Monday, April 07, 2008

If you are thinking of becoming a gambiteer

A little snippet from McGrew's article Dimensional Analysis:
When you select an opening, you are not selecting the position that arises at move 20 after best play by both sides. You are selecting the whole opening with all of its traps and twists, its side lines and main lines.

And you are selecting it to play against flesh-and-blood opponents who will very frequently deviate from best play – probably early. Which raises a very important question, supposing they do deviate from best play, what will happen then?

The answer depends on what I will call the “Caltrop Coefficient,” or CC for short. For readers not familiar with military history, I should explain that caltrops are mid-sized pieces of metal shaped rather like gigantic jacks with sharpened points. Canny soldiers camping just on the other side of a river from their enemies would sow the riverbed liberally with caltrops so that an enemy cavalry charge across the river would be demolished as the horses stepped on the caltrops and went down. Mutatis mutandis, every wild-eyed gambiteer uses this strategy in chess as well. The more caltrops the better, particularly at blitz or bullet time controls! Let’s agree to say that an opening with a high proportion of moderately well-hidden traps has a high CC.

Two factors determine whether you should take the CC seriously in selecting your openings. The first is the speed of the game. The faster the time control, the better the chances that an opening high on CC but low on SES [standard evaluation symbols] will lead to success. Since many of us play thousands of fast games on the internet every year, this factor probably applies to most readers of this column. Second, the level of your opposition is important both as an index of their likely familiarity with your weapon of choice and as a measure of how well they are likely to cope with
unforeseen caltrops.
This seems to be right all around.


Blogger Grandpatzer said...


I'd add that another consideration is whether you may end up stepping on your own caltrops.

For me, the Smith-Morra was about as dangerous for White as for Black, whereas the Two Knights and Defense and the Max Lange were more uncomfortable to play as Black than as White. I think the last two openings are fine choices for a repertoire. There's certain traps that appear regularly; they're tactical; and in the case of the Max Lange there are tactical thickets where the best play for White seems more understandable than for Black. That, plus the fact that you'll have an information and experience edge over your opponent most likely, makes it a classic case of the caltrop opening. Black has to play accurately up to move 12 or so, which is unlikely unless they're booked up.

Good to see someone throw the books away and decide for themselves what moves they like to play.

4/07/2008 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Good to see someone throw the books away and decide for themselves what moves they like to play.

It really is liberating. I can't believe how many opening books I bought.

4/07/2008 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger Loomis said...

This reminds me of a trick in the Classical Accelerated Dragon (1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. Nc3 Bg7 6. Be3) and now one line is 6. ... Nf6 7. Bc4 Qa5.

A trick black can play is 6. ... Qa5 where white's first impression is likely that 7. Bc4 Nf6 goes back to the main line, but what he would miss is that 7. ... Qb4 wins outright for black.

I have won a few games against experts in a blitz tournament with this trick. What's interesting to me is the rating range of successful marks. You can't pull this trick on a low rated player (below class A I think) because they don't know that Bc4 and Qa5 go together in this opening. But experts fall for this at an alarmingly high rate.

4/08/2008 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger katar said...

every player should go thru a gambit phase, IMO. it builds confidence and character (eg, eliminates that timid fear of losing). you burn your ships so retreat is not an option. strike first, strike hard, no mercy! oh yeah, and sweep the leg. you got a problem with that?

4/08/2008 06:28:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Katar: yes, it really feels like an important stage. Now all my main openings are gambit lines. :) So fun. I don't know if I'll ever grow out of it.

4/08/2008 10:56:00 PM  
Blogger ChargingKing said...

What books are you vending BDK?

4/09/2008 12:17:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

They're all gone, as discussed a few points back, except the ones I'm a'keepin! Sorry.

4/09/2008 12:18:00 AM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

It took me 7 years to outgrow gambits. Now a positional game is as much an adventure to me as a gambit was when I started with the KG.

Gambits are necessary to get the hang of piece activity and its value.

4/09/2008 03:17:00 AM  
Blogger takchess said...

Nice to see this and your article on the Englund G. I played it a few times and dismissed it as trash. Time for a cup of coffee and read about the Eg in depth.

4/09/2008 05:35:00 AM  
Blogger takchess said...

Check out this Caltrop...........

4/09/2008 07:15:00 AM  
Blogger Chessaholic said...

I'm with Tempo, I get pretty excited about positional and/or closed games. While I play gambits in online blitz (where I really don't care about results or ratings), I don't play them OTB. Call me crazy, but I really enjoy playing (and studying) "solid" openings that many people would consider boring. I get all tingly thinking about weak squares, bad bishops, pawn structures, outposts, and all that fun positional stuff...

4/09/2008 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

chessaholic: I suppose I'll grow out of gambits someday. Right now they're my cup o' tea.

Tak: I think it isn't trash. It's easy for white to make natural moves and end up =/+

4/09/2008 01:50:00 PM  

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