Monokroussos: ChessBase Tutorials 1 – Open Games review

by Albert Silver
1/5/2011 – The new ChessBase Tutorials have been top sellers in this Christmas season. Rather than focusing in great detail on a particular variation or opening, each opening tutorial offers a broad overview of an entire family of openings. The discs include 24 video clips (actually, 48: 24 in English and 24 in German) running approximately five hours. Review by Dennis Monokroussos + video sample.

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ChessBase has produced many opening DVDs for more than a decade, but their “Tutorials” series is something new. Rather than focusing in great detail on a particular variation or opening, each opening tutorial offers a broad overview of an entire family of openings. The discs include 24 video clips (or rather, 48: 24 in English and 24 in German – more about this later) running approximately five hours. For supplemental purposes there are 100 (unannotated) illustrative games on the disk, and the accompanying booklet gives an introductory page to just about every line covered in the videos, as well as a brief series of tactical puzzles taken from the lines covered.

These disks aren’t intended for grandmasters or even masters, but for club players from around 1500 to 1900, give or take a bit. The material won’t tell you everything you need to know about an opening or a particular variation in that opening, but you’ll get the kind of information you need to get started the right way. First, the lectures tell you what you need to know on a more general level: these are the key variations and these are (at least some of) the key ideas. The second point is a corollary, and an important one in a time of information overload: by knowing what the key lines are, you also know what not to study. Both are important, and I think the disk does a bit better with the first task than the second – as you’d expect given the limitations of time and space.

This first disk covers the so-called “Open Games”, an old and established but descriptively misleading label for all openings that start with 1.e4 e5. This includes the King’s Gambit, Vienna, Bishop’s Opening, Center Game, Philidor, Petroff, Four Knights, Italian (the Giuoco, Evans Gambit and Two Knights), Scotch and Ruy Lopez. That’s a lot of material to cover, even quickly, in five hours, so let’s have a look and some examples and see how they did. We’ll look at two clips from relative sidelines and two from the main lines. This will give a good sense of what’s here, and will also allow us to consider offerings from each of the four (English-language) presenters.

On the Giuoco Piano line starting 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4, FM Valeri Lilov properly explains why Black must play 6…Bb4+, gives a very cursory but reasonable explanation of the 7.Bd2 Bxd2+ 8.Nbxd2 d5 sub-variation, and then focuses on the Møller Gambit with 7.Nc3. His coverage of the main line 7…Nxe4 8.0-0 Bxc3 9.d5 Bf6 10.Re1 Ne7 11.Rxe4 d6 12.Bg5 Bxg5 13.Nxg5 h6 etc. is absolutely appropriate for the disk.

Two minor quibbles: first, he mentions 13…0-0 14.Nxh7 but seems to hem and haw a bit as to the proper evaluation. Simply put, the line was worked out to a draw almost 100 years ago, and the computers only confirm this. As a practical matter it’s not easy to work it out over the board – probably just about impossible if one doesn’t already know the line in broad outline – but a draw it is. (For those curious, start with this: 14…Kxh7 15.Qh5+ Kg8 16.Rh4 f5 17.Qh7+ Kf7 18.Rh6 Rg8 19.Re1 Kf8 20.Rh3 and carry on from there.)

Valeri Lilov in ChessBase Tutorials I

Quibble #2: Black has another reasonable approach, one chosen by no less a player than Viswanathan Anand. After 9.d5, Black can also play 9…Ne5, when the main line continues 10.bxc3 Nxc4 11.Qd4 (the greedy 11…Ncd6 12.Qxg7 Qf6?! 13.Qxf6 Nxf6 14.Re1+ Kf8? walks into a well-known, attractive trap: 15.Bh6+ Kg8 16.Re5 Nde4 17.Nd2! d6 18.Nxe4 dxe5 19.Nxf6#!) 0-0 12.Qxe4 Nd6 13.Qd3, and here both 13…Qf6 and 13…b6 have been tried successfully at the grandmaster level. It’s important to say that these are indeed quibbles, and I think that what must be there, is there.

Sample: Lawrence Trent in ChessBase Tutorials I on the Two Knights Defence

IM Lawrence Trent’s coverage of the Schliemann and other minor Ruy Lopez lines (the Classical, Bird, Cozio and Smyslov variations) is very quick, but representative. Bird fans will definitely feel their pet line has been given short shrift, and from my own research of the Cozio (from the White side) it seemed to me that 4.Nc3 was much more dangerous than Trent’s suggested 4.d3. The Schliemann coverage was presented as if for a White repertoire, so those who want to try this with Black will not have even a superficial overview of what they need to know. Also, the important but probably dubious 3…f5 4.Nc3 Nf6!?/?! line goes unmentioned. As always, when under time constraints, one should major on the majors, and Trent’s main approach is 4.Nc3 fxe4 5.Nxe4, and now he rightly identifies 5…d5 6.Nxe5 dxe4 7.Nxc6 Qg5 8.Qe2 Nf6 9.f4 Qxf4 10.Ne5+ c6 11.Bc4 Be6 12.Bf4 or 12.Bg5 and 5…Nf6 6.Nxf6+ Qxf6 7.Qe2 Be7 8.Bxc6 dxc6 9.Nxe5 as the main lines. He mentions 4.d3 as well, and here I think he stops the line a few moves too soon.

Let’s consider a couple of videos on the main lines. GM Lars Schandorff covers the main line Closed Ruy from 9.h3 in two clips. One is devoted to the Chigorin (9…Na5), while a second (of 12 minutes) includes no fewer than four lines, including both the Breyer and the Zaitsev. It’s hard to say how much is too much and how little is too little in an introductory series like this, and while the variations he gives are certainly representative in their way, I’d have opted for a little more coverage here.

Adrian Mikhalchishin

GM Adrian Mikhalchishin covers the Marshall and Anti-Marshall systems in about 14 minutes, but as he speaks at least three times faster than Schandorff (who is, let’s say, a “calm” speaker by practically any standard). In terms of quantity the viewer definitely gets his money’s worth out of the clip! While I don’t think it makes too terribly much difference in the context of the intended audience, I have the impression that Mikhalchishin is working with some rather old material – an impression based on two things. First, in the accompanying game file, many moves are given the “N” symbol (meaning “novelty” or “new move”) that are now pretty old. Second, his selection (and omission) of certain lines also suggests a slightly old-fashioned treatment.

To give one example, after 8.c3 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Ne5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 c6 12.d3 Bd6 13.Re1 he only mentions 13…Qh4. That’s an important line and still viable, but at the GM level it has been almost completely supplanted by 13…Bf5, generally leading to an endgame after 14.Qf3 Qh4 (14…Re8!?) 15.g3 Qh3 16.Bxd5 (16.Nd2 is another line that’s pretty well worked out to a point-splitter) cxd5 17.Qxd5 Rad8 18.Qg2 Qxg2+ (18…Qh5!?) 19.Kxg2 Bd3 that has been worked out to a draw at the super-elite level. While it’s not so difficult for Black to hold this endgame once he studies the key games (e.g. Bacrot-Aronian, European Club Cup 2008), he’ll never win unless his opponent has a heart attack at the board. Perhaps this is what motivated Mikhalchishin’s selection; if so, then the omission is more understandable.

A more serious omission is the absence of the 8.h3 Anti-Marshall. This is one of White’s main systems, and is still in use even at the super-GM level (Karjakin won with this against Tomashevsky just a couple of weeks ago in the Russian Championship, for example, and earlier in the year Almasi used it to defeat Onischuk).

Overall, though, it’s a good clip. The viewer definitely gets a sense of both the unity and variety within the Marshall, a grip on some of the common themes, and a few useful variations to get him started.

I twice referred to non-English presenters above, and now it’s time to say something more about it. The booklet is bilingual: in one direction the pages are in English, and in the other, upside down, it’s in German. The German version also has 24 videos, again running five hours, and also has four presenters. The presenters are different, however: GMs Jan Gustafsson and Karsten Müller along with German master Niclas Huschenbeth and WGM Elisabeth Pähtz. But where is it? Insert the disk and fire it up in ChessBase (or Fritz, or your ChessBase reader, etc.) and all that shows up are the English-language videos and the supplementary games. After wondering about this for a couple of minutes (Why the bilingual booklet if only one set of videos are on the disk? How do they know that the person buying the disk only wants the videos in one language?) I had a thought, and it proved correct.

Here’s what you do: go to “Options” in your program (ChessBase 10, ChessBase 11, Fritz, etc. – it’s in different places in different programs), hit the Language tab and switch it from English to German. (Or vice-versa, if you’re starting from Deutsch.) When you re-open the disk, lo and behold: German videos! (Why isn’t this mentioned in the booklet?)

This is worth doing, because even if your German is limited to “ja” and “nein”, you can start a clip, slide the bar to the end, and compare the game files of the two presenters. For instance, Pähtz and Lilov give pretty similar lines in their treatment of the Møller (and neither mentions 9…Ne5), but Lilov has more to say about the main line with 12…h6 and Pähtz more about 12…0-0. Also, while she doesn’t go over it in her lecture (and it isn’t part of the “official” subject matter, Pähtz includes a little coverage of 4.d4!? in her game file.

Elisabeth Pähtz doing a tutorial in German

Next, I think Huschenbeth’s coverage of the Schliemann and other minor third move sidelines is generally a bit more thorough than Trent’s, especially on the Cozio. There he offers a better Black response to 4.c3 than Trent, and his main line is indeed 4.Nc3. On the other hand, Trent’s treatment of Smyslov’s 3…g6 is more complete in the discussion of the main line.

On the Breyer/Zaitsev/Smyslov/Keres systems of the Closed Ruy, there’s not much difference between Schandorff’s and Pähtz’s game files, but the difference between Gustafsson and Mikhalchishin on the Marshall and Anti-Marshall is huge. I noted above that Mikhalchishin completely forgot the 8.h3 system, and that’s the variation that receives the most attention in Gustafsson’s clip! He also makes sure to include the Marshall system 12.d3 Bd6 13.Re1 Bf5, the currently hot line at the elite level I mentioned above. Just about everywhere else, Mikhalchishin’s coverage is both broader and deeper, but it’s important that Gustafsson filled in the two most serious gaps in his counterpart’s presentation.

In fact, it looks as if there was a lot of collusion on the whole project, which is, I think, a very good thing. Generally speaking, the presenters had a great deal of overlap – at least in the clips I’ve checked so far, and where they didn’t the different were complementary.

And so, at last, it’s time for an assessment. This disk is not a substitute for a deeper study of the particular opening lines you choose to play in tournament chess, so you should not buy it for that purpose. Think of it instead as a sort of tour guide: the presenters lead you through the country of the Open Games, with stops at some of the major cities and landmarks therein. For those in need of such a tour, I can happily recommend the disk.

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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