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 I quickly realized that they became out of date as theory develops very rapidly.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).
[Event "World Championship 08th"] [Site "Germany"] [Date "1908.09.01"] [Round "5"] [White "Lasker, Emanuel"] [Black "Tarrasch, Siegbert"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C98"] [PlyCount "75"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 Na5 {(Inaccurate but at that time they feared d4 after 0-0. Only later they discovered Bg4 giving good counter-play for black.)} 9. Bc2 c5 10. d4 Qc7 11. Nbd2 Nc6 12. h3 {(Hereby we return to a still popular variation. More critical were d5, a4 or dxc5 to execute the Rauzer plan with an extra tempo. )} O-O 13. Nf1 {(More interesting is the Rauzersystem with dxc5 which b.t.w. was tested later by Fischer. Today d5 is popular.} (13. d5 Nd8 14. a4 Rb8 15. axb5 axb5 16. b4 {(This variation recommended by Kasparov in his book, also popped up in my game against the Belgian FM Hans Renette. The theory has developed since the publication of the book in 2004 a lot and it is not fully clear to me how white can maintain the advantage.)}) 13... cxd4 14. cxd4 Nxd4 15. Nxd4 exd4 16. Bg5 {(In the 3rd game of the worldchampionship Lasker tried Ng3 and lost. Nevertheless he was not yet convinced of the dynamic qualities of the black position as once more proofs that players of that epoch evaluated static weaknesses like d6 very negatively.)} h6 {(After the match Qc5 was discovered by analysts with comfortable play for black. )} 17. Bh4 Qb6 18. Qd3 g5 {(Very risky which probably is still an emotional reaction on the devastating loss of the previous game.)} 19. Bg3 Be6 20. Rad1 Rfc8 21. Bb1 Nd7 22. e5 Nf8 23. Qf3 d5 24. Qh5 Kg7 25. f4 f5 {(Black cracks and the rest is easy for white. )} 26. exf6 Bxf6 27. fxg5 hxg5 28. Be5 d3 29. Kh1 Ng6 30. Qxg5 Bf7 31. Ng3 Bxe5 32. Rxe5 Rh8 33. Bxd3 Ra7 34. Rde1 Kf8 35. Bxg6 Qxg6 36. Qe3 Rc7 37. Nf5 Qc6 38. Qg5 {(In the match Tarrasch never returned to the Spanish on 1. e4.)} 1-0
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.
[Event "H.V. Havenwerktuigen - Alcatel"] [Date "2003"] [White "Aerts, E."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C47"] [WhiteElo "2120"] [BlackElo "2295"] [PlyCount "52"] 1. Nc3 e5 2. e4 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. d4 exd4 5. Nxd4 Bb4 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. Bd3 d5 8. exd5 cxd5 9. O-O O-O 10. Bg5 Be7 {(Sloppy play as I reversed 2 moves by blitzing the opening. )} 11. Re1 {(I do not know if my opponent considered winning a pawn with Bxf6. However it is a fact that black gets sufficient compensation so probably the game-continuation is even more precise. )} (11. Bxf6 Bxf6 12. Qh5 ( 12. Nxd5 Bxb2 13. Rb1 Rb8 {(With approximate equality.)}) 12... g6 13. Qxd5 { (Black is lucky to get sufficient compensation for the pawn. )} Rb8 14. Rab1 Bxc3 15. Qxd8 Rxd8 16. bxc3 {(The extra pawn has little significance. )}) 11... c6 12. Ne2 {(Na4 scores very well in practice for white.)} Re8 13. Nd4 Qd6 14. Nf5 Bxf5 15. Bxf5 h6 16. Be3 Bd8 17. Qf3 Bb6 18. Bf4 Rxe1 19. Rxe1 Qb4 20. Kf1 Qxb2 21. Be5 Bd4 22. Bxf6 Bxf6 23. Bd3 g6 24. c4 Rd8 25. Qe3 Kg7 26. Re2 Qa1 0-1
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.
[Event "Open Leuven 4de ronde"] [Date "2013"] [White "Capone, N."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C79"] [WhiteElo "2170"] [BlackElo "2347"] [PlyCount "86"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 {(Nicola chooses for the first time to experiment with the Spanish. Obviously this is risky but not absurd as he correctly guessed that I was prepared for his Italian variation. )} (3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 exd4 6. cxd4 Bb4 7. Nc3 Nxe4 8. O-O Bxc3 9. d5 Bf6 10. Re1 Ne7 11. Rxe4 d6 12. g4 O-O 13. g5 Be5 14. Nxe5 Bf5 {(Hans Lysander continued in the Belgian youth-championship of 2013 against Nicola with dxe5 and in the end lost. I shared this destiny in 1997 against the German player Rechner in Open Gent. Bf5 I had prepared in the morning. )} 15. Re1 dxe5 16. Rxe5 Qd7 17. Qf3 Ng6 18. Re1 Rfe8 19. Bf4 Be4 $1 {(One game still continued with Qa4 in the database. Be4 is a novelty which again made part of my preparation. )} 20. Rxe4 Rxe4 21. Qxe4 Re8 22. Qf3 Qf5 $15 {(Black wins the piece back and certainly has the better chances. )}) 3... a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 (4... b5 5. Bb3 Na5 6. O-O d6 7. d4 {(This opening was in my repertoire till 2004 but disappeared when I was convinced black can not get equal chances. I add this information to better understand the game a bit further. )}) 5. d3 d6 6. O-O {(Playing quickly in the opening to keep more time for later, is a modern aggressive method of playing which today is popular but not without risks. Here white plays a bit too fast as he unconsciously reverses the critical sequence which permits black to achieve easy equality. )} b5 7. Bb3 Na5 8. c3 (8. d4 exd4 9. Nxd4 c5 {(The extra tempo compared with the opening mentioned on move 4 is very important as now black can simply answer Bd5 with Nxd5.)}) 8... Nxb3 9. axb3 {(Nicola is not the first one making this type of mistake as 2 years earlier I already got the position on the board by Patrick Boons.)} (9. Qxb3 Be7 10. d4 exd4 11. cxd4 Bb7 12. e5 dxe5 13. dxe5 Ne4 14. Nbd2 O-O 15. Nxe4 Bxe4 16. Rd1 Qc8 17. Bg5 Bxf3 18. Bxe7 Bxd1 19. Rxd1 Re8 20. Bh4 Rxe5 21. Qf3 Qe8 22. h3 Re1 23. Rxe1 Qxe1 24. Kh2 Re8 25. Qc6 Qe6 {(Boons, P - Brabo 0 - 1 Open Leuven 2011)}) 9... Be7 10. Re1 c5 11. d4 Qc7 12. Nbd2 Bb7 {(Here and a move earlier cxd4 is a serious alternative.)} 13. d5 O-O 14. Nf1 Ne8 {(I start a risky plan on the king-side. A completely different plan which contains less risks, is to play on the queen-side with the scheme Rfb8-Bc8-Bd7-a5 as indicated by Stockfish.)} 15. Ne3 g6 16. Nf1 f5 17. exf5 gxf5 18. c4 Kh8 19. Ng3 f4 20. Ne4 Rg8 21. Kh1 Nf6 22. Nfg5 $6 {(In the postmortem I already indicated that Neg5 is likely more exact which was confirmed by the engines.)} (22. Neg5 $1 Ng4 $5 (22... Bc8 $5 23. Nf7 Kg7 24. N7xe5 {(Or P3xe5)} dxe5 25. Nxe5 Bd6 26. Bxf4 $13) 23. Ne6 Nxf2 24. Kg1 Nxd1 25. Nxc7 Rac8 26. Ne6 Ne3 27. Bxe3 fxe3 $13) 22... Nxe4 23. Nxe4 Qd7 $6 {(Immediately Raf8 is stronger, permitting to put quicker pressure on the white king-side.)} 24. Qh5 Raf8 25. Bd2 $6 {(Later IM Ekrem Cekro helped us in the analysis and he correctly indicated that white here has to search quicker counter-play with g3.)} b4 $6 {(I chose to avoid every counter-play but objectively Bc8 is better to concentrate on the king-side.)} (25... Bc8 $1 26. b4 $1 {(A necessary pawn-sacrifice to slow down the attack.)} Qd8 27. Qd1 $1 cxb4 28. Bxb4 bxc4 29. f3 Qb6 $15) 26. Rg1 Bc8 27. Qe2 $4 {(White has no comfortable position but this is a serious mistake. F3 recommended by the engines, seems to hold the position.)} Rxg2 $6 {(This nice combination was also shown by Houdini with a big advantage but Qf5 recommended by Stockfish gives an irresistible winning attack on the king.)} 28. Rxg2 {(Instantly played so I assume that white calculated the consequences of Kg2 in my reflection time.)} (28. Kxg2 $6 f3 29. Qxf3 Rxf3 30. Kxf3 Qf5 31. Ke3 Qf4 32. Kd3 Qf3 33. Be3 Bf5 $19 {(The idea which I noticed during the game.)}) 28... f3 29. Rg8 Rxg8 30. Qxf3 Qg4 31. Qxg4 Bxg4 32. Ng3 $6 { (Although white still has a half hour left, he barely uses any time to think. Nevertheless Kg2 is surely better and the win is far from clear after Bd1.)} Bf3 33. Kg1 h5 34. Kf1 $6 { (Stronger resistance gives h4.)} (34. h4 $1 Bxh4 35. Rxa6 Rg6 36. Be3 Bxg3 37. fxg3 Kg7 38. Ra7 Kf6 $17 {(Houdini only shows a big advantage for black but technically it can not be very difficult to win this endgame for black.)}) 34... h4 35. Ne2 Be4 36. Rxa6 Rg2 37. Ra7 Bf8 $6 {(I miss the direct k.o. with the lovely Rxh2.)} (37... Rxh2 $1 38. Rxe7 Rh1 39. Ng1 h3 $19 {(White has no answer against h2 despite the extra piece. )}) 38. Rf7 $6 { (Going for the rook-endgame with a pawn less is more stubborn. )} (38. f3 $1 Bxf3 39. Rf7 Rxe2 40. Rxf3 Rxd2 41. Rxf8 Kg7 42. Rd8 Rxh2 43. Rd7 Kg8 44. Rxd6 Rxb2 45. Rh6 Rxb3 46. Rxh4 $17 {(When playing this endgame out with the engines, it was not possible to draw for white.)}) 38... Kg8 39. f3 Rxh2 40. Rxf8 Kxf8 41. fxe4 h3 42. Bh6 Ke8 43. Ng3 Rxb2 0-1
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.
[Event "Tata Steel"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2014.01.18"] [Round "6"] [White "Levon Aronian"] [Black "Wesley So"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A15"] [WhiteElo "2812"] [BlackElo "2719"] [PlyCount "71"] [EventDate "2014.01.11"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Be2 { (Only 11 games in my engine-openingbook compared to 5748 games with the standard-move d4!)} (7. d4 c5 8. Be2 Nc6 9. Be3 Bg4 {(This is ok for black. In my opening-book black even scores more than 70 procent in more than 50 games so rather representative. )}) 7... c5 {(Black follows the standard-plan as mentioned in the variation above. )} 8. O-O Nc6 9. Qa4 Bd7 10. Qa3 Qa5 11. Rd1 O-O $146 (11... e5 12. Bc4 Qxa3 13. Bxa3 b6 14. Rab1 Rd8 15. d3 h6 16. h3 Na5 17. Bd5 Bc6 18. Bxc6 Nxc6 19. Kf1 Ke7 20. Ke2 Rd7 21. c4 f5 22. Bb2 Ke6 23. Bc3 Rhd8 24. a4 Nb4 {(Akopian,V - Mamedyarov,S 1/2 - 1/2 Porto Carras 2011 It seems more than a coincidence that white is like Levon an Armenian top-grandmaster. It is well known that between Armenians there is a big solidarity.)}) 12. Rb1 b6 13. d4 Qxa3 14. Bxa3 Bg4 15. dxc5 Bxc3 16. Ba6 Rab8 17. Rdc1 Bxf3 18. gxf3 Bd2 19. Rd1 Bc3 20. Kg2 bxc5 21. Bxc5 Bb4 22. Be3 Bd6 23. Rbc1 Nb4 24. Bc4 Rfc8 25. f4 Kf8 26. a3 Nc6 27. Ba6 Bxa3 28. Rc4 Rd8 29. Ra1 Bb2 30. Raa4 Rd6 31. e5 Re6 32. Rc2 Nd8 33. Bxa7 Ra8 34. Bb5 Bxe5 35. fxe5 Rxe5 36. Be3 1-0
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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