Friday 31 July 2009

Lucinda Williams at The Bridgewater Hall

The Bridgewater Hall

So, on to Manchester for the second Lucinda Williams concert inside a week. The venue is similar to The Sage, so would we see a repeat performance?

Buick 6 made a direct appeal to the audience towards the end of the high-powered opening set to give her a rowdy reception. An unusual step to take; tensions were obviously still in the air.

The opening number, 'Happy Woman Blues', was an excellent choice and first of many surprises in the set list. This was followed by another blast from the past, 'I Just Wanted to See You So Bad.' There was a little bit of confusion at the start of this one, with Lucinda apparently being of the opinion that she played guitar on this song. The band convinced her it wasn’t so and the tricky moment passed.

The first nine numbers were all welcome surprises.

Happy Woman Blues
I Just Wanted to See You So Bad
Circles and X's
People Talkin'
Well Well Well
Big Red Sun Blues
Fruits of My Labor
Memphis Pearl
Something About What Happens When We Talk

There were a couple of trademark false starts for 'Memphis Pearl' while the correct singing key was remembered, but this was treated in good humour rather than frustration.

Things were going well and the audience were openly enthusiastic. Lucinda was breaking out into frequent smiles by now, which wasn’t a habit at The Sage. Consequently, Buick 6 were more relaxed too and their musicianship cranked up another notch accordingly.

The acoustic guitar was traded for a silver electric for the next seven songs. These were high-tempo rockers, with the unexpected 'Metal Firecracker' making a very welcome appearance amongst the more obvious choices.

Drunken Angel
Out of Touch
Metal Firecracker
Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings
Honey Bee

Thus the main show was brought to a close, with Lucinda and the band leaving to a standing ovation. More surprises were still to follow over the course of the two encores.

Bus to Baton Rouge
Get Right With God

Lucinda came out on her own with the acoustic guitar at the start of the second encore. Buick 6 re-emerged for the very last song.

Motherless Children

It was a hugely more optimistic concert than The Sage show. The change of set list had undoubtedly been a contributing factor, seeming better suited for an all-seated venue and featuring a lot more of the soulful numbers either side of the rockers.

Lucinda said they were soon to take some time off the road to work on some new songs, release a new CD and then come back.

Wednesday 29 July 2009

'Summertyne': Americana Festvial

I managed to get along to The Sage (Gateshead) for some great events on the last two days of the Americana Festival.

The Sage is a magnificent venue. Here's the view of the futuristic exterior.

The impressive Millennium Bridge.

The Penguin mock-up reads: 'Gateshead Revisited'.

Events were on throughout the day (July 25th). We caught a couple of the outdoor performances, including Ryan Shaw and Eliza Gilkyson.

Ryan Shaw

I hadn't heard of him before but he has a great voice and a good stage presence.

Eliza Gilkyson

All of the outdoor events were free and people could come and go as they pleased.

The Lucinda Williams concert was on the Saturday evening. There were two support acts: Devon Sproule and Buick 6. The former returned for her own full-length show the following evening. The latter is Lucinda's backing band, who recently released their own 'solo' CD.

The set-list clearly indicates the up-tempo nature of the show:

Real Love
Right in Time
I Lost It
Can't Let Go
Are You Alright
Tears of Joy
Drunken Angel
Out of Touch
Changed the Locks
Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings
Unsuffer Me

The encore followed swiftly...

Little Rock Star
It's a Long Way to the Top

The band played well and Lucinda's voice was great

Unfortunately, there was a bit of a dampener at the end of the show, when Lucinda suddenly seemed to become very frustrated because the audience '...didn't want to rock and roll'. She exited the stage at the end of the encore with apparent bad grace, leaving the people around us scratching their heads.

It seems that the fully-seated venue was perceived to be not conducive to a night of rocking. The following evening would refute the notion. Anyway, I'm off to see her again in Manchester very soon so another report will follow.

Sunday 26th had a similar format and again we caught a couple of the outdoor events.

Two local blues men: Paul Lamb and Johnny Dickinson

Hank Wangford and the Lost Cowboys

Hank's stage patter was very amusing and the whole set was played in very good humour. In addition to his other talents, he is also the President of the Nude Mountaineering Society. Further details can be found on his website:

I was looking forward to seeing Rodney Crowell on the Sunday evening. I discovered his work through the Emmylou Harris route and it has remarkable depth. I wasn't disappointed.

He was accompanied by Jedd Hughes and Will Kimbrough; all were on acoustic guitar.

It was a remarkable show. Drawing heavily on material from 'The Houston Kid' and 'Sex and Gasoline', the trio gave a virtuoso performance in energy, power, subtlety and emotion. It was a very moving experience.

The pictures are a bit dark but give an idea of the set up. During the short, 15-minute gap between performances, I went to stretch my legs and was surprised to see the guys in the foyer, signing CDs and chatting amiably to anyone who wanted to. It gave me a chance to thank them directly for the experience.

Rodney Crowell

Jedd Hughes

Will Kimbrough

The concluding set was performed by The Flatlanders. I didn't know very much about them beforehand and quite frankly, after Rodney Crowell's astonishing performance, I thought following him would be an impossible task.

However, they put on a real terrific show, full of energy and excellent musicianship.

The key personnel are Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Eley and Butch Hancock. There's no front man; they all take a turn singing, playing and harmonising. They are all authentic Texans.

They received a standing ovation at the end. I'm unlikely ever to see such an awesome double-header as I did on that evening.

Hopefully we'll be back in Gateshead for more of the same next year.

Tuesday 28 July 2009

Chess Reviews: 102

ChessBase Magazine 130
June 2009

ChessBase Magazine continues to provide extremely impressive coverage of top chess events. The tournament highlights this time are undoubtedly those at the European Championship (Budva) and the Grand-Prix tournament (Nalchik).

Numerous other events are covered too, including the USA Championship. 2,260 games are given in all, featuring stars all the way up to Shirov, Aronian, Anand and Kamsky. It's not just the best games by the top players, it's all the games by the top players.

A good number of games come with annotations by luminaries such as Gelfand, Ftacnik and Marin.

Of course, ChessBase Magazine isn’t merely a database. The other features are universally excellent. There's so much on the disc that it's impossible to do it all justice in a short review, so here's a few snippets which really caught the eye.

Of particular interest are the Fritz Trainer video lectures, covering some unusual opening ideas.

GM Rogozenco provides some real food for thought with a look at the Queen’s Gambit Accepted.

1 d4 d5 2 c4 dxc4 3 Nf3 a6 4 e3 b5 5 a4 Bb7 6 b3 e6

It looks just the sort of thing Black shouldn’t be doing. After White smashes up the Queenside pawns, the second player is left with a sickly looking isolated pawn on c7. However, according to the lecture, Black can play …c7-c5 relatively easily. This gives total equality once it is swapped for the White d-pawn. This line definitely needs further analysis. Can it be that Black can equalise so painlessly?

The other major eye-catcher comes after:

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 Bg5 Ne4 6 cxd5 Nxg5 7 Nxg5

Now Black has the surprising move:


...when the game will inevitably open up for the Bishops, but it’s not without risk.

GM Rogozenco also provides two further video lectures, picking out key moments from recent events.

Other regular columns include Peter Wells on strategy (dealing with weak squares), Karsten Muller on endgames (liquidating to pawn endings), 12 opening surveys and some audio annotations by Anand.

Fans of every stage of the game will find plenty of interesting material. A noteworthy feature is the facility to load up tactical positions and try to solve them. A clock counts down the time available for a successful answer. One feels drawn into the action more than when studying a diagram in a printed magazine.

Here's a sample for you to try:

Kovacevic - Porat
European Championship 2009

White to play. Something to do with the h-file, perhaps…?

The next tactical test comes at the end of the same game:

Kovacevic - Porat
European Championship 2009

Black resigns after the correct White move. Find it!

ChessBase Extra 130
July 2009

The ‘Extra’ editions bridge the gap between the standard releases. These are much more basic affairs, lacking the main features of the regular magazines, but are useful to provide substantial database updates. No fewer than 27,122 games can be quickly added to your own ChessBase with the minimum of fuss.

Events covered are as diverse as the Anand - Leko match, Azerbaijan v Rest of the World Rapid Match (in which Kramnik and Anand both played), the Southend Open, Russian Junior Championships and many others. The games are unannotated.

Two video lectures by Mikhalchisin are a nice bonus. He demonstrates two of his most enjoyable games, against Beliavsky and Kasparov.

Serious, professional chess players will aleady be aware that ChessBase magazine is an essential purchase. For the rest of us there's no shortage of instruction and entertainment.

The amount of material is tremendous and I can't think of any other chess product which offers such value for money.

For further details of Chessbase products, please go to:

Missed a review? Pop along to my archive:

Friday 24 July 2009

Summer School of Chess

We had a very enjoyable Summer School of Chess this week.

There's a report over at my Chess Links Project site:

Chess Reviews: 101

Botvinnik - Smyslov
Three World Championship Matches: 1954, 1957, 1958

By GM Mikhail Botvinnik
287 pages
New in Chess

Botvinnik’s title matches with Bronstein and Tal have perhaps received more coverage than those with Smyslov; the battle of opposites being more cosmetically memorable. However, the three World Championship bouts between Botvinnik and Smyslov saw an abundance of fighting chess.

Therefore it is great to see this new compendium of Botvinnik - Smyslov matches, especially as the notes are by Botvinnik himself.

The matches were surprisingly bloodthirsty.

In 1954, Botvinnik won three and drew one of the first four games but Smyslov hit back strongly. The middle of the match brought an amazing run of eight consecutive decisive results. Smyslov finished the stronger of the two but despite two late wins he couldn’t wrest the title from Botvinnik’s grip. Just as in 1951, the champion retained his title with a 12-12 draw.

Smyslov’s strength of character was amply demonstrated when he battled through the pack to become the challenger again. This time he achieved his aim with a convincing 12.5-9.5 victory.

Botvinnik came out fighting in the rematch the following year; three wins from the first three games (two as Black with the Caro-Kann) set him up for an eventual 12.5-10.5 match win. (Incidentally, the result table in the book erroneously marks game 23 as a win for Botvinnik when in fact it was drawn.)

Every game is annotated by Botvinnik, with just a very small number of exceptions (in which Smyslov and Flohr prove worthy substitutes). The main notes are augmented by the addition of Botvinnik’s secret notebooks featuring his opening preparation. Such preparation was a major weapon in Botvinnik’s armoury (skill in that department could offer a big advantage in pre-ChessBase days) but Smyslov was no slouch either. The battlefield over the course of the three matches covered terrain from the French, Sicilian and Ruy Lopez to heavyweight battles in the Grunfeld and King’s Indian, with plenty of others in between. Fans of such openings will find plenty of interest, despite the age of the games.

Given Botvinnik’s scientific approach to chess and life, it comes as a surprise when his very human side is displayed.

His competitive nature is revealed in a note before the first move of the first match game is given. Admitting that Smyslov held the advantage in wins over the three matches (+18, -17, = 34) he goes on to comment: ‘However, when it came to World Championship laurels, I was ahead (2:1), because in the event of a drawn match, the World Champion retained his title’.

More than once he labels a variation ‘Rubbish!’ in his (formerly) secret notebooks.

There’s also an occasional reminder of a suspicious mind at work.

Botvinnik - Smyslov Game 14, 1954

9...Ng4 10 Bg5 Qb6 11 h3 exd4!
‘My opponent played the last three moves immediately, about which I could not hide my surprise. It is certainly rather surprising that Smyslov should have been so well prepared in all the subtleties of a variation that I had never played before, except in training games…’ 0-1 (33)

A hint of foul play?

Elsewhere, he is amazingly honest about his faults and failings. Here’s a startling example:

Smyslov - Botvinnik Game 7, 1954

‘Here, Black spent a long time choosing his move. The reason, I have to admit, is that I could not find a ‘defence’ in the variation 20 0-0 0-0-0 21 Nh3! f5 22 d4 and then Nf4...Only after the game did I realise that this whole variation is impossible, because White has moved his King!’

Indeed, the King had participated in an early Queen exchange and then returned to his home square. I’m sure we’ve all done similar things in our games but it’s not often that a World Champion pleads guilty to such basic error during his thought processes.

Three more things enhance this fine book:

The translation is by Ken Neat, who has added some corrections and other observations.

There are two forewords; one by Smyslov and the other by Igor Botvinnik (the World Champion’s nephew).

A 13 page article draws from Botvinnik his own ‘Conclusions from the return match’.

Botvinnik’s annotations have always enjoyed universal praise. Having a book full of ‘new’ notes adds up to a valuable addition to the literature of World Championship chess.

Chess Strategy for Club Players
The Road to Positional Advantage

By IM Herman Grooten
412 pages
New in Chess

IM Grooten has many years of experience as a coach and numerous strong, young Dutch players have benefited from his lessons, including Grandmasters van Wely and Jan Werle.

In the ‘Foreword’ GM Jan Timman says: ‘Herman Grooten has considerably modernized and updated the work of Steinitz. Later developments are also investigated and given a place in this extensive survey of chess strategy. With his great experience as a trainer, he manages to display educational insights that can help the reader increase his playing strength.’

Steinitz’s elements form the bedrock of the book. Their utilisation in the modern game is demonstrated via 25 interesting chapters, dealing with subjects such as ‘Thought process and line of thinking’, Strong and weak squares’, ‘The pawn islands theory’ and ‘Harmony and coordination’.

As the subject matter is mainly of a strategic rather than a tactical nature, lines of analysis are kept to a minimum and the onus is on prose annotations. These are very welcome and the author has clearly put a lot of effort into this book. It’s been written rather cobbled together. Indeed, the word count is considerable; IM Grooten doesn’t like to let things go unexplained.

Occasionally, an eccentric statement appears, such as this one: ‘Almost all the players in the world have once in their career availed themselves of the Evans Gambit.’

However, the vast majority of the material is far more erudite and the depth is very impressive, with lucidity and thoroughness going hand in hand.

Here’s an example, from the chapter ‘The Bishop Pair’.

English - Steinitz London 1883

‘Studying this position, we see the following:

Black has the bishop pair, of which especially his light-squared bishop is strong;

There are pawns in both wings, which is to the advantage of the side with the two bishops. Moreover, there ate no fixed pawns;

The white knight is badly positioned.

These factors mean that Black is clearly better, if not winning here. His plan consists of the following stages:

Stage I: By putting his pawns on dark squares, the white bishop, which was reasonably active until now, is restricted in its mobility. This has already taken place on the queenside (pawns on a7, b6 and c5), and on the kingside Black will strive for a set-up with pawns on h6, g5 and f4.

Stage II: At a convenient moment Black will exchange a rook - preferably two.

Stage III: By means of an action on the queenside with …a7-a5-a4 he threatens to attack the white pawn formation - especially the strong point c3. White will then be forced to play Nb3-c1, followed by a2-a3, creating even more weaknesses on the light squares.

Stage IV: Black can then dominate the knight with …Be6-c4 and (after a double rook exchange) prepare a possible king march to the queenside. He also has the breaking possibility of …b6-b5-b4, with which he can extend the diagonals for his bishops.’

This is not only helpful for self-improvement; coaches will also find inspirational material to adapt for future lessons. A good demonstration can be found in the chapter called ‘Training experiment’.
J. Polgar - Anand Wijk aan Zee 1998

GM Polgar won this game in very good positional style. IM Grooten used this position as an exercise for four of his pupils. They traded moves via email and the continuations of all four games are given in the book and it all makes very interesting reading.

The reader is presented with a plethora of exercises too. Here’s one for you to try, from the chapter on ‘Space advantage’.

‘White has an enormous space advantage. How can he make progress? Indicate a plan for White and, if possible, also a variation.’

Hard work is required to derive the maximum benefit from the lessons of IM Grooten. However, such effort will surely be well rewarded. Serious students should certainly be able to discern a distinct improvement in the strategic understanding as they absorb the detailed information provided.

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

Missed a review? Please visit my archive:

Thursday 23 July 2009

King Power!

The latest in my series of aritcles for the Mongoose Press blog has just been published.

There's plenty of wandering Kings to be found here:

Friday 17 July 2009

Chess Reviews: 100

It is quite by chance that my 100th review article should feature three particularly good books.

The Moment of Zuke
Critical Positions and Pivotal Decisions
for Colle System Players
By David Rudel
255 pages
Thinkers’ Press

This is a companion volume to David Rudel’s ‘Zuke ‘Em’. This time, the reader is presented with a series of modules, consisting of a series of lessons to provide further education for Colle players.

The author sets out a list of opening priorities for Colle players and provides a chart showing the relevance of each module in relation to Colle-Zukertort (‘C-Z’) and Colle-Koltanowski (‘C-K’) adherents.

The modules are well presented. Analytical variations are kept short and simple. Clarity is of great importance and the point of the format is to make the material as easily absorbed as possible.

Move Order Quandaries

Trying to play an opening system can lead to confusion if the opponent doesn’t always respond with the ‘correct’ move.

‘Unfortunately, chess etiquette does not smile upon counseling your opponent to take back a move and play one you’d prefer. I learned that the hard way once in New Orleans.’

In this section, advice is given on how to navigate a path through some early nuances, such as Black playing an early …c6 rather then …c5.

Slaying the b7-Monster

Posting a Bishop on the a8-h1 diagonal is a popular idea for Black and is particularly frustrating for C-K players, who like to play e3-e4 with as little trouble as possible.

Here, options are given to try to frustrate Black’s intentions at the earliest opportunity, mainly by dint of an early Bb5+

Putting Down an Errant Knight

Ambitious players sometimes play the Knight from f6 to e4 as early as possible. This chapter shows how to deal with this idea.

A Kite of Doom - Double-Barreled Fun

This time White has fun with the early Knight excursion. Here, plans with Nf3-e5, followed by a Stonewall formation with f2-f4, are considered.

There’s some impressive tactical shots to be found once White’s Bishops open up.

White wins after Bf6!! (‘Alekhine’s Block’) Bxg7 f5! isn’t good enough.

Here’s another memorable idea:

‘…And now it looks like Black is going to live.

And that’s when it’s time to show your ace in the hole:

20 Ne4!!

There are other ways to keep some advantage, but this move is the best and one you have to remember. Taking with then d-pawn allows White to first close the back door with 20. Rad1 and then run the g-pawn up Black’s gullet. If Black takes with the f-pawn, White will exchange on f8 and advance the f-pawn with power. Ignoring the Knight is practically not an option due to the threat of Nf6 after Bxf8.’

The Game-Changing Retreat

White needs to know how to handle the positions arising after Black plays ….Nf6-d7, challenging the Knight on e5.

Charge! (When to Play g4!?)

In various positions, White has the option of playing g2-g4, either to crack a Stonewall formation or to enhance a Kingside attack. Chasing the Black Knight from f6 could come into the plan.

Classic Greek Gifts

No self-respecting Colle player is without dreams of a stunning Bxh7+ denouement. This is an important chapter. The preconditions of a successful Greek Gift are expertly laid down before the reader. This chapter will make useful reading even for those who never play the Colle as the explanations are just as valid in positions from other openings.

There are plenty of exercises after each module. The reader is encouraged to write down their thoughts and analysis of each one. The Greek Gift module has no fewer than 60 such exercises. In some of them the Bishop sacrifice works; in others it doesn’t.

Here’s an example of each. Can you say which of the two Bxh7+ will work in the given positions?

The exercises do a great job to cement each lesson in the reader’s mind, especially as large format of the book allows large diagrams and notable clarity on the page.

Two bonus chapters finish off a fine work.

Bonus Tract 1: Anti-Colle Lines

This provides a short taster of the ways in which White can deal with some of Black’s annoying early options. The coverage is brief and the reader is referred to ‘Zuke ‘Em’

Bonus Tract 2: The Phoenix Attack - a New C-K line

The author identifies a problem with the standard Colle-Koltanowski lines and suggests a new way of continuing from the normal position:

He gives his reasons for thinking that the standard line 8 dxc5 Bxc5 9 e4 Qc7 10 Qe2 is no longer the most potent.

‘I believe it is time for Colle Players to put 10 Qe2 on the burn pile, allowing a new Colle Attack to rise from its ashes.’

At this point The Phoenix Attack is unveiled. 9 dxc5 Bxc5 10 b4! The basic idea to head for a reversed Meran system. A book is in the pipeline.

‘The Moment of Zuke’ is a very thought-provoking book. David Rudel has certainly tried to do something different to the norm and one gains the distinct impression that the material has been very carefully chosen to aid the learning process.

The story doesn’t end with this volume; the author’s Colle work is a developing project.

The 'Phoenix Attack' has a Quick-Start guide at

There are lots of relevant games here:

Here's a direct link to a PGN viewer:

…and there is growing Colle forum here:

By GM Zenon Franco
240 pages
Gambit Publications

Knowing how to attack is a standard skill and should be found in the armouries of all chess players. The art of counterattack isn’t so easy; by definition, one must have been under pressure - some times serious - from the opponent and one must somehow gather the strength and cunning to unleash a something more powerful in return.

GM Franco endeavours to show the student how to do that and he has broken the material down into seven chapters.

Lasker, the Master of Defence and Counterattack

Refuting Premature Attacks

Fighting Blow by Blow


Prophylactic Thinking


Three Memorable Struggles

Each chapter uses fully annotated games to demonstrate a particular theme. Supplementary games are given too, to provide further lessons.

There’s plenty of prose explanations, which take priority over strings of moves. At critical moments, the reader is sometimes asked a question (an invitation to be ‘taking an active part in the lesson’)

Here’s an example from the first chapter:

Lasker - Tarrasch
Mahrisch-Ostrau 1923

'And now? What would Lasker have played if he were Black?


Perhaps he would also have chosen this good and natural move, but in all certainty he would have considered 16...Qxh4! 17 Bxh4 Rxd4 18 Qb3 Rxh4, with rook, knight and two pawns for the queen, as well as a better structure and a passed pawn, and the white pawns being weak to boot.'

The final chapter delves deeply into three tough games, in which counterattacking skills were well to the fore.

I was particularly impressed by the annotations to one of Fischer’s games in which he used the Alekhine Defence.

Browne - Fischer
Rovinj/Zagreb 1970

It is customary to show Fischer’s wins, but there were times when he fell into trouble and had to dig deep to hang on. This game has been somewhat neglected yet for complexity and entertainment I think it’s on the same level as Fischer’s Alekhine exploits two years against Spassky.

‘White has a winning position, as Fischer acknowledged: thanks to the centralization of the white king, the extra passed pawn on d4 is protected, and after a few regrouping moves, it will be ready to advance.

We are at a stage when it is not possible to find a satisfactory defence for Black, for there is none. Instead, he has to find one that provides practical chances of saving the game. How should Black create practical problems for White?


Anything other than reconciling himself to the exchange of rooks! White could then regroup in order to push the passed pawn comfortably, after first laying siege to the weak pawn on b7.

43 Bxd4 Bxd4 44 Ra8+ Kg7

Black is the exchange down and his position is still lost but it no longer is a technical task without complications, as it would be had Black played 42...Rxa1? The passed pawn has disappeared and only two pawns are left for each side. Black hopes that the weakness on c5 compensates for the one on b7.’

The game was drawn after 98 fighting moves.

Approximately 60 exercises are peppered throughout the book to test the reader’s counterattacking skill. The answers are fully annotated, covering 48 pages.

The annotations are excellent throughout the book. GM Franco has clearly worked hard; a similar effort from the student should result in a greater understanding of various types of middlegames.

Win with the Stonewall Dutch
Sverre Johnsen and Ivar Bern
With a contribution by Simen Agdestein
224 pages
Gambit Publications

I’ve been a fan of the Stonewall Dutch for some time and I have been looking forward to investigating this new book.

GM Agdestein has played some excellent games with the Stonewall. He has written some of this book: ‘Except for Lessons 1 and 2 and for his annotations of his own games, Simen’s input mostly was of a rather general character’.

He also contributed an impressive ‘Foreword’, giving an overview of his Stonewall experiences.

‘The Stonewall is an opening for players who like to fight there and then. If you want to do your fighting at home in your laboratory, play correspondence chess or the Najdorf. The best players have to handle everything, but if you’re like me, who likes to sit down and have an interesting battle, the Stonewall is great!’

The reader is soon plunged into the deep end with the main lines. The contents run in this order:

7 b3: Introduction

The Critical 7 b3 Qe7 8 Ne5!

7 Qc2, 7 Nc3 and Rare 7 Moves

7 Bf4

Lines with a Delayed Bf4

Early Deviations

4 c4 with Nh3

2 c4: Non-Fianchetto Lines

2 Nc3 and 2 Bg5

The Staunton Gambit and Rare 2 Moves

1 c4, 1 Nf3 and 1 g3

Nobody bothers with putting Black’s King’s Bishop on e7 these days; this book concentrates on the ‘modern’ development with …Bd6. Those with only superficial knowledge of the Stonewall may find it surprising that Black has more subtle plans available than merely playing the Queen to h5 and charging the Kingside pawns down the pawn as soon as possible.

Each lesson starts with an overview followed by nicely annotated illustrative games. Then the specific theory for each line is given, followed by a general conclusion.

I like the way the authors endeavour to really explain the reasons behind the moves, often using the ‘question and answer’ technique. Here’s an example:

Mikhalchishin- Dreev
Pavlodar, 1987

'Q: Are there any guidelines for how to recapture after a knight exchange on e4 or e5?

After a knight exchange on e4, Black usually responds …fxe4 vacating f5. The common follow-up from White is to play f3 and exchange this pawn for Black’s e4-pawn. In this case f5 is the ideal square for Black’s bishop.

A knight exchange on e5 can result in two different pawn structures:

a) If White recaptures with the f-pawn, Black often gets the opportunity to push …f4 immediately - sometimes temporarily sacrificing a pawn.

b) Recapturing with the d-pawn ‘Beliavsky-style’ is usually better. This vacates the d4-square for White’s remaining knight.'

A couple of lines started to bother me after a few years of playing the Stonewall.

Golod - Ulybin
Vienna 1998

I once played 11...h6 in this position but ended up with the worse of it after 12 Bxd6 Qxd6 13 Nf4, when the Knight danced into e5 via my weakened g6. That game, in a critical final round of a county championship against David Wise, ended badly and it put me off the Dutch for a while.

It didn’t take me long to find the antidote in this book:

'11...Nd7 12 Bxd6 Nxd6 13 Nf4 Qe7 14 cxd5 exd5 15 Rac1 Ne4 16 Nd3 c5 17 dxc5 bxc5 ='

So I definitely learned a thing or two.

It’s always tricky trying to cobble together a repertoire to prove a defence sea worthy against the tides of all openings. I’m not convinced that it’s necessary to try and prove the Dutch is playable against everything bar 1 e4.

There will always be doubts as to whether Black should try a Stonewall against a set up with a White pawn on d3 instead of d4 and this is highlighted in the book:

‘Q: Are you saying that Black should stay away from the lines discussed in this lesson?

We leave that decision to each player’s own judgement. Our goal is to allow you to make a well-informed decision…’

Indeed, such a goal is one of the driving forces throughout the whole book. This is definitely not a stereotypical Opening book, with lazily recycled material and a nasty habit of leaving the reader in the dark once the initial moves are over. On the contrary, the authors do an excellent job of teaching the Stonewall with down to Earth explanations.

For further details regarding the Gambit books, please visit their website:

For more information regarding Thinkers' Press, please go to:

Missed a review? Please visit my archive:

Thursday 16 July 2009

No Loitering Within

A beach! There is work going on. Tractors,, what will that sign tell us about what is happening?

Let's move closer and find out...

What!? Shall we call back later...?

For the full set of confusing signs (so far), pop along to:

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Norman Stephenson's Openings Workshop Report #10

Norman Stephenson's Openings Workshop Report #10 is now available over at the Chess Links Project website. Learn all about the Albin Counter Gambit and enjoy some fine games.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Chess Reviews: 99

The Philidor Defence
By GM Alexei Shirov
5 hours 52 minutes

It is interesting to see that after many years of neglect the Philidor Defence is suddenly receiving plenty of attention.

This is partly due to a clever move order by Black, namely:

1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 e5

This is that starting point of The Lion, which has been slowly gaining new supporters. One point of it is that if White plays 4 Nf3 then 4...Nbd7 gives Black a Philidor without having to navigate some troubled waters found in the 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 d6 route.

Needless to say, GM Shirov doesn’t like to play 4 dxe5 dxe5 5 Qxd8+ so it’s no surprise he prefers to keep the Queens on the board. Remaining true to his creative style, he duly introduced the extraordinary 5 g4 to ensure Black doesn’t always get an easy life.

He confesses that his original plan for the DVD was to ‘prove’ that 5 g4 wins for White (thanks to an almost 100% personal score) but then he discovered some improvements for Black and he was forced to be more objective. The story behind the genesis of the remarkable move is given in the first illustrative game.

His game with Cyborowski demonstrates why he finds the positions resulting from 5 g4 so appealing.

Shirov - Cyborowski

Definitely a Shirov game! It is curious that a tactical blow now struck on f7, the customary weak point in so may open games (only usually much earlier on in the game) 19 Bxf7+ Bxf7 20 Rd1 and 1-0 (23)

Instead of 5 g4, the normal 5 Bc4 leads to a popular variation.

The normal Philidor is not neglected. Black’s main try now occurs after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 exd4

There are eleven illustrative games, mostly by Shirov himself (Kasparov v Azmaiparashvilli is the only exception). Three cover 5 g4, one looks at 3...exd4 and the rest demonstrate the Hanham Variation.

It's fascinating to hear all about Shirov's invention from the man himself. The Philidor may have limited appeal, but any trip to Planet Shirov is well worth the effort. This is another fine addition to the growing collection of his best games.

The ABC of The Ruy Lopez
Second Edition
By IM Andrew Martin
4 hours 54 minutes

‘In my opinion, all chess players should have at least a working knowledge of this venerable opening and that is what I am here to provide’.

The subjects of the lectures provide a self-explanatory listing of what to expect:

Sustained Pressure


The Lopez Grip

Black Tries to Smash the Lopez





Smyslov (3...g6)


Chase Variation

Steinitz Deferred

Steinitz Variation (5 d3 for White

5 d3 is a good choice in order to present a repertoire to the viewer without having to o into detail about a lot of the long theoretical options at Black's disposal.

‘…we concentrate on practicality and making the ideas easy to understand.’

White has a clear plan of action: c2-c3, Nb1-d2-f1 and then on to either g3 or e3. Black’s sharper options, such as the Marshall and Open variations, are outlawed so it could be frustrating for the second player.
Steinitz - Blackburne London 1876

The first demonstration of White’s ideas comes from the first World Champion himself. The flexible position allowed him to castle Queenside and build up a ferocious Kingside attack.

The first edition of the DVD included illustrative games up to 2004. Naturally, theory has moved on since then and this new edition benefits from the addition of seven new video clips.

Three feature the Berlin Defence, one covers the Schliemann Defence, one on the Steinitz Variation and one on the Gajewski Variation...

Black plays 10...d5!? and has some fun, but the repertoire given for White on this DVD - with 5 d3 - rules out the whole line anyway, so White players following the advice given shouldn't have to worry too much.

The Berlin Defence is still trendy, nine years after Kramnik used it to keep Kasparov at bay and seize the world title.

The 2004 lectures focus on 5 Re1 but attention is switched to the standard 5 d4 in the new material, with illustrative games from 2009

The final video clip is IM Martin’s customary ‘Outro’.

The new material adds up to an extra 1 hour and 22 minutes, so I think it's worth upgrading if you already own the original edition.

This is the best of the three IM Martin releases of this month and should enable viewers to add the Spanish Game to their repertoires reasonably quickly.

The ABC of The Vienna
By IM Andrew Martin
3 hours 42 minutes

‘It’s easy to underestimate the Vienna Game. Indeed, 2 Nc3 is hardly to be seen at Grandmaster tournaments. I think this is a whim of fashion and will certainly change over the next decade.’

IM Martin begins by presenting a quick run through on things to watch out for in Open Games followed by a brief survey of the main ideas of the Vienna Game. With 2 Nc3, White deters Black’s …d7-d5 and keeps the option of playing an early f2-f4.

Some of the games are quite old. We get to see Larsen in his pomp, putting Spassky and Portisch to the sword. Recent games are included too, with a couple of examples from 2009, although it has to be said the rating difference between some of the players makes the choice of opening irrelevant.

Instead of the classical development of the Bishop to the c4 square, the recommendation here is to develop it on a different post against the main Black option:

1 e4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 g3

However, there is an overlap here with another ChessBase DVD, namely '1 e4 For The Creative Attacker' by GM Nigel Davies. On that DVD, the Glek System of the Four Knights Opening (4 g3) is shown to transpose often to the 3 g3 Vienna. ( )

All in all, I didn't feel particularly inspired to investigate the Vienna further. It might be ok at club level as an occasional surprise but I doubt very much that it will ever become fashionable at higher level.

The ABC of Chess Openings
Second Edition
By IM Andrew Martin
6 hours 24 minutes

Attempting to run through the basics of all types of opening is an ambitious task. Yet IM Martin attempts a whistle stop tour of the Open games, Semi-open games, Closed games, Semi-closed games, Flank and Irregular openings.

We are introduced to basic guidelines for each family of openings and some thematic games.

I'm not sure that the format and material given will provide the student with much of a general grounding after all. Some of the lectures seem rather abstract. For example, in the Grunfeld Defence, a very rare move is demonstarted: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e4 Nxc3 6 bxc3 Bg7 and now 7 Bg5

In my opinion, an 'ABC' should consist of simpler ideas and suggestions. Those new to the Grunfeld will not end up being all that much wiser having investigated a curious sideline.

The new material gives the viewer an extra 1 hour 15 minutes compared to the older edition. This is advertised as some ‘repertoire suggestions’ but is really too brief for that purpose. For example, when suggesting a line against the Alekhine, 4 Nf3 is the recommendation.

However, only 5...dxe5 6 Nxe5 c6 is given as a Black response. IM Martin does emphasise the need for further study but I don’t think presenting ideas with such brevity can constitute a ‘repertoire suggestion’.

I think this DVD is a missed opportunity and there is still a gap in the ChessBase catalogue for a proper introduction to the basics of the openings.

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