Friday, 14 May 2010

Chess Reviews: 140

Nigel Short's Greatest Hits
Volume 1
By GM Nigel Short
Four Hours+

I thought I'd start this column with the DVD I enjoyed most from the current crop of six.

When I interviewed former World Championship challenger GM Nigel Short for CHESS last year, we discussed the possibility of a book of his best games. He claimed to be too lazy to write such a book. Fortunately, ChessBase have the facility of presenting 'best games' in a format which takes away the hard slog of writing and publishing.

Thus we have before us the first volume of Nigel's 'Greatest Hits'. In his inimitable style, he talks us through 14 of his memorable games.

The DVD excels at providing the little stories behind the games in addition to the moves. The standard of opposition is extremely high and features several World Champions. The title chapters provide little tasters for the content:

Lein: Hastings Brilliancy
Timman: Daring King March
Kasparov: First victory over the champ
Ponomariov: Wild, weird and previously unknown
Anand: Last round triumph
Ljubojevic: Ripping sacrifices
Karpov: With a little help from my friend
Mchedlishvili: Georgia's always on my mind
Cheparinov: You've got to hand it to him
Kramnik: Kremlin blues
Topalov: Better than Garry?
Mamedyarov: Short and sweet
Smyslov: Endgame virtuoso
Akopian: King's Gambiteer

All bar three of the games show Nigel in action with the White pieces.

That's quite a collection of victims. The games frequently show the level of accuracy required to put away a very big fish. Garry Kasparov, for example, usually kept a few tricks up his sleeve even in the most desperate looking positions.

Short - Kasparov

It looks as if all of the useful checks are exhausted after 45 Ka4, but Nigel shows why his chosen move, 45 b4, was by far the most accurate. 45 Ka4?? would have been a blunder, throwing away the win, as Black could have saved half a point with 45 ...Rh4+ 46 Kxa5 Ra4+ 47 Kxa4 Qb4+ and stalemate to follow. As played, 45 b4 axb4 46 Ka4 denies the stalemate trap and guarantees the win.

The stories behind the games are just as interesting as the moves themselves. One of them tells of working at his home with Akopian. He remembered a derisory comment following a request to analyse the Evan's Gambit. Some time later, in a tournament game, Nigel used the King's Gambit against him to exploit a weakness - the opponent's apparent lack of respect for old openings.

Nigel is a very assured, professional presenter and his refreshing honesty remains intact. Introducing the game against Cheparinov, he says: 'The next game involves one of the most extraordinary incidents of bad behaviour that I've ever seen at a chess tournament...' This was the (in)famous handshake refusal by his opponent; real needle match which down all the way to King and pawn v King and pawn.

There is humour too. The notes to the Smyslov game reveal a moment of really putting one's foot in it.

'...while attending a celebration of his 80th birthday at the Moscow Central Chess Club I delivered an impromptu speech in which I opined that Smyslov was a more talented player than Botvinnik. There was a slight, inexplicable, unease until Alexander Roshal whispered to me that the lady just in front was Botvinnik's widow. Oops!'

It's good to hear his own thoughts about the famous King march against Timman, which he describes as his 'Stairway to Heaven'.

Short - Timman

In the game, White's King went on a legendary journey after: 30 h4 h5 31 Kh2 Rc8 32 Kg3 Rce8 33 Kf4 Bc8 34 Kg5 1-0.

The analysis on this DVD shows that there was a quicker win: 30 Nh4 Ba8 31 f3 Bb7 32 Nxg6 hxg6 and 33 Rh4. Nigel admits that he missed this idea during the game. Chess fans should be happy that he had to find the longer route to victory.

This is a great and throughly enjoyable collection and I hope volume two isn't long in coming.

Powerplay 13:
The Squeeze
By GM Daniel King
Five Hours

GM King's well-recieved 'Powerplay' series continues to impress. This time, he takes a look at 'The Squeeze'.

It's natural to ask - what exactly is the squeeze?

'Well, it's when you deprive your opponent of all counterplay. You take control of the game; you slowly move forward and you squeeze the life out of your opponent. Deadly stuff!'

The material is arranged in the customary 'Powerplay' manner, with an introduction followed by a series of test positions. The viewer is encouraged to work hard at the tests before moving on to the instructive solutions.

GM Kings uses some of his own games and it should come as no surprise to see fine examples of squeeze play by the likes of Petrosian, Karpov, Kramnik and Botvinnik.

One of my favourite game snippets on this DVD comes from a master squeezer from an earlier era.

Janowksi - Saburoff
Ostende 1906

I like the clarity of this example. Black is almost completely without non-losing moves and White devised the simple plan of marching his King up the board, swapping the Queens with a timely Qe7 and then achieving an easily winning endgame. Black, with the life being squeezed from him more and more with every single move, didn't last much longer. Just eight moves later, White's position is very clearly winning.

After 45 ...Rb5 46 Rxf7+ it was time to resign, 1-0. There's an obvious similarity between this game and Short - Timman (above). These King marches for mate examples have always interested me.

At the end of the lectures, GM King runs through the 'golden rules' of the squeeze. I won't list them here - you'll have to buy the DVD - but they all carry the trademark common sense style of one of ChessBase's finest presenters.

The material on this DVD should suit all students of chess who are willing to put some effort into their desired improvement.

O'Kelly Sicilian
By IM Andrew Martin
Four Hours

In his introduction, IM Martin stresses the importance of club players creating a practical opening repertoire rather than trying to follow what the World Champions are up to. A valid point, and one which explains his advocation of what is essentially a Sicilian sideline.

After 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 a6, Black is keeping things flexible and can adjust his plans for the central pawn structure according to circumstance.

IM Martin follows his thoughtful introduction - which includes brief but interesting biographical data about O'Kelly - with an 'Inspiring Game' before moving on to a systematic survey of the theory behind the opening, which is arranged thus:

3 c3 (six games and a conclusion)
3 c4 (six games and summary)
3 d4 (six games and summary)
3 Nc3 (five games and summary)

In addition to the Open Sicilian lines, Black players are given lines to play against several other club player attempts:

Closed Setup
3 Be2
Wing Gambit

3 c3 is often given as the best line for White, the intention being to steer the game into 1 e4 c5 2 c3 channels when ...a6 might not fit in with the best schemes for Black. IM Martin acknowledges that this is the most important system and that's why he starts off with his examination of the subsequent possibilities.

A decent enough for Black to play is:

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 a6 3 c3 d5 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 d4 e6 6 Be2 Nf6 7 0-0 Be7

Savic - Blesic
Belgrade Open 2009

There is a consistency throughout Black's approach, in which 2 ...a6 (which could be a waste of time) is utilised as often as possible, often as a springboard for an early ...b5. For example, we see Tartakower duffing up the Morra Gambit after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 a6 3 d4 cxd4 4 c3 dxc3 5 Nxc3 e6 6 Bc4 b5 which works out so well in the illustrative game that the presenter is left wondering why more people don't play this way with Black.

The presenter's 'Outro' provides 'O'Kelly converts with a battle cry: 'In my view the O'Kelly can be used at lower levels with impunity and will be an excellent point scorer for the average club player'.

It certainly seems worth a try and this product would appear to offer the most up to date coverage of this irregular system currently available. Actually, a lot of club players will probably find the preventing of lines starting with 3 Bb5(+) reason enough to have a look at the O'Kelly system.

The 6 Bg5 Najdorf
By GM Alexi Shirov
Five Hours

GM Shirov explains that he wanted at first to show the developments in the 6 Be2 and 6 Be3 variations of the Najdorf (which he played with both colours) but then developed the idea of focusing on 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Bg5 instead.

The material is presented over the course of 15 main games, 10 of which feature GM Shirov.
The complexity of the games is considerable and this is certainly not a whitewash job 'proving' that 6 Bg5 offers a forced advantage to the first player; there are only five White wins in this collection.

GM Shirov's style is naturally suited to the potentially wild positions which can easily arise in these lines. The Poisoned Pawn variation rears it's infamous head in two games towards the end of the DVD

The DVD concludes with a long section (45 minutes) on 'New Developments and Corrections'. This revisits and amends some of his analysis from the main video lectures in addition to the latest news on 6 Bg5. He shows admirable honesty when it comes to owning up to mistakes in his analysis, admitting that he does it mostly 'live' in his head when he is working on these DVDs.

In this position, he originally said that White had a strategically winning position...

...and suggested 17 0-0-0 as a suitable continuation. Perhaps, readers, you can work out Black's winning 17th move?

The Slav and Semi-Slav Revisited
By GM Alexi Shirov
Eight Hours

GM Shirov's previous DVDs on the Slav and Semi-Slav were released some time ago. On this new one he takes a look at how theory has developed since then. This is not a updated reissue, but has all-new content.

Of the 18 illustrative games, approximately two thirds are from his own practice.

The main focus of attention in the Slav coverage is the unusual 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 dxc4 5 a4 e6

Shirov - Svidler

We are mostly used to seeing 5 ...Bf5 so it was very revealing to see a top GM's analysis of this little pawn move, which is gradually gaining in popularity.

It is easy to think that the world of the Slav Defence is generally too quiet for GM Shirov, but as this DVD gives ample coverage of the tricky and wild Semi-Slav systems then all becomes clear.

We get to hear his latest thoughts on such variations as 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 e6 5 e3 Nbd7 6 Qc2 Bd6

and now the remarkable 7 g4!? which Shirov, of course, was one of the pioneers. His coverage of this pawn thrust is one of the main highlights of this DVD.

A running time of eight hours must represent great value for money by anyone's standards.

The material on both of the Shirov DVDs is aimed at the level of top club players and beyond. As some of the video lectures are quite lengthy and involved, Novices and average club players will probably find themselves out of their depth.

Shirov's style of presentation isn't as accessible as King or Martin but experiencing what are essentially one-to-one chess lessons with an extremely strong Grandmaster should be very rewarding for advanced students.

ChessBase Opening Encyclopaedia 2010

Finally for this bumper issue of reviews, there is the opportunity to boost your databases with a huge collection of games - over 3.7 million of them.

79,000 games have annotations (some of them are very brief).

There are also 506 theory databases (mostly from older issues of ChessBase magazine, although 69 of them are new).

Add all this information to your existing databases and you will be able to search for improvements in even the darkest corners of your repertoire.

'Ordinary' club players will be overwhelmed but this product will be a boon for those who take their chess and preparation very seriously.

For further details of Chessbase products, please go to:

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