Saturday, 28 November 2009

Chess Reviews: 119

Power of Planning

By GM Adrian Mikhalchishin

Three hours 19 minutes


‘Spot the weakness, fix it and then just attack it.’

Top chess coach, GM Mikhalchishin, targets planning as a specific area for chess improvement. Over the course of 12 video lectures (five on the subject of ‘Majority’ and seven on 'Planning') he aims to develop the student's skill level in this tricky subject.

Sometimes the pawn structure can provide an automatic plan and this theme is investigated on the first five lectures.

Having a pawn majority on one side of the board can be a big clue as to what the best plan in the position may be. For example, the following position (clearly from a Ruy Lopez, Exchange Variation) shows White enjoying a healthy Kingside majority while Black's doubled Queenside pawns cripple his own majority. The presenter shows how to continue from this typical position...

Rozentalis - Wedburg

New York 1997

....until a passed pawn is created and a winning position is obtained.

...and 1-0

The real art of planning is revealed as the ability to target the real weakness in the opponent’s camp and attack it This can lead to a speedy demolition of the opponent's position.

In this position, the isolated pawn is the current focus of attention. Yet White can't attack it more times than Black can defend it, so Botvinnik takes aim at another weakness - the pawn on g7.

Botvinnik - Zagoriansky

Sverdlovsk 1943

25 g4! Once the g-file is cracked open, White was able to create very serious threats in a short space of time.

White is threatening 33 Qh6 followed by 34 Rh4. Black tried to evacuate the Kingisde but he was doomed regardless. 1-0 (42)

Such a game illustrates another important aspect to planning: spot the weakness, fix it and then attack it. When the opponent defends it, start work on a second weakness and you should be well on the way to success in the game.

The material is well chosen and each lesson should create a lasting impression. This is a very good DVD and one which club players should derive a lot of benefit.

Power of Exchange

By GM Adrian Mikhalchishin

Three hours


‘The correct technique of exchanging is the most important ability of Grandmasters!’

It's not so easy to decide which pieces should stay on the board and which ones should be forced to leave. All of the lessons on this DVD - a perfect partner for the volume on 'Planning' - are geared up to assist the viewer in making better decisions regarding exchanges.

GM Mikhalchishin identifies the two most successful players in this field as Rubinstein and Smyslov. The latter, being a World Champion, often gets more coverage than the former in chess literature but on this DVD the first five video lectures are devoted to the games of the mighty Rubinstein.

Rubinstein - Duras

Karlsbad 1911

Rubinstein realised that the endgame would be a comfortable technical win if he could exchange the Queens. This he achieved after 27 Qf1 Nc8 28 Nd2 Qb4 29 Qc4 Qxc4 30 Nxc4, after which the Knight returned to d2 to protect b3 and the a6 pawn dropped off 1-0 (52).

The second half of the DVD covers the specific problem of how to assess exchanges between the Bishop and the Knight. As the presenter says, there are many technical problems and misunderstandings about the role of the different pieces and chess players do have their favourites, which can cloud judgement at critical moments.

Broekmuelen - Bosch

Calder Cup 2003

In this example, Black could have won quickly by swapping off one of his Bishops, although it's not an easy decision to make when we hear all the time about the dominance of the Bishop pair. 40...Be6 41 b3 Bxc4 42 bxc4 f3+ followed by pushing the King to e4 and molesting the Queenside pawns. In the game Black played 40...f3+ first and it ended in a draw.

Even World Champions can sometimes get it wrong.

Gurevich - Anand

Reggio Emilia 1991

Anand played the tempting 43...Nc4+?! 44 Bxc4 but the Knight turned out to be the stronger piece and White gained an advantage.

Later in the same game, Anand made the reverse error and underestimated the exchange for the second time. Here, he has allowed White to force the exchange which gives rise to an easy win in the King and pawn ending.

49 Ne5+! Bxe5 50 fxe5 Ke7 51 b3 1-0 (55)

I enjoyed this DVD. The presentation is very good and the material excellent.

The Gruenfeld Defence

By GM Lubomir Ftacnik

Seven hours and 21 minutes


‘Many top players have tried to ‘‘refute’’ the Gruenfeld, honourably failed

andended up defending its charms with remarkable success.’

The theory of the Gruenfeld exploded when Kasparov added it to his arsenal. I don't think it's the sort of opening one can successully play without serious preparation, so was keen to see if this DVD could provide comprehensive and instructive coverage.

A short introduction is followed by lectures on ‘Structures’ and ‘Endgames’ and then there are 50(!) lectures on the different variations.

GM Ftacnik appears to be nervous in front of the camera and I think this affects the presentation.It's not so easy to 'sell' openings without apparent self-confidence. I think there is a problem too with the vast amount of material. Sometimes, less really is more and I would have preferred to see the ideas and plans of each variation broken down into much simpler terms. Instead, I came away with the feeling that everything was rushed (despite the incredible DVD running time) as Ftacnik tried to cram everything in. The feeling is similar to those enormous opening books which look impressive but unfortunately leave a rather cold impression.

Lines such as the following one require excellent explanatory notes, especially for a student trying to navigate the complexities following 14 d5 from either side of the board. Instead, the deluge of material falls between various stools and I ended up none the wiser as to exactly what it is both sides are playing for in terms of strategies or even specific move-orders.

On the plus side, the DVD contains a database of nearly 4000 Gruenfeld games from 1910 up to 2009 and many have been annotated, mainly by Ftacnik and Krasenkow.

Maybe Gruenfeld experts will derive more pleasure from the video lectures; it's possible that it simply wasn't to my taste.

A Busy Person’s Opening System

By GM Nigel Davies

Four hours


‘On this DVD Nigel Davies addresses the issue by demonstrating a simple

and easy to learn opening system designed for the busy person.’

GM Davies has already given two multi-purpose repertoires with 1...e6 and 1...d6 on previous ChessBase DVDs. This time he turns his attention to a rarer system and one for which opponents could well be unprepared.

The main idea is to play 1...d6 2...c6 and sometimes even 3...Qc7 against whatever White chooses to do, heading for a Philidor structure while missing out some dangerous move-order issues. As busy people don’t have time to analyse openings for either colour, the same sort of thing is recommended for White also.

The breakdown of material gives a good indication as to what to expect:


Strategy 1: Central Exchange

Strategy 2: Little Centre

Strategy 3: Queenside Pawn Advance

Strategy 4: Lever with f4-f5 or f7-f5

Strategy 5: Attack with g2-g4 or g7-g5

Strategy 6: Space gaining with e4-e5 or e5-e4

Strategy 7: Space gaining with f2-f4 & e4-e5 or f2-f4 & e5-e4

For the Black repertoire:

Five lectures on the Philidor Defence

One on the Old Indian

One on Flank Openings

For White:

Three lectures on 1 e4 e5

One each for the French, Sicilian, Alekhine and Pirc and Caro Kann.

G. Buckley - Davies

Strategy 3 is nicely put into operation here with 28...a4! 0-1 (40)

White's repertoire against 1...e5 starts with a Ponziani move-order, but the intention is not head for the main lines.

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 c3 The recommendation after one of Black’s best moves - 3...d5 - is 4 d3, heading for a Queenless middlegame if Black decides to exchange. White can play 4 Nbd2 before 5 d3, but a running theme on this DVD is to try and develop the Queen’s Bishop before playing Nbd2.

There are some tricky little moves along the way, such as 1 e4 e6 2 d3 d5 3 Be2. If Black wants to play without the Queens he can do so, but fresh positions will arise if they are kept on the board. White aims for this unusual set-up.

Akhmetov - Goloshchapov

The whole point is to get into opening positions one is comfortable with and understands well. At the same time, opponents will be thrown back on their own resources

The final lecture, ‘Retirement Options’ gives some pointers on how to expand one’s opening repertoire when more time is available. For example; using structures from the Old Indian it is possible to switch a King’s Indian, when many of the same strategies can still be used.

For White, some lines of the Ruy Lopez can resemble good versions of the lines covered on the DVD, such as this one:

'A Philidor, but with the Bishop out on b3’

It might not be possible to win the World Championship using this repertoire, but busy people (and even lazy ones) should be able to use it to reach a playable middlegame without expending too much energy or time.

With his polished presentation skills and unhurried manner, GM Davies never leaves the viewer in the dark. The viewer should be able to get the whole repertoire up and running in a very short period of time.

For further details of Chessbase products, please go to:

Missed a review? Pop along to my archive:

Friday, 27 November 2009

Dr. Eric Schiller Interviewed

My latest interview for CHESS Magazine features Eric Schiller and covers various aspects of his chess life.

It's the December 2009 issue (volume 74, Number 9) and it can be obtained from here:

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Hedgehog - Do Not Disturb!

Head over to: for my latest Mongoose blog.

Beware the Hedgehog!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Book Review: Abbott and Costello on the Home Front

Abbott and Costello on the Home Front

A Critical Study of the Wartime Films

By Scott Allen Nollen

212 pages

McFarland & Company

Over the course of 15 chapters, film historian Scott Allen Nollen sets out his chronological analysis of the wartime films of one of the worlds greatest comedy double acts.

The story starts with the earliest days of William Alexander Abbott and Louis Francis Cristillo - Bud Abbot and Lou Costello - and their occasional spells working with each other.

Announcing their partnership in 1937, (with Bud securing a 60-40 favourable split of the money), the duo gradually earned a radio spot. 10 minutes earned them $350. Within two months, their famous Whos on First sketch catapulted them to considerable heights. By 1940, they were earning $1,250 per week just from their radio performances.

A film career was sure to follow and they were confident enough to turn down MGM in favour of a better deal from Universal. The timing could not have been better.

The practice of using the cinema as a nationalistic propaganda tool is as old as the medium itself.

Thus 1941s Buck Privates, making $4.7 million (beaten only by Gone With the Wind), catapulted them into silver screen stardom, with an initial four-year contract earning them $50,000 per picture plus 10% of the profits.

Success breeds success and the boys were back almost at once with In The Navy swiftly followed by Keep Em Flying. After that, they were on a conveyor belt of feel good films, although the hectic pace inevitably led to peaks and troughs as far as quality was concerned.

The author examines no fewer than 18 wartime films, with enough plot summaries, quoted dialogue and background information to satisfy even the expert readers.

Despite the authors obvious affection for his subject, this is not a total whitewash and the balance is maintained by some darker observations.

The life of the Costello family was never the same after the accidental death of Lou junior, just two days short of his first birthday party.

Lou survived serious health problems. Rheumatic heart disease struck in 1943, and there were real fears that he would never work again.

Later on, a dispute over a maid, fired by Lou and subsequently hired by Bud, led to a period of non-communication outside of work and very nearly resulted in a costly split.

Other anecdotes flesh out their characters, such as Lous habit of taking major props away from the set for his home. As this was often done before filming had finished, retakes were required at great expense. An arrangement was stuck - Lou temporarily lent back the props but could take them home again after shooting had finished.

The final chapter, Cold War Monsters, documents the post war films in which they took on all comers from the Keystone Kops to the Mummy.

McFarlands high production values are well to the fore. The book is enhanced by an excellent selection of photographs, some depicting outtakes from the films, and reproductions of the cinema posters.

Other extras include a foreword by Chris Costello - focusing on the charitable work of both her father and Bud - an appendix giving the cast details of all of their feature films, a bibliography and a full index.

Nearly 70 years on, the films of Abbott and Costello are still enjoyable. They stuck admirably to the advice given by a member of the United Service Organisation, namely: The men youre playing to dont need pep talks. Theyll do the fighting. You do the entertaining.

Scott Allen Nollens very informative and well-researched work is a rewarding and recommended read.

For further details regarding McFarland books, please visit:

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Not Berry Good

I had hoped to be able post a review of Chuck Berry's concert in Newcastle last night, but the UK tour has been cancelled.

There is talk of the shows being rescheduled for March 2010 but I wouldn't hold your breath.

Ian Siegal at The Arc

Ian Siegal
The Arc
19 November 2009

Blues-man Ian Siegal put on a great show in Stockton-on-Tees last week, playing a storming set lasting around two hours and 20 minutes.

His new CD, 'Broadside', is attracting lots of attention and he played plenty of the new songs for our entertainment.

My full review of the show will hopefully be in a magazine some time soon. Meanwhile, here's a few photos from an excellent evening.

The Arc is a cosy venue. This was the stage set-up before the band emerged.

The trio in full swing

Ian Siegal (centre) is flanked by drummer Nikolaj Bjerre and bassist Andy Graham

Nikolaj Bjerre and Andy Graham - posing while signing the new CD

Ian Siegal signing my copy of 'Broadside'

Keep an eye on his website for future tour dates and further information:

Saturday, 21 November 2009

'Maverick' Articles

Pick up the latest copy of Maverick Magazine (issue 89, December 2009) to read my reviews on this new book about Albert Lee (published by McFarland books)...

...and the recent Andy Fairweather Low concert...

Friday, 20 November 2009

Dimensions 2009

Dimensions 2009
November 14-15
Holiday Inn, Newcastle

'Dimensions 2009' was an excellent Doctor Who convention. I've been going every year since 2002 and have always had a great time.

As usual, the convention was organised by 10th Planet and there was a magnificent array of guests from all eras of the show.

Here's a pictorial report from the busy weekend, showing the guests in action during their interview panels and signing sessions.

Velile Tshabalala ('Rosita' in The Next Doctor)

Kai Owen ('Rhys' in Torchwood)

Caroline John ('Liz Shaw')

Gillian Brown ('Ohica' in The Brain of Morbius)

Sarah Sutton ('Nyssa')

Anneke Wills ('Polly')

Kai Owen and friends

Velile Tshabalala

Colin Baker ('Sixth Doctor')

Gillian Brown being interviewed

Anneke Wills

Nick Briggs (voice of the many monsters -
most famously, the Daleks - actor, writer, director
and just about everything else in between)

Rob Shearman (writer, probably best known to Dr Who fans as
the man who wrote the 'Dalek' episode for the 2005 series)

Richard Franklin ('Mike Yates' of UNIT)

Lisa Bowerman ('Karra' in Survival and
'Professor Bernice Summerfield'in the
long-runnng series of Big Finish audio adventures)

A fine collection of intergalactic friends and foes

The effervescent Katy Manning ('Jo Grant')

Sophie Aldred ('Ace')

Paul McGann ('Eighth Doctor')

The Big Finish panel

He ran off when I said I had some gold crowns

Caroline John

Ross Marshall (Blue Man helper for the Face of Boe in The End of the World)

Sarah Sutton

Colin Baker signs yet another Dr. Who book

Kai Owen and friend

An Ogron with his master


The Black Dalek

Cassandra's brain

Cassandra, demonstrating the dangers of cosmetic surgery

Katy Manning and Sophie Aldred signing away

Sophie Aldred

Jacqueline King ('Sylvia Noble' - Donna's Mam!)

Paul McGann, with 'Respect Your Mother' T-shirt

Katy Manning

Richard Franklin

Jacqueline King was the final guest to be interviewed

Even Ogrons need a rest after a busy weekend

Here's some reports from earlier Doctor Who events: