Lawrence Trent's Two Knights Defence

6/28/2010 – "There are two kinds of opening works," FM Dennis Monokroussos writes, "honest ones and dishonest ones. The latter feature a great deal of cheerleading in place of careful analysis." Dennis was pleasantly surprised to see IM Lawrence Trent's Fritz Trainer DVD contains no rah-rah spiel promoting the virtues of the opening, but honest, eminently practical advice. Review.

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A review of Lawrence Trent's Two Knights Defence

By Dennis Monokroussos

There are two kinds of opening works: honest ones and dishonest ones. The dishonest ones generally cover sidelines (or worse), and feature a great deal of cheerleading in place of careful analysis. When, therefore, IM Lawrence Trent's Intro clip on this DVD began with a rah-rah spiel promoting the virtues of 4.Ng5 against the Two Knights (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6), especially compared to entering the Ruy Lopez, my guard was up.

If you're expecting a negative review, however, you've come to the wrong place. Despite my initial suspicion, and one later clip I found disappointing, my overall impression of Trent's work is a positive one. I'm definitely willing to recommend this DVD to just about anyone who plays or faces the 4.Ng5 Two Knights.

Trent proceeds systematically through the various alternatives, starting with the Traxler (a.k.a. Wilkes-Barre, i.e. 4...Bc5), the unnamed 4...d5 5.exd5 Nxd5 line, the Ulvestad/Fritz lines (which generally transpose) and finally the 5...Na5 main line. Right away I was impressed, as he presented a very simple and sound way of meeting the Traxler that avoided practically all of the crazy complications. This was a big plus.

I was just as impressed by his coverage of the Ulvestad and Fritz Variations, and surprised, too. I took the DVD to offer a White repertoire (which it does), and expected as a result that he would claim a White edge everywhere, or at least everywhere but some ultimate main line in the 5...Na5 systems. To my surprise, he seems to say that with best play that Black equalizes, or at least that it's unclear that White can obtain an edge. Wow!

That turned what I initially thought was a weakness of the disc into a strength. After 5...b5 he had a clip on the inferior 6.dxc6, and I was wondering why he wasting our time on this in a White repertoire DVD. Worse still, he followed up with the relatively better but stil clearly inferior 6.Bxb5. But once one sees that matters are very much up in the air, even with best play from White, it turns out that the disc becomes valuable for Black, too. Similarly, he looks at a wide range of White approaches in the 5...Na5 mainline. After 6.Bb5+ (6.d3 is also covered) 6...c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Qf3, 8.Bd3 and 8.Be2 are all presented with multiple clips. In terms of the coverage it's a product for both White and Black in the 4.Ng5 Two Knights.

There was one disappointing chapter on the disc; fortunately, it's in the least important line. Trent is rather dismissive of 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5, and, I think, rightly so. Anyone familiar with the Paul Morphy era will have seen many games with 6.Nxf7 and its near relatives crushing Black brilliantly. It turns out, however, that the immediate Fried Liver isn't so clear, so Trent recommends the Lolli Attack with 6.d4. (This is also very well-known.) He looks at variations following 6...Be7 7.Nxf7 Kxf7 8.Qf3+ Ke6 9.Nc3, when White's attack is very dangerous indeed. This is all well and good, and it may be true as an empirical matter that most of the club players who try 5...Nxd5 will fall into this mess.

Unfortunately, Trent doesn't mention the important interpolation 6...Bb4+!, with the point that after 7.c3 Be7 8.Nxf7 Kxf7 9.Qf3+ Ke6 there's no 10.Nc3 and the position isn't so clear. Though most club players probably don't know about it, it has been known for a pretty long time and is the sort of move you'd expect a researcher to find.

The textbook line continues 10.Qe4 Bf8 11.0-0 Nce7 12.f4 as in Barden-Adams, Hastings 1951/2. Nunn's Chess Openings (by Nunn, Burgess, Emms and Gallagher) claims it's +/-, while the Russian Modern Chess Opening [sic] and my strongest engine call it +=.

Two possible improvements. First, Tim Harding notes that after 10.Qe4 Black can try 10...b5!? 11.Bxb5 Bb7 12.f4 g6, as in Kalvach-Drtina, Czechoslovakia corr 1986. I'm not so sure about 12...g6, but 12...Nf6! 13.Bc4+ Ke7 14.Qf5+ Ke8+= holds out some promise. Second, it looks like 10.0-0 is even better, when after 10...b5 11.Bxb5 White is at least clearly better after 11...Bb7 (11...Rf8 12.Qe2+-) 12.Re1 Rf8 13.Qh3+ Kf7 14.dxe5. Michael Goeller claims that it's equal after 10.0-0 Na5 11.Qg4+ Kf7 12.Qf3+. Maybe, but White is winning or nearly so after 11.Bd3.

Fortunately, this was the only lapse I noted. There were some spots in the succeeding chapters (there are 24 game clips, plus an intro and outro) where I had some mild disagreements, but as a rule his coverage was based on relevant games and recent analysis and his assessments were objectively based. Highly recommended to those interested in the variation.


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