Review: Catastrophe in the Opening, Andrew Martin

By Davide Nastasio

IM Martin begins the DVD by quoting Siegbert Tarrasch: “Before the endgame, the Gods have placed the middle game,”  meaning that in order to reach the endgame we must first pass through the middlegame.  But here comes your reviewer that modified the phrase with the following: “Before the middlegame, the gods have placed the opening!”  At my humble level, if I don’t get out of the opening in the right way, the result could already be written, and only luck makes it otherwise.




Martin correctly divides the DVD into three different levels, because obviously the mistakes made by GMs are not the same made at club level.

The first game shown is from recent GM practice: Giri – Oleksienko, played in 2014. What made me smile is Martin saying: “and the opening was… the Caro-Kann defense, a variation one thinks is immune to a catastrophe, because Black plays the most solid opening out there….”



Previously, an identical game was played by Alekhine against four amateurs consulting.
But of course, not only amateurs can be blamed for disasters in the Caro-Kann.  One of the most known masters of the sacrifice slipped on the Caro-Kann and got punished brutally!



Level 1 is made up of six games/videos in which are described the main mistakes committed by beginners/improvers.  Martin divides such mistake in four main themes:

1. Lack of correct development
2. Keeping the king in the centre
3. Lack of opening knowledge
4. Failure to understand what a bad position actually is

Martin really chose some interesting, and sometimes unknown, games to teach these common mistakes. He must have used a good amount of time in finding and selecting the right games. Martin’s casual comments on some positions show us the intricacies of today’s modern theory, which does extend commonly 20-25 moves deep, especially in some sharp lines where not knowing it can make the difference between winning or losing a game.

Obviously I cannot render justice to the teaching skills of Martin, which I hope everyone will benefit from.  I would like to show some games in which these mistakes were made, because we are surrounded by games which try to convey these self-evident truths.

The following game, one of the classics played by Morphy, is quite instructive because it contains many of the points discussed by Martin. By move 7, Black begins the endless series of mistakes which bring him to a bad loss. By move 13, we see how White wants to keep the enemy king in the center. But notice that at the end of the game, while Morphy has clearly a material deficit, Black never even touched the Bc8, the Nb8, and the Ra8!!



In this game we see a failure from White’s side to understand how bad his position is, and that he should have defended instead of continuing an attack which didn’t lead anywhere. Again, please notice how White never used the Ra1 or the Bc1, while Black used all the pieces he could throw at the enemy king!



The level 2 is made by 11 games/videos. This level is dedicated to the club players, and as in the previous level there is a list of points which indicate the main problems at this stage of chess understanding.

1.  Greed
2. Playing too passively
3. Poor at defence
4. Knowing some theory, but not enough

and the last one is the same as in the previous level:

5. Failure to understand exactly what a bad position is



Level 3 is comprised of 13 games/videos.  This part covers the advanced player, and Martin begins to enter a real important phase in which he gives us some very important info that we often don’t get even from books!  It is clear that in the advanced player’s modern approach the study of openings, being unpredictable, and out-preparing an opponent is of maximum importance.  Also in this case Martin provides a list of the important elements he covers in the videos:

1. Getting out-prepared
2. Lazy attitude
3. Overlooking tactical shots
4. Over-elaborating
5. Overestimating one’s chances

Notice that the following game, with this line of the French, has been recommended in the latest Powerplay 22 as a repertoire for Black in the French.  This line could be used against an ultra-aggressive opponent that–as in this game–loses, because at the moment there is no refutation.



Each of the levels described has an introductory video, and one final video at the end.  The DVD comes with a databases of 108 games, heavily annotated. As casual observation, if you play against GM Atalik with White, don’t play 1.d4; it could become a catastrophe in the opening!

Before ending this review, I’d like to share one more game from the database, because in my opinion shows how deeply we must understand the openings today.  Black was clearly a pro.  But White, a veteran GM, understood better the plan and ideas behind this line, likely because throughout his career he followed the development and the battles that many giants have fought on such ground. This game is clearly a sign which tells us how hard we must study in order to have success in chess!



In conclusion: I believe IM Martin to be an excellent teacher, one I’m pleased to learn from.  I also believe that his advice in the videos is excellent.  This is the difference between a book and someone talking to us directly.  We can understand his emphasis on some points, and then, as it does happen to me, hear them talking back to us during our tournament games.  In this sense, this DVD by Martin is invaluable because he truly talks to the amateur and tries to bring out, through his advice, the lion within us which could devour even a pro!


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