Friday 16 May 2008

Chess Reviews: 46

The three DVDs reviewed here all follow the standard Fritz Trainer format. Load up the disc and one's computer screen split into three windows. One is a chessboard, depicting the latest moves, one is for the notation and the third shows the author/presenter talking to the screen. It's very much like having a Grandmaster giving you his direct and complete attention.
1 e4 For The Creative Attacker
By GM Nigel Davies

'Playing 1 e4 with White is often associated with having to know reams of opening theory but this does not have to be the case. There are many unusual but playable lines which give White attacking chances whilst avoiding the well trodden paths. Besides the practical advantage of putting Black on his own resources this gives White the opportunity to play creative chess from early on in the game.'

Over the course of 22 illustrative games, GM Davies advocates an offbeat repertoire for those with a longing for 1 e4 creativity.
His recommendations are frequently highly unusual and include the following…

The Fantasy Variation (1 e4 c6 d4 d5 3 f3) against the Caro-Kann.

1 e4 c5 2 Na3 against the Sicilian, with the seemingly long-winded but perfectly viable plan of building up a big clamp with an eventual c2-c3, Na3-c2 and d4.

Against the French Defence, the rare 1 e4 e6 2 f4 is the weapon of choice. This is an attempt to bypass a lot of theory and to steer the game into the big clamp territory mapped out in the Sicilian section.

Zvjaginsev - Zhang Pengxiang

The Big Clamp in action!

1 e4 d6/g6 2 f4 is an unconventional way of meeting the Pirc/Modern complex. It is possible to head for a reversed English Opening (specifically the 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 d6 3 g3 f5 system) as shown in the game Minev - Doda...

A Kingside attack is definitely on the agenda.

1 e4 e5 is always a tricky one for ‘complete repertoire’ recommendations. Advocating the Ruy Lopez puts the onus on the player to learn a lot of lines and invest more time than the average club player can afford. The Scotch was always a good standby in the past but that has gathered a little too much theory to be covered quickly. GM Davies plumps for an unusual line of the Four Knights Game: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 g3

This, the Glek System, is still little known and could certainly surprise one’s opponents. The instructive games on this DVD are well chosen and demonstrate ways to generate interesting attacking chances on the Kingside, usually with the transfer of the Knight from f3 to f5 (via h4) followed by an advance of the f-pawn.

As explained in the first illustrative game, there are certain similarities to the Vienna Game with 1 e4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 g3 but after 3...d5 4 exd5 Nxd5 5 Bg2 Nxc3 4 bxc3 Black has more options with his Queen’s Knight, which could make it’s way along to f6 via to bolster the King’s defences. With the Glek system, 4...d5 is a common rejoinder but Black could end up in a Vienna-type position with the Knight already committed to c6.

The lesser Black options are all covered in the last three illustrative games. The non-compliant 1 e4 Nf6 2 Nc3 is guaranteed to frustrate an Alekhine player’s adventurous spirit. Once again there are ways to get back into a Big Clamp.

The Scandinavian Defence is currently quite popular and proves to be a bit of a thorn in the suggested repertoire. After 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3, both 3...Qa5 and 3...Qd6 are met by 4 g3, giving Black some different problems to solve.

All of the lines should give the player an interesting game with fresh positions. Only once does Black escape with a draw but it should be noted that White is the higher rated player in all examples (and sometimes by quite a margin).

They are not the best according to other opening manuals and they will probably not bring you success in the World Championship but for the club and tournament player they will provide a full repertoire that is fairly easy to learn and in which the opponent could generally turn out to be clueless.

Chess For Scoundrels
By GM Nigel Davies

'Psychology is one of the most important aspects of chess, yet most players put themselves at a serious disadvantage by ignoring this aspect of the game. Being ‘nice’ is all very well in civilian life, but in the war zone of the chess board a more ruthless approach is required. The fact of the matter is that a good chess player must be something of a scoundrel in order to survive.'

GM Davies is a club player’s friend, forever imparting sensible and useful information. Here he delves into the psychological aspect of chess warfare and presents a plethora of (not quite dirty!) little tricks to give a player the edge over the board.

The introduction sets the scene and explains how something as innocent as offering the opponent a cup of tea can have a greater psychological motive in the hands of a seasoned professional than an amateur. GM Davies compares the life of professional chess player to that of a Vietnam veteran; their everyday mentality is not always conducive to success in ‘normal life’.

Although the introduction is instructive and it whets the appetite for what is to follow, the presentation would definitely have benefited from another ‘take’, as there are far `too many ‘errs’ and ‘erms’ punctuating the speech.

A brief glance at the contents gives a good overview of what is in store:

Pavlovian Responses
Exploiting Time Trouble
Using Time Trouble
Using Draw Offers
Refusing Draw Offers
Playing to Win
When You Need a Draw
Playing Dead
Active Defence
Defending Difficult Positions
Never Say Die

In the ‘Torture’ lecture, the game Sefc - Petrosian (Vienna 1957) is analysed, in which the future World Champion ground out a win on move 96 from a formerly slightly superior position. There’s a nice anecdote before the game, showing just how the great players extended the psychology beyond the mere board. Petrosian was apparently very friendly to John Fedorowicz throughout an all-play-all tournament, despite the two of them never having met before. Apparently, ‘Iron Tigran’ had realised that the two were due to meet in the final round, and being on friendly terms may have made the option of a speedy draw (guaranteeing first place) more likely.

‘Insults’ take a good look at the Karpov - Miles game (Skara, 1980), famous for the use of 1...a6 by England’s first Grandmaster. The game is excellently analysed and the impact of such ‘insults’ on the mood and blood pressure of the victim is discussed.

Some of the methods come with a health warning; none more so than ‘Using Time Trouble’. The illustrative game is Korchnoi - Suetin (Leningrad 1960). Korchnoi, needing a win but in terrible trouble on the board, racked up the tension even further by making sure he was in time trouble. Suetin became very nervous and missed several winning chances.

For example, 36...Na3 is very strong here but in the opponent’s time trouble it’s more tempting to play quick, easy moves to keep the pressure on. Suetin played 36...Nd6 and White’s Bishops grew in strength after 37 Bb3+ Korchnoi survived the time trouble (this was back in the days when move 40 had the magical quality of reaching the time control with its blessing of a fresh and significant extra supply of minutes) and went on to win. And this was in the final round; Korchnoy won the USSR Championship by half a point, ahead of Petrosian and Geller (who both won their last round games and were rooting for Suetin; Geller’s win as Black against Bronstein was very suspicious to say the least but that’s another story).

This little trick, often used by Reshevsky, should be used very sparingly and only when the situation is desperate. It worked for Korchnoy - but under the circumstances, it was worth the risk.

There’s a considerable amount of essential advice for scoundrels on this DVD and it’s a real eye opener for those who still believe that chess is just a matter of moving pieces around a board. It can be seen as a sort of 'How to Cheat at Chess' for the modern world.

My Best Games With Black
By GM Alexei Shirov

'If you want to win with Black, you must decide which is the best strategy to achieve your aim. Should you take risks and go for the win right from move one, or should you patiently set about achieving equality and then wait for mistakes by White? Which opening should you choose and what is the role played by opening preparation?'

How does a player win with Black against the world’s elite? It’s tricky enough to push for victory in local club matches and tournaments, so it is intriguing to see how a top GM goes about the task.

GM Shirov is, of course, very well known as a tactical and risky player, unafraid of great complications over the board. So it’s natural to assume that this new DVD will be a collection of bold attacking games with a large dose of ‘fire on board’.

The astonishing run time of six hours and forty five minutes gives GM Shirov plenty of time to delve into the deeper points of his selected games.

His list of opponents makes very impressive reading:

Sokolov, Ivanchuk, Movsesian, Leko, Fedorov, Shabalov, Najer, Navara, Sutovsky, Alekseev, Onischuk, Akopian and Karjakin. Only two escaped with draws!

GM Shirov’s only fault as a presenter is that he doesn’t look into the camera often enough, preferring instead to look at his own computer screen. That, however, is only a minor matter.
The choice of opening must surely be a factor in success with the Black pieces.

The illustrative games feature a King’s Indian Defence, Symmetrical English, French Defence (three games), King’s Gambit, Four Knights’ Opening, Reti, Petroff, Grunfeld, Slav and Sicilian (two games).

Two other key factors are revealed: sometimes it is possible to prepare a strong surprise or novelty in a particular opening which can tilt the edge to Black and occasionally a player can some other subconscious belief in impending victory against a particular opponent.
Winning the Black side of King’s Gambit might not be too tricky for a top player, but who does one set about playing for the full point with a Petroff or a Four Knights?

Analysing his game against Sutovsky from a 2007 team event, GM Shirov explains at the start that it’s more difficult to prepare in depth when the name of the opponent is not known until quite late on. Add that to a sleepless night and a bit of tension and animosity towards a particular player and the task is complicated further. Feeling out of sorts, he chose the Petroff not to try and win as Black, but merely ‘to survive’.

He admits to being very lucky during the game, especially in this position:

White’s 11 h3 improved an early game in which Black drew easily. Now 11.…0-0-0 looks tempting but Grandmaster intuition warned him off. Later he discovered that 12 Bb5 c6 13 Ba6 bxa6 14 Qe2 wins for White, even though in his troubled and tired state at the board he had not seen the variation.

He then navigated his way through a couple of uncomfortable moments before his opponent ran out of decent attacking tries and offered the draw. Shirov’s hand was in the process of extending itself in agreement when he suddenly changed his mind and opted to play on! He managed to win some time later, sealing an almost accidental victory.

He played into a Four Knight’s Opening against Najer as he wasn’t convinced by his opponent’s handling of certain variations. Nuances play an important part in a top player’s choice of opening; after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 he played 2...Nf6, knowing that in this case 3 Nc3 would follow and that 2...Nc6 would have been met by 3 Bb5.

Naturally, he brings typical ‘Planet Shirov’ chaos to the board in the majority of his games on this DVD and unusual positions abound, as these randomly selected samples amply demonstrate:

Akopian - Shirov

Shabalov - Shirov

Fedorov - Shirov

They look like positions from Hugh Courtney’s famous Chess Magazine Christmas Quizzes.
A great advantage of this format over chess books is that the presenter/author cannot just print lengthy variations and expect the viewer/reader to spend hours working over them; everything has to be explained in full view; the magician is obliged to talk through his secrets!

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