Thursday 31 March 2011

The Wiyos

Fabulous show at The Cluny last night! The Wiyos were incredible and with Little Miss Higgins in support it all made for a wonderful evening.

A full report and plenty more photos will follow soon.

Little Miss Higgins

The Wiyos in full swing

Tuesday 29 March 2011

More Mongoose

I've just posted a small piece about the 2011 London Chess Classic over at:

Monday 28 March 2011

Chess Reviews: 175

Time now to take a look at the most recent selection of instructional and self-improvement chess products. There's quite a lot of them about and they come from several different publishers.

Without further ado, let's get stuck in - starting with the two new volumes of the 'Strategy University' series from ChessBase.

Strategy University
Volumes 2 & 3
By GM Adrian Mikhalchishin

Volume 2: Prevention and Preparation in Chess is all about the art of prophylaxis and prophylactic thinking, following the lessons of the great Nimzowitsch. GM Mikhalchishin demonstrates that prophylaxis - likened to taking medicine against something bad happening - isn't always about defence and can form part of one's normal game plan and preparation.

Using key illustrative games, he teaches the viewer how to go about spotting - and stopping - the ideas of the opponent. The classics of chess literature are plundered, with the games of Rubinstein - ('The King of Exchanges') being particularly well represented. There are numerous examples of his special vision when it came to trading the correct pieces to leave the opponent's position in a worse condition.

Volume 3: Positional Pawn Sacrifice is self-explanatory. Rarer and more difficult to spot than tactical pawn sacrifices, they can nevertheless change the course of the game just same.

The illustrative games are well chosen and highly instructive, as always. Mikhalchishin's own games make several appearances this time and Romanishin, Kasparov and Beliavsky are other prominent guests.

The latter is featured in this classic example, showing how a positional pawn sacrifice was used to ensure the enemy King was caught in the centre.

Korchnoi - Beliavsky
Leon 1994

'Big Al' played 11 ...Nxf3 12 Bxf3 d4! and after 13 exd4 Re8+ 14 Kf1 the long term benefits of Black's position outweighed the loss of a single pawn (0-1, 32).

As usual with DVDs by GM Mikhalchishin, the delivery is fast and heavily accented which make it heavy going at times. Yet the material is top-notch and will be of use to top end of the improving club player scale.

Hiarcs 13 and Book

Anyone serious about wanting to improve their chess really must invest in a decent chess program. Hiarcs 13 is the latest version of a popular product, playing at approximately 100 ELO points stronger than the previous edition.

I'm sure most readers will be familiar with the basic features on offer from such products (previous editions have been reviewed here in former times). Suffice to say, Hiarcs 13 will mercilessly crush the vast majority of chess players on its serious levels. Fortunately, it hasn't been designed merely to play chess; it is an excellent training partner too. Adding the professional openings book will enable students to prepare for future chess battles in enviable depth.

Boost Your Chess 3
By GM Artur Yusupov
304 pages

GM Yusupov’s highly regarded series continues, with the 'Mastery' phase of boosting your chess.

The format is identical to previous volumes in the series. Each chapter presents a complete lesson on a specific subject, complete with test positions. The subjects include 'Hanging pawns on c3-d4', 'Candidate moves', 'Pawn storms' and 'Knight against Bishop'.

I like the pacing of the lessons; each one lasts for six or seven pages before the test positions are introduced, so none of the chapters ever outstays its welcome.

The book concludes with 'Final Test', challenging the reader with a selection of positions without clues. Here's one to try:

White to play
(The end of a study by D. Gurgenidze)

The whole series is very accessible to club players, who will enjoy studying about a wide range of important topics.

Chess Lessons
By Vladimir Popov
256 pages

Nadezhda Kosintseva provides the introduction, telling how she and her sister Tatiana came to enroll in the chess class of Vladimir Popov.

Judging the book purely by the title, is would be easy to think that was just another easy primer for inexperienced players. However, the more I read, the more I realized that the quality of material on offer was of a very high calibre.

‘The main aim of this book is to help the reader to minimize the quantity of errors in his games through studying the material and solving the exercises’.

To that end, the author offers a large number of instructive games and positions. Lots of them were new to me. Using the games of his students - the Kosintseva sisters and Karmen Mar in particular - Popov has brought to light numerous very fresh position.

There are 21 chapters, each one dealing with a specific theme, such as
‘Errors Due to Lack of Knowledge’, ‘Asymmetrical Exchanges’, ‘Spotting Aggressive Sorties’ and ‘Obvious Moves and Reflex Answers’.

There’s a strong emphasis on detecting errors and working hard to correct them. There are test positions at the end of the chapters. Some are best solved individually, but others work best as a ‘two handed’ training exercises, to be played out with your analytical partner.

It’s interesting to read about how the coach’s students tackled the problem positions. The results were variable, often according to the playing style of the student, but Popov constantly reiterates that mistakes are a catalyst for improvement.

The final chapter,
‘Hard Work Pays Off!’ offers a selection of positions from the Kosintseva sisters’ games, as a sort of redressing of the balance to atone for showing so many of their errors earlier in the book.

It’s a very interesting book and definitely a cut above standard instructional work. It is reminiscent of some of GM Dvoretsky’s books in some respects, albeit in a more accessible way.

Coaches and trainers will find much of interest and hard working students of chess should be able to derive a lot of benefit from the material even if they have to work alone.

1000 Checkmate Combinations
By GM Viktor Henkin
336 pages

This is a new edition of a book originally published in Russian back in the 1970s. There is a foreword by Tal, who says '...Chess has now achieved such a level that inventing something fundamentally new is unbelievably difficult'. One wonders what the great champion would make of the world of chess now, several decades on.

As the title suggests, this is a study of checkmate positions. They are arranged by piece, starting with the Rook.

All of the classics are there, but of course the material stops in the 1970s. However, checkmate positions don't date and this is an entertaining collection, enhanced by numerous quotes and anecdotes from great players.

The reader will be kept busy for quite a while. Here's an easy starter to try.

Bronstein - Vasyukov

Position from a blitz match. White, playing for the flag
to fall, indulged in some hocus-pocus. What?

Calculate Like a Grandmaster
By GM Danny Gormally
256 pages

A rare original from Batsford. It was released in 2010 but has only just found its way to Marsh Towers.

GM Gormally believes that '...without thorough discipline it is impossible to fully utilise your chess potential'. This book aims to guide the reader towards that ideal, via the course of eight chapters:

Tal and the tree of plenty
Self Handicapping
Simply Shirov
Topalov and the age of computers
The magic of Moro
Vishy Anand - Speed Superstar
Bobby, the two K's and Les Enfants Terribles
My Own Experience

The analysis of key games runs deep and is reminiscent of Batsford books from earlier times, with variations by the name of 'C1b' and the like. Advanced players will enjoy playing through the lines of analysis.

Along the way, there are the Grandmaster's thoughts on various subjects, such as the impact of computers on the modern game and the psychological aspect of playing difficult opponents.

There are quirks, mainly within the autobiographical material, which is interspersed throughout the text. A one point, GM Gormally bemoans the lack of opportunities for chess professionals in the UK, but this rather at odds with his tale of a drunken attempt to converse with GM Kasparov and the confessional piece 'The typical day of an ICC addict'. Professional opportunities can't be expected to fall out of the sky.

There are a number of misprinted pages (48, 49 and 56) which aren't easy on the eye and as usual with Batsford's recent output, the cover is dull and at odds with the modern market. Nevertheless, it is still good to see the former giant of chess publishing continuing to releases books despite troubled times.

Chess Camp Volumes 1-3
By Igor Sukhin
114 pages each

Chess Camp is an attractive series of books aimed at young juniors. Each volume contains over 600 chess puzzles.

The first two volumes are very basic, dealing with elementary captures, checkmates and the like. Volume three is really where the fun starts. It’s all still in the realms of the ‘basic’ category, but the material often features an unusual twist, such as positions in which two pieces achieve checkmate against a entire opposing army.

Black to play and triumph over adversity!

There are also a number of puzzles linked according to opening and endgame themes, plus some more unusual creations ('All Pieces on the Same File' etc).

I tried some of the positions from volume 3 on numerous classes of 7 to 8 year-olds and they provided a suitable combination of instruction and challenging fun.

The Chess Camp books are very attractively produced hardback editions. They will be useful for junior coaches working in Primary schools and for parents who like to work with their children at home.

How To Reassess Your Chess
4th Edition
By IM Jeremy Silman
658 pages
(European distribution: New in Chess)

Don't be fooled by the '4th Edition' tag; it may lead you to believe that the book has merely enjoyed a few tweaks and updates. In fact, this new version of a modern classic has been completely rewritten.

The ethos of the book is to encourage students to choose moves and plans based on 'imbalance-orientated criteria', with the material arranged thus:

The Concept of Imbalances
Minor Pieces
Psychological Meanderings
Target Consciousness
Statics vs. Dynamics
Passed Pawns
Other Imbalances
Answers to Tests
Instructive Articles

The book is officially aimed at players rated between 1400 and 2100. It's a big book and I can't do it full justice in this round-up column, so I'll return to it when I have more time and space, which will hopefully be some time soon.

Chess Movies 1
Quick Tricks
By Bruce Pandolfini
208 pages

Chess Movies is a series of very short games, with a diagram and a comment after each move. This means a chess set is not required to play through the games. The author likens this to watching a DVD, when ‘ can ‘‘stop’’ the action and take time thinking about what you’re seeing and what’s being explained to you, as if you were home watching on your own DVD.’

There are 64 illustrative games - or ‘chess movies’ - with nine moves being the maximum length. Fatal deflections and fork tricks are well represented.

The material is extremely light and is suitable for young juniors and novices.

The next round-up column will follow in a couple of weeks. Before that, there will be a column devoted to a review of GM Korchnoi's revised edition of 'My Best Games'.

Sunday 20 March 2011

Chess Reviews: 174

It’s a busy time for chess books, with numerous new titles from a plethora of publishers being unleashed at virtually the same time. I intend to cover all the recent releases over the course of the next two review columns. This time, opening books will the focus of attention and column 175 will take a look at instructional, self-improvement books.

As I mentioned a short time ago, individual reviews will be shorter and snappier as the column evolves. Issue 175 should be available next Sunday, after which I am intending to switch to a bi-monthly column, going into less detail but offering broader strokes on all of the recent releases. However, outstanding products will be given additional space - usually with a feature all to themselves - either here or elsewhere.

The Zukertort System:
A Guide for White and Black
By IM Grigory Bogdanovich
340 pages
Mongoose Press

White’s first few moves in the Zukertort System are fairly predictable. With a small degree of variable routes, one can expect to see 1 d4, 2 Nf3, 3 e3, 4 b3, 5 Bb2 and 6 Bd3. White’s position will be very solid but his harmonious pieces can look forward to coordinating in an attack against the enemy King.

The main battle is usually deferred until after the opening phase has been completed. As GM Artur Yusupov puts it in his foreword, ‘Readers will get the opportunity not only to familiarize themselves with the different variations and setups, but also to study many typical middlegame ideas that have universal value.’

The book is two main parts, wit chapters 1-9 focusing on ‘Play for White’ and 10-14 looking at ‘Play for Black’. IM Bogdanovich has over 25 years of experience in the Zukertort System so is perfectly qualified to present a book about it. There’s no shortage of prose explanations to guide the reader through the various plans and ideas for both sides. The index is of themes rather than the names of players and this is a smart move given the nature of the positions in question.

There are plenty of illustrative games, dating from the days of Blackburne and his contemporaries up to current times. The Zukertort System has attracted a formidable group of adherents over the years - including World Champions - albeit mainly as a surprise weapon.
At club level, where an attacking initiative is often already a point in the bag, the Zukertort can be an excellent choice. It’s certainly not easy to lose quickly with it, so it can be used against theory hounds too.

I found this to be a very well-written work with the hard-working author keen to instill in the reader a real understanding of the typical Zukertort positions. It's the pick of the bunch from column 174.

The Gambit Files
Tactical Themes to Sharpen Your Play
By Bill Harvey
156 pages
Mongoose Press

Bill Harvey is in a combative mood from his Introduction onwards. ‘Gambits are a remedy for chessplayers who have become complacent’.

'The Gambit Files’ aims to increase the reader’s knowledge of a number of sharp openings, namely:

The Lisitsin Gambit
Scandinavian Defense - Portuguese Gambit
Caro-Kann Fantasy Variation
The Wing Gambit
Grand Prix Attack - Tal Gambit
French Defense - Milner-Barry Attack
The Rosentreter Gambit
Petroff’s Defense - Cochrane’s Gambit
The Scotch Gambit
Ruy Lopez - Gajewski Gambit
The Albin Countergambit
The Winawer Countergambit
The Geller Gambit
The Blumenfeld Gambit
Queen’s Indian Defense - Polugaevsky Variation

The book adopts an unusual approach:‘...the author surveys the common tactical motifs for each variation, and then invites you to hone your cut-and-thrust skills with thematic puzzles’.
There are 237 such puzzles for the reader to try.

There is very little in the way of theory and the historical development of the gambits. Instead, the emphasis is placed firmly on positions of a tactical nature. This makes various assumptions regarding the reader’s knowledge (or library). However, gambiteers will doubtless obtain a greater understanding of their favourite openings via the method of pattern recognition. Similar positions should almost certainly appear in the reader's own games.

One can certainly read it as a tactical primer for certain openings but it can also be used as a collection of general exercises to sharpen tactical vision, whether the openings are in the reader’s repertoire or not.

As usual with books from Mongoose Press, 'The Gambit Files' is an attractive production (as is the Zukertort volume).

By the way, the author has an interesting website featuring a large array of puzzles and problems. If you like his work there, then you will like his book too.

The Mongoose Press website includes details of all of their books. It is worth noting that they also run a 'Contest of the Week' on Facebook, with a book prize for the winners.

Sicilian Attacks
Powerful Charges and Typical Attacks

By Yury Yakovich
208 pages
New in Chess

‘Sicilian Attacks’ arranges its material according to structure:

Scheveningen Structure
Taimanov Structure
Rauzer Structure
d6/e5 Structure
Dragon Structure

This is not a book which suggests a specific repertoire (for either colour) but it does offer coverage of the various plans and tactical ideas associated with positions in which castling on opposite sides has occurred.

There are 32 illustrative games. Some are very recent, but a number classics from the past are analysed anew, such as the classic Tal - Larsen encounter from their 1965 match. The game receives 10 pages of coverage and it's a good example as to the depth of analysis in the book.

Tal - Larsen
Candidates Match, 1965

Larsen played 17 ...f5!? and went on to lose the game (and the match). GM Yakovich spends nearly four pages on an analysis of the alternative 17 ...g6, giving some real brain twisting variations.

The material is quite advanced and would suit serious tournament players. The conclusions at the end of each chapter are welcome and effective.

Further details of New in Chess products can be found here.

Unorthodox Chess Openings
By GM Valeri Lilov
5 hours and 16 minutes

FM Lilov turns his attention to unusual openings on his latest DVD, aiming to ‘…provide you with more weapons for the opening stage’. I was expecting lectures on just a small number of well-known disreputable lines but I was surprised by the scope of the material. The openings he covers are:

Double Fianchetto
Richter Veresov
Anderssen, Larsen and Grob
Wing Gambit
Fantasy Varaition
Chigorin Variation
Center Game
Danish Gambit
Chicago Gambit
Blackmar Diemer and Omega Gambit
Nimzowitsch Defence
St. George
Gurgenidze Variation
Balogh and Kingston
Latvian, Elephant and Greco
Chigorin Defence
Albin’s Countergambit
Budapest Gambit
Polish Defence and Englund Gambit
Opening Formations

Some of the openings are covered from White’s point of view but the rest are intended to inspire Black. Needless to say, opening surprises often involve gambit play (usually classed as dubious by chess professors) and the reader’s own playing style will be a big factor in whether or not the unorthodox lines considered here will actually appear in your own competitive battles.

It is becoming quite trendy to head for uncharted waters in the opening, especially with club players who have realised they cannot spend the time to keep a Grandmaster’s repertoire up to date. Some of the names were new to me, such as the Omega Gambit (1 d4 Nf6 2 e4) and Chicago Gambit 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nxe5...

FM Lilov has a friendly style of delivery. I have sometimes found the material his DVDs a little too light, prone to leaving too much to the viewer’s imagination, but I think his style fits this particular presentation well, but he does somewhat over sell these unorthodox openings. Club players will have fun trying some of these lines, which will work best as surprise weapons. However, I do think he is a little overoptimistic about the validity of playing such openings at a level up to ELO 2500. The majority of them should be OK as experiments in your local club championship, but probably not much higher than that.

A Modern Way to Play the King’s Indian
By GM Dejan Bojkov
Five hours

While acknowledging the classical heritage of the King’s Indian Defence (GM David Bronstein’s annotations to the Zurich 1953 Interzonal in particular), the Bulgarian Grandmaster presents a repertoire based around a more modern interpretation, namely the development of the Queen’s Knight to a6 (as in this position from the Classical Variation).

The introduction points out that the ...Na6 can be more positional than the more cut and thrust main lines of the King's Indian. White's e-pawn can come under sustained fire once the Knight establishes itself at c5.

He presents his material in the following way:

Petrosian System
Cheparinov’s Idea 8 Be3 Ng4 9 Bg5 Qe8 10 c5
Avoiding the Exchange 10 h3/Re1
Main Line 10 dxe5 (3 parts)
8 Re1
Gligoric System 7 Be3 e5
Rare Moves
Zaemisch System 5…0-0 6 Be3 c5
Zaemisch System 5…0-0 6 Bg5 a6 7 Qd2 Nbd7 8 Nh3 c5
Four Pawns Attack: 5…0-0 5 Nf3 Na6 7 Be2 e5
Four Pawns Attack: 5…0-0 5 Nf3 Na6 7 Bd3 Bg4
The g3-System: 4…0-0 5 Bg2 d6 6 Nfr3 c6 7 0-0 Qa5 (2 parts)
Bagirov System
Averbakh System
Rare Moves

The presenter has a quiet voice but his English is perfectly good. He runs through the material quickly and it is generally of a high level. Inexperienced students will find it difficult to follow; this DVD is best suited to advanced players who already have a sound understanding of the King's Indian Defenced and are looking to expand their knowledge.

Please visit the ChessBase website for details about all of their products.

Sunday 13 March 2011

CSC Update

My report on the Chess in Schools and Communities project (Teesside section) for February and March is now available, over on the CSC website.

Friday 11 March 2011

Further Reading

The April 2011 issue of Maverick magazine includes my review of the Smoke Fairies gig at The Sage.

For ordering details, please go to the Maverick website.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Blue Box Boy

Blue Box Boy
By Matthew Waterhouse
424 pages
Hirst Books

As promised last week, it's time to take a look at another volume from Hirst Books.

‘Have you ever wondered what it is like to work on the set of Doctor Who, alongside Tom Baker and Peter Davison? Like a Tardis, Blue Box Boy takes you there...’

Matthew Waterhouse (pictured above, at Dimensions 2010) played the character of Adric in the early 1980s, bridging the final season of Tom Baker and the first of Peter Davison. A mathematical genius, cut off from his home universe, Adric’s unsettled time aboard the TARDIS was brought to an explosive end in a story called ‘Earthshock’. It was (and still is) rare for a companion of the Doctor’s to die.

Adric - and Matthew - have both had to absorb criticism from some fan quarters over the last few decades. Hirst Books have pulled off something of a coup by publishing Matthew’s book, which is ‘A Memoir of Doctor Who in Four Episodes’.

The writing style is peculiar; Matthew writes his own story in the third-person. Such an approach can easily fall flat but despite initial concerns it actually works extremely well.
The use of ‘Episodes’ instead of chapters is another unusual technique, but fully in keeping with the TV show.

Episode 1: An Unearthly Child

Matthew’s story of his early life should resonate with Doctor Who fans of a certain age. At a time when the most important things in the world were Target novelizations of TV episodes, comics and collectible cards from packets of Weetabix. By the end of the episode, the schoolboy fan has progressed to the stage where he has actually got one foot on the door of the TV series itself. From virtually nowhere, he suddenly found himself in the nervy situation of awaiting a very important phone call.

Episode 2: Technocothaca!

When the Producer of Doctor Who, John Nathan-Turner, said the words Matthew was longing to hear: ‘We’d like to offer you the role of Adric’, it was the start of a remarkable journey. Soon enough, the press were happily misquoting him (some things never change) and he even managed a guest spot on ‘Top of the Pops’, promoting the single release of the Doctor Who theme tune. It was an eye-opening experience:

‘Matthew was saddened to find out that all the ecstatic cheering every week on Top of the Pops as each act mimed to its hit was just as fake as the performances’.

The real meat of the episode - indeed, of the whole book - comes when Matthew describes, in great detail, exactly how it was to be working with Tom Baker and Lalla Ward (The Doctor and Romana), with the studio virtually split into two opposing camps a lot of the time (one for each of the warring regulars). Tom’s eccentricities and inconsistent moods were probably made worse by the fact that he was nearing the end of his time on the show. People say, ‘Never meet your heroes’. Tom Baker was Matthew’s hero. It was a very mixed experience
('Why don't you p*** off?' was an early exchange ) - but unforgettable.

Episode 3: Forth To Doomsday

When Peter Davison became the Fifth Doctor, the TARDIS was a crowded place. Adric was one of three companions; Tegan and Nyssa had joined the crew at the very end of Tom’s tenure.

Matthew, at that point the longest serving TARDIS member, found out by accident that his character was going to be killed off. He caught sight of Peter Davison’s advance copy of the'Earthshock' script and ‘shock’ turned out to be an appropriate word.

In this episode, Matthew reveals his thoughts on his fellow time travellers and provides, among many other things, his own version on one of the most repeated stories about his acting career. Did he, or did not, deign to offer Richard Todd acting advice during the filming of ‘Kinda’? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out, although it is worth noting that this ‘official’ version differs from the version given by Matthew himself on the audio commentary of the ‘Kinda’ DVD.

Episode 4: Survival

The final episode summarizes Matthew’s career after leaving the show and offers an insight into two Doctor Who developments. Firstly, the rise of conventions, which are still going strong today. Secondly, he offers his opinions on the new version of the show.

Of course, not all of Matthew’s life has revolved purely around the world of Doctor Who. Having a high profile created opportunities in other directions:

‘One of the nicest things about being on TV was that it made it easy for Matthew to have lots of sex’.

There's a lot of Doctor Who related merchandise out there right now. 'Blue Box Boy' is definitely one of the most interesting of all items. Matthew is dishing some dirt, but it never comes across as vindictive in nature. It's a very readable and enjoyable account of his time on a remarkable show, with a huge amount of behind the scenes stories that will be new to all readers.

Undoubtedly, this memoir will ruffle one or two feathers along the way but Matthew has waited a very long time to present his side of so many stories and it is good that he has finally taken the opportunity to do so. It's never less than entertaining from start to finish and I think it's true to say that there has never been a Doctor Who related book like it.

There are three versions of 'Blue Box Boy'. The deluxe hardback edition had a very limited run and sold out quickly. The standard paperback is still available, as is an audio book, read by Matthew himself, with some bits and pieces that were not in the printed version. Full details of Matthew's memoir (and his new novels, 'Fates, Flowers' and 'Vanitas') can be found over at the Hirst Books website.

Monday 7 March 2011

World Book Night: Middlesbrough

World Book Night

As I mentioned last week, Middlesbrough's MIMA was hosting an event for World Book Night.
As expected, it was a very enjoyable celebratory evening. Books were given away and the entertainment was free also. We were fortunate in being presented with a large number of very talented singers, musicians, writers and poets over the course of two packed hours.

I didn't catch all of the artistes' names, but I caught their likenesses...

Ray Legg, Andy Broderick and Mimi O'Malley started the evening's entertainment in fine style.

Daniel Pettitt, no stranger to Marsh Towers, treated us to two of his latest songs which are set to appear on his forthcoming new CD.

Dan was then joined by Sara Dennis, co-creator of the event and another Marsh Towers favourite.

Sara sang her latest number, the powerful 'The Crying Song' (which can be heard over at Sara's website).

Katie Metcalfe, of Beautiful Scruffiness, was followed in the world of verse by...

...Philip Liddell...

...John Glasper...

... and Christopher Stewart.

Dave Brunskill reintroduced the musical aspect of the evening with an accomplished set of folk songs.

Jules Clare provided a number of unusual poems, interspersed with equally unusual tales about his own life. One particularly memorable episode featured a five-bus trip to Hexham to meet a girl who stood him up, due to...problems with her bunions. Surely there's enough material there for a full novel.

The entertainment came full circle with the original trio making a welcome return to play us out in style.

It was a memorable and inspirational evening. Well done to all concerned.