Monday, September 30, 2019

To study openings part 3

Some people think chess must be doing great in Belgium as the new national champion Daniel Dardha is only 13 years old. However one swallow doesn't make a summer. If we look at other Belgian children below 14 then Daniel is 450 elo higher rated than the second one. We can't expect that Belgium will become a strong chess-county anytime soon based on just one very talented boy.

We lack well organised training-facilities for our Belgium youth to maximize their potential. There are many small initiatives which are mainly around a bunch of lower rated volunteers doing a tremendous job but that is not sufficient at all to fulfill all the requests. Many children live too far or simply are not aware about the existence of the classes. Besides those classes mainly consist of a basic training using the step-method (often only a few of them). It is a nice start but they lack practical knowledge of how to play a competitive game.

Mainly parents of foreign origin question regularly those training-methods. We have a lot of youth in Belgium with such parents (see memory) so naturally they compare between countries. Last I heard a father with Indian roots telling a coach that in his birth-country they start with endgames instead of immediately teaching tactics on a board full of pieces.

I think this is a clever remark from him as there are indeed many advantages to focus first at endgames. As there are less pieces on the board, it becomes much more easy to see the tactics. Also you get immediately a good feeling of how the pieces relate to each other in terms of value. Finally an advantage in an endgame is often more clear so it becomes more simple to distinguish wrong from right. 

However another recurrent critic I often get is that endgames are boring. Here we see the difference in life-philosophy between people of different origin. In Western countries we believe fun should be given absolute priority so we let children play as freely as possible. However in Eastern countries the educative aspect of chess is considered as the prime-goal. I see many immigrants force their children to play chess as they think it is important for their intellectual development. Fun is rather irrelevant which sometimes creates some sad situations in the class when children tell the chess-teacher that they don't like chess at all but are forced to sit and wait till the class has finished.

I think most people agree about openings that it makes no sense to learn streams of moves at beginners. It is enough to know how to develop pieces, occupy the center with one or more pawns and castle to bring the king into safety. You often hear about children spending too much time at openings while other facets of the game still contain big gaps. It would be much more efficient to focus first at those weak aspects of the game. So it makes definitely sense not to teach any openings during the methods of steps.

Therefore sometimes young players till even a rather high level know very little about openings. From which rating onward should we start looking at openings? Is it ok as 2200 elo rated player still not having any theoretical knowledge of the played variations? There exist indeed such type of +2200 elo players which just play openings based on common sense only (I am thinking of e.g. the phenomenon Ashote Draftian is Flemish champion).

In my article how many games should I play published earlier this year I clearly demonstrated with some examples from the chess-literature that studying openings in an important part of reaching masterlevel. Between a beginner and a candidate-master there is easily 1000 elo but from somewhere in middle (+-1800) I think it does make sense to slowly start building a repertoire. By the way I heard something similar recently from the Belgian IM Tom Piceu. Also he advised an ambitious +1800 player to start working at a repertoire when it appeared he was lacking any basic knowledge of the openings he was playing.

Nevertheless I was a couple months ago shocked to find out the repertoire of the British grandmaster Daniel Howard Fernandez. Daniel plays just like Vladimir Epishin a very wide range of openings (see my article jubilee) but there exists a big gap of concrete opening-knowledge between them. I had the impression of Vladimir that he is very familiar with his openings contrary to Daniel seeming to play just something which is often total nonsense. It is a mystery how you can become a grandmaster with such repertoire. Well he is tactically extremely strong so I guess that probably largely compensates it. Still I don't understand why he doesn't want to work more at his openings when you clearly have a lot of talent. In our mutual game of the past Open Gent I decided therefore to avoid as much as possible any murky positions containing lots of tactics.
[Event "Open Gent 5de ronde"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Fernandez, D."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B06"] [WhiteElo "2306"] [BlackElo "2466"] [PlyCount "106"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] [CurrentPosition "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] 1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nf3 d6 4. Nc3 a6 5. Be2 Nd7 6. O-O c5 {(In 2014 I already once got e6 on the board from the German international master Haub Thorsten whom meanwhile became a grandmaster.)} 7. Be3!? {(I was out book but I did recognize that this position looks very similar to a line from the Najdorf. In that variation Be3 is strong which is also the case here. Beside Be3 there are other interesting alternatives to play for an advantage like a4, dxc5 and Bg5.)} 7... b5?! {(I noticed while preparing the game that my opponent has a very creative style of playing the opening. He likes to avoid very quickly the mainlines. I assume Daniel knew cxd4 is here the standard move but preferred to make sure I would have to play a fresh position without help. Anyway b5 is a very risky novelty.)} (7... cxd4! 8. Bxd4 Ngf6!? 9. a4 O-O 10. a5 Qc7) 8. dxc5 Nxc5 9. e5!? {(The engines choose a different path to keep the advantage.)} (9. Bxc5!? Bxc3 10. bxc3 dxc5 11. Qxd8+ Kxd8 12. a4 bxa4 {(The 2 black a-pawn will soon drop. Also whites pieces are much more active.)}) 9... Bb7 10. exd6 Qxd6 11. Qxd6?! {(I couldn't calculate the complications after a4 at the board. After Qxd6 my advantage decreases but I do avoid the tactics in which my opponents excells.)} (11. a4! b4 12. Na2 Bxb2!? 13. Rb1 Nxa4!? 14. c4 Nc3 15. Qc2 Nxb1?! 16. Qxb2 Nc3!? 17. Nxc3 bxc3 18. Qxb7 +-) 11... exd6 12. Rad1 O-O-O 13. Bd4 Bxd4 14. Rxd4 Ne7 15. a3 h6 16. Rfd1?! {(I don't take any risks. I choose only solid moves but this allows black to equalize.)} (16. a4! Nc6!? 17. Rf4 b4 18. Nd5 Rhe8 19. Re1 Nxa4 20. Rxf7! Nxb2 21. Rc7+ Kb8 22. Bxa6 {[%eval 73,38]}) 16... Kc7?! {(The logical defense but black has a more dynamic and stronger possibility.)} (16... Rhe8! 17. Rxd6!? Rxd6 18. Rxd6 Nd5 19. Kf1 Nxc3 20. bxc3 Ne4 21. Rd3) 17. R4d2?! {(I keep playing it safe. Again a4 is sharper.)} 17... Nf5 18. Nd4 Nxd4 19. Rxd4 Rhe8 20. Kf1 Re5 21. f4 Re6 22. g3 g5 23. Kf2 Rf6?! {(Black is a professional and he obviously plays for a win against an amateur rated 200 points lower. With Rf6 black tries to create some tension but this is again very risky.)} 24. Bf3 gxf4 25. gxf4?! {(I captured back automatically but hereby I miss the possibility to show the defect of black's 23rd move.)} (25. g4! Bc6 {(Contrary to the game Ne6 doesn't work now.)} 26. Bxc6 Kxc6 27. Nd5 Re6 28. Rxf4 Rf8 {(Material is equal but the scattered pawns give white definitely the better chances.)}) 25... Ne6 26. Bxb7 Kxb7 27. Rxd6 Rxf4+ {(I saw this intermediate move too late. From now onward I have to defend.)} 28. Ke3 Rxd6 29. Rxd6 Rh4 30. Rd7+ Kc6 31. Rxf7 Rh3+ 32. Rf3 Rxh2 33. Rf6 {(I had almost played the losing blunder which Daniel had tried to provoke with 31...Rh3+.)} (33. Ne2?? Rxe2+ 34. Kxe2 Nd4+ 35. Ke3 Nxf3 36. Kxf3 {(Black's h-pawn decides the game easily.)} 36... Kd5 37. Ke2 h5 38. Kf2 Kd4 39. Ke2 h4 40. Kf3 h3 41. Kf2 h2 42. Kg2 Ke3 43. b3 Kd4 {(Of course not Kd2 as then white would even win with c4.)} 44. c4 bxc4 45. bxc4 Kxc4 46. Kxh2 Kb3 47. Kg3 Kxa3 48. Kf3 Kb2 49. Ke3 a5 50. Kd3 a4 -+) 33... Kd6 34. Ne2 Ke5 35. Rf7 Rh3+ 36. Kf2 Ng5 37. Re7+ Kf5 38. Kg2 Kg4 39. Rd7 Re3 40. Kf2 Rf3+ 41. Kg2 Rf6 42. Rd4+ Kf5 43. Ng3+ Ke5 44. Rd2 Ne4 {(Daniel sees no progress so tries his luck in the rook-endgame. I would've waited still a bit as now it becomes easy to draw.)} 45. Nxe4 Kxe4 46. Re2+ Kd4 47. Rd2+ Kc4 48. Re2 Rd6 49. Kf3 a5 50. Rh2 {(I have achieved the most optimal position. My rook attacks the h-pawn and can also give checks horizontally. It is no surprise that black starts repeating the moves to conclude the draw.)} 50... Rf6+ 51. Ke3 Re6+ 52. Kd2 Rd6+ 53. Ke3 Re6+ 1/2-1/2
I exit the opening with a large advantage but played it a bit too safe to keep it. I did manage to keep the position simple although that almost wasn't sufficient either to achieve the desired draw.

You would expect that such repertoire wouldn't stand a chance against stronger players. I also thought so until he blew our Belgian top-player Bart Michiels from the board with an awful opening. Black extracted a big advantage from the opening but in the middlegame got tactically completely outplayed. This clash eventually decided that Daniel later became the tournament-winner.
[Event "42nd Eastman Open 2019"] [Site "Ghent BEL"] [Date "2019.07.22"] [Round "6.1"] [White "Fernandez, Daniel Howard"] [Black "Michiels, Bart"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A03"] [WhiteElo "2466"] [BlackElo "2563"] [PlyCount "63"] [EventDate "2019.07.20"] [CurrentPosition "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] 1. f4 d5 2. b3 Nf6 3. Bb2 Bf5 4. Nf3 e6 5. e3 h6 6. h3 a5 {(After just 6 moves we already have an unknown position. At least I haven't found any game with this position in any database I possess.} 7. g4 Bh7 8. Bxf6 {(If somebody still was familiar with the position then he surely won't be anymore after this move. This exchange is horrible as white weakens all the black squares. Stockfish shows -1,3 for black.)} 8... Qxf6 9. d4 a4 10. bxa4 g5 11. fxg5 hxg5 12. Bd3 Bd6? {(With this logical development black loses his advantage. Nd7 with the idea of a quick e5 is much stronger.)} 13. Ke2 {(It is unbelievable that white will win from this position in less than 20 moves against a 100 points higher rated colleague-grandmaster while no clear blunder happened.)} 13... Nd7 14. Bxh7 Rxh7 15. c4 dxc4 16. Nbd2 Qg6? {(Bart doesn't play sufficiently active. Searching counterplay with e5 is more appropriate here.)} 17. Nxc4 Ke7 18. Qb1 Qxb1 19. Rhxb1? {(Also Daniel doesn't always play faultless. Here Rab1 is much stronger.)} 19... Rxh3 20. Nxg5 Rh2+? {(Bart must have missed something tactically as after Rh4 the position is still balanced.)} 21. Kd3 Ra7 22. Ne4 Nf6?! {(Stockfish already considers the position lost for black after this move. Daniel has indeed few problems to show black's pieces lack coordination.)} 23. Nxf6 Kxf6 24. a5 Bf8 25. Rb5 Rf2 26. a4 Bh6 27. Rh1 Kg6 28. Rhb1 b6 29. Ne5+ Kh7 30. Rh1 f6 31. Nc6 Ra6 32. Rbh5 {(Mate in 9 is already shown on my screen. It is absurd how black's pieces are positioned especially if you know in which position we started 20 moves ago and black is nonetheless a very experienced and strong player.)} 1-0
If you would like to play like Daniel then think twice before giving up studying openings. Daniel started to play chess at a very young age (in 2004 -9 British champion) and has traveled continuously around the world (Singapore, Australia, Europe, ..) He clearly got hardened by this tough life. So copying his approach to chess successfully seems very unlikely to me.


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