Monday, October 30, 2006

The Nuclear Option in the Sicilian Grand Prix

One of the better recent lectures at (see review below) is Dana Mackenzie's amazing "Nuke the Sicilian! How to Sac Your Queen on Move Six and Win" (October 20, 2006). In it, he discusses a game he played earlier this month at the Western States Open in Reno, Nevada, with the reversed Budapest line 1.e4 c5 2.f4 d5 3.Nf3 dxe4 4.Ng5 against David Pruess. The game continued 4....Nf6 5.Bc4 Bg4?! (safer 5...e6) 6.Qxg4! Nxg4 7.Bxf7+ Kd7 8.Be6+ Kc6 9.Bxg4 sacrificing the Queen for two pieces and the initiative.

nm scott massey lecture

Does White have enough for a Queen?

You have to hear Mackenzie's excellent 50-minute lecture (by far the longest at the site) to believe how much work went into that single tournament victory. As Josh Friedel reported at his USCF blog (where you can also play over the game in a java applet), Mackenzie had been rehearsing for this game using Fritz for over two years. In his lecture, Mackenzie explains the various principles he developed through extensive experience in order to guide him in completing his long-awaited triumph of home cooking. His explanations are so clear that the site rates the lecture as being appropriate even for beginners. I'd say that lecture alone would be worth the $12.95 fee for a one-month subscription.

Though I was impressed by Mackenzie's game and lecture, I also had a feeling of deja vu. A little Google-ing helped refresh my memory: there is a link in my Grand Prix Attack Bibliography (Updated) to Thomas Johansson's online article discussing the correspondence game Bryntse - Smith, corr SWE 1967 which features the same idea. Apparently there are several others who have played this (including Bryntse's fellow-Swede, GM Johnny Hector), though that does not diminish Mackenzie's achievement. Sometimes knowing how a magic trick was performed (and how much training, research, and analysis went into it) just enhances the viewer's awe.

Here is the PGN of Mackenzie-Pruess for those interested in doing their own analysis:

[Event "Western States Open"]
[Site "Reno, NV USA"]
[Date "2006.10.08"]
[Round "6"]
[White "Mackenzie, Dana"]
[Black "Pruess, David"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B21"]
[PlyCount "91"]

1. e4 c5 2. f4 d5 3. Nf3 dxe4 4. Ng5 Nf6 5. Bc4 Bg4 6. Qxg4 Nxg4 7. Bxf7+ Kd7 8. Be6+ Kc6 9. Bxg4 e6 10. Nc3 Na6 11. a3 Bd6 12. O-O Nc7 13. Ncxe4 Qe7 14. Nxd6 Qxd6 15. d3 Raf8 16. Bf3+ Kd7 17. c3 Nd5 18. g3 h6 19. Ne4 Qc7 20. b4 cxb4 21. axb4 b6 22. Bd2 Rf7 23. c4 Nf6 24. Bc3 Ke7 25. Be5 Qd7 26. Nd6 Rd8 27. Nxf7 Kxf7 28. d4 Kg6 29. g4 Rc8 30. c5 Qb5 31. Rxa7 Qd3 32. h4 h5 33. g5 Ne8 34. Kg2 b5 35. Re1 Kf5 36. Be4+ Qxe4+ 37. Rxe4 Kxe4 38. Ra5 Nc7 39. Bxg7 Kxf4 40. Be5+ Kg4 41. g6 Kxh4 42. g7 Rg8 43. Ra7 Nd5 44. Rf7 Ne3+ 45. Kf3 Ng4 46. c6 1-0

Remember, though: you have to train for two years to pull that off!

Related post: The Grand Prix Attack, Explained

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Review of

I have seen the future of chess instruction, and it is

Of course, I should have seen that idea coming quite a while back when I first watched the wonderful lectures at ChessFM and ICC. But the creators of had the foresight back in the Summer of 2005 to assemble a team of great lecturers and to create a place on the web where subscribers could watch video lectures 24/7 with complete access to the archive. ChessFM and ICC do not currently allow archive access (likely due to the way they set up their contracts with lecturers), though perhaps the competition from ChessLecture will drive them to explore that idea. I can imagine ICC offering something similar as part of a multi-tiered membership system where super-premium subscribers pay about what ChessLecture charges for the privilege of accessing the full set of videos they have produced. Or maybe they can team up with ChessLecture… Until they do, though, is the only place to really appreciate the power of chess video on demand.

In the interest of full disclosure, a member of the support team gave me a weekend pass to the site because I told him I was interested in writing a review. I am not, however, the type to give anybody free publicity that they do not deserve, and I was as prepared to write a critical review as the present laudatory one. I think they should really consider giving anybody who asks a 24-hour pass, because they really have a great product and would win many customers from among the skeptics out there who think that chess on video or on your computer just is not as worthwhile as something in a book or magazine. I have watched over a dozen videos at the site, and I have come away more impressed than I had imagined possible.

I think that the way our time is structured has changed so much that on-demand video chess on the computer (combined with other computer-based chess activity) may be one of the most worthwhile methods of studying available for most people. Just ask yourself how much time you were able to devote to sitting down at a board with a book in the past week…. For me, outside of my weekly visit to the chess club, even setting up a real board at home almost never happens. Chess is either on the computer or not at all. And it can only come in small portions. Watching a 20 minute video at on the Two Knights Caro-Kann in the morning. Downloading some games mentioned by the lecturer from an online database and doing 20 minutes of analysis with the help of Fritz in the afternoon. Playing a couple games with the line during a 30-minute session of ICC blitz in the evening to help reinforce the lessons I’ve learned. I tell you, fits right into such a manageable study plan for those who only have a half-hour here or there to spend with the game.

We all know that slowly working through problems and annotated games in front of the board is probably the best real practice for classical game situations, especially for the young. But we also know that we have work to do, kids to feed, and lawns to cut and that most of us also have less and less time for classical play. It would be great to work through deeply annotated games or opening analysis at a real chess board, but for most of us that is just not going to happen any time soon. As I suggested in my review of Chess Openings for White, Explained, there are the chess books we buy because we would like to read them and then there are those we actually find time to read because they are user-friendly. is the most user-friendly mode of chess learning available and it is one you will actually use.

Further disclosure: I actually have not been a great fan in the past of chess on DVD. The videos I have watched over the years, mostly of the Foxy Opening and Roman’s Forum variety, have been useful, but something about settling into my couch to watch them tends to put me off to sleep sooner than it leads me to any knowledge. Not to say that I haven’t gotten knowledge from them—especially the very nice set of videos by Aaron Summerscale on his Barry Attack and 150 Attack (which I spent more time with than I did his excellent Killer Chess Opening Repertoire in book form, truth be told).

But that Andrew Martin just knocks me out. Literally.

I still remember the year it took me to make my way through all of Andrew Martin’s videotape on the Nimzovich Defence with 1…Nc6. I admire IM Martin very much as a writer and I think his "Bits & Pieces" columns are first rate. But something about his accent to my American ears, or the dim lighting on his face, or his overly calm demeanor and monotonous speech patterns just puts me to sleep quicker than three Ambien. A friend of mine says he always turns to his Andrew Martin video library when he needs a restful night’s sleep, and now I know why. I tell you, to make it all the way through that Martin video took me a full year, during which I must have fallen asleep on my couch two dozen times. Of course, I learned a lot – mostly because I had to watch parts of that tape over and over again. And maybe I got some hypnopaedic benefit from hypnagogic listening. But by the end of that year, I was convinced that chess on video and DVD just was not for me….

The videos at, though, are very different. They are shorter (generally 14-25 minutes), better produced than most, with very charming lecturers who have mastered a style of quick and varied delivery. Most of all, though, it is on your computer and accessible from anywhere you have an internet connection. If you spend as much time online as I do, you could probably fit that more easily into your life than an hour long DVD or video on the TV. What’s more, you can even multi-task while watching (I found myself checking and deleting e-mail and writing a portion of this review while a video was playing in another window). Somehow I just cannot manage that with the VCR or DVD.

ChessLecture charges $12.95 per month, which is just over $150 per year. That probably sounds like a lot to some people, and it’s over twice what ICC charges (and without the online play). But it is also a lot less than cable and, if you watch as little TV as I do, much more worthwhile. You can also cancel at any time, so they likely get quite a few customers who just sign on for a few months, take a break, and then return when the archive has grown.

The website is very user-friendly and very well designed. They add at least one new video every weekday (Monday through Friday) and currently have a library of over 300. Most videos are from 12-25 minutes in length, which is about what you can really absorb at one sitting (and, for me, about how long I have to spend on my lunch and coffee-breaks, both at work and at home, what with kids and chores!) You do need a high speed internet connection (Cable or DSL), because you cannot download the lectures to view later, but a sizable number of chess players now have that.

The videos are categorized according to level, with some for beginners, intermediate, and advanced players. Most are for intermediate players, but all levels are fairly well represented. They also have lectures on endgame, middlegame and opening themes—with most on the opening, which is every chess merchant’s bread and butter. I was impressed, though, by how quickly they were able to produce annotations on the recent World Championship match games, and I think I got more out of one of their lectures on Kramnick-Topalov than I got out of any newspaper annotations I had read elsewhere.

I mostly watched videos on opening lines that were part of my repertoire or which I have written about at my blog. I found all to be very good and was impressed at how well they could pull together the most important issues in such a short time. That ultimately is the value of a lecture: giving you the big picture and the key themes to help your own analysis and thinking. The lectures at do an excellent job of preparing you to master the openings that interest you. They are not an end in themselves, but what is?

I was especially impressed with one lecture on the Two Knights Caro-Kann by IM Jesse Kraai. I have been playing this line at ICC and in blitz with some success. I have also read the few bits of analysis out there. So I know quite a bit. But it was not until I saw IM Kraai’s lecture that I recognized how important the Bishops are in the Two Knights. One of the main themes is that White’s play discourages Black from developing his light-squared Bishop in the normal Caro fashion, most famously in the line 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5?! (Black’s favorite move against 3.d4 lines) 5.Ng3 Bg6? 6.h4 h6 7.Ne5 Bh7 8.Qh5 g6 9.Bc4! (stronger than Kraai’s 9.Qf3) 9…e6 10.Qe2 when Black is busted and usually succumbs to 10…Nbd7? 11.Nxf7! Kxf7 12.Qxe6+ Kg7 13.Qf7#. Meanwhile, in the main line with 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 Bg4! 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 e6, White gains the two Bishops but usually fails to capitalize on them because the position remains closed. Kraai therefore suggests the gambit line with 6.d4, surrendering a pawn in order to open the position for the Bishops. And while he does not give a lot of analysis here of the critical lines, he definitely provides the key ideas I needed for my own further exploration and study. Most importantly, by drawing my attention to the power of the Bishops, his presentation really opened my eyes to what I was missing in ways that games, play, and analysis alone could not.

I also enjoyed lectures on the Albin with …Nge7, the Grand Prix Attack, the Reversed Grand Prix as Black against the English, and the Pirc (the last by IM John Watson). I was impressed both by how many of my favorite lines were represented here but also by how much I learned from these short lectures, especially considering that I already knew quite a bit about these lines. Their team of lecturers know their stuff and make a great presentation to boot.


I do have a few criticisms, but they really take more the form of suggestions for how to improve their product than any critique of what they offer. They seem open to suggestions (they are even willing to produce lectures in response to member questions), so here goes:

1) In the video list it would be useful to have a full annotation of what the video contains, including what specific opening lines it covers. Perhaps they could require their lecturers to submit a short annotation along with the lecture so they could post it on the site.

2) I do not know what sort of technical problems it might involve, but it would be nice to have the lectures more segmented, like a DVD, allowing easy navigation to specific variations (or scenes). You can fast forward or rewind, but without the sort of precision a viewer spoiled by his DVD player or TIVO would like to have. Perhaps this is a problem with video generally, which can never giveyou the same control as a Java Applet, a GUI interface, or an actual chessboard. But they could do more to approximate that freedom.

3) They may want to think about ways of selling at least some of their lectures for i-Pod viewing (the latest i-Pods now have over 30GB of memory after all), though I suppose the copyright and pirating issues make that a problem currently. Wouldn’t it be great to watch a 15-minute chess video on the train into work or while waiting at the dentist? I think that is pretty much a future market, but a promising one, unlike chess audio podcasts, which are pretty much worthless (even if some people like to hear Kosteniuk’s lovely Russian accent). Other than maybe an audio lecture on how to play chess blindfold (which is pretty much what audio lectures would have to be) or the occasional news report (which would hardly have the longevity of a lecture), I can only think of one chess program I’d really like to listen to on my i-Pod and that’s Fred Wilson’s great ChessFM interviews, which really ought to be made available on CD or as podcasts for purchase. I think there is a market for that--starting with me. But video podcasts hold a lot more promise. And I’ll tell you, if starts offering downloads for i-Pod viewing, I’d actually run out and buy a video i-Pod in order to be their first customer….

4) Finally, I think they should consider teaming up with ICC, ChessBase, or another game server in order to present users a one-stop portal for video lectures, online play, and other modes of online or computer chess study. Though some may think that model has had its day (as the demise of seemed to prove), my own view is that its full potential has just now arrived. You see, in the early days of chess online, people just were not prepared to pay anything for access, especially for access to chess. And that severely limited potential revenues. Now, however, most people have adjusted to paying for services, internet advertising has grown tremendously, and the range of online services has expanded considerably to attract an even bigger audience. I think if I had, ChessFM, ICC, an online database, and an online engine for analysis, all in one place, I would be in chess heaven. And I’d pay the full fare for premium membership for that.

In short, the future of chess on the net looks brighter and brighter. And a very interesting part of that is Check it out.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

NM Scott Massey Lecture on Paul Keres

nm scott massey lecture

scott massey

Scott Massey Lectures on Paul Keres

Scott Massey gave an interesting lecture on the life and games of Paul Keres. I have put together notes on the four games he discussed, all of which are great games and worth a look.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bobby Fischer Video

bobby fischer workout

Fischer Works Out with Jack LaLanne

If you have not already seen it, there is an excellent British documentary about Bobby Fischer and the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match available for free viewing at both Google Video and You Tube (in four parts, most suitable for those with slow connections: one, two, three, and four). It features an interesting discussion of Soviet chess, with interviews of major Soviet figures, including Boris Spassky himself reflecting on the 1972 match. It also has some excellent interviews with the Americans, including Larry Evans and Robert Byrne. But what struck me as most unique about it were the images of Bobby's "match preparation" -- bowling to rock tunes on the juke box, taking a break at the soda fountain, and working out with Jack LaLanne on TV (see above). Very amusing and nostalgic (for those who lived through the 70s). You Tube also has some other good Fischer video clips worth a look.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Annual NM Scott Massey Lecture This Thursday

The annual lecture by NM Scott Massey will take place at the Kenilworth Chess Club this Thursday night, October 26, starting shortly after 8:00 p.m. His theme this year is the life and games of Paul Keres, one of the great "uncrowned kings" of chess. Here are some links for those interested in learning more about Keres either before or after Scott's talk:

Remembering Paul Keres from ChessBase
The chess games of Paul Keres from ChessGames
Paul Keres from Wikipedia

Previous lectures by NM Massey (club champion 1991-2004) have covered Moscow 1925 and the Origins of Soviet Chess, King and Pawn Endings, How to Analyze, and The Theories of Wilhelm Steinitz. I have been absent from the club of late but I would never miss Scott's annual lecture, and I urge everyone to attend. The fee is a modest $5.

Amusing Search Terms

Though I haven't been posting this month, I have checked in occasionally on my page stats (which actually rose during the World Championship, only to fall back down to about half of what I was getting when the blog was active). It was interesting to learn that practically all of my traffic now comes from search engines, and almost all of that from Google. Here are some of the more amusing search strings people have used this month to find my site:

is sicilians part black?
kenilworth castle keep annotation main defensive features
chess where to now
panther attacks elephant
where is dracula set?
sexy chess
chess sexy
feminist chess
hiatus from chess

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

New Jersey's Youngest Master to Compete in World Youth Championship

NM Scott Massey sent me the following information:

The U.S. is sending 24 of their finest young chess players to the World Youth Championship 2006 to take place in the former Soviet republic of Georgia from October 18-29. Among those selected for Boys U-14 is Victor Shen, 13, of Edison, New Jersey.

Victor achieved a 2200 master rating on July 16 at the Westfield Quads. He came close to the master rating two weeks earlier by scoring 3 1/2 out of 8 at the World Open in Philadelphia where he was paired with several international players. At the Westfield Quad, Victor played three N.J. masters. In the first round, Victor lost a close game to the then current N.J. state champion, Thomas Bartell. Victor then rebounded with wins over life masters Peter Radomskyj and Mark Kernighan to achieve a master rating at 13 years, 3 months and 7 days.

Although a number of players have reached master at a younger age, Victor's achievement puts him ahead of Bobby Fischer, who broke 2200 at age 14. But unlike Fischer, Victor is a well rounded young man. An eighth grader at John Adams Middle School, his favorite subject is English writing, he runs track and plays basketball, he plays the piano, and he studies Chinese. In his spare time, he occasionally gives chess lessons over the internet.

Victor learned to play chess at age 7. His father, Dong Ming, taught him through his early tournaments and by the age of nine Victor had made the U.S. Top 50 list for his age group. At that point, Kenilworth Chess Club regular and life master Scott Massey started to tutor him. Victor climbed up to third among 13-year-olds and made the All-American team three times.

Victor's nine-year-old brother, Arthur, is expected to make the All-American team for his first time with his 1600 rating. Arthur is currently 19th among nine-year-olds nationally.

Two years ago, Evan Ju of New Jersey represented the U.S. at the World Youth Championships and recently won the New Jersey title. Maybe Victor might follow in Evan's footsteps. But one thing is sure, New Jersey chess is being represented in a big way.