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Gambit Play – Sacrificing in the opening,
by IM Angus Dunnington (Everyman, 2003) 127 pp. £14.99
Is it just me? Normally I hate draws, but when I play a gambit I don't mind them in the slightest. It feels more like a win. But why should that be so? My opponent has gone down 12 moves of home analysis that took me months (sometimes years!) to work out, and found all the best moves at the board with the clock ticking. Surely he is the hero? But there is something about that saying "and I had that on my practice board at home". Probably just me but I do remember Nigel Short being happy to catch Kasparov in some home analysis and get a draw! But then again that was against Kasparov and it was with Black!
OK, it might just be me but what must be true is that it is certainly nice to win using a gambit especially one with an exotic name. So I began this book looking out for the chapter headings. A lot of the books I own have the titles of the individual gambits for each chapter so I was just checking if any favourites were there or if there were any good juicy new ones.
So I was a bit disappointed when I saw this book's chapter headings: Time, Open Lines, The Initiative, Outposts, Disruption, Structure and Miniatures. But despite the dry headings this is actually a very useful book on gambits. It gives practical and technical reasons for playing them, and when to play them. Rather than giving a selection of gambits it gives the reader the ability to make their own gambits up over the board.
So each chapter tells you something that is worth the investment of a gambit pawn or two... or three! And the return on the investment is considered as worthwhile even if it is only producing equality (or even near equality!) since "the success of gambit play often boils down to practical, psychological factors". In addition you are using pawns as a currency. For example, it you want a position with open lines, or some outposts etc, you may be able to get that by spending a pawn.
So in Chapter 1, games are used to demonstrate that an advantage in development is worth a pawn and to give a feel for exactly how much is enough to justify the spend. There are also some guides as "in open positions a pawn is worth 3 tempi". But of course there are no easy rules to learn to getting the calculation right but by reading through the games and text you do get a feel ("chess is all feel" – Tony Miles) for what your investment of a pawn(s) is worth.
The rest of the chapters work the same way and so you begin to get a feel for each element and even how you might get more than one element as compensation for your pawn. Initially I was worried that there wasn't enough explanatory text and too many games. But the text and the games merge seamlessly and the explanations in the annotations are very good.
The Chapter on Structure was interesting. Dunnington argues "if we rub our hands in anticipation of how our structural superiority will help when it appears at no cost, there is no reason why we shouldn't be prepared to pay a price for a significant advantage." Then he gives some example games to illustrate the point staring with a Bronstein game.
It is amazing how even the most obscure gambits only seem to have a short shelf life. It is a small world in chess! So how much better, to be able to know what conditions you need to sacrifice a pawn or 2 so you can make your own up at home and, even better, over the board. These fresh unnamed openings will be far more dangerous than even the latest trick that you have found in some oxbow lake of a website. Also they are useful weapons when you are losing, when you can spend your pawns to try to disrupt the position or open lines and randomise the game.
The book ends with some miniatures and some more advice. Basically the message is Gambits are fun, spend your pawn(s) because it is easier for the side in control as the significance of the pawn could take a while in coming. Chess is a practical struggle! After all "counting pawns can be a bad habit, it is just as important to count weak squares' vulnerable pawns, good pieces, poor pieces and other factors that combine to create a position". Conclusion: A great gambit book to add to, or start, a deadly collection of gambit books.
This review was first published in Chess Today CT-1111