Chavennes: Chess for Novices

by ChessBase
3/13/2013 – "In my review of Chess for Novices, Vol. 1 I enjoyed the presentation," writes Steve Goldberg in his Chess Cafereview. "It a nice introduction to chess for a player who knows nothing more than how the pieces move. I titled the review "First Chess Steps." Now I have had the chance to review Chess for Novices, Vol. 2 and I am very impressed." The new review is called 'Bigger Chess Steps'

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Bigger Chess Steps

By Steve Goldberg

Chess for Novices, Vol. 2, by Sabrina Chevannes (DVD), ChessBase 2012; Playing Time 4 hrs. $21.95 (ChessCafe Price: $17.95)

Just as Volume 1 contained five "chapters," consisting of four groupings of basic information and a final test chapter, Volume 2 also contains five chapters:

  • Opening Traps
  • Checkmating Patterns
  • Real Endgames
  • Positional Play
  • Test

The Opening Traps section, consisting of an introduction and eight video segments, includes such favorites as Scholar's Mate, Fool's Mate and the Fried Liver attack. She also discusses a number of other fun openings she titles the "OMG trap" in the Italian Game, the Petroff Trap and the Elephant Trap, among others.

More than seventeen minutes are spent on variations of the Scholar's Mate, and I was a bit concerned when I heard Sabrina comment after White moved 5.g4 at one point "you've now ruined the opportunity of castling kingside." What she means is that White will not want to castle kingside because of the damage to his protective pawn wall, but the inexperienced viewer may possibly get confused here, thinking that this pawn move somehow precludes White from castling kingside.

These openings traps are not necessarily all sound opening strategies, and Chevannes does not particularly recommend playing for these trick openings, but a player relatively new to chess will likely delight in these opportunities to spring an occasional surprise on his or her opponents.

The next chapter, Checkmating Patterns, contains an introduction and six additional segments. These cover such topics as back rank mates, doubling or tripling heavy pieces on open files, queen/rook batteries and queen/bishop batteries, and the pretty Boden's mate involving two bishops working in tandem.

I especially liked the following clever position she presented when discussing queen/bishop batteries:

The alert reader/viewer will notice that both White and Black have potential queen/bishop batteries in play. If it is White to move, he will want to move his h7-bishop to give discovered check, followed by Qh7#. But he cannot move it just anywhere. White may be thinking, for example, that he will play 1.Bc2, giving discovered check, whereupon Black will answer 1...Kg8 and White will follow up with 2.Qh7#. But instead, Black has the resource of 1...Qh6 and mate is blocked. So the only move for White is 1.Bg6+, blocking the black queen from reaching h6. Then indeed, Black must respond 1...Kg8 (yes, he can play 1...Nh5, but that just delays mate one move), and White finishes with his hoped-for 2.Qh7#.

But now, Chevannes says, let's say it is Black to move. He would like to move his f4-knight out of the way, so he can mate on h2. But if he tries 1...Ne2+, White just plays 2.Nxe2, and his queen on h4 still covers the h2-square. However, if Black is a bit more observant, he will see that 1...Nh3+ does the trick. White can play 2.gxh3 or 2.Kh1, but in either event, the white queen is blocked from reaching the vulnerable h2-square, and 2...Qxh2# follows. A beginning player who can accurately see all of these contingencies is well on his way to no longer being a beginner.

As nice as that queen and bishop battery position is, I found that Chess for Novices, Vol. 2 really kicked into high gear with the remaining three chapters.

Chapter 3: Real Endgames contains seven important segments for viewers to master:

  • The idea of the opposition
  • Basic king and pawn versus king endings
  • The square of the pawn
  • Unique rook pawn issues
  • Connected passed pawns, including the "breakthrough" idea with three adjacent passed pawns against three other adjacent passed pawns on the same files
  • Lucena position
  • Philidor position

While these are not terribly complicated issues, they are all important for players to know to become better chess players. Admittedly, many beginners' games will not reach the endgame, but when they do, players must know how to navigate these basic principles.

Chapter 4: Positional Play contains only four segments following a brief introduction, but again, they contain critical material:

  • Pawn structure, including pawn islands, doubled pawns, isolated pawns, backward pawns, passed pawns and pawn chains
  • Open and semi-open files. Sabrina includes one of her games to illustrate some of her points.
  • Knight outposts
  • Move-by-move analysis of a game between players each rated approximately 1600 Elo. She covers a number of previously-discussed principles.

Chapter 5 then presents fifteen test positions that will be challenging not just for novice players, but for many intermediate players as well. Let's take a look at the first test position:

It is Black to move, with White threatening Bxf7+. How best can Black deal with this threat? I will provide the solution at the end of this review, but take a moment to consider your answer.

Nearly all of these fifteen test positions are reasonably challenging and well chosen. A player who successfully answers most of them has already learned not to make rash, unthinking moves and has begun to acquire the ability to critically examine a position.

This is both a fun and highly instructive DVD. There are many good books for beginning players. For example, Jeff Coakley's Winning Chess Puzzles for Kids and Winning Chess Exercises for Kids come to mind. Similarly, the various Fred Wilson & Bruce Alberston co-authored books can be recommended, as can Igor Sukhin's Chess Camp series, and Dean Ippolito's Chess Tactics for Scholastic Players.

But if you are looking for a DVD that you can simply hand to a relatively new player and watch them blossom, Chess for Novices, Vol. 2 will be hard to beat. Of course, these lessons will not sink in by osmosis; the viewer must actively work on absorbing and understanding the principles. And as any experienced player can attest, there is no end to additional nuances that can be studied.

But Chevannes presents her material in an upbeat, enjoyable fashion that cannot help but whet the appetite for more, at least for the player who sincerely wants to improve his or her chess. A viewer who works at navigating this material and truly understands these concepts will surely emerge a much stronger player.

Solution to the test position above

Did you pick 1...Qe7 to stop the attack on f7? That indeed protects f7, but it is not the strongest move. That would be 1...Nd4! Now if White tries 2.Bxf7+, play will continue 2...Ke7 3.Qc4, and Black hits back with 3...b5, when White will lose material since his queen must move and cannot protect both the f7-bishop and the c2-pawn.

My assessment of this product: Great (five out of six stars)

Sabrina Chevannes

Born in 1986 in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, England, the Women’s FIDE Master now lives in London where she is the managing director of the Chevannes Chess Academy. With over 300 members of the academy, she has one of the largest following of students in the UK.

Sabrina is still an active chess player competing in Division 1 of the British Chess League (4NCL) for Cambridge University and Division 1 of the London League for Wood Green. She has represented England Ladies’ team on two occasions, including the Olympiad in Istanbul in 2012. She started playing chess at eight and has ten British chess titles to her name. She is famous in England for her exciting teaching technique and specialises in junior coaching. She tailors all her lessons to the needs of her students and is the creator of her own chess teaching system – the Chevannes Chess Course. She is also an active tournament organiser, running the National Girls’ Chess Championships, the English Women’s Rapidplay and the Richmond Rapidplay – three well respected tournaments in England.

Sabrina has had 13 years classroom teaching experience and now works full time managing her academy into a successful teaching agency. She has also coached the English national junior team at the FIDE World Schools Chess Championships and is preparing to coach the Welsh national junior team at the European Youth Chess Championships this summer in Prague.

Sampler from Chess for Novices Vol. 2 by Sabrina Chevannes

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


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