Friday 21 December 2012

Improvement in chess - The openings, Part two

Here is the long waiting article about Improvement in the openings, second part.
In the first part I wrote some theoretical thoughts about this subject, and in this part it will be more practical examples.
With this article I will finish these articles about Improvement in chess, and I hope that some of you took some advantage out of them.
I wrote about what I think is the best way to improve at chess, and what helped me to reach my level.

This part will contain many practical advises about the openings.
For those who did not read the first part of this article, they can found it on the following link:
Improvement in chess - The openings, Part one .
When we are at the chess tournament, let´s say some competition which is nine days long, we often get pairings for the next round immediately after the previous round ends.
It means that we have one day to prepare for our opponent.
He will do the same, so in our preparation we need to count on that.
Everything that we are thinking about how to surprise him, or out prepare him are probably his thoughts toward you as well.
This does not means that we do not need to prepare for the game!
Someone will outfox somebody else, or players will just get the position which both are looking for. It can be also completely new position for both players.
It means that we need to look at our preparation dynamically.
In practise it can be like this:

Player A : " I am playing against B tomorrow. Good! He is playing Pirc defence. Very good, as I was always successful with my Be3+f3 system against it. I will play that tomorrow too. I will let my computer to work out some continuations in critical lines and try to remember everything."

...meanwhile in the other Hotel....

Player B : " Okay, 1.e4 Player tomorrow. I will play Pirc, what else? What is his answer to this...let me see. Oh no! He is playing Be3 with f3 in the next move. I have some problems with that. I told to myself that I will work out something before the next tournament, but I did nothing. Hm, now I have to improvise. A wise decision is to avoid his preparation. I shall surprise him and play 1...Nf6, yes! After all that was my main choice back in the junior days and he never plays something critical against it. Good."

Than Player A can come with something as:

Player A : " What if he plays something else. I have some more time and I will check his old Alekhine defence. I have to find something normal against it."

After some researching in the recommendations in the all electronic chess material....

Player A : " Well, nothing is so good as I thought. I will just play natural moves and see what will happen. After all, he is going to play Pirc"

The next day we can expect some variation of Alekhine defence in which Player A did not played critical and Player B was somehow surprised as Player A plays that system for the first time.
Nobody took advantage in the opening.
This is the most common situation.
Player who had Black pieces did not devoted enough time for the game preparation as he just followed his usual repertoire.
Player who played with White pieces made even more mistakes. He drew completely wrong conclusion about his opponent´s opening choice, and as he did not devoted enough time to analyse everything at home, he spent to much time on the preparation and eventually failed to fight for the advantage.
There are many things which can be improved in our approach here.
The very first thing is when we are playing Black we usually think that we are prepared good as we are playing something which we played so many times.
Every new game is a new challenge.
Player with white pieces will try to test us where we are the weakest in our repertoire.
It can be one of the following cases.

  • The opponent is trying with the critical lines against our opening
  • The opponent is trying to find the weak point in our knowledge of the opening which we will play, and it is not necessary the most critical continuation for the opening.
  • The opponent will prepare some surprise which is not correct (poker style).
  • The opponent will just try to get playable position out of the opening.
It means that we have to try to think (and guess) our opponent process of thinking in his preparation for our game.
If our level of objectivity is good, than we have a very nice chance to guess what will he do.
In my life I played many chess tournaments and I met many chess players, so I know something about usual thinking patterns in their preparation.
It were not just my opponents, in most of the cases it is the chess players who shared room with me during the tournaments.
With higher level of objectivity, their level of successful preparation was better.
Players with lower level of objectivity almost never succeed to guess their opponent choice.
From time to time every chess player get some preparation on the table, but sometimes is that just by chance, something that they were looking at home long time ago.
Even if we are playing with black pieces, we do not need to be too predictable.
It is a wise choice to be expert in the few openings than to have very wide choice of the openings in our repertoire.
The best thing is to be expert on everything, but there were nobody who succeed in that and it is not good thing to try.
I will give some concrete advices based on my experience.

Let´s imagine that we are playing The Sicilian Defence against 1.e4 and our main choice is The Dragon variation.
It means that we have a few problems to solve.
If we are playing for a win, then we should watch out for the variations who can finish in the immediate draw. It means that we need some subvariation in the cases when we have to play for a win! This is somehow risky, as our opponent can predict this and as subvariation are called subvariations with a reason, he can just exploit this to take an advantage.
As these variations are easy to learn (some sharp lines with unclear outcome) we can prepare 2-3.

All strategic preparation (choice of the variations, opening files e.t.c.) has to be done at home, not during the tournament!

It is highly possible that our opponent will not recognise the games which were played in the "must win" situation, especially if we did not played the same variation all the time.

The second scenario is that we have to play for a draw. The Dragon Variation is very sharp, and it does not suits good for these occasions.
In this case we need something more solid, where we are ready to take somehow weaker position for extra solidity.
Let´s say that our choice is The Russian Defence (Petroff).
In this case we need to learn a bit more in the sidelines, as White can play King´s gambit or something like that (2.Nc3).
Much better solution is to chose some variation in The Sicilian Defence which can be played solidly.
The best choice is The Taimanov Variation, or Accelerated Dragon.
In the case of Accelerated Dragon you just need to learn some lines (as in our case this is not the main opening choice, just a choice for "play for a draw" situation) which are most solid, and some lines in The Maroczy Bind.

If your main choice is The Berlin Wall in the Spanish opening, then you can learn one variation of the Sicilian for the special "must win" situations.
It can be The Kalashnikov or "2...Nc6, 4...Qb6" variation.
If you do not like to learn all the Anti-Sicilian systems, then you can play 3...Qd6 in Scandinavian!
The conclusions are:
  • There must be a structure of the opening repertoire.
  • You need one opening which is your main opening choice against 1.e4 and one against 1.d4 ( The opening against 1.d4 has to be in harmony with your choice against 1.Nf3 and 1.c4)
  • You need some sharp variation in must win situations (this is much better then a whole new opening for playing for a win)
  • You need extra solid lines in which you do not need to have chances for a win in "must draw" situations

I shall now talk about a repertoire from the point of view of player A  (we considered him playing with white pieces).
In our imaginary scenario, Player A had a very good opening choice against Pirc Defence, but his options against Alekhine Defence were very poor.
He was mainly 1.e4 player.
I assume that every player has strict sympathy towards 1.e4 or the closed systems (1.d4, 1.Nf3, 1.c4). From time to time players switches from one move to another, but they are in their nature players of one of the two groups.
Chess is a game which is basically very drawish and from a point of view of chess professionals the margins for a draw are to big (for a non-chessplayers drawing margin is very very small as in the one chess game played during the lunch pause at a job the probability that someone of two happy amateurs will never get winning advantage during the game is lesser than 0,001% ).
This means that when playing with white pieces (and preparing to play with white pieces) we have to break the balance.
As most of the professionals are very practical, they are satisfied to get some advantage from the opening.
Playing with white pieces we will face organised repertoire from our opponents and the openings which they played many more times than we.
When playing with white we do not need to have "the main opening".
We simply plays against every possible opening which our opponents can come with.
It means that we have to do a lot of works.
The lion part of the work has to be done at home, and everything has to be separated in the opening files.
My approach is somehow specific.
If I am playing the main lines every time it means that I will play the openings in which my opponents has more experience.
This does not means that I am going to play suspicious lines which does not guarantee an advantage.
If I play 1.e4 and face 1...e5 from the opponent who plays The Berlin Wall or Brayer variation in Ruy Lopez, then my The Scotch is the perfect choice.
In this case there is a big help from a statistic.
If 1...e5 is played 35% times against 1.e4 it means that in my 100 games with white pieces in which I open with 1.e4, I can expect 1...e5 in around 35 games.
If I played The Scotch Opening in 32 out of 35 games (It can be 3 games with Petroff or Philidor) it is already respectful experience in this opening.
Meanwhile, during my opponent´s 100 games with Black pieces, he played 1...e5 in 50 games (as 1.e4 occurs in 50% cases), and The Scotch was played against him 7-12 times.
It means that I have more experience then he/she in The Scotch Opening.
This leads to the conclusion that I am going to play something which I looked more than my opponent, have more experience then my opponent, despite that he is actually playing with black pieces.
The same rule was adopted against The Sicilian Defence, The French Defence and the other main choices.
It gives me pole-position in the games.
All variations are organised in the opening files, which gives me more time to think about useful questions during my preparation.
It is mostly used  to predict things in the game, and how to do it suitable to my style.
Then, when I am sure what is going to happen next day (or at most 2 possible scenarios) I spend some time to prepare for the game (try to memorise some things from the file, check what is new in some lines, check something with the computer engines e.t.c.).
It takes at most 1,5 hour!
Every preparation which takes more than 1-1,5 hour shows some defect in someone´s chess.
It can be lack of self confidence, lack of the work ethics, too bad opening files (which is a signs of laziness) e.t.c.

This is the last article on this subject, but in my next articles about my chess in 2011 and 2012 you can found my best opening preparations during the last two years, and how I put these rules in the practise.

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