Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Chess Reviews: 150

Killer French Defence
Volumes 1 & 2
By GM Simon Williams
Running Times:
Volume 1, 4.5 hours; Volume 2, 5 hours (approx.)
A GingerGM Production

The Ginger GM is back! The Killer Dutch DVD received very good reviews and was seen as a breath of fresh air for the chess market. Marsh Towers reviewed it here.

This time, GM Simon Williams switches his attention to his favourite reply to 1 e4, namely 1 ...e6 - The French Defence. Such is his enthusiasm to share the secrets of his '...first love' - which he has played at a very high level for over 20 years - that the coverage is split over two DVDs, with a combined running time of over nine and a half hours. He introduces the disc by offering coverage of the French which should be suitable for Novices and Grandmasters alike.

Volume 1 runs for four and a half hours and covers the Advance Variation and The Tarrasch, although there is room also for a quick discussion on the basics of the Winawer and some general French Defence advice. There are 28 chapters on this disc. Naturally, the coverage is from Black's point of view, but those who play 1 e4 will find plenty of interest too (not least being able to see what your opponents will play if you know they has these DVDs).

The basics are covered, such as which pieces are traditionally 'good' and 'bad' for the respective sides, the key pawn structures and the general plans. Players with Black are left in no doubt whatsoever that they should be permanently looking out to play the pawn breaks ...f6 and ...c5.

Key ideas are often emphasised by a scrolling message across the screen (Sky Sports News style). These include: 'Black will often rely on the move ...c5 to break up White's central pawn structure!' and 'In the Advance French, Black's main idea is to gang up on White's pawn on d4!'

The recommendation against 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 is 3 ...c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 and now 5 ...Bd7 (instead of the old main line with 5 ...Qb6).

The presenter gives his sensible reasons for delaying the natural development of the Queen; depending on what White plays on move six, ...Qc7 - pressuring e5 - may be stronger than ...Qb6.

The Tarrasch - 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nd2 - is met by the combative 3 ...Nf6.

Logically, this is a sensible and consistent repertoire choice, as Black will learn how to fight against the pawn centre once White plays e4-e5, just as in the Advance and Winawer variations.

Volume 2 - with a whopping 41 chapters and a running time of just over five hours - is reserved primarily for the dangerous Winawer Variation: 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4.

In these days of all-embracing repertoires - in which 3 ...dxe4 is often given against both 3 Nd2 and 3 Nc3 to cut down on the required study time - the Winawer is a brave choice.

The recommendation is not even one of the sidelines, but a dive into the big pool with the theory-heavy main line - the Winawer Poisoned Pawn. White's early fourth and fifth move deviations are well covered before the most serious tries are analysed.

The Exchange Variation, The King's Indian Attack and some other odds and ends are also covered. Against each one, Black is advised to head for an active game. For example, the dreaded Exchange Variation 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 (groan) exd5 4 Bd3 is met by 4 ...c5, when Black is showing a desire to unbalance the game as quickly as possible.

Some of the lesser options are treated roughly. 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Be3 is dubbed the ******'s Gambit (the actual name is bleeped out, so a little lip-reading may be required).

The conclusion provides an extra piece of Grandmasterly advice; essentially the idea is to not waste time on second-rate openings but instead plunge straight into main lines. GM Williams says his chess improved considerably once he went down that path. A hairy main line Winawer would certainly be an interesting place to start one's journey.

The DVD Extra is well worth watching too (it's the same on both discs). It is a short feature called 'When The Black Chess Dog Calls' and it shows GM Williams explaining how he tries to cope with defeat. He shows a range of acting skills as he demonstrates a devastating loss in his favourite Dutch Defence. Peering over his shades and drawing on a dog end, he is comprehensively outplayed by a mystery opponent (revealed at the end of the clip - but now, alas, deceased).

One of the really good things about Ginger GM products is that they will happily play virtually anywhere - PC, MacBook, normal DVD player - and no special software is required.

This is a very enjoyable and instructive set of discs. I've been a fan of the French Defence for a very long time and I can confirm that there is plenty of great stuff here for experienced 1 ...e6 adherents. French novices will pick up the basics easily enough but more time - and repeated viewings - will, of course, be required to come to terms with the more theoretical lines.

The presentation is direct, lively and polished. Production values are of a very high standard; these DVDs deserve your attention.

For ordering details and a trailer, pop along to the Ginger GM site by clicking here.

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