Three ChessBase disks

by ChessBase
7/1/2006 – ChessBase's new opening and historical CDs and DVDs are the latest topic of interest for our ChessBase Workshop columnist. If you want to find out what's on "How to Play the Najdorf, Vol. 2" (by Garry Kasparov!), "The ABC of the Benko Gambit", and "World Champion Capablanca", check out our new ChessBase Workshop.

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How to Play the Najdorf Vol. 2 by Garry Kasparov

  • The ABC of the Benko Gambit by Andrew Martin
  • World Champion Capablanca

It's much, much harder for me to write a good disk preview for ChessBase Workshop than to write a "how to" article; structuring the danged things seems to be my biggest hurdle. Throw in the fact that I, instead of the publisher, will invariably be the recipient of the rare "I didn't like this disk" e-mail (as though I was personally responsible for the disk's content and am therefore the direct cause of the owner's dissatisfaction), I'd much rather be getting run over by the sled at a rural tractor pull than be writing a disk preview.

I'm going to try something different this time around, just as I'd described in a Workshop from last year: a sort of "short form" for disk previews. I'm going to catalogue the disk's contents and then add some short comments of my own.

Title: How To Play the [Sicilian] Najdorf, Vol. 2
Author: Garry Kasparov
Physical Format: DVD
Target Audience: High intermediate/advanced players

Disk Contents: The database contains twenty-three instructional videos by Garry Kasparov (which include animated games using the Chess Media System) and nearly 18,000 games (with more than 400 of them being annotated). The disk also has an opening tree (usable for statistical study or as an opening book for the Fritz "family" of playing programs) which contains 268,389 individual positions. The new ChessBase 9 Reader is included, making the disk self-contained; no other software is required.

Comments: As I stated in my preview of the previous disk in this series, Kasparov is a phenominally engaging speaker; even non-chessplayers are captivated by the guy. His video segments (which run a combined total of more than two hours of instruction) were recorded in Berlin's Lasker Museum, giving them a nice historical ambience. This DVD goes far more into the "nuts and bolts" of the Najdorf than many of our other opening training disks and much moreso than the previous disk in the series; you can tell this will be a serious disk when you see Garry take his wristwatch off in the first few seconds of the first video. Volume 2 concentrates strongly on specific variations and move orders more than it does on ideas in this opening which is why I've characterized it as a disk intended primarily for advanced players rather than beginners. This is some pretty hardcore chess instruction dealing with a very complex opening.

Title: The ABC of the Benko Gambit
Author: Andrew Martin
Physical Format: DVD
Target Audience: Low intermediate and higher players

Disk Contents: The database contains twenty-two instructional videos (Intro -- 5 videos; Benko Accepted -- 9 videos; Benko Declined -- 8 videos) comprising a combined total of more than four hours of video instruction. There are no separate games in the database: all games are contained within the video instruction using the animated Chess Media System. The disk also contains the ChessBase 9 Reader, making it self-contained with no other software required.

Comments: When it comes to video instruction, particularly for beginning and intermediate players, Andrew Martin's the best we have -- if you'd had him as a teacher in school he'd definitely have been one of your favorites. There's nothing boring about his video instruction; he holds your interest and, most of all, informs you. In the first six minutes of the first video on this DVD, Martin illustrates Black's ideas in playing the Benko and he almost sneaks it past you. He doesn't trumpet the ideas, he just explains them as a natural part of annotating the example game. And that's what makes him such a good teacher: he's subversive. He's not hammering you with pedagogy, he's just talking to you. Speaking as someone who spent nearly a decade as a broadcaster, I can tell you that's a rare, fine thing; he possesses the ability to make you think he's talking directly to you and nobody else. I'll admit that watching a series of videos may seem a bit more time-consuming than reading the instruction from a book but let me tell you, learning the basic ideas of an opening can't get any less laborious than learning from Andrew Martin's ABC disks. Although he makes his job looks effortless, Martin's working hard so that you don't have to. And if you can't learn the basics of an opening from one of his DVDs on the subject, you might as well stop trying -- they're that good.

Title: World Champion Capablanca
Author: Various
Physical Format: CD
Target Audience: All chessplayers

Disk Contents: The disk contains four databases. The first is the main biographical database, which has eight texts detailing the life and chess career of J.R. Capablanca (in text, photos, and a short video clip from the classic silent film Chess Fever), along with more than 1000 of his games (nearly 300 of these are annotated). The second is a database by GM Robert Hubner which deals specifically with the Capablanca-Alehkine 1927 World Championship match (think "chess version of Ali-Frazier"); it contains multiple texts and annotated games (including their prior matchups before the 1927 championship). A third database contains an essay on Capablanca's chess tactics and 103 (mostly annotated) examples. The fourth database deals with Capablanca's endgame mastery; it also contains a long essay on the subject and fourteen annotated examples. ChessBase Reader is also included on the disk, so it's self-contained with no other software required.

Comments: My first exposure to Capa came when I was an early teen. The guy was not only a bona fide chess champion, he also went ten years without losing a serious tournament or match game, and managed to get all the hot chicks. Needless to say, he was instantly my hero. As an adult I'm still in awe of the man (as you can tell from my e-book Battle Royale; even then I was still so awestruck that I had no idea how to portray him except to use the contemporary characterization of Capa as being somewhat aloof [which his wife later explained as a deep-seated shyness]; he was one of maybe three players whose head I simply couldn't "crawl into", and even now, a decade later, I still have a tough time figuring him out). If you've not yet experienced one of ChessBase's World Champion series, you're really missing out. These disks have it all: biographical text, photos, videos (and, on this one, the Chess Fever clip of Capa playing a simul is a real treat), and gobs of essays and annotated games. World Champion Capablanca totally blew me away (as did World Champion Tal), both by the sheer volume of information collected all in one place as well as the insight it gave me into the life of one of my chess heroes. Capablanca was a wonder, arguably still the greatest technical player in chess history, and you can improve your skills a great deal simply by replaying and studying his games. Throw in the biographical information and you have a CD package that's damned hard to beat, period.

Until next week, have fun!

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© 2006, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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