Previewed by Steve Lopez

White Repertoire: 1.e4 by Alexander Bangiev
The Franco-Benoni by Don Maddox

Business trips: I just flew in from Philadelphia and, boy, are my arms tired...

OK, OK, I didn't fly -- I rode in a car. And my arm is tired from repeatedly lifting Sam Adams pints at Mad Anthony's last night (which also explains why my right arm is better-developed than my left). So, since I'm feeling a bit peaked today, I reckon that it's a good time to have a look at a couple of new ChessBase CDs (since writing a long "how-to" article is a bit beyond my abilities at the moment).

First up, we have a new repertoire CD from Alexander Bangiev -- White Repertoire 1.e4. There are ten databases on the CD; you'll begin with the one called "Introduction" (don't laugh -- I get occasional tech support questions asking if a database called "Introduction" is a good place to start). This database contains two text entries. The first is the Author's Preface, which explains how to use the CD (and contains many helpful tips, such as the following: "The author thinks it is best that you first look at the text file and then at the analysis of a certain opening. Then you can [gain] more information from the other games on the CD. And don't miss the "training questions" at the end of your study to make sure that you missed nothing important." Excellent advice -- more in this in a bit). The second text contains an overview of the openings covered on the CD. These are provided in the text file as move orders, but you can instead just look at the naming of the other databases on the CD to see what openings are discussed:

Now the first questions that spring to mind are: "Why a repertoire CD?" and "Why these particular openings?" I talk to players all the time who ask for advice on how to develop an opening repertoire. It's a process that requires much time and effort and, in some cases, can be pretty hit or miss. It took me literally years to develop my own repertoire with which I'm comfortable (though, sadly, not always successful, but that's a seperate rant). A repertoire CD gives you a ready-made arsenal of openings you can study, learn from, and play without spending great heaping gobs of time developing a repertoire of your own. Basically, it's a shortcut. Now, mind you, none of it is etched in granite -- if there's an opening here that you don't find congenial, this is not a problem: you can always replace it later with one you prefer. But a repertoire CD gives you a great starting point, a launchpad to get you underway without that long process of trial and error I experienced. The particular openings on this CD were chosen to give the White player an attacking repertoire against a variety of Black responses to 1.e4 and, in some cases, the openings bear enough of a similarity to each other to make many of the concepts related and easier to understand and transfer from one opening to another. These common themes are the e4-e5 pawn push and/or the advance of the f-pawn to f4 (which is hilariously ironic, considering the fact that just a few hours ago [as I write this] I was engaged in a conversation about my own f2-f4 "phobia" -- so I view this CD as a potential cure for my peculiar psychological affliction).

Let's take a look at one of the databases (the Vienna, since I've recently been writing about this gambit) to see how the CD works. The Vienna Gambit database opens with an introductory text. This text covers the basic bare-bones principles behind open games in general and the Vienna in particular. You'll read this introductory text, absorb the principles, and then move on to the next text in the database.

The second text adopts a "building block" approach to the Vienna. Bangiev steps through the "game tree" of variations section by section, explaining in plain English text the ideas behind the moves each step of the way (after all, it's much more beneficial to understand why the moves are played than it is to just commit moves to memory as though you're some sort of automaton). In each section, he provides links to illustrative games showing these ideas in action (and these games contain varying levels and forms of annotations: variations, symbols, and in some cases further English text instruction). Each section also has a key link to more games in that variation: clicking on this link provides a list of all games (regardless of annotation level) in which that variation was played, and double-clicking on a game from the list loads it so you can replay it.

So the methodology for using this CD (as is the case with nearly all ChessBase opening training CDs) is very simple:

  1. Read the introductory text to learn the ideas behind the moves
  2. Play through that section's annotated games to see the ideas in action and reinforce your knowledge of them, with further important points noted with variations and symbolic/text commentary
  3. Play through the additional unannotated games of that variation in order to pick those same ideas out on your own.
  4. Go back to the text, read the next section, and repeat the process for that variation.

And, in the case of the Vienna, there are two introductory texts for this opening. So learning just this one opening can keep you busy for a while -- and there are eight such openings covered on this CD. No one learns an opening overnight, but the process really doesn't get any simpler or less painful than this. Spend some time with each opening, learn the concepts, and (assuming you apply them properly) you'll be playing that opening like a pro (and it'll happen a lot faster than it would with a standard board and pieces coupled with the all-too-frequent "database dump" print books that flood the market these days).

Once you've completed the instructional databases (and you don't have to play through every game in each database -- the Vienna Gambit alone is represented by over 5000 games on this CD, with more than 100 of them annotated), you should move on to the "Training" database. This database (which also has an introductory text on how to use it) contains 21 selected games which have timed training questions at key points in the game: you'll get a special window that pops open and asks you to find the best move. You'll have a limited amount of time in which to solve a question and you'll be scored (for both speed and accuracy) on your answers.

So if you've been drifting aimlessly looking for an opening repertoire as White, I encourage you to give Alexander Bangiev's White Repertoire: 1.e4 a try. You'll learn a lot about each of these openings and, if you're able to apply the concepts Bangiev teaches, you'll certainly improve your results.

The second CD is for the specialists in the house: The Franco-Benoni by Don Maddox. Players who have seen Don's other two ChessBase CDs are already familiar with his approach. Although Don writes about a specific opening on each CD, he does so in a manner that's clear and understandable by the average player. In other words, you don't need to already be a master to benefit from Don's work -- he writes for us average Joes and Janes down here in the fishpond.

The Franco-Benoni is described on the box as being a cross between the French and the Benoni (which is how it gets its name -- duh). Don's specialty is the flank attack, and this opening certainly qualifies as such. Unlike the other ChessBase CDs he's written (The King's Indian Attack and The Reti), this one's not the classic "hypermodern" opening, but ...c5 qualifies it as a flank attack nonetheless. And, also unlike the other two CDs by Don, this one's aimed primarily at the Black player.

You'll start with the "Franco-Benoni Database", which begins with a text introduction. This text is followed by another text on the "Franco-Benoni Basics", which clearly describes the basic ideas and principles of the opening and also contains links to important games. The third text is called "Key Franco-Benoni Positions", which breaks the opening down into specific variations. Here you'll also find direct links to important games; unlike Bangiev, however, Don places the bulk of his text instruction into the games themselves rather than in the introductory texts. Of critical importance on this CD are the key links (links to index lists of games for each variation -- there are many important annotated games that don't have direct game links in the introductory texts; you'll need to reach them by clicking on the little gold "key" symbol under each illustrative board position).

But the basic principle of using ChessBase opening CDs still applies here: you read the text, play through the linked games, then use the key links to locate and play through other annotated games. Then you can play through the unannotated material and have an understanding of what's going on. The Franco-Benoni CD has about 800 annotated games; the overall size of the database is nearly 13,600 games.

Once you've finished the texts and annotated games, you can test your knowledge by using the training database (similar to what's described above for the Bangiev repertoire CD). This training database is pretty extensive -- thirty-five games containing timed training questions are included so you can test your knowledge of the Franco-Benoni. And this CD also contains a huge opening book which can be used (just as can any ChessBase tree) for statistical study, as a game locator (right-click and pick "Search" to find the games in which the current position occurred), and as an opening book for the Fritz "family" of playing programs: you load the tree as the default opening book and this forces Fritz to play nothing but the Franco-Benoni. This lets you test your knowledge in actual games.

And both of these CDs contain the ChessBase Reader program -- if you don't have ChessBase or any of our playing programs, you can still access and learn the information contained on the CD by using the Reader.

So there you have it: two new CDs that will help you add more openings to your arsenal as quickly and easily as possible (although still not as easily as doing 16-ounce arm curls, though I have learned that Elvis is alive and well in Philadelphia). With that cryptic comment, I'll duck out now and see you next week. Until then, have fun!

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