Sunday 25 November 2007

Chess Reviews: 32

The Caro-Kann
By GM Peter Wells

Gambit Publications

The Caro-Kann is a famously solid chess opening and one which I’m always surprised isn’t used much more often by club players.

It’s fairly easy to play and the basic ideas are relatively straight forward. There’s much less theory to learn compared to main-line Sicilians.

I expected this book to concentrate on the 4…Nd7 lines and was pleasantly surprised to see that all of the main lines are covered. Indeed, following a short introduction the first lines to be analysed are the old main lines with 4 ..Bf5. Black traditionally allows White to build up a space advantage, particularly on the Kingside, hoping to fight back later and prove that White’s early space-gaining lunges are premature.

A few years ago a slightly different move order became popular for Black. After 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Bf5 5 Ng3 Bg6 6 h4 h6 7 Nf3 …

.…7 …Nf6 was in vogue, with the idea that the natural looking 8 Ne5 would be nullified by a delayed …Nbd7, whereupon White may well lose time after a retreat or an exchange. I’m by no means ’a child of Informator’ (or whatever the equivalent is these days) but I didn’t know that theory had already turned against this idea. So anyone interested in that line for Black should really have a peep at the suggestions given by GM Wells and avoid any forthcoming unpleasant surprises.

There’s plenty of verbal notes aimed at giving the reader a real understanding of the ideas involved, rather than just trying to copy a load of Grandmaster moves.

The coverage is thorough; this is not ‘just’ a repertoire book. For example, against the (still underrated) Panov-Botvinnik Attack (1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 cxd5 4 c4) GM Wells take a good look not only at the trendy lines involving an early …Nc6, but also the Karpovian favourites with …Nf6/…e6 and even the completely unfashionable …g6 variations.

Incidentally, the author also lays an old ghost with the dismissal of the Gunderam Attack (- or ‘bowling Gunderam' as we used to say ‘down the club'; popular at club level from time to time thanks to it being recommended in an old Keene and Levy repertoire book). The antidote given here should spoil White’s fun…

…unless, as White, you would see the funny side of playing this position.

Avoiding the whitewash approach so often adopted to make everything in a particular opening look like a forced win (a common error in opening manuals), this book includes plenty of White wins to, demonstrating admirable objectivity.

All in all, this is an excellent guide to the Caro-Kann Defence with lucid explanations.

Winning Quickly at Chess
By GM John Nunn

Gambit Publications

An expanded version of 101 Brilliant Chess Miniatures takes the game count up to 125. All of the games are post-1970 and feature top-level players. Each game is given a page or two and the notes are generally brief.

The 16 page introduction contains the real meat of the book, diligently highlighting the causes of quick defeats over 16 pages. Unfortunately the bulk of the book doesn’t live up to the early promise. From pages 25 to 252 there are lots of crushing victories but with little in the way of further instruction as to how to adopt such methods in one’s own games.

As a collection of sparkling miniatures it’s fine, but it comes across as something of a pot-boiler, with little in the way of ‘Grandmaster Secrets’ on display. One for entertainment rather than self-improvement, methinks.

Some of the games are very well known but here’s a couple of snippets from some others that caught my eye…

Tal v Olafsson
Las Palmas 1975

One would expect to find Tal’s name throughout a book on crushing miniatures but here he is on the receiving end. Olafsson uncorked: 22 …Qf4!! here, exploiting White’s back-rank weakness. Tal couldn’t hold on much longer: 23.Re7 Rf8 24.Qa5 Rd1+ 25.Ne1 Qg5! and again! 0–1

Emms v Summerscale
London 1997
22 Rxh7! and perhaps you, dear reader, can work out how White wins from then on.

50 Ways to Win at Chess
By FM Steve Giddins

Gambit Publications

Billed as a sequel to 50 Essential Chess Lessons, 50 Ways to Win at Chess follows the same format and presents a fine selection of instructive games with fine notes.

The games are grouped according to theme, namely:

Attack and Defence
Opening play
Thematic endings
Other Aspects of Strategy
Endgame themes
Psychology in Action

Each game typically receives between two and four pages, with explanatory notes being, in the main, verbal rather than long strings of analysis.

It’s good to see some lesser-known games, including some from English events. At first glance, the exhibition game between David Howell and Vladimir Kramnik might seem an odd choice for deep annotations but it is in fact an excellently chosen example offering a real insight into the secrets of the Berlin Defence.

FM Giddins gives nearly a whole page of explanatory notes on the subtleties of this position. I certainly had a better understanding of this line after I’d read about it. I had no idea White had to be so careful to avoid standing worse.

The layout is easy on the eye, with new games starting on new pages and plenty of diagrams.
One final point: Steve Giddins is a ‘only’ FIDE Master but this book is further proof that titles don’t matter much when it comes to writing about chess.

I know some players who don’t trust written analysis by non-GMs (perhaps a little na├»ve; ghost writers exist in all genres and the name on the cover doesn’t always prove the ownership of the pen) but anyone reading this fine book should happily revise their opinion on whether or not ‘GM’ needs to precede an author’s name to make it a worthwhile book. Definitely the pick of this month’s bunch.

For further details of Gambit books, please visit:

Friday 23 November 2007

The Hawk v Rest of the World

There's a fascinating experiment going on over at:

Jonathan Hawkins, in the view of many the strongest player in North East England (and undoubtedly the most successul in recent years) has bravely agreed to take on the Rest of the World in an online correspondence game.

Moves to date:
(The Hawk is White.)

1 d4 Nf6

2 c4

For full details of the game and how to join, please visit the aforementioned site.

Archive Book Reviews

My book review columns from 2005 to the first half of 2007 were hosted on Steve Henderson's earlier version of the Cleveland Chess website. With Steve's help and guidance I am in the process of uploading the archive onto this blog.

The first four columns are now fully reset and ready for your perusal.

Thursday 8 November 2007

Chess Reviews: 31

Chess Reviews 31

There was a time when chess videos - particularly the ‘Foxy Openings’ series, burst onto the scene and provided a very interesting alternative to studying chess through books.

Then it became possible to cram a million games onto one CD and be able to switch between them almost instantly, creating databases at the touch of a button. Players of all strengths could suddenly increase their opening knowledge and keep up to date as fast as any Grandmaster.

The state-of-the-art studying method now is a combination of the best bits of all mediums. Chessbase DVD-ROMs enable the viewer to experience a series of one-to-one lectures by a top player (even World Champions!), access games and summon analysis engines. Each DVD contains an astonishing amount of material and there are titles to cater for all tastes; whether the opening, middle game or endgame is your passion, there is a DVD or two to suit your quest for knowledge.

I am delighted to be able to review two of the latest releases.

Sicilian Defence With 2 c3 Alapin Variation
By GM Sergei Tiviakov

The is little doubt that GM Tiviakov is currently THE top level expert on the 2 c3 Sicilian. Therefore it makes great sense to get the man himself to present this new Fritz Trainer DVD.

I’ve never played 2 c3 and haven’t faced it since my days as a Sicilian player (fully 20 years ago), so I deliberately picked this DVD to review to see how much it could teach me more or less from scratch.

The introduction sets the scene admirably. White’s aims are clearly outlined: the desire to simply create a strong pawn centre and the temptation to stamp White’s authority on matters, rather than heading for one of Black’s beloved main line domains.

A glance at the index reveals the thoroughness of the coverage. Virtually every sensible Black is given, including the rarer tries such as 2...b6 and 2...Qa5, before moving on to the two main lines: 2...d5 and 2...Nf6.

2...Qa5 looks awful but the idea is sound; Black deters 3 d4 as the c3 pawn is pinned and can no longer capture on d4. It’s by no means an easy matter to gain any sort of edge against this remarkable move. Indeed, GM Tiviakov suggests Sicilian players could do worse than devote some time of their own looking seriously at this option.

2...d5 is one of the two most popular options for Black. To investigate this line a little further I took a look in IM Palliser’s recent book, ‘Fighting the Anti-Sicilians’. I have a lot of respect for the author and was intrigued as to how his coverage would differ from that given here.

1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nc6 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.dxc5 Qxd1+ 7.Kxd1 e5 8.b4

In this position, a 2004 game Tiviakov - Zarkua continued 8...e4?! and White won quickly. IM Palliser acknowledges the move as dubious and advocates increasing the tension with 8 …a5 instead. Unfortunately, this move is not mentioned on the DVD so the comparisons of analysis are drawn swiftly to a close.

The opinion stated here is that 2...Nf6 is Black’s best choice and that much of the sting of White’s main line (after 5 Bc4) has been drawn out by a variation demonstrated in a game Tiviakov-Carlsen.

Black’s 8...a6! Appears to take some of the potential out of White’s set-up.

This is a refreshingly honest approach by a presenter, in his favourite opening, trying to ‘sell’ it to the public.

Some thought is given to alternative variations, especially 4 g3, which GM Tiviakov deems worthy of independent study (and possibly the ultimate way forward for White).

GM Tiviakov doesn’t appear to be entirely comfortable in front of the camera and more often than not his gaze is fixed upon his own computer screen, with little eye contact with the viewer. ‘Hard sell’ is not his style but his honest presentation of material makes this a worthy product. Sicilian players and slayers will learn a great deal if they have an interest in 1 e4 c5 2 c3.

Power Play 5

By GM Daniel King

The ‘Power Play’ series has already seen GM King present material on ‘Mating Patterns’, ‘Attacking the King’, ‘Pawn Storms’ and ‘Start Right’. Although technically a numbered series, each DVD can be studied in isolation.
The DVD starts with a brief introduction and then plunges the viewer into 11 consecutive test positions. If one follows the material in the given running order, the solutions will not be discussed until after the bulk of the DVD lessons.
Here’s a sample test position to show the challenging level…

Andersson v Huebner
Johnnersburg 1981

Can you formulate a plan for White?

The ‘main database’ contains the real meat of the product. Over the course of 30 video clips, GM King talks the viewer through a whole range of top-level positions, urging that you close down the annotation window so as not to ‘inadvertently’ glace at the next move. Topics include weak pawns, how to cripple the opponent’s pawns and a special study on structures featuring one side having a 4-2 pawn configuration against 3-3 set-up.

The logic of discussion this structure in depth is that it is one of the most important and popular ones in modern chess. GM King shows how this pawn arrangement can be reached by so many different openings, from 1 e4, 1 d4, 1 c4 and 1 Nf3.

The advantages and disadvantages for each side are weighed up using classic games as examples, starting with an excellent analysis of the famous game Marshall - Capablanca (New York 1909).

A lot of the examples feature middle game dynamics but there’s plenty of endgame material too. A section on ‘Karpovcramp’ provides an excellent demonstration of the 12th World Champion’s skilful methods of squeezing the maximum advantage from tiny edges.

The DVD concludes with the solutions to the earlier test positions and a summing up ‘outro’.

There’s over six hours of material on here; that should be a clear indication of ‘value for money’.

GM King’s polished presentation skills are ideally suited for this medium. He has clearly researched and arranged the material very thoroughly indeed I believe that any chess player can really something from this DVD, regardless of playing strength. An absolutely top quality product.

For full details of all Chessbase products, please visit:

More Entertainment!

My previous column on Entertainment....

....attracted several comments so a sequel seems like a logical idea.

I had the pleasure of attending three shows recently, and here are some random thoughts…

Ken Dodd at the Darlington Civic Theatre (11th October)

I’d wanted to see the comedy legend from Knotty Ash for some time but somehow never got around to it until now. As one of the very last links of the golden years of Music Hall, and as man of rather advanced years, I was pleased to take the opportunity of experiencing his famous show on his return to the North East.

Needless to say, the jokes came thick and fast from the second he appeared on the stage. After a very long time he took a small break to allow Sybie Jones to come on and sing some songs. The he came back for what I assumed would be his second and final half. However, as he left the stage again around 10.15 p.m., he announced he would be back shortly for… the second half!

The audience were finally able to take an un-numbing bum break. Shortly afterwards the second half was opened by Andy Eastwood (‘a one man musical festival!’) who excelled on the ukulele and gave a short but extremely energetic performance.

Then Ken Dodd appeared again and somehow managed to keep the jokes coming until the astonishingly late hour of 12.35! I always knew he had a reputation for running somewhat over time, with his desire to tickle the funny bones of the nation and deliver serious value for money, but for a show to last for over five hours (he first took to the stage at 7.30) is quite extraordinary.

Unfortunately, such an approach does rather break one of the Golden Rules: ‘always leave the audience wanting more’. After such a lengthy session, members of the audience were rather tired and shuffling in their seats. The first half had been well paced and genuinely very funny but the audience could have done with a break at the normal time; 10.15 was really too late.

Nevertheless, if you haven’t ever seen Ken Dodd you really should make the effort next time he’s around. Just be warned: the talk of his ability to overrun is severely under- rather than over-stated.

T-Rextasy at the Billingham Forum (4th November)

It’s now 30 years since Marc Bolan died in the infamous car accident; he would have been 60 now and no doubt still strutting his stuff. How he’d have loved playing in the massive stadiums and how easily he would have projected himself to thousands at a time!

I was intrigued by the prospect of seeing T-Rextasy in action. Billed as the best there is - the brochure features admiring quotes from all and sundry - just how much like the real thing could they be? Or was it all just hype?

Well, from the second the lights went up and Marc Bolan look-alike and sound-alike Danielz introduced the show I doubt there was a single person in the audience who couldn’t suspend their disbelief just slightly and feel themselves being transported to the height of the 1970s. Surely this really was Marc before our very eyes!

Danielz really does have to be seen to be believed. Through an evening of pomp, swagger, strut and stomp he gave perfect renditions of the finest T-Rex ever had to offer, augmented by a selection of rarer tracks. We were treated to the lot, from electric versions of ‘Debora’ and ‘One Inch Rock’ all the way through the ‘Jeepster’, ‘Metal Guru’ et al to the ‘Hot Love’ finale.

In addition to Danielz, T-Rextasy featured Nigel Silk on drums, Neil Cross on guitar and Paul Marks on bass. They are clearly all very talented musicians in their own right.

You don’t even need to be a fan of Glam Rock to enjoy this show. It’s lively, loud and a whole lot of fun.

Keep an eye on their website for updates of tours and other news.

Dad’s Army: The Lost Episodes at the Darlington Civic Theatre (5th November)

What an excellent idea! To recreate two of the three episodes missing from the BBC archive on stage with a full and impressive cast…who wouldn’t be interested in seeing such a show?

For the first time since the episodes themselves vanished without trace, it is now possible to see ‘A Stripe for Frazer’ (in which the abrasive Scot is temporarily promoted to lance corporal) and ‘Loneliness of the Long-Distance Walker’, (Private Walker finally gets called up to the regular army…is this the end of his spiv days?) together with two classic episodes, ‘Room at the Bottom’ (Captain Mainwaring is stripped of his pips and becomes a Private) and ‘The Deadly Attachment’ (the best remembered one of all, with the U-Boat Captain and with ‘Don‘t tell him Pike!’ one of the classic lines).

With Peter Martin and Leslie Grantham heading the cast as Captain Mainwaring and Private Walker respectively, the show was a great success. It took only a little while to grow accustomed to the slightly different portrayals of the characters we’ve known for so long.

David Warwick captured the voice and body language of Sergeant Wilson perfectly and Kern Falconer, as Private (‘We’re doomed!’) Frazer, was an almost perfect facsimile of his TV counterpart but nobody let the side down.

The retro-style official brochure was a nice touch too, with plenty of replicated wartime memorabilia in addition to full details of the cast.

If the show is a success wherever it goes (which I’m sure it will be) then there is clearly much scope for more tours and the adaptation of further classic episodes.

More shows soon - more reviews too!

Friday 2 November 2007

Worldwide Correspondence Game

The Chess Links Project will soon be starting off an experimental worldwide correspondence game.

The initial details can be found here:

Star player Jonathan Hawkins could, technically, find himself up against every other chess player in the world, from novice to Grandmaster!

The game will be starting soon. Stay tuned for further details of this intriguing new venture!