Playing on the Flanks: Not Just for Hypermoderns

12/17/2011 – "This one gets a near-perfect score from me," writes Steven Dowd in his Chess Cafe review of Nigel Davies' recent DVD: Tricks and Traps in the Flank Openings. "I was even able to immediately implement some of the traps and ideas in my online games, which is a test I use for every trainer I review." He warmly recommends this Fritz Trainer 'for anyone 1600 and above.'

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Playing on the Flanks:
Not Just for Hypermoderns

By Steven B. Dowd

Tricks and Traps Vol. 3: The Flank Openings (DVD), Nigel Davies, ChessBase. Playing Time: 4 hours. $34.95 (ChessCafe Price: $28.95).

In this third volume of his Tricks & Traps series, Davies gets to the meat of his expertise – the flank openings. If you want to see for yourself, go to his Chess Improver blog and see this game. He played 1.g3 in five out of his six white games when he returned to competitive chess in the recent British Rapidplay Championships. Davies states that, "it puts the emphasis on a broad knowledge of opening formations rather than specific preparation."

In the introduction to this DVD, GM Davies notes that there are fewer tricks and traps in the flank openings, simply because the position stays closed longer (few quick f7 or f2 weaknesses) and that the pieces do not engage each other rapidly. This makes his job a bit harder, as he has to search for examples of traps (there are probably more neat tricks here than traps), but he has done a remarkably – and I cannot think of any better word for it – eclectic job. If you are thinking about playing flank openings in the future, or wish to find ways to encounter some of them on better footing, this DVD is for you.

Here are the thirty-three different sections. I could only find one lesson that I did not consider of the highest quality (and Davies notes he added this one with reluctance), and had a few quibbles with one other.

  • Introduction
  • h1-a8 diagonal 1
  • h1-a8 diagonal 2
  • h1-a8 diagonal 3
  • Hedgehog 7.Re1 trap 1
  • Hedgehog 7.Re1 trap 2
  • Hedgehog 9.Bg6 trap
  • English Grünfeld trap
  • Petrosian-Ree
  • Semi-Tarrasch failure
  • Keres pawn sacrifice
  • h8-a1 diagonal e4 killer
  • h8-a1 diagonal Ljubojecvic-Stein
  • h8-a1 Hartston trap 1
  • h8-a1 Hartston trap 2
  • h8-a1 diagonal Davies-Thiel
  • Positional trap King's Indian Attack with an early e5
  • Positional trap King's Indian Attack with an early 0-0
  • Positional trap King's Indian Attack with Uhlmann playing f5
  • General traps – Queen fork
  • General traps – Reti Gambit with Bg4
  • General traps – English with Nd4
  • General traps – Queen fork
  • General traps – Traffic jam
  • General traps – Mikenas attack with a Queen trap
  • General traps – Larsen Opening with a fork trap
  • Chamber of horrors – From Gambit mates
  • Chamber of horrors – Orang Utan 2...Qd6
  • Chamber of horrors – Deadly Dunst tricks
  • Chamber of horrors – Grob and Summing Up

Not just one theme here, as noted earlier, but an eclectic assortment, placed in an order that is best for learning. Since there are so many things I like about this trainer, I will first state some of the things I didn't like. First of all, "positional" is misspelled as "positianal," not once, but four times. This is not the fault of GM Davies, but ChessBase needs better quality control in this area. Also, "stem games" are mentioned in verbiage, but not in the analysis portion (which I usually enjoy turning to before and after the video – there is an absolute lack of commentary there, and "bare moves" are not very helpful). Thus, you have to write down the players and other information to find the full game in question.

One section that seemed weak to me was on the Keres pawn sacrifice:

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "2011.12.14"] [Round "?"] [White "Davies, Nigel"] [Black "Tricks and Traps 3"] [Result "*"] [ECO "A23"] [PlyCount "17"] 1. c4 e5 2. g3 c6 3. Bg2 Nf6 4. Nc3 ({He mentions in passing that} 4. d4 { might be best and is featured on his DVD on the English Opening; I still would like to have heard a bit about it, because my experience has shown, as Shatkes noted years ago, that the queen is rather exposed on d4. Since d4 is "avoiding the trap" of the pawn sacrifice, I expected more.}) 4... d5 5. cxd5 cxd5 6. Qb3 Nc6 7. Nxd5 (7. d3 {is to be preferred. However, this section could perhaps have used a part two, as we have for some other sections. But this is a minor quibble, and perhaps is due to the fact that I have played the line for more than forty years as Black - I expect perhaps too much from this introductory video.}) 7... Nd4 8. Nxf6+ {Here he analyzes the well-known} gxf6 {This move may seem surprising but is best.} ({He notes that} 8... Qxf6 {is "both quite interesting" and gives Black "compensation for the pawn." This is certainly true, but it certainly is quite inferior to the capture with the pawn.}) {He only analyses} 9. Qd1 ({and again, since some books consider} 9. Qd3 {to be superior, I wonder why he did not mention it. Also, I was left wanting at the end - Black is considered, after more than a dozen moves, to have compensation, perhaps even into the endgame, but no examples were given of how that compensation could be specifically exploited.}) *

The material on the Grob is the portion he added with reluctance, but he only superficially covers this poor opening move. This was one of the places where, as advertised, he does place "an emphasis on the psychological side of things" by noting that many players lose to the Grob, as they consider it something of an insult. But there is not much more than that, and an admonition not to take the g4-pawn. The other advertised item, "positional traps that can occur in flank openings which can lead to miserable positions if players are unaware of them," was well-represented. That they were mostly in the King's Indian Attack was terrific for me, since this is an opening I often play.

Everything else on this trainer was very well-done. I will give two examples of things I particularly liked. The first was what he calls the Hartston trap (and is the "main event" in the a1-h8 diagonal section):

[Event "Groningen"] [Site "?"] [Date "1994.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Hodgson, Julian"] [Black "Guklo, Boris"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A36"] [PlyCount "59"] 1. c4 c5 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. a3 e6 6. b4 Nxb4 $1 (6... cxb4 { leads to positions similar to the Benko Gambit.}) 7. axb4 cxb4 {As he notes, there is now quite a body of theory that has developed here - such a comment may seem small, but it gives the viewer a starting point to do more research. The knight is pinned to the rook, and if it moves, the bishop will take the rook. After discussing the main line, where he shows how White can still emerge with a decent game, even after losing the pawn, there is a part two with a very interesting exchange sacrifice ("probably the most interesting game the English opening has to offer"). Here is the game in full (Davies: "I suspect Julian fell into this by accident, and then decided to sacrifice the exchange as well.")} 8. Nb5 Bxa1 9. Qa4 Be5 ({Later analysis indicated} 9... Bf6 {might be better, to bring the king over f8 to g7.} 10. d4 a5 11. Bf4 Ra6 {had actually been played some twenty years earlier, Barle-Smejkal, Vidmar Memorial 1973, with Black winning. White has to really drum up his compensation here, according to Davies.}) 10. Nf3 Bb8 11. Bb2 f6 12. h4 $1 { Bringing the white rook into play.} a5 13. h5 gxh5 ({He obviously cannot play} 13... g5 $2 {here.}) 14. Rxh5 Qe7 15. Ng5 Ra6 16. Ne4 e5 {Hoping to block the bishop's diagonal.} 17. c5 Kf8 18. Nbd6 Bxd6 19. Nxd6 Rxd6 20. cxd6 Qxd6 { Sacrificing back the exchange doesn't quite work, White still has means of breaking through.} 21. d4 exd4 22. Rd5 Qc7 23. Rxa5 {"All Black's pawns are weak, and Black's king is standing with the wind in his hair on f8"} Ne7 24. Qxb4 d6 25. Rb5 Kg7 26. Qxd4 Rf8 27. g4 Qd7 28. Rh5 Kg8 29. g5 {In the end, White dominates the a1-h8 diagonal, when Black did early on.} Qg4 30. gxf6 1-0

Black doesn't have any way to stop the threats. Although this game is interesting, Davies thinks just going down a pawn as white (which most likely would be regained with a good position) is the way to go when all is said and done. I found that approach intriguing – show the neat piece sacrifice after first demonstrating how it can be dealt with with quiet play. Then in part two present an attempt at refutation that is wildly interesting but probably fails with best play. This provides a bit of cognitive dissonance and makes the student consider the various options he might pursue in his own games. I've already found myself trying to find ways to make White's position work after 9...Bf6. But in the end, I'll probably end up playing the safer continuation.

My second favorite was the section on the Sokolosky (Orang Utan) where he notes the potential trap 1.b4 d5 2.Bb2?! Qd6! Davies doesn't mention this, but this is known as the German Defense. He does note that the intent is to play for a large pawn center with e5. If White is not careful and plays 3.b5?, he loses a pawn to 3...Qb4!

What I especially liked about this section – and he does this in other sections as well – is that he looks at the move and how it might be applied to the white side. For example, 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 b5 3.Bg5 4.Qd3 a6 5.Nbd2 and White will again strive for a large pawn center that will be difficult for Black to crack. The idea of playing Qd3 in d4-openings is not new, but surely with an added target on b5, White has good chances in a position that will be, in all likelihood, new to the second player.

This one gets a near-perfect score from me. I was even able to immediately implement some of the traps and ideas in my online games, which is a test I use for every trainer I review. For anyone 1600 and above (below that level you probably shouldn't be playing many flank openings anyway!), this is an excellent way to engage not just tricks and traps, but many of the ideas behind the flank openings.

My assessment of this product: Great (five out of six stars)


Sampler from Nigel Davies - Tricks and Traps in Flank Openings


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