Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Chess Reviews: 97

Dangerous Weapons: Anti-Sicilians
By GM John Emms, IM Richard Palliser & GM Peter Wells
285 pages

‘…bold possibilities for Black against some of White’s popular Anti-Sicilians, and also weapons for White to try, aiming to shock and confuse opponents.’

The popular Dangerous Weapons series continues with an examination of 12 trouble-making ideas in the Sicilian Defence. There’s a 50-50 split between suggestions for each colour.

One of the most interesting is the early pawn lunge by Black in a popular variation of the Closed Sicilian.

1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.d3 d6 6.Be3 h5

Black intends to throw White off his rather automatic scheme of development. Indeed, should White continue to proceed as normal, he runs the risk of the h-pawn’s advance causing serious problems just a couple of moves later.

…when 9 Bf1 and 9 Bf3 Nd4 (or 9...Ne5) look promising for Black.

White’s most promising gambit in the book would appear to be after the sequence:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6 4.0–0 Bg7 5.c3 Nf6 6.d4

Black can grab the pawn but GM Wells provides some potent lines for White.

It has to be said that some of the ideas seem quite tame in comparison to the extraordinary and downright crazy weapons found in other volumes. It’s not easy to believe that the move g2-g3 can be classed as a dangerous weapon in any opening. In this case, readers hoping to unleash 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 g3!? will probably have to wait a very long time.

Dangerous Weapons:
The Pirc and Modern
IM Richard Palliser, GM Colin McNab & IM James Vigus
224 pages

‘Your authors have aimed to produce a mini-repertoire for Black against most of White’s tries, while also covering a few dangerous and quite complex ideas for White.’

It seems to me that this volume contains more serious dangerous ideas and one shouldn’t have to wait too long before seeing them over the board.

The basic contents should whet the appetite.

1 Castling into the Argentinean Attack
2 Castling into the 150 Attack

3 A Neglected Approach in the Classical

4 Benjamin’s Flexible 6...e6
5 A Cunning Sidestep

6 The Delayed Spike

7 Not the 150 Attack!

8 Spicing up the Fianchetto Variation

9 Meeting 4 Bg5 in Dragon Style

10 Blunting White’s Bishop on c4
11 An Early Lunge

12 Trumping a Tricky Transposition

Chapters 3,6,7 and 11 all supply ammunition for the first player but there is a bias in favour of Black; it’s quite understandable, with noted Pirc/Modern experts Vigus and McNab on board.

Chapters 3 and 5 in particular caught my attention.

GM McNab provides some fine detail for those wishing to adopt A Neglected Approach in the Classical.

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Be2 0–0 6.0–0 c6 7.Bf4

‘With this direct move White hinders …e5 by Black, at the same time preparing to advance his own e-pawn.’

Indeed, the illustrative games show the trouble Black can easily fall into after playing very natural moves, so Pirc players really need to take a look at the analysis if intending to play 6...c6. GM McNab has played Pirc/Modern systems for a very long time indeed so if he highlights a problem line for Black it simply must be taken very seriously.
A Cunning Sidestep shows Black varying from a very well known theoretical variation.

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4 Bg7 5.Nf3 c5 6.Bb5+ Bd7 7.e5 Ng4 8.e6 Bxb5 9.exf7+

Black is encouraged to step away from the main line (9...Kd7) with the tricky 9...Kf8

Black will soon Hoover up the f7 pawn (9...Kxf7 10 Ng5+ isn’t the best way to do it).

There’s lots of food for thought in this book. Anyone who already plays such things as Black cold easily slip a few of these weapons into an existing repertoire in time for the new chess season.

7 Ways To Smash The Sicilian
IM Yury Lapshun & US Master Nick Conticello
190 pages

‘It’s impossible to play Open Sicilian positions with either colour without an intimate knowledge of these sacrifices.’

The Sicilian Defence lends itself to smashing sacrifices. White’s early lead in development often results in an attempt to cash in the chips before Black’s long term advantages begin to make themselves felt. Sicilian games published in newspaper columns are often speedy White victories with a cascade of brilliant tactical strokes. Black has lots of fun after 1 e4 c5 too but the successful games are usually a bit too long to catch the eye.

1 e4 players seeking to extend their armoury against the 1...c5 should welcome this new book. The basic contents are:

1 The Knight Sacrifice on d5
2 The Knight Sacrifice on e6

3 The Bishop Sacrifice on e6

4 The Knight Sacrifice on f5

5 The Knight Sacrifice on b5

6 The Bishop Sacrifice on b5
7 Miscellaneous Sacrifices

Some of the sacrifices are very well known and readers will find some familiar material, such as the famous debut and debacle of the Gothenburg Variation.

Spassky, Geller and Keres faced Pilnik, Panno and Najdorf respectively in round 14 of the Gothenburg Interzonal. The latter players saw their prepared variation blasted away by classic sacrifices:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Be7 8.Qf3 h6 9.Bh4 g5 10.fxg5 Nfd7 11.Nxe6 fxe6 12.Qh5+ Kf8


The Argentineans were ready only for 13 Bc4 which they had analysed together before the round. The idea of White’s 13th, first played by Geller, is to control the d7- and c6-squares so as to remove the important defender from b8.

The Soviets clocked up an impressive 3-0 in these games. (Fischer later found - and played - an improvement for Black with 13...Rh7!)

Other sacrifices will be new to most readers and the authors have exhumed some excellent rare games for our entertainment, such as this one:

Gusev - Averbakh
Moscow 1951

The great Averbakh must have been shocked by 22 Rxf6! exf6 23 Qxd6 Rc6

…and now the amazing: 24 Qxe5!!

After 24...fxe5 25 Rf1 the bind proved to be curiously impossible to break and White went on to win in style.

There are 109 main annotated games.

The bibliography rounds up the usual suspects but includes more diverse titles such as tournament books for the 1974 Nice Olympiad and San Antonio 1972.

It’s a well-researched and energetic work, with a good index of variations to make navigation between themes and opening variations smooth and comfortable.

Yes, it will make very good study material for players on both sides of the Sicilian Defence but it also makes for excellent browsing and entertainment.

Fighting The Ruy Lopez
By GM Milos Pavlovic
174 pages

‘Drawing upon his years of experience facing the Lopez, Grandmaster Milos Pavlovic devises a sound yet ambitious repertoire for Black based on the legendary Marshall Attack.’

The Introduction runs through the basic attacking ideas at Black’s disposal and discusses the compensation Black has for the pawn. The stem game of the attack, unleashed by Marshall against the great Capablanca, is then given with notes.

The Marshall Gambit appears on move eight…

After 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 0-0 Be7 6 Re1 b5 7 Bb3 0-0 8 c3 d5

…White can win a pawn with the simple sequence…

9 exd5 Nxd5 10 Nxe5 Nxe5 11Rxe5

Marshall had prepared 11...Nf6 but went on to lose. The main line these days is 11...c6 and that is the one analysed extensively in this book.

In the words of the author:

‘In return for the pawn, Black gets fast development, aggressively placed pieces, control of the e-file and light-squared play on the kingside. Attacks on the kingside are usually introduced by …Bd6, and normally followed by …Qh4 provoking a kingside weakness. However, it is important to note that this is not always the case!’

He goes to highlight some standard pros and cons.

The Marshall Attack is holding up very well indeed at the highest level but to play it successfully requires detailed knowledge of the various branches.

This book covers:

Part One: Gambit Lines (pages 15-74)

1 The Main Line
2 The Modern Rook Shuffle: 15 Re4
3 The Mysterious Retreat: 13 Re2

4 The Kevitz Variation: 12 Bxd5 cxd5 13 d4

5 The Dangerous 12 d3

6 The Tricky 12 g3

7 Declining The Marshall

Part Two: Anti-Marshall Lines (pages 75-129)

8 The 8 h3 Anti-Marshall
9 The 8 a4 Anti-Marshall

10 The 8 d4 Anti-Marshall

11 The Steinitz Variation: 8 d3

Part Three: Other Lines (pages 130-167)

12 The Worrall Attack

13 The Delayed Exchange Variation

14 Early d4 and Nc3 Variations
15 The Exchange Variation

The main lines are attractive and produce some fascinating positions, such as this one (from chapter 2).

White to play

‘Here there are many perpetual check possibilities, for instance 28.Rxe2 Rxe2 29.Rf2 Bxh2 30.Qf1 Rxe1 31.Qxe1 Bf4+ …’

It is easy to see the appeal of such swashbuckling play.

The final chapter is just as important as the rest, at least in terms of fulfilling the aim of providing a complete repertoire against the Spanish Game. Black players neglect the Exchange Variation at their peril. Here, the recommendation is 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Bxc6 dxc6 5 0-0 Bd6 ‘…a line recommended to me by Gligoric himself as Black’s best approach’.

A discussion of the various plans for both sides is followed by a selection of illustrative games (with numerous examples of GM Hebden doing very well as Black).

The lack of a bibliography is unfortunate; one would have thought it essential in a specialist opening book.

All in all, this book would suit serious players who have the time and energy to work hard with the given material. Club players may well find themselves out of their depth.

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Saturday, 20 June 2009

Advice From A Distance (Take 2)

A long time ago, when I was still officially a student, an English teacher set our class a piece of work based on advising one’s past self using the wisdom of the future.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take the task seriously enough for the teacher’s liking. Not only did I suggest that I would advise myself on how win more chess matches by offering better moves at certain junctures, I also ended up in trouble for rather flippantly suggesting that the person who tried to assassinate the Pope could be tipped off to aim a little bit more to the right. This got me into rather serious trouble.

A friend scolded me. ‘Why did you write that?! You know fine well that Mrs. B. is a Catholic!’

‘Of course I do!' I replied. 'But how was I to know the Pope was too?’

So in order to make amends I thought I’d better have another go at the lesson. It’s just taken me a little while to get around to it, but I suppose I’ve been quite busy for the last 27 years. Anyway, if Mrs. B. is reading this, perhaps I will get a better mark this time instead of being shouted out. After all, I haven’t mentioned religion at all this time. Except just then. And the bit at the start.

So, past self, here’s a few snippets hinting at what you should expect from 2009...

In order to make money, it is enough to lower one’s dignity. The lower the dignity, the more the income. It really is as simple as that.

The people you think are overweight look ‘normal’ compared to the people of 2009. Pencil-thin anorexics are on the increase but so are obese people. Millions of pounds are spent on food and other products to create people with extremely odd shapes. Further millions are spent on trying to change them back again. Gone is the uncool solution of the wired jaw; a gastric band is not only trendy but has the distinct advantage of allowing a victim to eat without missing out the taste buds.

Tattoos have become unbelievably popular. Upper-arm Celtic crosses and/or curious barbed wire markings vie for the most popular options along with strange black versions of paisley patterns. Tattoos used be an attempt to stand out from the crowd. Now, they represent an attempt to do exactly the opposite. They don’t look any nicer though.

Want to spend somewhere between one and four years doing anything you want with no sense of responsibility? Just go to university, like everyone else does. Don’t worry about the academic side of things. Nobody checks for the first year and then a couple of simple internet searches will let you download all the notes you need. Or join the trendsetters and simply pay a freelancer to write essays for you. Just alter tiny bits to make it look like your own work and nobody will find out.

Do you prefer your actors to do the acting, celebrities to do whatever it is they do and Mr. & Mrs. Nobody to remain anonymous? Then you won’t like it here. Nobodies do all the singing and dancing while the actors and celebrities do all the cooking, buying/selling houses and gardening. The ‘lucky’ ones get to spend a couple of weeks arguing on an island and eating worms. This could lead to appearances in Christmas pantos. See what I mean about lowering one’s dignity in return for a pay-day?

Some people foresaw this happening. I chanced upon a diary entry very recently:

‘The most amusing of all spectator sports in England now is television. Not the second-rate plays and films nor the actors and actresses, but the news, and the real people, heroes and heroines who voluntarily exhibit themselves under a merciless magnifying glass for the public to gaze at.’

Diana Mosley
Diary entry from the 1950s(!)

Ok, 1982 self, that’s all I’d better tell you for now. More will follow in part 2, which will follow some time within the next 27 years. Oh! Before I forget…it’s not all bad news. 2009 is the year you get to see Ultravox ‘live’ again!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Norman Stephenson's Openings Workshop Report #9

Fancy learning about the Stonewall Dutch?

Then pop along and read
Norman Stephenson's Openings Workshop Report #9, over at:

Literature Festival Update

We are delighted to announce that

Stevie Ronnie

will be our special Literature Festival guest on 9th October

Further details here:

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

That's Entertainment!

Little Feat
The Sage, Gateshead

I don’t know an awful lot about Little Feat but I was happy enough to take the opportunity to go and see them on a rare visit to the North East.

The Sage is a magnificent venue; spacious, complete with eating places and convenient toilets (I know…such features shouldn’t be remarkable, but they are!).

The warm-up act was a bit too heavy metal for my taste but most people seemed to enjoy it.

It’s hard to define the style of Little Feat. A little bit rock, a little bit country and a slice of jazz probably comes closest.

They played well but my lack of familiarity in their back catalogue started to tell after a while and I found it increasingly difficult to really get into the songs. I enjoyed the show on one level, but not as much as the others I’ve seen over the last couple of years.

I will be returning to the Sage very shortly for two more shows, so expect a report soon.

Brief Encounter
Theatre Royal, Newcastle

The Kneehigh Theatre production of Noel Coward’s famous love story is probably the finest play I have ever seen.

The standard is set before the show actually starts, with members of the cast, in full costume, appearing amongst the audience to sing authentic songs from the period.

The play starts with a remarkable special effect, with one of the characters apparently stepping right into a black and white film. This, and other effects - such as a train crossing the stage and one of the characters being hoisted into the air by a chandelier - produce several genuinely jaw-dropping moments. I don’t want to say too much it as it may dilute your own enjoyment if you go to see it.

The basic plot should be very well known to you all. The intrinsic, central premise remains untouched and extremely powerful, but this production takes the liberty of injecting a huge amount of songs and humour into proceedings, most of it genuinely laugh-out loud. This is a risky innovation but it all works remarkably well.

Whether you are a Coward fan or not, this is a must-see production. I’d definitely be interested in seeing it again.

A Meal With The Mish

I was delighted to see that my old friend Mike Closs had once again captured the title of Cleveland Chess Champion.

He’s my longest-standing chess ‘frenemy’; we went to different schools together and first met, over-the-board, in the 1982 Warsett v Westfields match (a draw on board 1).

For some years we met on opposing teams in matches between Guisborough and Redcar. Then Mike joined Guisborough and we won the title.

Over a decade later we joined forces again at Elmwood and won the league and cup many times.

Alas, we have not played against each other for several years (but the French Defence and the Saemisch King's Indian will probably be seen again some day).

These days I am more in the habit of meeting my former chess rivals at the dining table
(...for example:
and: ) and we had a very pleasant evening at Alessi's in Saltburn earlier this week.

There will be more about the Mighty Mish in forthcoming posts, but meanwhile here's a picture of us on our post-meal coastal perambulation.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Chess Reviews: 96

How To Beat Younger Players
By M Nigel Davies
3 Hours

'...older players often have jobs and families that take most of their time and it's no surprise they suffer painful defeats at the hands of spotty youths.'

The first volume of 'Chess For Scoundrels’ saw GM Davies pass on some practical advice on how to achieve more success at club level.

This new DVD deals with a growing problem to which no chess player is immune.

A long time ago, I played in a 5-minute tournament as part of the Walsall-Kipping weekend event. It was packed with Grandmasters and other titled players. A bunch of strong, improving juniors were there too. I watched one game in which GM Suetin lost badly to one of the juniors. He and I had a number of short conversations over the weekend. A little while after the game, he said to me: ‘Bleeeetz….is a young man’s game!’

However, the juniors still struggled to dent the armour of many strong players in full length tournament games.

Times have changed. Nowadays, young players are achieving better and better scores against senior players. We can no longer say, ‘It was just a blitz game and the kids are naturally faster’.

The experience of playing much younger players, ‘…with a baseball cap on backwards, munch their way through crisps the whole game, drink coca-cola, and perhaps have their parents hovering round’, is clearly one which GM Davies has been thinking about.

Here, his desire is to try and even up the odds for the ‘more mature player’ with some pertinent advice on how to play against apparent tidal wave of strong juniors, beginning with a short discussion on the factors weighing on older chess players (work, family etc). Experience and intuition can be outgunned by massive database preparation. It’s no fun at all being caught in a prepared line and being unable to wriggle off the hook.

Topics covered include:

Low Maintenance Openings

Playing Rational Positions

Tiny Advantages

Endgame Specialisation

Using Experience

Frustration Factor

The latter part of the DVD analyses games in which ‘oldies’ are triumphant against the younger generation.

Here’s a little example from the Tiny Advantages chapter. Petrosian, a player with an almost perfect style for beating lesser experienced players, would often avoid theoretical lines and simply develop his pieces on natural squares. This would lead to very rational positions, thus relying on his greater experience and better understanding of the resulting positions.

Petrosian - Veingold
Tallinn 1983

White to play and win

White’s early play had apparently lacked ambition but now, (with his pieces all on terrific squares, as if by magic) he had the chance to win the game. Can you see how?

Significant time is also spent preaching the importance of a little endgame knowledge and know how. This can be a tremendous practical help when playing against younger players. The mature player will become more confident as the game goes on, and longer games could lead to younger minds losing concentration and interest, with blunders in the air.

Another good tip is to use unfashionable openings, ideally those which were popular back in the day of one’s own early development. This is once again an attempt to swing the practical balance back in the favour of the player with the greater experience.

There’s good variety on this DVD. It’s a bit different to the norm and is quite quirky in parts. The advice is serious enough though and this offers very practical tips for all those who are fed up with losing to whipper snappers.

The Scheveningen Sicilian
By GM Lubomir Ftacnik
7 hours

'GM Ftacnik sets out to explain the vitality of the key Scheveningen line, a rich position offering scores of different plans for both sides.'

In his introduction, GM Ftacnik claims that the Scheveningen ‘…is not an opening but a central world of the Sicilian’.

Over the course of seven hours he attempts to welcome the viewer to the world of this highly respectable line and endeavours to explain as much as he can about all of the relevant lines.

The presenter’s delivery is very good. He looks directly at the camera most of the time, his voice carries a quiet authority and the smile on his face reassures the viewer.

The explanations of the ideas behind the moves starts very early on; there’s a comment as early as 3 d4, explaining what White achieves by this seemingly anti-positional pawn exchange.

The material is broken down into coverage of these important lines:

English Attack

Main Line

Keres Attack

Yugoslav Attack

6 Be3 and 7 f4

6 g3

The Keres Attack remains one of the biggest tests of the Scheveningen. 6 g4 is the forerunner of the English Attack (in which White plays an early f2-f3 and launches the g-pawn a little bit later). Indeed, the Keres is one of the main reasons most players like to start off with a Najdorf move order (1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6; only heading for Scheveningen territory once White has shown his sixth move hand). So I was intrigued to see what was recommended on this DVD. If the lines given here are not sufficient then it’s folly to add the Scheveningen to one’s repertoire.

Two Black ideas are considered: 6...e5 and 6...h6. Unfortunately for Black players, White still enjoys the lion’s share of the fun and the illustrative games are typically crushing victories for the first player.

Black also seems to be experiencing topical difficulties in other variations. For example, there are new twists in the main line, such as this one…

Tigran L. Petrosian - Pavel Smirnov
Moscow 2006

White has just played 12 a5, which looks dubious at first glance. Yet after 12...Nxa5 13 e5 dxe5 14 fxe5 Qxe5 15 Bf4 White is showing definite compensation for the sacrificed material.

Fast forward a few moves and it starts to look serious for Black.

White now played 19 Bd3!? and won in 31 moves.

I was expecting a series of lessons to build up an extensive Black repertoire but it does seem to me that White has a lot more fun in the illustrative games. Ultimately this DVD may well prove more useful for opponents of the Scheveningen rather than it’s adherents.

The disc also contains nearly 8,000 games (some annotated) which can be loaded up in ChessBase and used to further the student’s understanding of this rich chess opening.

Remarkably, GM Ftacnik has recorded another version of the entire lectures in German and this is all included on the disc.

All in all, this is very interesting stuff but not quite what I was expecting.

Power Play 10: Calculation
By GM Danny King
4 hours 30 minutes

'...Danny King will help you to assess how good you are at calculating, and gives you tips as to how you might sharpen your thought processes at the chessboard.'

Volume 10 (of 12) in this fine series discusses and analyses a skill no chess player can afford to leave undeveloped.

‘Calculation is not an easy thing but it really is a core skill of chess playing.’

The material kicks off with a game from the recent Kramnik - Anand title match to demonstrate that even World Champions can make mistakes when calculating.

Then GM King picks out some puzzles from an issue of ‘Schach Magazin 64’ and solves them ‘live’. This is a very interesting teaching method, enabling a comparison between the calculating powers of a Grandmaster and the viewer.

Five puzzles are given and the viewer is then invited to mull them over. The next series of video clips consider each of the five positions in turn, with GM King giving a running commentary on his ‘live’ thoughts.

Here’s one for you to try:

White to play

Is it advisable for White to capture the pawn on f5 or should he do something else?

I like this method very much indeed. The idea is not new; Mike Basman did something similar on some his Audio Chess tapes a long time ago, and CHESS Magazine used to run a ‘Beat the Masters’ feature in which strong Grandmasters submitted their thoughts and analysis on anonymous positions and readers were able to do the same.

It’s definitely something I’d like to see more of in the ChessBase format. There seems plenty of scope for development.

After the five solutions there follows an illustrative games between GM Gawain Jones and the presenter, to demonstrate different kinds of thinking.

Then it’s on to a series of studies, ‘…an excellent way to improve your calculating skills’. The process of elimination is an important discipline for the student to hone.

Here’s a study to test your powers:

Grigoriev 1923
White to play

After the studies, the viewer is really put to the test with 17 positions to solve. These can be very tricky and require some serious effort.

There are other little bits and pieces too, such as a discussion on ‘When to Calculate’, and a ‘Postscript’ in which the presenter returns to an earlier position and updates his thoughts and analysis.

Despite being part of a long series, each individual ‘Power Play’ DVD works equally well as a stand alone product.

The presentation is excellent; GM King really does make it look easy.

Whole-heartedly applying oneself to the material will be hard work but there will be a strong sense of achievement for students who enjoy a challenge.

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Monday, 1 June 2009