Thursday, March 27, 2014


Most players do anything to avoid the preparation or superior opening-knowledge of the opponent. Several of those evading-strategies were discussed on this blog:
- play an opening of which no own games are registered in the database: : coincidencesurprise with the Dutcha Dutch gambitBelgian interclubs apotheosis, ...
- deviate quickly from any existing theory: the lucky one

Each of these strategies are based on the assumption that the opponent can be the easiest defeated by not playing the standard repertoire. Now how can one know this in advance as it is very unlikely that having a standard repertoire is useless. An absolute answer obviously doesn't exist but there are means to estimate the chances pretty well. From most (European) players whom reached a certain level, you can find games in the commercial databases. Armed with an openingbook (see article green moves) one can quickly detect if somebody knows a lot or little theory and if he is acquainted with the theory of a certain opening in his first game or only after several games played.

For most local (top-) players i have of course few remaining secrets. I am playing for about 20 years in the chess-circuit and i have played 1 or more games against most Flemish topplayers. Besides by writing this blog everybody gets an open view on how I think and decide my openings so I don't have any illusions. Nevertheless I won't claim that all my opponents are aware about this blog and know me well. No surely for foreign players I am still often unknown which makes that they will much less likely deviate from their standard repertoire.

When playing against a (relative) unknown player, a strong player will try to deduct information from the developments in the game. If you know that the opponent deviates first from his standard repertoire (by screening in advance his games in the commercial databases and while you didn't deviate yet) then you can be pretty sure that the opponent prepared something. On the blog of the Ukrainian grandmaster Igor Smirnov it is justly stated that from competitive perspective in such situation you have to deviate as quickly as possible from the standard repertoire to avoid playing against his computer instead of against the opponent. In his uploaded movie Igor gives an example. Somebody plays exclusively e4 but only for that one game against you he played 1.d4 so it is very clear that he prepared something. Coincidentally I showed on my blog see article chess intuition what happens if you don't deviate in such situation: a scornful defeat. You have to read my article the scientific approach to understand why I didn't deviate.

Beside deviating deliberately it is also possible to deduct from the speed of moving if the opponent is aware or not of important opening-information. In a long game somebody out book, will spend time to find a plan and produce moves. Especially in positions with a tactical character it is important to avoid the knowledge/ preparation of the opponent surely if you didn't study recently (thoroughly) the theory. To avoid this I have applied already a few times camouflage-techniques. I lose on purpose time to let my opponent believe that I am out book.
[Event "Zilveren Toren Deurne-Mechelen"] [Date "1999"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Verlinden, D."] [Result "*"] [ECO "C18"] [WhiteElo "2271"] [BlackElo "2220"] [PlyCount "33"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 {(In 1999 I had yet no Winawer-games from myself in the database. Dirk did not know me so had no clue about what I know or not about this system.)} 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3 6. bxc3 Ne7 7. Qg4 Qc7 8. Qxg7 Rg8 9. Qxh7 cxd4 10. Ne2 Nbc6 11. f4 Bd7 12. Qd3 dxc3 13. Rb1 Nf5 14. h3 O-O-O 15. g4 Nh4 16. Nxc3 {(I spent for my previous moves a half hour despite that I still was in my preparation. The reason was naturally to camouflage my knowledge and to avoid my opponent to deviate from his standard repertoire.)} Nd4 $6 {(Only now black deviates from an earlier game which he played with this variation and of which I was aware thanks to an intermediary !)} (16... Na5 17. Kf2 Nc4 18. Qd4 b6 19. Nb5 Bxb5 20. Rxb5 Kb8 21. Bxc4 $146 {(The novelty prepared at home. )} dxc4 22. Qe4 {(I evaluated in 1999 this position as winning for white but the actual programs have a different opinion and judge black is ok.) }) 17. Kd1 $16 {(White has a clear advantage which I later converted. )} *
As expected the opponent does finally deviate from his repertoire but in the meanwhile I have reached what I wanted: a nice advantage in the opening with plenty/ sufficient time on the clock. This is something which is much harder to achieve without camouflage. The camouflage is always a delicate balance-exercise. On one side you want to use as little as possible time to camouflage the knowledge/ preparation as the extra time is useful for the rest of the game. On the other hand you need to spend sufficient time to make the camouflage successful. Another example was against Jan Van Mechelen also in 1999.
[Event "Interclub Deurne-Leuven"] [Date "1999"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Van Mechelen, J."] [Result "*"] [ECO "B84"] [WhiteElo "2261"] [BlackElo "2265"] [PlyCount "36"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 {(In 1999 there were neither any own games with the Scheveningen in the database so Jan did not know how well I was acquainted with the theory.)} e6 7. O-O b5 8. Bf3 Ra7 9. Be3 Rd7 10. Qe2 {(In my databases of that time this move did not pop up. However the move played is not new as I was well prepared for this game. I was simply replicating the moves of the game Coenen - Van Mechelen in which Norbert achieved a decisive advantage but was inexact and Jan was able to escape. I deliberately played my next moves slowly to pretend that I discovered all the moves myself on the board.)} Be7 11. e5 dxe5 12. Nc6 Qc7 13. Nxb8 Qxb8 14. Bc6 b4 15. Nb1 {(This move found by Nobert is an amelioration of the book which Van Mechelen possessed about this variation. Not surprisingly, Jan started to feel something fishy.)} O-O 16. Bxd7 Bxd7 17. c4 e4 18. Nd2 h5 $5 $14 {(Here Jan deviates from the earlier mentioned game with a sharp continuation as he also understood that further following that game became too risky. White is a bit better after e.g. h3..)} (18... Qe5 $5 19. Nb3 $14 Bd6 20. g3 Qf5 21. Rad1 Bc7 $6 22. Bc5 Rc8 23. Be7 e5 $6 24. Bxf6 gxf6 25. Nc5 Bc6 26. Nxa6 Ba5 27. Rd6 Bb7 28. Nxb4 $18 {(Norbert continued with the weaker Rad1 after which the game later ended in a draw. Nxb4 is winning.)}) *
Jan smelled a rat and eventually deviated which limited the damage. Maybe I had to spend a bit more time but that is of course difficult to judge. Recently I used the camouflage with success in the Belgian interclubs against the Bulgrarian grandmaster Dejan Bojkov. Surprisingly he not only permitted me to play 22 moves of preparation but also to achieve some opening-advantage. I suspect that my opponent never expected me capable to be so well prepared on this specific variation. It was only the second time in 9 rounds that Dejan played first board and on top he has a broad repertoire.
[Event "Interclub Deurne - Amay"] [Date "2014"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Bojkov, D."] [Result "*"] [ECO "C99"] [WhiteElo "2336"] [BlackElo "2500"] [PlyCount "44"] 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 12. Nbd2 {(Till here I played my moves quickly as there were anyway games still with this position of myself in the database so there is nothing to camouflage.)} Bd7 13. Nf1 {(With this variation I did not have own games in the database but I was aware that my opponent had it already twice earlier on the board. To camouflage this information, I decided to spend a half hour on my next moves. )} cxd4 14. cxd4 Rac8 15. Ne3 {(In one game Bd3 was played by Schon in 2011 but at home I already made the decision to follow the other one with Ne3.)} Nc6 16. d5 Nb4 17. Bb1 { (Here I started to accelerate again as black anyway does not have any options. )} a5 18. a3 Na6 19. b4 axb4 20. axb4 Qb7 21. Bd2 Bd8 22. Bd3 g6 $14 {(Against the American FM Liou, Dejan played the main continuation Bb6 but here he chose to deviate. I assume that he also realized by now that I knew more about the variation than I should but the damage is already done. Whites opening is a success as I have a nice advantage. )} *

Despite Dejan had it all once on the board, he also spent a half hour so I assume that he doubted a lot to deviate or not from the theory. Probably he even looked for interesting risk-free alternatives. Anyway I found it remarkable and during the game I had some troubles to hide my joy when I finally got some reward for the often many boring hours of preparation spent at home.

So camouflage can be a weapon in the psychological battle of playing the opening. Now the reversed is also applied by some players. By playing quickly one insinuates that the opening was studied seriously while in reality it isn't. The opponent becomes intimidated and prefers to deviate from this repertoire. Former second Jan Smeets once said about Topalov that Topalov always plays the opening fast. Sometimes it is preparation but sometimes it is just bluff. The opponent never knows (except his seconds). See chessvibes.

To apply such psychological tricks you first have to know a certain amount of theory. I am curious if some readers have similar experiences and are willing to share them here.


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