Lilov: Gambit Opening Repertoire

2/13/2012 – Are you getting to old for feverish pace of gambit openings? Although as he aged Steven Dowd started looking for a more sedate opening repertoire he simply could not quite give up his youthful affinity for openings where you "sacrifice a pawn, then some pieces, and mate!" Steven gives the latest Fritztrainer DVD by Valeri Lilov, Gambit Opening Repertoire, an evaluation of "great": five out of six stars.

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Lilov: Gambit Opening Repertoire

Review by Steven B. Dowd

Gambit Opening Repertoire (DVD), Valeri Lilov, ChessBase, Playing Time: 4 hours $30.95 (ChessCafe Price: $26.95)

I love gambits; always have, and always will. I realize that as I have aged, I should look for a more sedate opening repertoire, but I simply can't. First sacrifice a pawn, then some pieces, and mate! I know it is a simplistic view of the game, but chess for me has always been fun, and I can't imagine just searching for "playable middlegames," as many of the experts suggest.

For lower-rated players though, gambits are one of the best means of learning tactics. In the introduction, Lilov indicates that everyone from beginner to below GM level should train in the open games, because this develops an ability to calculate, develops a feeling for tactical positions, and most importantly, develops an ability to attack. These are all wise words, but if you buy this DVD, I would ask you to start with the summary. It is here that Lilov gives the key.

If you are going to play gambits, you must learn them in depth and simply put, you have to study them. This does not mean simply memorizing some theoretical lines. This will not be a quick process, he notes, and the first question to be answered is, which gambits fit you well? This is an important question. With the exception of the Blackmar-Diemer, for example, I found I don't like gambits where I advance my f-pawn. I found over the years that central gambits are more my speed.

On all four trainers I review here, there is an emphasis on developing a personal system for study. For example, here Lilov notes three things you must do to become a strong gambit player:

  1. Work through games.

  2. Make a database of your own, based on your own investigations,

  3. Learn the opening through quick games. He considers time limits of fifteen to twenty minutes optimal. I believe correspondence games are also helpful, as they make you engage in deeper thought about the opening. The flaws of an opening become quickly apparent with time to think, and with so many free sites to play "turn-based" chess, it seems a waste not to take advantage of that option these days.

There should also be a fourth item here, one I call "Purser's Law" (after Tom Purser, who now runs a BDG blog and for years published BDG World). Purser's Law is that any gambit player must learn the pawn-down endgames that result from the gambits. The reason is that when the attack goes awry, you need to find a way to draw the game. Often the activity gained from sacrificing the pawn can carry into the ending, giving you "just enough" to draw.

The gambits presented are The King's, the Evans, Belgrade, Wing Gambit Deferred, Nimzowitsch, Rasa-Studier, The Mad Dog Attack, Alekhine Gambit-Omega Gambit, The Blackmar-Diemer (BDG), Staunton, Jaenisch/Rosseau, Marshall, Icelandic, Colorado, Fajarowicz, Schara-Henning, From's, and then four worthwhile games on gambits entitled "Gambit Strategy." I rather enjoyed his presentation of the Colorado Gambit (1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 f5?!) given with a wink and a nod, indicating maybe "it isn't as bad as it looks." And he is correct, it is one of those gambits opponents will want to blow off the board but will find that Black has all sorts of odd resources.

Lilov is an excellent and enthusiastic teacher. He has an accent, but strives to make everything he says clear, and he does an excellent job. The focus is on ideas here rather than specific variations. But that is one place Lilov also fails on this trainer, at least in two gambits I am very familiar with.

The first is in his presentation of the Henning-Schara gambit: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 cxd4 5.Qa4+ Bd7 6.Qxd4 exd5 7.Qxd5 Nc6 8.Nf3 9.Qd1 Bc5 10.e3 Qe7 11.Be2 0-0-0 12.0-0 g5

Here he only considers 13.a3, which as has been known for decades as too slow. Only the counter-thrust 13.b4! is to be taken seriously (see the table from CB11 and the new Megabase below) and leads to complications that are beyond the scope of this column. I felt a bit betrayed, like I had bought one of those old opening pamphlets that only showed spectacular wins for the "correct" side, and ignored best defenses. Even if he wanted players to study that line on their own, he should have mentioned the possibility and encouraged them to research it on their own. It should also be noted that White has ways to avoid the Henning-Schara, and thus, Black must be prepared to play classical Tarrasch lines. I consider this exclusion much more significant than the next.

More puzzling was the exclusion of the Gunderam Defense from the BDG. "Gunderam's Opfervariante" (sacrificial variation) was one thing that got me interested in the BDG many years ago:

1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.f3 exf3 5.Nxf3 Bf5. Gunderam's Defense. Scheerer in his book The Blackmar-Diemer Gambit devotes twenty-seven pages to this defense; I highly recommend this book if you decide to take up the BDG. 6.Ne5 e6 7.g4 Ne4!? 8.gxf5?! Later the in-between check 8.Bb5+ was thought to be better, but it turns out White wins this way. 8...Qh4+ 9. Ke2 Qf2+ 10.Kd3 Nc5+

And the complications are phenomenal (11.Kc4! is best and wins, according to Scheerer), having been argued for over fifty years now. I am not saying he should have included this particular variation, but to cover 5...c6 and not cover 5...Bf5 just didn't make sense to me.

Thus, this is a slightly flawed but useful introduction to various gambits. With only four hours to cover a cornucopia of openings, Lilov was bound to have to leave something out; only the above two examples gave me concern. So long as you realize you are only getting part of the story here, I don't hesitate to recommend it. Just realize you will have plenty of work ahead in learning the "meat" of the gambits you choose to play. But then again Lilov makes no pretense that you won't.

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

Sampler: The King's Gambit


From: Valeri Lilov – Gambit Opening Repertoire


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