A Head Start: Bologan on the improved Chebanenko

by ChessBase
12/8/2012 – The variation arises after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 a6. The Moldavan grandmaster Viktor Bologan, himself a pupil of Vecheslav Chebanenko, says that it is not easy for White to gain an advantage against the Chebanenko. His DVD aims to give new life to this already popular opening, which is played at a very high level, including by Magnus Carlsen. Chess Cafe review.

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A Head Start

Review by Michael McGuerty

The Chebanenko: Still Improved (DVD), by Victor Bologan, ChessBase, Video running time: 4 hours 40 min. $32.95 (ChessCafe Price: $28.95)

In 2008, New in Chess published The Chebanenko Slav According to Bologan, and Bologan notes that the openings popularity has only improved since then (hence the title of the DVD), with many games played at a very high level, including by Magnus Carlsen.

The variation arises upon 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc4 a6 and is named after Vyacheslav Chebanenko, the patriarch of Moldovian chess, who was one of Bologan's trainers in Kishinev. Chebanenko also developed the system with 3.Bb5 in the Sicilian, which is yet the topic of another Bologan DVD, The Sicilian Rossolimo for White, and book, The Rossolimo Sicilian, also published by New In Chess.

Bologan claims that it is not easy for White to gain an advantage against the Chebanenko and suggests the DVD will give new life to this already popular opening. He notes that even he will switch to 1.e4 when he knows he is playing someone who employs the Chebanenko. On this DVD he gives a full repertoire for Black against 1.d4, which means he also covers other side systems in the Slav Defense. For some reason, the English side of the DVD cover has the spelling as "Chebanenco," while the German side has the correct Chebanenko.

The contents are as follows:

  • Introduction
  • 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Bf4 Nc6 7.Bd3/Rc1
  • 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Bf4 Nc6 7.e3/Rc1
  • 5.h3
  • 5.Qc2
  • 5.Qb3
  • 5.Bf4
  • 5.Bg5
  • 5.a4 e6 6.e3
  • 5.a4 e6 6.g3
  • 5.a4 e6 6.Bg5
  • 5.Ne5
  • 5.c5 Nbd7 6.h3
  • 5.c5 Nbd7 6.Bf4
  • 4.e3 a6 5.Qc2 e6 6.Nf3/c5/b3/Bd2
  • 4.e3 a6 5.b3
  • 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bf5 5.Bd3/Nbd2
  • 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Qc2 dxc4 5.Qxc4 Bf5 6.Nc3
  • 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Qc2 dxc4 5.Qxc4 Bf5 6.g3
  • 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bf5 5.Nc3 a6 6.Qb3/Ne5/c5/Bd3/cxd5
  • 5.g3

It is rather unhelpful that in the games list of the database these are named as "Clip 1," "Clip 2," etc. Everything should be done for the users ease of use and access, and here naming the game headings after the table of contents would have been more convenient. Only two of the clips extend beyond move twenty, with the longest (Clip 14) going to move twenty-seven. In addition only two clips are longer than twenty minutes in length, with the longest (also Clip 14) clocking in at 21:11. Nevertheless, Bologan examines several options at each significant juncture summarizing the different plans at Black's disposal. For instance, in the slightly more than eighteen minute clip on 5.c5 Nbd7 6.h3, he spends the first eleven minutes examining other sixth move alternatives.

In the brief introduction, Bologan notes that the Chebanenko Variation includes a variety of setups for Black and incorporates ideas from the Slav, of course, and the Classical Queen's Gambit Declined, with setups and plans sharing common ground with the Carlsbad and Cambridge Springs structures. He says the original idea of 4...a6 was for Black to simply make a waiting move that improves his position and see what White does next before deciding which system to play. Black's fourth move also controls the b5-square, prepares ...b5, and allows Black to play the light-squared bishop to f5 or g4 before playing ...e6.

Bologan will often give two plans for Black from the same position and then summarize the main setups at the end of the clip. He also uses graphical elements to highlight key maneuvers:

Bologan shows the typical plans, piece maneuvers, and easy-to-remember tricks and ideas, along with the positional nuances of different moves in certain setups. For instance in the exchange variation 5.cxd5 cxd5, Black wants to play his light-squared bishop to f5; if White's light-squared bishop is already on d3, then Black plays it to g4 and then to g6; the dark-squared bishop is better placed on d6 than e7; and Black will often play for the maneuvers Nc6-a5-c4 and Nf6-d7-b6. In positions with four knights on the board, Black aims for the placement on c4 and d6. Easy as pie!

There are no full illustrative games on the DVD. He verbally notes when a line is from an actual game, but the games themselves are not included on the database. So why not include them, when it can be done with so little effort. Another thing lacking is some guidance from the publisher on how to best make use of the material. It may seem obvious to them, but the are many users who would like things spelled out in greater detail.

Here is how I would approach the material (using it within ChessBase 12 or any of the Fritz family of programs; the ChessBase Reader that comes bundled with the DVD does not have such extensive functionality):

  • Copy the games to a new database on your computer. (I only copy the games, not the multimedia components.)
  • Watch the video clips from the DVD that you feel are most relevant to your repertoire.
  • Once you have seen several segments and are itching to try the opening, play some practice games (preferably against human opponents).
  • Copy your games into the notes of your newly created database.
  • Compare you games with the recommendations by Bologan and review any of the relevant video clips.
  • Use a chess engine to evaluate the positions where your opponent deviates, as they ultimately will, and copy the analysis into the game notes.
  • As you progress, look for similar games and copy those relevant to you into your database.

For example, it was interesting to see the recently played game Kramnik-McShane from round five of the London Chess Classic 2012. Kramnik played the 5.g3 variation and McShane responded with 5...dxc4 6.a4 e6. We can thus compare this to Bologan who recommends 6...g6 or 6...a5 in the line, and a further viewing of this clip cements this material firmly into the foundation of our understanding of the repertoire.

Bologan recommends his book as a companion to the DVD and to study the games of Malakhov, Rublevsky, and Carlsen, and, surprisingly, to use Houdini to find new moves and ideas for Black. With regard to checking with an engine, it is indeed necessary, especially for club players who may not follow all the nuances intuitively. For instance, in the following position it is Black to move:

Bologan follows the line 14...0-0 15.Nc4 Qc7, without explaining that upon 14...Qxb2 the queen gets trapped after 15.Nc4 Qb5 16.Bf1! and Black is helpless against the discovered attack with check.

Bologan also gives improvements compared to the book. In the line 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 a6 5.Ne5 Nbd7 6.g3 e6 7.Bg2 Nxe5 8.dxe5 Nd7 9.cxd5 exd5 10.f4 Bc5 11.e4 d4 12.Na4 Bb4+ 13.Kf2

"The move that escaped attention in the book" is 13.Nxe5, "completely destroying the white pawn structure and after 14.fxe5 b5 "winning back the piece, with a much better position for Black."

While Bologan promises to show how to take the initiative as black and play for the win, the phrase he most often utters at the end of a variation is that things are "solid" or "equal." This likely reflects the chess professionals attitude of drawing with black and playing for a win with white. His presentation itself is professional; he is dressed in a suit and tie, makes good eye contact with the camera, and for the most part speaks clearly. He can be a little hard to understand when he pronounces players names when referencing games, but the chess ideas are never in dispute.

From a pure content perspective, the DVD only offers a fraction of what a similarly priced book does. Yet, it does provide an easier way to learn the opening, and an easier way to parse the material and study it in depth. The more you make the material your own, the better you will play and understand the opening. Bologan's DVD gives you a head start on this process, it is not the be all and end all itself.

My assessment of this product: Good (four out of six stars)

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