John Watson Book Review (18)
A New Approach to Internet Chess Study
IM John Watson - Sunday 26th September 1999
ChessPublishing.com; www.chesspublishing.com; Chris White, 1999
ChessPublishing.com; www.chesspublishing.com; Chris White, 1999
The bad news is that all this isn't for free. Leading masters who are asked to make detailed monthly updates have to be paid, so readers are required to subscribe. And it's not cheap: subscribers can choose between gaining access to one site (opening complex; see below) for $18, to three sites for $36, or to all 12 sites for $90. Thus, a relevant way of thinking about this product would be that one receives a monthly magazine treating a set of openings, at a subscription price of $18, $12, or $7.50 per complex, depending upon the option chosen.
Is it worth itÿ For many players, I think that ChessPublishing.com is a tremendous bargain. Any tournament player who currently studies with ChessBase, for example, gets to download a constant supply of very recent games in their favourite opening(s), annotated by experts. Such games can also be converted into other database formats with free utilities widely available on the Web. Another advantage over a magazine subscription is that one gets to play over the games directly on site, quickly and without needing a board. Feedback is welcomed and encouraged from the subscribers, so interesting questions will be answered on site. And there are extras which may appeal, e.g., many of the authors include notes to classic games in their openings, thus providing a sort of tutorial, and most review the literature on their openings, giving their opinions as to which the best books are.
However, I don't want to deceive readers into thinking that everyone will get their money's worth from ChessPublishing.com. I think that a certain base playing strength is desirable, perhaps about 1600 USCF (or 1500 FIDE, if you can make sense of that). I also think that players 2000 and above will get the most benefit, and there really is no upper limit, since even a GM would love to have top players as their seconds, sorting through and identifying what's important in current praxis. Players who are not particularly keen on opening theory, or who play mostly irregular openings, will probably not find that much of interest on these sites. And obviously, players who are used to studying on their computers will get the most out of ChessPublishing; if you tend to use a board and pieces, with a book at the side of the table, the whole approach may not appeal. So the message is: regular tournament and club players who are comfortable with computer study, this is for you!
Chris White (of Grandmaster Video renown) is the driving force behind ChessPublishing. Like Grandmaster Video, this project is ambitious and professionally executed. White's choice of site authors is just superb, and probably the very best selling point for the product. I think that this is potentially the most important new type of chess literature (in the broader sense) which has appeared in years, and I very much hope it succeeds. To check out what's offered, click on the link from TWIC, or go to http://www.chesspublishing.com. Once you're there, you can get access to and browse around each individual site, read notes, and play through some of the games. But access to the juicy stuff requires a subscription (which gets you a password and entry to restricted areas).
Let me briefly review the ChessPublishing sites one-by-one, with the understanding that there is too much material for me to have looked at thoroughly, and so these are just my initial impressions. Also, since the sites are fairly new, one should keep in mind that at any time, there tend to be major additions to a site which will fill in areas currently lacking. I will cover the sites in the order that they are listed at ChessPublishing.com.
1.e4 e5: GM Paul Motwani. This is the first site listed, and I think that it may well be the best (so far). Motwani offers very thorough notes to games, both verbal and analytical. A huge amount of material is covered. I was very impressed by his suggestions in the irregular e-pawn openings such as the Latvian, Portuguese, and Center Game. I am also impressed by his enthusiastic style, which is perfect for instruction, and his originality.
The French Defence: GM Neil McDonald. Another very strong site by an undoubted expert in this defence. It is distinguished by originality; McDonald doesn't just present games-he analyses them and suggests relevant improvements. He also reveals a few blockbuster novelties from his own private analysis, something which few of the site authors do (i.e. the novelties on most sites tend to be from recently played games).
Dragon Systems: Chris Ward. This includes the Accelerated Fianchetto and other Dragon-related systems. A reasonable site, but not too inspiring yet, at least from my point of view. Mostly there are just games, without a lot of notes. The Dragon itself gets the best coverage. Ward is a Dragon expert and entertaining instructor (see, e.g., his openings videos).
Open Sicilians: GM John Fedorowicz. This is a tough subject to cover well, since so many new games are played and they all tend to be so critical. GM Plaskett, in describing this site, refers to a 'barrage of novelties' which are constantly played in all Sicilians. These require so much attention that the author doesn't have much time for suggestions of his own. As it stands, Fedorowicz does a great job of assessing which games are important in each line, and his notes for some of the 'big' games are excellent. Certain sections have skimpy notes and/or superficial assessments (e.g., he will say something like 'this opening stinks' and not explain why). But the Najdorf and Rauzer overviews are terrific, and immensely useful for anyone who wants to learn about and/or keep up with those lines.
Anti-Sicilians: IM Gary Lane. There are some good sections here, e.g., on lines like 1.e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3.Bc4 and 3.c3 Nf6 4.Bd3. So far, Bb5 systems are given minimal coverage (but with one good update on lines involving Nc3 and after…Nd4, Bc4 by White). I also think that the 2.c3 coverage is disappointing. But some sites are moving faster than others, and I suspect this one will improve rapidly. Lane is particularly known as an entertaining writer.
1.e4 Others: GM Alexander Volzhin. This site covers the Pirc, Caro-Kann, Alekhine, and Scandinavian Defences. Volzhin gives assessments and indications of what each game contains in his game introductions, which I like, because it gives the reader an idea of where to look without having to call up and examine every game. (That is, individual games on these sites are brought up by switching to another web site. This doesn't take long, but it would still be nice to go only to games in which one has an interest). Volzhin tends to concentrate deeply on individual lines, e.g., there is an excellent survey of 4…Bf5 in the 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Caro-Kann, and some very good analysis of 4.Bg5 in the Pirc. This approach means that it may take some time before your own favorite line is covered, but it will be covered well.
1.d4 d5: GM Ruslan Scherbakov. An enthusiastic site by a lover of the Slav Defence; it includes all Queen's Gambit Declineds and the Queen's Gambit Accepted. Like many of these authors, he tends to be over-dramatic, e.g., announcing the death of the Chigorin Defence (Black's 'last attempt to survive' fails, according to Scherbakov, due to a line which I feel is harmless, and in which Black's best line isn't even examined). But the point of these sites is to find interesting ideas and update the reader, and Scherbakov succeeds. In particular, he does that and much more in his Slav coverage, which includes a number of his own ideas, especially in his great love, the Noteboom Variation.
d-pawn Specials: GM Aaron Summerscale. This covers all those annoying (and generally somewhat passive) d-pawn systems without c4, e.g., the Torre and Barry Attacks, the Veresov, Colle, and London Systems, and things like the Stonewall and Blackmar-Diemer Gambit. Summerscale, who has written about many of these openings elsewhere, began by giving exemplary older games for many of these systems; he is now rapidly adding current annotated games via updates. I didn't spend much time on this site, but I think that it may well appeal to slightly anti-theoretical types.
King's Indian Defence: IM Andrew Martin. I have always liked Martin's writing; he is another enthusiastic and imaginative author, a perfect choice for such a site. So far, he has annotated quite a few 'classic' KID games, and many of his recent games carry no notes, e.g., in the main-line orthodox systems. Here it's worth remembering that these sites are still very new, and that the authors will have periods of relatively greater and lesser activity. My guess is that ultimately, Martin's will be one of the better site authors; certainly, with his knack for clarity and fun, he will be one of the most instructive.
Nimzo/Benoni Defences: GM John Emms, an author with a rapidly-growing reputation, with Chris Ward taking over the Nimzo-Indian part. This site includes the Nimzo-Indian, Benoni, Queen's Indian, Bogo-Indian, and what Emms calls 'Weird Benonis'. So far, this important site is relatively underdeveloped, e.g., the last time I looked, there were no QIDs with 4.a3 and only two with 4.g3, and no Bogo-Indians. The Benoni was much-better covered, although mostly in a few variations. Again, with two such active and qualified authors, this site will undoubtedly expand and improve, probably very soon.
'Daring Defences to 1d4' is the names of GM Jon Tisdall's site, which includes the Grunfeld, Benko, Old Indian, Budapest, Blumenfeld, Dutch, and English Defences. Quite an array! Thus far, there are interesting contributions in the latter two defences, and the rest is a bit thin. Tisdall has also been featuring (promotingÿ) the line with g3/Bg2 against the Benko. He includes many games with the recent move 10.Rb1, which is doing very well for White, but (thus far) little else on the Benko. Chris White has chosen another terrific writer in Tisdall, and it will be fun to follow this site as it becomes more fleshed out.
Flank Openings: GM Tony Kosten. Here we have the English Opening (subject of Kosten's recent 'Dynamic English'), the Reti, 1.g3, 1.b3, 1.f4, and things like 1.g4 and 1.b4. Thus far, Kosten's main emphasis has been on the English (1.c4), with a smattering of Retis and just a beginning on the other openings. The December update is quite good on the English, but it would be nice if Kosten indicated in his overview notes which line was being discussed, as he does when he says, e.g., that a game features a new line in the Keres Variation of the English for Black. Most of the time, there is no such hint. In such wide-open, flexible openings as the English, readers won't want to load every single game to find something in the line they play. But at any rate, Kosten's notes are readable and instructive, and he should be especially good in the Reti and English lines.