Video Review: PRO CHESS
If you’ve been keeping up with my various chess ramblings here on Chess.com, you know I’m pretty much up to my eyeballs with Seirawan books. I hadn’t really considered the notion that there might be a Seirawan teaching video until a friend borrowed PRO CHESS from the local library and told me that I should give it a look. To be honest, I’m a bit skeptical of videos as teaching devices. I generally find it easier to deal with books because it’s much easier to flip around in a book and look things up, not to mention that rereading sections of a book until they are burned into my skull is a simpler operation than seeking around on a DVD.
It turns out, as usual, that I was mostly wrong about that. So, let’s get started.
First, don’t bitch at me that the title, “PRO CHESS,” is all in caps-lock mode. That’s the how the producers of this video named it. It’s not my fault. HONEST.
Now I should point out that this video was originally released in 1987 on video tape. The older folks in the crowd may recall this quaint format for disseminating video footage. Unlike some old tapes that have been rereleased to DVD, PRO CHESS hasn’t had a lick of cleaning up, so there is constant tape hiss in the background. Not a good start.
Beyond that, PRO CHESS has a very PBS-y flavour to it. Do you remember the old Joy Of Painting show on PBS in which this old hippy-looking dude would get all mellow and paint a picture from start to finish, always telling us how happy the trees were? This video is kinda like that. I’m not necessarily saying that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I’m just sayin’.
At the outset, Seirawan explains that you should watch the video all the way through on the first pass. That’s a pretty tall order considering that this DVD clocks in at about three hours and forty-five minutes. On the other hand, if you haven’t learned much of the material contained on this work, I rather agree with GM Yaz. You’ll get a good framework on which to peg all the details when you watch it the second time.
Having read many of the books in the Winning Chess series, I can tell you that the contents of the video are very similar to the books. PRO CHESS omits some things while adding a few new things, and emphasizes topics to lesser or greater degree than the books.
PRO CHESS starts off with the very basics of chess. All the usual stuff: the parts of the board, the values of the men, and so on. There are a few surprises in here, however. Seirawan gives a value to the King as a defending piece, and alters the values of doubled pawns. I don’t recall these from the books.
A very large portion of this DVD is dedicated to pawn structures. How to get them, how to use them, and how to force your opponent into bad pawn formations, and so on. The emphasis on pawns is in striking comparison to the books, and there is considerable information about pawns in the video that is not addressed in the books.
I know from my limited experience that tactics are a hot topic for many chess players, and those folks will not feel disenfranchised by PRO CHESS. Seirawan covers tactical topics throughout this video, which brings me to my first real gripe: the examples. I had a similar complaint about Winning Chess Strategies. Seirawan typically uses actual games as example play describing whatever topic he is on about at the time. That would be fine, except that the examples have a tendency to go winging off into the ether, such that I’m sometimes not really sure what his point is. With PRO CHESS he often begins a snippet from a game to show the current topic of concern (connected passed pawns, for instance) and then out of nowhere he starts blathering about some seemingly unrelated tactic. It’s a somewhat clever way to squeeze as much juice out of the example game as possible, but it can be a bit confusing at times.
I think what I would have liked to see would be cleverly crafted compositions that displayed one particular topic at a time. Incidentally, I’m currently working through Winning Chess Endings and that is the predominant method of example in that book.
So, you are asking, what isn’t on the DVD? Well, there is discussion of the principles of opening play, and passing mention of a couple specific openings, but that’s about it. Similarly for endgames. There’s much about tactics to produce checkmate patterns, but very little on endgame theory. Checkmate, of course, produces the definitive end of a game, but that’s not what I’m taking about here. But you know what I mean, right?
PRO CHESS is very much about attacking, and defending is barely given lip service. I’m somewhat perplexed by that, but hey, you can’t cram everything under the sun onto one DVD.
As for the art of attack, Seirawan describes how to calculate force, space, and time, and then explains how they are related and presses home the idea that a player should only attack once he has gained a clear advantage in these dimensions. Pawn structure is also a factor, albeit a more complicated one. Seirawan often tries to encapsulate a topic into a short phrase, such as “attack to provoke a weakness, fix a weakness into a target, eliminate the target.” I appreciate that sort of thing because it makes the concept easier to remember, and therefore much more likely that I’ll be able to use it in a game.
There are actually a few terms introduced in PRO CHESS that I don’t recall from the books, such as “isolani,” and the definition of “combination” is somewhat different in the books.
Some of the examples used are from blitz games played by Seirawan and these were caught on video tape. This is actually rather effective on video, as the rate of play kept me interested (I find blitz play moderately mesmerizing), and the running commentary during the blitz games is generally enlightening. It sure beats staring at demo boards for four hours straight.
Incidentally, at least as far as I know, Yasser pronounces “fianchetto” wrong all the way through this video, which is a bit strange considering he gives the “correct” pronunciation in his books. Go figure.
Right. So here we are and there is one burning question on your mind. Should you watch this video? It depends! It depends on your current interests. If you want to learn about openings and/or endgames, forget it. If you want strategy and tactics, absolutely watch this. Although I can’t really say with any surety, I’m guessing that more advanced players might be interested in this video at least as a bit of a refresher course, if nothing else.
You may also be asking the related question: Should you buy it? This is a bit difficult to answer. PRO CHESS certainly covers a lot of ground in a relatively short time, particularly if you compare it to working through books that contain similar material. If you have worked through the first three books in the Winning Chess series (or similar books) and you are strapped for cash, you could probably skip this video. On the other hand, because this DVD gives a very good overview of many important chess topics, this probably would be a great video to watch before you start digging into the books. At least, in hindsight, I rather wish I’d watched this flick some time ago.
So. That’s it! Hit the ground runnin’, and I’ll see y’all out there on the gridiron!