A review of The Chigorin Defence by Valery Bronznik

Reviewed by Paul Kane

The Chigorin Defence
By Valery Bronznik
Schachverlag Kania, June 2005
ISBN 3-931192-28-8 

This is the first English edition of a book that was originally published in German as Die Tschigorin-Verteidigung in 2004. Now fully revised and updated to May 2005, The Chigorin Defence examines the brainchild of the great Russian player through 115 complete games. It is an approach that has become quite common, and no wonder, for it allows the reader to study the middlegame positions and endings arising out of the opening, as well as any particular lines and variations. Altogether, this cannot fail to make for a fuller, a more rounded and organic, understanding of any opening system.

Mikhail Chigorin’s defence to the Queen’s Gambit is active, relatively sound and less explored than most other systems. In his introduction, Valery Bronznik says that it:

… is so aggressive that, to tell the truth, I don’t understand why this opening is called ‘Defence’, and therefore I would suggest it be regarded as a counter attack.
(page 7)

After 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6, the knight move not only develops a piece, it completes an initial pressuring of all four central squares (Q, N and … d5 pawn together attack d4, d5, e4 and e5); and it is only move two! Hardly surprising, then, that the Chigorin Defence is especially testing for the first player. Early on, in many lines, tactics predominate and quick victories are possible against unprepared opponents. The middlegame positions are generally strategically complex – for both sides – and material imbalances are not uncommon. In summary, one can say that other defences are rather staid by comparison.

There have been two terrific books written about this opening in recent years – The Chigorin Defence According to Morozevich by Alexander Morozevich and Vladimir Barsky (New In Chess, 2007) is the other one – and so one hopes a comparison won’t be thought too odious. The two books have different purposes and qualities: Morozevich presents his own personal interpretation of the Defence; Bronznik aims for a comprehensive and full survey of all lines and sidelines. One would therefore recommend that The Chigorin Defence be studied first. (And of the 115 games given by Bronznik, 14 feature Morozevich, so one anyway gets a good representative sample of his practice with the opening; incidentally, Miladinovic has the next highest total of games at 8.)

Here are three examples in support of this view. First off, after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 dxc4 4.Nf3 one might play 4 … Bg4; it seems a natural move. Don’t; it is a mistake! Bronznik includes the move and explains why it is wrong; this is useful if you’re learning the opening. Morozevich’s book doesn’t mention it at all; and why should he, it’s a dubious move. Still, a newcomer might be perplexed by the omission. Secondly, Bronznik gives a full consideration to John Watson’s move 5 … f6 (after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 dxc4 4.d5 Ne5 5.Qd4), whereas Morozevich gives it a cursory assessment of “rather artificial”; it doesn’t fit into his style. Nonetheless, it is a viable move. Finally, in one of the most important lines (1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 dxc4 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.e4 Bg4 6.Be3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4 8.Qc2 0-0 9.Rd1) Bronznik devotes a lot of attention to each of Black’s three alternatives: 9 … Ne7, 9 … Qe7 and 9 … Bxf3 10.gxf3 Nh5. He concludes that the last line is the strongest, yet Morozevich mentions this possibility only in passing: he gives two game references. In general, Bronznik treats Black’s options in greater detail and is more open-minded. Against this, one concedes that as a world class player Morozevich’s judgements have a definite authority; but in chess nothing should be taken on trust. The Chigorin Defence covers all lines arising after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 and 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nc6; Chigorin’s other fancy after 2.Nf3 (i.e. 2 … Bg4) is not covered, which is a pity. The bibligraphy makes reference to books and articles, periodicals and databases, and even to the private game collections of a couple of Chigorin specialists.

Here is an analytical note to finish. This position arose from the game Lputian-Sibilio, Nereto 1999 (Game 36 in the book) and the opening was 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6!? (rather than 3 … dxc4, the normal move), a byway to which Bronznik devotes a chapter.

Black played 16 … Nd7, a move given as dubious by Bronznik, and he asks: “Why not 16 … Re8, winning a pawn? After 17.0-0 (17.e5? Qxd6) Qxe4 18.Qxe4 Rxe4 19.Rfe1Rxe1+ 20.Rxe1 Nd7 21.Re7 Rd8 White would have an active position, but it would hardly be enough to win.”

This evaluation seems correct, but perhaps White can improve here with 18. Rael (rather than 18.Qxe4), e.g. 18… Qxe1 19.Rxe1Rxe1+ 20.Kf2 Re8 (20 … Re6 21.d5 cxd5 22.Qxd5 [or 22.Qb3] Nc6 23.d7 intending Bc7) 21.Qh3 Rd8 (21 … Re6 22.d5 cxd5 23.Qb3 attacking both … b7 and … d5) 22.d7! Nxd7 (22 … Rxd7 23.Bxb8 wins; and if 22 … Na6 23.Bd6 followed by Be7) 23.Bc7 Nf6 24.Bxd8 Rxd8 25.Qa3 and White can still probe, though objectively Black should be able to draw.

To pronounce a judgement: The Chigorin Defence offers a comprehensive, solidly researched survey of this most aggressive and dynamic defence to the Queen’s Gambit. The organisation and presentation of the material is excellent, and there is much detailed original analysis. Equally importantly, Bronznik’s assessments strike one as being trustworthy. If you are seriously thinking of playing this opening as Black, The Chigorin Defence is an essential purchase. The Chigorin Defence by Valery Bronznik is currently available and can be purchased from http://www.kaniaverlag.de/htm/englisheditions.html

And The Chigorin Defence According to Morozevich is recommended too.

About the reviewer: Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com