Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Chess Reviews: 244

Time now to catch up with some of the new ChessBase DVDs.

One of the most valuable jewels in the ChessBase crown is undoubtedly the endgame series presented by Karsten Mueller, which has been entertaining and instructing chess players since 2006. There is both good and bad news about the series. The good news is that a new volume has just been released but the bad news is that it will be the final volume.

The Golden Guidelines of Endgame Play doesn't focus on one particular aspect of endgames. Rather, it intends to round off the whole series with general advice, backed up by well-chosen illustrative examples. It's all about ''rules of thumb'' which, according to Karsten Mueller, ''are the key to everything when you are having to set the correct course in a complex endgame. In this final DVD of his series on the endgame, our endgame specialist introduces you to the most important of these rules of thumb.''

The material is split into two sections: General Rules of Thumb and Principles of Special Endgames.

General Rules of Thumb means things such as activating the king, when to exchange pawns, the best pieces to use when blockading pawns and improving the worst piece.

Right at the start, Karsten makes it clear that ''the art of the royal game'' is not to memorise all of the guidelines ''and repeat them each morning, in front of a mirror'' as chess should not simply about who has the better memory. Rather, it is best to have a sound knowledge of the guidelines and to combine such wisdom with one's own intuition when trying to find the best move or plan.

Here's an example of the General Rules of Thumb, demonstrating the guideline It doesn't matter what disappears from the board but what remains.

Aronian vs. Nakamura
Moscow 2012
White is clearly better with his extra pawn, more active king and rook and impressive and centralised knight. How should he proceed to convert his advantage into victory?

Aronian made the correct decision ''from a practical point of view'' as he exchanged his ''octopus knight'' with 40 Nf7+ Bxf7 41 Rxf7. The point is a lot of people may have been put off entering a rook and pawn ending due their general high tendency to end in draws.
It is now a race of passed pawns and Karsten goes on to demonstrate various subtleties as Nakamura's h-pawn hurtles down the board. Aronian probably already had the final position in mind (or something very much like it) as he entered this endgame, which is a good example of Karsten's advice to pair general guidelines with personal intuition over the board.

White forced resignation with 53 Rg2! when Black can never move his rook without losing the h-pawn (provided White doesn't clumsily allow him to do so with check).

An instructive example and typical of the type of material to expect in the first part of the DVD.

Principle of Special Endgames offers concrete material on various types of positions featuring very little material. We start off with learning how to checkmate with a bishop and a knight against a lone king, during which the winning side keeps complete control if he sticks to the 'W' method. Then it's on to pawn endings before moving through examples with other pieces, concluding with a very interesting section rook and minor piece vs. rook and minor piece.

The Fischer Endgame, in which a rook and bishop are better than rook and knight, is relatively well known. Karsten introduces us to a new piece of nomenclature - the Andersson Endgame - in which the reverse is true.
Andersson vs. Franco Ocampus
Buenos Aires 1979
Andersson's deep chess vision led him to the move 16 Bxb6! when after 16 ...axb6 17 Nc4 he set about proving that the unlikely looking exchange of bishop for knight was not only justified but also the way to a serious edge.

Fast forward to the end of the game and it's very easy to see that things turned out exactly as he wanted them to. I found this lesson to be one of the most instructive on the whole DVD.
Black resigns, 1-0
Incidentally, Ulf Andersson was in the news again just this week, when he was interviewed by Daniel King at the Tromso Olympiad.

With a running time of seven hours and 27 minutes, there is clearly a lot of material on this DVD. It acts very well as a stand alone release; prior knowledge of the material presented on volumes 1-13 is not necessary. Indeed, this is (somewhat ironically) a very good volume with which to start, giving, as it does, so much instruction based on the basic general principles. For newcomers to Karsten's endgame DVDs it is clear: If you like the style of this one then it would be a good idea to go back to volume 1 and work your way forward from there.

Yes indeed, after eight years this magnificent series has finally come to a natural end. Rest assured that the high quality has been maintained all the way through the 14 volumes.

The new Master Class series has already featured Fischer and Tal (both reviewed by me elsewhere). Alexander Alekhine is another safe bet to receive the full treatment. The fourth World Champion played fascinating and, at times, controversial chess. The same could be said about his life in general. There are very few dull Alekhine games and even fewer dull stories about the man himself.

This DVD follows the basic format of the previous volumes, with the great player's games scrutinised by several experts, namely:

1) Dorian Rogozenco, who focuses on Alekhine's openings.

2) Mihail Marin presents some of Alekhine's finest combinations.

3) Karsten Mueller looks at Alekhine's endgames (of course!).

4) Oliver Reeh who analyses 24 outstanding games.

Rogozenco spends almost a full hour on Alekhine's openings. It's not an easy task to summarise the champion's arsenal; he played a wide variety of openings with both colours and played a lot more games than his contemporaries. It's an interesting presentation, but at almost an hour it is too long to take in during a single sitting. It may have been better to split it into (for example) 4 x 20 minute segments, making it easier for the viewer to play each piece and absorb the information before taking more on board.

Marin presents five videos and he starts off with an absolute classic - Alekhine's smashing success against Bogoljubow at Hastings, 1922. It's always worth playing over this game and Marin's comments offer fresh insights into this famous tactical battle. In the fifth video, he finishes off with a look at Alekhine's legacy and how his games continue to influence players today.

Oliver Reeh places you in the hot seat by asking you what to play at various critical moments. In this example you are asked to defend against one of Alekhine's most famous attacks.

Alekhine vs. Reshevsky
Kemeri 1937
You have the black pieces. Alekhine has just played 34 Ra8. Reeh asks: what is best, 34 ...Rd2 or 34 ...Qd3? One moves loses and one should save the game. The answer isn't revealed until a move is played on the board. Alternative video clips are unlocked depending on the selection.

This interactive part of the DVD is all good fun and it brings home just how hard it must have been to try and keep an eye on Alekhine's attacking ideas. It's one thing to just rattle through his games and enjoy their brilliance but it's quite another experience to try and prevent an Alekhine storm breaking over one's head. For me, it is the highlight of the DVD.

Meanwhile, Karsten is understandably keen to show some of Alekhine's best endgames. After all, he wasn't always winning in the middlegame and he was equally adept in all phases of the game. The classic endgame from game 34 of his title match with Capablanca is included, of course, with the rook and four pawns vs. rook and three providing a classic example of the genre. Karsten incorporates some interesting analysis by Erich Korber into his presentation.

There are five hours of videos and in addition there is a prose biography and a database containing a ''collection of all known games Alekhine played'' with ''most of them annotated''.

The biographical piece -written by Peter Schneider - is much more substantial than for the Fischer and Tal volumes (it needed to be) but it cries out for the addition of some photographs to break up the text. There are, however, some photographs to be found in the game database, in the short introductions to important tournaments and matches.

The database contains 2,327 games from 1905 to 1946 and includes exhibition matches and simultaneous displays. (It is perhaps worth noting that the fabulous book Alexander Alekhine's Chess Games, 1902-1946 by Skinner and Verhoeven contained 2,543 games.) The annotations are not particularly impressive as they are mainly brief lines of analysis and have very little prose content, which makes them less engaging.

Yes, Master Class is a good series but again I am left thinking it could be even better, with a little more thought in adding the style (an illustrated biography, a lot more prose annotations) to the substance.

Now that the series has hit three easy targets (Fischer, Tal and Alekhine products will always attract attention) I wonder who will be the next player to receive the treatment? Is it time to ''risk'' a different type of player, such as Smyslov and Petrosian, or will be Spassky and Kasparov be higher on the agenda?

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