Tuesday 31 August 2010

Chess Reviews: 150

Killer French Defence
Volumes 1 & 2
By GM Simon Williams
Running Times:
Volume 1, 4.5 hours; Volume 2, 5 hours (approx.)
A GingerGM Production

The Ginger GM is back! The Killer Dutch DVD received very good reviews and was seen as a breath of fresh air for the chess market. Marsh Towers reviewed it here.

This time, GM Simon Williams switches his attention to his favourite reply to 1 e4, namely 1 ...e6 - The French Defence. Such is his enthusiasm to share the secrets of his '...first love' - which he has played at a very high level for over 20 years - that the coverage is split over two DVDs, with a combined running time of over nine and a half hours. He introduces the disc by offering coverage of the French which should be suitable for Novices and Grandmasters alike.

Volume 1 runs for four and a half hours and covers the Advance Variation and The Tarrasch, although there is room also for a quick discussion on the basics of the Winawer and some general French Defence advice. There are 28 chapters on this disc. Naturally, the coverage is from Black's point of view, but those who play 1 e4 will find plenty of interest too (not least being able to see what your opponents will play if you know they has these DVDs).

The basics are covered, such as which pieces are traditionally 'good' and 'bad' for the respective sides, the key pawn structures and the general plans. Players with Black are left in no doubt whatsoever that they should be permanently looking out to play the pawn breaks ...f6 and ...c5.

Key ideas are often emphasised by a scrolling message across the screen (Sky Sports News style). These include: 'Black will often rely on the move ...c5 to break up White's central pawn structure!' and 'In the Advance French, Black's main idea is to gang up on White's pawn on d4!'

The recommendation against 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 is 3 ...c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 and now 5 ...Bd7 (instead of the old main line with 5 ...Qb6).

The presenter gives his sensible reasons for delaying the natural development of the Queen; depending on what White plays on move six, ...Qc7 - pressuring e5 - may be stronger than ...Qb6.

The Tarrasch - 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nd2 - is met by the combative 3 ...Nf6.

Logically, this is a sensible and consistent repertoire choice, as Black will learn how to fight against the pawn centre once White plays e4-e5, just as in the Advance and Winawer variations.

Volume 2 - with a whopping 41 chapters and a running time of just over five hours - is reserved primarily for the dangerous Winawer Variation: 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4.

In these days of all-embracing repertoires - in which 3 ...dxe4 is often given against both 3 Nd2 and 3 Nc3 to cut down on the required study time - the Winawer is a brave choice.

The recommendation is not even one of the sidelines, but a dive into the big pool with the theory-heavy main line - the Winawer Poisoned Pawn. White's early fourth and fifth move deviations are well covered before the most serious tries are analysed.

The Exchange Variation, The King's Indian Attack and some other odds and ends are also covered. Against each one, Black is advised to head for an active game. For example, the dreaded Exchange Variation 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 (groan) exd5 4 Bd3 is met by 4 ...c5, when Black is showing a desire to unbalance the game as quickly as possible.

Some of the lesser options are treated roughly. 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Be3 is dubbed the ******'s Gambit (the actual name is bleeped out, so a little lip-reading may be required).

The conclusion provides an extra piece of Grandmasterly advice; essentially the idea is to not waste time on second-rate openings but instead plunge straight into main lines. GM Williams says his chess improved considerably once he went down that path. A hairy main line Winawer would certainly be an interesting place to start one's journey.

The DVD Extra is well worth watching too (it's the same on both discs). It is a short feature called 'When The Black Chess Dog Calls' and it shows GM Williams explaining how he tries to cope with defeat. He shows a range of acting skills as he demonstrates a devastating loss in his favourite Dutch Defence. Peering over his shades and drawing on a dog end, he is comprehensively outplayed by a mystery opponent (revealed at the end of the clip - but now, alas, deceased).

One of the really good things about Ginger GM products is that they will happily play virtually anywhere - PC, MacBook, normal DVD player - and no special software is required.

This is a very enjoyable and instructive set of discs. I've been a fan of the French Defence for a very long time and I can confirm that there is plenty of great stuff here for experienced 1 ...e6 adherents. French novices will pick up the basics easily enough but more time - and repeated viewings - will, of course, be required to come to terms with the more theoretical lines.

The presentation is direct, lively and polished. Production values are of a very high standard; these DVDs deserve your attention.

For ordering details and a trailer, pop along to the Ginger GM site by clicking here.

Saturday 28 August 2010

New Events

The details for the first two (of six) events in our Mike Closs Memorial season are now available over at the official website.

Click here for further information.

Friday 27 August 2010

Further Reading

The latest issue of Maverick (September 2010) is out now.

It includes my review of the recent Cara Dillon concert at Durham's Gala Theatre.

For ordering details, pop along to:

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Chess Reviews: 149

The Smith-Morra Gambit
By IM Lawrence Trent
5 hours and 25 minutes

Lawrence Trent introduces his DVD by singing the praises to the Sicilian Defence and speculating about the best way for players with the White pieces to try and gain some sort if advantage after 1 e4 c5. The massive amount of theory required to take on the main lines suggests that an anti-Sicilian approach might be the order of the day. He concludes that the Morra Gambit is an underrated try with great potential in practical play.

Freely admitting that Black has numerous ways to achieve a decent position - which is precisely why the gambit is such a rarity at the top levels - the presenter opines that there are even more ways for Black to go horribly wrong and find himself on the wrong end of a pasting.

The main video lectures start with a look at Black's methods of declining the gambit. Annoyingly for Gambiteers, Black opts to try and spoil White's fun by not taking the pawn about 50%% of the time. These include 3 ...e5, 3 ...g6 and 3 ...d3. For the sensible options 3 ...d5 and 3 ...Nf6, with transpositions to 1 e4 c5 2 c3, the presenter advises viewers to buy the ChessBase DVD by GM Tiviakov.

Rightly or wrongly, most people hoping to do a little bit of swashbuckling will want to rush through the gambit declined material and sample the delights of the proper Morra Gambit variations.

Naturally. the majority of the material features the acceptance of the gambit.

1 e4 c5 2 d4 cxd4 3 c3

'By sacrificing a pawn, White aims to rapidly develop his pieces with the objective of delivering a swift knockout blow to the unprepared Black camp'.

This DVD covers:

Early d6 and Nf6

Early Nc6 and Nf6

Qc7 with Be7 and Ne5

Qc7 with Nf6 and Ne5

Qc7 Critical Linne 13 ...dxe5

Qc7 Critical Line 13 ...Bxg5


Classical Main Line

Siberian Variation

Chicago Defence

Nge7 Variation

Bc5 systems

Larsen Variation

Fianchetto Variation

Taylor Defence

Finegold Defence

This is a normal type of position after Black accepts the gambit. In compensation for the loss of a pawn, White enjoys quick and easy development and useful open lines. IM Trent does a good job in explaining the pitfalls for both sides.

White players definitely need to know The Siberian Trap.

Perhaps you, dear reader, can work out Black's winning response to White's gullible 9 h3??

The style of presentation is good, with IM Trent delivering his lectures in direct style, with a clear voice and good eye contact with the camera.

I agree with the Lawrence Trent's honest assessment that the Morra Gambit is definitely suitable for club and amateur players, who are advised to 'Go out there and cut them to bits'.

It's a decent enough DVD but the gambit does have its limitations, which will become more obvious if it is played against higher rated opposition.

1 d4 - A Classical Repertoire For White
By GM Lubomir Ftacnik

This is a very ambitious DVD, aimed at presenting a full repertoire for White commencing with 1 d4. Usually, this approach involves 2 Nf3 and a look at the Colle System and/or Torre Attack. Here. GM Ftacnik prefers to go the whole hog an authentic 1 d4 2 c4 repertoire.

The introduction is somewhat rambling and is probably superfluous. As we are going to be given information an all of Black's options after 1 d4 throughout the course of the DVD, I feel that all of the information given in the introduction could have been successfully farmed out to the various lectures.

There are 34 lectures, covering the following openings (the more important ones receive more than a single video):


Albin's Counter-Gambit


Queen's Gambit Accepted


Queen's Gambit Declined


Queen's Gambit Classical


Canal/Prins Gambit


Blumenfeld Gambit

Benko Gambit

Budapest Gambit


King's Indian



Old Indian

Exotic Variations


Bogo Indian

Queen's Indian

I found the style of presentation to be rather dry. GM Ftacnik's quiet, monotone voice becomes more soporific than inspirational over the course of a lecture lasting more than a few minutes.

The task of fitting so many lines and variations on a single DVD runs a couple of risks. One is the recommended repertoire could end up being a collection of odds and ends which may be fine in a one-off game but are not critical enough to produce the goods on a long term basis. Another risk is that there is too little time to be able to analyse, assess and really get to grips with a meaningful explanations of exactly what is going on.

Unfortunately, both of these things are evident here. Moves are often rattled through very quickly and the viewer will definitely benefit from keeping the 'pause' button at the ready.

As for the recommended repertoire, it's a mixture between very respectable mainlines (4 Qc2 against the Nimzo-Indian) and more obscure tries (a very narrow path in a 4 Bf4 line against the Grunfeld) and 6 h3 against the King's Indian.

The DVD features 124 games, accessible via the 'Games' tab on the menu screen. The oldest game is from 1966 but most are much more recent than that. Three are from 2010.

All in all, In think the task has proved to be a little too ambitious. More explanations are required to assist the viewer's absorption of the material. Perhaps it should have been split over two or three volumes, which would have given the presentation more time and space to breathe.

Chess Endgames 5
By GM Karsten Mueller
Four hours and 18 minutes

Endgame specialist Karsten Mueller returns with the fifth volume in his impressive series.

The video lectures are split into four sections, namely:





GM Mueller starts with a discussion based on the initial question: 'What is an endgame?' It turns out not to be such a simple one to answer, but once the presenter has talked through some important guidelines and principles that are specific to the final phase of the game - such as the generally safer territory for the King - it's time to move on to the main material.

The video lectures present the viewer with perfect bite-sized pieces of endgame wisdom. Sometimes juts a few short minutes are all it takes a skilled presenter to show something really valuable and easy to remember.

Carlsen - Aronian

'The guideline that the King shall blockade enemy passed pawns is correct here. Kf2 draws. White's active Rook will save the day. Okay, the h-pawn is lost, but the Rook was not created to defend weak pawns anyway - it shall be free to give checks!'

84 Kf2! Rf6 85 Rh1 Kg4 86 Rg1+ Kxh4 87 Rh1+ Kg4 88 Rg1+ Kf4 89 Rg3 Ke4 90 Rg4+ Ke5 91 Rg5+ Ke6 92 Rg3 =

This leads to a much more difficult example on the same theme. I like the way that GM Mueller builds things up little steps.

Schlechter - Lasker

How on Earth could Lasker save this against such a strong player? It's all to do with the activity of the Rook.

54 ...Re4!! 55 Rc5 Kf6 56 Rxa5 Rc4 57 Ra6+ Ke5 58 Ra5+ Kf6 59 Ra6+ Ke5 60 Ra5+ Kf6 61 Ra2

...and Black can hold the draw. Compare the two Rooks now!

There's some fun lessons in the section on Mate. There is a strong temptation to forget about mating attacks with such reduced material, but taking the eye off the ball can lead to a sudden end, as the following example shows.

Djukic - Vavrak

51 c4 bxc4+ 52 Kxc4 Nd5! 53 Rf7 Ra3 0-1

The material is excellently chosen and the presentation is unhurried and very professional. I learned a lot from this DVD and in my opinion it is definitely the pick of this month's releases.

ChessBase Magazine 137

The latest edition of ChessBase magazine includes many delights on all aspects of he game. As usual, there's something for everyone, whether one's main area of interest is solving tactical problems, studying endgames, absorbing the latest theory or following the latest big-name tournaments.

Despite the great cover picture - adding publicity to Karpov's attempt to become the new President of FIDE - there is little to be seen of Karpov and Kasparov in issue 137. However, one of the main tournaments to receive coverage is named after the former.

Four tournaments are covered in impressive depth. The Karpov Poikovsky 2010 tournament was won jointly by Kajakin and Bologan. Ejanov was the surprise winner of the FIDE Grand Prix in Astrakhan and the mercurial Ivanchuk won the Capablanca Memorial with a point to spare. yet the best performance of all was Magnus Carlsen's two point victory over a strong field at the King's Tournament, even using the King's Gambit in one game against Wang Yue.

'Thing's weren't going so well in the tournament. I thought I'd just try it and see how it goes'. It went 1-0, (54)

There was quite a lot of fighting chess in the featured tournaments. This was a key momnent in a really good scrap:

Short - Ivanchuk
Capablanca Memorial

Opening surveys form an important part of all ChessBase magazines. There are plenty to chose from in issue 137 and the one which caught my eye more than the others was the one by Yelena Dembo, analysing a parodixical White pawn thrust in the King's Indian Defence.

Neglecting to follow the usually sound advice of 'don't meet pawn storms with pawns', White has just played g2-g4.

'The idea is seen at its clearest if Black replies 11 ...f4. Then comes 12 h4 and at best Black can now only break through on the kingside by sacrificing a piece. On the other side of the board, White then has a clesar advantage in space.'

The other opening surveys are:

Dutch Defence with 2 Bg5 by Neven

Modern Defence by Erenburg

Sicilian Najdorf 6 Be2 e5 by Kuzmin

French Steinitz 4 e5 by Kritz

French Steinitz 4 e5 by Langrock

Ruy Lopez 6 d3 d5 by Stohl

Slav Defence 6 Nh4 by Potsny

Bogo-Indian 4 Bd2 a5 by Marin

Queen's Indian 4 a3 Bb7 by Krasenkow

King's Indin Saemisch by Schipkov

King's Indian Main Line with 10 Be3 by Karolyi

Three are presented using the Fritz Media facility, namely:

French Defence, Steinitz Variation by Kritz

King's Gambit with 2 ...Bc5 by Schandroff

Dutch Defence, Staunton Gambit by Lilov

ChessBase magazine never disappoints and always represents excellent value for money.

For further details of ChessBase products, please click here

Sunday 15 August 2010

Chess Reviews: 148

Emanuel Lasker
2nd World Chess Champion
By Isaak and Vladimir Linder
264 pages
Russell Enterprises

Following hard on the heels of their Capablanca book comes the next volume in the World Champions series by the Linders.

Emanuel Lasker held the World Championship title for 27 years, a record unlikely to be broken. I remember a time when we all thought that Garry Kasparov would be the one to surpass Lasker in that aspect of his life, but he ended up 12 years short.

The biographical meat of the book has appeared before in 'Kings of the Chess World', a massive Russian language tome. This new edition is a transformed version of a single part of that earlier work and it is now, of course, in the English language.

Here's a list of the main contents:

Foreword by Andy Soltis
Publisher's Note
A Word About the Authors by Yuri Averbakh
Chapter 1: Life
Chapter 2: Matches, Tournaments and Opponents
Chapter 3: Chess Works - His Games and Discoveries
Chapter 4: Writer and Journalist
Chapter 5: Impervious to Time

The authors do an admirable job of presenting the life of Lasker in words, games and pictures.
There are 82 illustrative games (some are fragments) and they have new notes, provided by Karsten Müller.

Lasker excelled at the psychological aspect of the game and seemed to know - more often than not - exactly how to play against specific opponents. Sometimes his moves were quite startling.

Here are a couple of snippets...

Lasker - Pillsbury
New York 1893

Lasker won the tournament with 13/13 (Albin was second on 8.5/13). The eighth round game with Pillsbury looked to be heading for a draw, which would have no bad thing from Lasker's tournament point of view. However, he must have assessed that the young Pillsbury would struggle to cope with an unexpected complication and he was happy enough to burn his boats with 46 Bxg5!? fxg5 47 f6+ Taking the pawn loses the Queen, so Pillsbury played on with 47 ...Kg8 48 Qh6 Qf7? (48 ...Bb8 is better, as the book points out) 49 Qxg5+ and 1-0 (55)

Euwe - Lasker
Zurich 1934

34 ...Nc2! 35 Ne4 Qxe5!!

'Great strategic insight by a great master. Lasker feels that his forces will dominate the queen and the whole board.'

36 Nf6+ Qxf6 37 Rxf6 Nxf6!? and Lasker went on to win after 50 moves.

This example is '...also notable for the fact that Lasker executed this combination after a nine-year hiatus from play in international tournaments, when he was 66-years old, against an opponent half his age, who would himself become world champion a year later.'

The authors correctly put that:

'Any opponent of Lasker's found it hard going as soon as Lasker figured out all his strong and weak points'.

For instance, Showalter traded two wins, two losses and two draws in the first six games of his match against the champion in 1893. Yet once Lasker fully understood Showalter's play, he stormed through with four straight wins to wrap up the match in style.

The book is further enhanced by numerous photographs and occasional reproductions of documents and pages from works written by Lasker. Some of the photos are classics (such as the group shot of the of the 1918 Berlin tournament, showing Lasker, Rubinstein, Schlechter and Tarrasch, all showing the terrible strain of the war years) but others were new to me (for example, two from 1936; one showing Lasker and his wife, Martha, in their Moscow apartment and one showing him trying his hand at golf in England, observed by an interested crowd, including Vera Menchik).

I did spot a couple of errors. The tournament table for Nottingham 1936 has gifted Botvinnik a point advantage over Capablanca (in fact they shared first).

The diagram on page 104, showing a position form the Lasker v Marshall World Championship match, has somehow managed to miss off a White Rook from c1, which makes a big difference.

I would have liked a little more depth on one or two matters, such as the controversy regarding the Schlechter match (did Schlechter need to win the 10-game by two points, and if not, why did he play so hard a for a win in game 10, when a draw would have given him the title?), Lasker's weak play against Capablanca in their 1921 title bout, when he was generally reasonable successful against the Cuban throughout his career (was it really just the heat?) and concrete reasons behind Maróczy's aborted title challenge.

These are not idle nitpicks. The more I wanted to put the book down to start this review, the more I discovered further sections of great interest, so it received a lot more scrutiny than usual.

This fine volume concludes with Lasker's match and tournament record plus several indices.
I am really enjoying this series and am very much looking forward to reading the next volume. This is, in my opinion, definitely the best English-language book on the life of the Second World Champion.

London 1922
By Geza Maróczy
128 pages
Russell Enterprises

London 1922 featured some of the finest players in the world. Capablanca was back in action, having been away from tournament action since wresting the World Championship title from Lasker 15 months earlier. He won the tournament in his customary style.

Lasker did not play in the tournament, but two future champions - Alekhine and Euwe - did. Rubinstein, Réti and Bogoljubow were also in the 16-player line up.

This is a new edition of the contemporary tournament book. All of the games have notes - of varying depths - by Maróczy.

Andy Soltis once again contributes a very thoughtful foreword. The main focus of his attention falls on 'The London Rules', the criteria for future World Championship matches drawn up by Capablanca and several other tournament participants. Ironically, the only match ever to be played under these rules was the one in which Capablanca lost his title to Alekhine in 1927.

Capablanca was undefeated and finished 1.5 points clear of Alekhine. However, he rather surprisingly allowed a simple opportunity for one of his opponents.

Morrison - Capablanca
Round Four

Capablanca has just played 27 ...Kg8-h7. White replied with 28 Ne3 but went on to lose. Can you see what he should have played?

Capablanca's own notes to the games of the 1921 World Championship match are included as a bonus section. One particular position is a further demonstration of the psychological aspect to Lasker's play and it draws praise from his successor.

Capablanca - Lasker
Game 5

Lasker played an exchange sacrifice with 16 ...Bxf3

'Dr. Lasker thought for over half an hour before deciding upon this continuation. It is not only the best, but it shows at he same time the fine hand of the master. An ordinary player would never have thought of giving up the exchange in order to keep the initiative in this position, which was really the only reasonable way in which he could hope to draw the game.'

Unfortunately for Lasker, a later blunder brought about a lost game.

One interesting quoted statistic shows how closely matched the total thinking times of both players were. Capablanca: 35 hours and 55 minutes Lasker: 36 hours and 9 minutes. One tends to think of Capablanca playing quick and easy chess during his finest years, so the closeness is striking.

It's good to see these old tournament books dusted off and revamped.

The Chess Cafe Puzzle Book 3
Test and Improve Your Defensive Play
By Karsten Müller and Merijn va Delft
216 pages
Russell Enterprises

This, the third book in the ChessCafe Puzzle Book series, takes a good look at defensive skill and how to improve it.

Chess players generally prefer to be attacking than defending. Indeed, there is a a revealing comment by one of the co-authors: 'It is in fact it's an area in which Karsten himself felt he could use some improvement. One of the best reasons for writing a book is because you would like to read it yourself.'

The material is arranged in the following chapters:

Principles and Methods of the Defender
Defending against an Attack on the King
Fighting against the Initiative
Perpetual Check
The Right Exchange
Exchange Sacrifices
Defense against a Minority Attack
Defending Inferior Endgames
The Great Tigran Petrosian

Annotated examples form the basis of each chapter. Then there some 'Easy Exercises' followed by 'Tests'.

The very first game in the book shows a major improvement in a famous game.

Kasparov - Kramnik
Dos Hermanas 1996

Kramnik won a brilliant game after 24 ...Rxf3 Kasparov's 25 Qxf3 wasn't the best reply though, and the authors show that the unlikely looking 25 Ra2!! '...would have been a fantastic second rank defense'.

The material in this book is very challenging. Novices may become discouraged but stronger players who work hard on the examples and tests should feel the benefits from their invested time and effort.

Here's one of the easier examples for you to try.

Gavrilov - Handke
Stockholm 2010

'Find the only saving square!'

For further details of books from Russell Enterprises, please click here.

Friday 13 August 2010

Mike Closs Memorial Site Update

The Mike Closs Memorial site is already building up very nicely and it's only been going for a few days.

I am delighted to be able to present this excellent photo, from the archive of Guisborough chess supremo Stuart Morgan and digitised by Steve Henderson.

Photo © Stuart Morgan/Steve Henderson

This photo was taken in Spring 1995. Mike is in typical pose, reaching for the e-pawn.

The audience consists of Gawain Jones (now a Grandmaster, England International and easily one of Britain's best players), Christopher Bond (a talented and loyal Guisborough junior player) and Mike Welch (the famous 'Mega', now deceased. More on Mega here: http://marshtowers.blogspot.com/2006/06/archive-uncut-48.html )

I don't know what Chris is up to these days (get in touch if you are reading this) but clearly a lot has happened to the cast since the photo was taken.

The other part of the site I'd like to draw your attention to is the superb video by Peter Lalic, who is in charge of the 'Game of the Month' section. We plan to present more of Mike's best games in this fashion.

Peter's site is definitely worth seeing in full. The quality of the content is extremely good and more videos are being added all of the time.

Please remember to send me games, photos and stories of Mike Closs. You can contact me in all of the usual ways and/or through the site itself:

Thursday 12 August 2010

Even More Mongoose

The final part of my brief summary of Michael Adams' route to the title of British Chess Champion is now available over at the Mongoose Times blog:


Wednesday 11 August 2010

Mike Closs Memorial Site

I have been busy creating a new website in memory of the late, great Mike Closs.

Please pop along to:

I deliberately timed the launching of the site for 11 August, which is Mike's birthday.

More Mongoose

I've added some posts to Mongoose Times over the last few days, looking at snippets from the British Championship games of GM Michael Adams.

The final part of the series should appear tomorrow. Nothing too deep!

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Chess Reviews: 147

Chess Duels
My Games With The World Champions
By GM Yasser Seirawan
427 pages
Everyman Chess

We have waited quite a long time for this book to appear. The process from the first mention on 'forthcoming' lists to publication includes plenty of tales about missed deadlines (see my interview with GM Seirawan in this month's CHESS magazine).

One of a number of photos I took during Yasser's recent trip
to the Baker Street chess centre. He demonstrated a game
from 'Chess Duels' - a defeat to Boris Spassky

That the book was well worth the wait is beyond question. It has the look and feel of a special book, with it's sturdy hardback binding and colourful dust jacket. The page count is impressively high. There is a lot of prose and nothing by way of white space or filler material.

Essentially, this book tells the stories behind Yasser's meetings - on and off the board - with a plethora of World Champions.

The introduction covers Yasser's early life and provides a brief overview of his career. The it's straight into the main chapters, which are arranged in the following order:

Bobby Fischer
The Giants
Vassily Smyslov
Mikhail Tal
Tigran Petrosian
Boris Spassky
Anatoly Karpov, 1975-1985
Garry Kasparov, 1985-2000
Anatoly Karpov, Post-1985
Garry Kasparov, Post-2000
The Future of the World Championship

The first two chapters cover his meetings with World Champions he met but never played at chess. These are Fischer, Botvinnik and Euwe. Korchnoy and Larsen are briefly covered too.

Yasser's outlook is generally very positive and his style is chatty, witty and engaging. It's a tough task to find mentions of people he doesn't like; it boils down two - Linares frontman Luis Rentero and journalist Dimitrije Bjelica.

Everybody else receives friendly treatment. There is no doubting Yasser's great respect for his chess champion rivals. He seems to have a very natural flair for simply getting along with people, despite the great range of characters and personalities involved.

There are some great games on show. As White, Yasser preferred closed games, so fans of 1 d4 will find lots of interest here. He was probably the greatest adherent of 4 Qc2 against the Nimzo-Indian Defence during the lengthy gap between the old masters losing interest and the turbo-charged preparation led by Kasparov in the 1990s.

As Black, the Caro-Kann makes the most appearances. His games against Spassky and Karpov are particularly good examples of that particular opening in action. I was surprised to see only one example of the French Defence, and that was in his famous game against Karpov (mentioned in an earlier column, here: http://marshtowers.blogspot.com/2010/02/chess-reviews-128.html )

Playing Black against Spassky at Barcelona (1989), the game began with: 1 e4 c6

'Upon seeing this move, Boris committed a wonderfully blatant rule violation and openly spoke to me: Yasser, why do you torture me with this Caro-Kann business?'

The little stories, anecdotes and other observational material act as the perfect compliment to the chess action. Smyslov was the first chronological World Champion Yasser met over the board and he was initially taken aback by the former's curiously clumsy style of moving the pieces.

'Trades were rather strange affairs: Vassily would grab my pawn or piece with his hand, lift and remove it from the board, and then grasp the capturing piece or pawn as awkwardly as possible setting it upon the captured square'.

Later, it became easier to understand; Smyslov's eyesight was very much on the decline.

Meeting Fischer - during the 1992 'World Championship' match, was made potentially difficult when it was made clear that Bobby didn't like Yasser's description of him as 'The Ghost of Pasadena'.

'I therefore resolved to apologise to him and receive his forgiveness. When we went to shake hands I held on to his while apologizing. I didn't let go until he said, ''Let's forget the whole thing''.

Being 'in the ring' with the best players in the world is one thing; to beat them is something else. This endgame, played at the 1986 Dubai Olympiad, brought down the best of the best.

Seirawan - Kasparov

I have already given a little bit of coverage to this famous game over at:
http://mongoosepress.com/Times/ (Scroll down for the entry dated 15 February 2010). I didn't know, until I read 'Chess Duels', the story about what happened at the start of the game. Dimitrije Bjelica attempted to present Kasparov with a set of coins and then...

'...Garry took one look at Bjelica, took a second downward look at the coins and whacked the box away with his hand. Hard! Coins started flying through the air, and Bjelica had to scramble on his knees to retrieve them all. I was absolutely elated! At times, I truly admired Garry Kasparov. I looked at him and said, ''Bravo!'' He smiled gleefully too. Apparently Bjelica had crossed him as well'.

There are numerous percipient observations on the big stage of top-level chess. For example, it is pointed out that Karpov never had to play outside of Russia on the route to his first World Championship title and the surprising note that Fischer never defeated a reigning World Champion in any encounter prior to the 1972 match with Spassky.

Every available game with the champions is included, with the annotation varying in depth. Four or five pages is quite a typical amount of space, and the game against Kasparov at Skelleftea in 1989 runs to just under 21 pages.

Demonstrating Spassky's caveman approach to attacking play
- hit them with a big club!

Each chapter concludes with a summary of Yasser's scores against the greats. Some of these are surprising, such as his mighty +4, =1, -0 against Tal. The single draw came in their last ever game together.

Signing copies of Chess Duels

Top photographer and good friend Mark Huba finds
himself on the other side of the camera for a change

This is definitely one of the best chess books of 2010 and it will be enjoyed by chess fans who would like to learn a lot more about top-level chess from a player who was in the thick of the action for 25 years.

It's a simply wonderful collection of material, written in Yasser's inimitable style. In our interview, I pushed him on the question of a sequel, dealing with his games against the likes of Korchnoy, Timman and Larsen. He was reluctant, but perhaps a sackful of demanding mail directed to Everyman Chess will help change his mind.

After the interview

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