Thursday 30 April 2009

Latest Interview

My latest interview - with Stewart Reuben - has just been published in CHESS Magazine.

More interviews and articles are in the pipeline.

To order a copy of the May 2009 issue, pop along to:

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Unexpected Danger

Don't panic too much, folks; they still move v-e-r-y slowly.

If you have any further trouble, call the Special Branch a.s.a.p.

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Evidence Discovered!

Bush and Blair were right all along!

To be fair to all concerned, it was almost hidden behind a hedge.

Monday 20 April 2009

Easter School of Chess

A report is now available, over at:

...with more photos here:

All Good, Clean Fun

A special reminder for those of you who will insist on carrying their own around...

Sunday 19 April 2009

'Ashes of Memory Still Aglow...'

Newcastle City Hall

It’s been a period of great anticipation since the Ultravox ‘Return to Eden’ tour was announced
( ) so I was somewhat excited when the concert finally came around.

It seemed to be a full house, certainly from where I could see (five rows from the front, in the ‘Stalls’). As the lights dimmed and the first little tap-tap-tap of ‘Astradyne’ started, the four band members appeared amid the dry ice and darkness and took up their customary positions; Billy Currie, stage right, surrounded by keyboards; Chris Cross, stage left, one keyboard and a couple of bass guitars; Midge Ure, centre stage, keyboard and guitar; Warren Cann, somewhat hidden in the shadows. The pounding of the drums kick-started the wonderful opening number.

Billy Currie left his keyboards to come forward with his violin (…or was it a viola? I don’t know the difference) but seemed taken aback by the thunderous roar of the audience, causing him to talk a couple of steps back in genuine surprise.

It's a very long time since they worked together; a quarter of a century has passed since I last saw them in concert.

They worked extremely hard all through the concert and all four seemed to really enjoy playing together again.

The set-list brought forth all of the predicatable favourites, plus a few surprises (mainly from 'Rage in Eden').

From memory, and by album (rather than the order of the night) they played:

From ‘Vienna’: the title track, Passing Strangers, All Stood Still, Sleepwalk, Mr. X.

From ‘Rage in Eden’: the title track, I Remember, Your Name Has Slipped My Mind Again; The Thin Wall, The Voice, We Stand Alone

From ‘Quartet': Hymn, Reap the Wild Wind, Visions in Blue

From ‘Lament': the title track, ‘One Small Day’, Dancing With Tears in My Eyes’

It was a terrific concert and one which will remain memorable for many years to come. Make no mistake, this was not merely a friendly get-together of faded 80s stars destined to tour a few local Butlins centres. This was the real thing, done with feeling, energy and passion.

If you get the chance to catch them on this short tour, then grab the opportunity with both hands - you won't regret it.

Hopefully there will be some new Ultravox material in the not too distant future

Here's a few more photos to conclude with.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Norman Stephenson's Opening Workshop #7

Read the latest opening secrets from the former British Senior Champion, over at:

Miss the ammunition at your peril!

Chess Reviews: 90

The Black Lion
The Chess Predator’s Choice Against Both 1 e4 and 1 d4

Second, fully revised & updated edition

By Jerry van Rekom & Leo Jansen
280 pages
New in Chess

‘This robust, multipurpose opening system looks quiet, like a sleeping lion - hence the name. But when this predator is provoked, and the game heats up, Black eats his prey in an extremely swift and efficient way.’

First of all, a disclaimer; it’s difficult to provide a completely objective review of this book, as I was in contact with one of the authors during the writing of it and several of my own games are included. I have also had an article published in CHESS Magazine all about my experiences with the opening.

Therefore, I am obviously a fan of The Lion and am very enthusiastic about this new edition.

The introduction traces the history of The Lion and gives details of the previous editions of the book. Then it's on to the six main chapters:

Chapter 1 - The Cub

This chapter introduces the basics of the system and put more flesh on the bones as regards the historical development of The Lion. The focus is mainly on co-author Leo Jansen and includes a game of his in a 1976 simultaneous display against GM Anatoly Karpov. It is easy to dismiss simul games as unimportant, but in fact they can be very instructive. It’s intriguing to see how Karpov, World Champion at the time, couldn’t gain a significant edge against The Lion’s Claw and actually stood worse when the draw was agreed.

Chapter 2 - The Lion’s Den: 3...Nbd7 4 f4 e5

This variation is probably the sharpest and I think Black will need to analyse the lines very carefully to get the most out of the tactical opportunities and nuances. Those with more limni9ted study time can head for ‘The Lion’s Yawn’ instead with the 3...e5 move order.

Chapter 3 - The Lion’s Claw: 3...Nbd7 4 Nf3 e5

‘…the black player, like a hungry lion, embarks on a hunt for the white king with his sharp claws ’

This is the sort of thing Black is hoping for. His moves flow more or less automatically and White has to be very careful indeed not to be ripped up by the sharp claw.

Chapter 4 - The Lion’s Roar: 3...Nbd7 4 Nf3 e5 5 Bc4

The need for a roar is because:

‘…The Black Lion is being hunted and hit, and, as a result, it is bent on revenge.’

This chapter analyses the tempting early hits on the f7 square. One typical example comes after the following sequence:

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nbd7 4.Nf3 e5 5.Bc4 Be7 6.Bxf7+ Kxf7 7.Ng5+ Kg8 8.Ne6 Qe8 9.Nxc7 Qg6

White has two main options here, namely 10 Nxa8 and 10 0-0. Various minor alternatives are analysed as good for Black.

One can easily picture the scene, over the board, with White players believing they have produced a classical sacrifice and placed Black in a perilous situation. However, if Black has studied this book then he should head for such a position with great confidence, whether or not White snaffles the Rook or tries to run for safety.

Chapter 5 - The Lion’s Yawn: 3...e5

This is the line I have had the most experience with and I can recommend it as a very reliable and relatively easy to learn system.

Black offers an early trade of Queens and often follows up with an offer to accept doubled pawns.

It looks odd and somewhat grim for Black at first glance; however, students of The Lion will discover that appearances can be very deceptive and that a Lion’s Yawn shouldn’t be seen as an invitation to place one’s head inside the mouth.

Chapter 6 - The Lion’s Mouth: 3...Nbd7 Anti-Lion Systems

The onset of the Anti-Lions must be taken seriously by players of the Black pieces.

3 f3, 4 Be3 and g4 on move 4 or 5 are all given serious consideration.

The Shirov Gambit must be taken seriously and the new analysis given is a major addition since the last edition.

Another major change concerns the Lion’s Head complex, (essentially the main lines of the Philidor Defence). Covered in depth in the previous edition, they are not considered here as the authors believe that the classical Philidor positions have been given good enough coverage in other books of late.

The cover is striking and the layout is crisp and clean. Navigation of the various lines is easily done.

I’m sure club players will find plenty of interest in this impressive book. The Lion is an absolutely ideal weapon and this is the ultimate guide to its intricacies.

For existing Lion supporters, this new edition is an absolute ‘must buy’.

The Lion has its own website here:

There's more on the opening, plus pictures from the launch of the new edition, here:

For further details of these and other New in Chess products, please visit:

Missed a review? Please visit my archive:

Saturday 4 April 2009

Chess Reviews: 89

Winning Chess Middlegames
By GM Ivan Sokolov
286 pages New in Chess

‘Ever wondered why grandmasters take only seconds to see what’s really going on in a chess position? It’s all about structures, as Ivan Sokolov explains in this groundbreaking book.’

Following a foreword by GM Michael Adams, who praises ‘…the fruits of (Sokolov’s) labour’, ‘…which are invaluable tools for any player’, the author introduces his work and explains his aims and ideas.

‘…I have tried, as much as possible, to: 1. Systemize the thematic plans used and give clear explanations of them, and 2. Incorporate the ideas of the featured opening variation into the pawn structure that ensues.'

The main body of work revolves around four main chapters, each covering, in depth, a different kind of pawn structure. The chapters start with listings of the essential structures and some basic comments, before moving on to the deeply annotated illustrative games (each game takes, on average, between six and eight pages).

Chapter 1: Doubled Pawns: 12 essential structures

The Nimzo-Indian is the key focus of attention for the first chapter, and the Saemisch structure in particular comes under considerable scrutiny.

Naturally, one of Black’s plans is to apply pressure to the doubled c-pawns. GM Sokolov tells of a game in which he struggled, as Black, after winning the c3 pawn. He quotes an observation by GM Ljubojevic:
‘The pawn on c4 is always worth taking, because you threaten to exchange the light-squared bishops and at the same time the a1-h8 diagonal remains closed for the dark-squared one. Taking the pawn on c3 only opens the diagonal and helps White.’

There’s a clear cut example of the havoc released by Black taking the wrong pawn…

Keres - Spassky
Candidates Match 1965

‘14 Ba3! Rejecting the draw that would result from 14 Qxc3 Qd1+ 15 Rg1 Qf3+. Keres correctly judges that with all his pieces active and diagonals and files open, his initiative is worth more than two pawns.’ 1-0 (25)

Chapter 2: Isolated Pawns: 10 essential structures

The Tarrasch Defence is one of the main openings covered in this chapter. The timing of pushing the isolated pawn is one of the aspects discussed in great depth.

Chapter 3: Hanging Pawns: 4 essential structures

Tartakower’s variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined is a repertoire cornerstone of many great players. Black often accepts hanging pawns to create dynamic chances so it should come as no surprise that Tartakower has a starring role in this chapter, which sheds a lot of light on games by Karpov, Short and Kasparov.

Chapter 4: Pawn Majority in the Centre: 7 essential structures

The Semi-Tarrasch and Queen’s Indian Defence fall under the spotlight in the final chapter. It’s 30 years since Kasparov first crushed numerous top players with the quiet-looking move 4. a3.

The selected game features a real battle of the generations.

Kasparov - Najdorf
Bugojno 1982

The author’s comments on this typical position are very instructive and a good example of what one can expect throughout the book:

‘A good moment to take stock and compare this position to the previous Semi-Tarrasch game. The pawn structure is the same, but the difference is that here the dark-squared bishops are still on the board.

In my opinion, in general this should be favourable for White, since:

- Black has considerably less space to manoeuvre his pieces;
- Black queen sorties (to f6) are not possible;

- In the case of a central pawn blockade (after d4-d5 and e6-e5), it is, in general, positive for White to have the dark-squared bishops on the board. Should a black pawn appear on h6, White may get sacrificial motifs with Bxh6 and, in general, in many lines White simply has one more piece for his kingside attack.

The plus for Black- perhaps the only one - is the fact that the ...f7-f5 idea, to undermine White’s pawn centre and take control of the d5-square, is much easier to execute with the dark-squared bishops still present.’

As can be seen, the closed openings dominate the book but the structural considerations will of course crop up frequently in other openings too.

This is a deep book which will suit experienced players. Hard work and serious study will be both be essential to gain the most benefit from it but readers will definitely develop a much better understanding of the main pawn structures and will learn to adopt the various strategies in their own games.

GM Sokolov’s lucid explanations are extremely informative and convey a large amount of genuine Grandmasterly wisdom. This is easily one of the best middlegame books of recent times.

Fischer World Champion!
New Edition
By GM Max Euwe and GM Jan Timman
175 pages New in Chess

‘Fischer World Champion! Will let the reader relive one of the great moments in chess history.’

This is the third English edition of GM Timman’s annotated account of the ‘Match of the Century’. The first two articles are new to the book but were printed in New in Chess magazine.

Our Greatest Knight

GM Garry Kasparov provides four pages, covering some general points about Fischer and highlighting the influence on his own game.

A Breathtaking Model

GM Timman’s 10-page memorial piece includes an account of his meeting with Fischer in 1990.

A Tense Prelude

GM Max Euwe provides the background to the match in 19 pages, concluding with the remark:
‘As I left Reykjavik, I was quite happy to leave chief arbiter Lothar Schmid in charge of the proceedings. He was not only amply qualified, but during the past few days he had revealed himself as a competent, diplomatic and utterly objective assistant.’

One senses Euwe’s relief too.

The Games

A Brief Sketch of the Course of the Match

The author gives a little overview of the battle before moving on to the fully annotated games.

‘…I was amazed to find that the first nine games are totally devoid of the whole idea of fighting chess. It is only afterwards that a surplus of fighting spirit comes to the fore. Maybe this unexpected development was the result of the turbulent imbroglios at the beginning.’

The games should be well known to all fans of chess. GM Timman captures all the critical and confusing moments, such as the infamous 29...Bxh2, Spassky’s amazing blunders in the first half of the match and Fischer’s ‘hit and run’ strategy with Black in the second half, as he ducked and weaved his way to victory.

GM Timman is first-class annotator of chess games. Those given here are mainly authentic 1972 versions, but there are one or two updates, mainly stemming form GM Kasparov.

Here’s a couple of snippets to give a flavour of the general style:

Spassky - Fischer
Game 15

27 Qc2??

‘A blunder. It clearly wasn’t Spassky’s day. After the correct 27 Qb1 Black will not find it easy to convert his advantage. The positional threat is 28 g4 Nh3+ (if the knight retreats to h5, White will swap, of course) 29 Kg2 g4 30 Bd2!, and in the long run Black cannot avoid the exchange of his knight against a bishop, which makes the win very problematic. So Black’s strongest move is 27...g4, when White’s situation becomes precarious. Black’s king can walk to c7, but White can often parry subsequent attacks against his weak pawns by regrouping. I will have to leave the question of whether the position is still drawn or just for Black, unresolved.’

27...Bxa4 0-1

Spassky - Fischer Game 13

Spassky has just played 32 g5 and Fischer replied with:

32...hxg5? Personally, I regard this as one of the most amazing mistakes of the entire match. Although it does not spoil the win, it should nevertheless be considered a positional blunder. As Smyslov indicates, Black should first have sidetracked the knight with 32...c4. After 33 Nb4 hxg5 34 fxg5 f5 White has nothing better than 35 Nxd5 (else 35...Be4!) 35...exd5. The bishop on h4 is so bad that there is little White can do against the a-pawn.’

The photo gallery, covering nine pages, is a very welcome addition. Spassky looks worried in most of the photos; Fischer appears to be completely focussed, relaxing only for the last two snaps, with show that he: ‘…let himself be tempted to a few dances with some local beauties’.

The book concludes with an Index of Openings followed by a short piece on Earlier Encounters. This gives the moves of the five pre-1972 encounters (unannotated bar a couple of brief suggested moves).

This book, staying true to the spirit of 1972 and rarely going into what came afterwards, serves as a fitting memorial to the 11th World Champion.

For further details of these and other New in Chess products, please visit:

Missed a review? Please visit my archive:

Thursday 2 April 2009

Further Reading

Those who can't find enough to read at Marsh Towers should.....

1) Pop along to the latest posting at Mongoose Times

2) Pick up a copy of the latest issue of CHESS Magazine (April 2009) for my interviews with IM Bill Hartston and GM Nigel Davies. Better still, susbscribe; there's more interviews and articles in the pipeline.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Chess Reviews: 88

Chess Openings for Black, Explained
2nd Edition, Revised and Updated

GM Lev Alburt, GM Roman Dzindzichashvili
and GM Eugene Perelshteyn

with Al Lawrence

552 pages
Chess Information and Research Centre

Norton & Company

‘…a complete repertoire of carefully selected, interrelated openings - everything you need to know to defend with confidence against each and every one of White’s first moves.’

It’s been three and a half years since the first edition of this interesting book. The first question from those who own the first edition will probably be: ‘What is new’?

This is answered in the introduction, where the authors claim:

‘This new edition incorporates literally hundreds of changes’.

More specifically:

‘Here are just some major examples: In the Accelerated Dragon, we make some important corrections regarding the move 7. f3 (p. 61). Also, after 9. 0-0 (p. 64), we discuss White’s recent successes in the 9...d6 10 Ndb5 line - and two promising alternatives for Black to 9 …d6. In ‘Defending against 4. Qxd4’ (p. 110), we introduce a new, more promising line for Black. We fine-tune a number of our recommendations against the Maroczy Bind. We take note of White’s improvements in the Alapin (p. 223) - and ways to counter it. We discuss how to play after 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 against rare (but tricky) third moves, such as 3. g3 and 3 a3.’

The impressive use of colour is apparent right from the start, with various shades of blue used to highlight key learning points, important diagrams and the like. This makes a very favourable impression; the book has clearly had a lot of effort put into the design. In all, there are more than 1,400 diagrams.

Special ‘Memory Marker’ diagrams are added at the end of each section to provide further emphasis of important moments.

The initial chapters introduce the authors and offer general advice on how to study openings and how to get the most of the book.

Before moving on to coverage of the main repertoire, plenty of time and space is given over to a lengthy overview of 1 e4 (and later for 1 d4). This is interesting stuff, offering the reader pertinent pros and cons on numerous openings other than those covered in the main sections of the book.

In a nutshell, the backbone of the repertoire consists of the Accelerated Fianchetto variation of the Sicilian Defence (against 1 e4) and the Nimzo-Indian (and Bogo-Indian) against 1 d4. The Symmetrical Variation is advocated against the English Opening and minor White tries are met in sensible ways.

The Accelerated Fianchetto can cause confusion in the enemy ranks and a specific knowledge of the differences between this and the regular Dragon need to be thoroughly understood. Players will find all the required information here.

White’s methods of avoiding the main line Sicilian are covered in detail. The method given to meet 2 c3 is noteworthy.

1 e4 c5 2 c3 g6 3 d4 cxd4 4 cxd4 d5

White has a couple of options here, including the direct gain of space with 5 e5 Bg7 6 Nc3 Nc6 7 Bb5 when Black counters without delay: 7…f6

The analysis continues into the various different variations and it seems to me that once again 2 c3 players will find themselves on unfamiliar territory early on in the game, so it looks like a good choice for Black.

There’s no doubting the viability of the suggested repertoire.

The specific Nimzo-Indian line given is 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3 b6

The lines of analysis are kept relatively short but the prose explanations are very clear and should help the reader understand the ideas and plans behind the moves.

Here’s a sample, from the Bogo-Indian coverage:

‘Black owns the ideal King’s Indian structure:

1) White doesn’t have a knight on c3 to help him pressure Black’s queenside;

2) White’s light-squared bishop is poorly placed;

3) Black doesn’t have a passive bishop on g7.
White’s temporary advantage in development is not very relevant because of the closed character of the position. White’s plan is to play on the queenside by breaking through with c5. Black’s plan is to generate play on the kingside with the possibility of counter-play on the queenside and the center. White’s main options now are: 13. c5, 13. Nd2, and 13. b4. (If White plays 13. e4, Black answers with 13...f5.)’

There are some good photos of famous players such as Spassky, Smyslov and Bogolubov. The latter, who gave half of name to the ‘Bogo-Indian’, is depicted as a man in his prime, eyes burning with pride. This is in marked contrast to the usual practice of showing him as some sort of overweight, jolly, failed title challenger. This fits in very neatly with the whole ethos of the book; it is a positive, designed to fire the enthusiasm of the reader at every opportunity.

Occasional cartoons provide a bit of light entertainment, such as fronting a chapter on the Accelerated Dragon with a picture of dragon hitching a ride on top of a speedy hot rod car.

The final chapter gives 13 well-annotated games to demonstrate the repertoire in action.

The index of variations is 10 pages long and once again excellent use is made of colour to ease the eye’s navigation.

Summing up, this is an excellent book. The recommended repertoire is very sound, the analytical side of things never borders on the intimidating and the explanations are lucid and instructive. Notable gaps have been plugged since the first edition. Topped off by excellent design and high production values, it’s hard not to be impressed.

Chess Strategy for the Tournament Player
Second Enlarged and Revised Edition

By GM Lev Alburt and GM Sam Palatnik
352 pages
Chess Information and Research Centre

& Company

‘Chess Strategy for the Tournament Player demystifies chessboard planning, giving you the practical, game-winning strategic techniques you could spend years gathering on your own.’

This is the fifth volume of the ‘Comprehensive Chess Course’ series, which uses ‘…the once strictly guarded and time-tested Russian training methods, the key to the 50-year Russian dominance of the chess world’.

The list of contents displays an extensive range of important strategic lessons.

1. Good and Bad Bishops

2. Bishops of Opposite Color

3. Cutting Off a Piece From the Main Action

4. When the Bishop is Stronger Than the Knight

5. When the Knight is Stronger Than the Bishop

6. The Bishop Pair

7. Fighting on the Long Diagonals

8. Open Files and Diagonals

9. Weak and Strong Squares

10. When a Complex of Squares is Weak

11. Weak and Strong Pawns

12. Significance of the Center

80 main games (or game fragments) are given, with annotations of varying depth. More positions are given as learning exercises for the reader. There are 349 diagrams in all. They span over 100 years of chess history, with strategic gems reaching out across the decades from 1887 to 1996.

Here’s a fine excerpt from chapter three, with Capablanca doing what he called: ‘Pushing the opponent’s piece away from the theatre of military actions’.

Winter - Capablanca Hastings, 1919

‘10...g5! 11 Nxf6+

White had to play this move because 11 Nxg5 Nxd5 (not 11.…hxg5? 12 Bxg5 +-) loses material for no compensation.

11..Qxf6 12 Bg3 Bg4 13 h3 Bxf3 14 Qxf3?

With less power on the board, Black’s de facto material advantage becomes even more important.

14...Qxf3 15 gxf3 f6

Even a quick look at this position confirms that White is playing virtually a piece down. Freeing the bishop will cost White at least a pawn and several tempi. Black now turns his full attention to the queenside, where he plans top use his ‘extra’ piece. While there can be little doubt as to the eventual success of this simple but effective plan, Capablanca’s instructive technique does make it look deceptively easy.’ 0-1 (29)

Little quotes from the greats are slipped in from to time, such as this one from GM Reuben Fine ‘Discovered check is the dive-bomber of the chessboard’.

The cover is an attractive one, showing a man thoroughly absorbed in a chess position while his partner, cat and piano all seemed resigned to going without his attention.

Time for a test, dear readers.

Kalegin - Obodchuk Moscow, 1993
White to play Find the best move (From chapter 10)

This is a good book for club players and coaches, which variations kept to a minimum and prose explanations taking centre stage.

Chess Training Pocket Book II
By GM Lev Alburt and Al Lawrence
208 pages
Chess Information and Research Centre
& Company

‘Two elements make a strong chess player - effective thinking skills and appropriate knowledge.’

Volume 8 of the ‘Comprehensive Chess Course’ works well as a stand-alone book too (as does volume 5). It’s a smaller size and should indeed fit into the majority of jacket pockets.

The format is by far the simplest of the three books reviewed here, essentially offering four test positions on each page with the solutions on the facing page.

Following an introduction, covering various basics and general advice, the authors list the ‘dirty dozen’. These are important tactical ideas that the reader will encounter many times throughout the rest of the book.

The reader is then given 320 tactical positions to try. The aim of this volume is to:

‘…test, train, and sharpen your chess thinking skills. You’ll learn how to: Spot tactics; See clearly several moves ahead (and to know how far ahead you should look); Evaluate positions accurately’

The positions are well chosen and come from all phases of the game. Some are well known classics but there are plenty of fresh ones to keep the student entertained.

There’s an index of games and, perhaps more importantly for this type of book, an index of ‘themes and ideas’, enabling the reader to quickly locate a specific area of interest.

We all love dipping into this sort of puzzle book. Despite being one of the lighter volumes in the series, the given material should definitely help readers to sharpen their tactical vision without feeling they are being forced to work too hard.

Here’s a couple of random examples to test your powers.

Tannenbaum - Frunkin, 2003 Black to move

White to move

For further details of these, and other chess books by W.W. Norton & Company, please visit:

Missed a review? Please visit my archive: