Martin: The Modern Slav Modernized

3/17/2013 – 'Andrew Martin has been a fixture in the DVD market for many years now,' writes Colin Potts in Chess Cafe. 'His easy delivery makes him a particular favorite among junior players. He does not talk down to his audience, but he is plain-spoken and enjoyable company. Do not let the cheeky chappy cockney demeanor fool you, though; he is eloquent, knowledgeable, and intelligently incisive'.

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The Modern Slav Modernized

By Colin Potts

The ABC of the Modern Slav, 2nd ed (DVD), by Andrew Martin, ChessBase, Video running time: 5 hours $32.95 (ChessCafe Price: $26.95)

With Martin you generally get what is advertised on the box. The current DVD on the Modern Slav (i.e. variations of the Slav where Black plays an early ...a6 and does not capture on c4) does not disappoint. It is what most club players want: an encouraging and clearly articulated introduction to a repertoire choice. However, if you are a 2200-player or above, the analysis and coverage will likely seem superficial and slight.

A note of caution, though: This is a re-release and update of a DVD initially produced several years ago. It is billed as a second edition, but I would quibble with this. It is really a re-packaging of the earlier DVD with a lengthy addendum of nine games to bring it up to date. A second edition of a book would involve extensive editing of the text throughout, not the mere addition of further chapters, however long. Likewise, a second edition of an eBook should have involved the re-recording or extensive revision of the games analyzed in the first edition with the updates interleaved with the content, so that the updates could be understood more clearly in the context of what they are updating. Most chess players would not be fazed by the breaks in continuity that would result, because it is the content that matters, not the clothes the presenter is wearing.

As it is on this DVD, the viewer is forced to skip back and forth between the older and newer material. There is also a dramatic difference in style between the two sets of material covered here. Aside from the obvious continuity issues, the games are treated more as a collection of interesting games worth studying by someone already familiar with the earlier material. The earlier games featured an almost uncanny ability by Black to equalize and gain the advantage. The score in these games was +14 –0 =3 to Black with another couple of lines that are not followed to the end of the game, leading one to wonder why everyone did not start playing the Modern Slav. The new material is more balanced (+4 –4 =1). There is less advocacy for the black pieces and more of an encouragement to enjoy and learn from both sides.

Martin explores the main variations starting from 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 a6 (the Chebanenko Slav) but also 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 3.e3 a6 and the unconventional 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 (a very popular line) 4...a6. There are also those lines of the Exchange Slav where Black plays the popular ...a6 in response. The entire complex is quite flexible, but not so varied that you need to understand many middlegame configurations. One distinctive type of position occurs when White plays an early c5 before Black has the opportunity to challenge the c-pawn with ...b5. Another is the exchange center when White captures on either d5 or b5 and Black recaptures with the c-pawn, and a third is a QGA-type position where Black plays ...c5 after developing his pieces. This latter idea often leads to isolated QP positions. That is pretty much it, and nine out of ten games starting with 1.d4, 1.Nf3 or 1.c4 might be funneled into such familiar variations, a godsend for lazy or busy club players. Martin gives several nuggets of wisdom to help you understand when to play one way and when to play another. For example, if White leaves the pawn on c4, Black should avoid b5 until the Nb1 comes to c3. (The idea is that White's dangerously disrupting a2-a4 can in that case be met by the counter-disruption b5-b4 followed by a queenside pawn sacrifice or expansion.)

Bizarrely, Martin spends some time in the first update game (Anand-Aronian, Moscow 2009) explaining the ideas of the opening all over again. It is a symptom, along with the introduction of one game that features the Schlechter Slav/Grunfeld, that the nine new games do not cohere in the way that the original nineteen do. The games are not presented in an order that reproduces the order of the variations in the first set and the result is to make Martin's recommendations seem undeservedly haphazard. That first game is spectacular, though, and worth reproducing even though it is not very typical of this solid system. Martin explains that Anand just forgot theory at move twelve and allowed Aronian to exchange White's powerful bishop, leading to an imbalance that won the game for him.

[Event "Moscow Tal Memorial 4th"] [Site "Moscow"] [Date "2009.11.14"] [Round "9"] [White "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Black "Aronian, Levon"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D15"] [WhiteElo "2788"] [BlackElo "2786"] [PlyCount "50"] [EventDate "2009.11.05"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "RUS"] [EventCategory "21"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2009.11.19"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 a6 5. e3 (5. c5) 5... b5 6. c5 (6. cxb5 cxb5 7. a4 b4) 6... Nbd7 7. Bd3 e5 8. Nxe5 Nxe5 9. dxe5 Nd7 (9... Ng4) 10. e6 Nxc5 (10... fxe6 11. Qh5+) 11. exf7+ Kxf7 12. b3 (12. Bc2 g6 13. O-O Bg7 14. Ne2 Re8 15. Nd4 Qd6 16. b4 Ne6 17. Rb1 Nxd4 18. exd4 a5) 12... Nxd3+ 13. Qxd3 Qg5 14. g3 (14. Rg1 Bd6) (14. Kf1 Bf5) 14... Qf6 15. Bb2 Qf3 16. Rg1 Bg4 17. a3 Re8 18. Rc1 (18. b4 a5 19. bxa5 (19. Na2 axb4 20. axb4 Ra8 21. Bc3 d4 22. Bxd4 Rxa2 23. Rxa2 Bxb4+ 24. Bc3 (24. Rd2 Qd1#) 24... Bxc3+ 25. Qxc3 Qd1#) 19... Bc5 20. Rf1 (20. Nd1 d4 21. Bxd4 Bxd4 22. Qxd4 Qe2#) 20... Bh3) 18... b4 19. axb4 Bxb4 20. h3 Bxh3 21. g4 Bxg4 22. Rg3 Qf5 23. Qd4 Re4 24. Qa7+ Qd7 25. Qb6 c5 0-1

If you are interested in finding out more about the Modern Slav, which is a pretty self-contained defense for Black against 1.d4, you could definitely benefit from this perfectly positioned introduction. In fact the casual or improving club player could learn to play this defense from the DVD alone, with perhaps some lightweight personal research from time to time. There is really no need to supplement it with a book or personal database research as there would be if the defense were more dynamic and double-edged. The updated version is now a five-hour course and very good value for money, but if you have the earlier version, I am not sure that the nine new games fully warrant buying it again.

My assessment of this product: Good (four out of six stars)

Sampler from Andrew Martin's Modern Slav


Topics Martin, Slav
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