Sunday, November 11, 2012

Randomise openings in tournaments and bring back sparkling chess

Hi Pilgrim,

One of the things that used to happen in playing chess before the age of analytical engines and databases was that chess players tended to make more mistakes, especially in the openings. That led to more scintillating play as the example below amply demonstrates. Even in correspondence chess, you would see the King’s Gambits and the Evans tried out with every expectation of victory.

Today, if you played in this way you would probably get smashed with no chance to fight back. Safety first and quiet positions that disadvantage chess engines, are the prevailing strategies used by players, except in the much lower echelons of correspondence or server-based chess. In cross-board chess, thorough preparation combined with the players’ phenomenal memories and understanding, is used to produce ‘gotcha chess’.

I have previously argued in another venue, for the randomisation of openings in chess tournaments. This would bring back excitement to those of us who like to follow the games of the very best. It would mean that when you sat down to play an opponent in a tourney, the opening which would be played is selected by a random process at that moment, from a long list of sound openings (including most gambits). So you can no longer count on your experience with a particular opening or the memorisation you have undertaken prior to meeting a particular opponent whose opening preferences you know. You and your opponent are on your own! All you have is your talent and general knowledge of all the openings.

Sure, positional players end up playing gambits sometimes, but by the same token, sharp tacticians end up having to play quiet variations. It depends on what is pulled out of the hat.

Imagine this wonderful scenario:

Carlsen sits down to play a game as White against Morosevich; the tourney official selects the opening to be played at random; it is a Vienna Gambit.

Next time these two players meet in this tourney with colours reversed, the draw produces a King’s Indian. And so it goes on for all the players.

Players like the comfort zone of familiar openings but if there were no rating points involved and a sponsor threw enough money at it, I am sure many first class players would take part. Amateurs around the world would love to see such contests.

I discovered the game below in an anthology by Purdy. He used it to show how it was possible to produce great combinative games in correspondence chess that rivalled anything produced across the board. Not something likely to happen today. Notice how Black’s king is penned up and then White has all the time he needs to finish him off. I hope you enjoy it.

The game is from the British Correspondence Chess Championship 1946-47.

R. (Bob) G. Wade Versus Wallis (no other details known at this time)

1. e4 e6

2. d4 d5

3. Nc3 Bb4

4. e5 c5

5. a3 cxd4

6. axb4 dxc3

7. Nf3! Cxb2

8. Bb2 Ne7

9. Bd3 Nbc6

10. Qd2 Ng6

11. b5 Nce7

12. h4 Nf5

13. h5 Ngh4

14. Nxh4 Nxh4

15. Ra4 Nf5

16. Rg4! Bd7 (not g6??)

17. Bf5 exf5

18. Rg7 bb5

19. Rh3 Qe7

20. Qa5! Bc6

21. e6!! f4

22. Re3!!! fxe3

23. exf7+ Kf8

24. Ba3 Qa3

25. Qa3+ Kg7

26. Qe7 exf2+

27. Kf2 Raf8

28. h6+ Kh6

29. Qf6+ Kh5

30. Kf3 Bd7 (...Rhg8!?)

31. Kf4 h6

32. Qg7 d4

33. g4+ Kh4

34. Qg6! Kh3

35. Qd3+ Kg2

36. Qe2+ 1-0 (Mate in 3)

Now that is a sparkling game which would grace any player's collection.