Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Middlesbrough Wheel

A short time ago, I took a flight on the London Eye:

This week I went for a spin on the brand new Middlesbrough Wheel.

It's smaller than its London counterpart but well worth a go. There was a queue but it soon went down. It cost £4 per person to get on the wheel.

TFM Radio’s Wayne Allen provides a running commentary, pointing out the various landmarks on Teesside's horizon. The cabins even have their own, user-controlled heating system - and a panic button!

At the end of the journey there is the option of buying several copies of a photo, taken just before the start. At £10 for quality photos, we thought that was good value.

My sister and I enjoyed seven revolutions on the wheel, followed by a trip to MIMA ( ) and then Cineworld (to see Avatar).

Here's few photos of and on the wheel (all taken by Sharon Marsh and used here by kind permission).

Middlesbrough's famous 'Bottle O' Notes'

The Town Hall

We did not feel tempted to use this!

Snowbound Middlesbrough

The football stadium

A glimpse of the Transporter Bridge

The night-time view is impressive too.
Darkness had descended once 'Avatar' had ended!

Well done Middlesbrough for raising their ambitions and profile!

For more of Sharon's pictures, taken all over the world, pop along to:

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Chess Reviews: 121

The Rules of Winning Chess
By GM Nigel Davies
190 pages
Everyman Chess

‘These are the fundamentals - easy-to-learn guidelines which will help you to achieve greater understanding in your chess and enable you to approach every game with confidence.’

1: The Player

2: Preparation

3: The Opening

4: The Middlegame

5: The Endgame

This book does offer something different. A glance at the bibliography reveals several non-chess works. In amongst the likes of ‘500 Master Games of Chess’ by Tartakower and Dumont and 'Lasker’s Manual of Chess' we find 'The Unfettered Mind: Writings from a Zen Master to a Master Swordsman' by Takuan Soho and William Scott Wilson and ‘Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living’ by John Little.

The chapters consist of small but numerous examples (10 per chapter). Each one typically starts with a quote (sometimes more than one) to set the scene of the lesson. The there’s a piece of advice in prose, backed up with a lightly annotated illustrative game. This format works well, offering bite-sized chunks of wisdom.

The advice given covers subjects as diverse as ‘Overcome the fear of losing’, ‘Flatten your heart’, ‘Eat breakfast’ and ‘Harmonise your bishops and pawns’.

To start the section titled ‘Don’t think, feel’, two masters of different fields are quoted:

‘Don’t think - FEEL. Feeling exists here and now when not interrupted and dissected by ideas and concepts. The moment we stop analyzing and let go, we can start really seeing, feeling - as one whole.’ Bruce Lee

‘A great many people have mastered the multiplication tables of chess nowadays and even know its logarithm tables by heart. Therefore an attempt should occasionally be made to prove that two times two can also make five.’ Mikhail Tal

This leads to a discussion about intuition…

‘Intuition is in evidence when a player sacrifices material for some other factors such as time and space, such ‘irregular’ patterns calling for mental abilities way beyond the normal drudge work of applied technique.’

…followed by an in interesting famous game:

Tal - Larsen
Candidates Semi-final, 1965

16 Nd5! and 1-0 (37)

When asked whether or not it was ‘sound’, Tal’s comment was ‘‘I don’t know, but I would play it again!’’

It was as brave as it was intuitive; game 10 was the last game of a important match which had been poised at 4.5-4.5. Tal certainly knew how to ‘let go’.

The more exotic material - such as wearing ear plugs and not eating red meat before a game, is balanced by pure chess matters. ‘Improve your worst-placed piece’ shows Emanuel Lasker doing exactly that.

Lasker - Pillsbury
Paris 1900

‘In this position the only white piece that is not participating is his knight on c3. Accordingly Lasker sets about improving it.’

22 Nb1! Rae8 23 Nd2 e5 24 dxe5 Rxe5 25 Nf3 Re3 26 Ng5

Lasker - Pillsbury
Paris 1900

‘Five moves ago, this knight was doing nothing; now it is threatening mate in one.’

Pillsbury stopped the mate but couldn’t prevent the Knight from decisively raiding the Queenside pawns. 1-0 (85)

The title of the book doesn’t really convey the content. The lessons are providing the basis for good chess habits rather than presenting rules.

This a thoughtful work and one containing advice I have never seen before in any other chess book. As the New Year approaches and people think about making changes in their lives, perhaps chess players would like to turn over a few new leaves and change their bad chess habits. GM Davies provides numerous sensible and valid ways to do exactly that.

For further details of these and other Everyman products, please visit:

Zuke ‘Em
The Colle-Zukertort Revolutionized

New Edition
By David Rudel
312 pages
Thinkers’ Press

Expanded to include the Zukertort-Phoenix Attack

I enjoyed the first edition of ‘Zuke ‘Em’ (reviewed here):

My comments from the earlier review still stand firm so it makes good sense to stick to a review of the new material and general differences between the two editions.

There are 50 new pages and there are little additions in various places throughout the book. For example, a particular line of the Slav is now dubbed ‘The Elista Slav’ after its success in the (in)famous Kramnik - Topalov World Championship match.

The bulk of the new work comes in Chapter 4, ‘The Mainline’, which has been rewritten and boosted by increasing the page count from 28 to 50 pages.

A lot of the new material centres around the highly interesting Phoenix Attack. This is reached after:

1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 d5 3 e3 e6 4 Bd3 c5 5 c3 Nc6 6 Nbd2 Bd6 7 0-0 0-0 8 dxc5 Bxc5 9 b4!, known as the Koltanowski-Phoenix Attack


1 d4 d5 Nf3 Nf6 3 e3 e6 4 Bd3 c5 5 b3 Nc6 6 0-0 Bd6 7 Bb2 0-0 8 dxc5! Bxc5 9 a3, the Zukertort-Phoenix Attack.

The author analysis the basic differences between what White has achieved compared to similar lines of play by Black in the Semi-Slav Defence (Meran Variation).

This is all new teritory and it makes good sense to study these lines, as the surprise value could be very valuable.

‘…lain undiscovered for decades, you can bet your milk money that Black does not have a prepared defense. It will be a while, I suspect, before the Colle-hating contingent catches on.’

There is growing evidence to support the viability of this new way of playing the White position, providing, ‘…the chance for the Colle System to rise from is ashes and soar to new heights’.

For the uninitiated, playing the Colle isn’t a sign of being a dull, old player. People who start the game with 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 can be bent on the destruction of the opponent just as much as any 1 e4 player, as demonstrated by this aggressive snippet from chapter six:

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Bg4 3.Ne5 Bf5 4.Nc3 Nf6

‘…White should be able to get a safe advantage by simply playing 5. f3 with 6. e4 to follow. But that’s not what I want to play.’

Why not?

‘I’d rather rip Black’s face off with 5. g4!

One shift casualty of the upgrade is that the the ‘Players and Variation Indices’ now lack the ‘Game Index’ of the first edition but of course rtha is a very mnro matter campared to all the things that have been updated and improved.

The important thing to realise is that David Rudel is taking the time and effort to produce an evolving work and he is definitely not content to rest on his laurels.

Don’t forget to join the debate over at the forum:

Missed a review? Pop along to my archive:

Monday, 28 December 2009

Low Trees

The small print says: 'If you are in a helicopter and
you are reading this, it is already too late'

Keep up to date with our full collection of curious signs over at:

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Chess Reviews: 120

ChessBase Magazine #133

ChessBase Magazine continues to impress with its splendid mix of tournament coverage, theoretical surveys and instructional articles. It would take me until next year even to merely summarise the content on issue #133 (well, actually it would take even longer than that, as next year is merely a few days away).

Here’s a few highlights to look out for…

The coverage of recent major tournaments is exemplary. The top events covered this tine are:

Nanjing (Carlsen’s emphatic success), the European Championship, the European Cup and Moscow’s Tal Memorial (a smashing success for Kramnik, ahead of an all-star cast including World Champion Anand).

GM Rogozenco rounds up - via video clips - the best of all the international action since the last issue of the ChessBase Magazine.

The games featuring super-Grandmasters receive considerable attention.

Ivanchuk missed some good chances to change the course of the tournament in the last round in Moscow. By the time they reached this position, most of the opportunities had gone…

Ivanchuk - Kramnik

Tal Memorial 2009

…at least, they did after Kramnik’s cool 24 …Kh8. The game was drawn, five moves later and that was enough to clinch a terrific tournament victory for the former World Champion.

The best games are very well annotated and there is a very welcome general survey of the openings by Mihail Marin

The world of opening theory is well represented and is presented in to formats. There are standard articles and those in the style of Fritz Trainers (with video clips).

The pick of the bunch from the ‘standard selection’ is Moskalenko’s survey on the Tarrasch Variation of the French Defence, in which he continues to utilise slightly offbeat moves.

Garrido Dominguez - Moskalenko

Instead of the common 12 …Bxf4, Black put his faith in 12 …Nh5

The Fritz Trainers focus on the Dragon The Slav Defence. Five more Fritz Trainers see Sam Collins analysing games from the Siberian League, featuring players such as Ivan Sokolov and Viktor Bologan.

The main magazine database contains 2302 games and these can easily be added to one’s main databases.

I always enjoy trying the tactics test. The positions can be loaded up on the screen with the remaining game moves hidden and a clock counting down precious minutes.

Try this:

Kamsky - Bologan

EU-Cup 2009

Black played 35 …Qc5??

How could he have forced a win?

How did White force a win after the move played?

GM Mueller’s endgame presentations are as instructive as ever. There’s a special summing up of Carlsen’s recent endings among the general examples.

Here’s an instructive snippet to try.

Bologan - Arsovic

EU-Cup 2009

Black has only one saving move - can you find it? (In the game, Arsovic didn’t and had to resign after just five more moves).

I have never seen a weak issue of ChessBase magazine and they mastered the art of continual improvement, despite a distinct lack of competition. Summing up, this product is highly recommended and contains something for everyone.

For further details of Chessbase products, please go to:

Play The Alekhine

By Valentin Bagdanov

127 pages

Gambit Publications

‘A life-long specialist explains an uncompromising chess opening’

The Alekhine Defence is a tricky beast and certainly not to the taste of every chess player. It is provocative and some of the lines have developed a prohibitive amount of theory. Nevertheless, it has been used by numerous top players (albeit on an occasional basis) with Magnus Carlsen being a recent adherent. It was also part of Bobby Fischer’s World Championship-winning arsenal.

The material is presented via 26 illustrative games over the course of seven chapters:

White Does Not Play 2 e5

The Chase Variation

The Four Pawns Attack

The Old Main Line: 4 Nf3 Bg4

The New Main Line and 4th Move Altertnatives

Exchange Variation

2 e5 Nd5: 3 Nc3 and Other Moves

An ‘Editor’s Note’ reveals that Alekhine expert Graham Burgess found it ‘…a pleasure to incorporate additional material and games that appeared after the manuscript was submitted for translation’.

While Alekhine players dream of facing a Four Pawns Attack (and if they don’t, then 1 e4 Nf6 really doesn’t suit them), two practical considerations outweigh all others: how to handle the Voronezh Variation and which line to play against 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 Nf3.

White aims to keep control over the position with the Voronezh:

1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 c4 Nb6 5 exd6 cxd6 6 Nc3 g6 7 Be3 Bg7 8 Rc1 0–0 9 b3

Black players still dream about this branch of this line of the Alekhine, but it’s more often in the form of nightmares.

In this book, the variation isn’t even given the full treatment granted by a major illustrative game. Instead, in the notes to another game, there’s a quick spin through some ideas from the position above. 9 …e5 leads to a position in which White is historically happier after: 10 dxe5 dxe5 11 Qxd8 Rxd8 12 c5 N6d7

‘If Black is ok here, then the whole line isn’t much of a threat, and the other options can be regarded as ‘interesting ways to create imbalance’. If White is better here, then Black needs to make something else work.’

Small samples of play follow, but one is left with the distinct feeling that this line is indeed still a major problem for Black (otherwise the book would be able to provide a convincing remedy - which it doesn’t). Alekhine players should enter this line at their peril. Serious preparation is required, but that cannot be done with the material presented here.

Given that the introductory note:

‘…the aim is to explain the main ideas behind the opening, in particular in its currently most popular lines and any that have undergone extensive development in recent years.’

…the coverage of the Voronezh must go down as a major disappointment.

Meanwhile, what should Black play against the eternally popular and outwardly unpretentious 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 Nf3?

4 …dxe5 5 Nxe5 c6 appears to be a promising way for Black to proceed.

‘It looks somewhat passive, which may be why it has taken a long time for its merits to become appreciated. It is useful prophylaxis that reinforces the black knight and intends to offer the exchange of its aggressive white rival with …Nd7. Sometimes it makes a lot of sense to invite the opponent to declare his intentions first and determine the set-up of one’s own pieces according to his choice.’

It was Magnus Carlsen’s choice against Topalov last year, which proved to be ‘…a remarkable success against one of the best-prepared and most aggressive players in the world.’

On the whole, this could be a useful guide to the basic lines of the Alekhine Defence for those with no prior experience but I don’t think it adds very much to established literature and I see it is more of a missed opportunity.

For further details regarding the Gambit books, please visit their website:

Chess Secrets:

The Giants of Power Play

By GM Neil McDonald

239 pages

Everyman Chess

‘Learn from Topalov, Geller, Bronstein, Alekhine and Morphy.’

The ‘Chess Secrets’ series previously gave us volumes on ‘The Giants of Strategy’ and ‘Chess Attackers’. This book identifies five masters of ‘power play’. The author puts his criteria into a handy nutshell:

‘The power play style can be summed up in three words as a blend of preparation, psychology and dynamism.

Risk and a desire for imbalance in the position are other prerequisites.

Short biographies of the players in question precede the main chapters.

Rather than spending a chapter or two looking at each player in turn, the material is arranged by theme with the five heroes popping repeatedly throughout the book.

The Dynamic Element

Catching the King in the Centre

Opening Old (and New) Wounds

The Life History of a Knight

The Goldilocks Queen

Energizing the Pawns

A Battering Ram on the f-file

Backward Pawns and Indian Bishops

The Psychology of Preparation

The Art of Surprise

As one would expect, given such a dramatis persona, it’s a book full of lively, exciting chess. It is particularly good to see the games of Efim Geller enjoying some overdue attention. His ‘power play’ gave him a phenomenal score against World Champions.

1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3!

‘Karpov rarely plays the French and so must have prepared something special against his opponent’s usual 3 Nd2 move. Therefore Geller decide(s) to get his surprise in first.’

There is rather more to this story. Geller was one of Karpov’s assistants over a long period of time. Both players specialised in 3 Nd2 against the French. 1 …e6 was definitely not part of Karpov’s repertoire at the time and it was seen as bad form for a Soviet to defeat the 12th World Champion. So 1 …e6 was really on offer of a quick draw after a few token Tarrasch moves, but Geller must have been in a mischievous mood. Even more so when the game reached this position:

Geller - Karpov

USSR Championship, 1976

25 Qxe6!!

‘The most brilliant move Geller ever played. In his games we often see the subtle undermining of a pawn structure followed by an imaginative attack, but here in one move we have a tactical explosion that uproots a pawn structure.

It turns out that the only part the rook on h8 is going to play in the game is as victim of the marauding white knights.’

For a good example of what Karpov really wanted from the third move onwards, see his French Defence against Tal in Montreal, 1979 (drawn in 13 moves).

Master trouble maker Topalov ticks all the power play boxes with interest. Some of his games featured in this book are simply incredible.

Topalov - Ponomariov

Sofia 2006

‘The situation in the diagram above looks absolutely hopeless for White: he is the exchange and two pawns down, his knight is hanging and his bishop on a2 is pinned against his rook. However, Topalov defied materialistic considerations in a manner that would have delighted Alekhine.’

32 Nxf6!! Bxf6 33 d4!!

‘You only need control of one square to win a game of chess, and here that square is h7. White threatens 34 Bb1 with unstoppable mate.’ Black played 33 …Qxa2, but 1-0 (65)

I don’t agree with everything in the book. For example, I wouldn’t personally include Paul Morphy in this group of players (he was simply head and shoulders above his contemporaries and wasn’t a risk-taker; Keres should surely be a more obvious candidate for inclusion), even though I appreciate the desire to connect various eras of chess history. Nor do I fully agree with the rather simplistic reasons ‘Why Alekhine beat Capablanca’.

This book doesn’t break new ground and a lot of the illustrative games will be very familiar to readers. However, as a celebration of the best play of five chess heroes it hits the mark and hopefully chess fans will be inspired to find further examples for themselves.

For further details of these and other Everyman products, please visit:

Missed a review? Pop along to my archive:

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Two More Museums

Here's a few photos from a couple of museums...

The Natural History Museum

The oldest trunk in this post

So glad I went to the dentist recently

The second oldest trunk in this post. I could have done with his help when
I was trying to get my suitcases closed on the last day

Evolution provides convincing evidence that they had smelly feet

This is a 'before' and 'after' couple of snaps, either side of telling him one of my jokes.

Actually, I'm not sure if I've got the photos the right way around.

Charles Darwin

A big bunch of old fossils. And before you ask - no -
this isn't a photo from the chess tournament

It's just a few small steps from the Natural History Museum to the Science Museum

This has been all the way to the Moon and back!

There's an astonishing amount of things to see at these museums and many trips will be needed to gain the full benefit from them.

I also enjoyed looking around the National Gallery and the National Portait Gallery. (Photos were not allowed.)

One is never stuck for things to do in London!