"How do I know what to play in the opening?"
It's a great question, really. How does a player settle on an opening repertoire, an arsenal of opening moves with which he's comfortable?
I was faced with that question myself early in my tournament chess "career". I'm no master -- not by a longshot -- but I'll tell you what ultimately worked for me: I developed an opening repertoire based on sound openings that limited the number of my opponent's possible responses. For example, as Black I used to follow 1.e4 with 1...e5. While there's certainly nothing wrong with that, I found that it didn't work for me because there were just too many openings that followed these moves and White usually called the shots. I eventually settled on 1...c6 as a followup to 1.e4; the Caro-Kann has a limited number of subvariations (when compared to, say, the Sicilian Defense) -- there are only x number of ways White can meet 1...c6 effectively (and x is in this case a pretty small number). I grew to love the Caro-Kann, won a lot of games with it, and knew I was on the right track after the fifteenth or twentieth time an opponent saw 1...c6 and whispered, "Aw, man, I hate that!"
But I'll let you in on a secret: there are a couple of things White can play against 1...c6 that I hate with a passion, and they both start with 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5. Yes, ladies and gents, the secret it out: I loathe the Panov Attack and the Exchange Variation with a blind passionate hatred. Why? Because both of them put me someplace I did not want to be when I played 1...c6.
That's why I was on the horns of a dilemma when I opened the latest Air Post package from Hamburg and saw the ChessBase training CD Caro-Kann Panov Attack by IM Zoran Petronijevic. "Oh, great," I thought, "a CD that tells White players all about how to whip up on the Caro." My first impulse was to use it as skeet -- that's how much I hate 3.exd5. But I did the sensible thing instead: I unwrapped the disk and popped it into my computer.
I'm glad I did. The author quelled my fears in his Preface when he wrote: "In the theoretical articles and the annotated games, I tried to remain objective. Many books about openings have the disadvantage that they are not objective: authors 'root' for one of the sides and do not pay enough attention to difficulties which arise in the opening." So IM Petronijevic hasn't written a "White to Play and Smash the Caro" disk; there's going to be information for players of the Black pieces too.
And talk about a lot of information! The author has included 145 texts on this CD! We're not talking about piddly little two-paragraph pages, either; the shortest text I've seen so far would run two to three pages in a print book.
Let's take a look at how the CD is structured. After the Preface, in which the author discusses his philosophy behind the CD and advises the reader on how best to use it, we come to the Introduction. In this section alone Petronijevic somehow manages to provide us with a historical overview of the opening's development, a description of the opening's basic ideas, and a discussion of typical positions arising from the Panov. This last section divides the opening into seven different types of basic positions and illustrates them with a couple of dozen illustrative games for each of these types. By the time you finish this section (assuming you've replayed all of the games) you've already covered as much (or more) material as you receive in a standard print book on an opening -- but this is just the Introduction!
This is followed up with 142 separate articles on different variations in the Panov and Exchange Variations. The CD's structure follows a "building block" approach, in which many of the articles build on the previous one. This provides a nice, orderly, hierarchal structure rather than a haphazard approach; it's a necessity considering the sheer volume of material presented on the CD.
The typical article on this CD discusses a variation move-by-move -- the idea behind each move is explained in detailed, yet clear, language. Links to illustrative games are embedded in the text where appropriate. Each article ends with a verbal assessment of the variation, followed by links to important illustrative games. Most of these games are annotated and are grouped according to whether they were annotated by the author or are taken from other ChessBase sources. How extensive are these articles? Any of these articles, published in print form along with the related annotated games, could be an opening monograph in itself. There is truly an astounding amount of instructional information contained on the CD!
The database doesn't stop with the texts; there are a whopping great number of games included. The CD's game database, less the opening texts themselves, contains more than 25,700 games of the Panov and Exchange Variations (etronijevic codes B13 and B14).
And there's still more. Also included is a training database of sixty-four games containing timed training questions which let you test how well you've learned the material presented on the disk. Also included is an opening tree containing 491,611 unique positions derived from the merger of more than 25,000 games. You can use this tree as an overview of the variation tree, a statistical resource to see how well certain moves succeeded in actual tournament games, and as an alternative opening book for the Fritz "family" of playing programs (to force your chess program to play nothing but the Panov & Exchange Variations). And the CD includes a copy of ChessBase Reader, making the product self-contained -- no other software is required.
The amount of labor that went into the writing of this CD is mind-numbing. IM Petronijevic has created a CD which contains more original information than an entire shelf full of chess books. But what's even more amazing is how accessible Caro-Kann Panov Attack is; the instruction is written clearly, understandably, and is suitable for club players as well as professionals.
I won't try to snow you here: there's a lot of information on the disk and it's going to take a lot of time for you to completely finish the material. This isn't a course that you'll finish in an evening or two -- we're talking about the possibility of weeks of reading here. But when you're finished, you'll be a lot better and more confident of your skills in both the Panov Attack and Exchange Variation of the Caro-Kann.
Will I, as a player of the Black pieces, still hate the Panov/Exchange after I finish this CD? Almost certainly so -- it's still someplace I don't want to go whenever I play 1...c6. But I'll also be a lot more confident of my ability to thwart what White planned when he decided to swap off a pair of pawns on d5. That's ultimately what a chess training CD is all about and constitutes a pretty fine recommendation.
Until next week, have fun!