An opening book with a difference! This is not a treatise on the many variations that are possible in the English Opening, this is exactly what the title infers - "How to Play......". To achieve this Karpov puts 30 games, in which the English Opening was played, under the microscope. He is not concerned with recommending the best variations for either White or Black, but concentrates on the type of play that the opening demands. Quite naturally, his name is predominant in the games selected, but this is not just a question of ego, rather it is expression of an analyst who is able to explain his own games better than other authors.
Karpov has not been previously renowned for the depth of his annotations, indeed many of the other books carrying his name have had a co-author so the reader has never been certain on the extent of his contribution. His is the only name attributed as the author of "How to Play the English Opening" and this belies his reputation as a reticent author. The annotations are deep and informative. Also they are well expressed in the English language, rather than the clipped translations that abound in many books translated from the Russian. Incidentally, the name of the translator is not given, which is rather a shame as he/she is worthy of considerable applause.
The English Opening does not have the following that other major openings have, but it does give rise to interesting games for both the players of white or the black pieces. Of course transpositions from other openings into the English Opening occur many times, so that is possible to find oneself playing an English Opening type of position without quite realising that the transposition has occurred. In fact, on many occasions playing the white pieces, I have fondly played a Reti Opening, only to have a computer tell me later that it had turned into the English! Beware, even if you don't consciously want an English, there will be many times when, perforce, you have to play it. This makes the knowledge that can be gained from this book, very important to a serious chess player.
In the course of his explanations Karpov cites many other games and gives reasons why precedents set the course of development of the opening. The earliest game examined is dated 1987 and the latest 2004, so this is a treatise on the modern treatment of the opening. There is no attempt to dig into history and present the course of theory from the first time that Staunton essayed the system.
All the games given are analysed in full, giving notes to the opening moves, the middlegame and the endgame. This gives a clear picture of the effect of the opening has on the whole of the game and the typical positions that arise in the later courses of the game. It is so easy to think to oneself when playing a game, "Well, that's the opening over with, now lets get on with the middle game," little realising that the traces of opening will remain for the rest of the game. For instance, the pawn formation that has evolved during the opening, can remain until the endgame and influence the result of the game. It is only necessary to recall the famous game between Lasker and Capablanca during the St. Petersburg tournament of 1914 to appreciate that this is indeed the case. Karpov is alive to this possibility and thus continues his analysis to explain the effect that the legacy from the opening has on the game as a whole.
There is no clearly defined tree of variations examined here in the manner that many opening books are structured. Indeed, this would be a difficult undertaking with such an opening that is prone to many transpositions from the very start. It is not the theory that Karpov expounds. He concentrates on the general methods of playing particular positions that can arise from the opening and refrains from making recommendations to the repertoire hungry player. It is possible that this is the best manner to present this particular opening. Most other major openings can be dealt with move by move with the attendant variations, as in most cases the opening has just one main line and it is a simple matter to provide variations on this line.
As an example of this treatment and to whet your appetite, we give the game Karpov - Kortchnoi played in the the World Cup of 1988. These two played many games in struggles for the World Championship and many of them were played against the backdrop of the English Opening or positions very akin to those that can arise from that opening. Other practitioners of the English Opening are given full game analysis i.e. Kramnik, Kasparov, Timman, Anand, Topalov and Michael Adams. With such a representation of great exponents, the range of inventiveness displayed in these games make the book a good read even if one is not necessarily interested in the English Opening.
There are no specific chapters. The foreword is followed by the 30 games and this occupies 191 pages. Unlike many books on openings etc, this is not double columned pages and thus makes for easy reading.
To stress the structure of the book, following is an extract from Karpov's foreword:
"It is necessary to say that you have in front of you not a standard opening manual or reference book, which is obliged to contain all systems, including those which at the present moment in time have gone out of fashion. The book has a different format: it represents a collection of 30 interesting and important games of recent times, played with the English opening. Many of them have a place in the development of the theory of the opening. the games are systematically arranged according to variations; in precisely which order, the reader can see for himself."
There you have it in a nutshell!
Once more this book has been presented in the usual immaculate Batsford style and has a recommended price of £14.99. For those English Opening devotees (and non-devotees for that matter) this book is a must.