In The Comeback Trail, Part 9, I discussed how it can be a good idea to create databases for prospective rivals. Let’s now look at this in another way, what if they create a database on you?
This thought should be enough to discourage us from playing dubious gambits, especially if we play our chess in a relatively confined environment. It also suggests that we might want to have a certain variety in the openings we play in order to avoid the brunt of an opponent’s preparation.
How can you incorporate some variety but without massively increasing our preparation workload? This is a difficult issue, and something that chess organizations may want to consider before putting everyone’s games online! I think a good approach is to play openings which are very sound and where any sharpness tends to be deferred until later in the game.
At this stage you’ll start to realize why the Berlin Defence to the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4) and Queen’s Gambit Declined have become so popular, they fit this bill perfectly. But meanwhile there are plenty of other openings which are good for this, for example 3…g6 against the Ruy Lopez is also solid and leads to complex middle games. If I were to play 1…e5 on a regular basis, this would certainly be a candidate line for me.
Are there particular players who have mastered this approach? Well an obvious one is a young Norwegian chappy by the name of Carlsen…
Regardless of one’s political persuasion this makes for interesting viewing. The leader of the Lib Dems, Tim Farron, plays a game on live television and loses in just 36 seconds.
In his defence I should point out that his opponent, UKIP MEP Jonathan Arnott, is a pretty good player with a current ECF grade of 187.
With Hugh away this week I find myself in the unfortunate position of having to fill in for him. Rather than attempt to match his brilliant articles I thought it better to offer some light entertainment in the form of Chess and Simpsons. And no that’s not the famous Simpson’s restaurant in the Strand but rather Homer Simpson and family.
Here are some Simpsons youtube clips featuring chess. Enjoy!
In recent years there has been talk about rating inflation due to top players achieving ever higher Elo ratings. Were so many players really so much better than Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov?
I’m not sure that the effect can really be described as inflation as at the other end of the scale there appears to have been the opposite effect. With more players becoming Elo rated and the ratings going down much further, many titled players who have to play against them (for example in Elo rated weekend events) have struggled to maintain their ratings. So what I think we have is an increased spread in the ratings, and much depends on who you get to play against.
The following ‘upset’ features an ‘ordinary’ GM beating a super-GM in fine style. It’s hard to believe that the winner is really almost 300 points lower rated:
The game below is a real trip down memory lane for me. It was played in my first Elo rated tournament when I’d just turned 17 and I still played openings like the King’s Gambit and Schliemann Defence.
The Schliemann featured in this game and my opponent, Jeff Horner, didn’t really know what to do against it apart from ‘common sense’ development. But allowing the doubling of White’s c-pawns was not a good idea.
Horner and I would play many more times over the years and with very good results for me. It can help to get off to a good start against someone.
Chess openings tend to drift in and out of fashion apparently depending on spurious factors such as whether or not they have a strong player using them. A good example is the Raptor Variation of the Trompowsky which goes 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 Ne4 3.h4!?, a one time favourite of UK GM Julian Hodgson which all but disappeared when he stopped using it.
Interestingly it now seems to be making something of a comeback, mainly thanks to the efforts of Richard Rapport. There are a few others chipping in too such as the inventive Australian GM Max Illingworth:
Is chess an art, science or sport? Or something else? I tend to take the position that we should aim first and foremost for better results as this generally means better quality of play. It’s also too easy for people to proclaim themselves to be artists when another unsound sacrifice or dubious gambit goes wrong.
Having said that there is an element of art in chess and there are very strong players for whom this overshadows results. One such player was Eduard Gufeld.
Back in the 1990s, during my brief period as the Batsford Chess Editor, I got to know Gufeld because he was constantly phoning me up with book proposals. He had a number of co-authors in the former Soviet Union with whom he’d collaborate on various books, and then sell the manuscripts to publishers in the West. I had to reject many of his ideas but still enjoy many of his writings.
Sadly Gufeld died in 2002 but left behind a rich legacy in games. The book on his own games, The Search For Mona Lisa, was also a classic that many people may have overlooked because he was never one of the World’s top players.
Here’s Gufeld showing one of his games, and a very nice effort it was too:
A couple of videos have appeared on Youtube lately which gives some good insights about how a chess player thinks. I think a lot of people will find these interesting, especially the bit about him losing to the 10 year old!
Having previously examined the role of opening preparation, and how one should go about it, today I thought I’d look at the topic of preparing for specific opponents. It can certainly be useful to understand how a prospective opponent is likely to play, for example which openings might crop up and what sort of middle game decisions might be made.
Usually such preparations are made before a game and once the pairings are known. But you can also keen an eye on opponents you are likely to meet in your chess area, provided it isn’t too large of course.
The way to go about this is to make a list of the stronger players who you are likely to face. The size of this list depends largely on how much preparation you’re willing to do and how thoroughly you want to do it. After that you create a database for each one, perhaps using Chess DB as your reference source. Updates can be done periodically and you can have your favourite engine annotate the games. If certain opening lines crop up quite frequently, make a note of them and see if there’s a good antidote.
This kind of preparation has tremendous practical value but who actually does it? Of course your opponent’s games will need to have been published for this to be doable.
Last time I introduced the subject of preparation, pointing out how older players are often handicapped by their old fashioned attitudes with regard to databases and engines. Let’s expand on this a little.
First of all I should say that there’s little need to have very detailed preparation if you’re under 2000 Elo, at this stage you should still be building up core skills such as calculation, positional understanding and endgame skill. But the further you get beyond this the greater the need for sophisticated preparation.
Where should one start? A good place is to have a good general understanding of the openings you wish to play, and for this I would recommend the Chess Explained series by Everyman or their Move by Move titles. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have this kind of grounding, without this kind of strategic overview it’s hard to make sense out of a modern opening.
After that it should be straight into the theory together with databases and engines, and here too I think Everyman gets it right by offering books in database format. Other publishers seem to be slow to adopt this idea, perhaps because they’re worried their work will be copied. But for advanced opening work in which you add new games and use engines, there’s no point in having the book in paper format. Any interesting lines will have to be put into database form, which will of course be very time consuming.
I also offer database files of the opening moves at my Tiger Chess site so members can drill the lines with Chess Position Trainer, Chess Opening Wizard or at Chessable and develop them with their own notes.