The English Defense (1. c4 b6 or 1. d4 e6 2. c4 b6) derives its name from the use and development of this unusual opening by Jonathan Speelman, Raymond Keene, and Tony Miles. The latter used it semi-regularly in elite events in the late 1970s and 1980s. 

Indeed, as Semkov rightly says, it was ideas such as the following, played by Tony Miles against Oscar Panno (Buenos Aires, 1979), which brought greater attention to the English Defense at the end of the 1970s. 
1. c4 b6 2. Nc3 e6 3. e4 Bb7 4. d4 Bb4 5. f3 f5 6. exf5 Nh6 7. fxe6  

Panno is quite a forgotten player these days, but he was a very strong Grandmaster. Once Miles was able to ruffle a few classical feathers, he was often able to outplay his peers in the ensuing sharp and generally uncharted positions. 
Even Lev Polugaevsky didn’t know what had hit him in game six of his 1977 Candidates Match against Viktor Korchnoi, when the latter, influenced by his English team of helpers, assaulted the White center with a very early …f5. 

Korchnoi did his usual trick of taking his advantage to the endgame and finished off Polugaevsky after 65 moves. 
The English Defense has yet to regain the level of interest it acquired all of those years ago and is now more often treated with suspicion, on the grounds that a strong player with a good grasp of theory from the White side of the board will be able to gain the advantage or, at the very least, spoil Black’s dreams of having maverick fun by steering the game back to mainline Queen’s Indian theory. 

The new release, Playing for a win with …b6 by Semko Semkov, aims to show that Black can avoid the two scenarios outlined above and stamp their individual English Defense authority on proceedings after all. 

One example is meeting 1. d4 e6 2. c4 b6 3. a3 Bb7 4. Nc3 (trying to transpose back to a Queen’s Indian Defense after 4…Nf6 5. Nf3, with Kasparov’s early favorite, 4. a3) not with the compliant 4…Nf6, but with the Dutch-style 4…f5

In former times, it was reckoned that White could now play for a positional advantage with 5. d5 (blotting out Black’s queen’s bishop) but Semkov’s analysis and annotated, illustrative games show matters are not so simple. One point is that Black’s knight can emerge via a6 and head to c5, to exploit the weakness created by d4-d5. 

Of course, in the move order 1. d4 e6, Black will need to know how to play the French Defense (because White can transpose with 1. d4 e6 2. e4 and Black has nothing better than 2…d5) but as the French is an excellent defense, that should not be an off-putting factor when to comes to thinking about taking up Semkov’s interesting and intriguing repertoire. There is also a considerable amount of material here to enable Black to meet White’s other early deviations, such as 2. Nf3, heading for a Queen’s Pawn System instead of a mainline trying to hog the center.  

The book is for advanced players and there is a lot to learn, but anyone prepared to put in some serious time and effort with this book will have their eyes opened to the possibilities offered by this almost-forgotten defense. 

Sean Marsh 

Have any thoughts or questions? Let us know in the comments below!

Sean Marsh
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