By Davide Nastasio
Often we don’t pay attention to pearls of wisdom which are given us daily. We spend time debating if what makes someone a master is who calculates 10 moves ahead, or who has learned 100 thousand patterns. Instead, at the beginning of the DVD this International Master from India tells us a great chess secret we should always remember: “I’ve been playing chess forever… and I like it very much clearly…and I hope you do too, because is quite a prerequisite to improve your chess….”
What is she talking about? She is saying that in order to improve our chess we need that burning passion which devours every minute of our time. That is the secret! Such a secret (some call it talent) is clearly shown in the greatest of champions. Legendary players like Fischer and Kasparov demonstrated this by spending every waking (and maybe dreaming) moment of their lives, studying, playing, and not giving up when bad results hit them. Their love for chess burned like fire. If we can emulate such passion, our chess will improve too, no matter what level we are.
But of course she has some more pragmatic ideas on how to improve our chess. Thanks to her games, she is showing how to find the right plan. Instead of hopping from one idea to another, she speaks of the right piece placement, the importance of pawn structure, and many middlegame themes we must know and learn to recognize in our games. This, as a consequence, will give us a better understanding of the middlegame and improve our chess!
Now, before reviewing the DVD, the first thing I do when I meet a chess player I don’t know anything about is to inform myself about who he or she is. In this case, I opened my Megabase 2017, and in the filter tab I entered her name: Sachdev, Tania.
I found 1,227 games played by her. Imagine the first games were played in a world championship for girls Under 10 in 1995! Therefore her statement that she is playing chess forever is quite correct! But most interesting, just in her first 50 games I’ve recognized some of the names of today’s chess elite! She has played Sebag, Caolli, Alina L’Ami, Kosintseva, Koneru, and many more. Another point became clear in my research because often we want improvement without really doing the hard work. It took her 10 years, from 1995 to 2005, to become WGM. Then she had to work hard 3 more years to become IM. This means that if we are serious in improving our chess, we must take into account that we will spend the next 10 years working hard in order to achieve a master title.
Thanks to my Chessbase 14, I clicked on the tab Dossier and I got a full report of her as player.
The graph of her individual development is particularly revealing. In 2002 she nearly reached what in the US we would call Master title (a rating of 2200), but in 2003 she lost a lot of rating points. Then something clinched, and we see the graph springing high over 2200. Again, this is the part of the “improvement” we never know. We hit an obstacle in our road to chess mastery, but if we don’t give up we will reach new peaks!
Now, if you are a 1.d4 player then it is worth watching her games, because she has a complete repertoire as White with 1.d4. This is what we should do when we want to learn an opening: find a player to use as role model.
Before beginning the review, I’d like to share a couple of games I found particularly instructive. The first game shows IM Sachdev winning against the United States Women’s Champion, an instructive queen and pawn endgame, in which she shows how to win with a queenside majority:
In this second game, notice how she wins against a player 200 points stronger than her!
After establishing what great player she is, let’s go to the DVD and discover if she is a great teacher too!
The DVD is made up of 16 videos. Two are introduction and end, while the other 14 videos are games IM Sachdev played. I find her approach quite realistic and pragmatic. She points out that only a few games are won thanks to tactical fireworks, and it makes more sense to learn positional factors and how to deal with pawn structures. She points out that these pawn structures are what defines the game and tells us how we should play.
By the way, I’d like to disclose a secret on how I watch the videos. I’m in front of my chess board and I often stop the video and think upon the position, asking myself what would I play if that were a tournament game.
For example, this position comes from the first video, Sachdev vs. Fomina, 2012. Black just played 8. …g4; place the position on the board and ask yourself what would you play as White if this were a tournament game, then check the DVD to see if you got it right!
This helps us also to define some critical moments in each game, moments in which we must make the right decision.
I’m just mentioning the first video because I don’t want to spoil all the surprises, but IM Sachdev immediately teaches a very important difference between doubled pawns and isolated doubled pawns.
The above position is quite important. Often in my games with players who are lower rated, I find they tend to take my pieces just to give me doubled pawns. But as in this image, Black’s doubled pawns are bad, while White’s are not weak at all and can become a weapon of attack in the center.
IM Sachdev does a terrific job of reminding us the main elements of chess, and what we should do in the following position.
The main difference between the two pawn structures is that White can control F4 and even use his pawns to attack in the center, while Black doesn’t control C5. This means White can attack on the C file, or place a piece on C5 like an outpost. Such a piece cannot be attacked by other pawns. In just one video she gives multiple lessons. She explains the different value of the pieces in different positions, when to exchange, or what to exchange, and why.
She also shows some other important ideas. One was debunking the myth that all rook endings are a draw, like in the following position:
Here Black has a lot of weaknesses that White’s rooks will exploit. Notice also the difference in active placement of the pieces, which is quite important in correctly evaluating the position, especially in the endgame where just piece activity can determine who wins and who loses.
Now, if IM Sachdev says it, and I praise it, well, it can’t be all farfetched. But if one of the best world champions follows a similar idea in his games, then we know that just the first video done by IM Sachdev is pure gold.
Look at the following position. It occurred in Ivanchuk vs. Anand in 1992.
Ivanchuk continued with 16.Nd5, obliging Anand to exchange queens. 16. …Qxd2; but here comes the important point after 17.Nxf6, how do you re-take? Do you play 17. …Bxf6, avoiding the doubled pawns? Or play 17. …gxf6?
Anand, being a great champion with a positional understanding which goes beyond us mere amateurs, played 17. …gxf6!! But the game itself is a masterpiece, especially how Anand continues, because once more he shows a maneuver similar to the one IM Sachdev’s king plays in her first video.
Here is the entire game for its immense instructive value:
Before I forget, there is also another sign which I believe shows a good teacher. IM Sachdev also asks from time to time during the video to pause and think on the position.
This is an example of one of the times she did it, just in the first video. Here the viewer should try to find what White will play, and why.
As I mentioned before, I had it on the board, and I used my phone to time myself. I put the timer on for 10 minutes, and after 10 minutes I began to watch the video again to see if my ideas were confirmed by IM Sachdev (in some cases I write down the lines I calculated).
By the way, I wouldn’t be an honest reviewer if I didn’t mention some mistakes which happened in some videos. I’ll mention just one, because the purpose of the review is to give other chess players an idea if the material treated in the DVD is useful or not for their progress. Mistakes do happen because we are human. Please also remember this was her first DVD, and clearly one can move the wrong piece, or touch the wrong variation on the computer. For example, on the video Le Kieu Thien Kim vs. Tania Sachdev, at 11:50, mistakenly she makes the move 24. …Rb8, which is not what she played in the game.
I don’t know what happened, if the engine interfered, or by mistake sometimes the engine in Chessbase tries to guess our next move and makes the candidate think it is right. However, it was amazing to see her talking and thinking, because that move didn’t make sense and she realized the plan was to attack the Ba6, and Rb8 wasn’t doing it.
So from one side we have maybe an error created by technology, and the other side a great human being, an IM, noticing something doesn’t make sense. Obviously she cannot understand if that was the move she really played 4 years before, because we tend to think that computers are always right. She senses, however, that something is wrong, and within 30 seconds she realized that wasn’t the move and found the correct one!
I saw the mind of a titled player at work solving a problem. Quite a show! The right plan that she implemented in the game was to attack the Ba6, with the Nf6 going to D7 and B8!
From that video, the important lesson to learn was the control of the F4 square in front of doubled pawns (as seen in the first video) and the resulting damaged pawn structure which can become a target of attack. A good teacher reiterates some concepts to be sure we students get it.
But those were not the only lessons I learned in this video. Her attack on the queenside, the correct method of thinking when winning, avoiding any possibility of the opponent’s counterplay, all these ideas were much more important for my progress as chess player than a silly mistake when commenting on move 24.
After the 16 teaching videos, there are ten more video clips of test positions where IM Sachdev tests our understanding of the material she presented. The DVD comes with the database of annotated games used in the videos.
In conclusion, I feel this DVD can be very useful for the tournament chess player, and also for the adult player who doesn’t have big ambitions but who wants to understand more about the game. It is also useful if one wants to better understand games played between master-level players. Instead of relying on an engine, following this DVD one can better learn to assess and evaluate a position.
I also think IM Sachdev did a great job in each video of reminding us of the most important elements in a position. This reinforced the knowledge I have, and it will help me in my next tournament games. When pondering a move, I will clearly hear her words, and that will help me make better decisions over the board. I also thought how lucky I am to learn from a master-level player from India! I hope Chessbase will publish more products made by Indian masters, because clearly they can offer a lot of wisdom and knowledge to the average amateur like me.