Reviewed: May 15, 2005
Released: April 23, 2005
I wasn’t sure what to expect out of Gary Kasparov Teaches Chess, having recently reviewed other chess products produced by Viva Media.
You see, Viva Media makes products for the true die-hards, the kind of players who can skim through pages of cryptic notations and recreate a game in their heads. I’m talking about the kind of fanatics who are as proud of their club chess “ranking” as country club members are of their golfing handicaps.
In other words, not a guy like me hoping to pull off a few better moves while playing a pick-up game at Starbucks.
That being said – Gary Kasparov Teaches Chess Volume 1: How to Play the Queen’s Gambit gave me the chance to watch a living legend in action, even if I understood a fraction of his strategic advice. Kasparov talks at great length about the Queen’s Gambit, a classic way of beginning the game that has been used by world masters for centuries.
Kasparov’s tutorial includes:
This tutorial is, for the most part, a breeze to use. Pop in the DVD, click on the first video, and a split screen appears showing Kasparov and a practice chessboard. As Kasparov explains the intricacies of the Queen’s Gambit, every move is clearly diagramed on the chessboard.
Players can easily follow along as Kasparov shows how the Queen’s Gambit opens, what counter moves you can expect the other player to make, and how you can dominate the center of the board as the game progresses. Advanced players will also appreciate the notation sheet on the right hand of the screen. If Kasparov makes mention of a famous match, the record of that entire game appears in notation for easy reference.
One thing I will criticize is Kasparov moves incredibly fast in his lessons. He will occasionally jump from talking about a game in the 1980s to one played in 1912 with little to no warning. Fortunately, you can pause the game and press the “retract last move” button to get a better look at the last move.
According to the master, the Queen’s Gambit has been the classic cornerstone of black’s defense from 150 years. In very simple terms, the black player moves the queen’s pawn two spaces forward, blocking the white player in the center of the board. On the next turn, the black player defends that lone pawn by moving the king’s pawn ahead one space. What you do next all depends – Kasparov needs 20 separate video chapters to describe the possibilities.
Not only does Kasparov explain chess strategy, he also gives a fascinating history lesson. The Queen’s Gambit was considered the best way to open a game from Victorian times into the 1930s, but the strategy was abandoned for being too defensive in the take-no-prisoner era of Bobby Fischer. Nowadays, the gambit is making a comeback in popularity, and Kasparov himself has used it in world matches against Erik Anderson or Nigel Short.
You can access and study 10,000 past games, some dating back to the 1840s. These archive games can be replayed move for move or simply studied in chess notation. You can run statistics showing how often black or white won in a given match or era. You can even go online as the tutorial offers three free months on Playchess.com, the Battle.net of chess aficionados.
So what is there to criticize about a chess legend bringing the secrets of the game to you at home? This tutorial may be understandable to novices, but it is really meant for experienced players. Kasparov moves quickly and amateurs will most likely need to replay tutorials several times to fully understand them. A lack of a manual makes it hard to understand some of the other features this title offers. I got the feeling there were many interesting features I was missing because I didn’t understand how to use the “deep computer analysis” functions.
The graphics are what you would expect for a chess tutorial – simple and straightforward. Players can choose from several different chessboard styles and between watching lessons in 2-D or 3-D mode. I am giving a high score not because this title offers frills and fancy chess pieces, but because the graphics make it very easy to follow Kasparov’s lessons.
Kasparov English is fluent and he speaks in a very conversational style, making the tutorials a breeze to listen to. Unfortunately, I kept hearing the audio skip for some reason. I would blame it on my computer, but I have seen complaints of skipping sound in other customer reviews. The skipping caused some choppiness to the sound but by no means made the lessons unintelligible.
It's difficult to rate the value of this title since I'm not part of the core audience. If I was keeping only serious chess players in mind, I would gladly give a 10 in this category. Kasparov is an engaging teacher, you can watch the many variations on the Queen’s Gambit unfold on your screen, and you get access to a huge database of games that you would never find in any one book.
But casual players are going to be confused as Kasparov goes on about the fine differences between the “Lasker defense” or the “Capablanca approach.” It would have been nice if Kasparov had included a back-to-basics, beginning tutorial to get novices up to speed.
If you are a longtime winner at the local chess club, or a serious student looking to upset the reigning club champion, this title is a sure buy. If you are a casual player looking for some better opening moves, you would probably be better served reading up on the Queen’s Gambit first before investing $29.99.
Gary Kasparov Teaches Chess has an easy-to-use interface, a massive game database, and the wisdom of a living chess legend in its favor. Nevertheless, this title is really meant for experienced chess players looking to explore nuances to the game. Beginners will be able to follow along, but I’m not sure how much the casual player will be able to improve their game.
Let me say one final thing – Kasparov was the man called upon to defend the human intellect against IBM’s Big Blue supercomputer, and by all accounts he acquitted himself well against a machine capable of calculating 200 million moves per second.
Whether you understand most of his teachings or not, this tutorial is the equivalent of watching Tiger Woods teach golf or Michael Jordan coach basketball. In other words, this is a great addition to a true chess lover’s collection.