Saturday 31 October 2009

Long Short Interview

My interview with GM Nigel Short is in this month's issue of CHESS Magazine.

The 12 pages feature a couple of controversial topics alongside a general discussion of his chess career.

For ordering details, pop along to:

Friday 16 October 2009

Chess Reviews : 112

Secrets of Creative Thinking
(School of Future Champions Volume 5)
By GM Mark Dvoretsky and GM Artur Yusupov
206 pages
Edition Olms

Olms have brought their School of Future Champions series right up to date with the fifth and final volume from the famous Dvoretsky/Yusupov duo. Volumes 1-4 covered, respectively, training, opening preparation, endgame technique and positional play.

‘The final volume of the series deals with various creative aspects, such as the calculation of variations and the development of intuition. It also explores the psychology of taking decisions, both when attacking and when defending.’

It is worth pointing out that each volume in the series works just as well as stand alone tomes and do not need to be read in sequence.

The material is split into the following parts:

The Calculation of Variations

Intuitive Decisions

Practical Expediency in the Taking of Decisions



Analysis of a Game

Creative Achievements of Pupils from the School

Index of Players and Analysts

Index of Openings

GMs Dvoretsky and Yusupov are joined by guest authors Mikhail Krasenkow, Beniamin Blumfeld, Sergey Dolmatov, Vladimir Vulfson and Igor Belov, who all contribute articles.

The bulk of the material features games from a 10 year period between the mid-80s and mid-90s. Consequently, some comments now appear somewhat dated. For example, top Grandmasters have become far more universal in their styles of play, so this note now comes across as stereotypical.

‘It is extremely rare to come across chess players with a universal style, who perform with identical success in any type of position. One such player was Bobby Fischer, and - in his best years - Boris Spassky.’

Nevertheless, the subject matter remains as inspirational and thought provoking as ever. Students who are prepared to work hard at their chess will be rewarded if they apply themselves to the material (and that goes for all Dvoretsky books). Lesser experienced players will still find areas of interest but run the risk of straying out of their depth.

He recommends various training methods to develop intuition, including allowing 20-25 minutes on the clock to solve a series of five exercises. On incorrect solution results in one third of the initial thinking time being taken away. The aim of this training is to solve all of the problems without losing on time.

Here’s one position from a series given in the book. Imagine the clock ticking away as you try to find the solution. No clues are allowed!

Black to play

There are plenty of other exercises to test the developing skills of readers. Some of them are very tough and are best tackled with the help of coach or study partner.

In the section, ‘What Lies Behind a Mistake?’ (in the chapter on ‘Defence’), Dvoretsky confidently identifies a major weakness in the games of former world champion Garry Kasparov - his desire for active defence at all costs.

‘In many cases it is active defence which promises the best chances of success, but this is by no means always the case. Any one-sided approach is bad. Sometimes you should calmly parry the opponent’s threats, patiently, and accurately solving the problems which arise. A lack of flexibility in his choice of playing methods makes a player vulnerable.

It is interesting that in his match against Anand (New York 1995) Kasparov several times chose the tactics of active defence in situations where they were completely inappropriate (true, in the second half of the event Anand was demoralised and he was unable to punish his opponent for this).’

His analysis is mainly based on games from the final of the 1995 World Championship.

Anand - Kasparov
Game 6, World Championship 1995

27 Rd5! Nxd5? 28 exd5 Qg6

‘Kasparov nevertheless takes the rook. Why? I see the explanation as being that he himself was hoping to obtain some activity. The queen aims at the rook, and also at the c2- and d3-squares; he has the active move …e5-e4, attacking the bishop…Alas, this is all an illusion - the strategic pluses of White’s position are far more important.’

Dvoretsky recommends 28...h5!? instead, intending 28 Bc7 Qe7! after which ‘…Black’s position would have remained unpleasant, but by no means lost’.

He follows it up with several more key moments from the same match

‘The moral to be drawn from these examples (the list of them could have been extended) is obvious. For a player of any standard it is important to make a thorough analysis of his own games, and disclose the latent, deep causes of the mistakes he has made, as this always serves as the first step towards their elimination.’

‘Creative Achievements of Pupils from the School’ is a standard feature in Dvoretsky/Yusupov books. I usually find it the least interesting section but one particularly striking mating attack caught my eye.

Cifuentes - Zviaginstev
Wijk aan Zee 1995
Black to play

31...Qxe3+!! See if you can calculate up to the checkmate on move 36.

Production-wise, the book enjoys the usual high standards we have come to expect from Olms. That means a crisp and clear layout, high quality paper and a sturdy spine that won’t bend unless absolutely excessive force is applied.

Novices need to look elsewhere; diligent students would derive the most enjoyment and benefit from the depth of this book. As usual after studying Dvoretsky, readers will soon be thinking about chess positions in a completely different way.

For further details of these and all other Olms books, please go to:

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Wednesday 14 October 2009

Chess Country - Revisited

Earlier this year, I reviewed 'Gary’s Adventures in Chess Country':

There's a new short video to show a little bit more about the book which can be found here:

In my opinion, it's currently the most attractive book for chess juniors and would make an excellent Christmas gift. Pop along to,,,,

...for further details.

Saturday 10 October 2009

Chess Reviews: 111

ChessBase Magazine #132

The first thing to notice about the ChessBase Magazine is the upgrade in quality of the printed section. It’s now printed on very nice glossy paper with good use of colour throughout. It’s also in dual language; there are 26 pages in English and then the same content in German. The magazine offers some brief summaries of what is to be found on the disc, including reports from top recent GM tournaments and opening surveys. Some tactical and endgame positions are given too, enabling the readers to test their powers on the page before inserting the DVD into the computer.

There’s also some exciting news about the forthcoming Fritz 12. Hopefully a full review of that will follow here in due course.

The DVD loads up quickly and once again the amount of material on offer is quite staggering.

Two introductory videos nicely set the scene. GM Mueller looks at a couple of brief moments from the three top GM events covered this time and picks out some other highlights to watch out for. ‘I wish you a lot of fun with ChessBase Magazine 132’.

GM Rogozenco provides the second introduction, providing an overview of the most important tournament of the last two months. This report is just under 30 minutes long and contains numerous analytical snippets from key games.

The top three tournaments are given in-depth coverage on the DVD. They are:

Biel - won by Vachier-Lagrave half a point ahead of Morozevich and Ivanchuk

Jermuk - a victory for Ivanchuk, just ahead of a strong field including Aronian and Gelfand

Bilbao - Aronian’s triumph in an unusual four-man tournament with an experimental scoring system

Shirov - Aronian

The Marshall Attack has come to haunt White 1.e4 players in their dreams. Getting any advantage against the supremely active Black pieces is very difficult, the outcome often depends on the smallest of details.

29 Qf3?

The last (!) and pretty horrible move of the game. The queen simply does not belong on f3. With the correct defence with Qb1 White could have kept the chances about balanced.


Shirov got truly depressed when he realised, that the queen will have to retreat to d1 and it loses by force! A rare and genuine battle of shadows...


There are 910 games in the main database. Some have notes of varying levels of depth and the annotators include Gelfand, Marin, Krasenkow, Ftacnik, Griva and Stohl. A second database gives over 3,000 (unannotated) correspondence games.

Several lectures are in the Fritz Trainer format, with the presenters delivery their material via videos. The viewer can load up various windows including those showing the chess board, notation and chess engines.

Leonid Kritz on the …a6 Slav, The Scandinavian Defence and two recent games

Lubomir Ftacnik on the Sozin Attack against the Najdorf

Adrian Mikhalchisin on the Anti-Benoni Gambit

Other openings are covered in standard surveys (without videos).

These feature lines in...

Alekhine Defence

Sicilian Defence

French Defence

Petroff Defence

Ruy Lopez

Slav Defence

Queen’s Gambit Accepted

Queen’s Indian Defence

Nimzo-Indian Defence

King’s Indian Defence

Of particular interest is the survey on the Alburt Variation of Alekhine’s Defence. GM Marin writes that he was inspired by the 1972 World Championship match (Fischer used this variation in one game against Spassky). He makes the interesting point that Bagirov’s work on the Alekhine features unaccredited games. The point is that the games were usually played by Alekhine expert Lev Alburt, who had left the Soviet Union and was therefore, for some time, persona non grata.

1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 Nf3 g6

This variation - from the Black point of view - has been under a cloud for some time, but Marin provides plenty of food for thought. The good news for Alekhine fans is that this is just the first of what should be a very interesting series.

The regular columns are all present and correct. Peter Wells looks at pawn centres, Daniel King presents an excellent move-by-move game in which the student is encouraged to guess the next move and Robert Knaak provides another opening trap to watch out for (this time in the Classical Sicilian).

Karsten Mueller provides eight endgame lessons, complete with video lectures for each one. Surprises abound even in relatively simple positions, such as this one.

Jakovenko - Bacrot

Sparkassen GM 2009

Black to play

Amazingly, despite the opposite coloured Bishops and paucity of material, Black has but one narrow path to a draw. GM Bacrot’s next move - 76...Bg3 - was a mistake and he went on to lose.

Spraggett - Anuprita

After the natural looking sequence 58...Qxc4 59 Nxc4, both sides have already made a mistake.

With GM Mueller’s patient presentation skills and excellent material, the endgame section is currently my favourite regular feature of ChessBase magazine.

Meanwhile, Oliver Reeh continues his investigation into tactics. There are 31 positions to solve and a little video talks the viewer through the complexities during the closing stages of the game Naoum - Mirzoev. White, rated 1792, had an interesting game against his 2559-rated opponent.

Naoum - Mirzoev

Rethymno Open 2009

White to play

The initiative appears to be with Black, but can you see what White did next?

Here’s an easier one to whet your appetite.

Tukmakov - Hrabinska

Aagean Open 2009

White to play

Can you find the mate in three?

Summing up, ChessBase Magazine continues to set remarkably high standards and issue 132 provides more than enough material, analysis and tuition to keep players of all standards busy and happy for a long time.

The Fascinating Reti Gambit

1. e4 e6 2. b3!? A fun Anti-French!

By Thomas Johansson

228 pages


The French Defence is a tough nut to crack and I’m sure the majority of 1 e4 players would prefer to see something other than 1...e6 in reply. This book takes good look at a relatively unexplored gambit.

1 e4 e6 2 b3 d5 3 Bb2 dxe4

What is White hoping to achieve? The first game in the book provides some answers.

‘The stem game below already shows several of the characteristics of the Reti Gambit:

1) an early g-pawn rush

2) Bf1-g2 winning back pawn-e4

3) the fire breathing Reti bishop on the long diagonal’

Reti - Maroczy

Gothenburg 1920

(Drawn after 41 moves)

Incidentally, Reti wasn’t playing flippantly. He won the Gothenburg tournament, ahead of strong field including Rubinstein, Bogoljubow, Tarrasch and Nimzowitsch. Nor was Maroczy a player to be taken lightly; he was a challenger for Lasker’s World Championship title (although for obscure reasons the match never took place).

Free spirits Tartakower and Spielmann also dabbled with the Reti Gambit. Indeed, the former used it on his way to hard-fought draws with Alekhine and Keres.

The basic ideas are simple to absorb.

‘If the gambit is accepted (which it usually is in at least 60% of the games), a good rule of thumb is General Forrest’s famous ‘get there first with the most men!’ This general attitude is perhaps the reason why the Reti gambit often works so well, since many Frenchies are not mentally prepared for early and sharp complications where both sides should be prepared to sacrifice to further their own attack should the opportunity arise.’

The author the settles down to the important business of specific analysis, breaking down the material into these segments:

The Reti Gambit Accepted

1 e4 e6 2 b3 d5 3 Bb2 dxe4

There are two main variations for White; both are analysed in depth.

Reti's 5 Qe2

Papa’s 5 g4

The Reti Gambit Declined

The ‘Safe’ 3...Nf6

The Unpopular 3...c5

Other 3rds

3...d4, 3...a6, 3...Nd7, 3...Nc6

The Sicilian Connection

1 e4 e6 2 b3 c5

Misc. 2nds

2...Be7, 2...Qf6, 2...e5, 2...Nf6

A lot of the games are from the internet, and blitz games to boot, so independent analysis will naturally be required. There are some examples from higher levels, such as this one, which might ring bells for UK readers.

GM Levitt is an acknowledged expert on the French Defence but White got the better of the opening in this encounter.

Houska - Levitt

Staunton Memorial 2004

White stands well but Black went on to win.

Production wise, there are moments of inconsistency with capital letters (in particular, ‘french’ and ‘fritz’ suffer). The index of moves and bibliography are present and correct. The former is essential due to the embryonic nature of some of the lines, which leads to many different variations in the early stages of the game. Perhaps an index of players would have been helpful. Even though the games are usually incomplete scores it would have been good to see at a glance which players have been involved more than others.

It’s a cult opening, of course, and one that is very unlikely to be seen at the highest levels. However, for experiments at club level and fun on the internet, ‘The Fascinating Reti Gambit’ will certainly bring something different to your repertoire and this book is unlikely to be surpassed as the definitive guide, unless Thomas prepares a second edition. Indeed, the author invites readers to send him their Reti Gambit games and comments so perhaps we haven’t heard the last of this intriguing opening.

For further details and ordering information, please visit:

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Thursday 8 October 2009

More Signs!

'It's A Sign!' has just been updated with several items to entertain you, dear readers.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Chess Reviews: 110

Isaac Kashdan, American Chess Grandmaster
A Career Summary with 757 Games
Peter P. Lahde
348 pages
McFarland & Company

McFarland & Company have once again come up with an impressive volume on an under-publicised chess figure.

Chess historian Peter P. Lahde presents his material in three sections...

Part 1

The Career of Isaac Kashdan The Early Years The Early Thirties The Simultaneous Exhibitions The Late Thirties The Forties

The Fifties The Later Years

As the title of the book suggests, this is not meant to be a complete biography but at just under 70 pages it does pack in a lot of information. I’ve certainly read some chess biographies will less meat than is served up here.

Isaac Kashdan’s chess strength steadily grew, as did his confidence. In a letter dated October 11, 1933 he opened negotiations with the legendary Frank James Marshall, reigning US Champion, with a view to a title match.

‘Will you name a time and a place that will be convenient to you? We can then discuss the various matters that may come up in arranging the match, and I trust bring it to an early fruition.’

They met soon afterwards to agree on terms but the great depression ruled out the prospect of the challenger raising the quoted $5,000.

Nevertheless, some good did come from Kashdan’s initiative. It was the beginning of the end of the US title being the property of Marshall and a tournament was eventually arranged to decide a new champion in 1936. Unfortunately for Kashdan, the emergence of Reshevsky and Fine made life over the board a lot more difficult. Kashdan did manage to share first place in the 1942 championship tournament but lost the play-off with Reshevsky by 3.5-7.5.

Kashdan was an integral part of the very successful USA Olympiad team in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s. The author presents a very impressive summary of his exploits.

‘Kashdan won four team medals: three gold (1931, 1933, 1937), one silver (1928), and five individual medals: two gold (1928, 1937), one silver (1933), two bronze (1930, 1931). No wonder Kashdan was called the hero of the Olympics.’

After 1955, Kashdan’s chess duties switched mainly from over the board to behind the scenes. Most famously, he was the director of the classic Piatigorsky Cup tournaments of 1963 and 1966. The latter event featured a remarkable comeback by Bobby Fischer, who very nearly caught Spassky at the end, despite a terrible start to the tournament. Earlier on, Kashdan’s wife (Helen) was delegated to track down a smaller chess set for Fischer to play on, as he declined those on offer.

There are several good photos too, from various stages of Kashdan’s life. Most of these were entirely new to me. The most recent one shows Isaac and Helen at the 1983 US Open. He was recovering from a stroke at the time and lived for two more years.

Part 2

The Games of Isaac Kashdan

This is the largest section of the book, running from page 73 to 302. The author has done very well to collect 757 Kashdan games (a standard database contains juts over 400). Given his rather low historical profile, the vast majority of games should be new to most readers.

The author’s impressive amount of research uses numerous contemporary sources.
Many of the games feature annotations by Kashdan himself and others have notes by the likes of Alekhine, Fine, Reinfeld and Santasiere. The latter provides some authentic Wartime satire in his notes to game 477, in which Kashdan used 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 against Pilnik in 1942.

‘The rarely seen Petrov Defense or Russian Defense, a great favourite with Kashdan, Marshall and Hitler!!’

There are a couple of editorial lapses.

Game 200 is a fabulous shoot-out with Alekhine. The note to the diagram after White’s 68th move claims it depicts the position ‘after 24. Rd5’ (a move which didn’t appear in this game).

Alekhine - Kashdan Bled 1931

White has just played 68 Kf3.

Kashdan’s own notes from Chess Review are quoted, but they refer to the wrong move number.

‘In order to approach the pawn with the king, and also to prevent the immediate exchange of queens. BUT - 68...Qe6?? A complete miscalculation, which sat once throws away the fruits of very considerable labor. After three sessions, something over 12 hours all told, I had for the first time in my career obtained a clearly winning position against the World’s Champion. And then to err on a simple matter of counting which every beginner is taught! White’s 68th move b4 gained just enough time to draw in the resulting ending. The correct procedure was 68...Qd5+ 69 Kg3 Qg2+ 70 Kh4 h2 71 Qd3+ Kg7 72 Qd4+ f6! ….’

I think the note can be saved after the next couple of moves:

69 Qc3+ Kg6 70 g4

The line quoted above, starting with …Qd5+, should be used after this diagram and I think White’s highlighted move b4 should really be g4.

Black actually played the inferior 70...Qf6+ and the game was drawn four moves later.
Other slips are very minor notational matters. For example, in Game 421...

Kashdan - Collins Boston 1938

…the suggested continuation to turn the tables, 29...Nf5, should be 29...Nf4. Presumably these errors were either present in the original archive material of mistranslated during the switch from descriptive to algebraic notation.

There is a lot of great chess to enjoy.

Kashdan - Euwe Hastings 1931-2

Kashdan’s own notes to his victory over the future World Champion are giving in the book. Here’s the very end of the game, showing how even the very best players can be checkmated.

'26...Qg7? An unsound sacrifice which loses off-hand. But there is no good reply. If …Rg7 27 Bf4 (threatening Bh6 as well as Qxf3); fxg2 28 Bh6 Rg6 29 Qxe7 Qxe7 30 Rxe7 Rxh6 31 Kxg2. The threat then is Rae1 followed by doubling the rook on the seventh to which there is no adequate defense. 27 Qxe7 Rxg2+ 28 Kh1 Rg8? Allowing a mate, but there is no good continuation, and the only alternative was to resign. 29 Qe8+ 1-0' (databases play the game on another move until the mate)

The author highlights a curiosity from the 1931 Olympiad.

Mikenas - Kashdan Prague Olympiad 1931
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.e3 Be7 6.Nf3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 a6 8.0–0 b5 9.Bd3 c5 10.Qe2 Bb7 11.Rfd1 Qb6 12.Rac1 0–0 13.Ne5 Rfe8 14.dxc5 Nxc5 15.Bxf6 Bxf6 16.Bxh7+ Kxh7 17.Qh5+ Kg8 18.Qxf7+ Kh7 ½–½

Final position - draw agreed!

This is the position in which the players agreed to a draw. Remarkably, the same position had been reached many years earlier, although that game took a move longer to get to the key position due to mutual extra tempo used in the Semi-Slav opening.

Janowski- Chajes New York 1916
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.c4 e6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Nc3 c6 7.Bd3 dxc4 8.Bxc4 b5 9.Bd3 a6 10.0–0 c5 11.Rc1 Bb7 12.Qe2 0–0 13.Rfd1 Qb6 14.Ne5 Rfe8 15.dxc5 Nxc5 16.Bxf6 Bxf6 17.Bxh7+ Kxh7 18.Qh5+ Kg8 19.Qxf7+ Kh7 (reaching the same position as above)

Janowski, another player whose games deserve to be better known (he was far more than mere Lasker fodder) knew how to wrap up a winning attack:

20.Nd7 Nxd7 21.Rxd7 Bc6 22.Ne4 Bxb2 23.Ng5+ Kh6 24.g4 g6 25.h4 Rh8 26.Qh7+

Final position: 1-0

Despite the author’s best efforts, some of Kashdan’s games are still missing. Peter Lahde supplies a list for future chess detectives to get their searching teeth into.

Part 3

Appendices and Indices

McFarland typically go the extra mile when it comes the indices. Here we have a tournament record, crosstables for tournaments and matches, a useful bibliography, index of players, index of openings by ECO code and a general index.

Production-wise, the book is given the full McFarland treatment. It boasts a handsome, sturdy green hardback cover and paper of a high quality. Just like the contents within, this book should last you a lifetime.

For further details about all McFarland books, please visit:

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Sunday 4 October 2009

Andy Fairweather Low at The Customs House

Andy Fairweather Low and the Low Riders
The Customs House, South Shields

A good time was had by all at the Andy Fairweather Low concert. With four decades of great songs to choose from, he and The Low Riders played a great set lasting just over two hours.

My review should be appearing in a music magazine very soon, so instead of repeating it all here there's a few photos instead.

South Shields, just outside the Customs House

The Venue

Continuing the nautical theme: The Merchant Navy Memorial

I only managed to take one quick snap during the
show but it gives an indication of the stage set-up

Andy appeared in the foyer shortly after the show to sign and chat

Here's me asking when the follow-up to 'Sweet Soulful Music' will be out.
He said the music is finished and he's currently working in the lyrics.