Friday, April 23, 2010

Chessbase Fritz Trainer: Yasser Seirawan - My Best Games Review

Before I start my review, a couple things about Chesscafe's review:

Chesscafe's reviewer, Lance Martin, recently reviewed this DVD and gave it a whopping thumbs down of 1 star.

Unfortunately, I am not familiar with the reviewer and I'm sure he's a competent reviewer. However, I have a couple of problems with his review.

He gave Shirov's My Best Games in the Grünfeld Defence 4 stars and proceeds to say,"It is moves like this that let us understand why people devote their lives to this endeavor. We may not see chess the same way that Shirov does, but the fact that all chess players have certain moves or positions that they will remember for the rest of their lives makes this game worthy of our time and effort. So is this DVD."

I find this comment rather ironic.

The problem is that Shirov has already covered this game in his earlier excellent DVD, Endgame Fireworks and a duplicity of material is rather unfortunate in this instance. I find it strange that for someone who has 48 Fritz Trainers, he forgot to mention that Shirov had already covered this too in an earlier DVD?

In addition, endgame expert Karsten Müller also covered this very same game in one of his Endgame DVDs as well. I may not have as many DVDs as Lance Martin but I know repeated material when I see one.

While he praises Shirov to the skies, he took a rather dim view of Seirawan's DVD in which Seirawan too display certain finesse in terms of technique (Seirawan may not live on Planet Shirov but he is still a strong GM in his own right).

Enought of Chesscafe, it's time to start my review (and also try to answer Lance's criticisms in the meantime). Note that this review is based on my personal preferences as a patzer. So, YMMV.

Seirawan's My Best Games is not any different from other Chessbase DVD products (see my review of Powerplay 11: Defence as a guide to the packaging etc.).

In this DVD, GM Yasser Seirawan traces his days as an early chess professional.

Chesscafe reviewer, Lance Martin first proceeds to take offence with the DVD with the comments,"Thus, we have to take this DVD for what it is: a chess autobiography from one of the highest rated American chess players in history. It begins with his first win over a GM when he was sixteen years old. If we are interested in the games of a junior chess player, then the DVD is worth watching."

With this statement, Lance Martin shows he is sloppy and doesn't bother to verify his facts. Seirawan was born in Damascus in 1960.The first game illustrated was against GM Arthur Bisguier in 1975 which makes him fifteen years old not sixteen (Seirawan even mentions his age for this game in his annotations). And I find that his statement about this DVD being the games of a junior chess player might make people misinterpret that the illustrated games are not of a good quality.

The list of games on this DVD

Of the 22 games covered, Seirawan's only showed 1 game when he was 15 years old. The games listed are:

Seirawan-Bisguier 1975
Weinstein-Seirawan 1977
Timman-Seirawan 1978
Seirawan-Grefe 1978
Darby-Seirawan 1978
Seirawan-Larson 1979
Seirawan-Miles 1979
Zaltsman-Seirawan 1978
Marjanovic-Seirawan 1979
Jhunjhnuwala-Seirawan 1979
Seirawan-Barbero 1979
Gligoric-Seirawan 1980
Van der-Wiel-Seirawan 1980
Seirawan-Korchnoi 1980
Seirawan-Timman 1980
Kovacevic-Seirawan 1980
Seirawan-Tal 1980
Seirawan-Rivas 1980
Seirawan-Korchnoi 1981
Seirawan-Hort 1981
Timman-Seirawan 1981
Karpov-Seirawan 1981

He illustrates 2 of his wins in the World Junior Championship in 1978. As you can see, by 1979, Seirawan was matching wits against the world elite. 3 of his illustrated wins in 1980 was at the famous Wijk Aan Zee tournament where he was joint first with GM Walter Browne among a group of GMs including Korchnoi, Timman and van der Wiel. These games are nothing to be sneezed at.

Stopping any silly typical Sicilian sacrifices on e6

First off, Seirawan is very comfortable with the Chessbase interface and uses arrows and highlighted squares where appropriate to illustrate his thoughts well.

In addition, as this is a chess autobiography, it makes sense to have games when Seirawan was young. If Seirawan thinks that this game is one of his most memorable, then he has every right to include it. I think the Chesscafe reviewer was being overtly critical in his review.

I can easily give 2 counter examples. Kramnik's My Path To The Top Chessbase DVD and Anand's My Career Part 1 DVD both include games when they were very young. Does this mean that they're no less any important to them or they're of an inferior quality? Far from it. In fact, these games helped to illustrate how their chess skills have changed with time and how they've improved as a player to become part of the world elite.

As a result, I find it quite unfathomable that Lance would harp on this since he has some 48 Fritz Trainers. To me, this format has not differed in anyway from any of the other autobigraphical DVDs put out by Chessbase.

Lance then compliments Seirawan,"It was a wonderful win for Seirawan and he does an expert job of annotating it." and then proceeds to tear down the presented material and that Seirawan's annotations are far too brief.

Really. Which is which? If he is talking about there not being enough variations of the listed games, then I agree fully with him.

Cracking open a rock solid defence

But what he conveniently forgot to mention was that Seirawan's annotations are highly personal and different. Seirawan doesn't give you reams and reams of variations (ala Chess Informant style - really, if I wanted that, I let Fritz work its magic or look up past issues of Informant) but what he does communicate through his annotations are his thoughts and ideas. And it is is these thoughts and ideas that are worth their weight in gold. He quoted a game where Bent Larsen gave him a big hug for giving him a wonderful illustrative game about knowing where to put his pieces. He also showed a game which he classified as a turning point for him where he produced a technical win.

A typical annotation by Seirawan on one of his games

Although this DVD contained all of his wins bar one, it doesn't mean that Seirawan is only interested in beating his chest. On the contrary, in some of his games, Seirawan's acknowledged he had overlooked moves or made inferior moves but that both he and his opponent had missed in their analysis.

Lance complains that "Seirawan does not delve into the rationale for many of his moves." I find it quite the opposite. Seirawan is not interested in presenting the entire game and explaining each game move by move. Rather in every game, Seirawan concentrates on a few points where he explains or illustates a particular concept or idea that was important to him and how he goes about accomplishing his objective.

How Seirawan's opponent could have capitalised on his inaccuracy

Some of his ideas and plans are quite deep and original where the outcome is not apparent till a good 7 moves later as shown in Zaltsman-Seirawan. He also explains how he learns and improves his chess skill with each game and how during that time, adjournments helped to improve his game.

I'll give you an example, in Van der-Wiel-Seirawan, Seirawan explains how he exploits his opponent's mistake to move his pieces to squares where they are more effective and then proceeds to destroy White's seemingly rock solid position through a series of combinations. While this short was only 6 minutes long, he didn't had to make any more comments than was necessary and for a patzer like me, it was easy enough to follow.

In his later games, Seirawan starts to go into details on why he plays the moves he did to get to positions that he wanted that he can best use his strengths to win.

No, it's not what you're thinking, Seirawan is actually
making a very good point about the Keres Attack :-)

I would say that the target audience rating of this DVD is between 1200-1800.

Presentation style: 9.5/10
Material: 8/10
Length: 6/10

Overall: 8/10

This is not a training DVD like Daniel King's Powerplay series nor is it a repertoire DVD. Instead, it is more of a very personal autobiography. Think of it like you having a nice conversation with Seirawan in person as he recounts his story over a nice cup of coffee. Seirawan's presentation style is calm, clear and concise. He is never boring and interjects most of the games with a personal viewpoint, making the material very fresh and lively. This DVD is perfect to play when you're tired of doing exhaustive chess tactics or opening repertoire or training sessions. The material is light in that Seirawan doesn't give you variations upon variations of analysis. Instead, he focuses more on main plans and strategies. In so doing, Seirawan has given us an insight into a GM's mind at work.


  1. Sounds like a wonderfull addition to the autobiography fritz trainers. I have it. Didn't have a chance to watch it yet though. And as for Lance, he should probably have his head examined :) Thanks for a great review.

  2. Hello,

    You're most welcome - thanks for the kind words! :)

  3. I have to say that I am a little upset by your criticism of my review of Yasser Seirawan's DVD. First, I apologize for the typo that made the mistake in his age. And it was a typo because I am pretty good at checking my facts. I also apologize for not owning any of the autobiographical DVDs that would have permitted me to make an honest comparison. However, I was just given one by Nigel Short to review. After watching Mr. Short and the 20 to 30 minutes he spends caring about and annotating his games I have to say that I stand by my review of Seirawan's lectures. They were short and in most cases added nothing to the games at all. I just have an aversion to the kind of commercialism shown by Mr. Sweirawan on that DVD. I am also sorry if you have a problem with the number of DVDs that I own. Further, if you have criticisms of my reviews I can be reached at:

  4. Hello Lance/Major Depressive Disorder,

    I am sorry that you were upset with my review. We just had a difference of opinion that is all but I still think that your review was unduly hard on Seirawan.

    I simply beg to differ and want to provide an alternative view to the DVD.

    I do not have a problem with the number of DVDs that you own but I thought that it was odd to criticise Seirawan's DVD and one would presume that you have a basis of comparison with other autobiography DVDs (my apologies that I thought you would have known - it was presumptous on my part).

    When I review, I try my best to reflect and think very hard on a few other things including if this topic was covered before in other DVDs or whether the same topic warrants repeating or if it was just a plain grab at, as you put it here, commercialism.

    As for annotations, Seirawan's method is more or less of what I expect of some players' annotations of that generation - which are highly personal, littered with personal notes.

    A few other things, I've recently bought Lilov's Sicilian Kan. In this case here, I agree for the most part of your review about Lilov's Sicilian Kan. It was indeed one of the most awful Chessbase Fritz Trainer DVDs I've ever had the chance to purchase. Your review was mostly spot on. I'll put up a review of it in the near future.

    As for Seirawan's DVD, I'm afraid we'll just have to agree to disagree.

    I do not have the chance to have purchased Short's DVD as of yet. It is one of the most anticipated DVDs I've been trying to get. I envy you as a reviewer.