Seirawan's Best Games – 'The chess DVD of the year!'

2/15/2010 – You know him well, American GM Yasser Seirawan, the man with the smooth voice, dapper suit and winning smile. If you don't, you can at least listen to his live Playchess commentary on today's round in Linares (from 5 p.m. onwards). Or you can get Seirawan's My Best Games from ChessBase. Michael Jeffreys writes: "If there is a better chess DVD on the market, I have yet to see it." Review.

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 This is the Chess DVD of the Year!

Review of Yasser Seirawan’s My Best Games
by Michael Jeffreys

If there is a better chess DVD on the market, I have yet to see it. GM Yasser Seirawan is a very good chess player, but he is a great commentator. He masterfully combines expert annotations, with fun stories, humor, a bit of ham, and a childlike enthusiasm for the game of chess. And he does it all with a smooth voice, dapper suit, and a winning smile.

Many of today’s younger players may not be familiar with GM Yasser Seirawan, or if they are it’s from his role as commentator during the Kasparov versus computer matches. Or, perhaps they remember him as a chess ambassador, as he played a key role in putting together the so called, “Prague Agreement.” This was an attempt in 2001 to unify the world chess championship, which at the time was held by both Ponomariov (who won the FIDE title), and Kramnik (who lay claim to the title with his victory over Kasparov).


Early pictures of Yasser Seirawan

Or, they may be familiar with him through his Microsoft Press “Winning Chess” book series that he put out over the last decade with IM Jeremy Silman. And his magazine, Inside Chess, which he published for many years, was where many players, both amateurs and pros alike, got the latest annotated games before the advent of the Internet!

However, Yasser is first and foremost a chess player. And during the late 1970s, 80s, and early 90s, he was in the upper echelon of the top players in the world.

Seirawan was born in Damascus, Syria, on March 24, 1960. After immigrating to the UK for a few years, Yasser’s family moved to Seattle, WA, when he was seven so his father could take a job with the Boeing Company. He was a product of the Fischer boom in 1972, and went on to win the World Junior Chess Championship in 1979, as well as four US Championships. And one gets the impression that he can still give anyone a tough battle as his current FIDE rating is a not too shabby 2634.

I attended a lecture by GM Seirawan at the National Open in Las Vegas about ten years ago, and it was fantastic. Yasser exudes polish, charm and charisma. And he is an excellent story teller. I remember he told us how he became GM Viktor Korchnoi’s second after he beat the living legend (Victor fell into a particular line in the English that Yasser happened to know very well). Despite losing, Victor was so impressed with Yasser that he asked him to be his second in his match against Karpov!

Seirawan’s Opponents

Some of the 22 games shown on the DVD include battles against: Bisguier, Weinstein, Timman, Larsen, Miles, Gligoric, Korchnoi, Tal, Hort, and Karpov. If you are from this generation, these names will mean something special to you. If you are not, then all I can tell you is that a few decades ago, before Carlsen and Nakamura, and even before Anand and Kramnik, these were some of the names that filled chess magazines.

PROS

Yasser’s style is friendly, warm and very smooth. You can hear in his voice his love for the game. This is especially evident when he talks about a particular move he made that he is very proud of.


Yasser welcoming the viewer with his charismatic personality

Another thing Yasser is quite passionate about is something that no longer exists: adjournments. In the second video (featuring his game against Weinstein), Yasser shares that he feels the ability to adjourn the game and spend a day analyzing a single position, was invaluable to his growth as a chess player and greatly improved his endgame play. And that today, many positions are poorly played simply because the players don’t have enough time to find the best moves. He talks about waking up in the middle of the night and having what he calls “a Eureka moment” when his mind came up with the winning idea in a position that appeared to be a draw versus Weinstein.


Yasser giving away ChessBase goodies (here to Magnus Carlsen in 2006)

In the very next video clip, featuring his game against GM Jan Timman, Seirawan plays the move 1.e4 on the board, and then shares his thoughts on how Black should “handle” this move. Basically, he says that Black can either directly challenge the pawn, by playing the Scandinavian or Alekhine’s Defense for example, or he can “work around” the pawn and play on the wings, by choosing an opening such as the Sicilian or the Pirc, the latter of which Yasser is quite fond of. Hearing from a strong GM about how he approaches a chess opening is simply gold in my book.

All the games on the DVD are fun to watch and hear Yasser tell you his thoughts going into the game, as well as whether or not his preparation worked out or not. The final game, which he calls “the big fish that got away,” is as exciting affair when he played the French Winawer and had then World Champion Anatoly Karpov on the ropes.

In fact, I literally laughed out loud when Yasser started enthusiastically telling us just how busted he had Karpov: “And it was exactly here that I knew White was lost. Not worse. Not much worse. Lost! Cold stone lost. Dead. Going to meet his maker. Walking the green mile. This  position is over!” Lol!

And if that isn’t funny enough, a few minutes later he confesses that once he realized he was going to win the game, he started to think about how wonderful it was going to be when he told all his friends how he beat the reigning world champion! I love this because while we may not have been beating Karpov, we have all been guilty of, at one time or another, thinking that the game was in the bag how great it was going to feel when we showed the game to our friends.

And to top it off, he then shows us a series of wins that he missed, one after the other, because he saw “better wins!” (His advice in retrospect: “You only need one win! Take the first one that is clear, and forget about better, more aesthetic looking wins!”) I swear he is almost turning red he is so embarrassed about having to relive this game. If you would like to see a grown man torture himself, this is your ticket. I am telling you this is one of the most entertaining lectures I have ever seen!

Unfortunately, he allowed Tolya to escape with a draw and you can just see/hear the heartbreak in Yasser’s face/voice.

CONS

A few minor quibbles:

In the previously mentioned game versus Weinstein, since Yasser really wants us to see the ending, why not simply start there? Instead, he starts from the beginning of the game and rapidly clicks through the moves, skipping right through some interesting parts without any commentary or while saying, “This part isn’t the main thing… what I want to show you is coming up.” From the viewer’s perspective this is a bit frustrating. And the solution is so simple: If you are a ChessBase presenter, and you want to show us an endgame, please START with the endgame position.

Secondly, sometimes Yasser has problems clicking through his games at certain points. He will get confused and start clicking on one variation when he means to show another. Then he will apologize, and have to break his connection with the viewer, to focus on his computer monitor and get things back on track. If it happens once or twice, okay, but several times is too many and interrupts the flow. This is where a little time spent rehearsing would pay dividends.

Please note that the above criticisms are minor, and that overall this is a great DVD. It is my hope that by pointing these two little “hiccups” out, Yasser’s next DVD, (and he mentions at the end that he has plans for at least two more) will be that much better.

The Bottom Line

This DVD is a real gem for several reasons. First, besides his “Chess Pro Mentor” series which came out over two decades ago, Yasser really hasn’t put much material out in video format. That alone makes this DVD somewhat special. Secondly, you are getting great games taught to you by a world class GM. His annotations are clear and easy to follow, making this a wonderful DVD for the class player. Of course, there is much here for the titled player too, as Yasser is an original thinker and would often try out ideas that were a bit off the beaten track.


Yasser Seirawan interviewing Boris Gelfand for ChessBase in Wijk aan Zee 2006

The Openings that Yasser plays and that are covered on the DVD include: The English, The Caro-Kann, French, Pirc, and the Nimzo-Indian. I should also mention that included on this DVD is a nice bonus: A small database of all 22 games fully and extensively annotated by Yasser.

For those times when you just want to sit back, relax, and let a world class GM take you through his career by showing you some of his very best games, told with charm, wit, and great stories, this is the perfect DVD! 

Running Time: 5 hrs.

Order Yasser Seirawan's My Best Games DVD now


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