GM Alexei Shirov (Spain)

. Alexei Shirov has been one of the world's leading grandmasters for over a decade. In 1998, he was the official WCC Challenger for the World Championship after defeating fellow super-grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik in match play. Shirov is famous for his brilliant and fiery brand of attacking chess and superb endgame prowess

Available dvds on Shirov


Shirov! (Best Games Vol. 1)

Shirov! (Best Games Vol. 2)

Shirov! (Best Games Vol. 3)

Shirov! (Best Games Vol. 4)

Shirov! (Best Games Vol. 5)

Shirov! (Best End Games Vol. 1)

(Shirov-Kramnik 1998) (double volume),

G.M. dvd vol. 6

Reviewed by Steve Lopez

Shirov Best Games 1 to 5 Quality chess instruction has traditionally been a problematic concept for the developing player. Tutorial material has recently moved out of the confines of the print medium to new frontiers such as multimedia chess software. But there's still nothing quite like hearing a talented player explain one of his great games in his own words. Unless one is willing to travel great distances to hear a lecture by such a player or to spend a large hourly rate for personalized chess instruction it's been difficult for one to enjoy this unique experience

. You'd think that chess and dvd would make a terrific natural partnership. What could be better than enjoying a lecture by a great player in the privacy of your own home? While it's true that asking questions is an impossibility in this environment, you have the option of watching it at your own pace, using the "pause" and "rewind" buttons to review difficult areas of the analysis. Yes, you'd think that chess dvds would be a blessing to those of us who are struggling players, but that's unfortunately not been the case. With the exception of the old World Championship shows hosted by Shelby Lyman (which aired years ago on PBS) chess videos have been pretty uniformly dismal. Even the electronically-enhanced rapid-fire analysis given on ESPN's coverage of PCA events was nearly impossible to follow and turned out to be very superficial once you finally figured out what King and Ashley were throwing out at you at the rate of a mile a minute. The high technical quality of the shows almost (but not quite) disguised the relative shallowness of the content. What of the stacks of commercial chess videos that have flooded the market in recent years? To be honest, I gave up on them after viewing a half-dozen or so of the early efforts. While I'm admittedly a harsher critic than most (coming as I do from a professional communications

background), I had to admit that the videos were pretty dismal by any standard. Wallboard colors were not well-chosen to sidestep the quirks of videotape reproduction (pieces and squares usually appeared to bleed together, making it nearly impossible to follow the games), the "talent" was often quite untalented (one notorious series featured a famous grandmaster frequently losing his train of thought; you'd think that the director would have called for either cue cards or additional takes until the GM got it right), and the whole crop of chess videos were starting to look like presentations being created by children using their parents' camcorders. In short, what should have been a dynamic medium for chess instruction was fast becoming at worst an embarrassment and at best a yawn.

So I was pretty wary when I opened the box containing the five-tape series called Shirov! (Best Games). I sat down with a remote in one hand, a cold drink in the other, and a bottle of No-Doze close at hand in case I needed to fight off sleep. After ten minutes of the first tape I realized that I was going to have to throw my past experiences and preconceptions straight out the nearest window.

The Shirov! series is the closest thing I've seen to quality video chess instruction since the old Lyman shows back in the 70's and 80's. This is a fine series of tapes and merits serious consideration by anyone who enjoys great attacking chess.

GM Alexei Shirov (the next challenger to Garry Kasparov's crown, should a match sponsor ever be found) and GM Ron Henley (Anatoly Karpov's second in his last three World Championship matches) are your hosts for a fascinating look at nineteen of Shirov's finest games.

The set's layout is minimalist in the extreme (and this is actually an advantage). In a three camera setup, Shirov and Henley sit on opposite sides of a table with a wallboard between them. You won't find fancy electronic graphics and telestrators on these tapes - just two strong players discussing ideas.

The ideas, after all, are what these videos are about. Listening to Alexei Shirov discuss moves, variations, and plans from his games is like taking a crash course in attacking chess. To the class-level player, getting a glimpse inside the mind of a grandmaster is a staggering experience and listening to Shirov discuss his finest games is even more hard-hitting because of his ability to calculate seemingly endless variations and subvariations coupled with his willingness to play in complete kamikaze fashion in order to secure the win.

All five of the dvds clock in at over ninety minutes. Four of the five contain four games each; only Volume Two contains three games. But rather than feeling the tedium one usually experiences when watching a chess dvd, here one feels elation and wonder at the complexity and beauty of Shirov's play.

The presentation itself is simple and straightforward. Shirov and Henley sit on either side of a wallboard as they discuss the games. Shirov explains what he was considering during the games, while he and Henley illustrate the moves and variations on the wallboard. Henley acts as moderator, frequently pausing to explain the concepts for the benefit of the viewer. But rather than talk down to the audience (as many moderators do), Henley has the taste and skill to form his clarifications as questions to Shirov ("So what you're saying is that the knight can't come back to b5, because...", etc.). The effect is a pleasing one for the viewer; the feeling is that one is simply eavesdropping on two players discussing a game. The insidious truth is that one is being instructed while one is being entertained.

One of the technical improvements featured in this video is the nicely-colored wallboard, especially noticeable when compared to those in other chess videos I've watched. The producers have finally hit on a color scheme that doesn't cause a video monitor to go haywire. The dark squares are a light green while the White pieces are yellow with a black outline around the edges. The chess pieces don't get "lost" on squares and there's no color bleed or fuzziness between the pieces and squares. This sharper contrast greatly aids the ability to follow the games.

You will need a bit of help in following the games, though. Have your remote control handy with your finger poised over the "pause" button. Shirov gives a great deal of quality analysis at a fairly good clip and you may need to stop and rewind occasionally. It's sometimes difficult to distinguish between the actual game moves and a variation line, too. A technique I tried that really helps here is to locate the game in your computer database and make a printout before viewing the game on the tape (if you have no database program, try searching for the game in back issues of chess magazines). Follow the actual moves on your own chess set and watch the variations on the screen. I tended to jump ahead a move or two in order to get a feel for where the game was heading; it was easy for me to recognize the actual position when Shirov and Henley returned to it. By using this technique I was able to follow the games with almost no pauses. How detailed is the commentary and analysis? Take a look at the following game from Volume Two:

Shirov,A (2610) - Nikolenko,O (2450) [C11] Moscw 1991

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Nce2 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.f4 b5 8.a3 a5 9. Nf3 b4 10.axb4 cxb4 11.f5 exf5 12.Nf4 Nb6 13.Bb5 Bb7 14.e6 Bd6 15.exf7+ Kxf7 16.0-0 Re8 17.Nxd5 Bxh2+ 18.Kxh2 Qxd5 19.c4 Nxc4 20.Ng5+ Kg6 21.Bxc4 Qxc4 22.Qf3 Rf8 23.Qg3 Qxf1 24.Ne6+ Kf7 25.d5 Rg8 26.Qc7+ Kg6 27.dxc6 Bc8 28.Nf4+ Kf6 29.Qd6+ Kf7 30.Qd5+ Kf8 31.Be3 1-0

The game seems simple at first glance but there is far more going on here than can be imagined by the average player! Shirov begins with a warm, charming story about the late Mikhail Tal. Then follows the game analysis - itself almost a complete course in the fine art of sacrifice. There's a brief aside during the game in which Shirov discusses computer techniques for pregame preparation and analysis. There is so much happening in this game that it takes about 45 minutes for Shirov and Henley to explore its possibilities!

Shirov isn't going to set the world on fire as a matinee idol but he does have his own brand of charm and wit which shines through. He tells funny and engaging stories about hanging out at fellow GM's homes for analysis sessions, friendly "bets" with other players, and other neat little glimpses into the personal side of the world of chess. It takes a little while to get used to his English; Shirov speaks of "changing" the Queens, rather than "exchanging" them. It's a bit infectious: if you listen closely, you'll catch Henley using the word "change" in this context a couple of times, too. He also displays a subtle, wry wit. One quote I especially liked: "It's always easier to find mating ideas when you have more pieces in the game."

Although it was said in complete seriousness, it sounded to me like an old Tartakowerism such as, "It's always better to sacrifice your opponent's pieces." I was tickled by Shirov's comment and found several others to chuckle over throughout the dvds. Shirov comes off like a "regular guy," a rare feat among the world's top players. After watching the first tape I felt like I knew Shirov and would probably enjoy hanging out with him. He's a likable guy. As good as these videos are, they're still not without flaws. There's a distressing tendency for the sound to drop out momentarily from time to time. It seems to be a result of deliberate editing (since the commentary still flows naturally despite the break). (Editor's Note: The reviewer's observation refers to deliberate audio editing - an occasional necessity when dealing with a grandmaster whose primary language is not English). Even so, it's a bit startling and disconcerting and I never quite got used to it. There's also the word "play" visible at the upper corner of the screen for several moments at the start of each tape, a flaw in the editing that gives an initial bad impression. Other aspects of the editing are a bit uneven; rather than dissolving or wiping from one take to another, there's a sudden jarring "chop" (perhaps it's the "James Whale" philosophy of editing?).

These are minor quibbles, however. The main point of a chess video is, of course, the chess. There are some marvelous games covered in this series. The instructional qualities are more along the lines of "learn by exposure" rather than the traditional approach of "chess axiom/advice" followed by several sample games. Anyone Class C or higher can learn a lot from these videos (from osmosis, if no other way), especially if they're viewed in conjunction with study of a good book on sacrifices and/or attacks. After viewing these videos you should be able to find some unexpected resources in your own games; a couple of days after viewing Volumes One and Two, I was inspired by a Shirov idea from the tapes and managed to turn around an otherwise lost on-line tournament game with a surprising bishop sacrifice.

In short, it's hard for me to heap enough praise on Shirov! (Best Games). While chess dvds are nobody's idea of an action-adventure flick, these dvds stand head and shoulders above the rest of the chess tapes I've seen in recent years, the only ones that made me want to fix a bowl of popcorn before sitting down to view the next one in the series. This is due primarily to the games - they're all thrilling examples of dynamic attacking chess at its finest. Although the games speak for themselves, in this case it certainly doesn't hurt to hear the victor's comments. Shirov is a real winner, both over the board and as a dvd chess instructor.