One of the best things that happened with the rise of chess engines is that it is almost impossible to find a bad book on openings nowadays.
Every author knows all too well that his lines will be checked in great detail by his readers, who often will be equipped with better hardware than himself. This means that the level of quality of today’s books has risen as a result of the authors’ conscientiousness.
With the World Championship match under way it is no surprise that the repertoire of both participants is under the microscope of the chess public. The Challenger’s success with the Petroff Defence has been beyond all expectations, so it is only logical to try to emulate his choices.
IM Christof Sielecki has done just that. In his latest work for Chessable, he devised a repertoire based on Caruana’s choices facing 1 e4.
It is very interesting for me to see what other people think about lines where I have also done some work. Since I have also prepared and played 1…e5 (and the Petroff, for that matter!) I was curious to see what Christof had to offer in the repertore.
The first thing I discovered was a move I didn’t know existed. This was already a good sign – after all if a GM doesn’t know of an existence of a move, then certainly less experienced opposition has even less chances of knowing it! The discovery lay in the Central Gambit: after 1 e4 e5 2 d4 ed 3 c3, I have always considered the move 3…d5 to be the easiest and best way to deal with the gambit. That is what I had prepared, analysed and played. Christof acknowledges the strength of the move, but suggests another one: 3…Qe7 and goes on to prove that in fact Black is better in all the lines.
That was already an important discovery early on!
The second thing that struck me was the author’s honesty. In the King’s Gambit, after 1 e4 e5 2 f4 ef 3 Bc4 he gives the line 3…Qh4 4 Kf1 d6 and readily admits that he only adjusted some analysis already given by other authors – in this case GM Jan Gustafsson (in his DVD) and Nikolaos Ntirlis (in his book). He backs his decision with the logic that if something is good you simply recommend it, even if you haven’t come up with it yourself. No need to reinvent the wheel.
He did the same for the line with 3 Nf3, recommending the Schallopp Defence 3…Nf6, again basing his choice on analysis by other authors. All this suggests that Christof is up to date with the latest theoretical developments and published material and he was able to filter and adapt them best for his students’ needs.
One of the good things about playing the Petroff Defence is that it is practical. You get your opening only after 2 moves, which means that White’s deviations are only on move 2. Against all these deviations, as we’ve seen with the King’s and Central Gambit, the suggested lines are well-covered and explained. I liked the fact that against the Vienna after 1 e4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 g3 he recommended the line with 3…d5, leading to easy development for Black.
Since the repertoire is based on Caruana’s games, against the Bishop’s Opening the author follows the game Carlsen-Caruana from this year’s Norway Chess tournament. He offers an interesting improvement over Caruana’s play based on a correspondence game from 2016. I had a brief look and it appears that Black is indeed OK there.
I found it somewhat surprising that the choice after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 was the move 3…Nc6, giving White the option of the Four Knights and the Scotch. I have always considered the move 3…Bb4 to be the more practical choice as it cuts down on the theory you are required to know after the above-mentioned openings.
Still, the suggested line after the Four Knights is the move 4…Bc5 (a bit more dynamic than the traditional 4…Bb4 or the simplifying 4…Nd4) while in the Scotch the author recommends the latest wrinkle after 1 e4 e4 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 d4 ed 5 Nd4 Bb4 6 Nc6 bc 7 Bd3 0-0 8 0-0 d5 9 ed Bg4!?, a move very recently employed by a lot of top players.
The core of the repertoire is of course the Petroff, and here he follows the reliable paths. It was interesting that against 3 d4 Ne4 4 de d5 5 Nbd2 he prefers to follow Caruana’s game with Grischuk from the last round of the Candidates tournament in Berlin, where he played 5…Nd2, rather than his later game with Vitiugov from Grenke where he introduced the stunning 5…Qd7. I assume this was done because the former move is easier to play conceptually.
In the Main Line the author again follows Caruana with 6…Bd6, a move he single-handedly revived. Theory is well-established there and Black doesn’t have problems.
In the currently most popular line with 5 Nc3 the author proposes a very interesting improvement over Caruana’s play in his game with Carlsen from this year’s Sinquefield Cup where Carlsen introduced the rarely played 8 Bc4.
Theoretically speaking the Petroff is one of the most solid openings and in spite of its reputation it is not boring at all. The authors shows many exciting and aggressive lines for Black which can make for a very entertaining time spent behind the Black pieces. The Petroff is also a highly theoretical opening, so as long as all is well with the student’s memory, this opening can serve a player for a lifetime.