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Nunn's Chess Openings (1999)


Nunn's Chess Openings (1999)

John Nunn, John Emms, Graham Burgess, Joe Gallagher (Gambit Publications and Everyman Chess)

Nunn's Chess Openings is a massive book, a cooperative effort by Everyman Chess and Gambit, by four leading chess authors, GMs Nunn (2602), Emms (2489) and Gallagher (2480), and FM Burgess (2265, FIDE ratings October 2008, as I am too lazy to check their 1999 ratings). I believe three of these authors (Burgess, Nunn and Emms) collaborated to write  the 1998 book The Mammoth Book of the World's Greatest Chess Games. Before we took a look at the material, let's look at the layout of the book. The opening lines and assessments are displayed in efficient "crystal-clear" tables. This allows a chess player to easily look up the assessment of major openings (relevant as of 1999). There is a helpful section of "Who did what?" and the introduction assures us that there are "no hidden unnamed collaborators have worked on Nunn's Chess Openings". Additionally, "every move in the book has been personally examined by one of the four authors, who accept responsibility for both the moves and the evaluations". There are special conventions that Nunn's Chess Openings uses. The unclear symbol (the 8 tipped on its side) means that the position is "complex but roughly balanced". The compensation symbol (an equal sign on top of an unclear symbol) means that "the compensation more or less balances the material deficit". Sometimes there are moves or lines with no evaluation, which means that the move or line is "a possibly alternative, but it is currently considered to be of less significance than the main line". Now that we're done looking at the layout, let's get back to the meat of the book!

With the material of the book, the authors seemed to have pruned a database of games to display the lines of most relevance. All the lines have been computer-checked, and although the occasional error can slip in, the majority of assessments are still quite accurate (in the year of 2009). There has been a lot of weeding from the original database compilation, so that the book efficiently presents the most relevant information and so that the book fits into its cover. The coverage of the more popular openings is more thorough than the coverage of mediocre or rarely played openings. For example, the Grob, a specialty of many players, is dealt in a single variation and playing 1.a3 g6 (the only variation given) may not be to everyone's tastes. The Blackmar-Diemer Gambit, which has a massive following, is also dealt with a single footnote. However, Nunn's Chess Openings really shines in the main lines of openings like the Spanish, where it has hundreds and quite possibly, thousands of variations depicting the state of the Spanish. It also has a range of innovations, overthrowing earlier incorrect analysis. Due to the state at which theory develops, I think that many of the popular sharp openings may be out of date. This is true with the Sicilian Dragon, where IM Dearing recently had a suggestion of 12...Re8 in the main line, which Nunn's Chess Openings does not cover.

I would have liked to see the authors cross-check their analysis with specialised books like Play the Sicilian Dragon by IM Eddie Dearing or Play the Caro-Kann by IM Jovanka Houska (these books weren't available at the time, but I'm just trying to give more recent examples). However, it may have been a "reasonable (practical) decision--after all, the amount of work involved by researching the published material would be daunting" (J.Watson). And anyway, "in the vast majority of cases, databases which include tremendous numbers of annotated games (e.g., from Informants and Chess Base Magazine) adequately represent the material that makes it into books" (J.Watson). So basically, this is not that big a deal.

It is my opinion that when authors are writing chess opening books, they should use a source like Nunn's Chess Openings as the "backbone" of their suggested repertoire. Of course, newer innovations and novelties should become the absolute main line in the book, but for a specialised opening book that doesn't include variations which Nunn's Chess Openings does, it is a bit disappointing for the reader.

I have not read the other heavyweight in the one-volume opening encyclopedia category, called Modern Chess Openings by Nick de Firmian, so I cannot compare these two books. However, having had and "read" Nunn's Chess Openings for ages, I can say that it is a very useful book.

So, how relevant is this book in the year 2009? For players without the time, money or patience to use a database program to look up openings, this is very useful. For trying to catch the essence of a particular opening in a short time, without needing to buy a specialised book on the opening, it is also handy. If you're trying to compile a database of games (annotated or not) and you have no idea what the important or main lines are in an opening, you can use Nunn's Chess Openings as the backbone of your new opening. With regards to playing strength, I would say the usefulness is highest for players around 1600-2300 FIDE rating, but you won't see many GMs "toting around a copy of Nunn's Chess Openings" (J.Watson), as it is simply not as detailed a specialised book on an opening.


Nunn's Chess Openings a very good openings book. Recommended, especially for players in the 1600-2300 FIDE rating range.

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For chess opening training and repertoire maintenance, I highly recommend the software I use, Chess Openings Wizard. This software was approved by Grandmaster Peter Svidler (FIDE rating 2744 as of January 2010) many years ago.


Posted by Proabffmm on Sunday, September 13, 2009.


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