Kasimdzhanov: Beating the French Vol. 3

3/17/2011 – In this third volume his French DVD Rustam Kasimdzhanov discusses the positions that arise after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4. It is a solid system which Kasim finds difficult to play against because it requires serious understanding and theoretical knowledge. Our reviewer, field biologist Kevan Cowcill, provides an in-depth review – and more fascinating pictures from his icy work in the Yukon.

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Beating the French Defence Volume 3

By Kevan Cowcill

In this third volume of Beating the French, Kasimdzhanov discusses the positions that arise after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4. This is a very popular and solid system which Kasimdzhanov finds difficult to play against because it requires some serious understanding and theoretical knowledge of the position.

White has a temporary advantage with a pawn and knight in the center. At one time it was thought White could maintain the advantage, but it is now known that Black has sufficient resources for counterplay such as exchanging pieces to force equalization and possibly a draw. Kasimdzhanov, however, only shows drawing lines as things to avoid. Instead he prefers more dynamic chess, such as castling long, pawn to h4, rook to h3, bishop to f4 or g5, in order to obtain realistic winning chances.

This was the easiest of the DVDs to understand (second one required the most study on my part). Kasimdzhanov outlines the positional plans for the middle game very clearly, shows the resulting endgame, and covers the general endgame strategy needed to convert the win.

He presents the information so clearly that shortly into the DVD the viewer will find him/herself already formulating the plans before Kasimdzhanov presents the plans himself. For example, there are recurring themes of queen and bishop putting pressure on b1-h7 diagonal, a bishop on c4 putting pressure on e6,f7, bringing a rook to the third rank and moving over to the g- and h-files if Black’s king is on the kingside.

Unlike his two previous DVDs there aren’t any strictly theoretical lectures although the Karjakin-Rychagov game is used as a platform to show theoretical considerations after 7.c3. For those interested in exploring new territory he points out a variation in this game in which he says he can’t find a definite advantage for White, but his gut tells him something is there. The viewers are encouraged to do the analysis for themselves and Kasimdzhanov says he is sure they won’t be disappointed.

As you can see in the figure below this DVD has yet more games from top level players including two by Kasimdzhanov himself. There are over three hours of games in 11 lectures, and a quick introduction and epilogue.

We are treated to an early game by Fischer (at age 17), we see Anand beaten by Topalov and Adams, and poor Gurevich is on the receiving end of yet another two losses like he was in the previous DVD. A quick check of my TWIC and Fritz 11 databases shows Gurevich usually does well in this line opening as Black: He’s won 8, drawn 8, lost 7 since 1996. As White, Gurevich has only played 5 games since 1994, winning 4, losing the one rapid game. Overall, the lines Kasimdzhanov chooses seem very respectable and are played at the highest levels.

Gurevich’s two games are probably my favourites on this DVD due to the contrasting styles. Each game by itself is instructive, but both games viewed in succession provide a richer context showing the stylistic versatility of the opening. One game has sharp tactical lines (Shirov playing white) while the second game is a “great positional achievement” (Svidler playing white) with some classic rook endgame play.

The following Shirov-Gurevich game demonstrates how dangerous this line is for Black even when Black is very knowledgeable. It is a sharp game that becomes a miniature even though Black didn’t make any obvious mistakes.

Shirov,Alexei (2699) - Gurevich,Mikhail (2643) [C10]
Turin ol (Men) 37th Turin (12), 03.06.2006
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Nbd7 6.Nf3 h6 7.Nxf6+ Nxf6 8.Be3 Nd5 9.Bd3 Bd6 10.Bd2 Nf4 11.Bxf4 Bxf4 12.Qe2 c6 13.0–0 Qc7 14.c4

This position with pawns on c4, d4 vs pawns c6, e6 is very typical with other openings such as the Slav Defence. French Defence and Slav players know that the bishop on c8 may be passive, trapped or limited by its own pawns. In order to capitalize on this passive bishop White wants to continue with c5, blocking Black’s c6 pawn and locking in the bishop. Black, not wanting to be squeezed, moves 14…c5 before White takes that square. However, this opens up the position which benefits White as he has a slight lead in development.

14...c5 15.dxc5 Qxc5 16.a3

Now White is preparing for a pawn march on the queenside and a later Bb5, for example. It is not so easy for Black to generate any serious play. 16...Qc7 17.b4 Bd7 18.g3 Bd6 19.c5 Be7 20.Ne5

White has activated his pawn chain, the queen to e4 is a possibility, and the knight is on an ideal square for putting pressure on d7, f7. Black will have difficulty castling due to the weakness on f7.

20…Bf6. Gurevich probably thought the pin on the white knight solved his problems, but Shirov moved the knight anyway, allowing Gurevich to take the rook, although Gurevich’s good choices are rather limited. 21.Nxd7 Bxa1 22.Bb5 0–0–0 23.Rd1 e5 24.c6 a6 25.cxb7+ Kxb7 26.Qe4+ Ka7 27.Bc6

And now the knight and the bishop have woven a mating net, the queen is coming to e3 and there’s nothing Black can do, e.g. 27…Bd4 28.Rxd4 exd4 29.Qxd4+ and mate next move. 1–0.

The fact that Gurevich, who is considered an expert in this line, got into trouble so quickly is evidence how well Shirov played and how dangerous this line can be.

Next is the positional game by Svidler, also made informative thanks to Kasimdzhanov’s clear commentary.

Svidler,Peter (2725) - Gurevich,Mikhail (2630) [C10]
FRA-chT Top 16 GpB Port Barcares (9), 05.05.2005
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Nbd7 6.Nf3 h6 7.Nxf6+ Nxf6 8.Be3 Nd5 9.Qd2

Instead of 9.Bd3 as in the Shirov-Gurevich game, Svidler played 9.Qd2. White keeps his options open. He isn’t yet sure yet of the best square to place the bishop, and he wants to take on e3 with the queen if the black knight takes the bishop. 10.c3 Bd6 11.0–0–0 Qe7.

Here Kasimdzhanov quips, quite deadpan, “This is a typical move for the general strategy called ‘I don’t want to display my plans’”. I have been told that Kasimdzhanov is rather witty in real life. He also appears to be self-deprecating as shown by his comments regarding his game with Korchnoi, who lost. At the end of the game Korchnoi said,”You won…”, followed a second later by “….but still he can’t play chess”. Kasimdzhanov’s response: “...and for all I know, he might be right”. He does consider this game one of his best achievements though, and it is annotated in NIC.

However, back to Svidler-Gurevich, after 12.Ne5 Bxe5 13.dxe5 Bd7 14.Qd4 Nxe3 15.Qxe3 Bc6 16.Rd4 0–0 17.Bd3 Rad8 18.Rg4 f5 19.exf6 Qxf6 20.f3 h5 21.Rg6 Qf4 22.Qxf4 Rxf4 23.Bc2 Rf6

Black has two weak pawns, which Svidler exploits in “a most academic manner”. The bishop on c2 will be a threat to the pawn on h5 once that pawn is fixed with White’s h4. Black therefore works on exchanging the bishops, which he does, but at a cost: White’s rook controls the d-file, he has a better and more flexible structure with the kingside pawns, and now all Black’s kingside pawns are weak or have the potential to be weak. Also the white king is flexible as well, having access to the kingside or queenside.

24.h4 Rxg6 25.Bxg6 Be8 26.Bxe8 Rxe8 27.Rd1

White keeps Black’s counterplay to a minimum dominating the position. Kasimdzhanov explains how White will provoke more weaknesses on the queenside, and how the threat of the White king moving to the queenside keeps Black’s rook passive. You also see the typical rook manoeuvres such as isolating the king on the far side of the board so it cannot participate in the defence of the pawns on the other side. The game continued:

27...Kf7 28.Rd7+ Re7 29.Rd8 e5 30.Kd2 e4 31.f4 e3+ 32.Ke2 g6 33.Rd3 Kf6 34.Rxe3 Rd7 35.Re5 Rd6 36.Ra5 a6 37.Rc5 c6 38.Re5 Rd8 39.a4 Rd7 40.a5 Rd8 41.b4 Rd7 42.g3 Rd8 43.Rg5 Rd7 44.Ke3 Rd1 45.Ke4 Rd7 46.f5 Re7+ 47.Kf4 gxf5 48.Rxf5+ Kg6 49.Rg5+ Kh6 50.Re5 Rd7 51.Re6+ Kg7 52.Ke4 Kh7 53.Rf6 Kg7 54.Rf3 Rd1 55.Rd3 Re1+ 56.Kd4 Kf6 57.Rf3+ Kg6 58.c4 1–0.

The other games on this DVD are also informative and viewers will have their own favourite games. One quick position from a Kasimdzhanov game:

Black just moved 24…h6. The position is ripe for a breakthrough and all he needs is one tactical trick. Can you spot it?

In writing this review, the main difficulty was trying to decide which games to briefly highlight. Not only were there so many good examples to choose from, but taking any one of them is like taking a single chapter from the middle of a book – that chapter will be out of context, and there is so much back story that isn’t included but needed for full interpretation.

For those who are only slightly familiar with the French Defence or playing against it who don’t want to buy all three DVDs at once, this third DVD is the one I would recommend buying first. All three are good, but in my very subjective opinion this one seems exceptionally well done in terms of cohesiveness (i.e. telling a story), a good balance between general strategy and concrete variations, and highly informative games. It was similar to a good book – I found it hard to stop reading (watching). Kasimdzhanov, like any good public speaker or performer, has left the viewer wanting more.

Answer to the tactical problem above: 25.Rf6 Ng6 26.Rxg6 fxg6 27.Qxg6 and Black resigns
as he can’t do anything regarding the twin threats of Bxe6 and Rxh6.

Sample video

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

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On the Ice Road

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.

Currently Kevan is still on the ice road, which can be very rough in places, he tells us, as temperatures are above normal and above freezing, so that the heavy trucks start making ruts. "Most of them drive only at night but it only takes a few drivers to mess it up in the daytime. Today we caught a trucker putting chains on his tires even though the signs expressly prohibit the use of chains. He was 90 km up the road so probably thought he was safe. He sure jumped when our vehicle drove by (guess he didn't hear us as his truck was still running and he was bent over the tires)." Kevan sent us the following new pictures.

Doing mammal surveys on Ben Hur type tires from salt from the paved highways

Moving an entire house while the ice roads are good

This is "roughing it" – with flat screen tv sets in every room?

View from our window – right on the lake

Tim on snowshoes finishing a transect

Martens looking at lynx tracks (he's not kneeling!)

Some excitement last night: an owl swooped at a small mammal under the snow,
which got away. The owl flapped, jumped twice, and flew off.

A fox sniffing for rodents

Tracks of a larger mammel (homo sapiens in snowshoes) are hard to miss

A sun pillar over the lake

Previous reviews by Kevan Cowcill

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.

Kasimdzhanov: Beating the French Vol. 2
28.02.2011 – 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.

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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