Tag Archives: chess

Why Games From Opens Are More Interesting

Most  chess fans love it when there are super grand master tournaments? The very best in the world playing against each other. That should make for very exciting and instructive games in chess. Unfortunately this is not always the case. As a general rule I believe the games from open tournaments are more instructive and interesting.

Opens are becoming more and more lucrative than before. Generous appearance fees and the lure of winning big prizes is proving too much to resist from super grandmasters. The 2014 Qatar Masters is an example of a tournament where super GMs Vladimir Kramnik from Russia and Anesh Giri of Holland but were surprisingly unable to win the tournament. Both were upset by Yu Yangyi who had started the tournament as the 13th seed, rated 2705, but went on to beat the two Top Ten players,  who were both in great form by the way, to take clear first.

In super grand master tournaments the world’s elite are generally very familiar with one another’s play. There is tendency towards conservative play in Super GM tournaments which might explain the huge number of draws.  Many of them have been playing one another for a long time and they know what to expect from each other. This takes out the surprise factor out of most games at the top level unless one of the players has prepared a novelty or new move in their pet lines. It is not unusual for games at the very top level to feature deep opening lines where the players play as many as 20 moves from home preparation or theory. These kinds of games are generally of limited value to chess students. If the death of chess is ever to come about at some stage, it will more likely be from games between super grand masters than games between very strong players and their weaker counterparts.

On the other hand in an open tournament like the recently held Qatar Masters or Gibraltar Open, there is larger field of players with greater variation in Elo ratings. You can have situations where super grand masters are playing opponents who are more than two hundred rating points below them. In theory the much stronger grand master should win but practice is showing that there are plenty of upsets. The stronger player is probably more motivated to win because they have a higher rating and want to justify it. This could mean taking more risks than they would otherwise take against another player of similar rating or at the same level.

In the opens very strong grand masters are more likely to be taken out of their comfort zones, playing opponents whom they know very little about. The strong GMs have a a great deal  at stake in the form of precious rating points. Their lower rated opponents are however, much more motivated to take bigger risks. They will gain more rating points from winning the game than the rating points they lose if the game does not go their way. The games are more interesting, varied and more unpredictable. From a learning perspective when players have large rating differences, the games are likely to be more instructive because of the difference in the standard of play.

In the Opens games where much higher ranked players are upset by lower ranked players tend to be very interesting.  The lower ranked player has punched above their weight and upset their form book and probably played an inspired game in the process.

Below is a game from the 2014 Qatar Masters Open tournament between two grandmasters separated by at least 200 rating points, Viktor Bologan and Das Neelotal. And the result! The much lower ranked player won and what a game it was.

Bruce Mubayiwa

Improving Endgame Play – Step 1

Like so many chess players, I mis-spent my youth in pool halls … well, no, that’s not quite accurate. The truth is that I did squander alot of time studying the most popular, complex chess opening variations. “If my opponent falls into this trap at move five, then I’ve got him – I know it twenty moves deep all the way to mate! And in all variations!!” Or, I thought, “More likely, he won’t fall for the trap, but then I’ll play Fischer’s latest improvement at move 22, thus guaranteeing a small but comfortable edge.”

Although the traps did win a few games, in most cases my “deep preparation” was totally wasted. Most of my opponents didn’t even know the main lines, and my stronger opponents were equally uncooperative, easily sidestepping my dark designs.

On rare occasions in those days, I would take out an endgame book. I was told that endgames were good for you – sort of like taking vitamins, only a lot more work. I did manage to learn some basic endgame principles, but then it was always more fun to study tactical puzzles and even easier to go back to the openings. After all, it seemed essential to have a backup system for everything I played, just in case of “emergencies.” In all candor, after decades of tournament play I have never actually had such an emergency.

Nonetheless, it is a well known fact that I am single-handedly responsible for keeping Barnes and Noble in business, having purchased immense quantities of highly specialized opening books for many, many years. What’s worse, I actually spent time reading them. Then, when chess engines became commercially available, I started “checking” the openings book analyses and looking for theoretical novelties. Well, that didn’t last long – I soon realized that the authors, aside from being grandmasters, had engines at least as powerful as mine… In time, I also discovered that, except for rare early tactical skirmishes, engines are not of much help in the openings.

So, at Nigel’s suggestion, I’m now making some opening repertoire changes that will reduce the amount of material I have to study. At the same time, these changes produce more solid positions that avoid feeding my habit for ultra-sharp positions (which require complex calculations at almost every move, an increasingly taxing task on my aging brain). But best of all, Nigel’s approach leaves lots of extra time to address an important neglected area, i.e. improving one’s endgame play. So that’s Step 1 – finding the time  and making endgame study a priority.

Here are a few instructive endgames I’ve studied so far this week – games by two of the greatest endgame players in history, Jose Raul Capablanca and Akiba Rubinstein.

The Master Game: Larsen – Schmid

Here’s one that I missed so it was nice to catch up after three decades. In this one we get to see the great Bent Larsen explain his thoughts and Schmid blunders in what should have been an OK position.

The commentary was insightful as always but I wish that Jeremy James knew to pronounce Gligoric’s name as ‘GligoRITCH’ rather than ‘Gligorik’. And on the subject of pronunciation note that Max Euwe’s surname is pronounced ‘ERVER’ rather than ‘yuw’.

Visual Impressions

An interesting and unexplored area in the World of errors are those made through ‘visual impressions’. Positions often look better or worse than they actually are with this impression only being corrected by deep and accurate analysis. When players are unable to make such analysis they can fall victim to their impressions rather too often.

A nice example of this effect can be seen in the Albin Counter Gambit in which many White players don’t like the look of Black’s d-pawn after 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 d4. What do they do? Try to exchange it of course with 4.e3. But this can land them in very deep trouble.

Correspondence Chess Openings

An interesting question came in this week about the openings someone should use in correspondence chess and whether these should be the same as the ones in over-the-board games. Well, it depends…

If someone wants to play correspondence chess for its own sake then they should use the ‘most principled’ moves in the most challenging lines and not worry about either wild complications or lengthy theoretical variations. This approach will reduce both sides’ margin for error and lead to sharp struggles, which is rather necessary in this kind of chess, especially if computers are allowed.

On the other hand if someone uses correspondence chess for training purposes (a major recommendation of mine for over-the-board players) they should use the openings they intend to use in over-the-board play. Using them against super-GM opposition (which is what happens when you marry a 1900 player to a long time limit plus Rybka and Chessbase) is a wonderful way to iron out any wrinkles.

It is possible of course to tick both these boxes if one wishes to participate successfully at GM level and the following game was one of my own attempts to do so. It’s also one of my best at any form of chess.