but with a dead equal position, for instance after:

13. Nxd4 Nxd4 14. Qxd4 Qxd4 15. Bxd4 Rfd8 16. Nxd6 Rxd6

This defence was hardly obscure as it had been played several times already when the book was published, including the game Zaitsev – Averbakh, Moscow 1964.

The authors offered no way to avoid this line, so if Black were to defend this way, White would have a position that would not appeal to the “Attacking Player”.

What made this worse was that the line was hidden away by the authors with no indication of the problem. This kind of thing is a classic example of how not to put together a repertoire book.

Why do I bring this up in a review of a completely different work? Well, while looking through The Modern Vienna Game by Roman Ovetchkin and Sergei Soloviov (Chess Stars 2015), I found a similar glaring problem with the repertoire it advocates.

The book is a White repertoire based on meeting 1. e4 e5 with 2. Nc3 and 3. Bc4. The idea is to transpose to the classic King’s Gambit Declined with …Bc5, without allowing the King’s Gambit Accepted. The point is that Black has more than one defensive system in the King’s Gambit Accepted that is at least equal or possibly better for him; on the other hand, King’s Gambit Declined with …Bc5 seems quite promising for White.

The problem with this move order is the sequence, recommended by Ntirlis in Playing 1 e4 e5 (Quality Chess 2016):

1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Bc4 Nxe4 4. Qh5

The alternatives are unattractive:

  • 4. Bxf7+ Kxf7 5. Nxe4 d5 is well known to be good for Black.
  • 4. Nxe4 d5 wins back the piece with a comfortable position.
  • 4. Nf3 Nxc3 5. dxc3 f6 is a dodgy gambit that seems unsound.

4… Nd6 5. Qxe5+

Ovetchkin and Soloviov recommend this as 5. Bb3 Be7 is fine for Black.

5… Qe7 6. Qxe7+ Bxe7

This is not going to be attractive to White players hoping to play the King’s Gambit Declined. Ntirlis now recommends:

7. Bb3 Nf5 8. Nf3 c6 9. O-O d5 10. Re1 Na6

This is objectively equal and not terribly exciting. It is worth noting that Black managed to win the endgame in the classic game Rosselli – Rubinstein, Baden-Baden 1925; however, this was more a product of the difference in the endgame ability of the players.

I should note that, as with the previous example, the above defence is not an obscure one; I looked seriously at the Vienna with 3. Bc4 as a White system about 20 years ago, but the sources then indicated 3… Nxe4 as an antidote.

Now Ntirlis does write of the position after 7. Bb3:

For several decades this line was considered equal, but Ovetchkin and Soloviov shared some new analysis demonstrating that White can apply some pressure if Black is not accurate.

However, the problem is that Ovetchkin and Soloviov ignore entirely the Rosselli – Rubinstein game, instead only giving 10… Be6 in a note on p.297. This is not an obscure encounter but one of Rubinstein’s classic endgames, covered in endgame textbooks such as Mastering the Endgame Volume 1 by Shereshevksy and Slutsky (Pergamon 1991), starting on p.229. In addition, the game can be found in any decent databases.

Also, the line with 3… Nxe4 is not given the appropriate prominence in the work, given that it is the critical defence from a theoretical point of view. Rather it is hidden away in chapter 17. The reader is therefore not given a clear indication of a major issue with this system.

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