Tuesday 29 June 2010

Chess Reviews: 145

A bumper crop of ChessBase DVDs has kept my reviewing time fully engaged over the last couple of weeks. A review of the new Rybka will follow soon, but meanwhile here's my thoughts on the latest regular releases...

ChessBase Magazine #136

The latest issue of ChessBase hits the ground running with coverage of the exciting Anand - Topalov World Championship match. All the games are nicely annotated by a combination of Krasenkow, Stohl, Postny, Marin, Ftacnik, Rogozenco and Anish Giri.

Unfortunately there is no video footage of the match here, but the annotations are a good mix of prose and chess variations, so the games are admirably brought to life.

The other major event to receive full coverage is the European Championship, won by Ian Nepomniachtchi. The tournament featured over 180 Grandmasters - an incredible amount. 2166 games are given on the disc.

As usual, there are several surveys about chess openings. The most interesting one for me was 'The Caro-Kann in the Spirit of Bronstein and Larsen' by Spyridon Skembris, looking at 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nf6 5 Nxf6+ gxf6

It's a fine article on a variation which somehow never seems to attract much attention. From the diagram, six White options are covered, namely:

6 Ne2, 6 Be2, 6 Bc4, 6 Nf3, 6 c3 and 6 Qd3

Other highlights include two Fritztrainer video lectures by GM Shirov, both clocking in at just under half an hour, and three video updates for previous DVDs. Two of the updates are by the busy Shirov's and are additions to his recent work on the 'Slav and Semi-Slav Revisited' and one shows Nigel Davies adding to his 'Busy Person's Repertoire'.

ChessBase Magazine remains a top product and is highly recommended.

Nigel Short
Greatest Hits
Volume 2
5 hours+

It's great to see the second volume of GM Short's 'Greatest Hits' follow so soon after the first. It's a sign of good sales, which will hopefully continue and provide inspiration to produce more volumes in either this or a similar series.

This time, the opponents are: Miles, Ye, Gelfand, Gurevich, Seirawan, Khalifman, Ljubojevic, Kasparov, Pogorelov, Epishin, Timman, Adams, Illescas, Korchnoi and Gligoric.

The games are not presented in chronological order, but the first one demonstrates his first victory over a Grandmaster (in 1979), who just happened to be Tony Miles. There was no love lost between the two British chess giants, but Short is very restrained in his commentary and doesn't descend into name-calling.

Following that, six games are from the 1980s, five from the 1990s and three from the 2000s.
GM Short has enjoyed - and is still enjoying - a long chess career.

Seven games show GM Short in action with the Black pieces. One of the most interesting is a Rapidplay game against Garry Kasparov, from their six-game match in 1987. One of the most interesting things about this game is the proposed march of the Short's King to attack the enemy King on a very busy board, which of course was the highlight of a later Short game against Timman (included
on volume 1 of the series).

This time, it's 'only' a 'half-King march', but to do it against a reigning World Champion is very impressive.

Kasparov- Short

Black played 46 ...Kh5! and White resigned four moves later.

Little stories embellish the games. In this next game, Black played 11 ...0-0 here.

Short - Ye Jiangchuan

Nigel tells of showing the game to his neighbour, Lord Owen, who correctly pointed out that Black had '...castled into it'.

The final game gives Nigel the opportunity to reminisce about the The Master Game (an old BBC half-hour chess show - much missed!). He recalls how Vlastimil Hort tried to win on time with Rook and Bishop v Rook, but led to lots of complaints from Hort when his own flag fell instead. The game was eventually agreed drawn - it was all Nigel needed to qualify from the group - although he admits he may handle the situation differently today.

The chosen encounter from the Master Game is against another chess giant.

Gligoric - Short

This is an interesting moment. The game continued 30 ...Qxh3 and Black won soon enough, but there is a pretty mate in five which you, dear reader, are challenged to solve.

It's a fun and interesting collection of games and my favourite ChessBase release of the month.

Guide to the Tkachiev Ruy Lopez
By GM Alexei Shirov
6 hours

GM Shirov explains that even though he has already made three DVDs on his favourite Spanish Opening, he '...always felt that something was missing'. Then he realised that he had neglected his real favourite - the Tkachiev - and that's what this DVD is all about.

GM Shirov started playing this line more often from 2009 onwards and, as he points out on this DVD, World Champion Anand has been playing it recently too.

So what is the Tkachiev Ruy Lopez? It arises after the moves:

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 0-0 b5 6 Bb3 Bc5

'...one of the most fascinating opening lines in chess'.

Black is trying to play more actively than normal, with the Bishop outside of the pawn chain and more aggressively placed than it's 'normal' Spanish square, e7.

Four White options are considered in detail:

7 Nxe5
7 a4
7 c3
7 d3

After looking at the illustrative games, it should be quite clear that pushy Black system suits Shirov's style perfectly. All of the relevant move-orders and general ideas are analysed in turn.

There are 12 main illustrative games, 10 of which show Shirov himself handling the Black side of the opening in question.

The final game on the DVD is from 2010 and it looks at the Exchange Variation (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Bxc6). Black does need to have something to play against this annoying line, which is actually quite potent.

It is very interesting to hear Shirov's thoughts on playing against a young player about whom he had very little knowledge; it made him nervous and a little bit afraid. So he stuck with a line which has always served him well (a single defeat over many years):

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Bxc6 dxc6 5 0-0 Bg4 6 h3 h5

Maxime Vachier Lagrave - Alexei Shirov
Bundesliga, 2009-10

This DVD will suit advanced club players who are looking to achieve more active positions against the Spanish Game.

The Advance Caro-Kann
2nd Edition
By GM Alexei Shirov
7.5 hours

This is older release, updated with new material, in the form of six new video lectures. Five are from 2009 and one is from 2010 (recorded just a couple of days after the game was played). Half of the new games feature Shirov.

The new material focuses exclusively on the positions arising from the sequence:

1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 Bf5 4 Nf3 e6 5 Be2

Shirov opines that the Caro-Kann, usually labelled a strategical opening from Black's point of view, is actually one which allows White to play strategically while Black has to reply with very concrete lines right from the start.

White fails to win only one of the newly added games, and that is this one, featuring some intriguing early Knight moves:

1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 Bf5 4 Nf3 e6 5 Be2 Ne7 6 0-0 Bg6 7 Nbd2 Nf5

Shirov - Solak

8 g4 Nh6 9 h3 Ng8 when after 10 Ne1 h5 11 Ng2 hxg4 12 hxg4 c5

Black seems to be ok, despite the alarming loss of tempi. (The game was drawn after 41 moves). Shirov now believes 10 Nb3 h5 11 Bd3 is a better try for White.

This DVD features advanced material, probably more so than the Tkachiev one above. It should appeal to those with a specialist interest in 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 from either side of the board.

For further details of ChessBase products, please visit:


Wednesday 23 June 2010

Chess Reviews: 144

Mastering the Chess Openings
Volume 4
By IM John Watson
320 pages
Gambit Publications

IM Watson's famous series concludes with another large amount of material, essentially rounding up orphan openings and ideas which didn't find a niche in any of the first three volumes. To that end, we are presented with:

'...a mix of modern strategies, old-fashioned approaches, and unconventional schemes in the openings'.

The material starts off heavily orientated around 1 Nf3 but soon enough heads off to more uncharted territory, as the chapter titles clearly show:

Reti: Open and Closed Variations

Reti: Slav Variations

Modern Kingside Fianchetto

Modern Queenside Fianchetto


f-Pawn and Reversed Openings

Symmetry and Its Descendants

Irregular Openings and Initial Moves

Choosing and Preparing Openings

The Future of Openings

Long term Watson devotees will want to get this purely for his updated ideas on all things English-related (for instance, there are obvious transpositions after moves such as 1 Nf3 e6 2 c4 and 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 c6) but the scope of this volume really is much broader than the previous ones.

'Gambits' is the chapter most casual readers will turn to first. Here we find discussions on gambits of different genres; there is a distinction between 'Primitive Gambits' (Danish Gambit, Milner-Barry Gambit etc) and 'Positional Gambits' (The Evans Gambit and other attempts to gain clear central control). 'The Ultra-Positional Benko Gambit' receives special coverage, as it is reckoned to be 'The most important true gambit in modern times...'

I learned that in this position, White can pose Black problems with 10 Rb1.

'It's remarkable how this simple move turned a previously humdrum line into White's favourite variation against the Benko Gambit. Granted, White's move is useful: it protects b2 and removes the rook from indirect attack from the bishop on g7. But the key factor is that White can play b3 at the right moment...' and the author goes on to explain the nuances.

Irregular Openings and Initial Moves has lots of interesting stuff. It's essentially a whistle-stop tour of all the weird and (occasionally) wonderful oddball openings. Some are more respected than others; for example, the author shows how start making a universal 1 ...d6 into a proper repertoire - but others are panned, such as 1 g4, 1 ...g5 and 1 ...a6.

'As far as I can tell, 1 g4 is competitive with 1 h4 for the honour of being White's worst first move. Against an informed or skilled opponent, it is simply masochistic.'

The final two chapters are completely prose and allow the author to give free rein to his own personal thoughts on the subjects in question. In other words:

'...I indulge in a bit of philosophy to round things out'.

The philosophy includes thoughts on what sort of opening would best suit players of a particular category of playing strength and general pointers how to improve one's opening play.

IM Watson's writing is never less than entertaining and thought provoking. 'Mastering the Chess Openings' is a fine and deservedly popular series.

Nunn's Chess Endings
Volume 1
By GM John Nunn
320 pages
Gambit Publications

This new, two-volume work on the endings picks up where GM Nunn's 'Understanding Chess Endgames' (reviewed here: http://marshtowers.blogspot.com/2009/09/chess-reviews-104.html) left off. The reader, armed with a thorough grounding in elementary endgame matters, should be ready to plunge into much deeper and richer ocean of positions with reduced material.

The material is arranged in this fashion:

Conventions and Terminology

Introduction and Other Reading

The Three Key Endgame Skills

Pawn Endings

Knight Endings

Same-Coloured Bishop Endings

Opposite-Coloured Bishop Ending

Bishop vs Knight Endings

Queen Endings

The Introduction and Further Reading is an interesting 10 page exposition of the aims of this book and the forthcoming companion volume.

'What, then, is Nunn's Chess Endings? The main content is the careful analysis of hundreds of instructive endgames from practical play. by skipping the elementary parts, I have been able to go beyond standard endgame texts to consider more advanced topics and more complex positions.'

Along the way, there is some criticism of other endgame books. GM Nunn picks out few badly analysed examples and shows his improvements but not necessarily his forgiveness.

'It is harder to forgive errors in recent books where computer and tablebase assistance could have been used.'

'Books which claim to use computer-checking but evidently don't are a particular cause of irritation.'

One interesting aspect of this book is the lack of chess studies. Every example is from an authentic game of chess.

There is a problem with some modern books; the analysis may have been made more accurate by computers, but it isn't always presented in a user-friendly way. GM Nunn makes a serious attempt to steer clear of such a trap:

'Humans don't think like computers, and there's no point in simply giving computer output and expecting it to be helpful, so in these two books have made a big effort to explain in words the ideas underlying the analysis.'

Important summaries follow the subsections of each chapter, which succinctly sum up the key points of each endgame and older analysis is frequently overturned.

Here's a sample of what to expect...

Sefc - Averbakh
Dresden 1956

'The above position was used in Averbakh's endgame book and was reproduced in the Encyclopaedia of Chess Endings. In each case the view was that White could maintain the blockade, but in reality he cannot and the position is won for Black.

1 Ng5 h4 2 Nf3 Kh5 3 Ng5 Bd7 4 Ne4

As Averbakh points out, 4 Nf3 loses to 4 ...Bc8 5 Ng5 h3 6 Nf3 Bb7 7 Nh2 Kh4

4 ...Bc8 5 Nf6+ Kh6 6 Ne4

The crucial moment arrives.

6 ...Bf5?!

Although the position remains a win for Black, this is a step in the wrong direction. The winning idea is 6 ...Be6! 7 Ng5 Bd5, dominating the Knight. This appears to fail due to 8 Kg4, but then the tactical point 8 ...h3! kills White.'

Analysis diagram: position after the variation with 8 ...h3!

7 Ng5 Kh5 8 Nh7 h3?

This move finally throws the win away. Black could still have won by retracing his steps with 8 ...Kh6 9 Ng5 Bd7 etc.'

The game was drawn 13 moves later.


Bishop and two pawns vs Knight is generally won, but there are some drawn positions in which the pawns are o the-coloured squares as the bishop and are blockaded by the king and knight.

In some cases zugzwang can be used to lift the blockade and win, but whether this is possible depends on the precise position.'

I like the contrast between extended prose explanations and analytical lines. Despite the large size of the book and the impressive amount if material, this book is thoroughly accessible to club players and I'm sure that a serious study of the contents will indeed lead to a greater understanding of the techniques and trapdoors of endgame play.

Volume 2 is scheduled for October and will feature rook endings and endings with rooks and minor pieces.

Full details of Gambit books can be obtained from their frequently updated website:

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Cara Dillon at the Gala Theatre

Cara Dillon
The Gala Theatre, Durham

Back in February, I went to see The Transatlantic Sessions at The Sage:


Cara Dillon was one of my favourites that night, so I was keen to see more of her. The chance came just a few months later when she appeared at Durham's Gala Theatre.

My full review is scheduled to appear in a well known music magazine (I'll post details when it does), so here's a few simple observations for now.

Bridie Jackson provided an excellent opening half hour, harmonising well with her backing group, The Puddleducks (apparently the name changes every night!).

We didn't have to wait long before Cara Dillon arrived on the stage, backed by two guitars and a flute. That might not sound like much, but the sound they produced was wonderfully deep.

Cara's voice is beautiful and perfectly suited for the Gaelic-flavoured folk she sings.

Her most recent work, 'Hill of Thieves', was well to the fore on the set list but there was plenty of room for older favourites. 'Black is The Colour' was a particular highlight for me.

As usual with excellent shows, time went too quickly and suddenly it was all over.

Trying to pose as if I was just leaving the venue didn't turn out too well. I look as if I'm walking like the Elephant Man.

Julian did a better job with the pose! Well, you can't buy cool...

Monday 21 June 2010

Middlesbrough Literature Festival

The Second Middlesbrough Literary Festival started on Saturday. The 'mixture of allsorts' is set to continue all the way until the end of July, with a wide variety of literary treats on offer. There's definitely something for all tastes.

The opening event took place on Centre Square, very near Middlesbrough Central Library. Despite cold and windy conditions, the event tent was nearly always full and the audience was treated to a fine selection of music, stories and poems.

Here's a few photos from a busy schedule. I didn't catch all of the names (I'm open to corrections...!)

Terry Dickenson and Daniel Pettitt
Acoustic folk.

Julie Casey and Daniel Pettitt
A selecltion of ballads.

John Chadwick
A rallying cry against spy cameras!

Simon Barrass covering Bob Dylan

Khadim Hussain
Teesside Pride

Joan Clarke
Continuing the theme of Teesside pride.

A tale of old Osmotherley and Roseberry Topping.

This was the funniest act of the day.
I particularly enjoyed the 'facts about hippos'.

A poem about shopping - the new religion...!?

Andy Broderick and Ray Legg
Folk songs in Gaelic tradition.

It's great for Middlesbrough to put on such an extended festival. Obviously, the more support it receives, the more chance there is of it running for many more years to come. So select some events and support them, dear readers!

Saturday 19 June 2010

Chess Reviews: 143

Jose Raul Capablanca
3rd World Chess Champion
by Isaak and Vladimir Linder
272 pages
Russell Enterprises

This is the first in a new series featuring the World Champions of chess. Capablanca, the third holder of the title, is the first recipient of the Linder treatment.

The life of J.R. Capablanca is covered from his first steps in chess, watching and learning as his father played chess (in Havana, 1892 - the same year, coincidentally, that Havana hosted a World Championship match between Steinitz and Chigorin) to his untimely death in 1942.

The material is arranged in the following chapters:

''Viva Capablanca!''

Challenger Number One

On Mt. Olympus

Match of the Titans

In the Hope of Recovering the Title

Regaining His Former Strength

Capablanca's Place in Chess History

There are 87 illustrative games (or game snippets), with mainly prose annotations, making them very accessible. Numerous quotes are included from other sources.

In fact, one of the great strengths of this book is the very good use of research. The authors have used some little-known sources and had access to various item of Capablanca's correspondence, including a note he wrote for his three-year-old son before setting off to the Moscow tournament 1925. He provides some very sound advice:

'If you can avoid it, never play cards, smoke or drink alcohol of any kind. these are things which greatly shorten life and weaken men physically as well as intellectually and morally'.

The previously unpublished material is most welcome. As this is from Russian sources, the major beneficiaries are the sections on St. Petersburg 1914 and the Moscow tournaments of 1925, 1935 an 1936. The course of these events is really brought alive for the reader.

There's some excellent background detail to the big events. In the section on the fateful 1927 World Championship match - in which the Cuba lost his title to Alekhine - a letter is quoted which Capablanca wrote to Julius Finn of the Manhattan Chess Club. After 12 games, he wrote:

'I am not doing as well as I expected'. He goes on to ask Finn to '...take an interest and to do your best to arrange for me a return match in January, February, or March of 1929. I have spoken to Alekhine about this, and he says he would be very glad to play'.

That a rematch never took place seems to us unthinkable these days, but future generations will say the same about Kasparov and Kramnik. How could a way not be found?

Capablanca kept on hoping to win back his title. It's a recurring theme in the latter part of the book. In 1935, he announced:

'I am now studying topical opening variations...and striving to regain my skill in the middlegame. After completing these studies, I am convinced I will not lose a match to anyone'.

He also suggested that a World Championship match should consist of 16 games, a number which some experts - including Grandmaster Raymond Keene - believe holds true today.

There's plenty to read. Although the book seeks to combine a biography with a collection of games, the emphasis is firmly on the former aspect. That's not to say there isn't some great chess on display...

Reti - Capablanca
Berlin 1928

'17 ...Bf3!!

Not wasting time on 17 ...Rxh8, which gives White a chance to prolong the game by 18 Nd2 Rg8 19 f3 Qh3 20 Qe2.

18 gxf3 Qh3 19 Kh1 Nxf3 20 Qxf3 Qxf3+ 1 Kg1 Rg8+ 0-1'

There are numerous photographs throughout the book. Some are oft-seen classics but others were new to me. I particularly liked the ones from Moscow (1935). There's a snap of Capablanca giving a simultaneous display, showing his opponents in a state of deep concentration, and the a couple showing him action at the tournament.

This fine book concludes with a Match and Tournament Record, Player Index, Opening Index and just over four pages of Bibliography.

I enjoyed reading about the Third World Champion and I'm looking forward to the forthcoming volume on Lasker.

For more on Russell Enterprises, please go to:

Friday 18 June 2010

London: Day 5

Magnificent architecture, statues galore and a very heavy presence of history...day 5 focused mainly on the area of Westminster.

I wanted to go into Westminster Abbey but before doing so there was time to absorb some of the other local detail.

The detail on the Abbey is extraordinary.

Photos were not allowed inside, of course. I can recommend the audio guide, which is included in the admission price. There's a lot to see and the guide is very useful.

There's an incredible amount of history in the Abbey. Coronations, burials and tombs feature in abundance. Poet's Corner is the final resting place for a whole host of literary giants.

The Coronation Chair resides there too, although it is currently undergoing restoration (one can observe the ongoing work through a window).

The Abbey is a terrific attraction, worthy of repeat visits.

Parliament Square is just outside. Statues of famous people line the rim.

The Square was occupied by a group of protesters, who had set up camp.

There was some torrential rain. Luckily, I had bought a sturdy umbrella that very morning.

Stormy clouds gather behind Big Ben.
Onwards - around the corner - to see The Houses of Parliament. Cromwell was no stranger to stormy times.

Richard I is prominent in statue form too.

King George V stands opposite the Houses.

The entrance to Jewel Tower. I didn't have enough time to go in on that day; maybe next time.

The pigeon on the right carried the stick with him wherever he went.

Mr Magpie sits down for a rest.

My next destination was the combined Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms.

Some of the rooms in this formerly secret underground facility are kept just as they were in WW2.

The map room includes some contemporary grafiti which can be spotted by an attentive eye...

'Mr. Churchill is on the scrambler!'

'Good grief! Is he still in there?'

Sugar ration!

Churchill's bedside cigar.

A little further along we find Horse Guard Parade.

Preparations were ongoing for the Queen's birthday celebrations a few days later.

The Eye peeps through.

One last thing to do on this busy but very rainy day - a trip to the Odeon, Leicester Square, where many a famous person had ended up with dirty hands.

I saw 'Iron Man 2' here.

That left one more day in London, but there was no more sightseeing to be done...