by Steve Lopez


One of the advantages to playing in a regular monthly tournament is that you tend to see the same people month after month. The disadvantage comes when you don't pay attention to what everyone else is playing and your ignorance comes back to haunt you.

I used to run a monthly tournament in Martinsburg, WV, and drew players from a four state area. They weren't huge events (twelve to sixteen players was the norm), but you could count on a core group of regulars to always show up no matter what.

One of the die-hard regulars was Bobby Byers. Bobby and I went back quite a way together, to the old days of the (now, sadly, defunct) Hagerstown City Chess Club. We'd crossed swords many a time over the board, but only once under tournament conditions.

Bobby's a great guy as a friend, but a terror over the board as an opponent. Few people that I've ever known put the work and effort into the game that Bob did. I'd run into him on the street -- he'd be carrying a set and current chess magazine. I'd run into him in a bar -- he'd have a set in front of him, tearing into all comers for a buck a game. His brother told me that Bobby spent hours playing and analyzing on his tabletop chess computer. When he wasn't playing chess, he was working his butt off, trying to save the money for a PC so that he could run ChessBase and Fritz.

All this guy did was play. So while it was a blast paying Bobby for fun, it was always a matter of some concern when one was paired against him in a tournament.

In March 1994 I was running a quad in Martinsburg. I was distressed to find that I had an odd number of players, distressed because I was spending all of my time reseaching and writing my second book Danger Zone! and hadn't had any time to actually play chess in a while. I resigned myself to the butt-kicking I was going to take and entered the field in order to give us an even number of players.

Sure enough, I was not disappointed in my prophetic abilities but was disappointed in my generally abysmal performance. After going 1-1 in my first 2 games (winning one by leaving a Knight en prise for several moves while blasting him with repeated mate threats, but then losing to a lower-rated player by overlooking the one drawing move in time pressure), I saw that Bobby was the only player remaining in our group. My hopes for an easy last-round game were shattered.

My play in that game was worse than anyone could possibly have imagined. I had a passable position right out of the opening but then I blundered by playing what is possibly the worst move in chess history (see the last issue of Electronic T-Notes for more on my shame and degradation). The game has been responsible for several cases of death and dementia; what's even worse was that it cost me a fistful of rating points.

I'm not whining here. What transpired in that game happened because of my own carelessness and laziness. But the bad parts was that I played a truly awful move against somebody I respected, someone who was one of the two or three hardest-working amateur chessplayers I knew (and, as I was working full time for ChessBase USA back then, I knew a lot of chessplayers).

I needed to do something to redeem myself, in my own eyes as well as in Bobby's. That's when I got angry with myself.

I noticed something very peculiar about myself at that time. I discovered that I play much better chess when I'm really honked off about something. Whether it's anger at myself, my opponent, my job, my family, my favorite team's position in the standings, makes no difference. I have to be mad to play decent chess.

And that's when my Machiavellian plot began...

I made a list of the tournament regulars and, starting with the next month's event, began to pay close attention to what openings they preferred from both sides of the board. I would roam around the hall, pausing at each game, looking at scoresheets to see what openings and variations were preferred by each of my potential opponents. Then I began a file on each player, putting together games and analysis for their preferred openings.

After my particularly embittering loss to Bobby, I began to pay special attention to his games. I noted that he invariably played the Pirc as Black against 1.e4. I was basically unschooled in this opening (last issue's game fragment should be ample evidence of that), so I set out to become a "Pirc-killer", a slayer of Bobby's Pirc in particular.

Now this is what I call channelling anger in a positive direction! I was really mad at myself for losing that game in the way I did, so I used my anger as a driving force to try to make myself the best-prepared chessplayer I could possibly be. And, lest you think that this was a personal vendetta against Bob, please understand that I was doing the exact same thing for all of my potential opponents. I became a major chessplaying fool!

The interesting thing is that this is exactly what the chess professionals do (minus the anger). They use their computer tools to help them prepare for specific opponents. For the first time, I was about to use ChessBase exactly as the "big boys" do!

My first step was to decide which of the three main Pirc variations I would explore (4.Nf3, 4.f4, or 4.miscellaneous). Here's where I made a gut choice, rather than a rational choice. I opted to learn 4.f4, the Austrian Attack, mainly for two reasons:

1. I remembered that the Austrian Attack disk was the first Fritz Power Book on the Pirc released in the U.S.;

2. I own several repertoire books for club-level players in which the Austrian Attack is the recommended line.

Not the greatest reasons in the world, but I had to start somewhere.

For those not terribly familiar with the Pirc Austrian Attack, the opening moves run something like this:

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4

However, as the Pirc is very transpositional, you also get stuff like this:

1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.f4

but the basic idea is the same. Black, in hypermodern fashion, lets White control the center with his pawns. Black will then seek to weaken the White center by attacking it from the flanks.

So the question was, what would Bob do in response to the Austrian Attack? Fortunately, I've seen Bob play the Pirc (plus I know his style as a player) so I knew the ball was basically in my court. I figured that the basic setup would go something like this:

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4 Bg7 5.Nf3 0-0

What to do now? Time to figure out my options. I compiled a database on the Austrian Attack, starting with the Fritz Power Book disk on it. I then went through ChessBase Magazines, Informants, Correspondence Chess Yearbooks, everything I could get my hands on to add more info to my collection. I even dug through books and old chess magazines and added games and annotations by hand to give myself even more information.

Satisfied that I had a great source of info compiled, I ran CBTree on the database to see my 6th move options. Rather than repeat a ton of information, I now refer you to the first three issues of Electronic T-Notes, available at this Web site. They will give you more information on CBTree than you can shake a branch variation at (and possibly more than you want).

After viewing the tree, I made another not-entirely-rational decision. I was pretty familiar with the White side of both the Caro-Kann Advance and the French Advance, both of which are based around the e4-e5 pawn push. I decided to play 6.e5 in this line as well, due as much to familiarity as to what it did to Black's g6-Bishop.

Now Black gets his pick of either 6...Nfd7, 6...Ng4, or 6...dxe5. I decided to skip over 6...Ng4 as being too risky for players of our level to attempt (translated: I didn't think he'd play it) and confined my studies to the other two lines. I began to discover an interesting fact: unless I made a terrible blunder (as in out last meeting), I would probably come out of the opening with at least a slight edge.

I repeatedly played over John Nunn's Survey games featuring 6.e5, then moved on to the annotated games. After feeling confident that I had a handle on what was going on in the opening, I then decided to try my hand at some actual combat.

Firing up Fritz2 (jeeze, this is ancient history!), I loaded the B09.fbk file and played game after game against my silicon trainer. But I didn't stop there. I had a handful of older, weaker programs that I used as well, trying to get a feel for what Bobby, my fellow class-level player, might throw at me. In a matter of weeks, I racked up over a hundred training games in the 6.e5 line of the Austrian Attack. I wanted to be prepared for anything Bob might throw at me, should we have occasion to play each other again under tournament conditions.

And, eventually, I got my chance...

To be concluded next week.

In the words of the late great Elmore James, "Talk to me, baby!": post comments to our ChessBase Users Group or e-mail me directly.