Sunday, December 31, 2006

Chess Tips 1 ~ Survive the Opening and Succeed in the Middle Game

Hi Pilgrims,

How do I prepare for a tournament?

I decide first how I will open with White. Whether it will be e4, d4, c4 etc... Then I decide how I will play as Black. I have a main defence against e4, d4 and c4. I rely on my own judgment as to what to do against the irregular openings.

After these key decisions, I look at the main variations I would select for White if an opponent played any of the standard responses. For instance if I choose d4 I look at replies such as a King’s Indian, Nimzo, Benoni, Queen’s Pawn etc... For e4 I have to prepare against a Sicilian, French, e5, etc...

For Black it is simpler in some ways. I choose one defence against e4, d4 and c4 and prepare my lines against the main variations White may try. For instance against e4 I may play the French, and then if White chooses Nd2 lines I prepare say Nf6 or if the choice is Nc3 I may play the Winawer. Against d4 I may play the King’s Indian, and I may play a similar formation against c4 or anything else White throws up.

By preparing, I mean I go over the main lines, make some notes, try them out against clubmates or a computer. I try to understand the meaning of the lines, the strategy, rather than simply memorise lines. Memory without understanding is useless and will just get you into trouble against an opponent who understands the point of the opening and knows what to do. So I learn enough of the lines to understand what I am doing when I play them. For instance the c5 and f6 thrusts in the French, restriction and blockade ideas in the Nimzo etc...

Having done that, I feel confident that I can orient myself in situations where I may not know the exact sequence of moves. I simply do not have the time or memory capacity of a Master level player to learn all the theory. I also work on my psychology, telling myself that I am well prepared, to take my time and not worry too much about the clock, to breathe deeply so as to relax during the game (especially the opening or when surprises occur), and to talk to myself (internally) so as to help my thinking. I know that if I get through the opening phase I can do well against any opponent of my strength.

If you want to play a reasonable game of chess then you must follow the first maxim of chess: ‘Do Not Blunder’. Eliminating obvious errors is the first step to playing well. Then come what I call the bunny rules (or Purdy rules) and the rest is refinement by experience, a grounding in basic theory, and a knowledge of the main positional ideas from the great theorists.

I promised in an earlier posting to explain what I mean by the ‘bunny rules’, and I shall do so now.

They were first enunciated by C. J. S Purdy, a wonderful chess teacher and the first International Correspondence Chess World Champion. If you ever get a chance to get hold of his books, do so and study them. They will do more for you than any ‘Win with’ series of books. I was first introduced to the ‘Purdy Rules’ by IM Terrey Shaw (see previous post ‘Slam Dunked by the Masters Part 3’) and I promptly renamed them the bunny rules because I think that ordinary players, and even quite strong players, need to ‘think like a bunny’ before they let their thoughts wander onto the higher plains of chess strategy.

You begin first with the simple. When you have mastered that, then you go onto the next level. And so on. Simple isn’t it? Just like primary school. But too many of us leap ahead, often beyond our ability or at least our knowledge. That’s dumb. Consider the fluffy tailed denizen and how he deals with life.

The bunny first moves to the end of his burrow and sniffs the air.

He waits then moves out a little more, always sniffing the air and looking around; eventually he leaves his burrow and starts to explore and find food. But, he always checks around him, sniffs the air, looks for any movement around the place. Sometimes he gets caught out (just like a chess player) but checking around him all the time is his best chance against the fox. If he spots something, he has a chance to save himself. Otherwise, it’s checkmate and rabbit stew for the fox.

The ‘bunny rules’ say you should play chess like a bunny in the initial phase of your thinking process. When it is your turn to move ALWAYS check for all possible captures, checks, pins, forks, nets (tactics which surround - net - a piece or stalemate it for capture) or outright mates. ALL POSSIBLE. Sorry to shout but the point is important. However ridiculous it may seem, CHECK.

When it is your turn to move, run the bunny rules from your opponent’s point of view. That pin or capture you assume is stupid may in fact mean you lose a piece or get mated further along in the game. Then check all YOUR possible captures, checks, pins, forks, nets, mates. You may have a crusher in hand and miss it otherwise. Maybe there’s a crusher you can angle for later. Do this before every move you play. Eventually it will become a habit. You will discover crushes for yourself, and avoid blunders. There is no point in adopting a refined strategy for yourself and overlooking the loss of a piece or a mate in two.

Once you have applied the bunny rules, and there’s no brilliant zinger for yourself or a hidden killer shot for your opponent, then you can look at strategy and tactics in a broader framework. You go from the simple to the more complex, just like in school.

Purdy’s Rules are based on the maxim that tactics trump strategy and positional play. As said above, that brilliant outpost, that gorgeous open file, that flank attack is worth zip, if your opponent can do you in one. And also think of all those brilliancies you may discover, by the application of the ‘bunny rules’.

I know in my own chess play, even in correspondence chess, I have overlooked the simple in search of the complex, and been outdone. Most chess players, whatever their level, would improve if they applied the bunny rules to their game. You can still be a refined genius if you like, but at least you will not blunder. Build the foundation first.

I wish I could apply the bunny rules all the time, but I let myself down too many times for my own good. Maybe if I had had it drummed into me as a child learning to play, it would have become instinctive for me. Remember that if you are coaching young players. For the rest of us, all we can do is TRY HARDER.

There is one important thing you should do when you prepare your openings for a tournament. Study carefully all those moves and variations which the opening's gurus, with their thimble of pathetic wisdom, say are bad. You know what I mean. The kind of dismissive comments about a move as obviously bad, maybe with a question mark symbol, or an offhand remark that a variation is inferior, without going into much or any detail. On the surface, it seems the phoney gurus are right, so you don’t pay any attention to the line they dismiss.


Ordinary players make weak moves. They have even been known to select lines which the cognoscenti KNOW are bad. But, if you have not prepared yourself; if you have not even looked at the variations, just to know the main idea or how to orient yourself; if you have been too trusting or naive about the opening’s ‘experts’, then you have to work it out across the board with the clock ticking. Then the feeling will come over you ‘I know the move he/she just played is bad, but how am I supposed to refute it? Damn, I could end up losing on time even if I get a good position.’

But if you had bothered to check on all those obviously bad moves, then you may have not only saved time, but by playing with the confidence that comes with true understanding, won the game easily.

I did not do any of that in the past. I was a dumbo and only learned the main lines in my openings of choice, assuming falsely that they would turn up most often. Not so at the level of the ordinary player. The game below is an example where I was lucky to win in a Vienna despite getting into time-trouble working out across the board a refutation I should have known from my preparation.

The Tournament the game was played in was magnificently organized in an excellent venue, the air-conditioned Waratah Room of the Whitehorse Council Centre in Nunawading (in Melbourne - the world's 'most livable city'). Even Bobby Fischer would have been proud to have played in such a venue.

The event was approved by the Victorian Chess Association, the games were all rated, it was deemed to be a Class 2 Grand Prix event; featured participants included International Grand Master Darryl Johannsen (2530), a number of Master level players between 2100 and 2400, many strong club players, and of course my good self.

The tourney was organized over two days, with four rounds on Saturday and three on Sunday. They were going to be very long days, as there was often at least one hour break between rounds to recover from the ordeal of playing. The event was a seven round Swiss ‘accelerated at the discretion of the arbiter’.

Overall we had about seventy players participating. As it in fact turned out, I was the oldest player against all my opponents.

My opponent was then one of Australia’s most promising young female juniors. Her rating, like that of all juniors, was on the move upwards. Mine, as with most middle aged players, was on the move to the basement.

G. Eraclides (1629) VERSUS Narelle Szuveges (1780)

Box Hill One Hour Championship October 20-21, 2001. Round 3

Vienna Gambit

1. e4 e5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. f4! d5
4. fxe5 Nxe4
5. Nf3 Be7

This is supposed to be the soundest defence to the Nf3 Variation of the Vienna Gambit. It’s about time that this variation (Nf3) was given a proper name, and if no one else wants to do it, then I will. I hereby declare it to be ‘the King’s Knight’s Variation’.

6. Qe2 Bh4+?!

Black's move cannot be right. The theoreticians dismiss this variation with a few comments, but I had neglected to look at the line as I assumed nobody would play it, saving my preparation for the main lines (see my introductory remarks above). Black was supposed to play either Nxc3 or Ng5/c5. Both players are now at a point of no return. I suspect Narelle took a chance because she looked at my rating, my tournament score thus far, and decided I was an idiot.

7. Nxh4?!

Correct according to theory is:
7. g3 Bxg3 (Nxg3 just loses a piece for two pawns)
8. hxg3 Nxg3
9. Qg2 Nxh1
10. Qxh1 and White with his two extra pieces will wreak havoc on Black in the middle game before her Rooks can unite.
Do you suppose I could remember this bit of theory? How could you remember ideas or moves you did not bother to study? Instead, I sat there and worked things out across the board, while the clock was running, and my opponent looked skyward with that, ‘I must be playing a moron’ look a lot of juniors seem to adopt against anyone over the age of 21.
I sat and thought, then discovered another line, which as it turned out, was good for White. The cost? Time.

7 ........Qxh4+
8. g3 Nxg3
9. Qf2!

Seems very clever to me.

9 .........Nf5
10. Qxh4 Nxh4
11. Nxd5 Kd8
12. d4!

Clever and dynamic. Open lines are needed, even at the cost of a pawn. One of my psych-tricks was to say to myself: 'Think like or play like -------'. In this case it was Morphy, letting pawns go for the sake of open lines. Much better than 'Think like Eraclides....'.

12 ...........Nf3+

Perhaps Ng6 was safer, although she will still be in difficulties after

13. Kf2 Nxd4
14. Bg5+!

Kapow! The previous comment comes from the comic-book school of annotating. The rest, as they say, should be a matter of technique, and in time-trouble I wish I had some.

14 ...........Kd7
15. Bh3+ Kc6

The powerful centre, superior development, the two Bishops with open lines, and the conjunction of Mars with Jupiter in the House of Aquarius, are some of White's advantages in this game.

16. Ne7+ Kc5

Anything else gives White even more tempi.

17. Bxc8

White can also play Nxc8, but I saw a very good forcing variation when the Bishop captures.

17 ..........Nbc6
18. Bxb7 Rab8
19. Bxc6 Nxc6
20. Nxc6 Kxc6
21. b3 Rae8
22. Rhe1

White has a won position a piece up. However, I was in dreadful time trouble, hence the difficulty in the next phase of the game in prosecuting the endgame.
Black, as an experienced junior, tried to make matters as difficult for me as possible so I would get flustered and blunder. But I was not going to let this one go.

22 ..........Re6
23. Rad1

Cutting off the Black King from the central squares.

23 ..........h6
24. Bf4 g5
25. Bc1!?

Best - why let her attack my fine Bishop on g3?

25 ..........Rhe8
26. Bb2 h5
27. Bc3

White is trying to exchange one pair of Rooks as this will make the win easier; the Bishop on c3 guards the Rook on e1 (in fact the square e1, a subtle difference great players of the endgame seem to understand instinctively). The e1 square is now protected twice; if Black plays f6/f5 after White moves the Rook on d1 to d3, then White can play PxP(ep).

27 ...........a6

Getting the pawn away from a square my Bishop can attack - obviously my opponent has had some basic tutoring on the endgame. However, even there it will become a target.

28. Rd3 g4
29. Red1

Now that the f-pawn cannot advance, White turns his attention to exchanging a pair of Rooks.

29 ...........h4
30. Rd8 R8e7
31. Rg8 Rg6
32. Rxg6 fxg6
33. Rd8 Rf2+
34. Kg1 Rf3
35. Bd4 Rf4
36. c3 Re4
37. Rg8 Kb5
38. a4+ Ka5
39. Rxg6 Re1+
40. Kf2 Rb1
41. b4+ Kxa4
42. Rxg4

It is much more important that the King-side Pawns be stopped or captured.

42 ...........Rb2+
43. Kg1 h3!

43 .........Rb1+
44. Kg2! Black is doing her best to cause White to consume his rapidly dwindling time, but with one pair of Rooks exchanged, it is easier for me to calculate.

44. Rg6 Kb3
45. e6 Re2
46. Kf1! Re4 (Necessary)
47. Rg3 Rxe6
48. Rxh3 Kc4
49. Rg3

It’s all over now. Once I worked out the idea of a shield cover for my King, the moves came easily. White’s Rook provides a shield for his King and its ‘Goodnight Irene’.

49 ...........Rh6
50. Kg2 Rh5
51. Rg4 Kd3
52. Kg3 a5
53. bxa5 Rxa5
54. h4 c5
55. Bf6 Ra1
56. Kf4! Rh1
57. Kg5! Rf1
58. h5 Rh1
59. h6 Ke3
60. Kg6 Kf3
61. Rg5 Resigns

Narelle held out her paw and resigned graciously. ‘I was just trying to get you to use up time’ was her comment. She went on to win the 2002 Australian Women’s Championship title, so she must have learned something from playing against me.

Once again, the Vienna Gambit had produced a good win for me. But I had to work hard at a stage of the game when I should have been thoroughly prepared, and got into time-trouble.

So remember, study the weak moves as well as the main variations.

Here endeth this lesson.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just a beginer so forginve my ignorance - But if your 2nd move is NF3, then how could you 3rd move be F4 - isn't the knight in the way of the pawn??

6:02 PM  
Blogger George Eraclides said...

Thank you for picking up the typo! Of course move 2 is Nc3.
George Eraclides

10:25 PM  

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