Thursday, August 31, 2017

Openingstrategy

My previous article described how little time many players put at studying openings. A reader reacted that it is not so important for 2000 rated players as they anyway throw away often half or even full points in the middle- and endgame. He has a point of course. If you want to improve then you better look where the most progression can be made. It will rarely be the opening for any amateur so you better work at other domains of chess. On the other hand I want to add that it is still better to do something than nothing at all. In other words studying openings will not be completely useless for weaker players.

In this article we will go to the next level of opening-strategy so this is a warning for the readers. As average amateur you will not very often encounter what I will describe in this article. That is not only because a lack of opening-knowledge but especially because the strategy is based upon the repertoire of the opponent. Most amateurs have very few games in the databases which makes a preparation rather hard or even impossible. Only above 2200 elo we see that the number of games in the database is sufficient to tell us something of the repertoire of a player see the list of strength.

A basic opening-strategy consists of defining an answer upon all possible openings the opponent has played in his games which can be found in the database. I developed my own method for this see archiving and using databases but I know by experience that only very few (masters) do something similar. Most competitive players are satisfied by much simpler receipts which are rather based upon finding playable positions while the critical sharp lines are avoided. The Welsh grandmaster Nigel Davies recently wrote at his multi-blog that his comeback went smoothly as he limited himself to a very simplified opening-strategy.

Nowadays we will see that the strongest amateurs/ professional players will use an even more sophisticated opening-strategy. Contrary to most amateurs (I am one of them), they learn multiple opening-repertoires. I play exclusively 1.e4 but higher rated players will more likely play 4 different first moves like 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.Nf3 and 1.c4. This not only makes it harder for the opponents to prepare against them see again my article the list of strength but it also makes it easier to steer the opening to the preferred positions.

This last part seems to be an enormous asset when you don't have much time to prepare or you don't know much about the opponent. In theory you don't even need a chess-engine for that. E.g. at chess.db you can get already a profile-analysis of the opponent so you have a good picture of his/ her opening-repertoire. You know in a couple of seconds what can/ will happen in the different opening-repertoires. With this information you can make a best estimate of the rate of success for each of the repertoires and select the best one.

Some of my opponents at Open Gent used this advanced opening-strategy against me. In my game against the Bulgarian grandmaster Boris Chatalbashev (also winner of the tournament) this was probably the most clear. The game started already at the preparation. We got only an hour from the organisation so I immediately started to look at the games of Boris. I quickly discovered that Boris likes to play 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7. I answered this with 3.Nf3 and 3.Nc3 in the past. After 3.Nf3 Boris answers normally with 3...d6 and sometimes with 3...c5.
Games Boris Chatalbashev starting with 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nf3
After 3.Nc3 it appeared that Boris not only plays 3...d6 but also sometimes 3...c6
Games Boris Chatalbashev starting with 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3
Currently I slightly prefer 3.Nf3 but I liked also the fact that I would avoid 3...c6 after 3.Nf3. That is not because I do not like to play against the 3...c6 variation but it was good to cut the lines as 1 hour preparation isn't enough to look at everything properly. Besides Boris also plays the Sicilian Dragon and I noticed that after 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nf3 c5 that I would transpose with 4.Nc3 cxd4 5.Nxd4.

Of course I got a cold shower as after I played 3.Nf3 Boris surprised me by playing anyway 3...c6. After the game I asked him why as in the database his earlier games didn't continue with 3...c6. Boris laughed. He told me that normally indeed he doesn't answer with 3...c6 after 3.Nf3 because of 4.c4. However he noticed by checking my profile that I only opened with 1.e4. So he knew in advance that I wouldn't try 4.c4 as I have no experience at all with the Kings-Indian. On the other hand he did like the positions after 3.Nc3 as he had studied them only recently.
It is not because the opening-strategy works that you automatically win the game. I deviated from my earlier games in this opening see correspondence-chess. It was a modest try to surprise but mainly an idea that I wanted to give a shot in a standard game. I couldn't remember exactly my analysis as last time that I checked the line was beginning of this year for my preparation against the Belgian expert Ward Van Eetvelde.

It is probably not the best example to explain this advanced opening-strategy but definitely one where there is no doubt that the grandmaster let his choice depend on my repertoire. This is for most average club-players no option as it demands many years of study and training to use such strategy successfully. Besides I guess you also need an universal style for this strategy. I mean you need to be an all-round player able to compete at all the domains so positionally, tactically,... Our world-top are all models for this strategy.

Brabo

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The open games

If you watch the games of our youngest players then you notice a lot of Italian four knights. That is of course because many teachers use this opening in their classes. The opening is very solid and for beginners there are enough possibilities to play an interesting game. It is perfect to make your first steps at chess and develop yourself. Besides it only takes a few minutes to teach and learn the opening so more important aspects of chess like tactics can get more attention.

A couple of individuals at youth-tournaments try to profit from this by using some home-studied traps. It are often very sharp gambits which are very efficient as normal developing moves don't work as defense and exact knowledge of the opening is mandatory. When I found out that my son Hugo lost some crucial games in the tournaments due to that strategy so not because of inferior skills, I realized that I needed to help him.

I am a specialist of the open games so I know very well what enormous amount of theory exists today of the open games. Further I don't think it is ideal to force a child to play like I do see the scientific approach. Therefore Hugo switched from 1.e4 e5 to 1.e4 c6. With white we started to play exchange-variations of the Spanish see my article bjk. So theoretically these openings aren't the most critical ones but this way he does get each time positions which allow him to play a long game of chess.

It is not only the choice for the open games of trainers which I question. I am also often surprised how it is possible that stronger/ more experienced players choose open games while it is evident that they know barely any theory. 3 times in the past Open Gent I encountered a lack of basic theory-knowledge in the play of my opponents. Let us have a look to my first round against nonetheless a player of +1800. If you play the Ponziani then I expect that you are at least aware of the Fraser-defense.
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On my blog I wrote 2 articles about the opening see 14 x sos and computers achieve autonomy but just like my opponent of the previous article, he didn't read it. Maybe my opponent doesn't know this blog but I don't find that a good excuse as the Fraser-defense is basic-knowledge for any Ponziani-player.

Besides I also consider basic-knowledge the classical mainline of the Spanish: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 etc... However my opponent in round 3 managed to mix up the order of the next moves by playing 8.h3 instead of c3. I took advantage of this by using the same idea which I showed earlier in my articles the sequence and familychess part 2.
It is remarkable that this inaccuracy popped up in 300 mastergames while 2 out of 3 just transposed back to the mainlines. The difference of evaluation is small but can be noticed when you look at black's score which is clearly better with Na5.

A much larger difference of evaluation after mixing up the right sequence is my 3rd example. Also here we see my opponent choosing for an open game while not being versed too much by knowledge.
In my database there are 32 mastergames with the same mistake. Online I already got it 19 times on the board. I mean the examples are definitely not isolated cases.

It is especially stunning that these are very elementary positions of the open games which are misplayed by many players. So we are not talking about missing a new strong novelty somewhere deep into theory. I can only deduct that many players like to play intuitively and are not willing to study properly the openings. In open games this will regularly lead to disasters if the opponent is booked up. I believe switching to less demanding openings is absolutely necessary for those "lazy" players.

Brabo

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Matches

Last week there was breaking international chess-news by the announcement of Magnus Carlsen playing the world-cup in September. Not only Magnus likes the format of the tournament contrary to many of his (older) colleagues but his unexpected participation also creates complications. The world-cup is a qualification-tournament for the candidates-tournament but it is not totally clear who will qualify if Magnus finishes at a qualification-spot.

Many players consider the world-cup a pure lottery but Magnus knows very well that the format is fitting him. It will be a matter of not losing at standard chess against the strongest opponents as in the tie-break he has very good chances. The tie-break consists exclusively out of rapid and blitz and he excels in those disciplines as the undisputed number 1. The rating-differences with the other leading players is often more than 100 points see 2700chess. Briefly financially- and publicity-wise his participation is a very well calculated gamble.

Doubtless the world-cup will get much more attention of the media than usual. A world-champion upgrades a tournament immediately. I expect many fans will again want to follow Magnus's games live. On the other hand it is still just a big circus and the participation of Magnus doesn't change that. Matches of only 2 standard games can't be considered as a serious test between players. You need much more games to define who is the better player. However rarely there is money and time available for such longer matches.

The world-championship-finals are the last remainders of our rich match-history. As they only consist of maximum 12 standard games, often this doesn't suffice to define  a winner so a tie-break is needed. It is a sad but necessary evolution in our today's society. I still need a couple of months to finish the book H.E. Bird written by Hans Renette but it already stroke me that chess in the 19th century was very different compared to how we play nowadays. Matches were most common as in that era the very first tournaments were only starting to appear. In other words chess before 1900 mainly happened by challenging a player for a match or accepting matches. Besides when we talk about a match then it is not just a couple of games. Henry Bird played not less than 4 matches in 1873 against the former British champion John Wisker which corresponds to a total of 58 games. That is even more than the famous aborted match between Karpov - Kasparov played in 1984/85.

I played a couple of matches myself but solely against engines see (gambits and chesskids). A match against a strong local player was something I welcomed 4 years ago here on the blog (see this reaction) but nothing came out of it as usual. The only thing which looks a bit similar are my individual head to head scores. The chess-world is very small so you always bump against the same opponents in the different tournaments. Nevertheless the number of players against whom I played more than 5 standard games is very limited.
Players against I played at least 5 times a long game
Despite a chess-career of more than 20 years this is a very short list. I assume a similar list of Tom Piceu will contain much bigger matches and will also be much longer. His annotations of a game played against Thibaut Maenhout  "game eleventhirty" clearly tells us that he meets some players very regularly. The reason of my short list is simple. I play not so much. Tom is a couple of years younger than me and has 1104 Belgian rated games. I only have 478.

The first player of my list is an old friend: the Belgian expert Pascal Bauwe playing for the West-Flemish chessclub Kortrijk. End of the 90's I met him often when I was still playing for de Roeselaarse Torrewachters but afterwards we lost contact. He is a very solid player and very difficult to beat as he has a couple of decades experience.
Source: https://www.facebook.com/torrewachters/
Our 4 earlier confrontations were draws but I don't find them interesting enough to publish here. The last one dates already from 1999 so in the recent Open Gent I was eager to finally open the score. I am not anymore the player of 20 years ago so I wanted to demonstrate that on the board. It was maybe my best game of the tournament as I didn't make any clear mistakes.

Pascal told me after the game that he was aware of my blog but as many doesn't read the articles carefully. His opening-gamble backfired which he could have knows if he read my article creating a repertoire. It once more proofs my proposition made in the article password.

Such sort of matches spread over many years are of course not the same as played over only a couple of days/ weeks. A player evolves technically as by his openingchoices. Nevertheless some characteristics won't change. If somebody doesn't like to prepare games 20 years ago then likely he won't prepare today either. An attacker will rarely transform to a positional player and vice versa.

Today we have all ratings so those head to head scores have little to no value for the public. However for the related players it often feels differently. It is no coincidence that a derby always gets extra attention. The games between the Belgian international masters Stefan Docx and Geert Van der Stricht create always extra tension. For each game there is a cup at stake which the winner can take home. The cup is provided by the winner of their last encounter. If it is a draw then the cup remains in the hands of the winner of their last encounter. I find this a very funny and creative method to generate an extra dimension to their lifelong match.

Brabo