Friday 27 June 2008

Chess Reviews: 51

The Art of Bisguier
Selected Games 1961-2003

By GM Arthur Bisguier and Newton Berry
Russell Enterprises

Volume 1 of GM Bisguier’s chess memoirs appeared in 2003, published by 3rd Millennium Press. It seemed to have a small print run and is now quite tricky to track down. It’s good to see that his new book has been published by Russell Enterprises, thus ensuring a wider audience.
Newton Berry provides an excellent and informative introduction, stretching to ten pages. This gives an overview of GM Bisguier’s achievements and contributions to opening theory. The ghost of Bobby Fischer makes appearances throughout the introduction too; there are several comparisons between the two Grandmasters and their respective careers.

The main content of the book is split into years, all the way from 1961 to 2003. A short summary of the main chess events of each year starts proceedings and then it’s straight into the games themselves. Anecdotes about other great players abound; this is a book with a very human touch and a supporting cast of whole gallery of chess stars

Throughout the book, one thing is readily apparent: GM Bisguier’s love of chess far outweighs his love of ‘just’ winning games. The third game in the collection features the late, great Paul Keres. Praise for his great friend and rival takes up several pages. Bisguier beat him at Bled, 1961 but felt dissatisfied afterwards, regretting that he had not allowed Keres to show his best form.
‘I resolved never again to play so cautiously against him. So what if he out combined me at Tallin 1971, and went on to win the tournament? I had the satisfaction of letting Keres show me what he could do.’

Such an attitude is quite incredible for a competitive Grandmaster!

The anecdotes are by no means confined to chess. For example, I didn’t know that Gligoric was a jazz fan, Geller’s basketball skills earned him a reserve place on the Odessa team and that Stein enjoyed Westerns.

In total there are 100 selected games, featuring players from several different eras of chess history, including Bronstein, Spassky, Tal, Fischer, Karpov, all the way through to modern stars Kamsky and Krush.

The games are generally very fresh; the notes are light and chatty rather than being based on lengthy variations.

Bisguier - Tal

It wasn’t often a player could hit Tal with a tactic. White played 33 Bxc4! allowing the strong-looking 33...Rc7. The sting in the tail was 34 Bg8+! Kxg8 35 Qd5+ Kh7 36 Qxd3 with a sound extra pawn. However, he later accepted Tal’s offer of a draw despite the material advantage (there is a recurring theme in the book of Bisguier being rather too nice to make it to the very top of World chess).

From the point of view of the openings, perhaps his adoption of the Berlin has the greatest resonance today, given the fact that Kramnik used so effectively to bring down the final curtain on Kasparov’s reign as World Champion. Taking it up in 1961 just happened to coincide with the Berlin Wall’s construction, with President Kennedy promising to defend the worried Western side.

‘The joke going around the 1962-63 US Championship was that I would have as much trouble as Kennedy defending Berlin.’

However, both RFK and GM Bisguier went on to defend their respective Berlins admirably and there are several examples of the latter’s virtuosity in this book.

Endgames were a Bisguier speciality and he was more than capable of a bit of magic with very limited material.

Spassky - Bisguier

68... Kf5! 69 h8=Q Rg6+ with mate in two more moves.

A number of excellent photographs augment a fine work. My favourite is the one on page 31, showing Euwe, Kotov, Geller and Bisguier analysing on a tiny pocket set, all with looks of intense concentration. This is chess from a bygone age (do Grandmasters still have pocket sets?) but it’s an age brought vividly to life. This is an excellent book.

A Strategic Opening Repertoire
Second Edition

By John Donaldson and Carsten Hansen
Russell Enterprises

In his introduction, John Donaldson freely credits English Opening expert Carsten Hansen as being the main author of this second edition.

The repertoire begins with 1 Nf3. The backbone is the Catalan Opening (quite popular now thanks to the marvellous results of former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik).

The first six chapters cover The Closed Sicilian Reversed (various forms of the English Opening) and they are followed by sections on:

Symmetrical English (two chapters)
The Hedgehog
Tarrasch and Semi-Tarrasch
The Catalan
The Queen’s Indian
Odds and Ends

As the title of the book suggests, the recommended lines are of a strategical nature and the emphasis is much more on understanding the plans and strategies than on the memorisation of long theoretical lines.

The early chapters focus on White’s Queenside play in some common variations of the English Opening.

Mednis - Lehman
West Berlin 1983

This is fairly typical of the sort of position White is aiming for in the lines advocated in the book. White’s play is based almost entirely on control of the White squares. So much so, that in this game Mednis replied to 14…Bh3 with the exchange sacrifice 14 Bxb7!

'Positional' chess giants Anderssen, Vaganian, Petrosian and Wojtkiewicz feature heavily in the illustrative games.

Some of the recommendations may look a little tame on first impression. For example, the Queen’s Indian is met by the old-fashioned double Minor piece trade, resulting in this position:

This is usually considered harmless but there is rather more to it than meets the eye. Classic games by Anderssen and Portisch suggest that Black’s margin of error is somewhat smaller than one would suspect. (Indeed, I had some success practicing this line against Fritz 11 using this book as a guide).

Getting into the recommended lines requires a certain accuracy in move order. For example, it’s no good heading for the Queen’s Indian via the traditional sequence: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 b6 4 g3, as 4.…Ba6 is beyond the scope of the book.

Despite the overtly positional manner of play, there are still plenty of tricks and traps which the reader must acquaint themselves with. The authors do a very good job in highlighting the dangers, including this one:

Vaganian - Lautier

White’s careless 15 Nd2? ran into the unexpectedly strong counter: 15...e4! When 16 (either) Nxe4 drops a piece to 16...f5.

There’s lots of good stuff here and there’s no doubt about it: consistently employing the recommended repertoire will definitely lead to a better grasp and understanding of positional play. Just be a shade careful with the move orders.

Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual
Second Edition

By GM Mark Dvoretsky
Russell Enterprises

GM Mark Dvoretsky’s books enjoy an extremely high reputation. One of his undisputed classics has recently been reprinted. This year’s edition is the second printing of the second edition; the
first edition was (amazingly) relased back in 2003 .

It's a big book - just over 400 packed pages - and has real epic feel to it.

The very basic contents are:

Pawn Endings
Knight vs. Pawns
Knight endgames
Bishop vs. Pawns
Opposite-Coloured Bishops
Bishops of the Same Colour
Bishop vs. Knight
Rook v Pawns
Rook Endgames
Rook vs. Knight
Rook v Bishop
Queen Endgames
Queen v Rook
Other Material Relations
General Endgame Ideas

Each section is split into myriad subsections and all of the above categories are submitted to really through scrutiny. Excercises are given throughout the book to train the reader and further develop new endgame skills. These are often given without clues and hints; the student is fully expected to out in some serious time and effort.

Two quick quotes set the scene:

'Endgame theory is not a complicated subject to study!'

'My own formal definition of ‘endgame’ is: the stage of a chess game when at least one side has no more than one piece (in addition to the King).'

So multi-piece endings, late middlegames and the lie are not included here (imagine how big the book would be if they were!).

The excellent indexes run to 19 pages and cover not only the names of the players and composers but also all of the themes from ‘A‘ (anti-opposition) to ‘Z’ (zwischenzug)

The second edition makes a number of corrections to names of players and composers and updates various analytical bits and pieces

‘Tragicomedies’ crop up throughout the book. These are vignettes featuring some of the strongest chess players making serious errors in the endgame.

Fichtl - Blatny

49 d6?? Bc6! and the game was drawn due to the inevitable stalemate (after 50 Qxc6 Rg1+ 51 Kxg1)

There’s an enormous amount of material packed into each chapter. The use of two font colours - blue and black - lifts the presentation and makes the material much easier on the eye. The most important information is given in blue; the black is used for the (considerable) extra material.

This is a scholarly and erudite work, but the sheer weight of material may be off-putting to casual or club players.

The depth of top-level chess can be extraordinary. The following endgame was a pre-game target.

Chernin - Marjanovic

'It was the last round of the Interzonal tournament; Grandmaster Chernin followed my recommendation and employed a sharp line of the Queen’s Gambit that led to the diagrammed position if Black, a was the case, made a slight inaccuracy. I evaluated this position as winning for White when it was reached in analysis. Black’s pawns are isolated and weak; White consequently eliminates them by doubling he Rooks and switches to a Kingside attack thereafter.'

25 Rc5 1-0 (47)

Endgames can be very serious things; the reduced material gives a smaller margin of error than in a middle game and one tiny mistake can lead to an irretrievable disadvantage. However, there is still fun to be had, as seen in a battle between two of the greatest players of all….

Chigorin - Tarrasch
Black has just played 37...Bf3. Chigorin offered a draw but Tarrasch declined. Chigorin then reached out and removed his own Bishop from the board, whereupon Tarrasch agreed to the draw after all.

Here’s a couple of randomly selected exercises, to give you a sample of the material.
As usual, I will refrain from giving solutions here (you’d only peep anyway). The game continuations can be found on most databases and for the full answers and explanations you should really buy the book. It will represent a fine investment and will grace your library.

White to play. ‘What should be the result of the game?’

White to play. Trickier than it looks!

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Wednesday 25 June 2008

Chess Reviews: 50

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.
Queen’s Pawn Systems

The lines covered on three DVDs considered here are linked by common themes:

They are all d4 openings.

All have been played by World Champions

All require knowledge of considerably less theory than main line Queen’s pawn openings.

The themes and ideas behind all of them can be assimilated fairly quickly.

Once a repertoire is in place it is very low-maintenance, with little chance of major theoretical novelties coming along to spoil the fun.

Generally speaking, opponents dislike playing against them.

The three new Chessbase DVDs provide excellent coverage of the main lines, themes and typical tactics in the Colle, Torre and London systems.

The Colle System
By GM Nigel Davies

The backbone variation advocated by GM Davies relies on the development of the Queen’s Bishop to b2, rather than the more classical Colle in which White constructs the central pawn triangle c3/d4/e3 and strives for e3-e4 to liberate the Queen’s Bishop. White's build may appear slow, but it is methodical and every piece finds easy employment.

The very first illustrative game amply demonstrates White’s attacking potential.

Colle - Gruenfeld
Berlin 1926

I feel sure that despite the material deficit (Colle has already sacrificed a Knight), the sheer volume of traffic heading for the Black King should be more than enough to convince the reader of the potential of White’s attack. Colle now sacrificed the other Knight with 20 Nf5+ and won on move 27.

One particularly important feature of the whole Colle System is that it’s not equally effective against all of Black’s defences. Indeed, some Black set-ups leave it looking rather toothless. I have seen some Colle books that like to gloss over this important fact, providing unsuspecting players of the White pieces with little warning of future disappointments. GM Davies does not fall into the trap of creating the impression that all is rosy in the garden no matter how Black proceeds and freely admits that White must be flexible and not follow the Colle System too blindly.

For example, 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 e3 Bg4 is an irritating line to face, especially if one believes the standard Colle moves can trotted out regardless.

After the lazy 4 Bd3 Nbd7 Black is already limbering for …e7-e5, completely solving his opening problems. As pointed out on the DVD, White must play 4 c4 to prevent Black from obtaining a very easy game. White can then aim for an early Qb3 to apply pressure on the Queenside in general and the b7 pawn in particular (although even here White needs to know something about the Queen’s Gambit Accepted as Black can transpose to it with 4...dxc4).

The Colle is mainly effective against 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 and 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Nf6. Although lines are givn against King's Indian structures, one is advised to met 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 g6 with....

The Torre Attack
By GM Nigel Davies

The Torre Attack has two advantages over the Colle: the Queen’s Bishop is quite clearly unblocked and it has greater effectiveness against King’s Indian structures, as well as the common 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 sequence.

The first illustrative game on the DVD is a real classic, showing Carlos Torre (after whom the system was named) smashing through the defences of the second World Champion, Emanuel Lasker.

The Torre Bishop had a major starring role in this, one of the most famous combinations in the history of chess. 25 Bf6! sacrificed the White Queen but set Torre on the route to an impressive victory. It’s good to see such classic games getting an airing. A sense of history is very important yet can often be found lacking in modern chess products.

Just as in the Colle, there are some Black lines that can be annoying to face. Here, the move order 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Nf6 is a good choice for the second player, as 3 Bg5 is met by 3...Ne4 and Black is already on the way to a very good position. To get around this problem, why not add both the Torre and the Colle to your repertoire?

There are some intriguing moves and ideas in the main lines of the Torre. In this standard and common position…

9 Qb1 is recommended, with two ideas: 10 b4 and 10 e4. I had the pleasure of playing this against GM Bronstein himself (in a simultaneous display, 1996). I plumped for 10 e4 (a draw in 50 moves). GM Davies prefers 10 b4 and presents a very informative and persuasive case as to why it is the best plan.

Black has to be surprisingly alert when it comes to move order. The 12 World Champion, Anatoly Karpov, once came badly unstuck when he tried to steer a Torre Attack into Queen’s Indian territory.

Jussupow - Karpov

Black’s last move, 4...b6, is actually an error. White sized the advantage with 5 d5! and secured a very strong grip on the d5 square. The tactical nuances to support White’s positional plan are all very clearly explained on the DVD. If a World Champion can be caught off his guard as early as the fourth move by the Torre Attack then anyone can.

The London System
By GM Nigel Davies

With his coverage of the London System, GM Davies concludes a fascinating trilogy of Queen’s pawn surveys.

Once again the point is made: plans and ideas much more important than specific theory. Plans against the main Black responses are all analysed in considerable detail.

The Bishop on f4 might look as if it’s not doing an awful lot, at least when compared to the rather more direct Bg5 of the Torre, but it will typically exert a great deal of nagging pressure against virtually any set up Black cares to adopt. It can be as effective as the famous Catalan Bishop, only nudged along to the dark squares. Sometimes it will even deliver the knock-out blow, as in one of the illustrative games…

Speelman - Haik
25 Bxd6! 1-0 (28)

The 'boring' tag, so often dumped on the London System, really doesn't wash. Kovacevic and Bronstein are recurring names in the illustrative games; it would be plainly incorrect to label either them as dull players. Those with the Black pieces harbouring such views will suffer if they are aiming for success. It’s too difficult to reconcile such a stereotypical and stubborn viewpoint with the following randomly selected positions (one from each of the systems):

Kovacevic v O’Donnell
12 Bxh7 came next. Not a forced win, but a very exciting attack!

Petrosian v Liublinsky

Hoi - Danielsen

The Hoi game is particularly important as it features significant improvements on the classic Bogoljubow - Capablanca game, often cited as a complete antidote to the Colle-Zukertort system.
Summing up, it is clear to see that these Queen’s Pawn systems carry a considerable amount of danger. There are tricky paths to navigate in each of the systems and a false step could prove fatal. With GM Davies as your guide, the paths become much clearer. These new DVDs will help you make the territory your own. Stepping carefully will become the sole concern of your opponents.

There’s a total of 63 illustrative games spread over the three volumes, every one expertly chosen for maximum educational value. With a combined run time of over 12 hours it's easy to that these products offer excellent vaue for money (as is norm with Chessbase).

Any of the three systems covered here would prove to be a valuable addition to any repertoire. Absorbing knowledge of all three would make preparation very difficult for your future opponents.

For further details of all Chessbase products, please visit:
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Friday 20 June 2008

Chess Reviews: 49

Back to Basics: Fundamentals
By Branislav Francuski
Russell Enterprises
Branislav Francuski has been teaching chess in New York for over 15 years. In his preface he discusses some of the benefits of chess for children. He goes on to explain his reasons for writing the book.

‘From years of teaching chess, I realised that the book my students needed the most had not been written. The chess books available provided only a few simple and easy examples of checkmate for beginners, and, after a few easy puzzles, the children would get discouraged when they could not solve more difficult problems. Subsequently, some of them would give up altogether. Thus, I decided to write this book to provide beginners with many different checkmate puzzles, and to encourage their progress.’
Mark C. Donlan provides the introduction, taking the reader up to number 33 of the 191 pages.
Mark covers:

The Origins of Chess

The Chessboard and Chess Notation

How the Chessmen Move and Capture

It is here that one of the main design advantages of the book first become really apparent; key points are presented in blue type, nicely contrasting with the black of the main text. Advice-giving ‘box outs’ are in blue too and thus has the effect of drawing the reader’s eye to important information.

The whole introduction provides excellent coverage of all the basics of chess, taking I its stride everything one needs to know from A-Z (Anderssen to Zwishenzug!).

The main content of the book comes in the form of 738 chess puzzles. These are split into several sections, each one featuring a small scene-setting introduction and answers will full explanations.
The puzzles start off very simply, asking the reader to identify which things can be captured, whether a particular position is checkmate and other such basic questions.

Lots of ‘checkmate in one move’ puzzles follow and then eventually some simple tactics are examined.

The chapter headings show the breakdown of material:

Underlying Principles

Simple Checkmates in One Move

More Checkmates in One Move

Even More Checkmates in One Move

Miscellaneous Checkmates in One Move

Basic Tactical Ideas

Puzzles from My Students

This is an excellent book for beginners, teachers and coaches. Having mastered the Fundamental material, it's time to move on to....

Back to Basics: Tactics
By NM Dan Heisman
Russell Enterprises

‘Tactics’ makes a natural sequel to ‘Fundamentals’. In the words of the author:

‘This book is an introduction to the various kinds of basic tactics. I try to comprehensively cover the subject with instructional material, examples, and problems of all types. There are about 500 examples ranging from too easy to very difficult! Oh, and by the way, tactics are usually why most people find chess fun! I hope this book greatly enhances your enjoyment learning about - and benefiting from - the recurring patterns of tactics.’

Over the course of the packed 192 pages, NM Heisman presents a master class in all things tactical, covering all of the following categories:

Safety and Counting

Tactical Motifs


Opening Sequences

Defensive Tactics

78 Problems on 64 Squares

The Seeds of Tactical Destruction

Is There a Win?

The Five Levels of Tactics

Chess Guidelines

The format is similar to the ‘Fundamentals’ volume, with a short introduction at the start of each chapter setting the scene for the abundance of examples the reader is invited to try and solve.

Pertinent snippets of advice feature in the many blue box-outs, such as this:

'Just because you can solve a tactical problem does not necessarily mean that you will spot the tactic in a game. The most important goal of studying tactics is to be able to spot the elementary motifs very quickly, so studying the most basic tactics over and over until you can recognize them almost instantly is likely the single best thing you can do when you begin studying chess!'

When studying tactics, especially for the first time, it is necessary to build up one’s knowledge like tiny building blocks of wisdom and experience. Consequently, a manual looking at the basics of the genre should start of with simple examples and work towards more difficult problems along the way.

That is certainly the case here. The very first test position in chapter one starts a series of simple counting problems.

Black to play and win

Once the basics have been expounded and consolidated the reader is introduced to tougher material. Chapter 6, ‘78 Problems on 64 Squares’, plunges the student into a forest of positions with no clues or other navigational aids.

Some are from famous games, others are from studies. Anyone going through all of the positions will definitely have there tactical insight enhanced and by this stage will be spotting recurring patterns and themes with increasing alacrity.

A couple of randomly selected examples should illustrate the level of the material:

Black to play and mate in two moves

White to play and win

Other notable chapters are 'Opening Sequences', which takes a good look at some well-known opening traps and 'Defensive Tactics', showing that tactical weapons exist certainly not just for the attacker to have all the fun.

White to play and stop the pawn

'Is There a Win?' , acknowledging that problems and puzzles are made easier when the solver is told that there is a winning move available, presents a number of positions in which the task is to decide whether a tempting move actually wins or is just a good looking flatterer.

White to play. Is there a winning move?

Now that your solving powers have been developed beyond the basics, it could be time to tackle some more heavyweight material...

The Chess Café Puzzle Book
Test and Improve Your Tactical Vision

By GM Karsten Mueller
Russell Enterprises

GM Karsten Mueller is well known for his sterling work for Chessbase, particularly on the endgame.
A glance at the contents neatly sets the scene for what is in store.

Easy Exercises
Opening Traps
Find the Defense
The Five Most Beautiful Combinations
Score Chart

The initial chapters set the scene and guide the reader through the various tactical motifs. Repetition is one of the keys to tactical success, as advised by the author:

‘From my own experience I have decided that it is best to sort the tactics by motifs first. This will help your pattern recognition, an extremely important skill. I believe that it is crucial in becoming a strong player.’
‘I even suggest that you solve them several times…Of course you should wait about one week each time.’

The choice of material is excellent and contains much that is new to me. It’s especially useful to see examples from events which wouldn’t normal reach my English eyes, such as the German Bundesliga.

Ftacnik - Cvitan
German Bundesliga v1997

Truly a position to warm the hearts of King’s Indian players throughout the world. Can you see how Black forced mate - in five moves?

Of course, an endgame expert can’t be separated from his favourite subject and there’s a chapter devoted to positions with reduced material. After all, one must be very aware of tactical devices in all phases of the game; the endgame is certainly no exception.

Nielsen - Rewitz
Aarhus 1989
How did White break through?

Just before the real test starts, final inspiration is supplied by the authors choice of ‘The five most beautiful combination of all time’.
Kasparov - Topalov (you know the one) is there, of course, but it is good to see the older classics have not been neglected.

Bird - Morphy
London 1858

17 … Rxf2!18 Bxf2 Qa3!! and Black went on to win.

Another good feature of this book is the way that educational, common sense snippets are found in between the positions. For example, in the section covering Greek Gift sacrifices, GM Mueller (in a neat reversal of Vukovic’s list in ‘The Art of Attack In Chess’) says of the standard Bxh7+ sacrificial attack:

‘It is easier to list the conditions under which it does not work first:
1) Black’s King is on g8, White’s Knight on g5 and his Queen on h5, and:
1.1) Black can play Nf8, Nf6, Bf5 or something like Qc2 or Qd3 to protect h7.
1.2) Black’s King can safely escape via f8 because f7 is protected.
1.3) Black’s material advantage is already so large that he can afford Qxg5

Finally the reader is asked to do some real work. There are ten tests, each containing 16 positions. The author advises that each test should be done on a different day and that two hours should be allotted for each one. Points are awarded for correct answers but they can be deducted for consulting the ‘hints’ pages.

This is an example of the tougher problems. White to play and win, but it’s no two-mover!

van Wely v Krasenkow
Istanbul Olympiad 2000

The score chart ranges from 0-1 (‘Study the first chapters again!’) to 40-42 (‘Over 2700 (ELO) - Challenge the World Champion!’) but the author offers the sensible reminder:
‘Of course the values (your ‘Tactical ELO’) should be taken with a large grain of salt.’
Whether you are prepared to stcik at the tests and invest the amount of time required to gain the maximum benefit from the maetrial, or whether you just fancy dipping in to warm up before your next match, there are plenty of fantastic and inspirational positions here to you happy, entertained and busy for some considerable time.
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Wednesday 18 June 2008

On the Playlist: Emmylou Harris

All I Intended To Be
Emmylou Harris

It’s been five years since Emmylou’s last solo record, ‘Stumble Into Grace’. However, the gap was punctuated by the release of a very successful collaboration with Mark Knopfler (‘All the Roadrunning’) and the excellent ‘Songbird’ boxset.

‘Stumble Into Grace’ had continued in a similar style to 'Wrecking Ball' and 'Red Dirt Girl'; the three had marked a departure from the pure country sound of her earlier work.
In fact, the time for labelling such music 'country' and leaving it there has long since gone; there's far more to it than that.
There's an impressive number of tracks on the new CD.

Track Listing

Shores of White Sand
Hold On
Moon Song
Broken Man’s Lament
How Could She Sing The Wildwood Flower
All That You Have Is Your Soul
Take That Ride
Old Five And Dimers Like Me
Kern River
Not Enough
Sailing Around The Room
Beyond The Great Divide

As has been the norm in recent years, the songs are a good mixture of Emmylou’s own compositions and those of others. Patty Griffin‘s ‘Moon Song’ was already familiar to me from the original version, but justice is certainly done to it here; nobody can add their own unique interpretation to songs quite like Emmylou can.

Driven by the beautiful voice and acoustic guitar, the songs are closely connected by the recurring themes of love, loss and longing.

The stand-out tracks include ‘Gold’ (with Dolly Parton on harmony vocals) and ‘Sailing Round The Room‘. The former may be familiar from it's recent performance on Later with Jools Holland. The latter concerns a person on the point of death happily realising that their soul will live on in a multitude of existences.

There are no weak tracks (did you really think there would be?), no filler material; this is a very satisfying collection of excellent songs delivered by the finest voice around.

Established Emmylou Harris fans will find the new CD absolutely essential. Newcomers will find it an excellent entry into a truly remarkable world.

The songs here should of course form the centrepiece of Emmylou’s forthcoming European tour. For details of the venues and dates pop along to: and/or:

It’s best to book tickets early for it’s sure to be a sell-out.

Friday 13 June 2008

Chess Reviews: 48

GM Roman Dzindzichashvili is one of the game’s real characters. There is no doubt that he has really lived chess. His output for 'Chess on DVD' is considerable, as evidenced by the volume number (55) of his most release recent release.

All of the Roman’s Lab products can be played on a normal TV and DVD player, without the need for a computer and/or any additional software.

Roman’s Lab
Volume 55: A Tribute to Bobby Fischer (parts 1 & 2)
By GM Roman Dzindzichashvili

Chess on DVD

Main Contents

Roman’s Tribute to Fischer (38 minutes)

Roman’s Game Analysis (102 minutes)

Bonus Material

Anatoly Karpov on Fischer (25 minutes)

Rare Footage From 1992 Fischer-Spassky Rematch (10 minutes)

The first section features an overview of Fischer’s life and achievements, with a remarkable collection of archive footage played out silently as Roman speaks. There are filmed snippets from all parts of his life, from his very young days all the way through his two big matches with Spassky to his final arrival in Iceland. Some of the footage was new to me; it's all very watchable, albeit emotionaly bittersweet.

Roman very sensibly steers well away from the major controversies that were one of Fischer’s great trademarks and concentrates instead on the greatness of his chess. Naturally, this doesn’t lead to a fully balanced picture of the 11th World Champion’s life but this DVD takes the ethos of celebrating his extraordinary achievements rather than analysing the more confusing and unsavoury aspects of his personal life.

There are plenty of new anecdotes alongside the broad-brush stroke biography. Roman reveals that following Fischer’s (in)famous default of game 2 in 1972, Mikhail Tal had suggested that Spassky should consider not turning up for the third game. Force-feeding Fischer some of his own medicine would have almost certainly brought the match to a premature end and Spassky would have kept the title. However, Roman goes on to explain that Spassky was determined to play chess instead of politics and such decisions were out of his hands anyway, with the Kremlin definitely pulling the Soviet strings from a distance. Additionally, Spassky must have been very unwilling to jeopardise such a massive payday (regardless of result).

Roman tells the story of how he met up with Fischer in 1980, when they played blitz chess and analysed recent games. Showing one of his own games to Fischer, he was astounded when Bobby corrected his move-order to how it really happened. Fischer’s intense level of preparation greatly impressed Roman; even though there was little chance of a return to actually playing chess it was as if he was ready to play in a top tournament at any time.

The game analysis section features several games which may be unfamiliar to most viewers. Roman admits that it was not an easy task to select which ones to show and opts for a personal selection rather than a standard trip through his best-known masterpieces.

The game Fischer v Schweber (Buenos Aires 1970) is one such game and features a particularly brillaint combination.

Fischer has just played 22 Re3. Black must have fancied his chances after the tempting 22...e4 but must have been somewhat surprised by the subsequent play. 23 Rxe4 Qxg3 24 Rxd4

Astonishingly, Black's Marshall-like Queen is trapped! Fischer's Bishops and passed pawn went on to dominate the Rook pair and he won in fine style. The commentary on this DVD really brings the game to life.

The first chunk of bonus material is taken from a volume of the DVD series ’Karpov on Fischer’.
Karpov gives his opinion of Fischer and comments on game three of the 1972 World Championship match (the famous Benoni - Fischer’s first ever win against Spassky).

He recalls joining Spassky’s training camp for the last 20 days before the big match, and recounts that Spassky did virtually nothing other than play tennis. A single training game between the two - a Spanish game - was decided when Karpov blundered in an excellent position. Spassky (mistakenly) concluded that he was excellent shape and saw no need for further preparation.

Part of the report on the 1992 match by Cathy Forbes from Grandmaster Video volume 8 is presented here, taking the viewer up to the start of the match. Rare footage is again utilised.
This is a real treat for Fischer fans, with over three hours of material. It is one of the very best of all of the Roman’s Lab series. Highly recommended.

Focusing on a single player was a new departure for Roman (but hopefully we will see a lot more - especially if a similar amount of historical footage is included). The majority of his DVDs feature openings, often highlighting his own ideas and novelties.

Roman’s Lab
Volume 7: Think and Play Like a Grandmaster (parts 1 & 2)
By GM Roman Dzindzichashvili

Chess on DVD

It’s time to take a good look at a randomly selected volume from much earlier in the series.
Thinking and playing like a Grandmaster is something we’d all like to do, but how exactly should one set about such a task?

Over the course of over four hours, Roman analyses a plethora of games by top Grandmasters applying particular emphasis on the opening stages of the game.

In the introduction, Roman explains that for a player of any rating, the important thing is to maximise one’s own knowledge and to adopt the thinking methods of the great players. He goes on to say that he has chosen the games he understands the best, whether they are his own efforts or of strong players he has worked with. His credentials to use this criteria are very strong; he was worked with the likes of Karpov, Korchnoy and Kamsky.

The presentation of material is very good. The screen is split, with Roman playing through the moves on a real chess board, while speaking to the camera, on the right hand side and there’s a digital demonstration board on the left hand side. He is not afraid to show simple, one-move variations among the more detailed and deep analysis but never talks down to the viewer. This makes the DVDs suitable for players of all standards.

The first three illustrative games feature GM Karpov in his best positional style. The first shows him eventually invading a weak e6 square against an Alekhine Defence, the second is his classic Maroczy Bind versus GM Kavalek and this is followed by a lesser known game against GM Mecking (Hastings 1971-2).

The available plans are scrutinised in this position.

Karpov v Mecking

At first glance, Karpov’s doubled pawns and the fact that his own Bishop appears to be hemmed in by his own pawns seems to suggest that Black is fine.

A short time later, White is doing well. The d5 square is under his control, the opposite coloured Bishops (something Karpov always handles very well) turn out to cause Black extra problems and the doubled b-pawns are not weak; indeed, they can be undoubled fairly easily with b3-b4-b5.

At the very end of the game, White’s extra space and pressure proved too much to handle.

34 Rg7 1-0

The explanations from start to finish are extremely instructive . GM Karpov’s games are deceptively tricky; just try guessing his moves and it will become apparent that his outwardly simplistic style is actually very hard to mimic. Roman’s common sense commentary sheds a lot of light on the great champions mysterious methods.

Following a master class on Karpov’s best positional style, Roman then puts one of GM Korchnoy’s games under the microscope.

Part 2 continues in the same style, and adds some games by GM Kamsky to the list of ‘Special Ks’.

Sensible guidelines abound, helping the viewer to assess, plan and successfully handle a plethora of positions. Roman offers constant reminders to be on guard for tactical refutations of sloppy and inaccurate play.

Here’s the chance for you, dear reader, to test your skills.

Korchnoy- Yusupov
FRG Cup Cologne, 1990

Following the moves:
1.c4 e6 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.e4 d5 4.e5 d4 5.exf6 dxc3 6.bxc3 Qxf6 7.Nf3 e5 8.Bd3 Bd6 9.0–0 0–0 10.Be4 c6 11.d4 Bf5 12.Bg5 Qe6 13.d5 Qc8

….Roman invites the viewer to analyse (without moving the pieces) the position after:
14.Bxf5 Qxf5 15.dxc6 Nxc6 16.Qxd6

Now does Black’s intended 16...e4 regain the piece or has there been a miscalculation somewhere along the line?
There’s just under four and a half hours of (virtually) private tuition from a very experienced Grandmaster on this impressive DVD. If you don’t learn a lot from it then frankly you can’t be trying.

Learn Chess in 30 Minutes
Chess for Absolute Beginners

By GM Susan Polgar
Chess on DVD

This DVD runs for 80 minutes and is split into several chapters. Namely:

Chess History

GM Polgar and FM Paul Truong narrate a brief history of chess, showing some historical archive material from the World Chess Hall of Fame in Florida. One of the features on show is a table used in the Fischer v Spassky match; another is a magnificent display covering the life of GM Polgar herself.

The Queen of Chess

The full tale of GM Susan Polgar’s remarkable life and chess achievements could, of course, fill several DVDs. This is a neat little summary of her story so far.

Excel Through Chess

This short section looks at the benefits of chess for children. A number of brief interview snippets with juniors all reveal a positive attitude and an enjoyment of chess competitions. The importance of a sporting attitude is highlighted too. This is summed up by GM Polgar with one of her favourite phrases: ‘Win with grace, lose with dignity’.

Let’s Learn Chess

When it comes to teaching the actual chess, Susan is helped by her friends ‘Champion’ and ‘King Harold‘, two animated characters; one is a horse, the other a King. The graphics are great and clearly designed to be attractive to children.

Let’s Play Chess

Fine Tune Your Game
Basic Tricks and Advice
Captures in One Move
Checkmates in One Move
Chess Terms and Notation

This is an excellent DVD package and one which should prove especially useful to junior novices and their parents. 'Fun Facts' pop up throughout the lessons and the bite-sized chunks keep the presenation fresh and interesting.

One particular aspect to come across is the way the presenters are not afraid to highlight the achievements of GM Polgar. It’s something we are particularly bad at, here in England, where supporting the underdog is a fine art and maintaining an ambivalent to champions is de rigueur. If we could cultivate positive, successful role models in this country we could improve things immeasurably. Meanwhile, we’ll just have to watch DVDs such as these.

MasterChess 6000 + Nalimov Table Base + The Ultimate Game Collection 7

Chess on DVD

There’s an incredible amount of material on this disc. The playing engine, Ruffian, is estimated at 2671 (standard) and 3000 (blitz). It’s easy to load on to you computer; just a couple of clicks and the set up is well under way. Ruffian crushed me repeatedly at blitz chess, latching on to the slightest tactical error with a lightning fast refutation.

It is very easy to set up positions and search the massive database. There are a staggering 1.4 million games here and although they are not annotated, they are generally of a very high quality and go all the way up top the 2006 Kramnik - Topalov World Championship Match.

The Nalimov Table base produce perfect analysis of all five (and less) piece endings.
One of the great selling points about this particular DVD is the budget price. With an r.r.p of £19.95, this collection, extraordinarily all on a single disc, represents excellent value for money.

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