John Watson DVD Reviews (Part 2)
Chessbase DVDs and Downloads, Part 2
IM John Watson - Friday 2nd November 2012
John Watson continues his look at ChessBase training DVDs with the Queen's Gambit Declined; DVD; Andrew Martin; ChessBase 2011, An Anti-Sicilian Repertoire in 60-minutes; Loek van Wely; Download; 2012 and Smith-Morra Gambit; DVD; Lawrence Trent; ChessBase 2010.
Chessbase DVDs and Downloads, Part 2
The Queen's Gambit Declined; DVD; Andrew Martin; ChessBase 2011
An Anti-Sicilian Repertoire in 60-minutes; Loek van Wely; Download; 2012
Smith-Morra Gambit; DVD; Lawrence Trent; ChessBase 2010
Last time I first discussed ChessBase DVDs in general terms. Apart from the particulars, I should emphasize the fundamental importance of taste, that is, whether you enjoy learning in a visual mode and whether that can be too passive a relationship with your material compared to a written presentation where you play over the moves. I then looked at a few examples with the London System and English Opening, with some analytical examples. Interestingly, two of the English Opening videos were as theoretically accurate as the leading book on the subject and even improved upon it in some cases. Normally books have the advantage in this respect, because they have more detail and book authors tend to put more time into their work (I usually spend over a year on a book). But when you have strong players producing specialised videos, as in the new 60-minute series, there's a good chance that there will be new material of interest to even the advanced player.
In this column, I'll continue by looking at a few DVDs that I like by other authors. International Master Andrew Martin produces more ChessBase videos than anyone: over 30 by my count, with Nigel Davies in second place in the high 20s and no one else remotely close. The great majority of both their DVDs are about openings. Martin's output includes the series entitled: 'The ABC of the [opening X]', which is I think meant to be a balanced view of the opening, but then again that isn't always the case, as illustrated by his 7.5 hour advocacy of the Alekhine Defence in The ABC of Alekhine!
I think that The Queen's Gambit Declined is a good example of Martin's ability to present a competent, sound repertoire in a clear way. The core of the repertoire is the Cambridge Springs Variation, a great choice because it is solid and limits White's choices at the same time. This material can be used profitably by players from an elementary level all the way up to low master, which is quite an achievement. There is a tendency here and in his other videos to fudge on the very best theoretical lines, but that's almost inevitable, and shared by the authors of other 'repertoire' DVDs. It's probably asking too much to fully cover (and justify) an opening when that would involve solving technical and critical variations, which themselves might take hours to present.
To get a quick grasp on the specific material, I checked the Exchange Variation section on Martin's DVD and his coverage is more than sufficient to show the basic ideas. It's true that he doesn't address White's strongest tries in the Nf3/h3 lines I analysed in my recent book (A Strategic Opening Repertoire for White), but that's asking for a lot and he does give some examples (for Black) of that variation. More impressively, he specifies a particular move order for Black versus the main line that Lars Schandorff gives in his book (Playing the Queen's Gambit - Grandmaster Guide); and I think that is somewhat better than the order Schandorff himself uses! Not bad for a necessarily limited DVD presentation. Martin's treatment of Bf4 systems is impressive, and he shows that his main Cambridge Springs variation can be played in a way that is solid and safe. I can freely recommend this video for anyone who wants to take up the Queen's Gambit Declined, especially with the relatively easy-to-learn Cambridge Springs. For a broader introduction to Exchange Variation ideas there's Nigel Davies' DVD The Queen’s Gambit Declined Exchange Variation (2009). And an attractive production in German is Björn Lengwenus and Frank Lamprecht's DVD Wie geht eigentlich Damengambit, a nice overview of all Queen's Gambit lines with many general observations and good humour.
An Anti-Sicilian Repertoire in 60-minutes is Loek van Wely's attempt to show White how to bypass the Open Sicilian. First, I'm going to quote the ChessBase copy on their own product:
"Tired of spending hours and hours on the boring theory of your favourite opening? Then here is your solution, play an Anti-Sicilian with 3.Bb5 against 2...d6 or 2...Nc6, and 3.d3 against 2...e6. In 60 minutes you will get a crash course in how to avoid mainstream theory and in understanding the ideas of this Anti-Sicilian setup. After these 60 minutes you should be able to survive the Sicilian for a long time, without being bothered by new developments found by engine x supported by an x-core machine. Now that it finally comes down to understanding, let's play chess!"
As you might guess, there's some overstatement here. You're not going to fool people these days with 3 Bb5+ or 3 d3, and unfortunately there's quite a bit of theory attached to these lines. What's more, a minority of chess devotees enjoy 'spending hours and hours on the boring theory of [their] favourite opening'. Nevertheless, I think this description captures one of the main ideas of the 60-minute series, which is to arm the listener with something to play which will to some extent avoid surprises (at last fatal ones) and yet keep enough content in the position to make for interesting play. Ideally, as the advertising spiel indicates, you should have a long-term weapon without needing to track recent developments. Okay, the idea that 'you should be able to survive the Sicilian' is a pretty sad goal; a player of the white pieces shouldn't have to merely 'survive' after Black makes his first move! But an advertising blurb isn't definitive, of course, and it's interesting to hear what Van Wely himself says in his introduction, roughly (approximate quote:) "Chess has changed. In the good old days you had to study on your own, you had to study the games..... Today [because of lengthy computer analysis chess] understanding has become less important than it used to be." He says that the featured systems are more strategical and can produce "Interesting games not based upon computer analysis and memory." Van Wely discusses the many strong GMs who have used Bb5(+) versus 2...Nc6 and 2...d6. About 3 d3 versus 2...e6, he says (apologetically?) that it's a little slow, but that "If you're going to win the marathon, you don't have to win the hundred metre dash first"! After 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3, there are three main moves. Here's a very superficial overview of what's presented:
In the 2nd clip (after the Introduction), van Wely analyses, in limited detail, the line
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 Bb5+ Nc6 4 Bxc6+
(4 d4 cxd4 5 Qxd4 is an aggressive way that some grandmasters have used, but it has never caught on as a main line; ceding two bishops is a risk)
4...bxc6 5 0-0.
Black plays either 5...Bg4, running into 6 h3 Bh5 7 e5!, or 5 ..e5, when White can be satisfied with 6 c3 Nf6 7 Re1 Bg4 8 h3 Bxf3 9 Qxf3 Be7 10 d3 and a small edge.
The third clip deals with 3...Nd7 and 3...Bd7. 3...Nd7 4 d4 has long been thought to be more comfortable for White, one key line going 4...cxd4 5 Qxd4 a6 6 Bxd7+ Bxd7 7 Bg5 (instead of 7 Nc3 e5 8 Qd3 h6, which van Wely considers okay for Black), e.g., 7...Rc8 8 Nc3 h6 9 Bh4 e5 10 Qd3! g5 11 Bg3. 3...Bd7 is considered Black's safest move, when a traditional main line is 4 Bxd7 Qxd7 5 c4 Nc6 6 d4 cxd4 7 Nxd4 Nf6 8 Nc3 g6 9 0-0 Bg7 10 Nde2 0-0 11 f3. Here van Wely likes White's control of the position, even if it's theoretically balanced.
In the fourth clip about 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5, van Wely has some trouble putting the moves on the board and gets a bit confused at a few points. This part really should have been re-recorded, but the material is good and we see how 3...e6 4 Bxc6 bxc6 can get Black into early trouble. In the 5th clip, he analyses the complex lines with 3...g6 4 Bxc6 bxc6 5 0-0 Bg7 6 Re1 followed by c3 and d4. In the 6th clip, we arrive at 4...dxc6 (instead of 4...bxc6), when van Wely shows a loss of his as Black to Leko following 4 ..dxc6 5 d3 Bg7 6 h3 Nf6 7 Nc3 Nd7 8 Be3 e5 9 Qd2 h6!? (van Wely seems to prefer 9 ..Qe7, when 10 Bh6 is nothing special) 10 0-0 Qe7 11 Nh2 Nf8 12 f4 exf4 13 Bxf4 Ne6 14 Bg3, and now van Wely was surprised to find that the simple plan of e5 and Ne4 was strong, e.g., 14...Nd4 15 e5 Bf5 16 Rae1 0-0-0 17 Ne4 Bxe4 18 Rxe4 with the idea Ng4. White has played this way in may subsequent games with an excellent record.
Unless I missed something, I don't think van Wely actually goes over the 2 Nf3 e6 3 d3 lines, although there is some very brief analysis in the game files. Even with that omission, this video is a very useful introduction to a method for White to bypass main-line Open Sicilians.
Drawing upon his own experience and analysis, Lawrence Trent put together a complete DVD on the Smith-Morra Gambit, 1 e4 c5 2 d4 cxd4 3 c3. Trent's presentation is systematic and clearly outlined, and he doesn't ignore challenging lines.
His is a good example of how a video DVD can provide a solid starting point even if it isn't as analytically complete as a full-length book on the subject. I think this is particularly useful in the case of an opening like the Morra, because it's a great opening with which to teach younger players basics like the value of development, while developing their tactical skills. That doesn't require hundreds of pages of dense analysis. The Morra can also be a good weapon up through the master ranks if you know its intricacies, and I can even see it as a decent practical try versus a grandmaster. Nevertheless, one has to wonder why the strongest grandmasters never employ it. Is it because the Morra isn't fully sound? That question isn't resolved, in my opinion, but it points to a basic problem. You'll find that proponents of the Morra often brag about White reaching equality. There's an excellent recent book 'Mayhem in the Morra!' by Marc Esserman about 3 c3, for example, with wonderful improvements in various lines, but at certain points we are supposed to be happy that Black will have to accede to equality and, as he once says, 'swallow his pride' in so doing. In fact, many writers about the Morra put a lot of effort into proving that White can work his way to an equal game against various promising Black setups. But that's an odd criterion for success: Yes, it's nice that the Morra can't be refuted, but how thrilling is it to know that White isn't in trouble after only his third move of a chess game? This reminds me of some advocates of irregular first moves for White who seem to think that equality is a stunning achievement. The real question is whether White can arrange his repertoire so that, whatever the precise theoretical verdict, there is a great deal of play in the position.
Anyway, let's follow some of Trent's presentation and see what we can learn from it. Apart from the fact that a DVD necessarily contains much less analysis than a book, it's worth noting that Trent's work precedes Esserman's by two years, which is a lifetime in the development of theory and thus puts him at a disadvantage.
The 'Taylor Variation' is often described as one of Black's best lines. It goes:
1 e4 c5 2 d4 cxd4 3 c3 dxc3 4 Nxc3 Nc6 5 Nf3 d6 6 Bc4 a6 7 0-0 Nf6 8 b4
Esserman likes 8 Bf4 here, but that's another story. Hopefully I'll get around to reviewing his book, because there's a lot to say about that move.
Trent gives 8 ..e6 (This looks like a real problem for White, and after writing this review, I noticed that the authors Ftacnik, Langrock, and Esserman all agree with that) 9 b5 (In Mastering the Chess Openings 4, I give 9 a3 as a recommendation, simply establishing a territorial edge, with the idea Bf4 in some lines and Bb2 or Ra2-d2 in others. Black probably stands somewhat better, but not by that much. More importantly, the game remains more complicated and White can play his style of game. Trent spends his entire time on 9 b5, and only mentions the move 9 a3, but he does hint that it might be the best practical move) 9 ..axb5 10 Bxb5 (10 Nxb5 Be7 or even 10...Nxe4 looks good for Black). Here I feel that 10 ..Be7 is sufficient for a limited advantage, e.g., 11 e5 dxe5 (or 11 ..Ng4 12 exd6 Qxd6 13 Qe2 0-0³) 12 Qxd8+ (12 Nxe5 Bd7) 12 ..Bxd8 13 Nxe5 Bd7 14 Nxd7 Kxd7 15 Rd1+ Kc8 16 Bb2 Bc7 17 Rac1 Rd8³.
9 b5 Bxf3 10 gxf3
Rather than 10 Qxf3 Ne5.
10 ..axb5 11 Bxb5
This is the main game on the DVD, but 11 Nxb5! is almost certainly better, and it's Trent's recommendation. He examines 11...Ne5 12 Qb3! at some length, leading to some winning positions for White and others with a balanced outcome. I think Black can get at least equality, and the move 11 ..Qd7 is also quite playable.
11 ..e6 is also good.
12 Nd5 Bg7 13 Bb2 Nh5 14 Bxg7 Nxg7 15 Rc1 0-0 16 Bxc6 bxc6 17 Rxc6
Hardarson-De Firmian, Copenhagen 1999; and Trent gives 17...e6 with the idea ...Nh5-f4. Apart from his kingside issues, notice that White's pawn on a2 is weak. 8 b4 is a fair practical choice; but from a theoretical point of view, White is better off with 8 Bf4.
Trent deals with very accurately with an early ...d6/...Nc6/...Nf6, a line that is often misanalysed:
1 e4 c5 2 d4 cxd4 3 c3 dxc3
This DVD doesn't analyse anything that normally comes from a 2 c3 Sicilian, for example, here 3...Nf6 4 e5 Nd5 is equivalent to 2 c3 Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 d4 cxd4; and 3...d5 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 cxd4 is equivalent to 2 c3 d5 3 exd5 Qxd5 4 d4 cxd4 5 cxd4. That's a shame, but quite understandable considering how large a subject the Morra Gambit Accepted is.
4 Nxc3 d6 5 Bc4 Nc6 6 Nf3 Nf6
Sometimes given '?', but it's more like '?!' at worst.
7 ..Ng4 may be best: 8 exd6 exd6 (8 ..Qxd6 9 0-0! e6? can be met by Esserman's 10 Nb5! Qb8 11 h3 a6 12 hxg4 axb5 13 Bxb5 Be7 14 Qe2 0-0 15 Rd1with a small advantage. Here 11 ..Nf6? is weak due to 12 g3!±) 9 0-0 Be7 10 h3 Nge5 11 Nxe5 dxe5 12 Qh5 0-0 13 Rd1 Qa5 14 Be3 with a small advantage.
8 Qxd8+ Nxd8
8 ..Kxd8 9 Ng5 favours White, although it's hardly decisive following 9 ..Na5! 10 Bb5 (10 Bxf7+ e6 11 0-0 h6! 12 Nf3 Bd6 is only slightly worse for Black) 10 ..Be6 11 Nxe6+ fxe6 12 Be3 Nc6 13 Bc4 Kc7.
9 Nb5! Rb8
and here White has two solutions:
a) Trent gives the direct
10 Nc7+ Kd7 11 Nb5 Nc6?!
(11 ..Ke8 12 Nxe5 e6 13 0-0 favours White)
with the idea 12 ..exf4? 13 0-0-0+ and Black is lost.
b) Esserman suggests
10 Nxe5 e6 11 Bf4! Bb4+ 12 Kf1 Nh5 13 Be3 0-0 14 Be2 a6 15 a3
and now Black should play
(Esserman gives only 15...Be7 16 Na7!, which leads to a large advantage), for example,
(16 Bc5 axb5 17 Bxh5 f6 18 Bxf8 Kxf8 19 Nd3 e5 with two bishops and considerable, if not necessarily full, compensation for the exchange)
16 ..axb5 17 bxa5 Nf6 18 Bc5 Nc6 19 Bxf8 Kxf8
Here Black will get a pawn for the exchange and prospects of further gain. Probably
20 f4 Nxa5 21 Bxb5 Nd5! is best.
I'd recommend the Morra especially to young and developing players, for whom this DVD should more than suffice as a resource. If you're going to succeed with it against more advanced opposition, a complete book is needed (Essermann's, or Hans Langrock's 2nd edition of Winning with the Morra).
It's a shame that I can't talk about all the various types of these videos and their creators. I should mention that the majority of DVDs and videos are best suited for introductions to their subjects and are therefore good teaching tools. If you're looking for comprehensive theory, there's no doubt that you'll usually get quite a bit more from a good book on the subject. But DVDs can contain some surprising gems even in that respect, and in any case they are a good way to add some variety to your chess study.