Monday 30 September 2013

CSC Training Day


Our next CSC Teesside training day is on Wednesday 9 October in Middlesbrough.

Anyone can enrol and it's free to anyone involved with my CSC Teesside schools (teachers, TAs, parents, governors, old-looking Y6s...!). Lunch provided!

More details here.

Friday 20 September 2013

Dreamboats and Petticoats

Dreamboats and Petticoats
Civic Theatre, Darlington
Dreamboats and Petticoats CDs are everywhere. The musical collections managed to hit a major nostalgic nerve that continues to twitch. You can't stop the pulse of great music beating it's way through the generations.

The stage version slips a narrative around the music, turning it into a sort of Anglicised Grease. The storyline draws on narrative devices even older than the setting: the Granddad talking to his Granddaughter about ''the old days'' just before finding his old guitar in the loft; the beginnings of a rock 'n' roll band, back in the day, rehearsing and occasionally at odds with each other; the star-crossed lovers and the teenage dreams. Yes, the plot lines carry more than merely an air of inevitability onto the stage with them, but who cares about that?

Scratch the surface of the narrative and the music, much to the delight of the appreciate audience, pours out. The on-stage band is playing it for real: real instruments, real live singing. It takes one back...not quite as far back as the setting of the play - Essex, early 1960s - but not too far off.

The classic rock 'n' roll songs come thick and fast. All are welcome! There's Let's Dance, Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen, Runaround Sue, Great Pretender, C'mon Everybody and numerous others.

With a cast on excellent form, Dreamboats and Petticoats never fails to entertain. Mark Wynter, who plays a dual role in the play, returns at the end as himself to perform a mini-set of his famous songs, including signature tune Venus in Blue Jeans.

It was particularly good to see the Civic Theatre packed out, especially for a Thursday evening. I've been to several excellent shows at the Civic in recent years that have somehow failed to attract a sizeable audience.

It is said that nostalgia isn't what it used to be. Dreamboats and Petticoats will repair that particular faulty perception.

Follow the tour dates and check out the merchandise for Dreamboats and Petticoats over at the official website.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Samantha Fish: Black Wind Howlin'

Black Wind Howlin'
Samantha Fish
Fasten your seat belts and hold on tight! Samantha Fish's new album - Black Wind Howlin' - is all set to blow away the early Autumn cobwebs at the end of the week.

Samantha has already appeared here at Marshtowers earlier this year, when I picked out her guest vocals as one of the highlights on Devon Allman's Turquoise album. She is also one third of the Girls With Guitars trio, another of whom is Dani Wilde (Dani's Juice Me Up was reviewed here back in 2012). So having touched on a little of Samantha's history already, I was keen to find out more about her own music.

Track list

Mikes to Go
Kick Around
Go to Hell
Sucker Born
Over You
Who's Been Talking
Lay it Down
Let's Have Some Fun
Foolin' Me
Black Wind Howlin'
Last September

Miles to Go hits the ground like a cheetah running: ''12 hours to Reno, 10 hours til the next show; Got mouths to feed, my word to keep; On the run, with miles to go...'' It's a big, bold sound, topped off by a powerful voice that sets the scene for most of what is to follow - a large slice of high-energy rock/blues.

Kick Around keeps the pace and features the ubiquitous Mike Zito (he produced the record and adds vocals and guitars; he was also a guest artist on Magic Honey, reviewed yesterday). Indeed, the first four tracks are all riff-heavy rockers with anger-tinged vocals. Sucker Born - highlighting the exemplary harmonica of Jumpin' Johnny Sansome - is the pick of the opening quartet.

There's a timely change of pace on Over You, bringing a much more soulful aspect from Samantha's voice. Who's Been Talking is the most bluesy offering of the 12 (and, written Chester Burnett, the only song without a writing credit for Samantha; Go to Hell is a shared credit with Mike Zito, but the rest are all her own work).

The tempo goes up again for the second half of the album and stays there until the very surprising switch to Americana for Last September which demonstrates another welcome string to Ms Fish's bow. Bo Thomas's fiddle lifts the song in all the right places and brings the album to a very satisfying conclusion. Actually, I would like to hear more in the style of Last September, which I think adds a great extra dimension to the album.

In addition to Samantha's powerful vocals and guitar, there are the following personnel:

Yonrico Scott - drums and percussion
Charlie Wooton - bass guitars
Mike Zito - guitar and vocals
Paul Thorn - vocals
Johnny Sansome - harmonica
Bo Thomas - fiddle

Stand out tracks: Sucker Born; Over You; Last September.

Black Wind Howlin' will be released in the UK on 23 September 2013.

For further details, head for Samantha's official website.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Cyril Neville: Magic Honey

Magic Honey
Cyril Neville
Cyril Neville's new album has just been released. Or rather, his gumbo (as he likes to call it) has - and he is happy with his sonic culinary skills: ''I'm extremely proud of this record. It's a tasteful, well-cooked musical gumbo that I think will be pleasing to the palates of music lovers.''

Track list

Magic Honey
Swamp Funk
Something's Got a Hold on Me
Another Man
Still Going Down Today
You Can Run But You Can't Hide
Blues is the Truth
Running Water
Working Man
Money and Oil
Slow Motion

The recipe is essentially a blend of funk and up-tempo blues, with the occasional slice of rock and reggae thrown in for good measure. There's a good mix of tone to the songs too, from the innuendo-laden Magic Honey, the sweaty Swamp Funk, through the more serious mid-section of the album (Something's Got a Hold on Me to Invisible), the political Money and Oil and the winding-down reggae pace of Slow Motion.

It's no mean trick to balance such big ingredients and keep the whole thing on the boil. Indeed, Cyril's great experience is an essential requirement; at 64, and with a long track record behind him, his professionalism makes it look easy.

Cyril serves up the lead vocals and percussion throughout the gumbo and his musical kitchen features the following staff:

Cranston Clements - guitar
''Mean'' Willie Green - drums
Carl Dufrene - bass
Norman Caesar - keys

Guest artists spice up the mix, with Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, Mike Zito, David Z, Walter Trout, Gaynielle Neville and Omari Neville adding a combination of guitars, keyboards and backing vocals at various points.

Stand out tracks: Something's Got a Hold on MeStill Going Down Today, Invisible.

Find out more about Cyril Neville over at his official website.

++Stop Press!++

Cyril is currently touring as part of Royal Southern Brotherhood!

Monday 16 September 2013

Further Reading

My reviews of Mastering Endgame Strategy (Johan Hellsten, Everyman Chess) and The Complete Albin Counter-Gambit (Luc Henris, Jean-Louis Marchand Editions) are in the September 2013 issue of CHESS Magazine.

Head here for ordering details.

Sunday 15 September 2013

Chess Reviews: 224

Best Play
By Alexander Shashin
401 pages
Subtitled ''A New Method for Discovering the Strongest Move'' (despite what the original cover - above - shows), ''Best Move'' purports to guide readers into playing better chess by means of a new formula. As the blurb puts it:

''Have you ever wished for a “formula” to help you decide what move to make in any given chess position? In this ambitious and groundbreaking work, physicist and chess master Alexander Shashin presents the fruit of three decades of research into the elements of the game.''

Grandmaster Morozevich sets the scene with his intriguing foreword. In 2002 his rating started slipping badly. ''I hardly knew what to do next. Fate had it that I should then meet this amazing person, coach, and physicist by training (and perhaps by calling): San Sanych Shashin, as I freely started to call him.''

Morozevich does not stint in his praise of the author. ''It is difficult to overestimate the amount of support he gave me. Our many hours of kitchen-table conversations brought me back to life as both a chessplayer and a human being.'' Indeed, he credits him as an important factor in being able to reignite his interest in the game. ''Thanks to his patience and his extraordinary level of native intelligence, San Sanych succeeded not only in renewing my appetite for chess, but also in showing me those edges of life which until then – as a result of my age and the pecularities of my character – I had steadfastly ignored.''

Praise indeed. So what does ''Best Play'' offer lesser mortals? Being naturally suspicious of formulas and the like - at least, when applied to ''proving'' something in chess - I was interested to find out if this book was offering something genuinely helpful.

The author states: ''Our ultimate goal in chess [...] is a universal method for discovering the strongest chess move.  More than that, a method that works in all possible chess positions, without exception. All of them!''

The material is split into two parts:

PART I: A Universal Method for Discovering the Strongest Move

Chapter 1. An Overview of Part I

Chapter 2. Tal’s Algorithm, or the Algorithm for Attacking Material Chess Targets

Chapter 3. Capablanca’s Algorithm, or the Algorithm for the Strongest Strategic Move

Chapter 4. Petrosian’s Algorithm, or the Defensive Algorithm

Chapter 5. Mixed Algorithms, or the TC, CP, and TCP Algorithms for Discovering the Strongest Move

Chapter 6. The Algorithm Drift Chart and the Search for the Strongest Move

PART II: A Universal Method for Discovering the Strongest Move, in Practice

Chapter 1. Simple Examples

Chapter 2. Medium-Difficulty Examples

Chapter 3. Complex Examples

Chapter 4. The Second-Pass Evaluation

Chapter 5. Selected Examples

Chapter 6. Positions for Self-Study

World Champions Tal, Capablanca and Petrosian are used as model examples in the respective worlds of attacking, manoeuvring and defending. Their initials - ''T'', ''C'' and ''P'', form part of an algorithm devised to help readers correctly assess a position and to find the best move. 

Things are deep from very early on. ''You may have already come across the relevant page and had your first exposure to the Algorithm Drift Chart...What does it mean? What do you see there? There, you will see three 'zones,' located along the 't' axis. Then too, there are five parameters - from 'm' to ∆(move). Two original 'baskets' of information...''

That's a lot to take in already. The theory and method are both outlined in detail and then it's straight into the illustrative games to link the theory to over-the-board practice. 

It's very difficult stuff. Club and average tournament players will be alienated and even very strong and highly experienced players will have to invest an uncommon amount of time in trying to get to grips with what is on offer here.

I found a game with which I was already very familiar and picked a point at random to see the author's appraisal of the position.
Spassky - Petrosian
World Championship (7), Moscow 1966
A well known game. Petrosian went on to show real class as he outplayed Spassky in a beautiful positional masterclass. A snapshot from the annotations of this encounter should provide a flavour of what to expect from this book.

Spassky played:

19 Kh1

The notes are quite unlike anything one is likely to see in any other chess book.

''What does Black have? m > 1, t = 33/35 = ~0.94, a small '+' in the safety factor, ∆k > 0, and ∆(19. Kh1) = ~0.10. Diagnosis: 'Capablanca'? TC Algorithm?

Note how the position has hanged radically in just two moves. Black's progress in the second, third, fourth, and fifth factors is obvious (in the position after 17 a4, ∆k = ~0.00 and ∆(17 a4) = ~0.11).

Need we comment on these irrefutable facts? I don't think so...''

Anyway, the move Petrosian played was 19 ...Rdg8 and he won after 42 moves.

At this point I couldn't help feeling like Tony Hancock in The Bedsitter, as he tries to digest Human Knowledge: It's Scope and Limits by Bertrand Russell, only to find he has to consult a dictionary every few seconds, muttering, ''Well if that's what they mean, why don't they say so?'' before eventually running up the white flag and reaching for some light fiction (''Ah, that's more like it; Lady Don't Fall Backwards!'').

OK, I admit it; algorithms and the like leave me cold and I doubt very much that the material in this book is accessible enough to help many people find the strongest chess move. It just strikes me as far too complicated and the massive switch in thinking techniques required to try and make it all work is way beyond the powers of the vast majority of players.

The author has obviously put a lot of time and effort into the project but I'm left wondering what sort of person would get the most of it. Very strong players with a professional interest in computer programming, maybe?

Now, where did I leave my copy of Lady Don't Fall Backwards...?

Saturday 14 September 2013

Chess Reviews: 223

The King's Gambit
By GM John Shaw
680 pages
680 pages on the King's Gambit! No wonder it took five years to write. What is there left to say about 1 e4 e5 2 f4, an antique opening that enjoys only the occasional outing from irrepressible free spirits? Quite a lot, it seems. The author has even omitted irrelevant lines; this is a repertoire book ''with more than enough material to build several repertoires for White.'' Defenders with the black pieces would naturally be advised to take a look too.

John Shaw claims the King's Gambit is not only playable over the board (but not in correspondence chess) but is ''effective at all levels up to and including 2800+'' although White is advised to ''duck and dive by varying his replies to the critical systems.''

First, the bad news: according to the author, the Bishop's Gambit, arising after 2 ...exf4 3 Bc4, is bad for White. Indeed, he can't even equalise after best play by Black, which starts with 3 ...Nc6! There's just one chapter on 3 Bc4?! and it claims to offer a refutation of White's romantic relic. It's a pity, but there you go.

If White wants to try and prove the worth of the King's Gambit it looks like 3 Nf3 is essential. After that, there are six chapters devoted to 3 ...g5 and eight dealing with Black's other moves (including Fischer's famous 3 ...d6).

Later on there are two chapters covering the Classical method of declining the gambit - 2 ...Bc5 - one  on the Falkbeer Counter-Gambit (2 ...d5), one on the related Nimzowitsch Counter-Gambit (2 ...d5 3 exd5 c6) and two rounding up the odds and ends. The depth of the work is confirmed by the inclusion of lines such as 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Kf2?! although I couldn't the rare variation 1 e4 e5 2 f4 d5 3 d4, as played by Tartakower.

The critical material is given first. In the words of the author, ''If you can survive the first few chapters then the rest of the book will feel like a walk in the park.'' What do we find? Well, what would you expect to find from the critical lines of the King's Gambit Accepted? Lots of sacrificial attacks, plenty of wandering kings and a plethora of tactical melees. There are novelties (and so there should be, after five years of research and writing) and games of contrasting fortune: brilliant wins for White rub shoulders with successfully resilient black defence.

Here's a couple of sample positions I've pulled from the maelstrom, just to demonstrate the sort of chaos to expect.

Black to play
This position is from ''Section 5 - Flude Line'' and started life thus: 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 g5 4 h4 g4 5 Ne5 Nf6 6 Bc4 d5 7 exd5 Bd6 8 d4 Nh5 9 Nc3!?

What should Black play? 24 ...Qh4+ 25 Kg1 g3 is only a draw, according to the (remarkable) analysis given in the book. The ''best winning try'' is the amusing 24 ...Ke5; ''simple chess - defending the attacked piece.''

White to play
Another one from Section 5. A bizarre position comparable to many I see on my travels to primary schools. White's main options are 13 dxe3, 13 hxg3 and 13 c3.

It should already be quite clear that there is still plenty of scope for creativity in this ancient opening but now, more than ever, players on both sides of the board need to be well versed with the theory behind the moves. Imagine finding yourself on either side of the positions given above and not knowing the best way to continue. Indeed, the ethos the book is summed up by a comment from the author, who plays the King's Gambit to reach positions that are ''sharp, interesting and little explored.''

For the curious, Bobby Fischer's ''Bust to the King's Gambit'' - 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 d6 4 d4 g5 - is best met by 5 g3! (4 Bc4 is quite interesting also) with the intention of a favourable transposition to the Quaade variation (normally reached via the 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 g5 4 Nc3).

73 illustrative games augment the regular variations and they include several examples from the last three years.

It's an interesting book. Despite the high page count it retained my interest thanks to two major factors: John's concise, clear and eminently readable prose and the entertaining, enticing positions, which definitely catch the eye all the way through the book.

I doubt that the King's Gambit will become widespread again. Most players will throw up their hands in horror at the thought of having to play such wild positions and newcomers to the gambit will almost certainly find the size of this tome and the amount of variations - plus extensive analysis - prohibitive to their intentions. Yet those who already play either side of 1 e4 e5 2 f4 will definitely welcome this volume into their libraries. For those people this is book is an obligatory purchase.

Summing up, John Shaw has taken an ancient and currently unpopular opening and produced an entertaining and instructive volume clocking in at a little under 700 pages. A remarkable achievement!

Friday 13 September 2013

Chess Reviews: 222

Move by Move
By Cyrus Lakdawala
400 pages
I may have written a lot of articles this week, but I don't think I could ever match the extraordinary literary output of Cyrus Lakdawala.  He is the undisputed master of Everyman's popular Move by Move series and his latest volume somehow appears, as if by magic, just as soon as I have reviewed his previous one.

This time it's Mikhail Botvinnik's turn under the microscope. Indeed, with the ongoing Moravian series on the sixth World Champion's complete games and selected writings, plus the forthcoming Soltis biography due from MacFarland ''Spring/Summer'' next year, Botvinnik's popularity is on the rise once again.

Lakdawala sticks to the format he used in his books on Capablanca and Kramnik, breaking Botvinnik's most instructive games into chunks categorised under the following headings:
  • Botvinnik on the Attack
  • Botvinnik on Defence
  • Riding the Dynamic Element
  • Botvinnik on Exploiting Imbalances
  • Botvinnik on Accumulating Advantages
  • Botvinnik on Endings
There's a very short piece covering the basic Botvinnik biography before we launch into the first of many illustrative games, this one featuring an early trademark - the Stonewall Dutch (against Rabinovich back in 1927). The author's flowery prose blooms early on in this volume. In answer to his question, ''Is the Stonewall a sound line for Black?'' he says: ''I don't care for it as Black, but there is no accounting for personal taste. My wife Nancy squeals in joy and claps her hands in delight at the thought of a trip to Disneyland, while I view the same trip as a wilful descent into vulgar commercialism. Instead, 6 ...d6 would be a Classical Dutch.''

Most of us would have stopped after ''...personal taste''. There's a lot more evidence of such overwriting as we progress through the book. For example, in the latter stages of another game, as Botvinnik moves in for the kill against Garcia's king, there is talk of public hangings providing family entertainment.

Garcia vs. Botvinnik
Botvinnik plays 35 ...Bc3! and the hanging imagery is given a stay of execution:

''The king drops from the gibbet, his legs kicking as he sways. Within the witnessing crowd, his conniving bishop and queen, brother and sister, whisper: 'Let us never utter his vile name again' .'' (The game concluded 36 Rxf8+ Kxf8 0-1.)

It's a pity the prose is consistently overcooked like this because when the notes are kept simple they are genuinely pertinent and instructive. I don't like the abbreviated versions of names either, such as ''Capa'' for Capablanca, which I think lacks respect or, for that matter, the abbreviation of other words, like ''sac'' for sacrifice. It is indicative of the world's penchant for dumbing everything down.

Stylistic concerns apart, this is a very interesting book. The classic games are all there: the two-piece sacrificial denouement vs. Capablanca (AVRO 1938); the exchange sacrifice vs. Portisch (Monte Carlo, 1968); the miracle save in rook ending vs. Fischer (Varna Olympiad, 1962)...indeed, Botvinnik aficionados could indulge in a game of ''Botvinnik Bingo'' and call ''House'' without much trouble. Yet there are lesser-known games in the mix too, such as a game from a 1961 training match against Furman.

There's some great analysis; there is no doubt the author has worked on the illustrative games. Here's a sample.

Petrosian vs. Botvinnik
Game 1, World Championship, 1963
Botvinnik played 21 ...Ng7?! when 21 ...Ng5!! was a much better option, leading a wonderful - and decisive - sacrificial attack. The analysis can be found in the book, but I'll add another diagram to show a possible finish.

Petrosian vs. Botvinnik
''It was difficult to perceive that, despite his two pieces up, White is helpless and doesn't have a single satisfactory move'' - Botvinnik. Indeed, Black wins after ''27 Rac1 R8e4! 28 Rcd1 Rg4! with mate in two moves.''

There is the occasional slip in the historical detail. Recounting the tale of Smyslov's astonishing resurgence, which took him to the final of the Candidates series against Kasparov in 1984, the preceding matches are inverted; Smyslov was successful first against Hubner and only then against Ribli. Additionally, it was a spin of a roulette wheel that broke the deadlock against Hubner and not ''a lucky coin toss''. (Incidentally, the roulette wheel had to be spun twice; the first time it landed on ''0'' and only on the second spin did it land on red, to grant Smyslov passage to the semi-final against Ribli.)

Readers who have somehow managed to neglect a careful study of Botvinnik's games will have their eyes well and truly opened by the quality of the classic encounters in this book. It's a book I enjoyed reading (despite my criticisms) and I'm now looking forward to the forthcoming volume on the games of Viktor Korchnoi.

Thursday 12 September 2013

Chess Reviews: 221

Batsford are currently mounting a serious challenge to try and force their way back into the upper echelons of chess publishing. Some of us can still remember when they were the undisputed no.1 chess publisher.

They are not only producing brand new titles on a more regular basis than they have done for many years but they are also republishing many of their classic volumes, some of which have been significantly updated.

One of the most eagerly awaited reissues is the classic book co-authored by a very popular World Champion.
Study Chess with Tal
By GM Mikhail Tal and GM Alexander Koblencs
270 pages
How to does one study chess with Mikhail Tal? Alexander Koblencs, Tal's trainer, explains: ''The raw material for this book was gleaned from my training diaries, which contain the output from every training session with the ex-world champion Mikhail Tal [...] Aided by these full-bloodied games of Tal, I have tried to produce a book for the practising player in which I systematically outline the analytical/theoretical basis of Tal's ability to breathe life into the wooden pieces.''

The book presents a number of Tal's brilliant tactical games, complete with very fine notes (featuring a lot of prose and not a heavy reliance on pure variations, thankfully). At various points in each game, the reader is presented by a line of six asterisks; the cue to try and find the next move. These are usually very difficult to spot (they were not easy for Grandmasters to spot back when the original games were played) but the format is somewhat flawed by the reveal of the next move directly following the aforementioned asterisks. The book itself recommends using a bookmark to keep the pages ahead covered up as one reads, but that requires a discipline to which very few could adhere in this impatient world. I suppose it would work best with one person reading the moves out to a friend or pupil, eliminating the possibility of the latter spoiling the exercise by looking just a little too far down the page.

Well let's give it a try. I'll show you a couple of the easier positions from the book and you can try and work out what Tal played. I'm not going to provide the answers here though; you'll just have to buy the book if you want to see the full explanations of what he played and why.

Tal vs. Holmov
Black has just played 25 ...Bd7. What would you play for White?

Honfi - Tal
What should Black play now?

One of the great things about the book is the way complete games are used instead a series of test positions in which it would be obvious that Tal had a crushing sacrifice to hand. It makes for a much more rewarding study experience and give the reader a real insight into the ebb and flow of top-level games of chess.

The book's editor has updated the work by adding new questions at various junctures to aid the learning process.

This is a marvellous book and it will surely prove to be one of the more popular of Batsford's newly revived classic titles.

Pawn Structure Chess
By GM Andrew Soltis
286 pages
This reissue is of a book originally published in 1975. It has been substantially updated and now features examples of play from the 2000s.

The structures covered are split into the following categories, with each one enjoying its own chapter:

The Caro-Slav Family
The Slav Formation
The Open Sicilian/English
Chain Reactions
The e5 chain
The King's Indian Complex
The Queen's Gambit Family
The Panov Formation
Stonewalls And Other Prisons
The Nimzo-Gruenfeld Formation
The Lopez Formation
The Closed Sicilian/English

The material will have a familiar look to it when seen through the eyes of experienced players and the game annotations are too light and patchy to be helpful to players of that category. Club players and relative novices will find the basic explanations of use but this book should be seen as merely a starting point for further investigation.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Chess Reviews: 220

The Sicilian Defence (1 e4 c5) remains as popular as ever. Two New in Chess books provide ammunition for both sides of the board.

Winning with the Najdorf Sicilian
By GM Zaven Andriasyan
254 pages
The Najdorf Sicilian (1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6) has rarely been out of the spotlight since the 1960s, thanks mainly to the games of Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov. There was a period of time between those two champions of the black pieces when Anatoly Karpov made the Najdorf look like a forced win for White. That's fashion for you.

The author of this new book is an Armenian Grandmaster and a staunch supporter - and player - of the Najdorf. He presents a full repertoire for Black after 5 ...a6. Essentially, the repertoire prefers to meet most of White's normal sixth moves (6 Be3, 6 Be2, 6 f4, 6 a4, 6 g3 and 6 h3) with 6 ...e5, which is, after all, the point behind playing 5 ...a6 (to stop annoying minor piece raids on b5, creating difficulties for the backward d-pawn). It's a good idea to stick consistently with this approach as it should make the respective lines easier to learn.

6 Bc4 - Fischer's favourite when he had to face the Najdorf - is a different matter; Black is strongly advised to blunt the potentially powerful immediately with 6 ...e6.  

The repertoire will stand or fall on the worth of the recommendation against the popular 6 Bg5. It is the (in)famous Poisoned Pawn Variation, 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Bg5 e6 7 f4 Qb6, after which Black hopes to pick off the b2 pawn. Sportingly, the Poisoned Pawn is covered as soon as possible in the book - the first three chapters, in fact - giving bookstall browsers the opportunity to tell immediately if this repertoire is for them.

To play the Poisoned Pawn successfully requires a lot of hard work; it's not the sort of thing one can add to a repertoire overnight. There's a problem from the practical point of view too - how to stop White players forcing draws. It's fine at Grandmaster level, but amateurs need to keep winning chances simmering in their tournaments.

There are a couple of things I don't quite get. One is the use of the ''N'' symbol, traditionally denoting ''novelty''. What about in this case?

Black to play
The author writes: ''15 ...Nc6N This move and the subsequent variation was analysed by Nunn in his book The Complete Najdorf 6 Bg5. But I have added to his analysis the move 17 ...b5, a natural move that leads to equality.''

How can be 15 ...Nc6 be presented as a novelty, when it dates back - by the author's own admission - to a book published in 1996? A typo, or a bigger problem? I don't know, but the ''N'' symbol is scattered around like confetti.

The other odd thing comes in the short preface, written by Andriasyan's fellow-countryman, GM Levon Aronian. He praises the book but signs off with the words: ''I for one, might start thinking about reading it myself!'' Armenian wit - or a different problem...?

The Najdorf is a great opening for Black, but a lot of work. I'd recommend this book to very strong tournament players who possess a critical eye, but club players will be overwhelmed by the variations and analysis.

The Grand Prix Attack
By GM Evgeny Sveshnikov
251 pages
Of course, nobody has to face the Najdorf Sicilian if they don't want to. Not even 1 e4 players.
In this book, which is a continuation of the author's ongoing coverage of the whole of the Sicilian Defence, Evgeny Sveshnikov analysis The Grand Prix Attack, with 1 e4 c5 2 f4 (rather than the more popular 2 Nc3 and 3 f4 order of moves). The coverage is for both sides instead of a repertoire for White or Black.

In his excellent introduction he spends some time expounding his theory on why he thinks the Sicilian Defence is the best reply to 1 e4 and where he thinks 2 f4 stands in the pecking order of White's options. A enjoyed the second chapter too, which provides a short historical survey from Philidor to the present day. It struck a chord with me straight away, but it was by coincidence; the previous day I had been using one of the same illustrative games and Philidor for one of my own writing projects, as well certain pieces about la Bourdonnais and McDonnell.

It seems to me that once we have witnessed a few of White's typical Grand Prix Attacks smashing through the barricades in the good old style we must spend some time working out what to against 1 e4 c5 2 f4 d5! - the universally accepted recipe to 'punish' White for omitting 2 Nc3. The author agrees that 2 ...d5! is indeed the most testing move and he saves the coverage until the sixth and final chapter.
Readers need to pay particular attention to this chapter.

The first line to be analysed is 1 e4 c5 2 f4 d5 3 exd5 Qxd5. It's a sort of Scandinavian Defence in which Black can't play ...Qa5. The author says isn't as good as 3 ...Nf6! and doesn't promise equality. It doesn't put him off analysing 4 Nc3 and then 4 ...Qd6, 4 ...Qe6+ and 4 ...Qd8 all receive good coverage.

1 e4 c5 2 f4 d5 3 exd5 Nf6! is the real reason most Grand Prix players prefer to play 2 Nc3 and only then 3 f4. Sveshnikov examines:

4 c4 e6 (Black sacrifices a pawn and has compensation)
4 Nf3 Nxd5 5 Bc4 (fine for Black)
4 Nc3 Nxd5 5 Nf3 (offering the f-pawn but not particularly testing)
4 Bb5+ (tricky; White heads for an advantageous ending and Black must play accurately to avoid it happening)

There's also some material on 1 e4 c5 2 f4 d5 3 Nc3 and 3 d3 but neither are likely to break the bank.

In a nutshell, the overall conclusion is that 2 f4 is not particularly likely to force an advantage for White anytime soon, but at least it will lead to fresh positions.

I like this book; it strikes a very sensible balance between hard analysis and engaging prose. The author is very honest in his appraisal of the respective chances for both colours.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Chess Reviews: 219

Vassily Ivanchuck
100 Selected Games
By Nikolay Kalinichenko
317 pages
A good collection of Ivanchuk's has been long overdue. The brilliant but highly eccentric Grandmaster continues to enjoy brilliant successes in tournaments but consistently underachieves on the road to the World Championship. He is clearly capable of more in that department. When I received this book I hoped to be able to gain a greater understanding of this enigmatic chess character and perhaps find out why he constantly stalls in his quest to become a title challenger.

According to this book, the problem is down all down to the mood swings suffered by Ivanchuk, which see him periodically lose interest in chess, usually before - or even during - particularly big events.

''We can conclude that the most difficult time for him is the period before an important competition, or even an important game. When a certain result is expected from him, he starts to expect it of himself. Consequently, the tension grows and his ability to generate ideas and prepare goes down, as his organism begins to protest at the pressure from all sides!''

It's a pity the book was completed before the 2013 London Candidates tournament because Ivanchuk's play and overall performance in that event provided a textbook example of the most frustrating aspects of his of his character. He lost game after game early on in the tournament (often, quite unprofessionally, on time) but then enjoyed a sudden burst of new interest in events over the board, going on to beat tournament leaders Carlsen and Kramnik in consecutive rounds at the very end.

Despite the analysis of Ivanchuk's character, I didn't feel I really got to know him better from this book. That's possibly down to the sheer complexity of the man himself. The book would have benefited from some input from its subject; perhaps an in-depth interview with Ivanchuk by the author would have been a good addition to the work. Or maybe the only person who will ever be able to write about Ivanchuk in a deep and meaningful way is...Ivanchuk.

Anyway, the author promises 100 selected games, not a psychobiography, so perhaps I am being a shade on the harsh side.

The games are split into four chapters, arranged chronologically:


The games are fascinating and very well analysed. Indeed, the annotations are so heavy with variations they border on being inaccessible to the average reader. I would prefer to see a lot more by way of prose explanations to me to appreciate the games a little more, as they are as complex as the man who played them.

Two things are immediately apparent when going through the games: Ivanchuk is capable of beating anyone and he is capable of playing virtually any opening with either colour. Does he prepare everything or does he play some openings on the spur of the moment, powered by his Super-GM talent and intuition?  That's the sort of thing I'd like to know and that's why the subject needs a deeper study, marrying a study of his personality with a survey of his best games.

His victims in the 100 games include Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand, Aronian, Topalov and Gelfand. Ivanchuk has the ability to tie up the greatest players in knots. Here's a brief snippet to demonstrate his creativity (the full game is one of the 100 analysed in the book).

Kasparov - Ivanchuk
Horgen, 1995
Kasparov seems more or less OK here. He has been limbering up for a kingside attack, but Ivanchuk refused to play ball by castling. A closer examination reveals White is in serious trouble, as after 28 ...Qa7! he cannot successfully defend his d-pawn. Play continued: 29 Ne3 Qxd4 30 Nxc4 dxc4 31 Qf1 and now, with precisely the sort of move only Ivanchuk could find, there came 31 ...0-0! and Kasparov resigned. Ivanchuk is probably the only player in history to induce a resignation by castling as late as move 31.

Production-wise, everything is in order: a sturdy spine, a clear layout and good use of photographs of some of the players.

Summing up, the games will definitely provide plenty of entertainment, the detailed notes will require lots of hard work from the reader to produce maximum benefit and the real story of Ivanchuk the person is a book still to be written.

Monday 9 September 2013

Chess Reviews: 218

Other writing projects have kept me away from the blog of late, but now it's time to catch up with a few chess reviews. I hope to present one review per day for the rest of the week.

The Scandinavian
Move by Move

By IM Cyrus Lakdawala
400 pages
Everyman Chess
I can remember a time when the Scandinavian Defence was copyrighted property of the club eccentric. There was one in every club, sitting there just waiting for an opportunity to meet 1 e4 with 1 ...d5. Everyone else felt the opening was useless but there was a reluctance to step into the eccentric expert's back yard, so most of us temporarily switched to Colle Systems and the like on such occasions.

Players of a certain age may also remember CHESS magazine (in the B.H. Wood era) devoting an considerable of space each month to a series of articles on the defence. Since those dark and distant days there has been a steady increase of interest in 1 e4 d5 and Cyrus Lakdawala's book is the latest in a number of Scandinavian volumes to hit the shelves.

Following an entertaining introduction which sees Emanuel Lasker come to grief after 1 e4 d5 (albeit in  a simultaneous exhibition) it's straight into chapters dealing with the main lines. This book focuses on 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qd6 ''a safer, more logical choice'' than 3 ...Qa5.

I used to be baffled by the idea of placing the queen on d6, where it seems to be a relatively easy target for White and appears to impede some of Black's own developing moves. Then I attended three simultaneous displays conducted by former title challenger David Bronstein and saw for myself some of Black's ideas and plans unfold before my eyes as he won game after game with this variation.

1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qd6 4 d4 Nf6 5 Nf3 c6 6 Ne5 is given as the critical test of the whole line.

After 6 ...Nbd7, there is analysis on 7 Nc4, 7 Bf4 and 7 f4. Black certainly needs to know his stuff in those lines, but Lakdawala seems confident in his analysis, claiming Black's ''resources are more than adequate against White's coming assault.''

Early deviations are all covered, but fans of the former main line - 3 ...Qa5 - will have to find another book to use. The author would have covered it in addition to 3 ...Qd6 but claims it wasn't possible because ''Everyman remains irrational in its insistence that my books remain under 1,000 pages.'' He is such a prolific author that I don't think he's joking.

Written in his usual chatty style, this ''move by move'' offers down to earth explanations on a complete repertoire for Black against 1 e4. It is an accessible and engaging presentation, although in truth 1 ...d5 and 3 ...Qd6 will probably remain an opening line that appeals mainly to club eccentrics rather than the rest of the clientele.

Sunday 8 September 2013

London Classic: First Players Confirmed

Seven big-name players have been announced for the London Chess Classic, namely World Champion Viswanathan Anand, former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik, former title challenger Boris Gelfand, Judit Polgar, Peter Svidler and Fabiano Caruana.

Gelfand, Svidler and Caruana will all be making their London Classic debuts.

More names will be announced soon.

Sunday 1 September 2013

London Chess Classic 2013

The 5th London Chess Classic will take place from 7-15 December and will once again be at the Olympia Conference Centre.

Malcolm Pein's statement is worth quoting here in full:

I am delighted to announce that the 5th London Chess Classic will take place at Olympia from Saturday December 7th to Sunday December 15th. The 5th Classic will not feature top level Classical Chess, but it will be headlined by a world class Rapid tournament as well some celebrity contests if I can find some celebs that are brave enough.

The switch to Rapid is because Vishy Anand and Magnus Carlsen will doubtless be very tired so soon after the conclusion of their world title match at Chennai which is scheduled to end on November 26th.

The schools events will be expanded and the festival, with weekenders, FIDE Open, simultaneous displays and lectures will take place as usual.

The FIDE Open will probably act as a qualifier for the main event and there will be some Blindfold Chess and Chess 960 so it should be an all round chess extravaganza.

Tickets will go on sale in September after the field has been finalised. The venue will again be Olympia.

Please watch this site for more information including the festival entry form. Latest developments will be posted on Twitter via@londonclassic. Once again there’ll be a cutting edge live broadcast and I’m looking forward to welcoming you to the biggest Classic ever.

Malcolm Pein
Chief Executive
Chess in Schools and Communities

For further details, head for the official website.