Kasimdzhanov: Beating the French Vol. 2

2/28/2011 – The French Defense is one of those fascinating defenses that never seems to lose its luster at all levels. Rustam Kasimdzhanov just released three DVDs to remove the veil of mystery, with the second on the position arising after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6. French enthusiast Kevan Cowcill gives his in-depth review – with pictures of a biologist in the Yukon.

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Beating the French Defence Volume 2

By Kevan Cowcill

This second volume of Kasimdzhanov’s series, Beating the French Defence, deals with the position arising after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6

It has a similar format to his previous DVD. There are 14 lectures covering over three hours of material which includes an introduction, a lecture on theoretical considerations, and then a number of interesting games that put into practice the ideas learned in the theoretical lectures. In this volume there is only one theoretical lecture compared to three in the previous DVD.

At the end of the DVD, there is a five minute lecture, which is all the “knowledge neatly structured” as Kasimdzhanov describes it. This summary material is quite useful, and can be viewed first instead of last as it provides a framework which keeps the viewer from losing the forest for the trees.

While part of a series, the DVD stands alone, so if budget is tight you can buy the DVD that you think may be of more use to you. However, I think that if you view one of Kasimdzhanov’s DVDs in this series, you will want to get the others. His presentation is highly professional, and there is a great deal of information relayed in the game lectures. Native English speakers should have no difficulty in understanding his accent.

A handy feature is the summary of all the lines and links to the relevant games. Our screenshot shows page one of two:

If you want to review a particular line just click on the link that interests you and it will take you directly to that lecture. The theory lecture, which is important for understanding the game lectures, focuses on the position after

6…Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5 9.Qd2 Nxd4 10.Bxd4 Bxd4 11.Qxd4 Qb6 12.Qxb6 Nxb6 13.Nb5 Ke7 14.Nd4

As Kasimdzhanov explains, this is a classical French position so in order to understand what the players are doing in the practical games one should learn the ideas for both sides in this position. For example, the knight on d4 dominates the position and can’t be easily attacked. Black will likely get a difficult ending, but with other minor pieces present Black may have some counterplay such as a breakthrough with g5, trying to undermine the pawn on e5.

There are games from well-known players such as Grischuk, Leko, Kasparov, Short, Kramnik, Ivanchuk, Shirov and others, as well as an instructive old game played by Sultan Khan and Tartakower. Their endgame is a prime example of how to exploit small weaknesses in what may seem to be a drawn position, and there is some instructive material dealing with the recurring French motif of good N vs bad B.

Grischuk,Alexander (2701) - Iljushin,Alexei (2556) [C11]
EU-ch 4th Istanbul (1), 30.05.2003
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5 9.Qd2 0-0 10.0-0-0 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 a6 12.Qf2 Qc7 13.Bd3 Bxd4 14.Qxd4 Qc5 15.Ne2 b5 16.Kb1 b4 17.Rc1 Qxd4 18.Nxd4 Nc5 19.Rhd1 f6 20.c3 fxe5 21.fxe5 bxc3 22.Rxc3 Nxd3 23.Rdxd3 Bd7 24.Rf3 Rxf3 25.gxf3 Ra7 26.Kc2 Kf7 27.f4 Rb7 28.b3 h6 29.Kd2 Ke7 30.a3 Kf7 31.h4 g6 32.Rc5 Ke7 33.b4

This game provides an example of the B vs N ending where after 33. b4… White has consolidated his position. His knight is still blockading on d4, the rook is more active, and his pawns and pieces are all on the dark squares so Black’s bishop can’t touch them. Black is reduced to moving his king around and waiting for White to break through. However, despite Black’s weaknesses (pawns on a6 and e6), a white breakthrough is not easy. This type of endgame is typical for this line, and the endgame lessons learned may make the difference between a draw and a win for White. The game continued:

33...Kf7 34.Ke3 Ke8 35.Kf3 Kf7 36.Kg4 Ke7 37.h5 Kf7 38.hxg6+ Kxg6 39.f5+ exf5+ 40.Kf4 Be8 41.Rc8 Bd7 42.Ra8 Bb5 43.Rf8 Rf7 44.Rd8 Rd7 45.Rb8 Bd3 46.Rb6+ Kh7 47.e6 Rg7 48.Nxf5 Rg5 49.Nxh6 Rg1 50.e7 Re1 51.Nf5 Rf1+ 52.Ke3 Bxf5 53.Ke2 1-0.

Kasimdzhanov has again picked some entertaining (and instructive) games. De Firmian-Huebner is particularly gripping in that nearly every move in the middle game contains a threat. It is a fine example of taking the initiative and then not letting it go.

De Firmian,Nick E (2605) - Huebner,Robert (2630) [C11]
Rubinstein Memorial 32nd Polanica Zdroj (7), 1995
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Qb6

After 8…Qb6 Black puts pressure on the e3 bishop and prepares …Bc5, as well as threatening the b2 pawn. 9.Qd2 Qxb2 10.Rb1 Qa3. Black has taken the b2 pawn, but White won some tempi to make his rook active on the b-file, and he is threatening Rb3. The active rook ties the light-squared bishop to the defence of the b7-pawn, as well as giving White a chance to support his light-squared bishop on b5. Other white ideas include castling and bringing his kingside rook to f3. 11.Bb5. Being slightly ahead in development, White decides on immediate pressure whereas with a slower development Black might be able to complete his development and equalize.

11…Nxd4 12.Bxd4 Bb4. Black pins Nc3, prepares …Qa5 and the bishop on b5 will be hanging. So White proceeds with 13.Rb3 Qa5 14.a3. Concrete play has started with every move containing a threat. Black’s king is still in the center so he must maintain his pressure while at the same time dealing with White’s has numerous threats. 14…Be7. After 14…Be7 it is not very apparent how White should proceed. If 15.0-0, Black will have some possibilities to exchange with …Nc5 or …Bc5. White though avoids natural looking moves which may kill his initiative and plays an immediate 15.f5.

15.f5. If Black plays 15…0-0, he should be concerned about 16.f6 after which Black’s king position is destroyed. E.g. gxf6 17.Bxd7 exf6, and it is unlikely he can save himself. 15…exf5 16.Nxd5. This was Black’s best chance in the game and he should have been happy to exchange queens e.g. 16…Qxd2+. 16…Bh4+ 17.Kd1

17...Qd8. Even here, with 17…Qxd2 it wasn’t too late to exchange. Perhaps Black was thinking he could castle to safety, but White’s lead in development is now so advanced that he had a number of choices, all of which are not good for Black. E.g. 18.e6 fxe6 19.Bxg7 Rg8 20.Qh6 might be sufficient, according to Kasimdzhanov. 18.Nf6+. Opens up the files for his rooks – Black is forced to take. 18…gxf6 19.exf6. White’s pieces are joining in on the attack and there is very little Black can do.

19… 0–0 20.Rg3+ Kh8 21.Qh6 Rg8 22.Rg7 Nf8 1-0.

It is a short, but instructive game with one of the lessons being: don’t use normal developing moves if you have sacrificed a pawn. Instead keep up with the threats and maintain initiative.

Amusingly, in the very next game (Shirov-Bareev) the lesson learned is how important it is to play normally and develop as if you hadn’t sacrificed two pawns.

Shirov,Alexei (2723) - Bareev,Evgeny (2729) [C11]
Corus Wijk aan Zee (7), 19.01.2003
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5 9.Qd2 Bxd4 10.Bxd4 Nxd4 11.Qxd4 Qb6 12.Qd2 Qxb2 13.Rb1 Qa3 14.Nb5 Qxa2 15.Nd6+ Kf8 16.Rd1 Qb2 17.Be2 Qb6 18.c4 d4 19.Bf3 a5 20.0-0 d3+ 21.Kh1 Qd4 22.Nb5 Qc5 23.Qxd3 g6 24.Nd6 Nb6 25.Rb1 Kg7 26.Rb5 Qc7 27.Qd4 Nd7 28.f5 gxf5 29.Nxf5+ exf5 30.e6+ Ne5 31.Rxe5 f6 32.Rxf5 Rf8 33.Bd5 Qe7 34.Rh5 Kh8 35.Be4 Bxe6 36.Rxh7+ Qxh7 37.Bxh7 Kxh7 38.Qe4+ 1-0.

While that may sound contradictory to the previous lesson it is not because the moves are dependent upon the position itself and not blind adherence to general rules. Studying these two games together should help a player make wise decisions on when to pay heed to general rules and when to ignore them.

Another valuable game is Kramnik-Radjabov. It is a game, Kasimdzhanov says, that became a modern-day classic, is one of the best French games in recent times, and it may be the game that made Radjabov stop playing the French Defence. This game also appears in Hansen’s Improve Your Positional Chess, New in Chess magazine as well as their Yearbook so it does seem to have made an impression.

Kramnik,Vladimir (2807) - Radjabov,Teimour (2624) [C11]
Linares 20th Linares (6), 28.02.2003
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5 9.Qd2 0-0 10.0-0-0 a6 11.Qf2 Nxd4 12.Bxd4 Qc7 13.Bd3 b5 14.Qh4 h6 15.Ne2 f6 16.Qg4 Bxd4 17.Nxd4 Nc5 18.Qg6 Nxd3+ 19.Rxd3 Qc4 20.Rhd1 Ra7 21.Kb1 Qc7 22.f5 Qb6 23.Rh3 fxe5 24.Rxh6 Rf6 25.Qe8+ Rf8 26.Rh8+ Kxh8 27.Qxf8+ Kh7 28.Nf3 Qc7 29.fxe6 e4 30.Ng5+ Kh6 31.h4 Kh5 32.Qf5 g6 33.g4+ Kxh4 34.Rh1+ Kg3 35.Rg1+ Kh4 36.Qf6 1-0.

Kasparov and Short have a featured game with Kasparov coming up with a brilliant solution to keeping Black’s activity under control and the queenside paralyzed. This inspiring game is quite rightly examined in Understanding Chess Move by Move by Nunn and Griffiths, and by Seirawan in one of his Chesscafe articles.

Kasparov,Garry (2805) - Short,Nigel D (2655) [C11]
Amsterdam Euwe Memorial Amsterdam (2), 13.05.1994
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5 9.Qd2 0-0 10.0-0-0 a6 11.h4 Nxd4 12.Bxd4 b5 13.Rh3 b4 14.Na4 Bxd4 15.Qxd4 f6 16.Qxb4 fxe5 17.Qd6 Qf6 18.f5 Qh6+ 19.Kb1 Rxf5 20.Rf3 Rxf3 21.gxf3 Qf6 22.Bh3 Kf7 23.c4 dxc4 24.Nc3 Qe7 25.Qc6 Rb8 26.Ne4 Nb6 27.Ng5+ Kg8 28.Qe4 g6 29.Qxe5 Rb7 30.Rd6 c3 31.Bxe6+ Bxe6 32.Rxe6 1-0.

There doesn’t seem to be a full database of games available with these DVDs, but with the ready availability of online databases, weekly downloadable games from ChessBase and The Week in Chess, and databases that come with the Fritz family of engines most people will do a search for relevant games or positions for themselves.

As with the first DVD, this one is also quite good. Kasimdzhanov did move through some of the variations and ideas faster, and it did feel more advanced than the first DVD. However, that is a very subjective impression. Viewers new to the French may wish to replay the summary lecture, the theoretical lecture,and several of the first few games till they learn the strategic ideas as Kasimdzhanov will build upon these ideas in later games.

Overall, a clear presentation and concisely explained strategies for both sides by a well prepared presenter.

Sample video


Click on the image to start a three-minute sample video from Kasimdzhanov's DVD

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Click any of the above DVDs to enter the shop for more information and to order. Price: €26.99 incl. VAT, €22.68 without VAT (for customers outside the EU) $31.31 (without VAT).

About the author

Kevan A. Cowcill has worked as a contract field biologist and as a university lab instructor as well as a college professor teaching biology, zoology and ecology courses to some wonderful students. He has experience working in both terrestrial and aquatic habitats from the Yukon in the north down to Mexico in the south, and numerous places in between, especially the four corner states in the U.S. He is a well-rounded well-traveled naturalist.

The above pictures was taken after Kevan got back from a windswept island off the coast of British Columbia. Helicopter pulled his team off during a window in the storm, after gale force winds came through the mountains and destroyed a metereological tower, setting a new record before the tower was destroyed.


In deep snow tracking animals

Kevan has a particular interest in birds, tidal pool invertebrates, arctic, alpine and desert plants and critters, the pursuit of which have often left him cold, wet, tired, foot-sore, dehydrated but happy. Currently he is back in the north tromping around on snowshoes tracking carnivores and setting up trail cameras to photograph the more elusive mammals. Here are some more pictures:


Stories written in the snow


Tracks of an otter sliding on belly pushing itself along


A fox sniffing for something


Tracking some very big animals


A moose bed in the snow


The chess playing biologist in the north

Previous reviews by Kevan Cowcil

Beating the French Vol.1: Super-GM classes for the amateur
08.02.2011 – The French Defense is one of those fascinating defenses that never seems to lose its luster at all levels, and one need only see the difficulties Short had with White in the recent London Classic. Rustam Kasimdzhanov just released three DVDs to remove the veil of mystery, with the first on the Winawer. Scientist, professor, and French enthusiast Kevan Cowcill gives his in-depth review.

Alexei Shirov: The Philidor Defence
19.01.2010 – He is a well-known firebrand in the chess world. In Wijk he is currently playing at a 3500 level. But Alexei Shirov is also a prolific chess teacher, and his ChessBase DVDs are amongst the most popular. Take for instance one of his latest, on the Philidor Defence, a surprise opening that can give rise to extreme open and closed positions. Shirov's treatment is reviewed by a field biologist in the Yukon.

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