Kings and Queens

3/18/2005 – Kings and Queens – it's too bad columnist Steve Lopez isn't playing poker. Have a look at his previews of Garry Kasparov's How to Play the Queen's Gambit and Andrew Martin's ABC of the King's Indian in the latest installment of ChessBase Workshop.

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TWO DVDS FROM CHESSBASE

previewed by Steve Lopez

In this week's ChessBase Workshop we're going to preview new Chess Media System (video lectures accompanied by animated chessboards) DVDs, which are (viewable in ChessBase 9 and the Fritz family of playing programs, written by two different authors.

The first author is a guy you might have heard of: his name is Kasparov. Or, rather, MISTER Kasparov as the title of the DVD indicates (Mr. Kasparov Series No. 1: How to Play the Queen's Gambit). A friend saw the DVD cover and asked, "Why's he 'Mister" Kasparov all of a sudden instead of 'Grandmaster' Kasparov?"

I grinned. "Because if you were to sit down across the board from him, he'd whip your a** in under twenty moves -- that's why."

She looked at me, raised one eyebrow, and replied, "Y'all are just rude."

Yup. But it's true. If you're gonna call anybody in the chess world "MISTER", it'd have to be Garry Kasparov.

My amusement at the DVD's title aside, this is a pretty good disk. I'm not overly fond of the "lecture" approach but Garry's really good at it. As you watch the video instruction you really have the feeling that he's talking to you. I'd be surprised if more than a mere handful of this column's readers haven't seen Garry before: on a video, on TV, in ChessBase Magazine. The man is by far the best public speaker in the chess world and it certainly shows on this DVD.

As is the norm with ChessBase instructional materials the focus of the DVD is on ideas instead of concrete variations. The DVD isn't about memorization of opening sequences -- it's about learning the ideas behind the various Queen's Gambit variations. Which variations are covered on the disk? Let's have a look at the titles of the twenty videos on the disk to get an idea of the ground that's covered:

  • 01 Talking about Queen's Gambit (8:28 min)
  • 02 Possible deviations (10:50 min)
  • 03 Lasker defence (16:03 min)
  • 04 Capablanca's approach (19:32 min)
  • 05 Carlsbad structure (18:45 min)
  • 06 Alatorsev variation (13:10 min)
  • 07 Steinitz and 5.Bf4 (19:39 min)
  • 08 Tartakower system (14:51 min)
  • 09 5...h6 - a big nuance (13:02 min)
  • 10 Look at some games (1:17 min)
  • 11 Steinitz - Lasker (4:17 min)
  • 12 Rubinstein - Salwe (10:14 min)
  • 13 Capablanca - Alekhine (7:45 min)
  • 14 Kasparov - Andersson (4:45 min)
  • 15 Kasparov - Short (4:02 min)
  • 16 Alekhine - Lasker (3:55 min)
  • 17 Beliavsky - Geller (5:39 min)
  • 18 Kortschnoj - Karpov (12:18 min)
  • 19 Kortschnoj - Karpov 2 (8:24 min)
  • 20 [Conclusion] (3:55 min)

So we can see that the first half of the DVD's content is about the ideas in various QG structures and systems, while the second half contains analysis of specific illustrative games.

What makes this DVD really enjoyable, in my opinion, is the depth and catholicity of Kasparov's knowledge of chess history (almost as enjoyable to me as the fact that I just used the word "catholicity" correctly in a sentence). His video lectures are liberally sprinkled with comments, anecdotes, and tidbits about great players from the past and their contributions to the development of the Queen's Gambit.

Now realize that I'm an "e4 guy" and not a big fan of the QG; it's always had a reputation for being kind of a static opening. Kasparov blows that misconception right out of the water on this disk; in an early chapter he says that at "...nearly every crossroad in the openings you always have a choice" and one of these is to create tactical possibilities even as the player of the White pieces in the QG. Here's an example from Chapter 11 ("Steinitz-Lasker"):

This position is just fifteen moves into the game and both players have dynamic chances in a complicated position. This is some eye-opening, cool stuff.

Although a lot of users think that the "video lecture" format is a "painless, quick fix" way to get information in a hurry, I'll warn you that you'd better be prepared to concentrate while viewing this DVD. Garry moves it along pretty fast and the material is best suited for, at the lower end, strong club players anyway, so if you let your mind wander you're toast.

Another caveat: although the package says that the DVD can also be viewed on a regular TV using a standard DVD player (a first for ChessBase DVDs), this will not work with U.S. TVs/DVD players -- the disk is in the European PAL format. (And before I get barraged with a spate of "you don't know what you're talking about" e-mails, take a look at this online FAQ.)

How to Play the Queen's Gambit, the first in a planned series of Mr. Kasparov instructional DVDs, contains some really good, informative, entertaining instruction. And, by the way, the disk is self-contained in that it ships with the new version of ChessBase Reader, based on ChessBase 9, so no other software is required for you to view the videos. The DVD also contains a database of nearly 100,000 Queen's Gambit games (most are unannotated as the database is meant to be used as a reference once you've finished viewing the instructional videos).

Garry Kasparov is a tough act to follow; I'm sure that Andrew Martin will appreciate the big hole which Garry left in the stage...

IM Martin's got nothing to worry about. His ChessBase DVD The ABC of the King's Indian is interesting, informative, and -- yes -- entertaining.

Back in the mid-1990's when I was with ChessBase USA, people were clamoring for a disk containing the basic ideas of the King's Indian Defense. I mean, let's face it, the KID is a huge opening system which covers forty ECO codes (E60-E99). There's no way it's going to be easy (or really even possible) to learn the whole KID inside and out, but what many players were longing for was a starting point, a basic introduction to the main ideas of the major KID sub-systems. Players felt that if somebody could just get them started, they could decide which KID system to concentrate on.

That's what Andrew Martin has done with this DVD. He covers the major KID systems (for both White and Black) providing you with the ideas behind these variations. It's not an exhaustive coverage of the whole King's Indian; IM Martin's goal is to provide you with enough information to permit you to make an informed choice as to what branch of the KID you'd like to study further.

The DVD is divided into eight "chapters", many of which contain more than one video. Rather than view a list of every video on the DVD (many of which are just the game citations of the games covered in the vid), we'll look at the chapters instead:

  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Classical games
  • 3 Four Pawms Attack
  • 4 Saemisch Variation
  • 5 Fianchetto Variation
  • 6 Systems with an early Bg5
  • 7 Other White systems
  • 8 Closing remarks
In total there are 22 instructional videos on the DVD, many of which exceed ten minutes in length. The total time is just a hair shy of four hours.

Even the videos in the "Introduction" chapter are pretty informative; Martin covers the basic ideas of the King's Indian Defense for both players, so even if you have no prior familiarity with this opening you'll be able to follow right along. Martin's pacing is quite a bit slower than Kasparov's rapid-fire style, but it never drags. Consequently the disk is suitable for club players of any level (USCF Class C and perhaps even D players who've done some study but whose results haven't quite "caught up" yet). In just ten minutes of viewing this DVD, I learned a fair little bit about Black fifth move options in the Saemisch Variation (I was already acquainted with the basic KID ideas for both players).

While IM Martin isn't going to floor you with piles of historical information (as Kasparov does on his DVD), he provides you with something perhaps more useful for your own chess development: a look inside a player's mind as he contemplates his options. Martin covers two of his own high-level games in the Introduction and lets us in on what he was thinking -- so we're not just learning the ideas of the opening but seeing how they're applied in practical play. That's a pretty big thing and I think it's an important concept for a lot of us down here in the fishpond.

IM Martin's presentation style is clear and entertaining (you've got to love a guy who can say "Gligorich" really fast on camera and not wind up with his tongue sticking out of his ear). And it's a really informative DVD -- I've not yet viewed the whole thing but it's a DVD that I want to return to. And that's probably the best recommendation I can give ABC of the King's Indian: IM Martin "hooks" you and makes you want to come back for more.

The DVD comes with the ChessBase 9 Reader, so it's self-contained. There's no big honking database on the DVD -- just the relative handful of games that IM Martin covers in his video lectures. But the informative quality of the DVD is top-notch -- I really can't say enough about it -- and once you're able to make a decision about how you want to play the KID it's simple enough to go rooting around in the Big Database or Mega Database to find games to study.

Next week, two more DVDs are on the plate -- until then, have fun!


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


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