LEARNING A NEW OPENING REVISITED

PART 2

by Steve Lopez

In the last issue of Electronic T-Notes, we looked at various ways to find a single base variation to use when learning a new opening. We also discussed the importance of learning the ideas behind the opening as opposed to rote memorization of variations.

Learning a new opening can be likened to building a house. By learning a single "base" variation you've laid the foundation for further construction. You can add branches to your base variation as you run across them in actual play.

This is where computer chess programs are extremely useful. You can practice an opening against a computer a limitless number of times before testing yourself against a live opponent.

If your computer program of choice has a generous opening book, you'll find that it "knows" quite a few variations in any opening you choose to throw at it. So you simply force the program to play a particular opening (the exact method varies by program) and play the game normally. At some point the game will veer off from the line you've chosen as your base variation.

After the game, it's time to consult a reference work. Either crack open a copy of a general openings manual (this is where the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings, Modern Chess Openings, or Batsford Chess Openings come in handy) or consult your database (best bets here are the ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia or the Chess Informant on CD). Find the line you played in your game with the computer and see which of you varied from known theory first.

After checking a known and trusted manual, you might want to do a database search in something like the Mega Database CD or your collection of ChessBase Magazines. The reason why I mention these as a secondary source is that many of the games are not annotated. The line you or the computer played may be in an unannotated game, but might be an uncommented weak move made by one of the players. However, if you find the variant move from your game in an annotated game from one of these sources, with a favorable comment from the annotator, it's generally safe to add it to your opening repertoire.

Going back to last week's example, here's part of a Latvian Gambit I played against a computer (I was White):

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5 3.Nxe5 Qf6 4.Nc4 fxe4 5.Nc3 Qf5

You'll recall that as I played the computer, I was following the moves from one of Kallai's general opening works. The computer veered into unknown territory with 5...Qf5.

None of the current major opening books even mention 5...Qf5. If they had, I would merely add the book's recommended line (along with the final evaluation) to my repertoire game (in ChessBase or Fritz) or to my repertoire tree (in Bookup), do a database search for some games using this line, play through the games, and thus know how to handle myself against this move in the future. But the line wasn't there, so I need to do some more digging.

I checked the ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia for all C40 (e.g. Latvian) games. None of the games contain this line (including the variation lines). By now, you're probably getting the same impression I had: 5...Qf5 was definitely not standard opening theory. Checking a few more databases, I finally located two games in which 5...Qf5 was played. White replied 6.Ne3 in one of them; in the other, White played a different move, but 6.Ne3 was given as a improvement in a variation line. White won both games. I simply made a note of 6.Ne3 in my repertoire game/tree and wrote it off as a subline that isn't very important.

So we now have a procedure for selecting opening variations:

The key here is to take your time. Don't try to learn an opening overnight. It's better to understand the ideas behind a few variations than it is to try to memorize dozens of variations.

As you grow more proficient in your chosen opening, you'll find yourself gradually revising your game tree. You'll be promoting some variations within the tree to a higher status, while demoting or completely eliminating others. You'll also find that you're relying less on memorization to get you through the opening and relying more on your own understanding of the ideas of the opening and what is required of both players.

If you get really serious about an opening you'll find yourself buying a book about it. These books are generally useful in only two cases:

Of these two cases, #2 really should be the only reason a class-level player buys one of these books. These books follow a pattern: reams of variations with little to no explanation of why the moves are good or bad. In general you should steer clear of them. You'll never remember all of that theory, most of them fail to offer explanatory text, and they're horrendously expensive.

Next time, we'll look at tabia and how to use them. Right now, it's onward to Chess Embitterment, which ties in quite nicely with the point I just made about specialist books on particular openings...



CHESS EMBITTERMENT

THE SNOTTY KID

by Steve Lopez

I remember this game like it was yesterday. It was the 1993 Virginia Open (a tournament that will live in infamy for many bizarre reasons). I was there to see old friends and do a few ChessBase demonstrations. Playing chess was almost an afterthought (as my results in the event clearly showed).

On Day Two of the event, I noticed a positively beautiful young lady walking around the tournament room. This girl was causing more cases of whiplash (from heads snapping around to look at her) then a chain reaction pileup on a Los Angeles freeway. And -- wonder of wonders -- she was a player in the event!

She has a truly fabulous way of seating herself at the board, with one leg folded under her and her back arched slightly backwards. She wore a tight pair of faded jeans and, making a long story short, the view from behind was enough to cause blindness in Canadian lab rats. Without digressing into undue whining, I can accurately state that I blew a couple of games that weekend by paying more attention to her miraculous posterior (since she was seated just a few boards down the same aisle) than I paid to the chesspieces in front of me.

In the third round, she was paired against a pimpy teenaged Poindexter-type. His appearance was a cross between Gata Kamsky and the hero of the cartoon show Dexter's Laboratory. He was decked out in the full regalia of geekdom: horn-rimmed glasses, lime-green dress shirt, patent-leather shoes, and (so help me God, there's no way I could be making this up) a pocket protector.

They sat down to play their game -- Poindexter vs. the absolute angel of the Virginia Chess Federation. Very quickly, the kid found himself in trouble -- very quickly: each player had used less than a half-hour on the clock. Abruptly, the kid stood up and left the room.

Five minutes elapsed. Ten minutes. Twenty. Finally, the young lady went to find the tournament director. A few minutes later, I saw the TD physically dragging the kid back to the board by the arm, hissing something into his ear, and dropping him like an acne-ridden sack of potatoes into his seat at the board. After a couple of further moves, the kid stopped the clocks and held out his hand.

I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what had transpired. A few minutes before the next round, right after the pairings went up, I asked the TD what had happened. He confirmed my suspicions. The kid had found himself in a dead-lost position. Rather than resign, he simply left the hall. He was going to make this lovely woman sit there for over 90 minutes while his clock ran down to the end of the first time control. The TD had discovered him horsing around in the book room and had dragged him back to his game, telling him to either play it out or resign like a gentleman.

"What a jerk!" said I.

The tournament director just grinned. "Steve, you're on Board 51. You have a surprise waiting for you..."

I checked the wallboard to make sure he was right. Yup -- Board 51. I made my way through the maze of tables and inert overweight chessplayers (who make it a point to stand blocking the aisles at the start of a round). Seated at Board 51 was my "surprise". He looked up at me through thick Buddy Holly glasses with those bleary Kamsky-like eyes, said something snotty, and started the clock.

I looked at the kid, looked over my shoulder at the TD (who was laughing hysterically), sat down, and threw out the e-pawn.

Lopez - Owens [B40]
VA op, 1993

1.e4 e6 2.d4 c5

Remember this move...it becomes important later.

3.Nf3 b6 4.Be3 d6 5.Nbd2 Nc6 6.Bb5 Bb7??

Definitely not the standard means for dealing with a pin.

7.d5 exd5 8.exd5 Nge7 9.dxc6 Bxc6 10.Bxc6+ Nxc6

Nice! Ten moves in and I have a winning advantage: more material and better development. Only an idiot could screw this one up.

11.0-0 Be7 12.Re1 0-0 13.c3 Re8 14.Qc2 Qd7 15.Rac1

Enter the idiot. Most players would be thinking "attack". I'm thinking of getting my ducks in a row as I savor my material advantage. 15.Re2, getting ready to double up on the e-file, is infinitely superior.

15...Bf8 16.Ng5 g6 17.Nde4 Bg7

Speaking of ducks, there's a fat juicy one sitting on d6. Instead of trying to plug Daffy with something like 18.Bf4, Elmer gets confused, thinks it's fiddler-crab season, and plays:

18.Rcd1 d5

Had I attacked with the Bishop instead of the Rook, I would now have a Bishop slicing through the heart of Black's position. Instead, I have a Rook with one less free square, a Knight under attack, and more mayhem yet to come...

19.Ng3 d4

Note that the Bishop is kinda sorta OK because of the pin on the Black Queen. On the other hand, note also that I'm losing space at a hair-raising clip.

20.b3 Re7 21.Nf3 Rae8

He does what I should have done several moves ago: doubling the Rooks on an open file.

22.Qc1 b5 23.h4 d3 24.Nd2

Now things just get stupid. For a good laugh, have Fritz analyze the position after 23...d3 to see just how blind I was.

24...Qg4 25.Bxc5

Yes! Finally!

25...Rxe1+ 26.Rxe1 Rxe1+ 27.Qxe1 Be5

Now please understand: I am still winning this game. But the d3-pawn is spooking me something fierce, so I continue screwing around and giving up ground.

28.Ngf1

Doofus! You need to create threats! 28.Nf3 (which still keeps an eye on d2) was the way to proceed.

28...Qxh4 29.Nf3

[OUTSTANDING PUN CENSORED]

29...Qf4 30.Be3 Qf5 31.Qd2

Oh, yes! Always blockade a passed pawn with your most powerful piece! Egad!

31...a5 32.Ne1 b4 33.Nxd3

Huzzah! Finally!

33...bxc3

So now he just creates another one!

34.Qe2 Nb4 35.Nxb4 axb4 36.Qc4 Kg7 37.Qxb4 Qd7

A litle voice inside my head kept screaming "Qe4!!! Qe4!!!!" So I did the natural thing and panicked...

38.a4 c2 39.Qd2 Qxd2 40.Bxd2

And now, chess fans, let us crank up the Weirdness Level about 25 notches:

40...Bc3? 41.Ne3??

Completely and utterly missing the fact that he's just hung his Bishop, as Bxc3 is a tempo-gaining check!

41...Bxd2 42.Nxc2

I have now turned a massive winning advantage (a whole piece) into merely a pretty good winning advantage (a couple of outside connected passed pawns). Notice, dear friends, that I have been winning this game since move ten, around 8:15 PM. It is now move forty-two, well past midnight, and the end is nowhere in sight.

42...Kf6 43.Nd4 Ke5?

I must be hallucinating due to fatigue.

44.Nf3+

The only surprise here, in light of my previous moves, is that I saw this. More in character with my previous play would be something like 44.Nb5.

44...Kd5 45.Nxd2

Anyone in their right mind, having Black in this position, would now do the noble thing and fall on his sword. But the fact that I'm an elderly guy of 32 years is not lost on my opponent, who seeks to win by wearing me down.

45...Kc5 46.Kf1 f5 47.f4 h6 48.g3 g5 49.fxg5 hxg5 50.Nf3 f4 51.Nxg5 fxg3 52.Kg2

Most doofuses (doofi?) would play 52...Kb4 to lock up the pawns' advance and set up ...Kxb3, missing the fact that the a-pawn scampers up the board with no hope of the King catching it. But this guy, unfortunately, does the right thing...

52...Kb6 53.Kxg3

Please notice that this game is completely over. My opponent continues to angle for a draw. Look at the above diagram: without the Knight, Black has legitimate drawing chances (in fact, it would be one of the rare cases in which White cannot force a win, even with a two-pawn advantage, if Black has the opposition). But with a Knight, it's a no-brainer for White.

53...Ka5 54.Kf4 Kb4 55.Ke4 Ka5 56.Kd4 Kb4 57.Ne6

Gimmie a tempo, please! This is why White has a win: I can gain a tempo whenever I need it (without giving up the opposition) simply by moving the Knight. Anyone can see this -- anyone but my opponent, that is. It is now going on 1 A.M. and I am longing for death.

57...Ka5 58.Kc5 Ka6

It is now a forced mate. And the band played on...

59.b4 Kb7 60.a5 Ka6 61.Nd8 Ka7 62.b5 Kb8

Notice what my opponent is doing: he's angling for a draw by stalemate. Without the Knight, he could pull it off. Actually, it could still happen if I'm not careful. But I'm aware of the possibility and fail to screw up and gratify him...

63.a6 Ka8 64.Ne6

Not really necessary, but it was late at night (prime blunder time!) and I didn't want to take any chances.

64...Kb8 65.Kc6

The kid finally realizes that I'm not going to let a stalemate happen, so he throws in the towel.

1-0

Then he further embitters me by asking if I'll stay and analyze! I knew what was coming: he was going to explain how he should have won the game, as he was better all along. I was starting to contemplate stuffing his mouth with garlic, cutting off his head, and driving a stake through his heart.

"Kid, you could have resigned an hour ago. What were you trying to do? I mean, I know I'm older than you and all that, but were you expecting me to keel over dead from a heart attack any second or what?"

He looked embarassed. "Let's just go over the opening, OK?"

We set the board back up.

1.e4 e6 2.d4 c5 3.Nf3

"Why did you play that?" he asked. "You took me out of book."

"Book!!! BOOK!!!" I was barely controlling my laughter. I pointed to the pawn on c5. "What do you call that??!!??"

He reached into a dufflebag and pulled out a battered, cheaply-printed opening monograph. I barely caught a glimpse of the title before he stuffed it back into the bag; it was something like Winning with the Beavis and Butthead Gambit.

"You were supposed to take the pawn," he complained. "Then I would have had you!" He was practically whining now. "Why did you play 3.Nf3??"

"Kid, it's called the Sicilian Defense."

"Whatever. Anyway, you didn't play it very well."

"I didn't drop a Knight in the opening."

"It was a positional sacrifice..."

I stood up and left as he continued to shuffle pieces and talk. Goodnight, Gata. I Gata go.



You can reach me by e-mail with your ideas and suggestions.