Huge advances in main-line opening theory are causing players to take a more serious look at sidelines that were once considered “joke” openings. Answering 1…b6 against any White first move once fell in this category, but that is not the case anymore. San Diego International Master Cyrus Lakdawala’s 1...b6: MOVE BY MOVE is the second major book devoted to this universal system following French Grandmaster Christian Bauer’s pioneering work which came out ten years ago.
The bulk of 1...b6: MOVE BY MOVE is devoted to meeting 1.d4 and 1.e4. The former, dubbed the English Defense after its successful usage by Jonathan Speelman, Tony Miles, Nigel Short and Raymond Keene, has always enjoyed a better reputation than its cousin Owen’s Defense (1.e4 b6). Named after the English vicar John Owen, this defense helped the clergyman land a famous victory over the great Paul Morphy, a game annotated in detail by Lakdawala.
Paul Morphy – John Owen London 1858
1.e4 b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Bd3 e6 4.Nh3 c5 5.c3 cxd4 6.cxd4 Nc6 7.Be3 Nb4 8.Nc3 Nxd3+ 9.Qxd3 Bb4 10.0–0 Bxc3 11.bxc3 Nf6 12.e5 Nd5 13.c4 Ba6 14.Bd2 Rc8 15.Rac1 0–0 16.Qb3 Ne7 17.Bb4 Re8 18.Rfd1 Nf5 19.g4 Nh4 20.f4 f6 21.Be1 fxe5 22.dxe5 Qe7 23.Ng5 h6 24.Ne4 Bb7 25.Qd3 Rf8 26.Bxh4 Qxh4 27.Nf6+ Rxf6 28.exf6 Qxg4+ 29.Qg3 Qxg3+ 30.hxg3 Bc6 31.fxg7 Kxg7 32.Kf2 Kf6 33.g4 h5 34.g5+ Kf5 35.Ke3 h4 36.Rd2 h3 37.Rh2 Bg2 38.Rc2 d5 39.g6 dxc4 40.g7 Rg8 41.Rcxg2 hxg2 42.Rxg2 Kf6 43.Rc2 Rxg7 44.Rxc4 Rg3+ 45.Ke4 Ra3 46.Rc2 Ra4+, 0–1.
The author explains one of the greatest virtues of 1…b6 is its flexibility, with lines often leading to play resembling the French, Alekhine’s, Ruy Lopez, Scandinavian and even the Ruy Lopez. Middle-game play can range from open, semi-open to closed positions depending on which approach Black adopts.
One of the main “refutations” of Qwen’s Defense, advocated by Khalifman in his White According to Kramnik series, is 1.e4 b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Nc3 e6 4.Nf3 Bb4 5.Bd3, but Lakdawala shows that Black has more than one way to meet this approach made famous in Spassky-Miles, Niksic 1983.
Lakdawala, is generally quite balanced in his assessments, but one position where he might be a little optimistic is Black’s chances in the position reached after 1.e4 b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Bd3 e6 4.Nf3 c5 5.0-0 cxd4 6.Nxd4, Westerinen-Larsen, Geneva 1977. Play has transposed into a 2…b6 Open Sicilian which has never been popular and deservedly so. Against this move order Black does better with 3...e6 4.Nf3 Nf6 or the immediate 3…Nf6, both lines considered in depth is this book.
The Move by Move series aims to engage the reader more directly than the normal chess book by featuring lots of prose explanation and posing questions throughout. Lakdawala, who is an experienced author and teacher, is well-suited to this approach and anyone wishing to learn 1…b6 will find this book to a first-rate guide.