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    Entries in Gustafsson (2)

    Wednesday
    Mar092011

    A Review of Jan Gustafsson's Black Repertoire Against 1.e4: Vol. 2: The Open Games

    A couple of weeks I raved about the first volume in the series, in which German GM Jan Gustafsson presented a very detailed Marshall Gambit repertoire (also including Anti-Marshall lines). That volume was state-of-the-art and included some original ideas too, and was the best DVD on chess openings I had ever seen. Volume 2 doesn't quite live up to that ridiculously high standard, but it's excellent as well and certainly worthwhile for 1.e4 e5 players.

    This time around, Gustafsson covers all the reasonable White alternatives starting from 1.e4 e5 up until 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0, which is the where things start on the first disk. Of course White isn't going to vary on move 7, so that really means that the alternatives go from moves 2 to 6. Gustfasson works backwards from the disk 1 position, so we have the following chapters, each corresponding to a video clip (and analysis file) on the DVD:

    1. Spanish 6.d3

    2. Spanish 5.d3

    3. Spanish 5/6.Qe2

    4. Spanish 6.Bxc6/6.d4

    5. Spanish Exchange Variation

    6. Giuoco Piano

    7. Evans Gambit

    8. Italian Sidelines

    9. Scotch

    10. Scotch Four Knights (4.d4)

    11. Spanish Four Knights

    12. Four Knights Sidelines

    13. Ponziani

    14. Bishop's Game

    15. Vienna Game

    16. King's Gambit 3.Nf3

    17. King's Gambit Sidelines

    18. Center Game

    There are 19 clips in all (one of which is an intro), with a total running time of about 5 hours and 34 minutes. As in the earlier disk, the clips serve as a useful introduction to the openings and variations in question, explaining the key problems, Gustafsson's choice of variation and outlining the basic approach he'll recommend. The clips are complemented and supplemented by detailed analysis files that fill out what's missing in the videos. Gustafsson's presentations are very clear and his sense of humor is an added bonus.

    While there is more material overall on this disk than in volume 1, I would say that overall a bit less memorization is required. Sometimes there are forcing lines and important move-order finesses (such as those relevant to 5.d3 and 6.d3 in the Spanish, both in their own right and compared to each other), but often it's enough to know certain schemes. (This is especially true in a number of the Anti-Marshalls from disk 1 along with the d3- and Qe2-systems on disk 2.) Gustafsson does a nice job of making clear what you need to know, and what kind of thing it is you need to know, whether it's a precise move order or a general scheme, or some combination of the two.

    Just so the review isn't a complete love-fest, I'll mention some minor gaps in his coverage. Gustafsson addresses the regular Exchange Ruy (Spanish) with 4.Bxc6 and the delayed version with 6.Bxc6, but the 5.Bxc6 line is omitted altogether. It's not a catastrophe, but it probably should have been included. It can transpose to the 6.Bxc6 version as follows: 5.0-0 Be7 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.d3 Nd7 8.Nbd2 is the start of his main line in the 6.Bxc6 chapter, and 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.d3 Nd7 7.Nbd2 Be7 8.0-0 gets us to the same place. There are some good alternatives to 7...Be7, and these are unavailable to Black via the 5.0-0 Be7 move order, but it must be said that Black does so well with 7...Be7 that this isn't a particularly weighty criticism.

    Gustafsson covers the main line of the Moller Gambit in some detail, but there are some non-trivial sidelines that could and perhaps should have been mentioned. Of course the Moller is a non-factor in grandmaster play, but it does show up from time to time in amateur play. After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Nxe4 8.0-0 Bxc3 9.d5 Bf6 10.Re1 Ne7 11.Rxe4 d6 12.Bg5 Bxg5 13.Nxg5 h6 14.Qe2 hxg5 15.Re1 Be6 16.dxe6 f6 Gustafsson gives only 17.Re3 c6 18.Rh3 Rxh3 19.gxh3 g6 in his analysis file, while mentioning in the video that the plan is to play ...Kf8-g7 and that 20.Qf3 is met by 20...Qa5, hitting the rook and giving Black time to swing the queen over to defend the f-pawn.

    That's fine if the rook moves, but in practice White generally disregards it for the frisky 21.Qxf6!? The following moves are more or less forced: 21...Qxe1+ 22.Bf1 (the threat is 23.Qh8+) 22...0-0-0 23.Qxe7 Qe4 (to meet Qf7/f6 with ...Qf4/f5). White is running out of gas, but 24.b4 keeps a little spark alive. In three games to reach this position in the database, White has gone 1.5-1.5 playing up in all three games against opponents rated from 2272 to 2525. He's probably lost after 24...d5! (N - rather than 24...Qf4 as played in all three games) 25.b5 d4!, but it's a lot easier to play like this when you know the line beforehand, especially for a club player.

    In the main line Scotch (3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5 Qe7 7.Qe2 Nd5) there has been a ton of action lately, since the DVD was recorded, thanks largely but not solely to Ian Nepomniachtchi, who is more addicted to (the) Scotch than James Bond. Has Gustafsson's work looks good as far as it goes, but higher-rated viewers in particular will really need to keep their eyes glued to their databases. Shirov-Carlsen and Carlsen-Aronian from Wijk aan Zee 2011 quickly leave Gustafsson's analysis behind, though it should be added that White failed to achieve anything in either game. A more important example is Nepomniachtchi-Svidler from the Russian Championship in December, won fairly convincingly by White. Here it would seem that "Nepo" has a much more optimistic view of the particular White approach than Gustafsson does on the disk, so that's a game worth thinking about. The Scotch is a periodically "hot" opening, so while the DVD gives the viewer a good foundation, the details are likely to change over time in a way that's less likely in, say, the Bishop's Opening or the Ponziani.

    So the disk isn't the end of theory, the last thing a 1.e4 e5 player will ever need. It's not as necessary for such players as disk 1 is for a Marshall Gambiteer. But it is a genuinely excellent product that I very heartily recommend to all 1.e4 e5 players rated over 1800. His recommendations are clear, logical, thoroughly prepared and well-suited not just for GMs but good club players as well. In sum: it's an excellent product for 1.e4 e5 players, and I hope ChessBase will keep Gustafsson in their dungeon until he releases some more videos for us.

    Ordering info here (with samples) and here (to save a few bucks by purchasing the two volumes together).

    Wednesday
    Feb232011

    Gustafsson on the Marshall Gambit: Best Chess Opening DVD Ever?

    Maybe!

    German GM Jan Gustafsson has released a pair of DVDs with ChessBase offering a full repertoire with 1.e4 e5. Volume 1 covers the Marshall and Anti-Marshall (basically, everything after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0), while volume 2 covers White's prior deviations after 1.e4 e5. We'll stick to volume 1 in this review, and come back to volume 2 another day.

    In the intro clip Gustafsson says he's going to tell the viewer everything he knows. Yeah, right! Then you watch the videos and, even more to the point, look at the accompanying analysis files, and you realize that - gasp! - he might be telling the truth. There's no way I can prove that he is, but even if he's not there's not only so much information on the disk, but so much completely new and extremely significant on it, that I'm delighted to accept even an approximation of "everything". The bottom line is this: if you play the Marshall Gambit and are at least, say, 1800 or 1900 (or a correspondence player), you would be insane not to buy this disk even if you're a grandmaster. Gustafsson is one of the world's absolute experts on the Marshall, so he knows whereof he speaks.

    Getting down to basics, there are 17 clips: 14 substantial clips and three short intros. (One intro at the start of the disk, one for the Marshall and one for the Anti-Marshall.) The running time for the videos is about 3 hours and 45 minutes, and then there are 14 accompanying analysis files. The videos serve as an excellent guide, and generally serve several purposes.

    First, they offer a lay of the land, listing Black's relevant options where applicable. Gustafsson will sometimes recount a decision to go from a line he played at one time to something different at the moment, or to explain why he might prefer one roughly equivalent line to another. (One such reason, which he mentioned in several places, is that he generally dislikes playing endgames in the Marshall.) Often, while he'll recommend one line over the others, he will still give enough details about an alternative to let the viewer successfully play that one instead, should he see fit.

    Second, the clips explain what Black (and White, for that matter) is trying to do, so the lines will make more sense and so a player can figure things out even if confronted with something new or if his memory fails. The analysis files go deeper, but they lack explanatory prose, so it's best not to skip the videos en route to the mega-details.

    Third, the clips still go pretty deeply; it's just that the analysis files go even further. Because the videos are substantial in their own right, they serve to give almost all of us enough information to take the Marshall (and the relevant anti-Marshall lines) directly into battle.

    As for the lines covered, they're what you'd expect from any reputable source on the Marshall. After the intros, you have clips on the following lines, starting with the Gambit (8.c3 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 c6):

    (1) 12.d4 Bd6 13.Re1 Qh4 14.g3 Qh3 15.Be3 (the Old Main Line)

    (2) 15.Re4 g5 16.Qf3/16.Qe2

    (3) 16.Qf1

    (4) 15.Qe2 (this is a new and suddenly hot line)

    (5) 12.d3

    (6) 12.Re1 Bd6 13.g3

    (7) Odds and ends including 12.Bxd5, 12.d4 Bd6 13.Re2, and 13.Re1 Qh4 14.g3 Qh3 and now 15.Bxd5, 15.Qd3 and 15.Qf3 are all investigated.

    As is usual nowadays, the inferior sidelines 11...Nf6 and 9...e4 are ignored, but all the relevant 11...c6 lines are discussed. Then he turns to the Anti-Marshall, when the following standard lines are covered:

    (8) 8.h3 Bb7 9.d3 d5 (the move he wants to recommend, but can't, though he thinks it's playable and gives not only the info needed to play it but the reason he's not completely happy with it)

    (9) 9...d6 10.a4 and 10.c3

    (10) 9...d6 10.a3

    (11) 8.a4 b4 9.d4 and 9.a5

    (12) 8.a4 b4 9.d3

    (13) 8.d4

    (14) Odds & ends: 8.d3, 8.a3 & 8.c3.

    Another virtue of the presentation has already been alluded to in passing. Unlike some authors (especially those promoting dubious lines), Gustafsson freely acknowledges when he's not completely satisfied with some line or other. Sometimes it's because of his style or preferred approach (e.g. his desire to avoid most Marshall endings, and his preference for concrete lines over maneuvering), but once or twice he seems less than sure that Black has a perfectly satisfactory answer against a certain White approach. (Don't panic, it doesn't mean that he think Black is much worse; it's not even clear in those cases that he's worse at all. It's just not yet clear that Black has full equality either.) In all of those cases he offers several different approaches for Black, and it's clear that Black is in entirely reasonable shape. In any case, the honesty is refreshing!

    Also pleasant is Gustafsson's sense of humor. It's not a comedy album, but every so often he'll make some amusing remark, and helps lighten things up. His English is excellent and he speaks very clearly and articulately, so you won't have to crank the volume and stare at his lips to translate his accent. All in all, it's a great product, which you can order here. (Or if you're interested in the second disk too, you can order them together and save a little, here.)

    As for details about his new suggestions, sorry, but you'll have to get your own copy! That's part of what makes this such a remarkable disk.