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John Watson Book Review (47)

CDs You Might Want to Know About

Emmanuel Lasker
Sergei Soloviov & Alexander Khalifman
CD-ROM; Convekta 2001

Jose Raul Capablanca
Sergei Soloviov & Alexander Khalifman
CD-ROM; Convekta 2001

World Champion Emmanuel Lasker
CD-ROM; ChessBase 2002

How to Play the Nimzo-Indianÿ
Reinhold Ripperger
CD-ROM; ChessBase 2002

The Slav Defence
Dorian Rogozenko
CD-ROM; ChessBase 2002

The Complete Queen's Gambit
Franco Pezzi
CD-ROM; Gambitingly 2001

Mark Uniake; CD-ROM
ChessBase 2002

The Philidor Defence
Alexander Bangiev
CD-ROM; ChessBase 2002

  1. The Pirc Defence
    Petersburg School
    CD-ROM; ChessBase 2002

Queen's Gambit Accepted
Boris Schipkov
CD-ROM; ChessBase 2002

The Total Marshall
Janis Vuitomskis
CD-ROM; Chess Mail 2002

In line with my comments in the last, lengthy column, the list of CDs above serves mainly to let you know what's out there, with a review of only about half of them. Many of these have come in very recently ('The Total Marshall' arrived a few hours ago!), and I've had no time to look them over.

I was looking at a listing of chess products from the last year or so, and I was shocked to see that products on historical and bibliographical material was the largest category, beating opening books, for example, by a good margin.

Most of these historical works I have not received review copies of, others are pretty specialized, and all of them lie outside of my expertise. So I'm just going to comment upon two CD biographies that I took some time to examine.

'Emmanuel Lasker', by Sergei Soloviov with annotators from the St Petersburg school of Grandmasters (including Alexander Khalifman), is produced by Convekta 2001. That company is also the publisher of the very similarly organized Capablanca CD above. 'Emmanuel Lasker' is a biographical disk ideal for experienced users of Chess Assistant (see the ChessBase Lasker disk next). One gets the Chess Assistant Light program free, however, and it has all the usual database features including the ability to annotate games and run analysis engines (Crafty is part of the package).

I have played around with this product and had fun with it. For strictly biographical purposes (details of Lasker's life outside of chess), it is worthless; and one should seek out one of the various books on that subject (I gather that one or even two have appeared recently). It does however contain 21 quality photographs (2 caricatures, I think) of Lasker, some said to be 'rare'. As a book on Lasker's chess and purely chess career, I think that it is a very solid effort. A year-by-year menu brings you games and crosstables from every event that he played in, and there are 624 annotated games by top GMs from Khalifman's St Petersburg group. These are unfortunately in Informant style (no words), but the analysis is often detailed and certainly essential for really understanding the games. A separate training section gives 203 quiz problems for training. I like this product, which will be enjoyed primarily by those who are fans of the history of the game.

'World Champion Emmanuel Lasker' by ChessBase is another CD-ROM on the same subject. All the better for historical buffs, but a bit unfortunate for the two companies, since the average consumer will probably choose only one of the competing products. The ChessBase package is more sophisticated, containing numerous multimedia clips and more useful linking features, although I saw only a few photographs. The multimedia clips are, to me, an appealling feature, especially since they have historical significance. I watched them all. The renowned Soviet-era GM Yuri Averbach discusses (in English) Lasker's significance for Russian chess, his endgames, and his style. All of the other video clips show the speakers and lecturers using German. We get comments from Lasker's biographer Ulrich Sieg, and well-known chess figures such as Unzicker, Lothar Schmid, and Robert Huebner (a 5-minute clip from a lecture about Lasker's style). Lilienthal, apparently Lasker's last living opponent(!), shows his game from Moscow 1935 against the great one (a draw), although his comments and the game are not visually coordinated. None of these ChessBase multimedia features are very sophisticated, and the sound is not always that good, but I like them. Once again, you won't get much out of them unless you understand some German.

Strictly biographical information outside of Lasker's chess life seems to be missing from this product, as with the Convekta one. By contrast, his chess career is covered thoroughly, this time in English and German. The core of the product is found in the many deeply annotated games that are usually connected to a specific tournament report. In each case, the writers (mostly strong players - even Kasparov is a contributor!) discuss at length things such as Lasker's style of play and the reason for his success. This is an excellent disc from ChessBase - maybe you can afford both it and the Convekta oneÿ

Reinhold Ripperger's 'How to Play the Nimzo-Indianÿ' (yes, the incorrect 'ÿ' is there) is a training course on the Nimzo-Indian, and not a full theoretical survey on it. The translation isn't very good, but provides some humor. The pieces are called 'stones' (we can guess what the translator's country or origin is) and there are silly mistakes, e.g., d-file is called 'e-file'. But sometimes you can't even make out what is meant, as in 'the lapidary remark'. None of this is too important, of course. The presentation involves sections centered around themes, e.g., the centre, 'blockade and obstruction', pawn structure, passed pawns, hanging pawns, and so forth. Then the individual variations are examined by means of selected annotated games, very often with just a few comments. For important but non-main-line variations, these are frequently older games, many from the 1940s and 1950s, and are not often supplemented by modern theory. Naturally the move 4.Qc2 and the most popular 4.e3 lines feature mostly modern games, but still without detailed theory. Thus this really is a learning CD, especially for low-rated players. Ripperger's interpretation of the Nimzo-Indian seems very restricted to me, seldom involving modern concepts of how to treat two-bishop positions. His notes can be unrevealing, e.g., he questions a move he calls a 'positional error' in one position, but doesn't explain why the exact same move isn't an error in a very similar position.

If I sound too judgmental here, that's because I just don't see any real effort to plumb the subtle and interesting aspects of the Nimzo-Indian. To be fair, however, the product is very well organized and will teach those first playing the opening just about everything that they need to know to start playing this defence.

  1. That the ChessBase opening CDs continue to improve is illustrated by 'The Slav Defence', authored by GM Dorian Rogozenko. I will talk briefly about the main database (there is also the usual training database). Rogozenko handles everything but the Semi-Slav (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6), including a great number of irregular lines and an extremely good exposition on ...a6While he states correctly that the CD was 'planned as a general guide to the modern theory of the Slav Defence, explaining the ideas of each variation' he includes some detailed and original analysis of crucial and currently important theoretical lines. This, he points out, means that 'even strong players interested in those particular lines can find useful information.' That is quite an understatement, in my opinion! You will find important, complicated and unresolved positions not only explained with great clarity but attached to numerous recent examples with assessments of each choice by both sides. All in all, a terrific piece of work and highly recommended for those on either side of the Slav. In conjunction with Burgess' recent, excellent book on the Slav, players from mid-level to top GMs will have everything that they could possibly need.

Franco Pezzi's 'The Complete Queen's Gambit' looks fascinating. It covers every line of the Queen's Gambit, with separate databases for the Queen's Gambit Accepted, the Slav and Semi-Slav, the Queen's Gambit Accepted, and the Tarrasch and Semi-Tarrasch (which are of course QGDs). I put the individual databases on my hard drive and looked around. The most impressive thing by far is the number of games annotated by GMs like Shirov,Huebner, Ftacnik, Knaak, Dautov, and Ftacnik. This is mostly the ChessBase crew, and it's unclear how many of the games were already annotated or done so specially for this database. That and many other questions are unanswered. Also, the games in a particular line are often hard to sort out, whereas the key has holes and is difficult to follow. But otherwise, this looks like an excellent compilation of Queen's Gambit games and theory, along with repertoire suggestions. I haven't looked at it enough to give a strong recommendation, but you might want to give it a try.

  1. Of the other CDs listed here, I will only add that Hiarcs 7.32 has been my favorite engine for some time, due to what I feel are its advantages in positional games. But I admit that everything is changing rapidly in the engine world and that I'm way behind the curve. Just about every ChessBase playing program has been recently updated and you might want to check their site at I look forward to the 8.0 version in any case.

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