Gustafsson's Marshall Gambit: best chess opening DVD ever?

2/28/2011 – "Maybe!" says Dennis Monokroussos. "If you play the Marshall Gambit you would be insane not to buy this disk, even if you're a grandmaster. Gustafsson is one of the world's absolute experts on the Marshall, and in the intro clip he says he's going to tell the viewer everything he knows. Yeah, right! Then you watch the DVD and realize that – gasp! – he might be telling the truth." Review.

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Gustafsson on the Marshall Gambit: best chess opening DVD ever?

Maybe!

German GM Jan Gustafsson has released a pair of DVDs with ChessBase offering a full repertoire with 1.e4 e5. Volume 1 covers the Marshall and Anti-Marshall (basically, everything after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0), while volume 2 covers White's prior deviations after 1.e4 e5. We'll stick to volume 1 in this review, and come back to volume 2 another day.

In the intro clip Gustafsson says he's going to tell the viewer everything he knows. Yeah, right! Then you watch the videos and, even more to the point, look at the accompanying analysis files, and you realize that – gasp! – he might be telling the truth. There's no way I can prove that he is, but even if he's not there's not only so much information on the disk, but so much completely new and extremely significant on it, that I'm delighted to accept even an approximation of "everything". The bottom line is this: if you play the Marshall Gambit and are at least, say, 1800 or 1900 (or a correspondence player), you would be insane not to buy this disk even if you're a grandmaster. Gustafsson is one of the world's absolute experts on the Marshall, so he knows whereof he speaks.

Getting down to basics, there are 17 clips: 14 substantial clips and three short intros. (One intro at the start of the disk, one for the Marshall and one for the Anti-Marshall.) The running time for the videos is about 3 hours and 45 minutes, and then there are 14 accompanying analysis files. The videos serve as an excellent guide, and generally serve several purposes.

First, they offer a lay of the land, listing Black's relevant options where applicable. Gustafsson will sometimes recount a decision to go from a line he played at one time to something different at the moment, or to explain why he might prefer one roughly equivalent line to another. (One such reason, which he mentioned in several places, is that he generally dislikes playing endgames in the Marshall.) Often, while he'll recommend one line over the others, he will still give enough details about an alternative to let the viewer successfully play that one instead, should he see fit.

Second, the clips explain what Black (and White, for that matter) is trying to do, so the lines will make more sense and so a player can figure things out even if confronted with something new or if his memory fails. The analysis files go deeper, but they lack explanatory prose, so it's best not to skip the videos en route to the mega-details.

Third, the clips still go pretty deeply; it's just that the analysis files go even further. Because the videos are substantial in their own right, they serve to give almost all of us enough information to take the Marshall (and the relevant anti-Marshall lines) directly into battle.

As for the lines covered, they're what you'd expect from any reputable source on the Marshall. After the intros, you have clips on the following lines, starting with the Gambit (8.c3 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 c6):

(1) 12.d4 Bd6 13.Re1 Qh4 14.g3 Qh3 15.Be3 (the Old Main Line)

(2) 15.Re4 g5 16.Qf3/16.Qe2

(3) 16.Qf1

(4) 15.Qe2 (this is a new and suddenly hot line)

(5) 12.d3

(6) 12.Re1 Bd6 13.g3

(7) Odds and ends including 12.Bxd5, 12.d4 Bd6 13.Re2, and 13.Re1 Qh4 14.g3 Qh3 and now 15.Bxd5, 15.Qd3 and 15.Qf3 are all investigated.

As is usual nowadays, the inferior sidelines 11...Nf6 and 9...e4 are ignored, but all the relevant 11...c6 lines are discussed. Then he turns to the Anti-Marshall, when the following standard lines are covered:

(8) 8.h3 Bb7 9.d3 d5 (the move he wants to recommend, but can't, though he thinks it's playable and gives not only the info needed to play it but the reason he's not completely happy with it)

(9) 9...d6 10.a4 and 10.c3

(10) 9...d6 10.a3

(11) 8.a4 b4 9.d4 and 9.a5

(12) 8.a4 b4 9.d3

(13) 8.d4

(14) Odds & ends: 8.d3, 8.a3 & 8.c3.

Another virtue of the presentation has already been alluded to in passing. Unlike some authors (especially those promoting dubious lines), Gustafsson freely acknowledges when he's not completely satisfied with some line or other. Sometimes it's because of his style or preferred approach (e.g. his desire to avoid most Marshall endings, and his preference for concrete lines over maneuvering), but once or twice he seems less than sure that Black has a perfectly satisfactory answer against a certain White approach. (Don't panic, it doesn't mean that he think Black is much worse; it's not even clear in those cases that he's worse at all. It's just not yet clear that Black has full equality either.) In all of those cases he offers several different approaches for Black, and it's clear that Black is in entirely reasonable shape. In any case, the honesty is refreshing!

Also pleasant is Gustafsson's sense of humor. It's not a comedy album, but every so often he'll make some amusing remark, and helps lighten things up. His English is excellent and he speaks very clearly and articulately, so you won't have to crank the volume and stare at his lips to translate his accent. All in all, it's a great product, which you can order here:

The prices is €32.90 incl. VAT, €27.65 ($38.21) without VAT for customers outside the EU. Both volumes together cost €59.90 (€50.34 or $69.56 without VAT for Customers outside the EU) instead of €65.80 when ordered separately. Clicking any product above will take you to the shop where it can be ordered.

Sample videos

Previous reviews

GM Jan Gustafsson: The Marshall Attack
08.01.2011 – "German GM Jan Gustafsson is one of the top experts on the Marshall. He is a very strong player with a reputation as a theoretician and analyst. Aside from this, it emerges on the DVD that he has a tremendous sense of humor, enabling him to make a rather entertaining presentation from the countless long lines in the Marshall Attack." Chess Cafe review by Carsten Hansen.

GM Jan Gustafsson: The Marshall Attack
29.10.2010 – "I gave it full marks, five out of five," writes reviewer GM Hedinn Steingrimsson about his colleague's new DVD. Jan Gustafsson is a leading expert on the Marshall Attack, especially in the attacking lines where Black plays uncompromisingly for a win. "This might very well be the best opening DVD that ChessBase has produced," says Steingrimsson. Review with video samples.

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