Wolfgang Uhlmann: Meine besten Partien

10/26/2012 – "Wolfgang Uhlmann has authored a wonderful DVD," writes John Watson. "He presents 20 of his most memorable games in 7 hours and 38 minutes, with Karsten Müller as co-commentator. Uhlmann is much like his games: lively, sharp, and full of enthusiasm (he's 77 years old now)." Watson thinks this rare DVD might be worth getting even if you don't speak German. Review with sampler.

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Wolfgang Uhlmann: Meine besten Partien

Review by John Watson

John Watson has reviewed two sets of ChessBase downloads and DVD courses. In the first group he looked at five ChessBase tutorial videos. Here is one that is slightly different from the usual recommendations.

Wolfgang Uhlmann: Meine besten Partien

Wolfgang Uhlmann has authored a wonderful DVD in German: Meine besten Partien. This is available on the German ChessBase Shop site. Uhlmann presents 20 of his most memorable games in 7 hours and 38 minutes, with Karsten Mueller as co-commentator. Here is a small sampler:

Uhlmann is much like his games: lively, sharp, and full of enthusiasm (he's 77 years old now). This is the rare DVD that might be worth getting (also available by download) even if you don't speak German. Granted, that might be a bit of a luxury for someone without a liberal chess budget.

Some of the basic questions about chess video products have been around for a couple of decades: Who are they best suited for? Are they a good learning tool? What's the best way to keep the viewer's interest? How do they compare with books? In my experience, people either take to videos or don't. I have a friend who watches them as he exercises on a stationary bike; he's seen hundreds. Other players show little or no interest.

An important issue is whether you absorb and/or enjoy material better in a video format (as many people do for 'real world' subjects, particularly children); on the negative side passive learning (not moving the pieces or being engaged interactively) doesn't work for some people, who say they don't like the lack of feedback. From those who do like watching chess videos, the most common complaint I hear about ChessBase DVDs is that the presenter's face is always before you (facing you or staring at the computer screen), but after you've gotten used to him or her, the only thing you're really doing is watching the moves on the board and listening to a voice. So in one sense, the split screen method isn't that much better than just showing the board with audio commentary and no live visuals. On the other hand, some people find it pleasant to have a face in front of them simulating a real-world lecture. Personally I don't care that much, although it's very nice to see the presenter for at least a brief time so that you know what he looks like and can see a little about his screen personality.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the players from England are the best at presenting the material (at least for English-language DVDs!); it's simply a matter of a native feel for the nuances and humour of the language. That's one reason Davies (who is quietly expressive) and Martin (who has a more directly enthusiastic style) are so popular; they are fun to listen to. Lawrence Trent is similarly at ease and convincing, while Daniel King, whose Power Play series is very popular (unusually so for lectures with mostly middlegame themes) gives a comfortable impression with numerous entertaining comments.

As much as I respect the competent English of other lecturers, which easily exceeds my own abilities with other languages, they too often come across as either mechanical, forcedly 'humorous', or downright dull. Some of them are even difficult to understand. (Of course there are exceptions, for example, Jan Gustafsson and Lubomir Ftacnik; and players with exceptional knowledge are always interesting, e.g., Alexei Shirov sometimes seems befuddled, but I like his humour, spontaneity, and of course great chess wisdom). On the other hand, linguistic awkwardness can be to some extent made up for by a good spacing of the moves and variations. And of course, the chess material itself is easily the most important factor in assessing these DVDs. Nevertheless, especially in a video format, we're more likely to stay alert and interested if the lecturer's personality engages us.

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