Two CDs on openings

by ChessBase
7/3/2005 – In the new ChessBase Workshop we give you a sneak peek at what you can expect to find on two recent ChessBase opening training CDs: The Paulsen System and The Van Geet Opening. See the previews here...

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previewed by Steve Lopez

In this ChessBase Workshop we're going to get a glimpse of two recent CD offerings, both on openings. Both of these CDs are in the "traditional" ChessBase presentation form of game databases containing instructional text files. These aren't in the newer video-driven DVD format (but we'll look at a few of these in the next column.

The first of these is The Paulsen System: B40-B49, written by Austrian IM Norbert Sommerbauer. It covers the entire Paulsen subsystem of the Sicilian, which arises after the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6:


The subsystem is named for Louis Paulsen; while not necessarily the first guy to play it (several players, including Howard Staunton, played it earlier), he certainly made it famous by drawing against Paul Morphy in 1857 using it.

On the CD The Paulsen System: B40-B49, the author concentrates on ideas for the Black player but, as he says in his introduction:

The CD is just as useful for players of the white pieces, since I shall not conceal where recommendations could be given to the first player. I have tried, so far as it is possible for a keen player of the Paulsen System with the black pieces, to shed some light on the opening from both points of view; but nevertheless the material is looked at much more from the point of view of Black.

In structuring the disk, Sommerbauer breaks the opening down into ten main "blocks"; not surprisingly, this is done by ECO code. But he then divides each of these codes into sections, not by variations as presented in ECO but rather by the variations as they appear in practical top-level play. The main divisions of the Paulsen are the Paulsen "proper" (B41-B43) and the later-named Taimanov Variation. The ways for White to avoid the Paulsen/Taimanov (B40) are also discussed on the CD.

Sommerbauer has done something pretty interesting in structuring the CD, though -- he doesn't just pitch into variations right from the start. He begins by discussing overall ideas in this opening system in the initial chapters/texts:


  • General strategies and ideas
  • Positions, maneuvers
  • Advantages. motivation (i.e. why you'd want to play the Paulsen)
  • Disadvantages
  • Terminology (some basic chess definitions for the relatively uninitiated).

Following these chapters discussing basic ideas, the author then dives into the variations themselves. Twenty-seven database texts verbally describe the important concepts you'll need to know, the ideas behind various specific moves, and also provide direct links to key instructional games from the database. This instructional database contains nearly 3700 games -- over 1000 of these are annotated, with more than 300 annotated by IM Sommerbauer himself.

After you've completed the instructional database you can do further research in the main database of more than 89,000 Paulsen games. Over 2000 of these games contain variations and commentary. A third database has nearly fifty games containing timed training questions in which you'll test your newly-acquired skills in the Paulsen System. A fourth bonus database contains forty-nine of the author's own Paulsen games; over half of these are annotated.

Finally there's a Paulsen opening book, usable in the Fritz family of playing programs as an alternate book (to make your chess engine play nothing but the Paulsen) or as a statistical research aid. This database was derived from the 89,000+ games in the main database and contains 1,364,445 individual positions.

As for the quality of the writing, it's quite clear and understandable -- making The Paulsen System: B40-B49 suitable for use by the average club player.

The second CD we'll consider is The Van Geet Opening: 1.Nc3 by U.S. correspondence player Don Maddox. Obviously there's no ECO code in the CD's title -- there are myriad transpositional possibilities into other openings. As Maddox explains in the CD's introduction, that's exactly the point: instead of channeling the opponent into a specific variation or system, you hope he'll be baffled into not knowing where to go next, unable to decide from among the wide range of continuations open to him.

The point of the Van Geet (and of the CD) is not to learn specific opening variations but to instead become familiar with a wide range of positions that will occur again and again. The more positions you're familiar with, the more comfortable you'll be (and, conversely, the less comfortable your opponent will become). So the whole emphasis of this CD (not just the major emphasis, as is the case with most other ChessBase opening training disks) is on ideas.

This approach of understanding positions rather than concrete variations has been a trademark of Maddox's work for more than a decade, starting with his 1993 book on the King's Indian Attack; readers familiar with his prior books and disks will recognize it instantly.

The CD has one main database containing over 9100 games, about 170 of which contain variations or commentary. The text commentary in these games is in English and tends to be fairly extensive. The database begins with a set of instructional texts. There's an overall introduction to the Van Geet, an overview of recurring themes, two texts describing openings the Van Geet will most often transpose into (along with corresponding thematic pointers), and a text on how to use the CD.

A separate training database is composed of 99 games, each of which contains timed training questions for you to use to test your skills. Finally there's a specialized opening book (usable as an alternate Fritz opening book or for statistical information) which runs about ten moves deep in the variety of Van Geet lines and contains 172,149 individual positions.

Both of the CDs previewed in this column come with ChessBase Reader (a "demo" version of ChessBase) so that no other software is required to be able to use them.

Next time around we'll look at some new video training CDs. Until then, have fun!

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

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