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Normal Topic Resources for learning the English? (Read 1986 times)
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Re: Resources for learning the English?
Reply #2 - 06/11/06 at 07:32:57
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Excellent post by Geof as always. Some notes:

Hansen wrote about 1.c4 c5 and 1.c4 e5 (A20-A39). Bagirov wrote about 1.c4 c5, 1.c4 e5, 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 3.Nf3 or e4 and 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.cxd5 Nxd5 (A17-A39 and part of A16). There are still lines A10-A16 to study if you intend to play the english against all defenses and not to transpose to 1.d4 openings. Watson has the full coverage A10-A39. You have the choice of entering d4 openings against KID-set up, dutch, 1...e6 (QGD) and 1...c6 (slav). One could argue that Bagirov probably left those out because he considered d4 openings to be better than the English/Reti versions.

Another book of interest could be the Reti book by Davies. He enters the english after 1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 but stays clear of d4 openings contrary to Khalifman. His choice against the KID set up is 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.b4.
  

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Re: Resources for learning the English?
Reply #1 - 06/11/06 at 00:12:30
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If you are looking to expand your repertoire a bit outside of GM Kosten's suggested repertoire, then "Starting Out: the English" by GM McDonald is a very decent introduction to the entire English complex, and will give you a good feeling for the kinds of positions that arise from various moving orders. 

If you are looking for some serious theory aimed at ambitious players, then you have a number of options:

(i) For a pure English repertoire, GM Bagirov's two-volume work on the English Opening ("English Opening: Classical & Indian" and "English Opening: Symmetrical") is a good, serious summary of the critical theory of the English opening circa 1993 or 1994.  Although slightly dated in some lines, these books still have a lot of critical theory in them (for example, "Opening for White According to Kramnik" relies heavily on the Bagirov series in many of its repertoire English lines, in some places basically just repeating/paraphrasing/ updating/refining Bagirov's analysis).  Also, Bagirov makes a lot of insightful comments, and I personally find that while I often don't remember the theory, I tend to remember the useful comments that create an "aha!" moment.

Although there are more recent books on various complexes in the English (Carsten Hansen's "The Symmetrical English" (2000) and "Gambit Guide to the English Opening: 1...e5" (1999), and Raetsky & Chetverik's "English ...e5: The Reversed Sicilian Lines" (2003) are all decent books and are more current on the theory), I think that Bagirov is a better way to learn the opening because he does a good job of focusing on the critical variations and ideas.  The Hansen and Raetsky/Chetverik books do constitute useful reference works, although I think that anyone with the Bagirov series and access to a games database could probably even consider skipping them entirely.

(ii)  IM Watson's 4-volume series on the English is roughly 20-years out of date, the Harding-Simpole reprints are awfully expensive, and except for the second edition of the Symmetrical English, they are all in English Descriptive Notation. 

Still, this series is almost universally highly praised for good reasons.  As a summary of existing theory at the time it was published, it was outstanding for its time: it was a pioneer work on a very broad opening complex which, IMO, set a kind of gold standard for opening books that has rarely been equaled and never exceeded.  Still, as a summary of existing theory from the perpective of today's players I think the Bagirov series is ultimately more useful, mostly because there were a lot of theoretical developments in the years between the two series. 

The main reason the Watson series is still relevant is that, in addition to the summary of then-existing opening theory, it is a font of ideas and suggestions expanding on then-current theory, some of which have been absorbed into modern theory, some of which  have been rejected by modern theory, and many, many of which still remain untested.  If you are looking for a cogent summary of modern mainline theory, Bagirov is a better bet.  However, if you are looking for new ideas, alternatives, or inspiration, none of the subsequent works hold a candle to Watson.  There are many hundreds of suggestions in these books that you won't find anywhere else, many of which have been lying dormant over the years waiting for their first OTB victim.

(iii)  Khalifman, et al.'s five-volume "Opening for White According to Kramnik" is a bit different, offering a comprehensive repertoire for White after 1.Nf3, sometimes using English lines and sometimes transposing into mainline 1.d4 lines.  Basically, Khalifman has chosen a repertoire suitable for a pragmatic modern professional player with a positional bent (e.g., Kramnik): he avoids the 1.c4 e5 lines of the English where White has been having serious problems showing an advantage for many years, he includes mainline QGD and Slav lines and the King's Indian and Dutch complexes as White's best chances for an advantage, and he includes many variations of the English complex (e.g., some mainline Symmetrical Variations, Maroczy structures, etc.) in which White has a decent chance of obtaining an edge.

As the basis for a White opening repertoire for a positional player with serious and long-term ambitions, Khalifman's series is probably unmatched.  Although it has been criticized for including lines which Kramnik rarely or never played (for example, the anti-Gruenfeld line 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Qa4+!?), its repertoire choices are generally very sensible and its occasional deviations from mainline theory quite promising.  For example, in the anti-Gruenfeld line mentioned above, in games between players rated over 2400 FIDE played after Volume 1 was published in the year 2000, my Chessbase shows White scoring a whopping 72% (average rating 2492, performance 2594).  Moreover, as Kramnik showed in the just-finished Olympiad, when he deigns to play it his 1.Nf3-based repertoire can still claim super-GMs as victims. 

This series does have some downsides, however.  First, although there are some very useful discussions of underlying ideas, the over-all presentation seems targeted at stronger players (say, 2100 elo and above) in that Khalifman seems to assume a rather high level of chess sophistication.

Second, the effectiveness a professional-level repertoire, like a race car, depends a lot on fine-tuning.  Notwithstanding a general emphasis on more positional lines, it is necessary to learn many precise move orders and forcing variations in order to make this repertoire work the way it is supposed to.

Third, because the series chooses to follow mainline theory in many variations (in accordance with the principle that mainlines often represent White's best chance for an advantage), this is a repertoire that requires a considerable amount of upkeep as the theory in these lines is constantly developing and being refined.

Overall, I think this series is mostly useful to a non-professional player of 1.c4, 1.Nf3, and 1.d4 as a reference work .  If you are looking for what to play against a particular Black line covered by Khalifman, his series can be a useful source of both ideas and cutting-edge theory.  However, for people with normal memories and day jobs, trying to master all of the theory in this series will require many hundreds of hours of effort which would probably be more fruitfully devoted to Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual or the like.


The above are the best of the books I own and use for English theory.  (For the record, I mostly enter English lines via 1.Nf3 a la OFWATK, when I don't simply just play 1.d4!)  I am sure there are other possibilities as well.  However, as to these books, basically, for the pure English payer I would recommend McDonald's "Starting Out" for a broad introduction, Bagirov's two-volume series as a solid and relatively current theoretical treatment, and Watson's series for the many interesting and untested ideas it contains.  If money is a serious issue, I would probably recommend the Bagirov series as the most useful reasonably economical choice.

If you are younger than 15 years old, have at least one GM norm, and prefer positional chess, you could do worse (and probably couldn't do better) than using Khalifman's series as the basis for establishing a life-long 1.Nf3 repertoire.  For lesser players, it is a fascinating, challenging work that is probably ultimately too ambitious.


      - Geof Strayer
  
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Resources for learning the English?
06/09/06 at 18:17:33
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What are the best resources for learning how to play the English opening as White? I already have Kosten's excellent Dynamic English book.

Thanks.
  
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