Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The sequence

A lot of older players have difficulties to adapt themselves to the many changes that we saw during last 20 years in chess. New rules were created with clockwork regularity and the rapid development of electronics made that quite some players have dropped the game or are considering it as indicated in a comment on my blog.

The impact of openings certainly played a key-role in this story. First the computer learned us that much more types of positions are playable than we originally thought as discussed in my article revolution in the millennium. Next also preparation on our opponents and which openings to choose, has been drastically influenced. On that aspect I already spent a few articles: the game-preparationan expanded repertoire for blackgreen moves,...  Finally studying openings in particular for professionals/ strong amateurs became very voluminous.

I remember when I started to play chess so in the pre-computer-era that with a limited amount of chess-books it was enough to build a repertoire. I bought in those first years 1 book of each big opening which I encountered on the board: Spanish (white/black), Sicilian (white), Dutch (black), Pirc (white), French (white), Caro-Cann (white) and Aljechin (white). If you read my article the scientific approach then it is no coincidence that these openings are still part of my repertoire 20 years later. For a student with no financial support from the parents (something which I already briefly mentioned in chesscompositions) these purchases were not evident.

Although these books were surely sufficient to start. I quickly realized that they became out of date as theory develops very rapidly. However buying new expensive books was not an option for me so I searched for alternatives. With the fall of the the wall a lot of very cheap known chess-books arrived in the 90ties from the Eastern Block via smugglers to West-Europe. Trunks full of new books which you could buy for a fraction of the price in the local store were dragged to the interested players. Despite the very dubious origin it was very attractive and it was rather my timidity than my ethics which held me back. It is a logical step that I chose to work myself on my repertoire by using the always stronger becoming engines instead of using external help.

On the one hand I use(d) opening-books attached for free to engines or created from databases (see green moves). On the other hand I prepare(d) quite some opening-analysis myself based on my own games. Initially I was quite satisfied with the results but this slowly changed as I was more and more surprised in the openings by new systems. Now by starting to play abroad and against stronger opponents, this can be expected but it doesn't fully explain everything. As described in my article revolution in the millennium there was in the last decade an explosion of new systems which made that it became simply impossible without external help (especially for an amateur) to keep track of everything. It goes so fast that my club- and team-mate Daniel Sadkowski (2300 elo) already told me a few years ago that he couldn't keep his level if he kept on playing/ studying openings as before.

I am not worrying about it as today my priorities lay somewhere else (only 11 games for fide and 13 games for Belgian rating are forecasted this year) but if this ever would change than I do know where to find help. One or even several coaches, I can certainly recommend but with a more restricted budget one can accomplish also a lot via self-training. Today a lot of excellent material is available in book-format or online (see e.g the excellent site: You get easily access to analyses of countless grandmasters. I even dare to make a step further by stating that an ambitious player optimally reads everything available about the openings in his repertoire. This lesson was also learned the hard way by Magnus Carlsen in 2010. Luke Mc Shane chose in 2010 a variation out of the book Grandmaster repertoire volume 5 van Michael Marin of which the number 1 was not familiar with. Luke scored with it a sensational victory.

Now even if you have sufficient time to read everything then still I expect only a minority has the financial means to buy all the stuff. Of course it helps if you are a British top-grandmaster like Michael Adams and you get regularly books for reviewing as mentioned briefly on Quality Chess. For the less fortunate people, there is often nothing left than illegal downloading from the internet. I understand people don't want to curtail their ambitions by lack of money but I don't approve it as it is theft.

Collecting as much material as possible is one thing but you still have to memorize everything. Mostly I succeed to study the moves pretty well but the difficulty is mainly in remembering the exact sequence. Often I still remember the moves which I have to play but start to doubt which move had to be played first. If I have some extra time for studying then I always try to introduce some mnemonic devices to avoid this problem. Again chess-books can play an important role in this process if except analyses also place is reserved for prose. In fact recently I even learned something new in a sequence of the Spanish opening which I already play for 2 decades thanks to the book Garry Kasparov on my Great Predecessors, Part 1 (that I scheduled this book, was already announced in my comment on the article a moral victory).

That one can't remember the sequence of a rare variation is understandable but I can imagine that for very popular variations (as here above) this is strange. Kasparov's comment about the specific sequence sounds in this frame rather more nice to know than really usable. Nevertheless I show below 2 examples of openings in which the players commit a serious error in the sequence despite the very popular character. These aren't mistakes by a memory-gap but are caused by playing too fast so a lack of concentration. First I give an example from my practice in which a wrong sequence originates from pure automatism after which I was lucky to control the damage.

The second example is from my game in round 4 of Open Leuven. My opponent is the young promising Belgian player Nicola Capone whom defeated a round earlier the Swedish grandmaster Ralf Akesson. As he feared a preparation (Correct as I showed him afterwards, see comments in the game), he chose to experiment with a fashionable Spanish variation. However while blitzing the opening-moves he unconsciously mixed the sequence which immediately permitted black to have a very nice position.

It would be incorrect to state that the defeat is solely due to the wrong sequence. However nor can we claim there was no influence at all on the result. More important is to learn what we can do to avoid something similar in the future. Practice is of course a good school as after my warning against Eric Aerts, I never made the mistake again as I always made sure to play c6 before Be7. Now better is never to make such mistake. Knowing why each move has to played in that specific position is surely preferable. Besides strong players are asking such question continuously which sometimes permits them to trap an opponent with an unexpected and weird sequence. An example was recently shown by the the winner in Wijk aan Zee: Aronian in his game against Filipino top-grandmaster Wesley So.

If you don't know this sometimes very well hidden information then you are extra vulnerable. Spending a few extra seconds sounds to me in such scenario not a pointless investment to reduce the number of finger-mistakes.


Addendum 8 Februari
On chessbase was recently a remarkable anecdote published in which both players didn't notice that the moves were altered:

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