Two DVDs by Andrew Martin

7/15/2005 – Andrew Martin is a chess teacher of some renown, possessed of excellent communication skills and a flair for the metaphorical. He's already displayed his considerable talents on previous ChessBase DVD offerings. You can get a preview of his two newest training DVDs, The Basics of Winning Chess and The ABC of Chess Openings in the latest ChessBase Workshop.

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Two DVDs by Andrew Martin

previewed by Steve Lopez

Whether you're still in school or a graduate, take a moment to pause and reflect: who was your favorite teacher and why? Odds are that your favorite teacher was someone who was both instructive and entertaining, a teacher who made the proverbial medicine go down easily. A good teacher has to be subversive in a way, someone who can teach you by nearly disguising the process. You walk away after an hour with them, the suddenly stop and say, "Hey! I just learned something!"

Teachers like that are (regrettably) few and far between. Chess teachers are no exception; in fact, it's harder for someone to be an entertaining chess teacher because of the technical nature of the subject matter. Chess is a fun game but the technical aspects can often be as dry as dust.

That's what makes two new ChessBase DVDs by Andrew Martin, The Basics of Winning Chess and The ABC of Chess Openings, so remarkable -- they're entertaining as well as instructive. Both are "general information" DVDs, with information aimed at the beginning to intermediate player. That target audience is exactly why having an instructor like Andrew Martin on these disks is crucial: he doesn't lose you in piles of minutiae or bog you down with tons of obscure details. He tells you what you need to know in short (typically ten-to-fifteen minute) video clips and holds your attention all the way with his conversational teaching style. The learning process is fun, painless, and quite subversive -- it doesn't hit you until later that you've actually learned something new.

Both DVDs are presented in the Chess Media System format: a video of the teacher accompanied by an animated chess board that follows along with the spoken instruction. It's a presentation style that can either be made or broken by the instructor; it's Martin's personal presentation style which makes these DVDs so appealing.

The Basics of Winning Chess is exactly that -- what you need to know to be a successful (i.e. winning) chessplayer. At first glance you might think from the title that the DVD is about attacking chess -- and it is, kind of. But it's not just about how to attack, it's not just about proper technique, it's also about psychology. We're not referring to "psyching out" the opponent or "winning ugly"; we're instead talking about your own psychology here, about being mentally prepared, about your whole approach to chess. In fact I think the first third of the first video on this DVD ought to be required viewing for every chessplayer; I won't spill the beans here and render the whole exercise moot, but I'll tell you that Martin hits upon a crucial point in the opening sequence of the DVD: your success at chess (or lack thereof) has more to do with you than any other factor.

The DVD is divided into sections, each with one or more videos containing Martin's commentary in the Chess Media System format: you sit back, watch the video, and follow along with the onscreen chessboard. Here's how The Basics of Winning Chess is structured:

I. Introduction
1. Introduction and mental strength

II. Opening
1. a) Take the centre; b) get castled
2. a) Coordinate the pieces; b) aim for the initiative
3. Choose the right opening for you!
4. The right way to learn a new opening and summary of opening principles

III. Middlegame
1. View the whole board
2. a) Play with a plan; b) Square control
3. Ask yourself questions - the way to choose a move
4. If better play safe, if worse complicate
5. How to handle the clock

IV. Endgame
1. Basic technical advice - winning endgame tips
2. Mutual zugzwang
3. Philidor position
4. Lucena position
5. Short side defence
6. Bishop + Knight vs. King
7. No draw
8. An endgame masterpiece

Each of these numbered entries corresponds to a separate instructional video (with the entries containing an "a" and "b" containing two videos). The videos contain illustrative games chosen not just for their tutorial value but for their entertainment value as well. For example, the introductory video contains a game played between Tal and Tringov, a sweet little miniature in which Tringov forgets the elementary principle of early piece development and gets whacked (or, as Martin terms it, gets "murdered in [his] bed").

That kind of commentary is exactly what makes The Basics of Winning Chess so cool; Martin's a conversational (even colloquial) speaker who's not afraid to use creative, funny metaphor to illustrate his points. And although the subject matter might appear to be rudimentary (judged simply by the chapter titles listed above), even top players sometimes forget these rudiments (as Tringov did in the aforementioned game against Tal), so it's valuable information, even as a refresher for more advanced/experienced players.

But the DVD's real theme is rather subversively reintroduced throughout the disk's videos, and it's a point that even an old chess grognard like myself was forced to reconsider. Take a moment to ponder this: why do you play chess? It seems like a silly question at first glance, doesn't it? But I'll bet you're stuck for an answer -- a good answer. Why do you play chess?

If you're struggling with that one, the first third of the first video on The Basics of Winning Chess is alone worth the price of admission. It's an excellent reminder of why we play the Royal Game and I was totally blown away by it. I've been pushing pawns for more than forty years -- and sometimes even I forget why.

The second DVD, The ABC of Chess Openings, is every bit as entertaining and instructional. The emphasis here is two-pronged: the DVD is both a primer on general opening principles and an introduction to many commonly-played chess openings/systems. Let's take a look at how the DVD is structured:


Open Games:
King's Gambit 1.e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d5
King's Gambit 1.e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5
The Ruy Lopez 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0
2nd Lopez 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.d4
3rd Lopez 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Bc5
Two Knights Defence 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6

Semi-Open Games:
Caro-Kann 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5
Modern Defence 1.e4 g6 2.d4 c6 3.Nc3 Bg7
Scandinavian 1.e4 d5 2.exd5
Sicilian 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4

Semi-Closed Games:
Intro and Bogo-Indian Defence 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Bb4+
Queen's Indian Defence 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6
Grünfeld Defence 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5

Closed Games:
Introduction and Queen's Gambit 1 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5
Queen's Gambit 2 1.d4 d5 2. Nf3 c6 3.c4 Nf6

Flank Openings:
Introduction and Game 1

Irregular Openings:
Introduction and Game 1
Game 2

Final Advice

We can see immediately what The ABC of Chess Openings is not: it's not a "video encyclopedia" of every chess opening variation known to mankind (such a work would require a wall full of DVDs and require years, if not decades, to view). This DVD is a basic reference to the more commonly-played openings and systems. It's a starting point, an explanation of the main ideas of each of the listed opening systems, a place for you to begin your studies. Once you're armed with a knowledge of the basic ideas of these openings it makes your further study a whole lot easier.

Here's an example. The Caro-Kann video covers a single illustrative game in the Classical Caro-Kann. While some other variations (notably the Advance Variation) are very briefly discussed, the emphasis here is on the "main line" Caro-Kann. And this is a pretty smart approach. The Caro-Kann is today one of my mainstays as Black and the first variation I learned was the Classical -- once I understood it, the other variations (such as the Advance and the Panov) were a whole lot easier to digest because I had a grasp of the basics through my study of the main line Classical variation.

Far too many chessplayers (and I know because I was once one of them) run out and buy an opening encyclopedia (such as MCO or BCO) very early in their chess careers in the misguided notion that somehow "memorizing" that stuff will make them a killer over the board. These compendia are undoubtedly useful books, but they won't do you a lick of good if you don't understand the ideas behind the openings contained therein. So beginning (and even intermediate players who are exploring a new opening) would do much better to start with a more general "idea book" before diving into the deep end and trying to tackle endless threads of variations annotated with cryptic symbology instead of detailed explanations.

This general knowledge is what The ABC of Chess Openings is all about. Martin discusses each of the listed openings in an informative (yet entertaining) way, providing you with the basics you'll need as a springboard to further study in your chosen opening system. Here again the target audience is the beginning to intermediate player, not only due to the elevel of instruction, but also because Martin makes the process enjoyable and fun.

So who was your favorite teacher and why? In my case, I was (and still am) blessed by many teachers who involved me in the learning process by asking me questions. I try to remember this and pass it along whenever I can. A couple of summers ago I was hiking a Civil War battlefield with my son Cody and was trying to keep him more involved by asking him questions: "Why do you think that church was a landmark on this battlefield?" "Why do you think it took so long for the soldiers to cross that fence?" "If you can't take a bridge by a head-on assault, what's another way to do it?"

And the kid positively floored me at one point by saying, "Ask me some more questions, Dad -- I really like it, 'cause I learn more when you make me think about stuff."

Which brings us to a final tip concerning these two excellent ChessBase DVDs by Andrew Martin: don't be afraid to use the "pause" button. There are many places on these disks where he'll ask you to look at a position and come up with a move or plan. Why? Because he's a great teacher who knows that you learn more when he "asks you stuff".

Until next week, have fun!

© 2005, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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