Thursday, 29 September 2011

'Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow'

Paul Daniels
Darlington Civic Theatre

The recent TV series 'Penn and Teller Fool Us', featuring magicians Penn and Teller and a range of hopeful magicians, was very entertaining. Inspiring people to experience live shows for themselves is a worthy venture and I was pleased to see a relatively local show appear in the listings. As if by magic, my cash turned into tickets and I was off to see Paul Daniels on one night his 'Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow' tour.

The first part of the show saw Paul Daniels running through some card tricks and making handkerchiefs change colour and vanish. He told little anecdotes about his life and career at the same time. Debbie McGee then came on to do a couple of tricks of her own before handing over to Martin Daniels (Paul’s son) who took centre stage until the interval.

Martin’s magical ability isn’t in doubt, but he is by no means a straight copy of his Father. He tells a lot of jokes during his act and he brought three people from the audience to assist with a lengthy trick. One of the ‘volunteers’, presumably embarrassed and worried about being made into a spectacle, left the stage and sat down again, which meant that somebody else had to be found. The audience participation was good; all of the willing assistants really entered into the spirit of the occasion and a good laugh was had by all.

The trick, which culminated in an upturned milk jug on one chap’s head and the milk apparently being poured out of his person with the help another volunteer who was pumping his arm up and down, was almost incidental to the banter.

When we reached the interval, I was a little concerned that we weren’t going to see very much of Paul over the course of the evening. However, such thoughts were allayed and the second half of the show saw him produce a masterclass of magic, misdirection, humour and pure entertainment. One of the highlights came when we saw a rabbit produced from a hat under the most unlikely circumstances (as Daniels explained how the trick used to be done; an excellent method of misdirection, telling the audience what they should be watching out for while getting away with slight of hand and who knows what else).

The longest trick featured two more brave members from the audience. Without going into too much detail, there was very clever use of two normal looking chairs in between the main aspects of the trick. I have no idea how that particular part of the show was done. I’ve seen Daniels do it before, on a TV show years ago, but it still retained its freshness.

The finale saw Daniels somehow retrieve a ‘lost’ £10 note from inside a walnut, which was inside an egg which was, in turn, inside a lemon. It was a very entertaining evening, full of baffling tricks and laugh out loud jokes. It reminded me of the old days of Music Halls and all of their wonders. Not that I was around to go to those, but I have long been fascinated by the genre.

That reminds me – next week I’ll be back at the Darlington Civic Theatre to see Ken Dodd. Last time, we didn’t get home until after 1.00 a.m. Giving value for money remains one of the great man's obsessions.

For further details and tour dates for Paul Daniels, please make yourself appear over at his official website.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Keep 'Pitching In'!

A couple of months ago I highlighted Rachel Harrington's 'Pitch In' campaign, which offers a variety of goodies in return for pre-orders of her next next CD.

As can be seen on Rachel's website, the campaign is going well, with over $14,000 already raised. The target is $22,250, so the campaign is still ongoing.

So why not pop along to the website, listen to some sample tracks and if you would like more then please consider pitching in.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Mongoose Newsletter No.2

Issue 2 of the Mongoose Newsletter is now available.

There's a report on the FIDE World Cup, news of Kasparov's return to action and a new venture for the ECF President.

There's also some more information on one of our forthcoming titles (including a pre-order offer, saving 10%) and, of course, the new Mongoose Contest.

The email version of the newsletter will be released very soon.

The first newsletter is still available and can be found here.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Book Launch for 'The Blonde'

The latest leap by the multi-talented Sara Dennis is a Kindle book launch for 'The Blonde and Other Tales'.

The launch will take place on Tuesday 20 September and there's a lot more information over on a dedicated Facebook page. The Kindle collection is currently available over at Amazon.

Sara's website has recently been updated and there's even a 'spoken word' version of 'The Blonde' for your enjoyment. Pop along to the 'Stories' page for further details.

The first part of the Marsh Towers interview with Sara is still available here. Further parts are still in the pipeline, so stay tuned...

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

More Maverick

The October 2011 issue of Maverick Magazine is now available (ordering details can be found over on the Maverick website).

My review of Brian Setzer's Rockabilly Riot is included in this issue. We could certainly do with a few more nights like that one!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Chess Reviews: 188

Another big review column! And I thought I was supposed to be making these features shorter and snappier. Maybe one day...meanwhile, here are my thoughts on the latest batch of chess products.

What Grandmasters Don’t See
Vol. 3: Summary and Test
By GM Maurice Ashley
3 hours and 45 minutes

This is the third and final volume of GM Ashley’s entertaining series on Grandmaster blunders. The ethos remains consistent with the other two volumes. Instead of merely wanting to name and shame careless Grandmasters, the presenter attempts to determine the root cause of the blunders to try and help viewers avoid similar things happening in their own games.

This volume is in two parts. The first extends his earlier theme of blunders on protected squares and the second part presents 14 test positions, arranged in order of difficulty.

Squares protected by pawns and pieces are generally considered safe, but this is where sloppy thinking can lead to exactly the sort of oversights GM Ashley is talking about. A famous example sees a rare double case of two World Champions simultaneously entering history for providing a heavyweight case of what Grandmasters don’t see.

Kasparov - Karpov
Linares 1994

White’s last move was 13 c3xd4. Karpov (who was on amazing form at Linares) played 13 …a4, but Black had the chance to play something much stronger. What did both players miss here?

I like the way that the presenter has dusted off some older classics for re-evaluation, sometimes with surprising results.

Stein – Geller
USSR 1961

With the help of the chess engines, he has unearthed some fabulous variations from this classic game. Black’s position is precarious. On 32 …Bc6, Stein gave the line 33 Qxe8+ Bxe8 34 Rd8 Qc6 35 Rxc8 and now the inferior 35 …Qd7 allows 36 Nd6. A much better move here is 35 …Qe6, meeting 36 Nd6 with 36 …Qe1+ 37 Kh2 Be5+ 38 g3 Bxd6. Fritz prefers the fabulous 32 …Bc6 33 Be4!! as a winning move for White.

The presenter doesn’t come at this from an angle intended to criticise the great players of the past. He freely acknowledges the difficulties of analysing deeply without the aid of computers (it was, after all, 50 years ago) and he believes that Stein may well have spotted 33 Be4!! if the relevant position had occurred over the board. I agree; Stein was a fantastic player (although curiously this game marked his only win against Geller and the latter won seven of their encounters).

Here’s one of the toughest test positions from the second part of the DVD for you to try.

Korchnoi – Solak

Black has just played 14 …Qd8-a5?? Can you see why this is a blunder?

GM Ashley is an excellent presenter who really brings the subject of his DVDs to life. Let’s have more DVDs from this most entertaining of commentators!

Are you looking for a new defence against 1 d4 for the coming season? The latest batch of opening books from Everyman Chess could be the place to look for inspiration. All three of the books featured here provide a repertoire for Black after 1 d4.

Play the Benko Gambit
By IM Nicolai V. Pedersen
208 pages

The Benko Gambit hasn’t had too many books devoted to it. The opening remains a rare bird at the loftier Grandmaster levels, so perhaps theory doesn’t develop quickly enough to justify more coverage.

This book aims to provide Black will a full Benko repertoire and the material is very logically split into three main parts.

Benko Accepted

Benko Declined


The introduction quickly runs through the main themes and ideas for both sides and then it's straight on to the main variations, with a possible solution to a very troublesome line appearing very early in the book.

‘…10 Rb1 is one of the most – if not the most – critical tests of the Benko Gambit, so much so that I think Black should avoid it altogether.’

‘So the reader might ask, what should Black do against 10 Rb1 - ? Well, my suggestion is 9 ….Nfd7,aiming to gain counterplay earlier in the middlegame with moves such as ….Nb6, …N8d7, …0-0, …Nc4 and …Qa5 The main idea is to plant a knight on the c4-square before White has managed to prevent it by Qc2, Bd2 and b2-b3.’

I found that to be an interesting idea.

The emphasis is on sharp play by Black, even in the lesser-known lines, such as this rare bird:

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 Bg5 Ne4 5 Bf4?! Qa5+ 6 Nd2

…and now 6 …g5!, as in Grivas – Khalifman (Leniungrad 1989)

The attacking ethos of the repertoire is maintained by the recommendation of the Kasparov Gambit if White tries to steer the game into calmer waters.

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 Nf3 cxd4 4 Nxd4 e5 5 Nb5 d5 6 cxd5 Bc5

The book concludes with some lines against other early deviations by White, such as 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 c3 and 3 e3.

It’s a good guide to the current state of play in the Benko Gambit and it achieves its aim; club and tournament players will definitely be able to use the recommendations here as a repertoire against 1 d4/2c4.

Declining the Queen’s Gambit
By IM John Cox
208 pages

IM Cox delivers a different kind of repertoire against the Queen’s Gambit, suggesting a very traditional approach.

The specific ways of declining the Queen’s Gambit offered by the author are two real workhorses, as the list of contents shows.

The Tartakower Variation

The Lasker Defence

Alternatives to the Main Line

The Exchange Variation

The Catalan

The Tartakower and Lasker defences have both stood the test of time and it’s easy to see why. Black isn’t sacrificing any pawns or voluntarily conceding space in search of gains in other areas; instead, the plan is to match White territorially and to keep things as tight as possible. The downside will be the danger of ending up in a dull and equal position, which could make the repertoire choices unsuitable in a tournament environment demanding constant wins (it’s not so easy to win Open tournaments by drawing with Black).

The chapter on the Catalan is something of an exception, with the author opting for something more unusual than merely sailing down the absolute main lines, namely 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 g3 dxc4 5 Bg2 Bb4+, as pioneered by Topalov.

All in all, it’s a serious, mature repertoire which will suit tournament players with a positional style of play who looking to defend the Queen’s Gambit in a classic manner. It's a solid book on a solid repertoire.

The Slav
Move by Move
By IM Cyrus Lakdawala
414 pages

This is the first book in a new series by Everyman. John Emms explains the basic idea in his ‘Series Foreword’:

‘Move by Move is a series of opening books which uses a question-and-answer format. One of our main aims of the series is to replicate – as much as possible – lessons between chess teachers and students.

All the way through, readers will be challenged to answer searching questions and complete exercises, to test their skills in chess openings and indeed in other key aspects of the game.’

There’s a light hearted introduction, showing Steinitz successfully employing the Slav against Zukertort in their 1886 title match. The style of prose sets the scene for what is to follow; it has a tendency to be flippant and not entirely accurate.

Zukertort is criticised for not playing to his strengths, enabling Steinitz to make him ‘…look like a pre-schooler in closed positions.’ Let’s not forget that Zukertort was a great player and far more flexible than the lazy statement would suggest. He won the next four games in the match, including the White side of two Slavs (after which Steinitz switched to 2 …e6).

Furthermore, once Steinitz starts to roll his pawns forward, we are told that ‘a pawn roller like this, a routine plan for us, was a very strange notion in 1886. Most players considered pawns a nuisance which got in the way of their piece activity.’ In fact, anyone around in 1886 who had seen any of Philidor’s games from a century earlier would have been very familiar with the concept of the pawn roller.

Later in the book, players’ names are regularly shortened (for example, Topalov becomes Topa, Morozevich Moro…) I have to say that such dumbed-down prose is not to my taste. Fortunately, the actual chess content of the book is much better than the prose.

The material is split into the following chapters.

The Mainline Dutch Variation

6 Ne5

6 Nh4

The Geller Gambit

Fifth Move Alternatives

4 e3 Lines and 3 Nc3 dxc4

Fourth Move Alternatives

The Exchange Slav

Slav Versus Reti and King’s Indian Attack

Full games are used to discuss each line and the reader is asked questions, presented with exercises and even given homework at key moments.

One further curiosity; Everyman’s 'Play the Slav', by James Vigus, is mentioned a number of times in the text but doesn’t make it into the bibliography.

I am looking forward to seeing more volumes in this series. Despite my reservations about the writing style of this one, I think the series will prove to be very popular and helpful for club players.

The next two products keep us in the realms of Closed Openings.

Know the Terrain
Volume 3: Central Majority
By IM Sam Collins
4 hours and 39 minutes

The central majority in question is a very specific one. Typically, White has pawns on a2, d4 and e4 and Black has them on a7, b7 and e7 (or e6), so the Grunfeld, Semi-Tarrasch (as in the diagram below) and certain Queen's Indian Defence lines (mainly with 4 or 5 a3) are key areas as far as this DVD is concerned.

As IM Collins explains, the attraction of such positions lies in their unbalanced nature. White's extra space in the centre will give good chances of a middlegame attack. Even if this doesn't happen, he will eventually be able to force a passed d-pawn in many cases, which will be a powerful winning weapon. Black has his trumps too. White's centre could be a target and the Queenside majority could be potent.

There are numerous sections, each covering a key area:

Black plays …b6 and …Nc6
Black plays …b6 and …Nd7
White Plays d4 and e5
White plays d5 and e5
Kingside Attack
Black plays …f5
c4 outpost
Minority Attack
Decoying the black central pawn
Passed d-pawn
Blockade in the middlegame
Blockade in the endgame
d5 outpost in the endgame

There 34 illustrative games, all expertly explained by the presenter.

The first segment shows why the plan of developing the Black Knight to c6 - which looks perfectly natural - is still very much under a cloud. The key game shows Tal famously falling foul of some perfect Polugaevsky preparation.

Polugaeavsky - Tal
Moscow 1969

Polugaevsky gave Tal a real lesson in attacking play after 16 d5 exd5 17 e5! We even saw Bxh7+ arrive shortly afterwards...

There are some very important positions in which the passed d-pawn becomes a serious issue, with Black often on a knife edge when it comes down to whether or not a successful blockade can be erected. This is such a tricky area that even World Champions can misjudge matters.

Topalov - Anand
World Championship 2010

Topalov has just played 25 Ba6. According to the analysis on the DVD, Anand could have safely captured here with 25 …Bxa6 and after 26 Qxc6 Qa1+ would have led to a draw. In the game, he played 25 …Nd4 and after 26 Qc4 Bxd5 27 Qxd5+ Qxd5 28 exd5 he found himself experiencing difficulties. White’s Bishop pair and passed d-pawn offer some advantage. The World Champion had to play very well to hold the draw.

This is an excellent DVD and the pick of the bunch reviewed this time. It is suitable for advanced tournament players looking to really develop their middlegame and strategical skill.

Tricks and Traps
Volume 3: In the Flank Openings
By GM Nigel Davies
4 hours

This is an instructive DVD aimed at club players, demonstrating various tricks and traps which are lurking in openings such as the Reti, English and even the rarer ones, including Larsen’s Opening and the Grob.

Admitting that the Flank Openings offer fewer traps than after 1 e4 or 1 d4, GM Davies still finds enough material for 33 video lectures.

The material is arranged nicely, starting off with a few general themes (for example, the h1-a8 diagonal, where many a Rook has been trapped after Bxb7) and then moving on to samples from specific openings.

The traps aren’t always just the result of basic blunders, but sometimes spring from normal-looking positions. For example, when Black plays the Hedgehog, he could quite easily end up in this position.

10 …a6 would be a very natural move here, but it walks into a trap. Do you know it? I don’t want to give the answer here; perhaps you need to buy the DVD if you don’t know how to proceed.

The obscure openings are covered in the ‘Chamber of Horrors’ section. As well as displaying some typical traps, GM Davies gives useful general advice on how to avoid them. Against the ‘Horrors’ this means not getting carried away feeling insulted by having to face 1 g4 and keeping things sensible and solid instead.

It’s by no means an exhaustive study. For instance, a better example of a trick in the Grob than the two given on the DVD is 1 g4 d5 2 Bg2 Bxg4 3 c4 c6 4 cxd5 cxd5 5 Qb3 e6

…and now 6 Qa4+ won many a Bishop during an uncommonly spell of Grob popularity back in my college days.

Of course, many readers would rather avoid Closed Openings with either colour, so it’s time to switch pawns and look at two DVDs for 1 e4 players.

The Vienna With 3 f4
By GM Nigel Davies
4 hours

GM Davies recommends the 1 e4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 f4 as a way to head for a King’s Gambit sort of position while keeping a firm grip on the d5 square.

Some of the most interesting games on DVD arise after 1 e4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 f4 d5 and now 4 exd5. Things get wild after 4 …Nxd5 5 fxe5 Nxc3 6 bxc3 Qh4+

Nakamura – Onischuk
USA 2010

White’s King already has to move to e2 and we get a position reminiscent of the early days of the King’s Gambit, in which White hopes to gain lots of time attacking the Queen while Black will try and make the poor position of White’s King tell. It would be tricky to play either side of this without suitable preparation.

As with the Tricks and Traps DVD, this one is aimed at club players who are looking to sharpen their repertoires. The Vienna with 3 f4 may not be such as a serious weapon at Grandmaster level (despite a few recent outings), but for club championships it could prove to be a valuable asset.

Beating the Sicilian
A Grandmaster’s Repertoire
Volume 3
By GM Viktor Bologan
5 hours

Last but not least for this review column we have the concluding volume in GM Bologan’s trilogy showing his favourite lines against the Sicilian Defence.

This time, the focus is on 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 so the Paulsen and Scheveningen are both covered in depth.

Less common lines such as 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Bb4 are certainly not neglected; this is a thorough study, as one would expect from GM Bologan.

The Scheveningen is met by the famous Keres Attack with 6 g4.

Against other lines, White will head for a type of English Attack with Be3, f3, Qd2 and 0-0-0, which ties in well with the repertoire presented on the other DVDs in this series.

1 e4 players who like to take on major openings with main lines should definitely ensure that GM Bologan's Sicilian trilogy is on their shopping lists.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Mongoose Newsletter Update

Following on from yesterday's post, I am pleased to inform you that it is now possible to subscribe (for free) to the new Mongoose Newsletter.

Please visit the newsletter page for details.

Friday, 9 September 2011

More Mongoose

The first in a new series of Mongoose Press Newsletters has been posted over on the

The series is set to expand to cover the pick of the most interesting world news as well as all of the latest news about Mongoose Press books.

There is a new contest too, towards the end of the newsletter.

A copy of the new book, 'No Passion for Chess Fashion', awaits the randomly-selected winner.