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4/19/2011 – Learning chess strategy is not only a matter of improving your play. Gaining a new and deeper understanding here is accompanied by a change in view of the game and a refreshed interest in it. GM Mikalchishin's new DVD-series "Strategy University" is an excellent example, providing you with lots of new aspects that you may never have been aware of. Buy it now or read this review.

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Educational Excellence

Louis Lima (chesscafe.com) reviews Strategy University, Vol 1: The Central Approach
by GM Adrian Mikhalchishin

 "If you feel that you have both feet planted on level ground, then the university has failed you." – Robert Goheen
There are times when we emerge from a chess learning experience realizing how superficial and unsophisticated our view of the game can be, and at the same time, fortunate to be given the opportunity to learn such valuable lessons. This is how I felt after viewing Mikhalchishin's Strategy University Vol. 1: The Central Approach, a series of twenty-one lectures comprising close to four hours of content. Utilizing the classics, as well as today's top level chess, Mikhalchishin delves into a wide array of topics related to central strategy:  

  •  How to materialize our central advantage 
  • Counter play methods against a central advantage
  • Illustrations of the power of the pieces behind the center
  • Typical opening plans connected to central strategy
  • Dissolving the center to one's advantage
  • Transitioning to various endgame stages
  • Exploiting the power of a knight on e5
  • How players such as Fischer, Botvinnik, and Rubinstein treated the center
  • Changing the central structure to one's advantage
  • Deciding when to open or close the center
  • Creating a central passed pawn
  • Creating a strong center and rolling it down the board Typical central structures
  • Destroying the center with a piece sacrifice
  • Creation of a second weakness
  • Theory of the isolated pawn
  • Developing the initiative with a strong center
  • Combination of flank strategy with central strategy
  • Attacking the root or the base of the pawn chain

Below are some sample highlights of how Mikhalchishin addresses some of the topics above. Take some time, if you can, to solve the diagrams and compare your answers with Mikhalchishin's comments. Polugaevsky, L – Dorfman, J USSR Championship 1978

This game was covered in the first video lecture, intended to show why the center is so important and what becomes possible with a powerful center.

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 g6 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb6

"In the Grünfeld Defense Black gives up the center in many cases and has ideas to attack it with different measures with Bg7 and Bg4, so White's next move is very important."

6.h3

"Prevention of the pin Bg4, limiting the bishop on c8 and increasing the power of the center as Nf3 is protecting d4 very well."

6…Bg7 7.Nc3 0-0 8.Be2 - What are Black's plans in this position?  

"Here there are different plans to attack the center. One of the plans is of course 8…c6 9.0-0 Nd7 with the idea of destroying the center with e5. Another plan is some sacrifice like 8…c5 9.dxc5 Bxc3+ 10.bxc3 Qxd1+ 11.Bxd1 N6d7 12.Be3 Na6. OK, it's typical Grünfeld play. On one side Black gives up his main asset, the black-squared bishop, which is always a problem because this bishop is so powerful. But on the other hand, the pawn c3 is very weak. Of course White does not allow c5, better to play 13.c6 bxc6. This kind of position, of course, we have pair of bishops but the structure is symmetrical, so generally the rule says that in symmetrical structures the knight can match the bishop. Thus, this position is quite unclear."

8…Be6?! 9.0-0 Bc4?

"Black has problem with space, it's true, and it's useful on those situations to exchange pieces. But on the other hand it would be possible to play Na6 with the idea of playing c5 to attack the center."

10.Bxc4 Nxc4 11.Qe2 Nb6 12.Rd1

"9…Bc4 just allows White too easy development. Of course, one piece was exchanged but it doesn't matter for White. He much improved his pawn on d4 as the rook is protecting it and White is ready to push. White is now ready to get more space with d5 and e5. This powerful center can roll on and create a lot of troubles for Black.

" 12…N8d7 13.Bg5 c6


What would you play here as White?

14.a4!

 "Useful move trying to attack knight on b6 driving it back. If Black would play 14…a5, then there would be a very unpleasant move 15.Rab1 with b4 opening the b-file and creating threats on the b-file, then the b7-pawn would be very vulnerable."

14…Qe8 [with the idea e5] 15.a5 Nc8


What would you play here as White?

"This is a key moment. What to do with a strong center? It's always the question. The answer is that the strong center has to be open. Why? For the simple reason that in such cases we can see the power of the pieces that are behind this center."

16.d5! a6


What would you play here as White?

17.e5!

"Getting more space and closing the bishop on g7."

17…h6 18.Bh4 e6

How would you handle this position as White?

"Of course, 18…cxd5 would create a lot of problems after 19.Nxd5 as square on c7 is extremely vulnerable. So Black tries to close the center, to force White to play 19.d6. Of course, another possibility now was to make weakness on c6 by 19.dxc6 bxc6 20.Ne4 trying to come to d6 with the knight or trying to play Rac1 and to exploit the weakness of the c-pawn. Both ways are quite possible and both ways guaranteed White a huge positional advantage."

19.d6 g5 20.Bg3 f5


What would you play after 20…Na7 instead of 20...f5?

"21.Ra4! Trying to transfer rook to g4 and to start kingside attack with h4, opening the position of the black king. You see, the power of the pieces behind the center is huge because it allows the pieces to be transferred to both sides."

The game ended with similar commentary after 21.exf6 Rxf6 22. Ra4 Na7 23.h4! gxh4 24.Rxh4 Nb5 25.Be5 Rg6 26.Bxg7 Kxg7 27.Ne5 Nxc3 28.bxc3 Rg5 29.f4 Rf5 30.Qg4 Kh7 31.Qh3 Rf6 32.Ng4 Qf8 33.Nxf6+ Qxf6 34.Re1 Nf8 35.Re5 Kg7 36.Reh5 1-0

Each lecture begins with a game that clearly illustrates the strategic concept, such as the Polugaevsky–Dorfman encounter, and then moves on to more complicated examples. The material is very interesting and suitable for Class C players and above. One of the aspects I enjoy in Mikhalchishin's lectures is his ability to discuss the games of great champions from a single, strategic perspective. We saw this in his fabulous The Secret Weapons of the Champions, where he illustrates Botvinnik's flank strategy, Tal's intuition of attack, Petrossian's light-squared strategy, and Makogonov's theory of the worst-placed piece. Here he takes the same approach with many of his lectures.

Two wildly interesting lectures covered several of Fischer's games, and Mikhalchishin illustrates how the former champion handled his central advantage. You are likely to walk away from these with a renewed interest in investigating the games of Fischer, Botvinnik, Rubinstein, and many others. There are close to fifty games analyzed from the perspective of central strategy, and you'll find some wonderful gems, such as Rubinstein's immortal game and Tal's common piece sacrifices to destroy his opponent's center: 

What would you play as white?

 Mikhalchishin begins the tenth lecture on structural change in the center be featuring the Tal–Ghitescu encounter. Tal sacrificed the exchange with 19.Bxc5! dxc5 20.Nxe5 Nc8 21.f4 Qe7 22.c4 Bg7


What would you play as white?

Mikhalchishin comments as follows: "23.Nf3 Very typical and instructive moment. The knight is fantastically placed in the center but it is necessary to free the way for the pawns." Tal went on to win the game and Mikhalchishin culminates the lecture with a similar example in the game Korchnoi–Nijboer from the 1993 Netherlands Championship. The thirteenth lecture also covered a number of similar piece sacrifices to destroy the opponent's center, focusing on the French Defense and the games of Mikhail Gurevich.

I highly recommend this DVD for 1600-rated players and above. Mikhalchishin is considered one of the top five chess coaches in the world and the value of both his material and oral instruction is of the highest quality. My assessment of this DVD: Four star


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