Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Old wine in new skins

Quality chess has regularly nice blogarticles to create traffic to the site, advertise their products and naturally eventually to sell more. They don't avoid on purpose controversial subjects. Recently a fun game from the Belgium interclubs was shown, see blog. In round 8 of the Belgium interclubs former Belgian champion Bruno Laurent scored a sensational victory over the known IM Cemil Gulbas. In a chrystal-clear game with incredible sacrifices black was forced to resign in a measly 23 moves. However quickly it was remarked that everything till move 16 was played already in 2012 in the game Ivanisevic - Dzhuaev and the amelioration till the final move are all the first choice of the today's top-engines. No not a new case of fraud but a model-example of a successful game-preparation as I have shown some examples earlier in my article de sterktelijst. Black had played the same opening before and Bruno obviously has an eye for taking advantage of this.

So far nice to know but nothing shocking. However then the author, the Scottish grandmaster John Shaw claims that Cemil could've easily avoided the defeat if he kept his repertoire up to date. Now this i find very short-sighted especially if you play barely games yourself (4 fide-games in the last year). If you only follow the games published by twic then you need to check each week more than 1000 if something important is mentioned. Those important games (averagely 10?) must next be screened with an engine to find improvements. Now twic is not the only source of info. There is also correspondence-chess, books, sites,... My experience tells me that very few amateurs are up to date with their repertoire. I often profits from this, see my blogarticles: iccfrevolution in the millenniumSwiss gambit, ... Being up to date (and I don't mean to have a perfect knowledge but just knowing the recent games played on grandmaster-level) not only demands a continuous effort but also an enormous perseverance as it is often very dull material. Even prof-players often don't succeed to keep up with the latest trends as you can see in the game Sergei Zhigalko - Pavel Pankratov played in the just finished Bronstein Memorial, which was won by the the Georgian top-grandmaster Jobava Baadur and in which our known Armenian player Mher Hovhanisian achieved a second grandmaster-norm.

Keeping up to date a repertoire is not something easy. I even dare to state that an amateur with limited amount of free time for chess, should simply forget to make such goals. Now to be successful in the opening it is not always mandatory to come up with something new and spectacular. Sometimes refreshing an old forgotten line can be also sufficient to score a convincing victory. This formula was used in the fourth round of the interclubs by my Lithuanian opponent Sarunas Sulskis. Nevertheless he took a (calculated?) risk as he already had used it once in 2009 against the Lithuanian IM Mindaugas Beinoras and that game i also had noticed during my preparations. However due to the extremely long list of possible opponents (see de sterktelijst) I needed to make choices which made that I gave priority to different more tactical openings.
[Event "Interclub Eynatten - Deurne"] [Date "2013"] [White "Sulskis, S."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C97"] [WhiteElo "2550"] [BlackElo "2347"] [PlyCount "63"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 Na5 10. Bc2 c5 11. d4 Qc7 {(I experimented also in blitz a lot with the Graf-variant. However as I was not prepared for the Graf-variant, I preferred to stick to my standard-choice the Chigorin.)} (11... Nd7 12. dxc5 dxc5 13. Nbd2 Qc7 14. Nf1 Nb6 15. Ne3 Rd8 16. Qe2 {(In 3 online blitz-games I already won this position with black. I am mentioning this to better understand the follow-up in the game as we achieve via a difference sequence the exact same position.)}) 12. dxc5 {(Afterwards my opponent told me that former-worldchampion Fischer played this exchange only after Nbd2. This is an important nuance as now in the game black gets better opportunities. However in his preparation when flying from Lithuania to Belgium my opponent noticed that I always play cxd4 after Nbd2 which prevents his idea and he wanted to avoid at all costs a theoretical battle. )} dxc5 13. Nbd2 Rd8 {(I vaguely remember that I already encountered this on the board about 20 years ago but as I did not possess at that time any databases, that game was lost. For this match I prepared myself for 5 opponents. I had noticed that my opponent had played this line once in 2009 but more than the played move, I did not prepare. If you can meet several dozens of different systems then you need to make choices and in my preparation the chosen game-continuation did not look too critical. )} 14. Qe2 Nd7 {(After a long reflection I choose for a setup as was more or less known from the Graf-variant. However here c4 as Nh5 look more critical with excellent play for black. )} 15. Nf1 Nb6 16. Ne3 Be6 $6 {(A known theoretical mistake which I was not aware. F6 or g6 look just playable but it is not easy.)} (16... f6 $5 17. Nd5 $5 Nxd5 18. exd5 g6 $1 $146 {(An important improvement on the top-correspondencegame Simon Webb - Rotariu Gheorghe which was won by white in 2002.)} 19. b3 c4 $13) 17. Nf5 $6 {(The preparation of my opponent Sarunas can not be very broad as here he misses a transposition to the famous game Robert James Fischer - Paul Keres. Already in 1962 white showed that the strongest move is Nd5 which maintains an advantage and eventually was converted into a win.)} Bxf5 $2 {(I underestimate clearly the dangers on the king-side. F6 is recommended. )} 18. exf5 f6 19. h4 c4 20. h5 Rd7 21. h6 gxh6 22. Nh2 $6 {(White keeps a firm initiative with this move but still stronger was Nd2 to put the knight on the dominant e4 square. )} Kh8 23. Qh5 Nb7 24. Ng4 Nc5 25. Bxh6 Rg8 26. Re3 Bd8 $2 {(With less and less time remaining I do not find anymore the right defense. Nd5 was here correct with a nasty but not immediately lost position. )} 27. Rg3 Rf7 28. Rd1 Nd3 29. Bxd3 cxd3 30. Rgxd3 Rd7 31. Rxd7 Nxd7 32. Qf7 1-0
Afterwards my kind opponent told me that nobody less than former world-champion Robert James Fischer played this concept several times so it certainly has some punch. I need to add an important nuance as Fischer played the exchange only after Nbd2. Here Saranus chose for immediately exchanging the pawns as he noticed in the preparation when flying from Lithuania to Belgium that I always answer Nbd2 with cxd4 which avoids the idea. However by exchanging earlier, black does get extra interesting possibilities which white agreed to accept as long it threw me on unknown territory. Now very extensive the preparation of white can't be otherwise he should have known the improvement on move 17 which yes was played by nobody else than Fischer.
[Event "Candidates Tournament"] [Site "Curacao"] [Date "1962.05.12"] [Round "7"] [White "Fischer, Robert James"] [Black "Keres, Paul"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C96"] [PlyCount "81"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 Na5 10. Bc2 c5 11. d4 Nd7 12. dxc5 dxc5 13. Nbd2 Qc7 14. Nf1 Nb6 15. Ne3 Rd8 16. Qe2 Be6 17. Nd5 {(The key-move which guarantees white an advantage. )} Nxd5 18. exd5 Bxd5 19. Nxe5 Ra7 20. Bf4 Qb6 21. Rad1 g6 22. Ng4 Nc4 23. Bh6 Be6 24. Bb3 Qb8 25. Rxd8 Bxd8 26. Bxc4 bxc4 27. Qxc4 Qd6 28. Qa4 Qe7 29. Nf6 Kh8 30. Nd5 Qd7 31. Qe4 Qd6 32. Nf4 Re7 33. Bg5 Re8 34. Bxd8 Rxd8 35. Nxe6 Qxe6 36. Qxe6 fxe6 37. Rxe6 Rd1 38. Kh2 Rd2 39. Rb6 Rxf2 40. Rb7 Rf6 41. Kg3 1-0
Of course also a lot of amateurs know the value of surprising with old openings. Kingsgambits, Aljechins,... are openings which are still today very popular in the club. Nonetheless it also can go very wrong if you have a strong ambitious opponent which not only follows up the latest developments in the theory but also invests time in studying the classics. Below story was already in short told on the fefb forum by GM Luc Winants but I assume it is for most people still unknown and adding some interesting details certainly makes it more enjoyable. 

Some resources state that the strong American player Frank Marshall specially reserved his 'Marshallgambit' for former world-champion Jose Raul Capablanca. In 1918 Marshall introduced and surprised with this gambit Capablanca but it became a sore defeat as Capablanca defended brilliantly and the game became a classic.
[Event "New York Manhattan CC"] [Site "New York"] [Date "1918"] [White "Capablanca, Jose Raul"] [Black "Marshall, Frank James"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C89"] [PlyCount "71"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. c3 d5 {(Some authors claim that Marshall reserved this gambit specially for Capablanca.)} 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Nxe5 Nxe5 11. Rxe5 Nf6 {(In 1938 Marshall himself introduced the refinement c6 which is still today popular.)} 12. Re1 Bd6 13. h3 Ng4 14. Qf3 Qh4 15. d4 Nxf2 16. Re2 Bg4 17. hxg4 Bh2 18. Kf1 Bg3 19. Rxf2 Qh1 20. Ke2 Bxf2 21. Bd2 Bh4 22. Qh3 Rae8 23. Kd3 Qf1 24. Kc2 Bf2 25. Qf3 Qg1 26. Bd5 c5 27. dxc5 Bxc5 28. b4 Bd6 29. a4 a5 30. axb5 axb4 31. Ra6 bxc3 32. Nxc3 Bb4 33. b6 Bxc3 34. Bxc3 h6 35. b7 Re3 36. Bxf7 1-0
This game was analyzed countless times, also by Kasparov in his book Garry Kasparov on my Great Predecessors, Part 1. Kasparov's serie certainly was a profitable business as many players possess it partly or even completely (I already mentioned some parts myself here, see the neo scheveningenkasparov's pircthe influence of wks on openings). It is not surprising that players use pieces out of the books to test in practice. The Belgian FM Ruben Akhayan took up the same gambit in his interclub-game of round 5 against the strong Dutch IM Twan Burg.
[Event "TCh-BEL 2013-14"] [Site "Belgium BEL"] [Date "2013.12.01"] [Round "5.4"] [White "Burg, T."] [Black "Akhayan, R."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C89"] [WhiteElo "2490"] [BlackElo "2254"] [PlyCount "45"] [EventDate "2013.09.22"] [WhiteTeam "Amay 1"] [BlackTeam "CREC 1"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O b5 6. Bb3 Be7 7. Re1 O-O 8. c3 d5 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Nxe5 Nxe5 11. Rxe5 Nf6 12. d4 Bd6 13. Re1 Ng4 14. h3 Qh4 15. Qf3 Nxf2 16. Re2 {(Ld2 is recommended by Kasparov and developed in the 1950s.)} Ng4 {(An improvement and even salvation claimed by Tarkatower and Kasparov on the classic Capablanca - Marshall.)} 17. Nd2 $146 {(This move is nowhere discussed but gives white a clear advantage. )} (17. g3 { (Indicated by Kasparov as the critical continuation.)} Qxh3 18. Qxa8 Bxg3 19. Qg2 Qh4 { (Lh2 looks a bit stronger.)} 20. Nd2 {(Kasparov states that there is still a lot to play for but my engines just calculate that white is winning.)}) 17... Nf6 18. Qxa8 Bg4 19. Qe4 {(A fantastic queen-sacrifice after which blacks attack largely comes to a hold and white gets 3 pieces for the queen.)} Nxe4 20. Rxe4 Qg3 (20... h5 21. Nf3 Qg3 22. hxg4 h4 23. Bd2 h3 24. Re2 {(This is surely blacks best chance but it is not pretty as whites pieces are working already very harmoniously. )}) 21. Nf1 Qd3 22. Re3 Bh2 {(A blunder in an already very difficult position which ends the game at once.)} 23. Nxh2 1-0
It is surely not my purpose to laugh with black but I do find it very remarkable how white succeeds to improve the analysis of Kasparov. Less weird it becomes when I also mention that white is an ambitious correspondence player and even recently made a SIM-norm. Young strong OTB-players still working hard for correspondence chess is something seldom seen. If this is also skillfully exploited on schaaksite then suddenly an increase of 18% new members is recorded for correspondence after years of decreasing interest. 

So serving old wine in new skins is certainly not without risks. Now some people will consider it rubbish but I do find that it gives something extra, magical to follow once in a while an old classic and pretend to be one of the former champions. This dimension can chess960 as was recently propagandized in Moscow never give to us.


Thursday, February 13, 2014


When studying openings I look attentively to what (strong) grandmasters play, which I already mentioned earlier in my article to analyze with a computer. However my choice of openings still remains something very personal. Besides this choice is already more or less for 20 years fixed (see the article the sequence). Even a line is only replaced when really no repairing is anymore possible (examples on my blog are  Dutch steps in the English opening , the fake truth ). This all fits in the philosophy of the scientific approach but most players play the game a lot more competitive. Swapping between openings is done regularly just to become not too predictable. 

This means a continuous search for new playable openings. An amateur has mostly neither the time, nor the courage to do all the necessary research so we look to what grandmasters have in their repertoire. Naturally the stronger the grandmaster, the more players are attracted to this repertoire. If an absolute topgrandmaster starts to play an opening which is on top also easily playable for other players (amateur or prof) then we sometimes see a chain-reaction. A few players pick it up and their opponents are so impressed that they too insert the opening in their repertoire. If after some time it also turns out that black can show a plus-score on master-level than it completely goes wild.

Some smart readers in the meantime will realize that I want to discuss this time the Aronian system or also called sometimes the Cozio defense deferred. 5 years ago this variant was still considered as eccentric but today a lot of (strong) players are playing it. The system has some unique characteristics. First it gives a direct answer on the Spanish, which today is still considered as the main-weapon for white after e5. So it is in the same category of openings like the Schliemann-gambit or the Berlin. On top we can play the opening via a number of sequences. When Aronian started to play the system in 2009, he chose for the sequence 1.e4 e5 2.Pf3 Pc6 3.Lb5 Pge7 4.0-0 a6 5.La4 g6 6.c3 Lg7. However soon it was discovered that it is also possible to play first a6 or even g6. These permutations mean permitting or excluding certain side-lines. I don't know the sensitivities but I do know that since 2011, Aronian changed to the sequence 1.e4 e5 2.Pf3 Pc6 3.Lb5 a6 4.La4 Pge7 etc. This means the exchange variant of the Spanish is again permitted but probably some nasty lines (quick d4?) are avoided. The impact of this change can be clearly seen if we put in a time-line the popularity (number of games per year with a player of +2300 in my database) with this specific sequence.
Popularity 1.e4 e5 2.Pf3 Pc6 3.Lb5 a6 4.La4 Pge7
Also end of last year in the European championship for countries (in which Bart achieved the grandmaster title) we noticed several games with this opening. First I want to show a marvelous game played by Aronian whom refutes harshly the white experiment.
[Event "ETCC (Open)"] [Site "Warsaw POL"] [Date "2013.11.12"] [Round "5.25"] [White "Pavasovic, Dusko"] [Black "Aronian, Levon"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2563"] [BlackElo "2801"] [ECO "C70"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nge7 5. Bb3 d5 6. Nc3 Be6 7. Ng5 Nd4 8. O-O Nxb3 9. axb3 d4 10. Nxe6 fxe6 11. Ne2 d3 12. cxd3 Qxd3 13. b4 Nc6 14. Ra3 Qxe4 15. Re3 Qc4 16. Ng3 O-O-O 17. Re4 Qb5 18. Qg4 Kb8 19. d3 Rxd3 20. Be3 g6 21. h4 Bxb4 22. h5 gxh5 23. Nxh5 Bd2 24. Nf6 Bxe3 25. fxe3 Qb3 26. Kh2 Qxb2 27. Qxe6 h5 28. Nd7 Ka7 29. Qf6 Rd2 0-1

Readers following my blog already for some time, will certainly understand that I am not surprised that our Belgium topplayer Tanguy Ringoir also has picked up this opening in his repertoire. Also he became a real fan of it which obviously is strengthened if you win games as shown below.
[Event "ETCC (Open)"] [Site "Warsaw POL"] [Date "2013.11.14"] [Round "6.70"] [White "Hauge, Lars Oskar"] [Black "Ringoir, Tanguy"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2301"] [BlackElo "2514"] [ECO "C70"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nge7 5. Nc3 d6 6. Nd5 b5 7. Bb3 Na5 8. Nxe7 Bxe7 9. d4 exd4 10. Nxd4 Nxb3 11. axb3 Bb7 12. O-O O-O 13. Re1 Bf6 14. Nf5 Re8 15. Qg4 g6 16. Nh6 Kf8 17. Qf4 Qe7 18. Ng4 Bg7 19. Bd2 h5 20. Nh6 Qf6 21. Qg3 Qxb2 22. Rad1 Rxe4 23. Rxe4 Bxe4 24. Bf4 Bf6 25. Qe3 Re8 0-1
Now he is not the only Belgian player following this trend. I noticed in the previous interclub-round that the opening was successfully employed by GM Luc Winants. Other well-known Belgian players (or broader taken very active in Belgium) are e.g. FM Hans Renette, IM Koen Leenhouts, FM Michel De Wit and Roel Goossens. About this last player I want to elaborate as he played a very good tournament in the passed Open Leuven as he missed the tournament-victory only narrowly (see the final positions). I was very impressed by his play in our mutual game and I do know that I was lucky to obtain a draw. I don't need to tell you probably that we discussed the Aronian-system, right?
[Event "Open Leuven 6de ronde"] [Date "2013"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Goossens, R."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C60"] [WhiteElo "2347"] [BlackElo "2150"] [PlyCount "62"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nge7 5. O-O g6 6. c3 Bg7 7. d4 exd4 8. cxd4 b5 9. Bb3 $6 {(In the Aronian system or also called the Cozio Defense deferred, this is the most popular continuation. However after lengthy analysis I believe Bc2 is more accurate which does not permit black to win a tempo with Na5 on the bishop and on top keeps the option b3 open.)} (9. Bc2 $1 O-O $5 ( 9... d6 $5 10. h3 $1 O-O 11. Nc3 Bb7 $5 12. Bf4 $1 Na5 $1 13. Re1 Rc8 $5 14. Qc1 c5 $5 15. d5 Nc4 16. Bd3 $1 Ne5 17. Nxe5 dxe5 18. Be3 $1 f5 $14) 10. d5 $1 (10. Nc3 $6 b4 $1 11. Ne2 d5 {(As white was not able to insert h3, black gets nice counter-play.)} 12. Bg5 h6 $1 13. Be3 dxe4 $1 14. Bxe4 Bf5 $13) 10... Na5 $5 11. Nbd2 $1 $14 {(White strives for Rb1 - b3 - Bb2 to exchange the annoying black bishop on g7.)}) 9... O-O 10. Nc3 d6 11. d5 Na5 12. Re1 {(This move I lightly prepared and was based on a correspondence game played in 2010 between Gustavo Morais and Hans Schneider : 1 - 0. More popular is Bc2 but I could not find an opening advantage after Bb7 for white.)} Bb7 {(A novelty and likely an improvement on the correspondence-game which continued with Nxb3. I have a strong hunch that Roel devised the move on the board. Nevertheless this move was already earlier recommended on chesspub by the English grandmaster Tony Kosten but of course it fully fits in the normal scheme of this opening.)} 13. Bg5 {(With Bc2 I could transpose to the grandmastergame Inarkiev - Iordachescu of 2012 but I was not able find anything tangible for white. I had prepared Bg5 in march 2013 as counterproposal of the suggestion of Tony Kosten so here I wanted to test it in practice.)} h6 14. Be3 Nxb3 15. axb3 c6 $6 { (At home I only looked at c5 and with a lot of creativity white can keep some pressure. Later at home giving my engines more time to calculate, I have to admit that b4 is stronger with excellent counter-play for black. Now white gets a chance to achieve a small edge.)} 16. dxc6 $6 {(Only with the accurate Bd4 I manage to keep the small edge. )} (16. Bd4 $1 Rb8 17. Bxg7 $1 Kxg7 18. dxc6 $1 Nxc6 $14) 16... Nxc6 17. Nd5 Ne7 18. Nxe7 Qxe7 19. Bf4 $6 {(However now I push too much. Qd2 to prepare Bd4 is a better try to maintain the balance.)} Rfd8 20. Qd2 g5 21. Be3 $6 {(I decide to sacrifice a pawn but this is too optimistic. Much more solid is Bg3.)} (21. Bg3 $1 Qf6 22. Re2 Re8 23. Rae1 Rad8 $15) 21... Bxe4 $6 {(Black snatches the pawn but even stronger are g4 and d5.)} (21... d5 $1 22. Bb6 dxe4 23. Bxd8 Rxd8 24. Qc2 Rc8 25. Qd1 Bxb2 26. Rb1 Bc3 27. Re2 $17 ) 22. Bd4 d5 23. Bxg7 Kxg7 24. Nd4 Qf6 25. f3 Bg6 26. Rec1 Rac8 27. Rc3 Re8 28. Rac1 Rxc3 29. Qxc3 Kh7 30. g3 $2 {(I want to eliminate Qf4 but this is tactically a bad solution. Necessary was Qd2 and black defends for now.)} h5 $2 {(Already during the game I noticed the exchange-sacrifice with Rc8. I was not able to calculate all the lines but I did know that it was strong. This was also confirmed afterwards by the engines which show easily that black gets a winning attack.)} 31. Qd2 g4 $6 {(With this weak move black proposes a draw. I win now my pawn back with Ra6 but it still is tricky for me with the open position for my king so I accepted quickly the proposal. Qe5 and h4 would still been good enough for some edge for black. )} (31... g4 $6 32. Rc6 Qe7 33. fxg4 hxg4 34. Rxa6 Qe1 35. Qxe1 Rxe1 36. Kf2 {(This none forced sequence is recommended by both my engines. Even this equal endgame can still be played out a bit further.)}) 1/2-1/2
The examples are showing one by one that blacks opening has a lot of potential. The scores for black are exceptionally good which we notice from the screenshot of my opening-book. However I have to add in fairness that black also had in most cases the higher rating.
White scores only 47,1% after Nge7 !

The system is still popularized a lot as for example in the recent book Dangerous Waepons: The Ruy Lopez written by the English GMs John Emms, Anthony Kosten and the English IM John Cox there are at least 30 pages spent to it.
However it still is blurry what the future will bring for this opening. Is it just fashion or will it become more? In any case I don't expect the opening getting the same magnitude as the Berlin. If the opening will get a fixed place in a grandmaster-repertoire will depend a lot if refutations will be found or less strongly stated some annoying lines. In my analyse of the game against Roel, I show a possible path in which some advantage can be found. I admit it is still very complex but I do have reasons to be optimistic as afterwards I noticed that Tony Kosten also recommends the concept in his book. 

No, I didn't buy (yet) the book but by coincidence when preparing this article I found a review on Chesscafe which indeed exactly discusses this idea. Probably I again invented the wheel which is unfortunately the destiny of a player not buying books (if we disregard some exceptional books) and mainly bases himself on his own analysis.


Addendum February 14
Vass managed to ditch up a "model"game in his databases, see chesspub which represents the idea recommended in the article.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The lucky one

In Flanders we are still waiting for the winter as with maximum temperatures till 10 degrees, it is obviously way too warm for this period of the year. Snow we haven't seen yet so this makes it always more attractive to spend New Year Eve in the much colder Russia with family and friends of my wife. Ufa situates approximately 500km West from Siberia so snow is guaranteed. Dependent of the outside temperatures we often go walking with the children. We were lucky as only when we returned to Belgium the temperature dropped with 20 degrees to -30. This meant that during our stay we were able to let our children play in the snow, slide from the many ice- tracks, enjoy the ice- labyrinth ,... Because somebody requested to put more pictures in my articles, I added one below in which I accompany my children on a pony-trip through the snow.
Visiting Russia automatically includes also distributing presents. As we didn't want to forget anybody, we almost filled up a complete suitcase with Belgium chocolate which was very much appreciated as many already ordered extra for our next visit. Once the suitcase empty it was refilled by gifts which we received. For the children there is Ded Moroz (Grootvadertje vorst) coming with candy and toys so comparable with Sinterklaas or Santa Klaus. During the holidays in our guest apartment we also get visits from family and friends which again leads to exchanging a lot of presents. An aunt of my wife brought for me the most surprising present not particularly in material value but rather because of the very personalized warm message.
Above picture of the object shows a piece of a chessboard with knight, rook and some other toppled pieces so no doubt it is about chess. Looking more attentive, we remark a hoof which indicates a good-luck charm. The inscription is in Russian :"желаю только побед" and says "I wish you only victories". I am not at all superstitious but the fact that somebody spent time and effort in a not ordinary gift, I appreciate very much.

Superstition in Russia is still very much alive. A lot of people do believe that one can influence luck by respecting some invisible powers. It is rather a sensitive subject. Easier and more concrete is to look what we can do ourselves to improve our chances. In this article I will elaborate on this. The subject was already to some extend discussed earlier see e.g. how to win from a stronger player in which I explained the chaos-theory. However this time I am more looking from the stronger player point of view.

Doing the exact opposite of what the weaker player tries to accomplish is a bit too simple. Naturally it helps to sabotage their strategy but there is more what a stronger player can do. A stronger player calculates clearly quicker and more accurate. This can but not necessarily has to be based on a better pattern-recognition. There is surely some benefit in putting more calculation in a game if you are the stronger player with the condition that it doesn't become chaos so big (losing) mistakes can be avoided. If we today also take into account that a superior opening-knowledge is not guaranteed anymore for the stronger player with the available databases and opening-books to everybody then there is serious point to avoid theory as soon as possible.

All very well but how does this work in practice? A comment of Bruno on my article playing the man explains this vision well: "Deviating theory probably can be done easily. However also finding variations which are fitting your playing-style and not leading to dry positions, seems much tougher". It is a good question/ remark which many players for more than a century already in vain tried to answer. Former world-champion Jose Capablance introduced in 1920 already his own variant of chess by adding 2 column and some new pieces. Former world-champion Bobby Fischer introduced a different variant of chess: Chess 960 or Fischer Random Chess which is based on the older shuffle-chess. These solutions start from the position that high level chess has no future anymore and will quietly die from draws. Kasparov laughs with this shortsightedness of Capablanca in his book Garry Kasparov on my Great Predecessors, Part 1 but makes a bit later a similar mistake by stating that today top-level chess only starts after a lot of theory-moves. Differently formulated, there is today after the obligatory theory-moves on top-level only a rather limited (uninteresting) game left in which players have to find moves themselves. I believe that this is the main-reason why a decade ago the decision was made to increase the pace of the games to find again the entertainment value.

In 2004 this book was published by Kasparov and in that era this was indeed the norm. However end 2011 there was becoming a fracture in this conception as clearly was shown in an article on Chessbase. Suddenly contemporary top-players play much less theory than their predecessors. Below graphic shows the depth of the average novelty over time.
Bron Chessbase
The moment of change is of course connected with the raise of Carlsen. Carlsen showed the world that it is still possible to beat any player without relying on dominant opening-knowledge which is very different from his predecessors. I believe after obtaining the world-title even the last unbelievers (see the scientific approach) will now admit that they unfairly criticized his approach as inefficient and based on luck.

To win games, you need to put pressure on the opponent (which even works in world-championships). Carlsen shows today that you can be at least successful (and that is likely even an under-statement) by applying a less big but longer pressure. The pressure is less big as it is not based on super-human openings (today mainly created in advance by intensive use of engines) but is rather based on the own playing skills. However by deviating much earlier from theory and on top by choosing for positions which contain lots of possibilities, the opponent is forced to do much more thinking on the board. If instead of from move 20, you need to think from move 10 then in an average game there is a 50% increase of the number of moves you need to devise yourself.

So a stronger player will easier make the difference if more thinking at the board must be done. However due to our existing playing-tempo there is still a second aspect playing an important role in the success of this approach. The time for reflection doesn't depend on the number of moves one must devise. In other words, with this approach more classical oriented players are forced to think differently compared with their usual slower reflection method if time-trouble has to be avoided. They say that Carlsen plays faster than his opponents but in reality he just better takes into account that his type of play consists of making more decisions. Hereby we shouldn't forget that this strategy is even enforced if you also are technical stronger than the opponent. The stronger player can in (much) less reflection time still calculate as much as the weaker opponent using more reflection time.

Carlsen's first victory in the world-championship demonstrates this philosophy pretty well. Already at move 10 Carlsen manages to introduce an unknown queen-move which certainly doesn't refute black's position but nevertheless guarantees an open fight. The reactions on twitter are self-explaining: : "This will not be a short draw." and "This looks like spectacularly unimpressive opening preparation from team Carlsen".
[Event "Anand-Carlsen World Championship"] [Site "Chennai IND"] [Date "2013.11.15"] [Round "5"] [White "Magnus Carlsen"] [Black "Viswanathan Anand"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D31"] [PlyCount "115"] 1. c4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 c6 4. e4 {(The Dutch grandmaster Anish Giri tells on twitter that this move never was played before on a world-championship.)} dxe4 5. Nxe4 Bb4 6. Nc3 {(The main-line continues with Bd2 but Carlsen likes to leave the theory a.s.a.p.)} c5 7. a3 Ba5 8. Nf3 Nf6 9. Be3 Nc6 10. Qd3 {(Only 1 game I still found with this move in which white, a 2000 rated player lost so Carlsen managed to bring Anand out of book in only 10 moves. White has no advantage but neither black can force immediately a draw.)} cxd4 11. Nxd4 Ng4 12. O-O-O Nxe3 13. fxe3 Bc7 14. Nxc6 bxc6 15. Qxd8 Bxd8 16. Be2 Ke7 17. Bf3 Bd7 18. Ne4 Bb6 19. c5 f5 20. cxb6 fxe4 21. b7 Rab8 22. Bxe4 Rxb7 23. Rhf1 Rb5 24. Rf4 g5 25. Rf3 h5 26. Rdf1 Be8 27. Bc2 Rc5 28. Rf6 h4 29. e4 a5 30. Kd2 Rb5 31. b3 Bh5 32. Kc3 Rc5 33. Kb2 Rd8 34. R1f2 Rd4 35. Rh6 Bd1 36. Bb1 Rb5 37. Kc3 c5 38. Rb2 e5 39. Rg6 a4 40. Rxg5 Rxb3 41. Rxb3 Bxb3 42. Rxe5 Kd6 43. Rh5 Rd1 44. e5 Kd5 45. Bh7 Rc1 46. Kb2 Rg1 47. Bg8 Kc6 48. Rh6 Kd7 49. Bxb3 axb3 50. Kxb3 Rxg2 51. Rxh4 Ke6 52. a4 Kxe5 53. a5 Kd6 54. Rh7 Kd5 55. a6 c4 56. Kc3 Ra2 57. a7 Kc5 58. h4 1-0
An outsider sees mistakes from Anand which he in a normal situation will never make and thinks wrongly Carlsen was lucky. The Scottish grandmaster Jonathan Rowson describes the phenomenon on chessbase as if Carlsen manages magically to let disappear the talents of his opponent.

Ok all very well but we are no Carlsen. Bruno's comment: "I have few doubts Carlsen works enormously on his openings, if just to find a good way to divert from theory." I disagree partly. It is much easier to find something playable in a side-variation than studying critical continuations. Ok still some work must be done but is not anymore necessary to study the huge amounts of theory. A player adopting this strategy successfully is the strong Armenian player IM Mher Hovhanisian (living in Belgium). That Mher isn't interested in theoretical debates, can be read already in my article an extended black repertoire.

Variate in the same way with white existing openings as with black existing openings, has much less effect. Black largely defines which opening pops up on the board. It is the most important reason why preparing with black for me in general goes much faster than with white. However an advantage of having the white color is that you have more freedom in choosing moves. I mean that a slightly inferior move, doesn't lead necessarily to a difficult position. Mher also showed this in round 5 of Open Leuven in our mutual game. We were the only 2 left with 4/4 so we would decide between us 2 who would continue the tournament as leader. There was little time to prepare but that was not really necessary as after checking the database it became quickly evident that I would never be able to predict Mhers choice. Besides Mher didn't do any preparation at all in advance. In the game Mher already started to think deeply at move 2, produced the aggressive b4 and threw me out of book. After 4 moves already an original interesting position was put on the board with lots of possibilities.
[Event "Open Leuven 5de ronde"] [Date "2013"] [White "Hovhanisian, M."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A04"] [WhiteElo "2508"] [BlackElo "2347"] [PlyCount "69"] 1. Nf3 f5 2. b4 {(I knew in advance that preparing had few chances for success which here is once again proven by throwing me at move 2 out of book. Anyway more surprising is afterwards to find out that white scores with it 70 percent in my opening-book which again shows how clever Mher makes his opening-choices.)} Nf6 $5 {(In the Dutch opening it is standard to play first Nf6 to keep maximum flexibility but here there is a case for e6 before Nf6 to avoid whites plan executed in the game. However I immediately have to add that it is completely unclear if white gains something with this extra option.)} 3. c4 e6 4. Qb3 $5 {(The black move-order permits white to leave out a3 so to win a tempo but the queen also delivers black clues to play optimally so it is not easy to make an exact evaluation. In any case we have after 4 moves a completely unknown and interesting position which is rather a special achievement in these modern times of large amounts of opening-theory.)} Be7 $5 {(Here I thought long to find a playable setup. The white expansion on the queen-side brought me out of my comfort-zone from the standard-schemes which I know pretty well which was obviously the purpose of Mhers opening-choice. Next to Be7, b6 and Nc6 are looking the most interesting alternatives. B.t.w. we also notice that after Nc6, b5 is less efficient as Na5 wins a tempo on the queen which demonstrates one of the disadvantages of Qb3. A stonewall is rather risky as white did not fianchet the king-bishop.)} 5. g3 $5 {(Also to consider is a scheme with d4-e3-Be2 for white.)} O-O $5 {(Black has here a lot of interesting possibilities : b6, Nc6, d5 as white did fianchet and even the eccentric pawn-sacrifice b5 )} (5... b5 $5 {(A pawn-sacrifice trying to exploit the position of the white queen.)} 6. cxb5 a6 7. bxa6 Nxa6 8. b5 Nc5 9. Qc2 Bb7 10. Bg2 $13) 6. Bg2 d6 $5 {(Eventually I chose for the old-Dutch opening which I started to play since last year. Despite that I do not find a refutation of my choice, I still get the feeling that white has the better long term perspectives thanks to the extra space on the queen-side. Maybe the alternatives Nc6 and d5 are better practical choices.)} 7. O-O $5 {(I feared above all d4 after which we can not recommend black to play via the usual schemes in the old-Dutch opening.)} (7. d4 $5 c5 $5 {(Not a standard-move in the old-Dutch but engines have no difficulty with this type of cool moves. In the same category is d5 which seems playable as Nc3 can be answered by a5!)} 8. dxc5 $5 dxc5 9. b5 Nbd7 $1 10. O-O e5 $1 11. Ng5 Nb6 12. a4 $5 a5 $1 13. bxa6 Rxa6 $13) 7... e5 8. Nc3 Kh8 9. d3 Qe8 10. a4 Nc6 { (Criticized by Mher after the game but black has nothing really better than the classical plan in the old-Dutch. Furthermore black is not really worse with this move if I can trust the evaluation of the engines.)} 11. b5 Nd8 12. a5 Qh5 $6 {(This seems afterwards a bit too aggressive as now Nd5 becomes really attractive. More accurate is a6 to slow down whites initiative on the queen-side.)} 13. a6 $6 {(Logical but Nd5 is still a bit stronger after which black has difficulties to harmonize the pieces.)} f4 $6 {(Instinctively played as the complications are impossible to calculate correctly for me. However I do agree with the engines that Ne6 is here more accurate with a better coordination.)} 14. axb7 $6 {(More or less played a tempo just like the previous moves but again Nd5 looks better here.)} (14. Nd5 $1 Nxd5 15. cxd5 bxa6 16. bxa6 Bd7 17. Bd2 $1 g5 $5 18. Rfc1 $1 Rc8 19. Bc3 $14 {(In this sharp position white likely has the better chances.)}) 14... Nxb7 15. Nd5 Nc5 16. Qc2 Nxd5 17. cxd5 fxg3 $6 {(An inconspicuous error as here Bb7 is recommended to maintain the balance.) } 18. fxg3 $6 {(Also this move Mher played a tempo while he only had used till now a bit more than half an hour in this nevertheless complicated and unusual position. This modern practical method of quick playing has of course as purpose to put pressure on the opponent. This certainly contains risks which here can be observed as the clever idea of Houdini was completely missed.)} (18. hxg3 $1 Bb7 19. Nh2 $1 {(An ingenious idea which even causes Stockfisch problems to evaluate correctly.)} Qf7 20. Ba3 Bxd5 21. Bxc5 $1 dxc5 22. Bxd5 Qxd5 23. Nf3 $5 Rfb8 $14 {(White has terrific play for the sacrificed pawn.)}) 18... Bd7 19. Ra5 Nb7 20. Ra3 Nc5 21. Qa2 e4 $6 {(As expected white avoids the offered repetition. Black now has to make an important decision for which I spent 22 minutes. After this I dangerously had only 17 minutes left. Here I already had seen the feigned sacrifice on move 26 but I have to admit that the recommendation of the computer: Rae8 is anyway more accurate. Rae8 has also the idea to play e4 but generates more activity for the black pieces. That black can lose hereby the a- and c- pawns is something an engine has few emotional problems with.)} 22. dxe4 {(Again played without much reflection while I had spent a considerable amount of time on d4 with very obscure complications. Mher afterwards confessed that he completely missed that possibility. However lucky for him as black has after d4, the super beautiful winning move Nd3 which engines instantly spot.)} Bxb5 23. Nd4 Rxf1 24. Bxf1 Bd7 25. Rxa7 Rc8 26. Bg2 {(Mher was not satisfied about this move as he missed my reply but the alternatives also do not generate clear better chances for white.)} Nxe4 27. Bxe4 Qe5 28. Bf3 $6 {(A little more accurate is Nc6 with an identical position as in the game but with the black queen on the little less dominant square e5 instead of d4.)} Qxd4 29. Kg2 Bf6 30. Ra8 Qb6 $4 {(With only 7 minutes remaining again a blunder pops up as in our previous mutual game which immediately decides the game. Valery Maes was of the opinion that Mher was lucky but I rather believe that Mher just created his own luck by playing continuously fast and putting pressure. Here Rg8 and Qe5 are playable for black although i have to admit that white keeps a more pleasant position.)} 31. Rxc8 Bxc8 32. Qa4 c6 33. dxc6 h6 34. c7 Kh7 35. Qe8 1-0
Afterwards Valery Maes commented that Mher was lucky but I look differently to his victory. I made indeed a blunder which I likely easily avoid in a quiet situation but it is his merit to play quicker and more efficient. Besides if I would not have made the error then still I estimate the chance high that later another error would be made under the continuous pressure. So the lucky one has made his own luck which in fact tells us that we can barely talk about luck.

Finally a move like 2.b4 doesn't demand lots of preparations. It also has little sense as black has too many options and the chance to play this regularly is also rather slim. Discovering such moves is just a matter of keeping the eyes open for the non usual things. You can for example detect in an opening-book for engines that white scores 70% with b4 in 38 earlier played (master-)games. With an open mind, a reasonable memory and mainly guts there is already much to gain.