Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Review: Play 1. e4 e5! A Complete Repertoire for Black in the Open Games by Nigel Davies

(This review also appears at You can read all of my Amazon reviews here.)

Not Just a Good Opening Book, a Fine CHESS Book

I have had Play 1. e4 e5! in hand for about three months and it has become one of my favorite chess books. I have periodically replied to 1. e4 with e5 in my 30 years of serious chess, but the vast majority of my games as black against 1. e4 have been Center-Counter (aka Scandinavian) (1. e4 d5), Sicilian (1. e4 c5) or Pirc/Modern (1. e4 d6). My reasoning has always been that 1. e4 e5 is "giving White what he wants," that is at my below-Master level a chance to play a sharp gambit. I just never felt comfortable playing against the celebrated King's Gambit, and it seemed that other gambits also required a lot more study time than I wanted to use to meet them. Of course, the Ruy Lopez is an enormous complex unto itself.

Since I like and respect Grandmaster Nigel Davies for his "Power Chess" books and his fine Chess Improver blog I thought I would give this book a go, partly based on the other, positive reviews. I am very glad I did.

Play 1. e4 e5! is a complete repertoire against 1. e4, with the exception (as others have noted) of Alapin's Opening (1. e4 e5 2. Ne2). I don't consider this much of an omission, since it probably gets played in about .1% of e4 e5 games. To be completely thorough, also not covered here are unusual second moves for white like 2. a3, g3 and c4. These do get trotted out occasionally, mostly at below-master level, and it's not a bad idea to have replies prepared for these rare moves. Some coverage can be found at the beginning of John Emms' Play the Open Games as Black which I think is a good book, but not as directly useful for me as the Davies. Emms' book, published in 2000, is in the bibliography of Play 1. e4 e5! and is cited in the text as well, but the repertoire there is more complicated (e.g. King's Gambit Accepted) and it doesn't touch on the Ruy. You have to get a whole different book for that.

The final difference is one referenced in my title for this review. A great strength of Davies' book is that it has 65 main, annotated COMPLETE games (plus more in the notes), and the annotations don't end after the opening. The author comments on various turning points throughout the games (in 14 of which he was the player of the black pieces) and close study of these games can improve your play in all phases. This is what puts Play 1. e4 e5! a cut above many other good opening books.


Signalman said...

OK, I'm intrigued...what sort of recommendations are given ? Philidor, Pirc, Spanish, gambits, f5 ? What sort of repertoire would I be buying into ?

Wahrheit said...

Signalman--thanks for asking, okay:

Ruy Lopez Closed: Keres Variation (11. ..Nd7) with pretty standard counters against earlier sidelines (9. d3 and d4, etc.). Against the Ruy Exchange with 5. 0-0, Qf6 (spicy!). Against the Italian Game, Two Knights Defense. Scotch Game, 4. ..Bc5. Four Knights Main Line, "Capablanca" system. King's Gambit, Decline with 2. ..Bc5(!). Danish Gambit/Scotch Gambit leads to the same position after 1. e4 e5 2. d4 ed 3. c3 d5 4. ed Qxd5 5. cd Nc6 6. Nf3 Bg4 etc. =

It's a repertoire that gives me a lot of confidence that I can reach a playable middle game as black after 1. e4 e5!

Liquid Egg Product said...

1. ... e5 almost seems like a dinosaur. I think I see as much d5 as e5 nowadays. Kinda too bad; it seems e5 has a rep of being not imbalancing enough.

It's getting to the point where 1. ... e5! would be included in those "Secrets of Opening Surprises" books.

Signalman said...

Taken me a while to get back to view this repertoire....I had heard a lot of good things about the book, so its nice to see what is recommended.

The Spanish line took me a bit to work out, since there seem to be a couple of Keres variations in the Spanish, but it seems to be the Closed, Chigorin, Keres variation ! Is that right ?
At the moment I am just settling on my own repertoire for Black vs e4, so am not up for change in it it.
Mine is sort of based around an early d6, so Philidor or Pirc with an 1. d6, and the Steinitz or Steinitz deferred in the Spanish. In the Exchange I also play 5..d6 against 5.0-0 rather than Qf6 ( althuogh I've seen that a few times ) What does he recommend against 5.d4 ?. I have played the Scotch as White, so can agree that Bc5 is a good reply. I think I played Bc5 to decline the King's Gambit, but I haven't met that in a non-blitz game for ages !

I often play 1d6 or 1.Nf6 against 1.d4 to try to either try to reach an e4-type position ( its urprising how often I reach a Philidor after 1.d4 ) or try an Old Indian structure.

I'd be interested to find out how you do with the Davies repertoire.

Great data for Garibaldi House Inn Tillamook Hotel said...

Though the book is written from the black side, any white player who varies, or who might vary, his play in the double king pawn opening should enjoy this book. There is more to 1e4 e5 than the Ruy Lopez. If you enjoy chess, you will surely enjoy looking at some of the alternatives covered in this book.

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