Review: Learn from the Classics: Sagar Shah

By Davide Nastasio

I’m really happy that IM Sagar Shah made this DVD.  I’ve read so many of his articles, watched tons of his annotated games, and now finally I can put a real living face, and a voice, to the content I read online in the past.

I’m also pleased that Sagar Shah introduced himself, because I didn’t know he already had two Grand Master norms!  Clearly a player who worked very hard on his chess to achieve what is a title that the rest of us dream of.

Sagar Shah makes the argument that many players of the past have told us to learn the classics, but we didn’t pay attention till the moment a young Norwegian appeared and reached the astronomical rating of 2876; he, too, told us to learn all the classic games.
I totally agree with Sagar Shah, and I’m delighted that he came out with this topic for a Chessbase DVD.  This is not the first time I have heard this idea, which obviously can be used to improve our chess understanding.

Sagar Shah’s approach is original also for another reason. He generally shows one of the games of chess giants from the past, be they Fischer, Korchnoi, etc., and then shows one or two of his games in the same line which Fischer or Kortchnoi played, showing that he won the game easily thanks to the fact that he knew the original ideas expressed in the classical game very well.  On the other side, his opponents totally misunderstood the position, or in some cases the opponents would nearly lose for time, while Sagar Shah was going on autopilot.

I also found it quite interesting that Sagar Shah showed games when he was rated around 2200, because that is the rating of players that I play against.  To see that such an approach worked against the players I normally play against was quite important for me.

However, at the same time I noticed that, with all due respect to Sagar Shah, when he was 2100-2200, he couldn’t really emulate the champions.  He really made me want to know more of Fischer’s games, because I understood that Fischer had a really amazing thinking system regarding piece placement.

Let’s first see the amazing Fischer’s game.  Please pay attention to how Fischer solves the problem of the B5 square, and the weakness of the backward pawn in B6:



Consider this image from Sagar Shah’s game, where clearly he wasn’t able to follow Fischer’s ideas regarding the protection of the Pb6 (the Ra6 looks out of the game, and quite misplaced), and there is no Bd7 preventing a White piece going to B5.  In fact, the Bc8 is defending the Ra6, which could be attacked by a move like Qb5.




Now compare it to Spassky vs. Fischer:




Then the problem comes with the fact that surely the chess world didn’t stop after such a beautiful game played by Fischer, and began to manufacture a “vaccine.”  In fact, in the following two games we can see that other GMs of that period began to improve on White’s position.



And then we see the neutralization of the idea (keep in mind that GM Ivkov was a specialist of the NImzo-Indian).



But is that the end for that line?  No, because each GM generally adds his own personal interpretation of that opening.  Here we can see Timman’s idea (particularly nice is the final zugzwang) which returns to make this opening line valuable for Black.



So, while the idea of studying the classics is hugely important, we must not forget to deepen our knowledge of a certain opening,  and watching many games, because it will show us the evolution of the ideas behind that opening.

One thing I found strange in this DVD was that the Fritz trainer system wasn’t used for posing questions to the student, allowing him find the right move.  For example, in Powerplay 22, GM King makes extensive use of such a system.

The following image shows this:




In this case, GM King asks a question, the video stops, and the user must try to find the correct move.  Depending on the move one plays, GM King gives different feedback with a small video-clip.

Instead, in this DVD Sagar Shah asks the user to stop the video after he asks a question, and then try to find the right move.  The problem is that I see all the game notation, so if I’m not cheating, my eye goes to the solution.  Look at the following example where Sagar Shah asks the viewer to stop the video and guess what Black would play as a 16th move.




Later in another video, Sagar Shah asks to click on the tab “training” so one does not see the next move.

The content of the DVD is made up of thirteen videos, in which we learn typical middlegame themes and patterns.  An example can be the minority attack:




or how to deal with some structures:




Followed by seven interactive videos, which test us on the material explained in the thirteen videos.  The interactive videos do use the Fritz trainer system.

Then we have a section on Learning the Openings made up of six videos, and a final section on a very important tournament held in Sanremo in 1930, comprised of two videos.  Then there are two interactive videos on tactical positions played in that tournament.  The final part has three videos of endgames from Sanremo, 1930.

I believe the material treated in this DVD is of the utmost importance for the amateur and the club player who seriously want to improve.  I hope to see more DVDs by Sagar Shah, because his teaching style is full of passion and great ideas, which can improve my game.



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