Andrew Martin – First Steps in Opening Play

2/25/2012 – "I am a great fan of the 'First Steps' series and am increasingly becoming a fan of Andrew Martin's teaching style," writes Steven Dowd in Chess Cafe. The overarching theme in this DVD is that if you don't know the opening, you won't get to the other two phases of a chess game! But help is at hand, and the review gives Martin's DVD five stars out of six = Great.

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Andrew Martin: First Steps in Opening Play

Review by Steven B. Dowd

First Steps in Opening Play (DVD), Andrew Martin, ChessBase, Playing Time: 3 hours $23.95 (ChessCafe Price: $19.95)

I am a great fan of the "First Steps" series and am increasingly becoming a fan of Andrew Martin's teaching style. He never lets the discussion get boring, although sometimes he speaks so quickly that I struggle to understand his accent. The overarching theme here is that if you don't know the opening, you won't get to the other two phases of a chess game! That will resonate well with lower-rated players, who often fret over this and being caught in traps. The package insert indicates that the series is for players below 2200, while Martin notes on the DVD that it is designed for players below 1500. Yet, even those over 1500 will derive benefit from his approach, which is a detailed study of master games.

I was especially impressed that further study methods were explained in some detail. When you get past what Martin calls, "the expert guiding you," as he does on this DVD, you have to get down to the real work of studying on your own. Martin especially stresses that one cannot progress in chess study unless one can find time to be completely focused on the material. It can be as little as half-an-hour at a time, but there must be a complete focus on chess during that time.

The master games all illustrate one poignant theme in opening play. Meduna's opening play as black is featured in three of the games on the trainer, primarily because Martin considers his play in the opening "economical." This could be, of course, the jumping-off point for the serious student to study Meduna's openings to see if his play matches their style. I was able to do a comprehensive search of Meduna's games as black using the new CB11 and Megabase 2012 (see the first review), and I must say he does have a simple but not simplistic approach to the openings that I wish I could emulate.

Unfortunately, the theme is not explicitly shown in the index, so when returning later to re-study a concept, you have to guess or remember which theme is covered in which segment (the only major negative I find for this trainer). For example, the following game illustrates the peril of commencing tactical operations before development is complete. By the way, I took it from Megabase 2012, which has the same notes by Martin! I have used it here only in abbreviated form. The notes to this trainer are simply excellent.

[Event "GBR-ch 2011"] [Site "?"] [Date "2011.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Jones, Gawain C"] [Black "Bates, Richard"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B21"] [WhiteElo "2418"] [BlackElo "2373"] [PlyCount "45"] [SourceDate "2012.02.25"] 1. e4 c5 2. d3 (2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. d3 d6 6. f4 Nf6 7. g4 O-O { and Black continues ...Nd7, ...Rb8, and ...b7-b5. Exchanging off the bishop clears the decks.}) 2... Nc6 3. f4 g6 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Be2 $5 {Gawain has just produced a book and DVD about the best way to tackle the Sicilian. Here he goes back to an old idea of Larsen, which is simply to play a Dutch in reverse with an extra tempo. This can hardly refute the Sicilian, but it puts Richard Bates to the test early on.} d6 6. O-O Bg4 {Ambitious and might work better if there was a knight on c3. There is a similar idea, shown above in the variation on move two.} 7. Qe1 c4 $5 {Continuing with his ambition. 7...Nf6 was of course, the less risky way. As you'll see below, this is not the first time Richard Bates has ventured this line.} 8. dxc4 $146 (8. Kh1 cxd3 9. cxd3 Nf6 10. Nc3 Nd7 11. Ng5 Bxe2 12. Qxe2 Qa5 13. Nd5 Rc8 14. b4 Qd8 15. Bb2 Bxb2 16. Qxb2 O-O 17. b5 Ncb8 18. Rac1 Rxc1 19. Rxc1 Nb6 20. Ne3 Qd7 21. f5 $16 { Cobb,J (2401)-Bates,R (2374), Plovdiv 2010 /1/2-1/2 (46).}) 8... Qb6+ 9. Kh1 Bxb2 {The point of the small combination, although Black must be very careful now as he is leaving himself well behind in development.} 10. Bxb2 Qxb2 11. Nc3 Bxf3 $2 ({He had to try} 11... Nf6 {and castle quickly. White can disrupt this plan after} 12. e5 $1 {and then} dxe5 13. Rb1 Qxc2 14. Bd1 Qf5 15. fxe5 { leaves Black precariously placed.}) 12. Bxf3 (12. Rb1 Qa3 13. Bxf3 O-O-O 14. e5 {also gives White a ferocious attack.}) 12... Qb4 13. Rb1 {It's fair to say that from this point on, White's attack is too strong to meet.} Qxc4 14. Rxb7 Nd4 15. Nd5 Rc8 16. Rxa7 (16. Rb4 Qc5 17. Qa1 e5 18. Rb7 $18) 16... Nxc2 17. Qb1 Qc5 18. Qb7 Qc6 19. Nc7+ Kd7 (19... Rxc7 20. Qxc7 Qxc7 21. Rxc7 Nd4 22. e5 Kf8 23. a4 $18) 20. Qxc6+ {Leading to an attractive finish.} Kxc6 21. e5+ Kb6 22. Rb1+ Kxa7 23. Rb7# {A miniature that illustrates the peril of commencing tactical operations when development is not complete.} 1-0

For those rated about 1500 this is a really good introduction to opening ideas and how to begin studying them. Those rated 1800-2000 may find some good new ideas; I thought I had studied most of Larsen's ideas, and may have simply forgot this one, but this idea of playing the Sicilian as a Dutch with a move in hand certainly seemed new to me. This one I recommend without hesitation.

My assessment of this DVD: Great (five stars out of six)

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Andrew David Martin (born 18th May 1957 in West Ham, London) is an English chess player with the title of International Master. He has won various national and international tournaments and has been playing for years in the Four Nations Chess League, at present (July 2009) for Wood Green Hilsmark Kingfisher, previously for the Camberley Chess Club. Martin received his IM title in1984. He earned his first grandmaster norm in the British Championship of 1997 in Brighton. Martin was a commentator on the chess world championship between Kasparov and Kramnik in 2000.

On the 21st February 2004 Martin set a new world record for simultaneous chess. He faced 321 chess players at the same time. His result was: 294 wins, 26 draws and only one loss. Martin is known as a professional chess teacher and head trainer of the English youth team. He trains eight schools (Yateley Manor, Aldro, Millfield, Sunningdale, Waverley School, St Michael’s Sandhurst, Wellington College, Salesian College). Martin is a chess columnist, an author of chess books and the author of various instructional videos. He was the publisher of the series Trends Publications. Martin lives in Sandhurst, England, is married and the father of two daughters and two sons. His present Elo rating is 2423 (as of July 2009).

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