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ChessBase have produced a number of CD’s under the general title of "Fritz Training." These are divided into opening, middlegame and endgame sections each consisting of several CD’s. Among the middlegame section there is a CD entitled "Strategy and Tactics" by Peter Wells.
Peter needs no introduction as an author having produced many books and is a regular contributor to ChessBase Magazine with his "Strategy" column. He is also an active grandmaster playing in international tournaments as well as being a trainer and coach at junior world championships. These impeccable credentials qualify him as an admirable presenter for the topic of strategy and tactics in the middlegame. This is covered in a three hour video that needs to be played on the ChessBase media system and has not (as yet) been developed into a "stand alone" product.
There are ten lectures on the subject, preceded by a five minute introduction in which Wells explains that what follows cannot form a comprehensive course on the middlegame but is intended to give an insight into two main themes being the employment of practical skills and an understanding of some positional themes.
In the first lecture on practical skills he leads us through the process of calculation he was involved in during a game he played with D. Durnitracke at Balatonbareny in 1997. Undoubtedly, for this subject, the choice of one of his own games is well founded as who knows better than oneself of the thought processes employed in such a game.
A critical point was reached in the position opposite:-
Playing the white pieces and with the move, he now had to decide whether or not the "Greek Sacrifice" of Bxh7+ would be successful. This is a subject minutely examined in the fine book "The Art of Attack in Chess" by V. Vukoviċ, but he does not mention the constellation of pieces reached in Well's game. Wells thought for 40 minutes before deciding how to continue, admitting that at various points his calculations were faulty, but not exactly damaging. The result was a very interesting game with many exciting variations.
The second lecture is entitled "Commitment and Defence" a combination of terms that Wells explains as embracing the idea that commitment confers an obligation which in the event may also entail defence. Thus an attack on the king side could mean the obligation to deploy many pieces to that wing, leaving the queen side rather exposed and in need of defence. He illustrates this by means of two games – Sax – Odeev, European Championship, 2000 and Herrara – Dominguez, Guilturino Garcia Premier, 2000. In the former game, Sax launched a seemingly powerful attack against the black king, but Black contrived such an accurate defence that Sax had to bail out into a perpetual attack – defence!
"Zwischenzug" is a word almost impossible to translate into English. In "The Oxford Companion to Chess" a good explanation is given as "in-between move, a move interspersed during an exchange of pieces or during a series of exchanges".
This is the subject of Well’s third lecture and is best illustrated by Pokorna against Maric at the 2000 FIDE Womans World Cup (see diagram opposite with White to move). Here, in fact, there are two examples in the same game. In the first instance White answers a threat with a counter threat rather than the passive retreat of an attacked piece. This is sufficient to secure the initiative and shortly leads to another example that assists White in prosecuting her attack to bring victory. In addition to this complete game there are two snapshots illustrating the same theme.
The two lectures following complete the practical section of the CD and comprise a study of how and why blunders occur.
In the first of these Wells looks at blunders caused for psychological reasons and cites a game that he played against Barua in the Gibralter Masters of 2004. In the position shown below, with White (Barua) to move, Black is well and truly lost and White only needs to extricate his knights from a tricky situation on f7 and d6, before going on to cement his material advantage.
Instead of achieving this with 36.Nb7, White tried to make the most of his king side pawns and release his bishop from f1, by playing 36.h4? whereupon Wells removed his rook from the attentions of a knight on b7 with 36..... Ra1 leaving the knights in very uncomfortable positions. Barua probably realising the shortcomings of his previous move and suffering from self-recriminations, continued 37.g4. This is the psychological state that Wells warns us about. In effect he is saying that one should put a poor move already made, in the background and make the most of what remains. This game continued 37 ..... Rd1 38.f3 Bxd6 39.Nxd6 Rxd6 40.Bd3? Rxd3 31.cxd3 a5 42.Kf2 a4 43.bxa4 b3 and very much against the odds, Wells won.
Another game he cites in this section, is Bouaziz - Miles, Riga, 1979 where, with dogged defence, Miles rescued a lost position because his opponent attempted to win with as little inconvenience as possible. Another psychological state to be avoided, as relaxing with a won game on ones hands can lead to disaster.
The second blunder lecture deals with illusions in calculations. For instance, we put great store in pins, believing that the piece or pawn pinned is no longer in the game. However, there are situations when the pinned piece does still play an active part such as supporting another piece that is delivering mate. Wells gives five examples of blunders that have occurred for various reasons, predominately caused by an assumption that only a certain line of play is possible i.e. the capture of a piece has to be answered by a recapture. This may not always be the case as an "in-between" move may make bring about an entirely different position.
This section of the CD presents some pioneering work on the middlegame subject and the next five lectures are rather more in keeping with normal middlegame motifs.
The first two lectures in this section deal with positional pawn sacrifices. He does not deal with pawns that are sacrificed with the object of accelerating an attack on the opposing king, but rather a sacrifice that promotes better co-ordination amongst the pieces and assists in a more harmonious placement of forces. In the first lecture Wells takes a look at the game Kramnik - Vaganian, Horgen, 1995, when, from a rather unusual variation of the Queen's Indian Defence, the following position was reached. White's knight and bishop are not very active but Kramnik, on the move, found a plan that brought them to life and helped him to win the game.
The second lecture continues this theme via the games Leko - Bunzmann, Hamburg, 1999 and Glek - Nataf, Halkidilik, 2002. Both games illustrate how a pawn sacrifice modifies the pawn structure resulting in the enhancement of the activity of the pieces of the player making the sacrifice and a reciprocal worsening of the opponents mobility. In the first game, Leko inflicts a bad bishop on his opponent in a situation where, if the bishop is exchanged, the pawns surrounding the king will be weakened. There is no better example of the dictum "bad bishops protect good pawns."
The second game is of considerable interest in that Glek sacrifices a pawn in order to obtain a fine outpost for a knight. He then sets about exchanging pieces to reduce to a winning ending in which he just has the knight against a bad bishop but is still a pawn down!
Two lectures follow on the theme of "weak pieces" the first of which has two games to demonstrate the subject. The first of these is a superlative example of a seemingly "good" bishop being neutralised by opposing pawns. In a game against Agrest at the European Cup in 2002, Eingorm manages to incarcerate his opponents bishop on h8 and removes it from any active participation in the game, despite the fact that the bishop was fianchettoed and could otherwise have been considered as "good". The second game is from Linares, 2003, in which Kasparov forces Anand's bishop into adopting a passive role.
It is the rooks that get into trouble in the next video and this is finely demonstrated by the games Aronson - Tal, USSR ch. 1957 and Psakhis, Komarov, Benasque, 1995. In the latter game the interesting feature is that one knight dominates two rooks to an extent that they are unable to move without being either captured or compromised.
In the final lecture, Wells deals with the traditional middle game theme of blockade and in particular the blockade of a passed isolated pawn arising in the Gruenfeld Defence. His choice of a game to illustrate the strength of a blockade is particularly apt in that Van Wely as White playing Leko at Corus 2001 having reached this position chose to recapture on f3 with the queen. Eventually he was able to prevent Leko from effectively blockading a passed isolated d-pawn and as a consequence he won.
However, in a previous game, with Keene taking the white pieces against Uhlmann, he recaptured with the bishop and Black was able to set up a secure blockade with a knight in a classic example of the theme.
The ten lectures are delivered in videos totalling 3¼ hours and as one would expect from a coach, the examples are very well chosen. This can only be the result of very deep and thorough research. As could also be expected of Wells, he touches on some pioneering aspects of a well documented subject and this makes his presentations fresh and entertaining. It is not only his exposition of the subject matter that is informative but also his penetrating and instructive comments on other aspects of the games that he examines.
This CD can be recommended to club, county and congress players who would undoubtedly benefit from a close study of the contents. In addition, the CD is very reasonably priced at £17.95.