Thursday, May 1, 2008

Chessbase Review: French Defence

I've been meaning to review this DVD since the end of last year and I finally managed to get some time to do this.

I used to play the main line French then subsequently moved onto the Winawer/MacCutcheon variation (which I mentioned a long time ago that I was not going to learn to play but which I took up in the end). Since then, I've moved on from the French Defence.That means no more Milner Barry gambits, no more Alekhine-Chatard attacks for me although I'm still quite tempted to investigate the Burn and Guidmard variations of the French Defence.

So what I am getting to here? Well, this blog post is dedicated to Greg who mentions in this blogpost here.

I've been playing the French on and off for nearly half a year now. I am not an expert in the French Defence and I don't profess to be one. However, it has garnered me a few wins so far so I guess it's not that bad. Till today, I still have a soft spot for the French Defence although I have been investigating other opening defences to improve my opening repertoire in response to 1.e4.

The problem with playing the French Defence is that it's a rather misunderstood defence. Some people think that the French Defence is a tame defence. Well, they couldn't be more wrong. The French Defence is a strong counter-attacking defence.

In case you missed it, let me say that again, it is a counter-attacking defence.

While White is busy pushing pawns, Black hits back at the center (usually) with everything except the kitchen sink.

For a club player, I would seriously recommend Ari Ziegler's French Defence DVD (image on left) - Repertoire For Black if and only if you're interested in taking up the French as your main repertoire. Unlike some *other* Chessbase DVDs, this DVD is by and far, one of the best Fritz Trainers to have come out of Chessbase.

The DVD comprises some 7 hours (!!) of lessons. Frankly I am very surprised that Chessbase managed to squeeze that much information into 1 DVD. If Ziegler were to make a second DVD dealing with other variations of the French Defence, I would be the first in line to buy it.

What about the DVD itself?

Ziegler speaks with a rather slow, serious (some would say ponderous) and thoughtful voice. He is so unlike the cocktail-drinking-yawning-in-front-of-camera Jacob Aagaard, the somewhat placid but solid presenter Andrew Martin, the funny Daniel King, the somewhat-whiny voice of Rustam Khasimzhanov and the ever-gruffy-voice-and-nerdy Karsten Muller.

When he says something, he pauses, thinks, and gives you his thoughts on the position. He does not rush but he expects you to see tactical combinations quickly.

However, I do notice that Ziegler sometimes zips through the moves at record speed at later segments. That's because he presumes you've already watched the earlier clips and knows the variations so he doesn't bother wasting time .

He starts off with the Advance variation (you can read up ChessCafe's rather brief review of the DVD in this link), followed by the Tarrasch, the Classical and the Steinitz.

There are a few minor odd-looking moves in Ziegler's repertoire unfortunately (I leave it to you to figure it out) but I would say it is definitely more than good enough for the club player. He also gives short rift of the Exchange Variation and does not even delve into the Winawer nor the MacCutcheon. So if you're looking for insights into these lines, unfortunately, you would have to look somewhere else.

I have since expanded my repertoire of the French Defence and included a few new lines taken from materials from other sources.

This DVD would take at least a week to digest all the necessary information (especially for newcomers to the French Defence) and I would strongly urge to work at your own pace and not to hurry.

One big pity is that some of the annotations for the games are in Swedish. A real shame as Ziegler's annotations are very insightful.

As a note, some viewers may be left "hanging in the air" regarding a particular reference to a player. In one of his video segments, Ziegler mentions of a player who "knows the French from every angle". He is not referring to Uhlmann or Korchnoi but the Swedish CC Grandmaster Rune Holmberg. You are not likely to find his games in normal databases but you can find it by looking up CC chess databases. I strongly urge you to find his games and go through them if you're interested.

After you have digested the DVD, what next, you say? I would say, read up more on the French Defence. Any books by John Watson regarding the French is usually good.

I know what some people are thinking. Who plays the French Defense these days? It has virtually disappeared from super-GM play. Well, the beauty of the French Defence is that there are still many unexplored lines.

If you want to know more, there is no shortage of great players on the Black side of the French. They include Victor Korchnoi, Wolfgang Uhlmann, Mikhail Gurevich, Nigel Short, Alexander Morozevich and Evgeny Bareev.

And now for something unrelated.....

For the last note of the day, speaking of a trip back to the past...... here's a very nice blast from the past.

Who was undoubtedly acknowledged as the greatest in the chess world?

One that even Kasparov, Kramnik and Anand saw fit to humble themselves and acknowledged; together with other famous grandmasters as shown in the signatures in the picture on the right?

David Bellows, that's who.

I know what you're thinking,

"Who On Earth Is David Bellows?!!" *wink*

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the mention and the encouragement. I really like Ziegler's DVD and right now I am lamenting not watching all of it.