Friday, 26 February 2010
Thursday, 25 February 2010
Thursday, 18 February 2010
Look Who’s Talking
By Colin Baker
Colin Baker, whose acting credits include (of course) the role of the Sixth Doctor (the coat will tell you it was during the 1980s), has been writing a newspaper column for 'The Bucks Free Press' since 1995. This new book is an anthology of some of his best columns, with newly written linking material.
This is by no means a collection of writing solely based around Doctor Who, although naturally there's a sprinkling of columns associated with the great show.
The material is based on Colin's general musings regarding a whole range of subjects, arranged in the following chapters:
Grumpy Old Git
Television - from both sides
That Was the Year That Was
The Age of Chaos
An Actor’s Life for Me
Flights of Fancy
Issues of the 90s
Words, Words, Words
A Selection of Early Articles
A Red Top to a Bull
21 Century News
A Sporting Life
Treading the Boards
The Mundungus Chapter
There are plenty of wry observations about everyday annoyances, such as in the second chapter.
'I suppose it will come as no surprise to anyone who has met me or spent any time in my company that there is a certain, shall we say, ''grumpiness'' bubbling away under my seemingly benign and easy-going exterior. This is apparent, I must admit, in the following selection of examples of frustration venting and downright irascibility.'
He rails against the stubbornness of smokers, the difficulties involve d when trying to buy home insurance, chain-letter emails ('...a 21st Century equivalent of knocking on doors and running away'), cyclists riding on pavements and the impossibility of getting a quote for the repair of a printer. Readers will find themselves nodding and laughing will familiarity throughout the chapter.
'It's official. I am turning into Victor Meldrew', he confesses.
'...get that sofa away from the wall! The Doctor is back with a vengeance.'
On a lighter note, 'Words Words Words' is a treat for those who share the author's fascination with the English language.
'Once we have a generation who can appreciate the complexities of grammar again, rather than shy away from them, our written language might once again produce sentences with series of interlinked clauses, adjectival phrases and dare to tiptoe into a subjunctive mood.'
I'm sure he could write a whole book on the subject of the English language. Maybe he will...?
This book will obviously be on the shopping lists of Doctor Who fans, but it should also appeal to anyone who enjoys well-written, thought provoking articles on a whole range of subjects. It's a terrific book for dipping into; a great book for the bedside table or train journey.
The publisher, Hirst Books, cut their teeth with two popular autobiographical volumes of Anneke Wills. Production values are very high. Their books are very attractive, with well designed covers and strong spines
They are currently in the process of expanding their range and have several new titles in the pipeline. A sequel to ‘Look Who’s Talking’ is scheduled for an October release and is called 'Whether You Like it Or Not'. A collection of Colin Baker's short stories is also in the pipeline.
Pre-orders are encouraged (and can be done so with confidence) and usually have the added bonuses of guaranteeing a signed copy and the buyer's name included in a special section at the end of the books.
For further details, keep an eye on:
Monday, 15 February 2010
You vs. Bobby Fischer
By IM Igor Khmelnitsky
Play the match, rate yourself, improve your game!
Most chess players enjoy reading about Fischer. This new book presents an opportunity to (almost) play the 11th World Champion in a series of matches.
The contents are arranged thus:
About the Author
Preface - a Note to the Reader
About Robert James Fischer
Warning - Disclaimer
Final Comments: How to Take the Exam
Afterword: What is the Next Step?
It's not often that books carry disclaimers; here there are two main points of interest. Firstly, the author admits that he is not a chess historian and that the biographical notes on Fischer have been taken from Wikipedia.
Secondly: 'This text should be used only as a general guide and not as an ultimate source of chess training information'.
Before attempting one of the main matches, readers are advised to 'warm-up' with a number of simpler examples. There are 20 such warm-up positions and here's one of them:
What is Fischer’s threat and how would you address it?
Here's a sample from the exam section. Students are advised to spend 20 minutes on each main game and then make a decision about the way forward.
C Black is Winning
How would you respond? Why?
A 45 Kc3-d3
B 45 Kc3xb3
C 45 Ra6-a8
D 45 Ra6xa3
I won't give the answers here, because that will make the task too easy.
The late, great Bob Wade was a fan of such multi-choice answers and I think the format works very well. Readers are given plenty to think about and should benefit from being 'forced' to analyse down the different lines.
The page after each test position provides a full explanation of what is going on, offering 'Quick observations', 'Summary', relevant variations and a score chart to mark the student's answer. The chart reveals whether the game would have ended in a win, draw or a loss based on the answers given.
The full game scores are given later on in the book, to provide full context.
There are also some bonus tests and then a tie-breaker, giving the reader the chance to pick between two positions. The choice will settle the match - one way or another - in the event of tied contest.
Production-wise, the book has a very nice, clear layout and the material is well presented.
The exams can be taken - and enjoyed - by all chess fans, but I think players in the strong club/county categories would benefit more than others. Fischer fans of any level will, of course, want to snap up a copy as soon as possible.
For further details on this interesting new book, pop along to:
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Friday, 12 February 2010
The first was Transatlantic Sessions on February 3rd and this was quickly followed by Nanci Griffith (February 8th).
My full reviews of both shows are due to appear in a music magazine soon (details to follow). Meanwhile, here are a few snaps and general impressions.
The Transatlantic Sessions brought together an extraordinary group of singers and musicians - 17 in all - who all had their turn centre stage at various times. They played for two and a half hours (not including the short break).
Cara Dillon's beautiful voice was one of many highlights over the course of a very fine evening.
A sprinkling of snow gave the evening a pleasantly seasonal extra touch. Julian Allinson (above) and I (below) clearly enjoyed the show.
I'd been wanting to see Nanci Griffith for some time and it was great to see her at last. Edwina Hayes opened the show with a very pleasant half-hour, setting the scene nicely for the main event.
The 'Queen of Folkabilly' delivered a fine show, with a 90-minute set interspersed with numerous stories and other background snippets.
This photo is obviously not of the highest quality but gives a basic impression of the stage set-up. Nanci is the centre and (left to right) there's Thomm Jutz, Edwina Hayes (who joined the group for the last three numbers) and Pat McInerney.
I'm planning on seeing plenty more shows in 2010 and reports will naturally follow here at Marsh Towers.
Thursday, 11 February 2010
By GM Dejan Bojkov and GM Vladimir Georgiev
The book is in two parts. The first is written by GM Bojkov and the second is written by both authors.
‘Our aim is to help you develop an understanding of the principles of chess tactics, so they become instinctive. With some practice, you will start to sense the crucial moments, to feel danger in your position and to smell when something is wrong in your opponent’s camp.’
As the list of contents suggests, each tactical theme is discussed in turn. Illustrative positions - appearing in the form of full games, snippets and sometimes even well-chosen studies - are used to demonstrate each idea.
Part 1: The Basics
Removing the Defender
The Power of the Pawn
Perpetual Check and Fortresses
Here’s a potent example of a pin.
‘A skilful opponent will generally be well aware of the dangers that a pin may cause. However, we may nevertheless be able to direct the game along the course we desire by forcing a pin:
Peredy - Malanca
Black first activates his rook:
30 …Rd1+! 31 Kh2
And now forces his opponent’s king to step on a minefield:
31 …Rh1+! 32 Kxh1 Qxh3+ 0-1
For the hyper-important tempo black sacrificed a whole rook, and was rewarded with mate.’
Following the examples, the reader is presented with eight relevant test positions to solve in each chapter. Then it’s on to some harder work.
Part 2 presents more advanced material, with the main focus of attention falling on the weaknesses in the position of a castled King.
Part 2: Advanced Tactics
f7: Weak by Presumption
The Vulnerable Rook’s Pawn
Attacking the Fianchetto
The Mystery of the Opposite-Coloured Bishops
Chess Highways: Open Files
Trapping a Piece
The f7 pawn takes a real pasting in the examples given. This is a particularly good one…
Maksimenko - Komandini
1 Be8! (It’s not often one attacks f7 from this square. You can have your own fun analysing the variations, but one eye-catching line runs 1 …Rxe8 2 Qg6+!! fxg6 3 f7+) Nc5 2 Bxf7+! and White won quickly.
Practice Makes Perfect
This chapter consists of 50 test positions, with no clues apart from indicating which side is to move.
There’s a rallying cry before the tests begin:
‘A final tip: do not be afraid to sacrifice material. You will learn from losing a chess game with honour than you will from gaining a couple of Elo points with a chicken-hearted draw offer. Remember, we are not slaves of our ratings.’
Here’s one for you try:
White to play
The answers are given at the end of the book, with light annotations.
There are plenty of fresh examples in the book, with numerous games from 2008. Coaches will find a fine collection of material, with ready-made lessons.
Although most players will derive some benefit from the illustrative tactical samples, I think the exam positions would be of most use to strong club players, who should definitely be able to sharpen up their game as they work on the tricky tactical tests.
Wednesday, 10 February 2010
One check should be enough, of course. Even different school and Borough bodies should be able to communicate in a basic enough way to trade proof. However, it was never going to be as simple as that, was it?
Now the latest rule is that the CRB checks should be run every three years. What exactly is the inference there? That a person is likely to turn into a monster in that time? Maybe it's common to have one's identity stolen by an evil android or clone? Or is it just that an office - or even a computer - is incapable of keeping records for more than 36 months?
Anyway, there is no way around the procedure so it's a case having to prove one's identity and lack of criminal record yet again.
For those who don't know, a CRB check forces an individual to prove they are who they say are by presenting various official documents.
Here are the basic rules:
3 documents must be seen
One document from Group 1
plus any two from Groups 1 or 2
UK Birth Certificate
UK issued Driving Licence
EU Photo Identity Card
HM Forces ID Card
UK Firearms Licence
I have only ever had one of those items and it's not to hand, so I couldn't use any of them when I had my most recent check. The last one seems utterly bizarre.
So, it's on to the next section:
5 documents from Group 2
Hmmm...a longer list. Let's take a look...
Vehicle Registration Document
Certificate of British Nationality
....not getting any easier, is it?
So, armed with an incredible amount of bank statements, payslips, letters from the tax office etc, I recently presented my evidence. Still not enough. The final piece of the jigsaw to prove I was legally allowed to work in schools was, ironically, my ancient 'O' Level certificates, which had somehow survived the ravages of time by sheltering in an equally old envelope. It's the first time they've ever come in useful.
So, having had every corner of my privacy explored, I am now able to work in schools for another three years until the next check is due. I'm not even sure if I can be bothered ever doing another one. There must be some other work going for someone with 'O' Levels.
Monday, 8 February 2010
The FIDE World Cup was a great success for Boris Gelfand. He provides illuminating annotations for one of the crunch semi-final games, featuring an unusual sacrificial idea.
Karjakin - Gelfand
‘When I saw this move I immediately got excited. It would be a shame to see such a move and not to make it! But fortunately, I found out that this idea works!’
He planned 12 Bxd5 Qxd5 13 Rxe7 Rg6. Karjakin declined the sacrifice but lost after 31 moves.
The World Team Championship was won by Russia. The main talking point was the blistering form of Hikaru Nakamura on board one for the USA, with an excellent score of 6/8.
However, the real highlight for me was the coverage of the London Chess Classic. In addition to the annotated games, there is an incredible six and a half hours of post-game analysis in audio format - by the players themselves. This really is an extraordinary amount of material and it provides an excellent permanent record of a very important event. For fans of chess, the audio files are worth more than the price of the magazine on their own.
The games have written annotations too which really bring the action to life. Magnus Carlsen's honest notes to his first round victory over Vladimir Kramnik reveal that he wasn't entirely clear about his advantage at a critical moment in the game.
It is very good to see GM Yasser Seirawan making his ChessBase debut. Of course, he is no longer an active player but for those who studied in the 1980s and 1990s he should still be memorable as a very stylish player who scored notable victories against all comers.
This DVD - the first in an intended trilogy - covers his years from a novice junior up to becoming a Grandmaster. Specifically, it features games from the period 1975 - 1982.
It starts wit some basic autobiographical material, from his birth in Syria to his moves to the UK and then the USA, where he was swept up in the Fischer boom of 1972.
The illustrative games are against top level opposition such as Karpov, Korchnoi, Larsen, Tal, Timman and Gligoric.
The presentation is excellent. Seirawan is a natural speaker and he really brings the games alive with his colourful descriptions and background anecdotes.
‘Have you ever had one of those games, where the big fish - I mean the really, really, really big fish - got away?’
This is from the introduction to the final game on the DVD is the first time he played a reigning World Champion - Anatoly Karpov. He is still frustrated about not finishing off his winning position. He is clearly certain that it should have been a win, saying at one critical point:
‘And this is it. The a8-Rook will come to the defense of the h7-pawn. After this move it is it. Game over. I'm not saying Black is a bit better or much better, I'm saying White is lost, dead lost, prepared to meet his Maker, Walking the Green Mile. Over!’
However, he failed to find the best plan a short time later...
Anecdotes abound, as do witty comments. Up against Viktor Kortschnoi at Wijk aan Zee (1980), he comments that he was suffering from a bad cold '...as punishment for playing at Hastings'.
Thee was a curious incident when he first played former World Champion Mikhail Tal.
'My first of ten Olympiads was Malta 1980. I was comfortably sleeping in my room when there was a loud pounding on my door. It was Larry Christiansen. He shouted, "Get up! We play the Soviets! You have White against Lev Polugaevsky!" I laid in bed for awhile thinking to myself, "What do I know about Polugaevsky's games?" I spent the whole morning poring through the Chess Informants replaying all his games in the volumes we had. I came to the board and there was Mikhail Tal. Whoops. My thoughts of how to punish Larry filled my head.'
Yasser made an inaccuracy early in the opening and he admits he was rather disconcerted to discover that Tal's right hand had deformed fingers. Later on he recovered his composure to win a fine game
In a game against Tony Miles, Yasser was a it concerned about the possibility if 1...b6 (a Miles favourite at the time) so he opened with 1 g3. This prompted the verbal response: ‘I just love these moral victories!’
This is an excellent DVD and one which should appeal to those who like to see full-blooded chess encounters from the highest level, delivered with wit and style.
I hope the next two volumes aren't too far away.
The Hedgehog is a tricky beast. When Black sets up the little spines along the third rank, it appears, on first impression, to be a declaration of eternally passive intentions.
GM King continues his highly regarded Power Play series with a deep investigation into the pros and cons of Black's strategy. Over the course of the introductory lecture (25 minutes) he makes it clear that The Hedgehog is a creature to be reckoned with: ‘…a benign and harmless creature, you might think…not so!’
The first illustrative game shows Black breaking out in typically dynamic fashion.
It’s more about understanding typical hedgehog positions rather than learning a specific series of opening moves. As GM King shows, Hedgehog hero Ulf Andersson's understanding of the positions allowed him to reach the structure via many different openings, including the Sicilian, English, Nimzo-Indian and King’s Indian.
After the introduction, the viewer is invited to analyse 14 test positions. Then it's on to the theory section, which looks at two different systems: one in which White adopts a fianchetto with g3 and the Classical System with pawns on c4, e4 and f3. The illustrative games showcase the Hedgehog talents of an all-star cast; apart from Andersson we also see Suba, Larsen, Kasparov and King himself all in action.
The DVD concludes with the answers to the test positions, all delivered in the presenter's usual instructive manner.
The twelfth version of Shredder is now available.
The interface and layout are very similar to Fritz 12 (reviewed here: http://marshtowers.blogspot.com/2009/11/chess-reviews-115.html ).
Shredder is a successful competitor: ‘No other chess program has won so many world championship titles’. The list is impressive indeed, stretching all the way from 1996 Micro Computer World Championship to the 2007 Computer World Blitz Championship.
Now it’s even stronger. According to Stefan Meyer Khalen - Shredder‘s programmer - ‘The engine is 100 ELO points stronger than the predecessor Shredder 11’. This makes it a formidable opponent and training partner.
With a database of 1.5 million games and 12 months access to the Playchess server, this makes a very attractive package.
For further details of Chessbase products, please go to:
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Saturday, 6 February 2010
Brian Byfield and Alan Orpin
Illustrated by Gray Jolliffe
Batsford chess books are a rare sight these days. However, there are several in the pipeline for 2010.
This new beginners' book has just been released. The jokey ethos is established early on: 'As Nigel Short once said, ‘‘Chess is ruthless…you’ve got to be prepared to kill people.’’ Learn Chess Quick is the perfect way to get started. Ideal for bullies, adventurers and psychopaths, and even their parents.’
Having psyched up the reader, the book presents the main contents over the course of five chapters:
Playing the Game
The Whole Shooting Match from Start to Finish
The descriptions are generally colourful, such as in this piece of advice, encouraging the reader to leave the slow King behind when confronting trouble.‘Would you send your grandpa downstairs to see off the burglars instead of your beefy marine-corps brothers?’
However, the tone of the book is schizophrenic. On the one hand, the colourful presentation and glossy pages make it ideal for children but then some of the internal cartoons are clearly aimed at amusing an older audience, such as the Miss Whiplash on page 53, giving an apparently naked prisoner King a good seeing to.
‘I like this game - it’s dangerous’ comments the King, with a smile.
So it does indeed enable the reader to easily assimilate the rules of chess, but it is not entirely clear who the book is aimed at.
Nevertheless, there's some nice chess moves towards the end which should provide entertainment.
Here's a couple of samples:
Go on - you can force a mate from here
For further details of Batsford chess books, please visit:
By FM Carsten Hansen
The 'Back to Basics' series is already well-established (earlier volumes are reviewed in my archive) but it has been a little while since the last one. This time the focus is firmly on chess openings.
The author starts with an unexpected piece of advice:
‘…I would recommend you first take a look at some of the other books in this series on tactics and endings, as these will help you better realize the advantages from the positions this book will hopefully help you obtain. Having noted that, this book will certainly assist you gain a solid understanding of chess openings.’
My Own Experiences with Openings
How do I Decide which opening to choose?
An Introduction to Opening Theory
The Open Games
The Semi-Open Games
The Closed Games
The Semi-Closed Games
Where do I go from here?
Index of Names and Variations
It's good to get a little bit of chatty autobiographical material. The author owns up to the fact that his own first taste of opening theory wasn't particularly successful; it came when he was a young junior in 1978, on the wrong side of a Scholar’s Mate.
A short time later, he won a book on the 1978 World Championship match and based part of his opening repertoire on Kortschnoi’s games.
‘In many openings where the lines are finely balanced, the player with the better understanding has an excellent chance for winning the game.’
To that end, the book is very strong on explanatory text and keeps the branches of variations to a minimum.
For example, in the French Defence, the Classical Variation is covered thus:
1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3
Black tries to force White to close the centre.
White postpones the pawn advance for a short while, though the immediate 4 e5 is also very popular. One example is 4 …Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3 cxd4 8 Nxd4 Bc5 9 Qd2 0-0 10 0-0-0 a6 11 h4 Nxd4 12 Bxd4 b5, with mutual chances.
This is one of a number of interesting continuations for Black, who may also consider 4 …dxe4, similar to the Rubinstein Variation (3 …dxe4) we looked at earlier, except this line, called the Burn Variation, is considered to offer Black better chances of equalizing, e.g., 5 Nxe4 Be7 6 Bxf6 Bxf6 7 Nf3 0-0 8 Qd2 b6 9 Nxf6+ Qxf6 10 Bd3 Bb7 with a solid position for Black. The surprising 4 …Bb4, the MacCutcheon Variation, is also a valid try for Black, e.g., 5 e5 h6 6 Bd2 (White doesn’t achieve anything after 6 Bh4 g5 7 Bg3 Ne4) 6 …Bxc3 7 bxc3 Ne4 8 Qg4 g6 9 Bd3 Nxd2 10 Kxd2 c5 with a complicated struggle.
5 e5 Nfd7 6 Bxe7 Qxe7 7 f4 0-0 8 Nf3 c5 9 Qd2 Nc6 10 0-0-0 and in this line White’s chances are considered preferable.'
The chapter 'Where do I go from here?' is a very useful one, offering expert advice on which chess to buy and how to go about using them.
It is important for a student of chess to make the most of the available time.
The sample given above should enable the reader to judge whether or not the book gives sufficient depth to match current playing strength.
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Friday, 5 February 2010
My 'Spectators View' of the main event is included, as is my coverage of the Viktor Korchnoi simuls (including short interview snippets). My interviews with Vladimir Kramnik, Hikaru Nakamura, Ni Hua, Ray Keene and Dominic Lawson are included also.
For further details, pop along to: