Jacob Aagaard x2

3/23/2005 – In this week's ChessBase Workshop, we somehow manage to link together the Nimzoindian Defense, South Park, How to Beat Bobby Fischer, cool videos, perfume on a shirt collar, opening ideas, and IM Jacob Aagaard. Even James Burke would have a hard time making these connections...

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Jacob Aagaard x2

previewed by Steve Lopez

IM Jacob Aagaard (has he made GM yet? He was just a few results shy of the mark last time I checked) is quickly becoming the most prolific author of ChessBase DVDs in the Chess Media System format. In this ChessBase Workshop we'll look at his latest two releases: The Nimzoindian Defense -- The Easy Way and Basic Positional Ideas.

The Nimzoindian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4) gets its name from a combination of the last name of Aron Nimzovitch (one of the great Hypermodern players from the "Golden Age of Chess" in the early 1900's) and the fact that it's an "Indian" defense (Black advances his e-pawn just one square, as though he's playing a game of Chaturanga, i.e. Indian chess, in which pawns can move just one square). As I've alluded, it's considered a Hypermodern opening (associated with that 1920's school of chess), but it's really been around for much longer -- the first game on the DVD The Nimzoindian Defense -- The Easy Way is a Cochrane-Staunton game from the 1840's.

How "easy" is the Nimzoindian to learn? I tried it about a decade ago and didn't get very far with it, mainly because the book I was using concentrated mainly on move orders and variations. A point I've frequently harped on in this column is that the proper way to learn openings is by learning their ideas rather than by rote memorization of moves. You know the drill -- you memorize a lot of variations, your opponent plays something weird on move seven, and those hours you spent drilling variations into your head go straight into the gutter.

IM Aagaard is well aware of this fact, so he concentrates on ideas in this DVD rather than on opening variations. And he tries to keep things loose; he tells us right up front in the DVD's introductory video that he intends to have some fun with the Nimzo. Now "fun" is a relative term here -- we're not going to be seeing chess videos replacing "South Park" on Comedy Central anytime soon. But Aagaard does a pretty good job of keeping it light while he's imparting some really useful chess instruction -- I actually laughed out loud more than once while viewing the first game on this DVD.

Let's have a look at the video "chapters" on this disk, along with the running times for each, just to give you some idea of the content:

  • 1st lesson: Introduction (26:32 min)
  • 2nd lesson: The c4-square (13:24 min)
  • 3rd lesson: The c4-square part 2 (18:11 min)
  • 4th lesson: Theory 4.Qb3 (13:55 min)
  • 5th lesson: Theory 4.a3 (17:25 min)
  • 6th lesson: Theory 4.f3 (19:38 min)
  • 7th lesson: Theory 4.e3 Karpov-variation part 1 (18:31 min)
  • 8th lesson: Theory 4.e3 Karpov-variation part 2 (28:41 min)
  • 9th lesson: Theory 4.e3 Petrosian-variation part 1 (9:57 min)
  • 10th lesson: Theory 4.e3 Petrosian-variation part 2 (13:53 min)
  • 11th lesson: Theory 4.e3 - minor stuff (8:57 min)
  • 12th lesson: Theory 4.Qc2 - part 1 (23:13 min)
  • 13th lesson: Theory 4.Qc2 - part 2 (9:30 min)
  • 14th lesson: Bg5 systems (14:24 min)
  • 15th lesson: Overview over theoretical variations (8:01 min)

Click here for a short demo video clip(2:36)

A glance at this list shows that the DVD starts off with conceptual stuff (general ideas and the importance of the c4-square) and then moves on to variations and theory. But you shouldn't be misled by the use of the word "theory"; IM Aagaard doesn't beat the viewer over the head with endless reams of analysis and tons of variations. He's carefully chosen just the key moves and variations you'll need to understand and then spends a lot of time explaining them.

In fact, the Chess Media System is the perfect format for this type of opening training -- an author can use the spoken word to expound upon ideas at length in a manner which would make a text-format game seem endless. Instead of just a quick line or two of text to explain an idea in capsule format, this Chess Media System DVD allows the author to take his time to fully explain the ideas in a relaxed, almost casual manner.

I won't try to con you by saying I watched all four hours plus of video on this DVD -- if I had to watch every minute of every DVD before writing about it, you'd be seeing "previews" of DVDs about two years after their release dates. But I did watch several games on this disk and I was really impressed by IM Aagard's video commentary; he imparts the information in a pretty relaxed enjoyable manner.

All too often we chessplayers view learning a new opening as a lot of work: "Oh my God! My Budapest Defense got shelled in that last tournament -- I've got to learn another opening against d4! But, man, it's such a grind..." Chess is a game -- it ought to be fun, not "work".

That's the entire reason this DVD is titled The Nimzoindian Defense -- The Easy Way. Becoming proficient at any opening really isn't "easy"; there's bound to be some level of effort and time expenditure involved. But this DVD makes learning the basic concepts of the Nimzo pretty painless. In fact it's even -- *gasp* -- enjoyable. I'll tell you straight up: I have no (immediate) intention of learning the Nimzoindian. But I do plan to go back and watch a good bit more of this DVD; the portions I've viewed were really entertaining and enjoyable just for the fun of watching some good (and not so good) chess explained really well. IM Aagaard didn't leave me lying on the floor crying laughing the way Danny King used to do years ago on his ChessBase CDs, but he did make me laugh out loud more than once. And viewing this DVD definitely left me with a smile on my face. It's a cool DVD.

So if you actually want to learn the Nimzoindian, I'll warn you ahead of time -- you won't want to stop watching this disk. You'll be up until three A.M. with it, show up for work late, and then have to explain why you were up all night and have a goofy grin on your face. Hmmm, maybe that ain't such a bad thing...think about it.... Shoot a little perfume on your collar and you'll get major props from the other guys in the office.

IM Aagard's other DVD, Basic Positional Ideas, was a lot different from the Nimzoindian DVD. His demeanor is a lot more serious on this disk and the DVD itself is a bit of a "slow starter". It's takes a little while to get to the "meat" of the disk.

Let's see how the disk is structured by looking at the contents:

  • Intro: 1:42 (Basic positional ideas)
  • Lesson 1: 36:57 (Weaknesses I)
  • Lesson 2: 15:15 (Weaknesses II)
  • Lesson 3: 25:13 (Piece play I)
  • Lesson 4: 17:01 (Piece play II)
  • Lesson 5: 24:39 (Piece play III)
  • Lesson 6: 27:17 (Prophylactic thinking)

Click here for a short demo video clip(2:24)

These video "chapters" are then followed by fifty exercises. These fifty positions are also included as separate entries in the database, presumably so that you can load them into one of the Fritz family of playing programs and practice them by playing them out against the chess engine. The fifty video entries are the solutions, explained in detail by IM Aagaard.

What level of player is Basic Positional Ideas aimed toward? Despite the title, this DVD is anything but "basic". I'm an average club-level player but I'm pretty well-versed in basic positional themes; I've read Pachman and the excellent series of ChessBase strategy CDs by Eugene Bartashnikov (my problem is in applying what I know, but that's my own ugly cross to bear). I'll readily admit to you that a lot of the instruction on this DVD went whizzing straight over my head. That's a very hard admission for me; I've read a lot of chess literature and the only other works that "beat" me were Mednis' How to Beat Bobby Fischer and a couple of Dvoretsky books, all of which similarly sailed over my head and crashed against a wall somewhere behind me.

I received Basic Positional Ideas sometime around Thanksgiving and it's been sitting on my desk, laughing at me for months. I knew I'd have to break down and preview it eventually. So tonight I'm biting the bullet, pouring myself a frosty one, and battering the keyboard.

Frankly, I don't know what to make of this DVD. It's as different from the same author's Nimzoindian DVD as night is from day. IM Aagard's delivery is totally different, the approach is much more serious and "heavy", and yet...

Look, I'm baffled. IM Aagaard actually yawns and stretches on camera several times on the disk. (Two of the photos you click on to start the videos actually show this). If there's some sort of gag being played here, I don't get it.

I don't get the joke. I don't get the instruction. This DVD completely whipped me and, for some reason, I blame myself. I can't tell you whether or not the instruction is any good because I don't understand it. The tone is certainly serious enough, but then there's that "stretching" thing.

So I'll admit it -- I'm letting you down on this one. I don't know what to tell you. It'll take somebody a whole lot smarter than me (maybe John Watson) to give you the skinny on Basic Positional Ideas.

Meanwhile I'll just pour another cold one, wait for my copy of Fritz and Chesster 2 to arrive and hope that I'm able to grasp that.

Until then, have fun!


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


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