Thursday, 15 August 2013

Chess Reviews: 217

ChessBase Magazine #155
The latest issue of ChessBase magazine is now available, offering the usual pot-pourri of top quality material.

The coverage of top tournaments is exemplary. The pick of the bunch this time is the Tal Memorial, a tournament with many interesting features. Boris Gelfand, at 45, went through the tough tournament unbeaten and took clear first place, half a point ahead of the world's highest rated player, Magnus Carlsen. No wonder Gelfand is smiling on the cover of the magazine.

As much as Gelfand's performance was a great advert for the enduring skills of the veterans, the tail end of the tournament was clearly trying to prove the opposite, with the current World Champion (Anand) finishing next to last with only a former World Champion (Kramnik) below him. One wonders if such a tournament result - with the participating World Champions propping up the table - has ever been seen before.

Gelfand's round seven game against Nakamura was the turning point of the tournament. The latter was in the lead and Gelfand was half a point adrift. Gelfand had the black pieces too but he won an instructive game to seize the tournament initiative. The winner has annotated the game for ChessBase magazine and here's a couple of instructive moments.

Nakamura vs. Gelfand
Black has just played 17 ...e4. Gelfand comments: ''Here I had to make a decision and after a long thought I decided for a risky-looking grab of the a2-pawn. However I couldn't find anything which refuted this idea. The point is that after the a2-pawn had been taken, Black wouldn't have problems in almost any endgame as he'll have counterplay connected with a5-a4.''

The point is that after 18 Rb1, he continued with 18 ...Qa5!? 19 0-0 Qxa2, which does look a little risky to the naked eye. Black has won the a-pawn but his queen could be cut out of the game for some time. However, Gelfand had calculated correctly and soon enough he managed to bring the queen back to the centre whereupon a queen exchange took place. The notes go on to point out several ways in which Nakamura could have improved his play (Gelfand's annotations are very honest; at one point he admits, ''When I faced this move I panicked first, but it turns out to be a waste of time''). There are some delightful variations in the notes too, such as this one:

Black to play
Gelfand played 43 ...Ng4! Nakamura defended with 44 Kg2 but Gelfand won shortly afterwards. If he had played 44 Nexf5 then 44 ...Bf1 is checkmate. The more stubborn 44 Ndxf5 fails to 44 ...Bf3! and the threat of 45 ...Nf2 checkmate forces White to sacrifice material.

Other tournaments receiving the full ChessBase treatment are the FIDE Grand Prix in Thessaloniki (won by Dominguez, ahead of Kamsky, Caruana et al), Norway (Karjakin, ahead of local hero Carlsen and eight others) and the European Individual Championship (won by Moiseenko on tie-break, despite sharing the top spot with no fewer than nine other players).

Elsewhere, fans of unusual opening lines are sure to find something of interest. The ones to catch my eye were:

Leonid Kritz on 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 Na5!?

Alexey Kuzmin on 1 d4 d5 2 c4 dxc4 3 Nf3 a6 4 e3 b5

Boris Schipkov on 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 f3 0-0 6 Be3 e5 7 d5 Nh5 8 Qd2 Qh4+ (leading to Bronstein's famous queen sacrifice)

Robert Ris on 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 Nd4 4 Nxd4 exd4 5 0-0 h5

As usual, there are simply far too many other features on ChessBase Magazine to mention here, but I would just like to draw attention to the tactics survey by Oliver Reeh. It's always fun - and good practice - to try and solve the puzzles he presents. A ticking clock is provided to create a little tension and points are awarded for correct answers. It's easy to lose oneself in such an exercise and time tends to slip by very quickly.

Well done ChessBase for keeping the quality of their magazine at such a consistently high level.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

David Bowie Is Happening Now

Last night numerous cinemas up and down the country screened the live finale of the David Bowie is exhibition direct from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

There was a 15 minute pre-show, featuring clips of V&A visitors writing on white boards what David Bowie meant to them (David Bowie is...and then there was a wide range from 'God' to 'Mine!'). Bowie songs naturally formed the soundtrack to the clips. Then there was a speeded up version of how the exhibition was put together, starting with ideas written on a board during a brainstorming session and finishing with the exhibition rooms full of costumes and other content.

The live feed started promptly at 7.00 p.m. Robbed of the standard cinema safety net of seemingly endless adverts and film trailers, some people were caught out and continued to arrive at staggered intervals over the next 15 minutes or so. A costly error; at £14.20 a ticket it wasn't such a good idea to miss any of the show.

Exhibition curators Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh were the anchors for the live presentation. They led us on a walk-through of the various rooms and explained the relevance of many of the exhibition's highlights.

The journey through the rooms was punctuated by various guests who each spent a few minutes talking about their connection - and, in some cases, collaboration - with Bowie. One of the most interesting speakers was Japanese costume designer Kansai Yamamoto who had plenty of amusing anecdotes. 

Live presentations run a number of risks. A couple of cinemas had technical problems, but mine was fine. There was only the occasional piece of hesitant delivery and a few stumbled words here and there and one or two of the guests seemed quite nervous when delivering their respective pieces (Jarvis Cocker, for one).

There were numerous clips of Bowie performances from concerts and videos, the last of which was a moving rendition of ''Heroes'' from the Concert For New York City back in 2001 (just six weeks after 9/11). There was also an intriguing section showing the initial plans for Bowie's intended Diamond Dogs film which unfortunately never happened.

It was a fascinating event - lasting just over 90 minutes - and it cemented memories of my visit to see the exhibition a few weeks a go. I hope there will be some sort of official release on DVD or Blu-ray, possibly beefed up with some full length performances or extra interviews.

The exhibition will now set off on a world tour, starting with the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto (25 September - 27 November) and then moving on to Sao Paolo (Brazil) in the early part of 2014. More venues are still to be confirmed.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

CJA - Best Book of 2013

The Chess Journalists of America (''CJA'') have just announced their awards for 2013 and the list of winners reveals some very good news.

''Best Book (paper-printed only) -- Winner: Amateur to IM by Jonathan Hawkins, nominated by Mongoose Press''

As the editor of this best-selling chess book I must declare an interest but it doesn't prevent me from congratulating Jonathan and Mongoose Press on this fine achievement.

Further information on Amateur to IM is available on the Mongoose Press website (and on this blog, via a judicious use of the search box).

The full list of CJA awards for 2013 can be found here.

Friday, 9 August 2013

London Round-Up

A quick round-up of images from my most recent London trip.

The Propaganda exhibition at the British Library is well worth a visit, as is the exhibition at the Royal College of Art (Kensington) featuring the art work of Ian Dury.


Staying in Kensington, close to the statue of Shackleton, there is another inspirational exhibition.

Meanwhile, Trafalgar Square continues to offer an eclectic range of eccentrics...

. a controversial new addition, which had Nelson turning his back.

The British Museum holds many delights. I like to browse a little bit more each time I go up to London.

This and the next few photos are all of the Sutton Hoo exhibition
And finally, two large versions of
the famous Isle of Lewis chess pieces

Wednesday, 7 August 2013


Playhouse Theatre, London
Spamalot was my third play in two days. All three were comedies, so my chuckle muscle received plenty of exercise.

Joe Pasquale played the pivotal role of King Arthur who leads his legendary Knights of the Round Table into various escapades over the course of the play as they seek out the Holy Grail, diverted only by numerous tangents and other surprising obstacles. Indeed, the plot constantly hangs by a thread as many songs and references to all things Monty Python are shoehorned in with alarming regularity. We experience the Finnish fish dance (or ''Fisch Schlapping Song'', as it was billed), various parrot jokes and, of course, a rendition or two of ''Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.''

I had been looking forward to seeing Bonnie Langford as The Lady of the Lake but she was absent and her role was taken by Anouska Eaton (who was excellent, by the way). The ever-changing actor playing the important role of God was taken on this occasion by Bradley Walsh.

In truth, the first half is stronger - and funnier - than the second, which becomes a little bogged down by seemingly endless gay jokes; perhaps a little lazy and obvious in comparison to the rest of the script.

Just when it seems like things have veered too far from any potential thread of narrative, King Arthur remembers the quest and there is a surprising resolution, giving Joe Pasquale a chance for some successful ad-libbing.

All good fun, especially for those with more than a little knowledge of all things Monty Python.

Further information and tickets are available here.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

One Man, Two Guvnors

One Man, Two Guvnors
Theatre Royal, Haymarket

The second of the three plays I recently saw on the West End was the pick of the bunch.

One Man, Two Guvnors, written by Richard Bean (based on The Servant of Two Masters) follows a fairly simple premise, quoted here from the official website:

''Fired from his skiffle band, Francis Henshall becomes minder to Roscoe Crabbe. But Roscoe is really Rachel, posing as her own dead brother – who’s been killed by her boyfriend Stanley Stubbers. Francis spots the chance of an extra meal ticket and takes a job with one Stanley Stubbers – but to prevent discovery, he must keep his two guvnors apart. Simple.''

Not so simple, of course. One Man, Two Guvnors taps into the rich vein of  classic British humour to unveil a potent mixture of farce, slapstick, split-second avoidance of ''those who must not meet'', some hilarious audience participation and a healthy dollop of postcard humour to boot.

The more Francis Henshall (excellently played by Rufus Hound, the linchpin of the show) tries to keep his double-dealing problems manageable, the more they threaten to spiral out of control. Just when it seems things couldn't get any funnier, we run into a fabulous dinner scenario, during which both guvnors sit down to eat (in separate rooms, off-stage) and Francis battles brilliantly to keep everyone fed, happy and segregated. He is assisted in this trickiest of tasks by the semi-dynamic duo of Gareth (David Benson) and Alfie (Martin Barrass) who help to create some of the funniest moments in the whole play. Indeed, some of the physical work simply has to be seen to be believed.

Despite the comedic physicality, the plot is not entirely neglected and the script allows for a satisfying - if telegraphed - conclusion.

I'd heard very good things about the play prior to seeing it and I'm pleased to say they were all true. One Man, Two Guvnors is definitely one of the must-see West End productions.

For further information, head for the official website.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Private Lives

Private Lives
Gielgud Theatre
It is good to see Noel Coward's Private Lives - ''an intimate comedy'' - back on the West End, with Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor in the roles of Elyot and Amanda respectively.

Private Lives has been in the news again recently, thanks to BBC4's impressive film Burton and Taylor, which played out against the backdrop of the 1983 stage version of the play, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the lead roles.

The basic premise of the play sees the divorced couple Elyot and Amanda coincidentally starting their honeymoons with their new partners in the same place at the same time. After a couple of near misses, the inevitable happens as they meet each other on the famous balcony.
The famous balcony; best enjoyed via a central view
Equally inevitably, Elyot and Amanda retain strong feelings for each other, which cannot me merely brushed aside and have far-reaching consequences for all concerned.

Although primarily a comedy, Private Lives should portray a more serious side too. Although the farcical elements on show at the Gielgud Theatre quite rightly earned plenty of outbursts of spontaneous laughter, I didn't find myself as moved as I thought I would have been by the plight of Elyot and Amanda. Reading the original script of the play conveys more of the contrast of emotions and listening to the audio version featuring the original Elyot and Amanda - Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence, naturally - is still the best way of all to experience the power of the on/off relationship.

It's undoubtedly a very enjoyable play but I still believe it could be even better with a little more balance between light and dark.

Incidentally, Toby Stephens was stepping into the famous shoes of his parents - Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens - who were in the same play at the same theatre exactly 40 years ago.

Private Lives is booking until 21 September 2013. Further details are available here.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Memory Palace

Memory Palace
V&A Museum, London

London - deep in the future. A huge magnetic storm has destroyed the world's information infrastructure. In the new dark age, memory is outlawed. One cannot legally record any memories or thoughts in any way, shape or form . Living in the moment is all that is allowed. A banned sect seeks to keep alive the 'art of memory'. Those who are caught are imprisoned.

This is the basic premise of the Hari Kunzru's Memory Palace. The narrator is in prison, guilty of the crimes outlined above. Yet the narrator perseveres with the desire to remember, being of the firm belief that such a path represents the only hope of ultimate salvation from a dystopian world.

The V&A museum, in partnership with Sky Arts Ignition, are running an exhibition as a companion piece to the new book. Segments of the book are utilised and they are augmented by a plethora of impressive and intriguing pieces of art.
It's an unusual way to present a work of fiction but one which is certainly effective. Of course, the roots are clearly on show: 1984, The Prisoner...even Diamond Dogs, to tie-in with the David Bowie Is exhibition in the same museum.

The fourth wall is well and truly shattered at the end of the exhibition, when all visitors are invited to extend the barriers and even cross the line between fact and fiction by recording one memory which will be recorded on the website and become part of an ongoing artistic experiment.

The exhibition runs until 20 October 2013. Further details are available on the V&A website.

Friday, 2 August 2013

David Bowie Is

David Bowie Is
V&A Exhibition
23 March - 11 August 2013
Time is running out to see the David Bowie Is exhibition. In just under two weeks it will be leaving the V&A museum and heading elsewhere.
Online tickets sold out some time ago but they release 450 new over-the-counter ones each day at the V&A. They open at 10 a.m. One day last week, I got there around 9.20 a.m. and there was already a sizable queue. Within a couple of minutes (literally) the queue had at least trebled. I gained some hope when I realised that some of the people ahead of me already had tickets.

Once inside the V&A, we formed another queue that stretched and twisted through various display areas. In all, I queued for approximately two hours before getting to the sales' desk and successfully obtaining a ticket.
The exhibition is incredible. There's authentic costumes from Ziggy onwards, huge video screens replaying concert footage, hand-written lyrics and numerous other items. Information is automatically relayed through a headset (no extra cost). It took me just over two hours to see everything. It was packed with people and at times not so easy to see a particular part of a display, but one could always double back at any time.
Undoubtedly one of the most impressive exhibitions I have ever seen, David Bowie Is really brings home how much of an influence David Bowie has been for such a long period of time.

The Bowie theme extends to copious amounts of merchandise in the shop and even the cafe.


The exhibition is moving to Canada (Toronto) soon and will then travel to Brazil early in 2014. There's also going to be a live relay from the V&A at 'selected cinemas' on 13 August. Catch it while you can!

For further details, head for the official exhibition site.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Silver Bell - After 13 Years

Smiles all round for Silver Bell

As if seeing Patty Griffin twice wasn't enough excitement for one year, there comes the astonishing news that ''Silver Bell'' - Patty's great 'lost' album, will finally be released after a wait of 13 years.

There's a good article about the impending release here.