In many subjects a knowledge of history is essential as many lessons can be learned and the wheel does not then need to be invented in the modern age. One such subject is chess. Many coaches will assert that serious students of chess need to know and understand the play of their eminent predecessors and apply that knowledge to their own performance. This series of DVD's from ChessBase will be of great help in fulfilling this requirement. What can be better than having a deep appreciation of the play of World Champions Alexander Alekhine, Mikhail Tal and Bobby Fischer? Each of these have a pronounced attribute that is worthy of study. Alekhine combined a keen understanding of openings and their effect on the middle and endgame with a supreme ability to convert all manner of advantages into a winning game. Tal is well-known for his aggressive play and his ability to filter a position into very active and sacrificial win and Fischer for his principled and remorseless play in seeking all manner of attacking plans in the middlegame and endgame, again nursing small advantages into a win no matter how long this was likely to take. The DVD's examine these attributes in an orderly and understandable manner set-up in the same format using the Fritz media system as the platform. Each DVD has the following sections:
Databases of all games and trees of openings, together with a short chess biography.
The sections on all three DVD's are presented by the same analyst i.e. Dorian Rogozenco deals with the openings, Mihal Marin, strategy, Oliver Reeh, tactics and Karsten Müller, the endgame. All the presenters are familiar to us from their input into other ChessBase products. In addition, the game databases have many annotated games by various analysts.
It is interesting to study the presenters' methods i.e. Rogozenco's laid-back approach, Marin's serious demeanor, Reeh's precision and Müller's intensive and animated discourse. All this helps to give the lectures some individuality. As an Englishman, my ears are not well attuned to the accents of various speakers from other nations and initially I had difficulty following the presentations, but fortunately this handicap did not last very long.
What shows through the examination of all three champions is their differing approaches to the game. Thus, in the openings, Alekhine was supremely eclectic and used many different openings at various stages of his career. Tal's early opening repertoire was deliberately shaped to give him chances of applying his predilection for a combinative follow-up, but later he modified this approach to provide more scope for positional play. Fischer was extremely principled in his openings but played with a great knowledge of the variations. At times this dogmatism led him into into difficult waters, and it is interesting to see the problems that both he and Tal experienced in playing against the Karo-Cann. Many such comparisons can be made and that gives us an understanding of the individualistic play of all three subjects and the benefits or otherwise of these approaches gives us an appreciation of our own play and how this can be improved. This is just one of the benefits of delving into chess history.
The choice of these three players as the first to be included in the Masters series has some significance. They are not only the three most colourful of the World Champions, they are first among the players to show how their chess style varied throughout their careers and the reasons why these changes were needed. For instance, the style of Morphy and Capablanca (among others) did not need to be varied as their opponents never challenged them sufficiently to make a severe style change necessary. Alekhine needed such a change in order that his play was sufficiently developed to meet and overcome Capablanca, and Tal needed his change to make his game more secure in a positional sense. To succeed in his quest for the World Championship, Fischer needed to develop from a raw club player to a contestant for the crown in both his playing abilities and psychological attitude. A close study of their games will reveal these progressions and will inspire the discerning student to do likewise and determine how this can be put to use in his own praxis.
Each Master in this series was well versed in all aspects of the game. You do not become World Champion by being a brilliant tactician or supreme positional player! Despite this, certain attributes in each master tended to prevail. Tal's combinations are of course the main feature in his chess practice as it was with Alekhine. Fischer has some all-round attributes and it is this factor that shows, such as single-mindedness in the choice of opening, and the ease in which he traversed from opening to middle-game and middle-game to ending.
It was these characteristics that I looked for and found in playing through these DVDs.
If I were banished to the legendary desert island and had to make a choice of one of these three DVD's to take, I think I would choose the Alekhine disc, although the others would be very close contenders. Why would I make this choice? Mainly because Alekhine's chess career was the longest and spanned some of the most intriguing changes in the nature of the game. His early career was carried out against the background of the shaping of chess in Russia. Tchigorin had come and gone leaving a legacy of dynamic chess in his wake. Alekhine developed his skills during this period and then had to contend with the long reign of Lasker who enhanced the teachings of Steinitz. Then came the period of invincibility introduced by Capablanca supported by the introduction of the theories promoted by the hyper-modern school in the shape of such exponents as Nimzowitsch and Reti. Latterly he contended with the rise of the Soviet school. Thus his career spanned all the changes that came about in the first half of the twentieth century, a period during which the game traversed trough many facets. This shines through his games and the changes he was forced to make to successfully embrace and overcome these influences on the game. The other two Masters had much shorter careers although intensively interesting to follow.
That one can glean such history says much for the contents of these DVD's and the impact of the lecturers.
The material isn't only of the "listen and learn" variety. There is a good content of interactive presentations that helps one to discover whether or not the lectures have made the desired impact. In particular Oliver Reeh's sections on tactics is produced in the Fritztrainer mode of question and answer. A very taxing exercise I can assure you!
Each of these DVD's are "stand-alones" as a copy of Chessbase Reader is included in each. However, it is useful to play them through Chessbase as this gives more reference resources to consult.
Any one of these products is well worthy of the recommended retail price of (circa) £23, but to have all three provides entertainment and teaching for a lifetime.