Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mr. Wojo Risin'

National master Jonathan Hilton and international master Dean Ippolito have collaborated on volume one of Wojo's Weapons: Winning with White [Mongoose Press, 2010, 408 pages], which is an alliterative title to their book on the late grandmaster Aleksander Wojtkiewicz's favorite Catalan Opening.

In the introduction, the reader is informed that " 'Wojo', as he was affectionately called by his fans, was arguably the most successful tournament player in the United States, winning the Grand Prix six years in a row from 1999 to 2004." The mojo of Wojo can be found in his pragmatic approach to tournament chess, enabling him to defeat more than a thousand master-level players in the U.S. between 1998 and his death in 2006.

This book is divided into four parts: Closed Catalan, Open Catalan, Slav Defense, and Black's Other Defenses.

The idea behind the Catalan is quite simple: White's fianchettoed king bishop controls the long diagonal and is better than Black's queen bishop. In their recent world championship match, Viswanathan Anand used the Catalan successfully against Veselin Topalov.

My experience with Wojo's Weapons has been mostly a favorable one, in that my positional play is better as a result. Needless to say, there is no resemblance between the Catalan and the Philidor Counter Gambit! The latter is extremely tactical in nature. During many years of playing the PCG, I have neglected the simple chess that is exemplified by the Catalan, especially Wojo's handling of it which avoids sharp tactical variations in favor of lines that give White slightly the better game.

An oversight by the authors is their failure to mention that Bobby Fischer once played the Catalan, winning with it against Attilio Di Camillo at the U.S. Championship in 1957. The game would have transposed into the Chigorin variation if Fischer had allowed 3.c4 Bg4.

My one criticism of Wojo's Weapons is that the in-depth analysis at times reminds me of the saying that "less is more." The reading can become tedious, at approximately the rate of five pages per hour if you study all the subvariations. I might have enjoyed the book more had there been less analysis. But this is a minor quibble from someone who prefers king pawn openings over queen pawn openings!