By Davide Nastasio
It is nice that in the beginning GM Pellettier informs us of his achievements and career. I didn’t know he won the Swiss National Championship five times! Pellettier has a nice French accent, which made me want to go back to visit Paris!
Pellettier’s achievements in chess are so many that it would take an article just to mention them all. The funny part is that when he mentioned he won the German Bundesliga, a German accent entered his English. This hints that he also speaks German, which is common for Swiss citizens. Why do I mention the languages? Because one of the most pleasant things in chess is that we are all one people, Gens Una Sumus, as the FIDE motto reminds us, but we all speak different languages. Pelletier has authored this same DVD in French and German, too!
However one of the most impressive achievements is when Pelletier beat Magnus Carlsen in 2015 as Black using the Hedgehog. For those who have no clue about what the Hedgehog is, here is a diagram taken from the game against Carlsen in which such a pawn structure is realized:
Here is the game for those who are curious:
Pelletier structured the DVD using selected games by top GMs, where he explains the plans for both colors. He also spent a good amount of time explaining the move order, because in order to achieve the maximum efficacy and advantage, the move order is very important. I noticed most of the top GMs spend a good amount of time around the move order. For example, L’Ami in his DVD on the Dutch Stonewall spent several videos explaining the intricacies of the move order. L’Ami also proved how different move orders could bring Black to an inferior position. One could think this works only at 2600+ rated level, but this is not the case. Often our opponents have been taking lessons from a GM, or just repeat the move order of their favorite player, putting us in a bad situation.
This makes this DVD a top-level product, because we don’t have that kind of in-depth explanation from books, and when these top GMs talk and focus our attention on some moves, it becomes easier to remember them in our games. Most of the videos explain how to neutralize and deal with White’s plans, because this is what we need to know in order to play this opening with some confidence.
In detail, the DVD is made up of one introductory video, two videos entitled “Appetizer” in which we are shown some really amazing games, two videos just dedicated to the intricacies of the move order, and fifteen videos of illustrative games which explain how to actually play the Hedgehog. The DVD ends with eleven videos of quizzes, where Pelletier shows us some positions and asks us to find the correct continuation, giving us feedback when we don’t choose the right move. For example, the first video quiz begins with the question, “If White plays Bg2, how would you continue as Black?”
The DVD comes with a database of 218 games that Pelletier has chosen for their teaching value. Sixteen of the 218 are games played by Pelletier as Black. But of course there are many other important names who have played a lot of games in such a database, such as Kasparov, Karpov, and Shipov (the latter who is famous for having authored two books on the Hedgehog, and of course many others).
I find Pelletier’s introductory video to be interesting because he clearly states that when we speak of the Hedgehog we mean a certain pawn structure, a system, and the reader of this review could be misled into thinking it happens only with Black. One of the most beautiful games I’ve seen, obviously played by the best player of all time, illustrates the hedgehog played by White. Notice the opening is labeled as Nimzo-Larsen Attack, but this is the structure you see:
Pelletier mentions we can see the Hedgehog in Black’s openings like the Sicilian or the Nimzo-Indian. In fact, after the first 13 moves of one of the first games played with the Hedgehog, 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. c4 Qc7 6. Nc3 Nf6 7. Be2 b6 8. Be3 Bb7 9. f3 d6 10. Qd2 Nbd7 11. O-O Be7 12. Rfd1 O-O 13. Rac1 Rac8, we reach this position:
Here is the entire game:
But could the Hedgehog be reached by other openings? Yes. Here is an example from the King’s Indian 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. f3 O-O 6. Be3 Nbd7 7. Nge2 c5 8. Qd2 a6 9. Rd1 Qa5 10. Nc1 cxd4 11. Bxd4 Ne5 12. Nb3 Qc7 13. Rc1 e6 14. Be2 b6 15. O-O Bb7;
For which type of player is the Hedgehog a good opening? Pelletier in the beginning explains that one may like to play the Grunfeld against 1.d4 or the Benoni, or the Nimzo-Indian, but if White begins with 1.Nf3, or 1.c4, we cannot enter our pet openings on which we have worked so hard. Hence, Pelletier proposes the Hedgehog as a universal system we can use against 1.c4 or 1.Nf3.
Pelletier, while teaching pawn structure and control of the board, makes a good analogy showing with arrows what the Black pawns control, and how that can remind us of the animal giving its name to this opening.
The interesting point of the Hedgehog is related to how it can confuse our opponents: the hedgehog is not only a defensive formation, it can also lead to a strong counter-attack or activity within our own camp, which creates the basis for an attack.
For the reader of this review especially interested in which material Pelletier is presenting, in the beginning he mentions that he will focus on lines of the English with Pg3 and Bg2, as coming out from the following moves: 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 e6 4.g3 b6 5.d4 cxd4 6.Qxd4 Bb7 7.Bg2 d6 8.0-0 Be7 9.e4 0-0 10.Qd3 a6 11.Nd4 Qc7 12.b3 Nbd7 13.Bb2
Throughout the DVD Pelletier explains and asks the prospective Hedgehog player to pay attention to where the Black pieces are placed, helping us to see why on other squares that piece wouldn’t do well. An example can be the Nb8 developed in D7.
If by mistake we develop the Nb8 in C6, then the Bb7 and Nf6 cannot put pressure on the Pe4. And of course there can also be tactical tricks on a knight placed in C6, which makes such a square undesirable for the development of our Nb8. As a good teacher, Pelletier clarifies also the possible exceptions to the explanation he just gave, making it easier to remember the reasons behind our moves.
Pelletier doesn’t neglect to explain the meaning behind White’s moves, and the rationales, as in the following case where he mentions that the Pc4 needs protection. The move Pb2-b3 offers it, while at the same time opening the diagonal A1-H8 for the Bc1.
Often openings are mentioned negatively, because many say we should all study endgames. Notice, however, the following image, an attack with Garry the pawn, which is very similar to the Sicilian because of the pawn structure. In this case, this opening (for White) can teach us how to attack the castled king. Yes, the point is that we can learn middlegame plans and specific themes thanks to the study of an opening.
Pelletier does an amazing job in explaining what the pawn thrusts for Black are, and how they will challenge White’s space advantage. Before I forget, there was another DVD on the Hedgehog published by Chessbase with the great teacher who is GM King. I believe it is wise to be exposed to as many teachers as possible, and in this case King does a great job of explaining important ideas about this system.
Final Thoughts: Pelletier has been playing the Hedgehog for over 20 years. As shown by the first game, he has beaten the top with this opening system. It is a way to bring the opponent out of his own opening preparation, and ask him some tough questions, especially in the middlegame where White could follow the wrong plan. Pelletier is also playing the English as White, and this gives him a better understanding to guide us through the maze of dangers White can pose to us.