Tuesday, 30 December 2008
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
Monday, 22 December 2008
A presentation on the endgame marks a new departure for GM Shirov. His former DVDs concentrated on a variety of openings and general ‘best games’ collections.
However odd it may seem to see the word ‘Endgame’ connected to Shirov, the second part of the title should assure the viewer that the Latvian wizard is still able to stamp his unique personality on proceedings, even when the board is bedecked with only scanty material.
In his introduction, he makes the remarkable claim that he doesn’t know a lot of endgame theory. This is familiar ‘complaint’ of his spiritual and geographical predecessor, Mikhail Tal, who claimed to be afraid of endgames. Nevertheless, both of them scaled to the very top of the chess world (even though one of them had his hands stepped on as he tried to take over at the summit) and it would be folly to suggest they played endgames poorly. The opponents here are all top Grandmasters, including Topalov, Kramnik, Adams and Karjakin.
His most famous endgame is undoubtedly this classic…
He goes into great detail to show that this was the only winning move. Only in 2008 - 10 years after the game was played - does Rybka manage to appreciate the strength of move 47.
It is interesting to discover that GM Shirov took the basics of the idea from an earlier game, in which he suffered a defeat at the hands of an endgame maestro.
44...Bxh4! and Black won with the King march f6-f5-e4-d3-c4, after which the passed pawns were much stronger than the Bishop.
There are 17 examples in all. Not all types of endgame are covered; this is definitely not a ‘how to play endgames’ product. The specific areas of interest here include ‘Opposite coloured Bishops’ , ‘Rooks’ (including two Rooks each), ‘Rook and Knight’.
Rooks with opposite coloured Bishops come under great scrutiny, taking five of the lessons. It’s easy to see the appeal they hold for a predominantly attacking player; middlegame themes seep through into the endgames and the unbalanced Bishops can add many a tactical twist to proceedings. An advantage in material is often much less important than piece activity.
Quite a few of the examples come from Rapidplay games. The presenter makes the point that even though faster time limits can dilute a player’s strength, the greater reliance on intuition provides fertile ground for the point the is trying to make. It’s the intuitive side of endgame play - with an overriding sense of creativity - that he is eager to demonstrate.
Sometimes, spotting an improvement on his earlier thoughts, he analyses on the go and it’s almost possible to see his mind swiftly running through the variations before presenting his new conclusions to the viewer.
The final example provides a bit of fun.
The tablebases claim a win for Rook and Bishop against two Knights, but in some cases it can take over 200 moves to force checkmate. As GM Shirov takes the viewer through the game, he compares the actual moves played with the tablebase lines. A little (and imperceptible) inaccuracy here and there has a major effect on the number of moves to checkmate. At one point, Black achieves a position in which checkmate in 28 moves is possible. Along the way, Back could force the capture of one of the Knights, thus extending the 50-move rule.
This is a very interesting DVD and it should provide plenty of inspiration to seek creative solutions to your own endgame problems. It could be the perfect antidote for those who still see endgames as inherently dull.
By GM Vlastimil Hort
GM Hort may not be such a familiar character to anyone whose chess study started from the mid-1980s onwards.
His style of presentation isn’t forceful, as if he is trying to sell you an opening variation; he is a quietly spoken gentleman, very much of the old school. After watching just a couple of the video segments one feels at home, as if in the company of a long-term friend.
The games given here feature the kings of chess all the way from Botvinnik to Kasparov (World Champions 6 to 13 inclusive).
The stories behind the games often take as long as the playing over the moves themselves. Every single story is fascinating; the bulk of the anecdotes cannot be found anywhere else.
For example, GM Hort remembers taking an unexpected phone call from ‘Mr Botvinnik’ during the Monte Carlo tournament in 1968. The great champion offered to help him analyse his adjourned game with Bent Larsen, but GM Hort, quite shocked, declined. (It was in Botvinnik’s interests to try and prevent Larsen from scoring a win as he his main rival for first place). When Hort played Botvinnik in the next round, the latter declined the pre- and post-game handshakes.
He certainly doesn’t like to mix politics with chess and this leads to some very interesting opinions of Anatoly Karpov. He highlights how much Karpov was favoured by the authorities but pinpoints the death of Furman (Karpov’s second and father figure) as a major blow. He still gives Karpov his due as being a very strong player and speculates that his performance with the White pieces (in his prime) could well be the best in history.
Of course, a win against a World Champion is a fine achievement regardless of colour, and the presenter is happy to show this encounter:
There are three players that GM Hort thinks deserve the description ‘genius’ and they are Tal, Fischer and Kasparov. He clearly has a very special memories about Fischer and makes the point that the controversial American was always the perfect sportsman at the board.
He thinks very highly of Spassky too. In 1977 they played a tough Candidates’ match and Hort lost the penultimate game on time in a completely winning position. That must have been a bitter blow (it was the furthest he ever got along the World Championship trail) but he has remained on excellent terms with Spassky to this day. He says he looks forward to more meetings with him over the board, when at this stage in their lives they could simply have some fun.
I would definitely like to see more DVDs like this one. It would be great to see other veteran chess heroes - such as Spassky, Portisch, Larsen and Andersson - reminiscing about their finest chess battles
The latest in GM King’s highly successful ‘Power Play’ series takes a good look at the differences between the two minor pieces.
He starts off with two very clear demonstrations of the strengths the two pieces enjoy on a good day. Both are winning positions for White (to play), as you can no doubt comfortably verify for yourselves:
There's a general discussion on the imbalance of strengths and what we should looking out for.
It’s precisely these imbalanced positions that club players tend to find very difficult to navigate over the board. I remember reading GM Bronstein’s theory on why the third World Champion, GM Capablanca, was so successful. The basic summary reveals a very simple method: trade an unlike minor piece early in the game and arrange one’s pawn structure according to the strengths of the remaining pieces
Then it’s on to the main work. As usual, the viewer is encouraged to switch off the analysis window and assess the first of many interesting positions.
GM King talks the viewer through 22 examples of play, methodically building up a store of essential knowledge.
12 test positions follow the main lectures, followed by the answers, with full explanations.
The first of the tests should whet the appetite:
The material is expertly chosen and GM King’s presentation skills are as polished and professional as always. Indeed, in my opinion he is the best of all ChessBase presenters. His delivery is directly to the camera and his natural teaching style comfortably entices the viewer into doing some hard work.
I believe that careful study of this DVD will provide the reader with a thorough grounding of the relative advantages and disadvantages of the Knight and the Bishop. Appreciation of such qualities should enable the viewer to add an extra twist to their over-the-board prowess.
So it is with these three very different ChessBase DVDs that we bring the reviews of 2008 to a close.
The first reviews of 2009 should follow very early in January, so stay tuned.
For further details of Chessbase products, please go to:
Wednesday, 17 December 2008
There was a very large queue of people waiting to go in. The venue is 'standing only'; the doors opened at seven but the main act didn't come on till nine so it was a long wait. However, it was well worth waiting for.
The band came on first and struck up a fast and furious tempo. After a minute or so, Amy Mavdonald appeared, strummed her way into the tempo and launched into a blistering rendition of 'Poison Prince'.
I took a few photos, all which were from a distance so are not of the highest quality. Nevertheless, they give a decent impression of the concert in progress.
She came across as modest yet excited when she spoke to the audience between songs. She was very happy to impart the news that her debut CD, 'This is the Life', had now sold two million copies.
Over the course of the first hour, Amy and the band ripped it up with all of the well known songs from her CD, including 'Mr. Rock & Roll', 'This is the Life' and the barbed 'Footballer's Wife'.
After a short break - and with the audience (estimated around 2,000 people) calling for more - Amy emerged and did a great solo acoustic version of 'Dancing in the Dark'.
Then the band came back on and they played for another 20 minutes. It was all good, exciting stuff.
It's been a packed year for Amy Macdonald, with constant touring and very impressive sales. There will be pressure now to come up with a worthy second CD. She certainly has an abundance of talent and energy and has kept her feet on the ground. The complete lack of tabloid sleaze stories is extremely refreshing.
I feel sure that we will be seeing and hearing a lot more of her in years to come.
Thursday, 11 December 2008
Learn all about an interesting line in the French Defence over at:
‘My objective with this work is to provide instruction and analysis ranging from that appropriate for a low-rated player with, say, one or two years’ experience, to a long-time player who is familiar with a good deal of theory.’
IM John Watson is a popular writer. His works on chess strategy and the French Defence are all highly regarded; indeed, no 1 e4 e6 player should consider their library complete without at least one edition of ‘Play the French’.
His series aimed at ‘Mastering Chess Openings’ was originally planned to cover two volumes but now it looks set to run to four books.
Long-term Watson readers should be delighted to see that this volume covers the English Opening. The author wrote a famous tetralogy on 1 c4 in the late 1970s/early 1980s.
At 351 pages, this is the longest book in the series to date. The coverage is not encyclopaedic; indeed, some rather important lines are omitted (or at least only mentioned in passing), such as:
1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 Bb4 5 Nd5
However, there is still a large amount of material with coverage of all the major variations of the English Opening, namely:
Introduction to the English Opening
Reversing the Sicilian: 2nd Moves
Introduction to 2 Nc3: Black Plays Flexibly
2...Nf6 and g3 Systems
Four Knights Variation
Three Knights and Closed English
Pure Symmetrical Variation
Main Lines with 2 Nf3 and d4
The Hedgehog Variation
Mikenas Attack and Nimzo-English
King’s Indian Variations
After 1 c4 e5, there’s an obvious point which leads to an interesting discussion on the merits of reversed openings.
‘So you might ask (and many players have done so) why anyone would subject themselves to playing against the Sicilian Defence with a tempo less?’
IM Watson provides plenty of detail regarding the pluses and minuses of such an approach. The extra tempo isn’t always useful.
Similarly, he takes another bull by the horns when he outlines the differences between White playing 1 c4 and 2 Nc3 and the trendy 1 c4 and 2 g3. The subtle differences may have passed most players by so it’s well reading his stock taking summary.
Reading IM Watson’s prose reveals one of his great writing strength; getting the reader to think, and often rethink, even for positions and variations in which one’s knowledge seemed complete. His works are never dry and always inspiring.
Sometimes the illustrative games end with a brief assessment but no mention is made of the eventual result; this looks a bit odd and could have been cured by a simple '1-0 (34)' typ of comment.
Those already familiar with the author’s writing style will feel at home; he is at his chatty best, talking directly to the reader (sample snippet: ‘…play should continue with 10...Qxc6, to which I’ll return in a minute’). He has the ability to sum up the salient points of even the trickiest variations in easy to follow prose.
For example, on this tricky pawn sacrifice:
1 c4 c5 2 g3 g6 3 Bg2 Bg7 4 Nc3 Nc6 5 Nf3 e6 6 d4
…he has this to say:
‘For many years this radical pawn offer was not taken seriously, partly because the expenditure of two tempi to place a bishop on g2 would not generally fit into a sacrificial theme. So, what is going on? Above all, White is trying to exploit the weak dark squares created by the move 5...e6, in particular d6 and f6. In what follows he will play either Nb5 or Ne4, attacking d6. In addition, 6 d4 frees his dark-squared bishop to rush into play by Bf4 or Bg5, hitting one of those weaknesses. Since Black’s c-pawn will end up on d4 (or gone), the potential manoeuvre b3 and Ba3 will strike at the d6-square and sometimes prevent castling (even Bb2 attacks down the long diagonal) and the advance c5 might add to White’s grip on d6’
Incidentally, the ‘dull’ tag often dumped on 1 c4 can be safely refuted once and for all. Dangerous and exciting lines are available for English players, just as they are for 1 e4 devotees.
Here’s a few of random examples, all nicely covered in the book:
1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 g4 would clearly be fun to play over the board.
This comes from a Mikenas Attack (1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 e4). White improved on earlier theory with 12 Bh6!! in Ni Hua - Aleksandrov (Calcutta 2004).
Black can have fun too:
8...Nxe4! when 9 Nxe4 d5! leads to serious problems for White.
The extensive bibliography, covering nearly two full pages, clearly shows the depth of research.
There’s a very good index of variations, complete with way marking diagrams, which needs to be thorough for the English Opening due to the large number of early transpositions.
It would be great to see Watson let loose on a new version of his four-volume classic coverage of 1 c4, or at least a full and frank single volume repertoire book, in the style of his classic French Defence tomes.
Meanwhile, this fine overview will appeal to anyone looking to discover the inside story of a powerful and important opening. Those who already play the English will enjoy this new book too. Mastering an opening can take a long time; this book will provide a plethora of help and inspiration along the way.
In my opinion, this is the best volume in the series (so far).
For further details regarding the Gambit books, please visit their website: http://www.gambitbooks.com/
Saturday, 6 December 2008
ChessBase carries a worthy tribute, as do several other sites.
I met Bob several times over a number of years.
The first meeting was in 1988 when he came up to Teesside for a coaching course. Over a period of two days, he gave a Masterclass in various aspects of coaching and I was delighted when he awarded me the title of British Chess Federation Junior Coach.
I was able to ask him many questions about his games and chess career, all of which he was more than willing to answer. Naturally, a lot of my questions regarded his meetings with the likes of Fischer and Korchnoy.
The following year, we met again; this time in London, behind the scenes at the 1989 Candidates’ Matches. I admitted to being a little bit overawed, being in a room packed with so many Grandmasters and other chess celebrities. Bob took the time to take me around the room and introduced me to a whole gallery of chess stars, including Grandmasters Short, Speelman, Timman and many others. Bob must have a hundred and one things to do but he still made sure he helped me out.
Afterwards, he asked if I had some spare time and he took me on a mini-tour of London bookshops, including the Batsford offices and Caissa at Grays-in-the-Mews.
I asked him how many chess books he owned and he said he had no idea at all and that counting would be retrograde step anyway. He came out of one bookshop with a couple of volumes on ‘Go’; he mentioned in passing that his collection of books on that game was very large too.
As we walked the streets of London, I quizzed him about his contact with Fischer. He was undoubtedly still in touch with the 11 th World Champion but had to be little bit careful how much he said. He did tell me that when Fischer needed him, contact was made ‘in a round about sort of way’ and that there had been plans for Fischer and Spassky to play a match in, of all places, South Africa. The plans had fallen through (this was still three years before the 1992 ‘World Championship’ match).
Our perambulations concluded and I had to catch a bus back to Victoria. Understanding the queue system, I started off by allowing other people on first, but Bob was adamant that I had to pursue more of an initiative and he physically pushed me through the uncoordinated mob and I flew onto the bus like a cork from a bottle.
We met a few more times after that, always in London. I remember us travelling by tube on the way back from one of the Kasparov - Kramnik games in 2000. He pulled some chess magazines from his voluminous pockets and showed me some great examples of three-piece attacks, which he said juniors found difficult to produce in their own games.
Our final encounter was at the 2008 Staunton Memorial tournament. He was clearly very tired after one of his losses and I’m not sure he recognised me at first. Nevertheless, he recovered his spirits quickly and we chatted about his experiences against the younger generation.
I had written to him shortly before his death to invite to take part in my series of interviews for CHESS Magazine. I was confidently awaiting a positive response when the news of his death suddenly appeared online.
He has gone but will not be forgotten.
Monday, 1 December 2008
‘In this book I intend to share with the reader some of my knowledge and enthusiasm for the Kan. If that makes yet another chess player follow in Taimanov’s footsteps, or stay within them, then my efforts will not have been in vain.’
It’s not so easy to learn a new line in the Sicilian Defence. The large amount of theory associated with the Najdorf and Dragon variations can be a real deterrent; Black could do with something simpler to learn. Could the Kan be the answer?
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6
The Introduction takes a quick look at some common Kan pawn structures and gives an overview of typical characteristics.
The main material is split into the following chapters:
5 Nc3 Qc7: Introduction and 6th Move Sidelines
5 Nc3 Qc7 6 Bd3 Nf6 7 f4 and 7 Qe2
5 Nc3 Qc7 6 Bd3 Nf6 7 0-0 d6
5 Nc3 Qc7 6 Bd3 Nf6 7 0-0 Bc5
5 Nc3 Qc7 6 Be2
5 Nc3 Qc7 6 g3
5 Bd3 Bc5: Introduction and Set-ups without 6 Nc3
5 Bd3 Bc5: Classical Set-ups
5 Bd3 Bc5: Maroczy Bind
5 c4 and Other 5th Moves
The coverage is deep and there are lots of variations. This is not a ‘quick start’ to learning the Kan; the student will need to be diligent to get the most from the material.
However, those prepared to get stuck in will be rewarded by some fresh Sicilian positions which could be very interesting to try out over the board, especially as the opponents won’t be as well versed as in other main line variations.
For example, Black’s flexible structure works to his advantage when White tries to steer the game into Najdorf territory.
Sutovsky - Vasilevich
‘Comparing this to standard positions within the 6 Bg5 Najdorf, here White has had to spend a tempo on a2-a3, and his queen is not at its usual location on f3. Black, on the other hand, has just made natural developing moves.’
A particularly eye catching device crops up several times, including this position:
McShane - Epishin
Black played 13 ...h5!, apparently a recurring theme in the Kan. The author explains the reasons:
‘Apart from gaining some space, what are the ideas behind …h7-h5?
Preparing …Ng8-f6 without having to worry about the bishop move to h6, now that the rook covers that square;
Advance the pawn to h3 in order to soften up White’s kingside and enhance the counterplay along the h1-a8 diagonal;
Play …h5-h4 followed by …Nf6-h5 and/or …g6-g5, with increased dark square control;
After a future f2-f4 and …Ng8-f6, enable …Nf6-g4 as a reply to e4-e5;
After a future f2-f4 and …Ng8-f6, if White goes h2-h3, then play …h5-h4 in order to create a weak square on g3, which can be exploited by …Nh5-g3.’
The index of variations is very thorough and is granted nine pages to help guide the reader through a large body of material. Careful study of the given lines should enable Black to cause future opponents new problems.
The Greatest Ever Chess Tricks and Traps
By IM Gary Lane
‘This collection of opening tricks and traps is designed to be a guide to winning chess. I have tried to find ways to win quickly in the opening, usually within the first ten moves to make sure that the opponent has a chance to go wrong. These will be ideal for people who wish to improve by discovering the pitfalls and traps in various opening systems.’
To that end, the material in the first five chapters is arranged according to opening rather than the theme of each trap.
Here’s a couple of typical examples…
‘A Knight to Remember’
Jahn - Kauschman
1 d4 Nf6 2 Bg5 Ne4 3 h4 d5 4 Nd2 Qd6
'A sneaky move, because it seems that Black is intending to play …Qb4+ and consequently White takes evasive action.'
5 c3? Ng3! 0-1
…although White could have battled on with 6 Rh2!?
‘The Petrosian Punch’
Petrosian - Ree
Wijk aan Zee 1971
1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 Bb4 5.Nd5 Nxd5 6.cxd5 e4 7.dxc6 exf3
8 Qb3! 1-0 Black loses a piece if he continues the game.
The final chapter looks at ‘Classic Attacks’, with examples of such things as the Greek Gift, Philidor’s Legacy and The Thornton Castling Trap.
The latter isn’t as well known as the rest, but this example should make things clearer:
Thornton - Boultbee
22 Bxd7 Kxd7 23 Bxc5 Kxd7 23 Bxc5 dxc5 24 0-0-0+ 1-0
I think I would spot that in game, but there was a time when I would have probably missed it. In fact there’s proof of that just three pages later in this very book…
S. Marsh - F.N. Stephenson
Cleveland League 1987
Oblivious to the possibility of the Thornton Trap, I played 17 Rxb7?? and had to resign after the fantastic 17 …0-0-0! 0-1
There is a scoring system, based on ‘Surprise Value’, ‘Risk’, ‘Chance of Success’ and ‘Reward’. A ‘pawnometer’ indicates marks out of ten for each trap. I don’t think the idea works any better here than it did in the previous book in the series (‘The Greatest Ever Opening Ideas’) but as IM Lane points out, ’…it is just a bit of fun and not a scientific report’.
As usual in a book by IM Lane (a specialist in writing chatty books for club players), little biographical and historical snippets are often used to add colour and background to the players and games.
For example, in his analysis of the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit, he relates a little surprise:
‘Did you know? It is alleged that music composed by Blackmar can be `heard in the famous Gone with the Wind.’
Having blown away numerous chess opponents with his favourite opening, it seems quite fitting.
It’s a bright and breezy read, providing lots of entertainment and some new traps for everyone.
Dangerous Weapons: Flank Openings
By IM Richard Palliser
GM Tony Kosten
FM Dr. James Vigus
So what exactly can be done to pep up the Flank Openings?
First of all, the reader should abandon any preconceptions regarding ‘boring’ moves such as 1 c4 and 1 Nf3. It still takes two people to create a boring games and the authors of this book ably demonstrate that the English and Reti can be played dynamically and creatively.
Some of the lines are quite obscure and will be new to most readers. For example, the idea of playing the Leningrad Dutch with White has never been popular but interest may be heightened now that it has a name.
1.f4 d5 2.Nf3 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 Nf6 5.0–0 0–0 6.d3 c5
The Polar Bear
Transpositions to the Polar Bear are possible after 1 g3, but Black can spoil the fun with 1 …e5. Yet playing 1 f4 invites the infamous From Gambit. Fortunately, Dr Vigus provides analysis of ‘Larsen’s Antidote’. Bent Larsen is, of course, a great expert on Bird’s Opening and has a penchant for unusual lines of play. Virtually all of the From Gambit positions analysed here were new to me. I wonder if any readers will have seen this sort of thing before?
Black to move
‘Beware! Never underestimate the From Gambit! If an opening has survived fir 150 years, it has probably done so for a good reason…’
Don’t get the wrong idea; the recommendations don’t steer the reader into such dangerously unexplored backwaters all of the time. Indeed, the Flohr-Mikenas Attack (shortened here to simply the ‘Mikenas Attack’, now apparently ‘Flohr’-less) has been played at World Championship level.
1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 e4
‘A 2 …e6 move order is very popular with Nimzo-Indian and even some Modern Benoni players who are hoping to transpose to positions they know well and feel comfortable with. However, 3 e4 gives them a rude awakening - White has no desire to transpose and instead selects a dangerous, aggressive system.’
GM Kosten, extending his advocacy of 1 c4 beyond his classic ‘The Dynamic English’, analysis a sharp pawn sacrifice:
3 …c5 4 e5 Ng8 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 d4 cxd4 7 Nxd4 Nxe5 8 Ndb5 a6 9 Nd6+ Bd6 10 Qxd6
‘White has gained the bishop-pair and severely weakened Black’s dark squares.’
Pawn sacrifices to achieve such advantages are clearly not the private domain of 1 e4 players.
One of the most interesting chapters covers ‘An Improved Lowenthal?’
The point is that after:
1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 e5!? 5 Nb5 a6!
…Black can aim for a weird position, in the spirit of the Lowenthal Sicilian, with: 6 Nd6+ Bxd6 7 Qxd6 Qf6!
The difference between this and the Sicilian is that White has a pawn on c4 rather than e4. This line is barely covered in other English Opening books. Familiarity with IM Palliser’s analysis will enable readers to spring a very nasty surprise on unsuspecting 1 c4 adherents.
IM Richard Palliser says in his introduction:
‘I certainly can’t wait to employ a number of these ideas in my own games!’
I imagine most readers will have similar thoughts. This is a very nice addition to an impressive series.
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