Thursday, August 31, 2017


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.
[Event "Open Gent 4de ronde"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Chatalbachev, B."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B15"] [WhiteElo "2307"] [BlackElo "2550"] [PlyCount "48"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [CurrentPosition "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nf3 c6 { (I only had an hour to prepare and I had not checked this line as normally Boris chooses here d6. After the game Boris told me that my information is correct but he anyway played c6 as he assumed that I would not play c4 because I lack any experience with the Kings-Indian.) } 4.Nc3 d5 5.h3 Nf6 6.e5 Ne4 7.Nxe4 dxe4 8.Ng5 c5 9.e6?! { (In the past I played Bc4 but I was toying for some time already with the idea of testing e6 once in a game. I took a risk with this decision as it was a while that I checked my analysis. On the other hand Bc4 is neither safe. Besides today I rather prefer c3 after extensive analysis.) } ( 9.Bc4?! O-O 10.c3 Nc6 11.Be3 cxd4 12.cxd4 Qa5+ 13.Kf1 ( 13.Qd2 Qxd2+ 14.Kxd2 h6 15.Nxe4 Rd8 16.Kc3 Bf5 17.Nd2 Rac8 18.a4 g5 $13 { (In 2003 my game against Giquel continued with Rc7 but in my notes I already recommended g5 as an improvement. This evaluation was confirmed by a correspondence game played in 2006 between Douglas,S - Arhold,H which ended in a draw.) } ) 13...h6 14.Nxe4 Rd8 15.Rc1 Nxd4 { (In my correspondence game against Gunther Klaus played in 1998 I encountered the weaker e6. Since 2007 is however known that Nxd4 is sufficient for equality.) } 16.Bxd4 Bxe5 17.Qf3 Bxd4 18.Qxf7+ Kh8 19.Qxg6 Qb6 20.Qxb6 axb6 21.Ke2 Bxb2 22.Rc2 Bd4 23.Rd1 Bf5 24.f3 Kg7 { (In the correspondence game Svestka,J - Arhold,H played in 2010 a draw was here agreed.) } ) ( 9.d5 { (The Belgian IM Pieter Claesen lost 2 games against this easy to underestimate line.) } 9...Bxe5 10.Nxe4 O-O 11.c3!? Qc7! 12.Qf3 $13 ) ( 9.dxc5 { (This idea has similarities with the chosen continuation of the game. It very quickly leads to very original and interesting positions in which white can fight for an advantage.) } 9...Qc7 10.Bf4!? ( 10.Be3!? O-O 11.c3!? Qxe5 12.Bc4 Nc6 $13 ) 10...O-O 11.Qd4 Nc6! 12.Qe3 Bxe5 13.Bxe5 Qxe5 14.O-O-O Be6 15.Nxe4 Rad8 $13 ) ( 9.c3! { (My openingbook tells me this is only the 5th most popular choice in practice but I guess this probably will improve in the future.) } 9...cxd4 ( 9...O-O 10.Nxe4! cxd4 11.Qxd4 Bf5!? 12.Qxd8 Rxd8 13.Ng3 Be6!? 14.f4 Nd7 15.Kf2 $14 ) 10.cxd4! O-O 11.Be3 Nc6!? ( 11...Qa5+!? 12.Qd2 Qxd2+ 13.Kxd2 Nc6!? 14.Rd1 $14 ) 12.Qd2 Qd5 13.Rc1 Qxa2 14.Be2! Qa4 15.O-O Qb4 16.Rfd1! Qxd2 17.Rxd2 $14 ) 9...Bxe6 10.Nxe6 fxe6 11.dxc5 Qxd1+?! { (The most popular move but I consider avoiding the exchange of queens with Qa5 or Qc7 more accurate.) } ( 11...Nd7!? 12.Bc4!? Nxc5 13.Qe2 Qa5+ 14.Bd2 Qc7 15.Rb1 Rd8 $13 ) 12.Kxd1 O-O 13.Bc4 { (2 years ago Boris already had Ke2 on the board from the Lithuanian grandmaster Eduardas Rozentalis but I didn't know this during this game. After a long reflection I remembered that Bc4 is here the critical move.) } 13...Nc6 14.Rf1 Rad8+ 15.Ke1 Kh8 16.Bxe6?! { (After the game Boris told me that 9.e6 is a drawing line but I had my doubts about this which later my engines confirmed.) } ( 16.c3! $146 { (In my earlier made analysis I had noticed that it is often interesting not to capture too quickly the pawn of e6 but when exactly I had to take it was something I couldn't remember anymore.) } 16...Ne5 17.Bxe6 Nd3+ 18.Ke2 Nxc5 19.Bb3 $14 { (Black has no clear path to draw.) } ) 16...Bd4 17.Bb3 $146 { (Here I already calculated the drawing-line. C3 is a playable alternative which was even tested a couple of times in practice.) } 17...Bxc5 18.Be3 Bxe3 19.fxe3 Rxf1+ 20.Kxf1 Rd2 21.Re1 Kg7 22.Re2 Rd1+ 23.Re1 Rd2 24.Re2 Rd1+ { (Naturally Boris didn't like the draw but he also understood that avoiding the repetition would only create losing chances.) } 1/2-1/2
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.


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