Your Spanish is Fab! Part 1
In 2018 an Italian American achieved one of the most prestigious honours in the history of the game - he qualified for a match that would decide who the World Chess Champion will be. He lost, but left many surprised as to how he out-prepared and out-played the Magnus Force in the classical portion of the match. He is none other than Fabiano Caruana, the current World No.2. Being a 1.e4 player his entire life, he has shared his deep knowledge about the Ruy Lopez in a 3-DVD series, acclaimed by amateurs and professionals alike. Tanmay Srinath takes a closer look in this comprehensive review. Thumbnail image: David Llada
American Chess has always been an on and off phenomenon ever since Bobby Fischer disappeared from the top flight. They have never had players who can challenge the very best. That however changed with the arrival of their strongest Three - Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So. Recently Lenier Dominguez too shifted to the US, so their team is the strongest it has been throughout its turbulent history. However, what is particularly pleasing is that one of their home grown fledglings has turned into an absolute legend - a small man with big dreams - Fabiano Caruana.
One of the most hard-working players in the chess circuits, Fabiano is known for his deep preparation and machine like calculation. His play style is universal in the literal sense, so one can say he is the perfect example of a modern chess player - adaptable and ready to play any position. It should please the fraternity that such a player has taken up the responsibility of showing the intricacies of one of the most common and reputable openings in the history of chess - The Ruy Lopez.
I must say that the introductory video could have been a little more detailed, to induce curiosity. Apart from this they could have a brief idea of the lines they wished to cover. This is one area I feel some other authors do better in, like the Ginger GM.
Coming to the actual suggestions, I was pleasantly surprised to see how beautifully coherent Fabiano has kept his lines. Let's first get the position on the board.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3
Against the Marshall after 7...0-0, he recommends avoiding it with 8.a4!? :
This is one of the starting positions of a theoretical battle that has been waged to this day. Looks very simple right? I thought so too, and my brain just refused to believe Black is not equal, but on the slippery slope called unpleasantly worse! I like how Caruana uses the coloured arrows well to illustrate plans. This is the crucial bit, which is missing in some presentations. Some coaches might tell us to remember a file and go play, but that is not how one should play chess. This vivid picture is enough for me and anyone watching this series to find their way over the board, without memorising concrete lines.
It's not just this - Fabi shows us a way to avoid the classical lines after 7.Bb3 d6 with the same pawn thrust - 8.a4!? - the so-called Anti-Classical setup:
Sometimes, going forward is not the best way to win. Here White has many advantages because he delays d4 - the main one being that Black can no longer arrange counterplay against the center. The lines shown here are absolutely fascinating - it is hard to stop watching! Play is slow, but more often than not White gains the bishop pair, and sooner or later he blows the position open for them to show their power. This line has potential to be a game changer in our repertoires, and adds consistency to the whole tree called opening knowledge.
However, all is not as rosy in the upcoming sections. Having devoted a lot of time to these pet variations, Caruana has sometimes skimmed over important details. Against the Chigorin Variation he recommends the early d5:
Surprisingly, this position is never covered. I thank Sudarshan Bhat, one of my peers, for showing me this line. This is one important detail and shows why we shouldn't fully follow a DVD's recommendation without going through the lines ourselves and finding improvements.
This is the Breyer Variation - in an opening with a closed center one can take time to optimise the placements of the pieces. However, I agree with Caruana that this system has disappeared from the top for very valid reasons - after an eventual Bg5 and Qd2 White is annoyingly better. Fabiano proves his point with the Anand-Carlsen encounter from 2015, when Anand played beautifully with the white pieces to beat Magnus.
Now, real problems start to crop up in the Zaitsev Variation. First of all, it is extremely sharp, so many times the best move might not necessarily be as strong as a move that throws in a real surprise. I agree with this approach, but at a critical juncture Caruana fails to examine the most critical way forward:
Fabi here quotes an old Anand game where Vishy went 25.Qd2!? and won, and then shows the precise way for Black to draw. Learning that the variation is a forced draw is not inspiring for any White player looking to win, and despite the need to remember a huge block of theory to force a draw, I personally felt that such a possibility should not be underestimated. Thus analysing with the current phenomenon in engines I managed to resurrect an older line to prove an advantage for White. Find it yourselves!
The conclusion is perhaps the most important part. Should you go for it or not? In this case, despite a few holes in the product, I honestly feel that it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn from one of the best players in the modern era. What impressed me even more is that unlike the previous experiment with Wesley So where Oliver Reeh did most of the talking, here it is different - other than asking important questions he listens happily as Caruana takes us into fascinating lines. It is a steal - getting to know how a top player thinks is always useful - ask Magnus, who took inspiration from a certain Alpha Zero!
Content of the Vol.1:
Classical Main Lines:
What is repertoire training? When you click on the tab, the following contents open up:
Get Vol.1 of Fabiano Caruana's Ruy Lopez:
If you want to improve your chess skills as a whole and take your understanding of the venerated Spanish Opening to the next level, you can buy the combined 3-volume product here. There are so many important systems that are covered in Vol.2 and 3 like the Berlin, Open Ruy Lopez, Schliemann, Cozio, Steinitz, 3...g6 and much more. You can look forward to the reviews of the second and third volume soon.
About the Author
Tanmay Srinath is an 18-year-old chess player from Bangalore, Karnataka, currently pursuing both chess and engineering at BMSCE Bangalore. Tanmay is also a Taekwondo Black Belt, who has represented the country in an International Tournament in Thailand. He is a big fan of Mikhail Tal and Vishy Anand, and sincerely believes in doing his bit to Power Chess in India!