A review of Winning Pawn Play in the Indian Defenses by Henrique Marinho

Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane

Winning Pawn Play in the Indian Defenses
By Henrique Marinho
Mongoose Press, 2012
ISBN: 9781936277346

The basis of Henrique Marinho’s interesting book is the confusing, not to say contradictory, notion of the ‘qualitative majority’, a term introduced by Nimzowitsch (see Chess Praxis, part 2, chapter 3). Nimzowitsch’s explanation for using the term (rather than simply ‘spatial advantage’, say) is unclear and Marinho’s definition isn’t especially enlightening. He writes, ‘In positions featuring a qualitative majority (QM), each side has the same number of pawns.’ In other words, neither side has a majority by any normal understanding of the word.

An accompanying position (White: Ka1, pawns at f5, g5, h5. Black: Ka3, pawns at f7, g7, h7.) supposedly illustrates a QM in action. White wins by creating a passed pawn: 1.g6 fxg6 2.h6 gxh6 3.f6, etc. The explanation is that because a passed pawn can be created from the advanced phalanx, it therefore has the quality of a majority, i.e. it is a QM. However, you could say instead that the position illustrates the advantage of one tempo (Black to move plays 1…g6! and wins the g5 pawn by force, though White can draw by taking the opposition). Or the disadvantage of having an offside king (place the kings on c3 and …c5 and, again, White’s pawns are a liability). Or perhaps something else (a spatial advantage, a fortuitous position allowing a breakthrough combination…). Once, when speaking of the Trinity, William James famously remarked that if it is explained so that you can understand it, it hasn’t been explained correctly. ‘Qualitative majority’ is a notion that may well belong in the same category.

The bulk of the book focuses on pawn chain play in the King’s Indian Defence, especially on those positions where there is a central pawn formation along the lines of White: c4, d5, e4; Black: …d6, …e5. In such positions, White will generally aim for c5, while B goes for …f5 (etc.), except in the Samisch (the subject of part 5), where White usually castles long and attacks on the kingside. These sections (parts 2-5) can be seen as an elaboration of chapter 9, section A (i) in Euwe and Kramer’s book on the middle game. Two later chapters deal with Benoni (and, briefly, Benko Gambit) structures, though not with the Modern Benoni (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6). The title of Part 6, ‘The Modern Benoni Structure: Threory and Practice’, is therefore grossly misleading. An appendix briefly looks at pawn chains as they occur in the Lopez.

The rigour of Marinho’s writing is to be commended and his systematic presentation of the plans and possibilities available to both sides is impressive. But his game annotations are too light, leaving one all too often perplexed as to what the turning points in a particular game actually were. This was, by the way, partly by design. Marinho writes that he ‘decided in favour of the near-total abolition of tactical analysis’, preferring to concentrate on the ‘ideas’ behind the moves. But in the complex positions – both strategically and tactically – that typically arise in the King’s Indian Defence, the devil is in the detail. Concrete variations show strategy in action and shouldn’t be avoided or omitted. Another difficulty for some readers may be the amount of unfamiliar jargon that Marinho introduces: terms such as ‘pre-break inversion’, ‘dispersal –concentration’ and, this one taken from Go, tenuki. Rather than shedding light on strategy, they often seem to complicate matters unduly.

This book would, however, be useful to anyone who plays or meets the King’s Indian Defence, since there are myriad strategic insights to be found within its pages. There are 226 sections to get through though, a feast of food for thought, so it’s probably best consumed in small doses.

And Marinho’s fascinating discussion as to why the Advance French (White: d4, e5; Black: d5, e6) was paradigmatic for Nimzowitsch when it came to his theory of the pawn chain did impel me to reread the relevant chapter in My System, something I hadn’t done for ages, so I thank him also very much for that.

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