Enter the secret archives of the Russian chess school

7/17/2007 – Adrian Mikhalchishin, a Grandmaster since 1978, is still one of the world's top trainers. Among others he trained the team of the USSR and Anatoly Karpov. Needless to say, he knows the Russian chess school by heart. On his first DVD he reveals several strategical methods that had been introduced and perfected by such giants as Botwinnik, Petrosian, Tal etc. Buy his DVD now or read more.

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Botvinnik’s Chess School Again Open for Business

'The Secret Weapons of the Champions' by Adrian Mikhalchishin - reviewed by Michael Jeffreys

To be honest, the first time I popped the new DVD from Chessbase, The Secret Weapons of the Champions, into my computer I was initially turned off. I mean, who was this Mikhalchishin guy with his thick Russian (Ukrainian?) accent and no-nonsense demeanor? Where was my beloved, light hearted, all around fun guy Daniel King? I wanted to be entertained and yet it seemed to me that this ultra-serious guy in front of me wasn’t playing along.

So, I turned off the video and forgot about it. Then, a funny thing happened. A few days later I was at my computer and decided to re-watch the introduction. For whatever reason, Mikhalchishin’s presentation hit me in a whole new way and suddenly I understood where he was coming from. GM Mikhalchishin was raised in the old U.S.S.R. where, unlike here in America, they take their chess very seriously.

Whereas we here in the West want everything “sugar-coated” for easy consumption, Mikhalchishin is from the “old school,” the Botvinnik School, where the problems over the chess board are solved through systematic training and hard work. Once I realized that I was being given a glimpse into something rarely seen outside the Soviet Union by a man who had trained, among others, Karpov, Ivanchuk, Zsuzsa Polgar, and Alexander Beliavsky, I refocused my attention and listened with a whole new level of respect and commitment. And what a difference it made!

Mikhalchishin starts things off by saying that there are two ways to become a stronger player: 1) By carefully analyzing your own games to eliminate your mistakes. 2) By studying the “classics,” but in a very special way. The goal is to learn how to handle the different aspects of the game; different plans, typical structures, how to exploit weaknesses, how to correctly defend when needed, how to exploit material imbalances, etc.

He tells the story of when the great Mikhail Botvinnik was lecturing to a group of juniors in 1975, of which he was a part, and the former world champion was going over their games. When he came across a mistake, he would point to it and say, “So, you juniors don’t know what to do in these kinds of positions… this is typical. What you have to do is study classical games, like my game against Bondarevsky, Soviet Championship 1941, and you will know everything what to do in this kind of position.”

Mikhalchishin goes on to say that some of the top classical players in chess were just a little better than their contemporaries in certain aspects of the game, and we can learn a lot from studying their games. For example, he says that Botvinnik was fantastic at exploiting a space advantage, utilizing piece centralization with the support of a flank attack, as well as winning with bishops of opposite colors.

Petrosian was the master of the exchange sacrifice as well as how to exploit weak colored squares in an opponent’s position.

Click her for replay of Petrosian - Schweber (1962).

And that Tal was brilliant at intuitive attacks as well as creating and then exploiting material imbalances. He notes that while objectively the position after the material imbalance has been created (such as giving up two minor pieces for a rook and pawn) might be roughly equal, that some players are simply more comfortable playing these types of positions than others.

As an example, he takes the viewer through the game Tal - Savon, URS-ch40 Baku, 1972, starting from the position after the moves: 1.c4 e6 2.Nc3 d5 3.d4 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Be7 6.e3 0–0 7.Bd3 Nbd7 8.Nf3 Re8 9.0–0 Nf8 10.Qc2 Be6 11.Ne5 N6d7 12.Bf4 Nxe5 13.Bxe5 c6 14.Na4 f6 15.Bg3 Bf7 16.b4 Bd6 17.Rab1 Bxg3 18.hxg3 a6 19.Nc5 Re7 20.a4 Rc7 21.Rfc1 Qe7 22.Rb3 g6 23.Rc3 Rac8 (see below)

Tal-Savon after 23…Rac8

Even though White has the makings of a “minority attack” with his queenside pawns, Tal feels it doesn’t give him enough and decides to dramatically unbalance the position with the shot: 24.Nxb7! I imagine this was probably a shock to Savon who most likely thought that Tal would not give up such powerful knight. After the moves 24…Rxb7 25.Bxa6 we reach the position below:

And the game continued: 25…Ra8 26.Bxb7 Qxb7 27.Qb3 Ra6 28.b5 cxb5 29.Rc7 Qb6 30.axb5 Ra5 31.R1c6 Qxb5 32.Qxb5 Rxb5 33.Rxf6 reaching the position below:

 

Obviously Tal had to envisage this sort of position on the board before he would have gone in for such a move as 24.Nxb7. He knew that his two active rooks would simply be too much for Black’s two minor pieces to handle. The game concluded: 33…Be8 34.Rc8 Kg7 35.Rf3 Rb1+ 36.Kh2 Nd7 37.Rxe8 Nf6 38.Re7+ 1–0 (see below)

Black’s knight is about to fall so Savon resigned here

Mikhalchishin not only takes you through the game, but through several sidelines as well. He also explains why Tal chose one line over another.

The Bottom Line

All in all, GM Mikhalchishin takes you through 15 middle game positions: 4 from Botvinnik, 2 from Makogonov, 5 from Tal, and 4 from Petrosian. This DVD is all about “old school” chess and the way the great players from the Soviet Union used to improve by going over “classic” games and key positions, and committing these to memory.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, if you (like I initially was) are looking to be entertained through lively commentary and a charismatic presenter, than this is NOT the DVD for you. However, if you’ve always wondered what the so called “Russian school of chess” was all about, and what exactly were their “secret training methods,” than this is your baby, as Mikhalchishin pulls the curtain aside in a very straightforward and no-nonsense manner and lets you in on exactly how they do it.

And since Russia and in particular the Botvinnik school of chess turned out numerous chess champions over the course of many decades, it’s safe to say that their training methods have been proven to be quite successful. On a scale of 1-10, the The Secret Weapons of the Champions by GM Adrian Mikhalchishin gets a 9.


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