Monday, 17 January 2011

Chess Reviews: 167

There’s a lot to get through in our first review column of 2011, so this is a bumper issue covering four DVDs and four books.

Over the course of the next few review columns, there may be a slight change of style. I am hoping to review more products in each column and the reviews may well become slightly shorter and more to the point. Outstanding products will receive an in-depth column all to themselves.

The output from ChessBase remains prolific and (thankfully) shows no sign of slowing down for the New Year.

Black Repertoire Against 1 e4 Vol 2: The Open Games
By GM Jan Gustafsson
5 hours and 34 minutes

The first volume advocated the Marshall Attack against the Ruy Lopez. This volume look at everything else Black must be ready to face after replying to 1 e4 with 1 …e5.

There’s a lot of ground to cover, especially as it includes non-Marshall Ruy Lopez lines. These are dealt with first, with the first five lectures featuring White’s different methods of avoiding Black’s main weapon, namely:

6 d3

5 d3

5/6 Qe2

6 Bxc6/d4

Exchange Variation

Then it’s time to look at the Italian Game (plus the Evan’s Gambit), followed by the Scotch Game, the Four Knights, Ponziani, Bishop’s Opening, Vienna Game, King’s Gambit and Center Game.

This DVD will appeal to more players than volume 1, as not all 1 e4 e5 defenders play the Marshall Attack.

I think it makes good sense to take a good look at those parts of a suggested repertoire which have the reputation for cutting down one's own winning chances. For example, there's not much point having a razor sharp main line opening if an Exchange Variation somewhere along the line is going to allow even considerably weaker players to kill the game stone dead.

With that in mind, I was curious to see how the presenter would deal with 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Bxc6 dxc6 after which Black must take care to avoid slipping into a passive position with very few chances to make things lively.

The presenter is happy with Black's chances after the sidelines 5 d4 and 5 Nc3 and after the more common 5 0-0 he prefers the creative 5 ...Qf6 to the more frequently seen 5 ...f6 and 5 ...Bg4. This sums up the ethos of the repertoire; Black plays soundly enough but always keep an eye on trying to create something a little different to avoid dull positions. However, that is not always possible when playing 1 e4 e5 as Black.

GM Gustafsson is a good presenter with a friendly, humorous style. I look forward to seeing more of his DVDs.

ChessBase Tutorials Openings #2
The Semi-Open Games
Five Hours

This DVD contains 24 video lectures presented by five different players.

GM Daniel King, one of ChessBase’s top presenters, covers the Advance, Classical and Winawer variations of the French Defence and several lines of the Najdorf Sicilian. GM Lars Schandorff looks at the Advance Variation of the Caro Kann and the Sveshnikov Sicilian. IM Valeri Lilov presents lectures on the Classical, Exchange and Panov-Botvinnik variations of the Caro Kann, the French Tarrasch, Sicilian Kan, Paulsen, Taimanov, Closed and Rossolimo. IM Sam Collins covers the Nimzowitsch, Owen’s, Sicilian Alapin and Scheveningen and IM Lawrence Trent looks at the French Rubinstein and Exchange, the Scandinavian, Sicilian Dragon, Accelerated Dragon and Richter-Rauzer, plus the Alekhine and Pirc Defences.

German viewers can watch lectures in their own language, presented by an almost completely different selection of titled chess players (with only GM King appearing in both sets).

The material is easy to follow and the level is pitched at interested club players.

The accompanying magazine is attractively presented and acts as a colourful guide to the disc’s contents. There’s even a page of tactical exercises for the readers to test their knowledge.

Junior 12, by Amir Ban and Shay Bushinsky, is the latest version of one of the top chess playing programs. Junior is a World Champion and version 12 has apparently increased it’s strength by approximately 200 ELO points.

I am planning a larger review all about the latest versions of Junior and Fritz, so watch this space.

And finally from the world of DVDs, Fritz Powerbook 2011 will boost your existing databases with an up to date representation of the current state of high-level opening theory. The Powerbook is based on an amazing number of quality games - 1.5 million!

So if you are tired of beating your engine and are ready for a tougher challenge, then by all means increase it's opening prowess with the contents of this DVD. Of course, it will boost your preparation for over the board games too.

Full details of all ChessBase products can be found at their very impressive website.

Dangerous Weapons: The Caro-Kann
By GM John Emms, IM Richard Palliser
and IM Jovanka Houska
304 pages

The Dangerous Weapons series makes a welcome return with an investigation into some weird and wonderful lines featuring one of the most solid responses to 1 e4.

Given the solidity of the Caro-Kann, it’s not so easy to stir up trouble early in the game. The three co-authors offer a total of 12 chapters, each looking at an interesting way to pep things up.

The first two occur in the Bronstein-Larsen Variation and are from Black’s point of view. Then there’s a couple of tries for White against the Classical 4 …Bf5 and 4…Nd7, followed by a suggestion for both colours in the Advance Variation. Three chapters cover the Panov-Botvinnik Attack (from Black’s point of view). Staying with the Black pieces, there’s an interesting suggestion against the Two Knights’ Variation and an idea against White’s unusual 1 e4 c6 2 Ne2 d5 3 e5. White gets one final idea with 1 e4 c6 2 d3 followed by a quick d3-d4.

The two chapters which I found to be the most interesting concerned the Advance Variation and the Three Knights’.

In the former, Black has been enjoying 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 c5 in recent years. This book recommends that you ‘Don’t Let Black Have all the Fun!’ and keep up the run of consecutive pawn moves with 4 c4 (lines with 4 Nf3 Nc6 5 c4 are considered too).

This c-pawn lunge isn’t even considered in some standard Caro-Kann tomes, so it makes it ripe for unleashing over the board.

I have seen 1 e4 c6 2 Nf3 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 before; it was recommended on an old Foxy Openings DVD by GM Nigel Davies (one of the very best of the range).

Black intends to cause trouble after 4 e5 Ne4. It’s good to see some up to date coverage of this line. It’s still a rarity over the board (partly because the Two Knights’ Variation hasn’t been a popular White choice for a long time) but I think it’s a worthy inclusion in a Caro-Kann fan’s armoury.

Generally speaking, this collection of Dangerous Weapons is a little bit more main line than some of the others in the series. The ideas wouldn’t attract too many funny looks from team mates if they appeared on the board. I was expecting to see original analysis on such oddities as 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 f3, 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 Na6 and 1 e4 c6 2 Nc3 d5 3 Qf3.

Nevertheless, there is plenty of food for thought here and the recommendations will certainly freshen up a repertoire involving 1 e4 c6, from either side of the board.

Gambit Busters
By IM Sam Collins
208 pages
Everyman Chess

‘I’ve never liked playing against gambits’, admits Sam Collins in his introduction. He follows this up with a couple of gruesome examples from his own (bad) experiences. He has been stung by gambits and is keen to show how to deal with them.

With the focus on the defenders’ side of the board, the author examines the psychology behind gambit play and how to deal with situations in which an attacker is essentially offering you ‘sweets from a stranger’ – with all of the danger that entails.

I thought at first that this book was going to be an opening manual, showing how best to play against all of the famous gambits. Instead, long variations take a back seat and explanatory text takes centre stage.

The list of contents shows what the reader should expect:

The Fear

Historical Development

The Blueprint

Harsh Treatment of Romantic Lines

Escaping the Defensive Mindset

Breaking Down Gambits

‘Something to Suffer For’

Korchnoi and Karpov

Profile of a Pawn Grabber


Further Themes

Gambit Openings

Irrational Positions

Modern Gambit Examples

I would have preferred fewer but longer chapters. For example, the chapter on ‘Korchnoi and Karpov’ is a very interesting one but too short. Only one of the illustrative games is between the two named players. Korchnoi is shown in action against Tal; their rivalry – given that their styles were so different, and that Korchnoi did, for some time, appear to be the only player in the world to permanently hold the key for success against the 8th World Champion - would make excellent subject matter for a whole book.

Tal - Korchnoi

In this encounter from Riga (1958), Tal played 33 h6+ Rxh6 34 Qxh6+ Kxh6 35 g7

- but can you see Korchnoi's refutation?

The chapter on ‘Gambit Openings’ starts with a couple of examples from the Catalan Opening, which may disappoint those expecting something from the sharper end of town.

However, the prose is instructive throughout the book, especially when augmented by quotes from the players under the spotlight.

For example, Seirawan’s thoughts are given on one his wins against Korchnoy.

Korchnoi – Seirawan
London 1984

Seirawan, who had worked a s a second for Korchnoi in the World Championship cycle of 1980-1, understood that Korchnoi would feel uncomfortable playing a Benko Gambit (even with an extra move) so he played 5 …c5!. The psychological war was under way and Korchnoi went on to lose in drastic fashion.

Summing up: players who would like concrete variations to win against gambits will have to look elsewhere, but those who prefer to read a book should be happy enough here.

A Guide to Chess Improvement The Best of Novice Nook
By Dan Heisman
381 pages
Everyman Chess

‘Novice Nook’ is a chess column which started in 2001 over at the impressive Chess Café website. This book is an anthology of the best of those columns.

General Improvement

Thought Process

Time Management

Skills and Psychology

Tactics and Safety


Endgames and Technique

Strategy and Positional Play

Shorter, Lesson Material

It’s a big book and it’s absolutely packed with well-written advice. Sometimes there’ll be a run of pages without a diagram in sight, but that’s no bad thing; when the prose is carrying the reader along in fine style, calling a halt to look at a position would be an unnecessary break.

‘Skills and Psychology’ is one of the best chapters (although none of them are without interest). It contains a lot of practical advice I’ve not read elsewhere, such as when to play your best openings, how to get the most of your chess club and how to deal with the worry surrounding the eternal problem of chess ratings.

Dan writes very well and pitches his material perfectly. Despite some of the pure chess content being aimed firmly at the novice level (hence the book's subtitle), this is always presented in an adult way, avoiding the trap of trying to pitch a book for juniors to all and sundry.

This is an excellent book for improving adult club players.

Prepare to Attack
By IM Gary Lane
192 pages
Everyman Chess

And finally for this bumper issue of reviews, here’s an example of Gary Lane doing what he does best: presenting a series of lessons, aimed at club players, in his usual laid back chatty style.

Essentially, this book aims to guide the reader in the art of where, when and how they should attack on the chess board.

The material is split into the following chapters:

Count the Pieces

Carry on Attacking

Direct Attacks from the Opening

Secrets of Success

Cashing in Your Chips

History Always Repeats Itself

Tricks of the Trade

The variations in the illustrative games are kept to a minimum. Gary prefers to bring the games to life with anecdotes and his sharp eye for observation.

There’s a typical example in the chapter called ‘Cashing in Your Chips’, when the author shows his own game against the 7th World Champion, Vassily Smyslov.

Lane – Smyslov Lloyds Bank 1983

White has a very strong position, but cashed his chips in too soon with the tempting 27 Qxf7? 27 Bf1! would have won the game. One line runs 27 …Bxf1 28 Bh6 Rg8 29 Re8!

The lively style keeps the reader entertained throughout the book.

For further details, pop along to Everyman Chess.

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