Adrian Mikhalchishin, Strategy University Vol. 1 – The Central Approach. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.
Adrian Mikhalchishin has been a GM for a long time, but for a long time now seems to have focused on his work as a trainer. Given that focus, he has collected and arranged a large quantity of material for didactic purposes, and from what I've seen of his ChessBase DVDs that material tends to be very good.
On this occasion, the material centers on (pun intended) the center; in particular, on different ways of handling it. Mikhalchishin examines different types of pawn centers, different plans for fighting for the center, ways of transforming one central structure to another, combating certain central configurations, and so on. I like this idea a lot, and think it's an excellent resource for amateurs. Many club players only learn about the typical French pawn chain, some standard isolani setups and maybe some open Sicilians. Those are important structures, no doubt about it, but there are so many more to consider. Even players with extremely limited repertoires will experience far more kinds of centers than those listed.
So what is the amateur to do? He'll get some help from opening books - at least sometimes. More often than not, they won't take the time to address a given central configuration in its own right, but will assume that the amateur either understands what's going on there or will pick it up inductively from the analysis in the book. Maybe that's right, sometimes, but not always, and a further problem is that unless the problem is explicitly addressed, the reader may not even notice it as an issue.
This, then, is the strength and value of Mikhalchishin's presentation. Over the course of almost four hours, in 21 clips covering 51 games, the reader sees a wide variety of central structures and plans he can use and apply to his own openings and games, rather than hoping to get lucky generalizing in the opposite direction.
What's covered? Here are some examples:
- The d5 hole in the Sicilian (or ...d4 for Black in the English) - generally its exploitation by a piece, but also the transformed structure when Black takes a piece on d5 and White plays exd5 in reply.
- The d4-d5 advance to create a passed pawn (and its blockade, from Black's point of view).
- The Botvinnik pawn roller in the Carlsbad structure.
- The structure with White pawns on d4 and e4 vs. Black pawns on c6 and e6, with White's c-pawn exchanged for Black's d-pawn.
- The Closed Ruy structure where White closes the center with d4-d5.
- The Closed Ruy structure where White keeps an open center with d4xc5, favored by Fischer and (I think) attributed originally to Rauzer.
- The method of sacrificing a piece for two center (or one center and one near-center) pawns to obtain a massive central presence.
- The ...c5-c4 advance, primarily in QG pawn structures where cxd5 exd5 has occurred (both pro and con). (Part of one of the clips covering this can be seen here.)
There's plenty more besides that, but that's enough to give a taste of what you'll find. This will broaden the amateur's knowledge base both conceptually (by thinking about the topic of the center with new tools) and by filling in many particulars. Recommended, especially to players between around 1600 and 2000.
I do have some mild criticisms of this disk, of which I'll note five. These are not intended as reasons to keep potential viewers away, but as suggestions for improving later presentations.
First, while in many cases the games in a given clip reinforced each other and obviously fit together, this wasn't always the case. It would be more helpful, I think, to avoid overly dissimilar examples.
Second, better labeling would be nice. The headers for the clips are almost completely uninformative.
Third, he often zips through portions of the games rather too speedily. In many cases he does this in sections of the games that don't matter very much, but not always! Sometimes it's the portions that are entirely relevant that get breezed through. Naturally, the viewer can stop the recording and slow things down, but I think it would be better if in most of those cases it was Mikhalchishin himself who put on the brakes.
Fourth, he should spend a minute or two (off-camera) reviewing the material before delivering the clip. It's amusing but not really an indication of good prep when he finds himself bending his explanations to what actually happens in the game, when he's forced to construct an ex post facto justification of what happens.
Fifth, a not-very-serious point. If Mikhalchishin or anyone from ChessBase is reading this, they should let Mikhalchishin know that when he uses the word "either" (and he does fairly often), he really means "too" or "also" instead. (An approximate example: "White's bishop is bad, but Black's bishop is bad either." Bad too, Grandmaster!)
Just to reiterate, these are areas where the presentation can improve, but overall I like the concept and the material, and think the upper-to-middle class player can benefit from it. (More about the product and ordering information can be found here.)