Maurice Ashley: What Grandmasters Don't See

by ChessBase
10/21/2011 – "Maurice Ashley scores again as favorite teacher with this DVD," writes Steven Dowd. "Ashley teaches with a entertainingly fast pace, is quick to crack a good joke, and simply relates well to the audience. If there really were a ChessBase University, Ashley would be a candidate for teacher of the year, and would be my hands-down choice to win." Review in Chess Cafe.

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Maurice Ashley: What Grandmasters Don't See, Vol 3

Review by Steven B. Dowd

This month I review two products that provide the opportunity for you to test yourself on the knowledge gained. Thus, they train and test, which is an excellent way to learn for any skill with a performance component, such as chess. Too often, one may learn something of value but not have the opportunity to use that knowledge right away. In such cases the knowledge fades quickly into the recesses of our brains. With these two products, you can not only learn something about the royal game, but also how reinforce how to use it in a game. Let's go!

What Grandmasters Don't See, Vol 3 (DVD) by Maurice Ashley, ChessBase. Playing Time: 3 hrs 45 min. $34.95 (Chesscafe Price: $28.95)

Maurice Ashley scores again as favorite teacher with this DVD. I reviewed the first volume of this series in one of my first columns, and I am not embarrassed to say that Steve Goldberg did an even better review of the second volume in's weekly review column. We certainly agree, though: Ashley teaches with a entertainingly fast pace, is quick to crack a good joke, and simply relates well to the audience. If there really were a ChessBase University, Ashley would be a candidate for teacher of the year, and would be my hands-down choice to win.

This DVD does exactly what it sets out to do: it summarizes the content in previous DVDs, including pawn protected squares, discoveries involving what he calls higher-level tactics (involving multiple pieces), and his mantra, "What you don't see can hurt you." Of course, GM Ashley especially exploits our wonder at the things grandmasters – some of them even super-grandmasters – miss in games. The combinations and continuations are not that hard to find. Yet in the heat of battle, even those hundreds of rating points above us do, at least on occasion. There's an opportunity to learn something even a GM doesn't see? Sign me up!

Let's look first at what he covers in the summary. The introduction does a great job of summarizing the first two DVDs, and explains that this one will go into trickier tactics than we normally focus on, as well as looking at piece protected squares and pawn protected squares. There are eighteen grandmaster level games or game fragments. Again, as in previous volumes, Ashley shows some of his own discoveries, and on occasion, when he was, as Steve Goldberg put it, the "discoveree" rather than the discoverer. Readers of this column will know I respect a presenter or author who can show his losses as well as his wins. You know you aren't getting just the fluff games.

My favorite game from this section was one against Sofia Polgar early in his career, a match he managed to draw and almost won. This game shows discovery nicely, as well as the idea of protected squares. What interested me even more was that Ashley noted he was unaware of these ideas he has now coined, of pawn and piece protected squares, and that it was in his pursuit of the GM title that he became aware of these concepts. It wasn't memorization or special preparation that brought him the title, but instead a focus on chess ideas. This little bit of wisdom, that thinking about chess is more important than memorizing in achieving higher levels, is something all of us can afford to chew on for awhile.

Polgar, Sofia (2445)-Ashley,Maurice (2370)
Match New York 1992

Here Polgar plays it safe with 20.Bd2, so as not to allow 20...Nxc3. Ashley notes Black already has a good active game here, with the e-pawn being in question: is it weak or is it strong? Well, the discovery move 20...e4! shows that it is strong. The idea of course is to exploit the long diagonal since, as the grandmaster notes, every move has a weakness. Here that weakness is that the b2-pawn is weakened. With four pieces in the way, he must open things up. The fact that e4 is "overprotected" does not mean anything.

Now Polgar saw that 21.Nxe4 Nxe4 22.Qxe4 Rxf3 23.Qxf3 Qxf3 24.gxf3 Bxb2 25.Ra2 Bc3 leaves White's pawns scattered. Since that was not a good option, she chose something else, something that also looks solid, holding the queen on e2, 21.Rf2. But what follows? Yes, of course!

Another push! White has made a connection between the Rf2 and Bd2, and one could argue that the two solid moves in a row were actually poor moves. After 21...e3! (yes that square is doubly piece protected!), if 22.Bxe3 Nxe3 23.Qxe3 Ng4! and the game is practically over, so Polgar chose instead 22.Qxh5 gxh5 23.Rxf6 Bxf6 24.Nxd5 exd2 25.Nxf6 Rxf6 26.Nd2, but after 26...Rf2 there were simply too many open lines – the exchange for a pawn just isn't going to be enough.

So a player of Polgar's caliber, seeing one potentially bad endgame, is tricked into another by missing discovery on squares that are well-protected by pieces. The test section contains fourteen games, fragments, and a puzzle. Spoiler alert! This is my favorite section of the product from the test section, no players given, simply entitled "Lifesaver." I might like this one the best because the answer jumped out at me (well, after a minute, anyway) and Ashley says that no one has ever found the answer to this one.


At first glance, it looks pretty hopeless for Black. He can't sacrifice the bishop for the pawn with 1...Bxe7? because he gets mated on g7. So 1...Bc8+ is obvious, as is White's reply of 2.Kh4. Now Ashley says people look at Qd4+, many look at a possible draw with 2...Qg5+ (this appears to fail and at best puts Black in a pretty rotten position) and everything but the winning move 2...Qxe7!! He can't take the queen, and now Black wins by force, a piece up, and White's position in ruins.

A preview of Maurice Ashley - What Grandmasters Don't See Vol. 3

No matter what your level, this is a fun product where you will also learn something. And since these really are things grandmasters don't see, even higher-level players will benefit from the information as well as the excellent lecturing style of the presenter. If I could ever afford lessons from a grandmaster, I would pick GM Ashley, no question. Luckily, I can have him as a teacher for about thirty bucks with this DVD; let's hope he makes more.

My assessment of this DVD: Great (five out of six stars)

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