Some players are quite comfortable with extremes, and a super solid position that ensures they will not have to worry about an early loss is what they want most. The problem is that this often comes at a price of dynamism, so that the position may have few chances of losing if you know what you are doing, but also offers few chances to make a fight of it.
Others are willing to take as many chances as they feel are needed, enjoying risky positions where the first player to blink loses. Violent openings such as the Sicilian Dragon, mainline Najdorf, and others fit this profile.
It is that in-between option, that Goldilocks choice of neither too hot, nor too cold, but ‘just right’ that is usually so elusive. Seeking to add something new and interesting to my repertoire, the latest DVD by Alejandro Ramirez on the Sicilian Taimanov seemed like an attractive choice as I had never been able to get much against it as a 1.e4 player, and it had my utmost respect.
In the introduction to the Taimanov, I was warmed by the grandmaster’s words as he explained the recent popularity of the line in grandmaster play, not because it was deemed winning, but because it met those criteria of keeping the fight in the position, while not playing a game of high-speed chicken, with both parties (seemingly) blindly shoving pieces and pawns on opposite wings. Another important point, that had been one of the reasons for my choice, was that it avoided the many Bb5 lines that seem to be hitting almost every major Sicilian.
Although I was familiar with his general delivery style having heard him on the live commentary at Playchess, I had no idea how he would structure his DVD, since grandmasters all seem to have very different ideas on how to present material. Some like to essentially follow the pattern of a classic opening book, in which they seem to be reading out variation, sub-variation, sub-sub-variation and respective notes, while others have a more palatable approach. Ramirez firmly lies in the latter group.
Alejandro Ramirez gives a very confident presentation, and is clearly enthusiastic about the material
The Costa Rican grandmaster presents a complete repertoire to play the Taimanov over the course of 34 instructive videos. Each video covers a line, and each line is illustrated by a game. This is not a historical overview of the opening in which references to Louis Paulsen are made, and classics are provided to educate the unwashed masses in chess. All the games are taken from modern practice, including many from the last World Cup. The specialized rivalry between Morozevich and Vitiugov appears no fewer than three times, each with different lines, showing Vitiugov’s great mastery of the opening. However, they are hardly the only ones, and players on the black side include Topalov, So, Grischuk, Dubov, Vachier-Lagrave and more.
34 videos on the opening, each representing a line and illustrated by a modern game
Before going on, I’d like to point out that in all the videos, the opening is referred to as the Paulsen. The reason is that the Taimanov and Paulsen are nearly twin siblings in which even the parents have trouble telling them apart, and transpositions will take place left and right. It is a funny quirk considering the title of the DVD, but an unimportant one.
The lines cover all the normal approaches, such as 3.g3 and 3.d4, and a number also cover the English Attack. In fact, this last is often a point of concern for Black, since the English Attack, formed by f3-g4 and an all-out attack, is used almost indiscriminately in many lines of the Sicilian. Needless to say, it exists in the Paulsen/Taimanov as well, but with a very important difference: due to the special differences with this setup, White is often unable to get any attack going, and is hard pressed to justify his approach. Ramirez is explicit about this, explains the reasons, and illustrates very well how Black should handle it.
Ramirez has a strong focus on the plans for each side, which ones work, which don't and why
Finally, there is the question of the Scheveningen, the reason for which the DVD includes it in the title. The author explains that while it is outside the scope of the work to cover all the anti-Sicilian attempts, there are often efforts to transpose to the Scheveningen to steer away from the mainline Paulsen. Ramirez has a clear antidote for this, and demonstrates a new approach by Black that avoids the thousands upon thousands of games from old mainline theory, in a new direction that is only now being explored. Aside from an introductory video, there are also no fewer than ten lectures on it, so the student should be well-covered for all eventualities.
The introductory video explaining the variations to be covered and what to expect
There are also seven test videos with quiz questions, but here too the effort to teach shines through, and these are not merely a couple of tactics questions to bring a smile. Each covers a thematic issue found in the opening, and the introduction and solution go into great detail to make sure the lesson is understood and learned. These should all be examined and ‘solved’ as they are clearly a part of the course material.
At the end there are also seven 'test' positions, but these are more than filler quizes. Each
is a valuable lesson in disguise, covering thematic issues from the opening.
Although I have gone through the entire DVD and then some lectures more than once, I cannot give a summary of personal results, having only tried it out a few times in online blitz. I quite liked the positions, and am anxious to try them out in heated battle. Ramirez’s presentation was both thorough and confident, and it is felt by the viewer. I give it two thumbs up.
The Sicilian Tajmanov-Scheveningen
• Video running time: 4 h 39 min (English)
This DVD can be purchased as a hard copy or it can be downloaded directly from the Internet.
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