Review: Let's rocket your opening!

by Davide Nastasio
12/20/2017 – Jump at the chance to add some variety to your opening repertoire, with an opening which can be learned in five hours, and will last a lifetime! Davide Nastasio has the review of GM Simon Williams, as he introduces us to the Four Knights, an opening from classical times, which can still bring many wins!

Rocket Repertoire: The Four Knights Rocket Repertoire: The Four Knights

Like a fine wine, the Four Knights only improves with age, establishing itself as an extremely effective way of meeting 1...e5. On the outside this opening seems deceptively quiet, yet apparently natural moves can often lead to some devastating attacks.


Rocket Repertoire: The Four Knights

A review

At the start of this video series, Williams admits right away that he didn't play the four knights much beforehand, but he learned a lot while preparing the material for the DVD. I find this approach extremely interesting, because it mirrors what the seconds of many top GMs are doing in this period. But let me rewind a little and explain in context how the chess world evolved in the last 30-40 years.

Back whem most of today's elite grandmasters were in diapers, Kasparov that complained he played a lot against Karpov. When he signed up to become a top chess player, that playing only Karpov was not what he had in mind! But upon close inspection with Chessbase Megabase 2017, the bulk of the games played between were in fact during their remarkable five matches! They played a total of 193 games! Now the pair have passed their fifties, and their last match was a blitz/rapid match was from 2009. Their first game was in 1975, but if we consider their historic rivalry from 1984 to 2009, their 193 were played over a period of 25 years, which makes an average of seven games a year.

Let's take another couple of famous opponents, for example Carlsen vs. Nakamura. I found 87 games between them, the first in 2005, which means a period of twelve years. Again more or less a seven game per year average, but none of the two is complaining about playing only with the other! 

What about Carlsen vs Anand? 105 games, the first one also in 2005 — again a period of twelve years — now we have nearly nine games per year. And again, neither of the two has complained of playing exclusively with each other, even though it's been in a shorter time frame — twelve years instead of 25 — and they already played many more games. I cannot imagine by the end of their respective careers how many more games they will play against each other, perhaps many more than even Kasparov and Karpov played together! Clearly modern chess is much more frenetic, complicated and hard on the players who, like mice in a maze, continue to run against each other.

How is this related to this review, and Williams attempt at introducing us to a repertoire he himself didn't play much? Let me give you one more analogy: Carlsen's second, GM Peter Heine Nielsen lost a game against Bird's Opening, an opening not often seen in top level. But at that level it's paramoun to surprise one's opponents constantly, to throw them off balance. So what did Nielsen do? He said to Carlsen: "why don't you play this?" and Carlsen did, winning easily a game.

Here the game in question for those who are curious, but lazy!


So now to Williams, whispering in our ears: "hey why don't you play this?" It is up to us, my fellow club players, to listen, and win some games, or risk remaining entrenched in a repertoire that other players in our area already know, only to discover they have neutralized it!

Like Carlsen, I meet the same opponents over and over. I play around 15-20 tournaments a year, and 4-5 matches of 5-6 games each. Like Carlsen, I need to keep myself trying new things, in order to avoid bad surprises from my opponent. Unlike Carlsen, I don't have the time to study a completely new repertoire, and don't have the money to pay a GM to train me. But I do have the money to buy a chessbase DVD even every month and get a load of new ideas to use in my tournament games! (As I don't smoke, I can even buy two! And if you add the fact that I don't drink either, I can buy four!)

Williams is very user-friendly. He's a GM with great experience writing books and making videos. His presentation is flawless, he could be a professional speaker, or work on TV. In short, he's a pro! Clearly, the kind of guide we want to hire for navigating the unknown waters of a new opening.

Now let's go to show what the Four Knights is, after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6, White doesn't go for the well-trodden 3.Bb5 the Spanish or 3.Bc4 which could become the Italian, but instead plays 3.Nc3:


I like the introductory video, because Williams begins to show us how we can enter into the Four Knights also from other openings. For example he mentions how after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 we need to learn tons of theory, and keep ourselves updated. Obviously Black could play 3...a6 — a typical Spanish, but nowadays the fashion is 3...Nf6 entering the Berlin. And now we can direct the game where we want, toward the four knights, simply playing 4.Nc3! and in fact the first batch of videos and games show us how to play this position.


Williams also shares the advantages of learning the four knights:

  1. Easier to learn than the Spanish and easier to manage, since it requires less theoretical knowledge to stay up-to-date
  2. After studying the DVD, in just 5 hours, one has all he or shee needs to play the opening
  3. Notice the four knights can be used against the Petroff too! (This wasn't mentioned by Williams, but I have a friend who uses it, and I don't want to play against it, so in this way I can avoid it.)
  4. This opening is a good opening for club players who are trying to improve. This is a very important point! In order to acquire a lot of middlegame themes, one must play the open games, the four knights is definitely an opening which will hone your skills in the open games. Williams also conveys the most important midlegame ideas we need to understand throughout the DVD.

The first part of the video series deals with the symmetrical variation, after the moves: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bb4 5.0-0 0-0:


Then we pass to the Rubinstein variation 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Nd4:


This line is quite interesting, because Williams says there is a way to force a draw, and in case we are playing someone quite higher rated than us, to draw is surely better than losing. However, in his typical fashion Williams shows also some ways to avoid the draw, and play for the point, if we like fighting chess at all costs!

The World Cup winner, Levon Aronian, has played 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bd6. Watch what happened!


Then we have the Scotch Four Knights variation: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.Nxd4:

This particular opening can be reached from the Scotch game, and by the way, Williams' association aside, it has nothing to do with a drink, but with a historical correspondence match between Edinburgh and London.

For example after the moves: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3:


A famous example is the fifth game of the match, Deep Blue vs Kasparov.


Williams has the heart of the gambiteer, a pirate of the chessboard! And he always tries to cover some risky lines, where theory is not clear. In this case he proffers the Belgrade Gambit. Which we have after the moves: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. Nd5


About the line given by Williams in the DVD, I must tell you to exercise some caution. What I mean is: play it against an engine few times, don't go into a tournament game without knowing it well, or else it could spell disaster!

Lastly, we find a final section related to all the surprises Black can prepare for us, over seven videos.

There are 22 interactive testing videos, where Williams presents positions, and asks viewers to find the right continuation, giving feedback, when we don't get it right, but also feedback when we do get it right. So, at least we can confirm we have a similar rationale, and it wasn't just based on luck.

The DVD comes with a database of 55 model games, then there is an additional database of 20 annotated games on which most of the videos are based on.

Pros and Cons

Around seven and a half minutes into the introductory video, Williams says one move in the Belgrade Gambit was used only one time, by a player rated 2300 to defeat the great GM Victor Bologan. Honestly, I couldn't find the game mentioned in the Megabase 2017. I think perhaps Williams refers to the following game (below). Black loses, but he didn't play the best moves. At move 12, there was a blunder, and then I don't understand what happened, but at move 23 White made a huge blunder. Or maybe there is a mistake in the recording of the game (or maybe time trouble — who knows?). In any case, this is the game, and Bologan is not the GM who lost it.


As I mentioned before some people lament it when a professional writes a book or make a DVD without actually playing that opening. In this case I think Williams has a good excuse: He plays the King's gambit, which is clearly more sharp and dangerous than the four knights. See for instance the following game:


King's Gambit Vol.1

This DVD concentrates on the King's Gambit accepted with 3.Bc4. Williams has included a lot of novelties and interesting attacking variations that should wet the lips of any attacking player, looking for an interesting way of meeting 1...e5!

For those interested in the King's gambit, Williams has made two DVDs with Chessbase as well

Final thoughts

I like Williams as teacher; he has a dynamic style, and he always tries to find lines which are sharp.

For those who like me play 15 or more tournaments a year, having variety in one's opening repertoire is a necessity. But if, like me, you cannot afford a second who prepares novelties for you, then a new Chessbase DVD proposing a few new opening repertoires or ideas is a must!

If the DVD is authored by a veteran like Williams, then it is a no-brainer. The goal of the series is to give us the confidence to play this opening in tournament. The ChessBase tools and databases help us to build that confidence, and then we need to practice in some games before a tournament, to be sure we understood the material, and know how to react to different situations.

Rocket Repertoire: The Four Knights

Like a fine wine, the Four Knights only improves with age, establishing itself as an extremely effective way of meeting 1...e5. On the outside this opening seems deceptively quiet, yet apparently natural moves can often lead to some devastating attacks.


Davide is a novel chess aficionado who has made chess his spiritual tool of improvement and self-discovery. One of his favorite quotes is from the great Paul Keres: "Nobody is born a master. The way to mastery leads to the desired goal only after long years of learning, of struggle, of rejoicing, and of disappointment..."


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