Saturday, June 23, 2007

Review of Daniel King's Power Play 2/3 DVDs

I've finished going through Daniel King's second and third DVDs in his Power Play series, and want to give my assessment of their utility to the club player. I have not viewed the first DVD in the series that deals with mating attacks. I will explain why at the end of this post.

First, a few relevant quotations:

"I can see the combinations as well as Alekhine, but I cannot get into the same positions."
-- Spielmann

"The player who is better must attack or risk losing the advantage"--Steinitz

"Properly taught, a student can learn more in a few hours than he would find out in ten years of untutored trial-and-error."--Em. Lasker

The two reviewed DVDs show how one initiates an attack so that you can get to the point of mating your opponent. The second DVD (Attacking the King) focuses on the idea of "inviting everyone to the party" by bringing pieces into the attack, in particular the heavy pieces. It also demonstrates the use of the g-pawn to crack open the g-file (particularly when the defender has played P-KR3). The third DVD focuses on pushing the f- and h-pawns.

I purchased these DVDs because I felt that, in my own games, I wasn't making the most of my attacking chances...I have a tendency to be risk-averse (although I do routinely sack a piece if I can get two defending pawns in exchange). However, I wondered if the DVDs would show example of example of sparkling attacks, and thereby encourage the viewer to launch into unjustified attacks in their own games. Then, through weakness of tactics and disregard of positional elements, their games would end in smoking ruins.

In short, these DVDs are an excellent example of Lasker's quote above. King provides a balanced, objective assessment of these attacks. In both DVDs, he has you pause the playback, set up the positions on a board, and think about the next move (in the second DVD, pauses during the lessons are common, and a few test positions are at the end of the DVD; in the third, there are fewer pauses in lessons but seventeen test positions at the end). Frequently, you are asked not for the attacker's next move but for the defender's. He shows not only attacks that break through but attacks that are ill-conceived. This approach adds instructional value, not only by encouraging a "real chess" approach (considering your opponent's responses) but by indirectly providing a primer on defence in chess. One benefit of learning mating patterns and attacks is so that, as a defender, you can see them looming and take prophylactic measures.

A strength of King's presentation is the use of repetition to drive home key concepts--and not just attacking principles, but general principles such as central control and space advantage. Here are some of the themes I detected:

  • In order to attack, you must have the center under control. You don't need opposite-side castling in order to launch a pawn storm. The center doesn't need to be locked, or even occupied by pawns, but it must be under control. Otherwise, your opponent can counter your attack by counterplay in the center (editorial aside: queenside counterplay may also be possible, but a counterattack in the center tends to be more powerful and more common.). This was wonderfully reinforced throughout the DVDs.
  • One signal for the attack is a lack of defenders around the king (well, der!) but particularly where the defender's queen is off on an adventure on the queenside, and/or when the cramped opponent doesn't have their rooks cooperating. An overriding theme of the second DVD is the following "story arc": central control cramps the opponent; their position gets pinched in two, limiting communication between kingside and queenside; the lack of communication prevents defenders, particularly queen and rooks, to come to the rescue of the king; the attacker gets overwhelming, localized superiority of force around the defender's king and mate follows.
  • You really want to get the heavy pieces into the attack. This was a bit of an eye opener for me, not because it doesn't make sense (a common patzer problem is activating your rooks), but that they are that much more special than other pieces. Previously, I followed Colin Crouch's advice from his handy little book Attacking Technique: "In general, a successful kingside attack will need at least three pieces participating; one to be sacrificed and two to give checkmate." Also, paraphrasing crouch, 0-1 pieces attacking the king = premature; 2 = consider getting a third (or play elsewhere); 3=may be in business, 4 or more = start looking for winning combinations. I didn't place that much higher an importance to getting the rooks involved than the minors.
  • Getting the queen early into the attack adds urgency and can provoke your opponent to create weaknesses. Transfering the queen to the kingside is emphasized. For example, the f4 push allows the queen to enter via the manoeuver Qd1-e1-g3(h4).
  • Pawn moves leave weaknesses. Pushing the f- pawn makes the king not only vulnerable along the diagonal (e.g. the a7-g1 diagonal after pushing the f2 pawn) but also along the second rank (a2-h2). (editorial aside: in Kopec's Mastering the Sicilian, he talks about Black's "Queenside-Kingside Swipe" where he penetrates down the c-file then swipes down the back ranks towards White's king. This demonstrates King's point nicely). Pushing the h-pawn is surprisingly safe in many cases, but you have to worry about, say, weakness on g4 after pushing h4. As the defender, if you can avoid making a weakening pawn move, avoid it. For example, DVD 2 really drives home how playing the modest P-KR3 can be asking for trouble.
A few comments about production quality of the DVDs: King is very engaging and entertaining. He sounds a lot like the old speech recordings used by Fritz 5.32...I wonder if he's the guy behind the curtains there (and I wonder if they'd use him again...the speech from Fritz 7 and 9 annoys the hell out of me). There's some minor fumbling with drawing arrows and making moves, and in some cases he desparately needed a drink of water, but it wasn't that distracting. I enjoyed the second DVD more...the third has fewer "pause and think" exercises during the exercises (although more "test positions" at the end of the DVD), and moves at a faster clip. The third DVD was more overwhelming at times with the rapid-fire analysis (but you can always pause). Besides the hours of DVD playback, the DVDs come with databases of annotated games (although some of the annotations appeared to be in German), so I would have to say that they are packed with value.


So, let's return to the plight of the club player and ask if this is $70 well-spent (>$100 if you decide to get the first DVD as well).

In theory, this material is covered in other formats. Looking at my bookshelf, I have books on attack by Vukovic, Znozko-Borovsky, Crouch, Tal, and Alburt. I've read all of them cover to cover except Vukovic (which I hope to re-read to completion soon) and yet these DVDs had many revelations for me. King's repetition of themes was very effective. It's becoming instinct for me to look at these positions in the following way:

  • Does one side have an advantage that would justify considering an attack? (Space, development, coordination etc.)
  • Does the attacker have the center under control? Can the defender counter in the center or on the queenside?
  • Can I get a local superiority of force through piece play alone? If not, can I do so via a pawn storm? Will my king be safe enough if I execute the pawn storm? Will the pawns leave serious weaknesses in their wake?

After taking a few weeks off from Blitz, I played a handful of games recently. I didn't seek to go out and put this new knowledge to the test...I just tried to play chess as usual. However, during play my new training automatically kicked in. I had several mates, and one failed attack where I missed the best continuation and the opponent regrouped. Fritz revealed multiple tactical errors in both attack and defense, but my attacking ideas themselves appeared to be justified.

Granted, this is a handful of blitz games, but it suggests that I successfully internalized a lot of King's material.

Another beneficial side-effect of the DVDs is that it ultimately reinforces what you already knew: tactics and calculation are the most important part of chess. There were a few instances where a Grandmaster had a winning attack and then couldn't convert at the end because they missed the mate. If you can't spot the basic mates, or have trouble with calculation, it doesn't matter how brilliant the attack was if you can't put the puck in the net. King didn't have every line completely mapped out, so when he would get to a certain position in the attack he would stop, analyze and assess on the spot. This was very enlightening, not only to see how he goes about thinking about the position but also how rapidly he spots and executes tactics. So, while it's been great learning how to set up these attacks, it's back to the grindstone for me.

So, in a nut shell: studying tactics probably will have more effect on your chess strength than improving your attacking technique. However, as I mentioned in my Synergy post, a little bit of basic knowledge can pay off disproportionately. These DVDs added to my knowledge and to my game something that was lacking. My games are still going to be decided largely through tactics, but I now have a better feel for if I should attack, how I can attack, and thus how I can get a stronger position where I will have an easier time than my opponent. I suspect after these lessons I'm going to need a dose of prophylaxis to balance me out, so it's back to My System shortly.

Finally, about the first DVD: I'm delaying getting this because, from the description and preview from Chessbase.com, there seems to be considerable overlap with the material I already have (particularly Znozko-Borovsky, Vukovic, plus Tal's Winning Chess Combinations). Both Znozko-Borovsky and Vukovic, for example, have multiple examples of the Greek Gift sacrifice in different settings. However, because I found that I more efficiently learned (and hopefully retained) via DVD, I may yet relent. I am still adverse to getting the fourth DVD because I think I have had enough material on opening play for now.

However, if I were to somehow receive review copies of the other DVDs in the series I would gladly review them here (crosses fingers, hopes someone from ChessBase is reading this). Yes, I'm shameless.

14 comments:

Grandpatzer said...

By the way, after viewing the DVDs I don't feel so bad about all the times I've been routed by my opponent charging their h-pawn up the board.

Certain moves seem to have personalities. Pushing the f-pawn may be aggressive, and the g-pawn provocative, but pushing the h-pawn has always struck me as dickish. Against a fianchetto it's of course standard operating procedure, but if Black hasn't moved his kingside pawns this lunge with the h-pawn just seems to say "I am a dick. I can ignore general principles and just throw this pawn down your throat, because you are no match for my dickishness".

After seeing several high-level players fall victim to this, and having come to appreciate how little the attacker risks with this push, I have more respect for it.

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Grandpatzer said...

I used Babelfish to translate Portuguese to English, and got:

"Oi, I found yours blog for google tá well interesting I liked this post. When to give gives passed for mine blog, is on personalized t-shirts, shows step by step as to create a well personalized t-shirt way. Until more."

So he loves my blog and wants to sell me a personalized t-shirt. Um...thanks! Well, at least it's not an offer to increase the size of my manhood.

transformation said...

you are on board now... almost two hours!

hisbestfriend said...

Cool, I have been looking at his new disk number 4, and then going back and getting the rest.

I appreciate the feedback.

Where is the used market place for these things? Or why do they cost so much?

Erik said...

Grandpatzer!

This is Erik with Chess.com. I have been checking out some of the more popular chess blogs out there to find good authors for Chess.com and I stumbled into yours! I was wondering if you would be interested in posting some of your articles/posts on Chess.com. We have a blogging platform there that makes it REALLY easy to insert games/diagrams and even puzzles with just a few mouseclicks.

Anyway, it might expand your readership and we would certainly love the articles!

Thanks for considering,

Erik
Chess.com

Grandpatzer said...

erik: I'll check out chess.com and consider it! Thanks for your interest. I can be reached at grandpatzer@gmail.com.

Hisbestfriend: I'd love to know where to find used DVDs too. I imagine eBay, but I've never used eBay for anything.

I guess their marketing department has figured out that that's the price the market will pay. I would probably buy more DVDs if they were priced closer to a standard chess book and if you could preview them the same way that you can flip through a book at the book store. The promotional clips at chessbase.com don't really tell you enough.

I'd be interested in hearing what you thought about DVD 4, since that's the one I'm least interested in so far.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks for the review.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I just re-read your review. It is excellent! I am very tempted to get these disks. However, I tend to learn better with books than DVDs.

What is your favorite book on attack (note Vucovich I have always found a bit unreadable probably because it is a little over my head)? That Colin book looks very cool, with very good reviews at Amazon. And luckily, it is out of print and the cheapest it is used at Amazon is 210 bucks. Crap.

I'm just getting to the point where my games aren't decided by simple middlegame tactics (followed by easy endgames), but more often by attacks or endgames. I am weak in the attack department, especially in the Caro Kann where I need to attack queenside while he attacks kingside, where I'm usually castled. I need to work on this.

Grandpatzer said...

BDK: my favorite book on attack may be a bit sentimental: The Art of Chess Combination by Znosko-Borovsky. It was in my small town library when I was a kid, and I learned the Greek Gift from it. I picked it up later as an adult...I still see it in Borders/Barnes and Noble occasionally. It's seriously overdue for a re-read. It's more on the combinations side, but in discussing the combinations there's a lot of info on how to conduct an attack.

If you can find it, "Attack with Mikhail Tal" by Tal and Damsky was good, and is also overdue for a re-read. It's more about conducting an attack rather than combinations. Chapters include "The Assault Ratio", "Invasion Trajectories", and "Lines of Communication". In one footnote, Tal mentions a concept they call "launching", based on a term (lost in translation?) from ice hockey, where the puck is launched close to the goal, hoping that a team mate will get to it first and score. So getting pieces close to the king can help an attack even if there are no concrete lines supporting an attack at that time. You also may find this a more interesting read because it's written as a dialogue between the two authors.

Hands down, the best book on mating combinations, if you can find it: Tal's Winning Chess Combinations, by Tal and Khenkin. Another book I first found in a library, and eventually purchased (good luck finding it though).

Blue Devil Knight said...

Grandpatzer: awesome stuff, thank you! I guess I'll take a look at that Tal book. I worry it is above my level so I'll probably get it at the library first.

OTOH, perhaps I should just read the Art of the Checkmate first before any more advanced stuff! They say it's like Vucovich for kids. :)

Frankly, my favorite book so far on attacking is really just on mating combinations (How to beat your dad at chess) just like some of the books you mentioned. It is the first book I read that made me realize there is a big difference between attacks and more rinky-dink cheapo type tactics.

Grandpatzer said...

BDK: The HTBYDAC book and it's successor are good, as is The Art of the Checkmate. Tal's Winning Chess Combinations, however, simply kicks ass. It's a Desert Island Book.

t-blasig said...

I started with Kings attack - phantastic DVD and tried now with Mating patterns - although I solved much more then 10.000 puzzles on a tactic server and know most of these patterns - I can only say - buy it its superb!!!

Xtreme said...

Hey, amazing review! Btw, can you tell me some good chess opening and position softwares. I really need them, I can't figure out which opening repertoire best suits me. Please Help!