Imitation, The Sincerest Form of Flattery

There is an old adage among writers. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

Copying your opponent’s moves in the opening is well-known as a poor strategy. It’s common enough among novices and beginners. Sometimes even intermediate players do it, like my opponent in this turn-based Internet game played this week. I’ll admit I was surprised by the copycat behavior. My opponent had white, so he had the advantage of first move. This was the Internet equivalent of correspondence chess, with a time limit of up to three days per move. My opponent still appeared to run out of ideas quickly.

My opponent wasted a tempo from the start with 3.a3. When you go into a symmetrical position as White, it’s best not to go into it with a lost tempo. All else being equal, that gives your opening advantage entirely away. In this case, White got no compensation for that lost tempo.

I would expect an intermediate player to see that the ensuing exchanges would work to my advantage after the tempo loss and very likely lead to a queen-less middle game. That was definitely my plan. Trade the queens on d1, dislodging the white king. Then develop my bishop and castle long, forcing my opponent to pin a piece and lose another tempo.

This game is an example of what can happen after several wasted tempi. Rather than developing counter-play on the queenside, White invested two tempi trying to win back a pawn, one of my doubled pawns on f6 and f7. I allowed the doubled pawns, since it opened the g-file for possible use by my rook on h8. After investing those tempi, White wasn’t able to capture the f7 pawn. Later with 18.g4, White wasted another tempo chasing my bishop to its intended square. 18…Bg6 was planned to prepare the central pawn thrust to d3.

There is no point in making a move that forces your opponent to make the very same move s/he obviously intends to make on their next turn. White should have noticed that g4 was fruitless and looked for a move that would complicate my plans or make an attempt at counter-play. With my pawn on d4, poised to advance to d3 once the bishop added support, White should have been alarmed about its advance. The closer a central pawn gets to the opposite side of the board, the more it grows in power. I would have considered Rd2 with the idea of doubling the rooks on the d-file, Kb1 to increase king safety, or even a4 hoping for some queenside counter-play.

The position after 16…cxd5 is interesting to evaluate. White was down a minor piece and a pawn. I’d just taken on the responsibility of an IQP. My pawn structure was inferior. But I had more active pieces and the initiative. I intended to press that IQP forward immediately. White has just lost the best blockader of an IQP, his last knight.

I especially liked the outcome of my IQP. 24…d2#, the white king mated by a pawn move.

Glenn Mitchell