by Steve Lopez

I'm always a bit baffled when I see a new opening book or CD with a title like "King's Indian Defense with 10.Bxx" or "Scandinavian with 8.Nxx". These are often pretty cool books for strong players who are specialists in a particular opening, but how many copies does the publisher actually sell? The vast majority of chessplayers are untitled players, those of us down here in the trenches who have a letter for our rating class instead of an impressive sounding title like "Expert" or "Master". Except for correspondence players (who are allowed to consult such reference materials) 90%+ of the market is going to be left cold by these specialist opening books.

I have a little bit of experience in the chess publishing world, from the days when ChessBase USA used to publish paper books as companions to our ChessBase University disks. In particular, I recall the Power Play series of opening disks and books, in which a particular opening was broken down into key positions that a player needed to know to tackle the opening successfully. While all of them were decent sellers, the sales leader by far was Jon Edwards' The Sicilian: An Overview, which was a basic introduction to the most commonly played variations of the Sicilian Defense. We sold metric boatloads of that book; vendors used to buy it by the case.

Why was the book so popular? Because it delivered exactly what the title suggested: an overview of a major, frequently-played opening system. While other authors were writing books about a specific Yugoslav variation, aimed at a very specialized audience, and wondering why sales were so sparse, Jon had written a concise summary of a major opening system, geared toward the average player, and was pocketing some hefty (by chess publishing standards) royalty checks.

I'll be blunt -- I don't write ETN for free. While I definitely do it for the love of the game, I also do it because I get paid a few ducats, enough to buy a can of Captain Black and a pint of good ale on tap when I want them. I'm a published writer and I think I'm at least vaguely familiar with what will sell and what won't. So, as I said at the top of this column, I'm always baffled when I see an opening book that's (to me) overspecialized. General opening books and overviews of regularly-played opening systems are always good sellers. So why don't more publishers produce these kinds of books and CDs?

I can't answer that question, but it's always gratifying to see a new book or CD on a general opening system instead of a specific line. ChessBase has just released a one that fits the bill: The Pirc Defense, with authorship attributed to the "Grandmaster School of St. Petersburg". Closer inspection reveals that the disk is written by GM Aleksei Lugovoi with corrections and additions by GM Alexander Khalifman. As is often the case with recent ChessBase training CDs (and an issue I've brought up in ETN more times than you and I would care to count), the emphasis on this CD is on ideas rather than rote memorization of opening variations. As the authors state in the introduction to this CD:

You should understand the first moves, not just memorize them. The difference is essential. Understanding implies a deeper comprehension of a position, and sometimes it allows you to get by without memorizing long opening lines. The goal of the present work is to help you to gain an understanding of basic positions reached in the Pirc Defence. The author will be happy if rather than blindly following his recommendations you will learn to make independent decisions which will be based on the general principles of chess strategy. Opening studies only make sense when they help you strengthen your general understanding of chess, gain a better grasp of middlegame positions and by this achieve better practical results.

Bullseye, baby!

There are several sections on this CD, contained in the main database (denoted with the icon marked "Pirc Defense"). The first two cover the Austrian Attack (4.f4), the sharpest tactical response to the Pirc (and a variation that's near and dear to my heart). Next come two 4.Nf3 sections, followed by a section on 4.Bg5 (described by the authors as "an old plan" which has recently come back into vogue. Really? I never heard of this one -- I can see that I must investigate further), one on 4.Be3 (also presently popular and the "standard" way of playing it back in the early 1970's), and one on 4.g3. Each text chapter appears in order at the start of the database -- just pick the one you want from the game list, double-click on it and start reading. Each section breaks things down into specific move orders, with some text ideas and explanations given, as well as links to relevant sample games. The games themselves are annotated in Informant-style notation (not text) with some surprise training questions thrown in occasionally, as well as some graphic annotations (i.e. colored squares and arrows) once in a while. Though beginners might struggle with some of the concepts, the average player should have no problem understanding the ideas presented. The instructional database contains a total of 124 games and texts.

Three additional databases are provided on The Pirc Defense CD, organized according to ECO codes. The B06 database has 23,699 games, the B07 database has 31,518 games, and the combined B08/B09 database contains 25,079 games. Comparatively few of these games are annotated, you'll find the instructional material primarily given in the introductory database.

You'll also find a huge opening tree on the CD, available for statistical study of positions or as an opening book for the Fritz family of playing programs. It was derived from more than 80,000 games and contains more than 1.25 million individual positions.

Note, too, that no additional software is required to use this CD -- the ChessBase Reader program is included, although owners of ChessBase or the Fritz family of playing programs will definitely want to use them instead of the Reader (due to their greater functionality and features).

As far as the audience goes, I think that any player rated approximately USCF 1400 and up with an interest in the Pirc can benefit from this CD.

Until next week, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments, suggestions, and analysis for Electronic T-Notes.