My Story: Part 1 – Teenage Prodigy
My Story: Part 2 – Joining the Elite
My Story: Part 3 – Rebels and Renegades
My Story: Part 4 – Hitting the Wall
My Story: Part 5 – Rite of Passage
The first DVD in the series is titled Teenage Prodigy and covers Kasparov’s early years on the Soviet national scene and his first efforts on the international stage. It contains a game or two from his teen years that have never been published in the West (despite the fact that these were top-level games in major Soviet events, much of that material has never made it out beyond the former Iron Curtain). Among the highlights of the tape are Kasparov’s observations on the current state of opening theory versus that of the 1970s and his strong assertion that pawns can often be counted as attacking pieces (he backs up this claim with a couple of illustrative games).
The second DVD, Joining the Elite, takes the story into the early 1980’s when Kasparov was making a name for himself in the world arena. Several games are analyzed and among the discussions is an analysis of Mikhail Tal’s playing style.
Dvd Three, Rebels and Renegades, continues the story into the Interzonals. Here we see Kasparov taking some risks in bucking the Soviet establishment while still mowing down every player in his path on his quest for the World Championship. Along the way, we’re also treated to some interesting observations about Bobby Fischer.
For my money, the most interesting commentary appears on the last two videos in the series.
Volume Four, Hitting the Wall, covers Kasparov’s candidates matches against Korchnoi and Smyslov, as well as his first “marathon” world championship match against Anatoly Karpov. Kasparov makes the assertion that a bishop is almost always better than a knight, except in very rare cases (which often includes “bad” bishops or endgames in which there are pawns on just one side of the board). He also makes the interesting statement, “I won every decisive game of my career”. I immediately thought of the second match with Deep Blue and smiled, realizing that my objection would likely be qualified by the counterstatement that he was not talking about exhibition matches and was only referring to matches and tournaments in which everything was riding on the result of a final game.
The fifth DVD, Rite of Passage, tells the story of the second match with Karpov in 1985 and ends with Kasparov’s winning the world title. In addition to game analysis, we get Kasparov’s opinions on many other topics, including rematches for world championships and his opinion of Karpov and Timman as analysts.
It was during the viewing of the fourth and fifth DVDs that I was struck by just how good James Plaskett is as a commentator/facilitator. I’ve seen many interviews in which Kasparov’s analysis and opinions are accepted without question, in which the interviewer asks only “softball” questions and seems intimidated by Kasparov. But Plaskett dares to argue with the world champion, debating key points in the analysis and questioning Kasparov’s opinions. This approach adds a great deal to the overall quality of the series; many of Plaskett’s questions draw further elaboration from Kasparov and clarify a few points. Kasparov’s annoyance with some of Plaskett’s questions and arguments is quite evident in a few places, but at the end of the day, I’m sure he realizes that they add value and clarity to the DVDs. In any case, Plaskett is a real treasure and he knows exactly how to draw extra information from Kasparov.
As to the instructional quality of the games, one must keep in mind that this series is not necessarily intended as a tutorial but more as a showcase for some of Kasparov’s finest games. Even an average class-level player can learn a few things from these games (if one can keep up with the analysis, which is a real challenge at times). The main lesson for the viewer is the value of “thinking outside the box”, learning to look at moves that might initially seem implausible but (after deeper analysis) turn out to be perfectly valid. As an example, here’s a position (Kasparov – White – to move) from one of the games on the videos (one which happened to be a favorite of mine even before I viewed the tapes):
Kasparov’s challenge in this position was to find a way to centralize the White knight without blocking the b2-bishop. His solution will not only surprise but amaze you. Hopefully, it will also inspire you to look for unorthodox solutions to problems you encounter in your own games
In the final analysis, Garry Kasparov – My Story is a very difficult series to classify. It’s really neither fish nor fowl. It’s not a tutorial series, although one will certainly be able to improve one’s chess by careful study of the games presented. It’s not a biography, although the chronological approach and use of archival photos lend a biographical flair to the tapes.