Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cock Fight!

Or perhaps I should say Bird Fight. There are two Bird systems that have been rolling around in my head since talking with Coach B last night. There is the queenside fianchetto variation (the Bird-Larsen Attack) and the Classical variation (corresponding to the classical Dutch).

Timothy Taylor pushes fairly strongly toward the classical, while Coach B has some experience playing the Bird-Larsen. According to Fritz and the databases, they are pretty much the same in terms of quality. Both lines, with ideal play from black, give black an OK position. Of course, the same can be said of any opening. Hence, because there is no objective way to decide between them, I am going to evaluate the two main tabiyas here using my own limited wits. Any ideas, opinions on the comparison appreciated (with one caveat in the last paragraph of this post).


The Classical Bird (1 f4, 2 Nf3)
This is Timothy Taylor's recommendation, though he seems to have experience playing every single permutation of the Bird and is quite proficient in general. The main tabiya in the Classical is shown below.

The classical Bird after 6...c5


In this position, White's main idea is to play e4, and end up with a pawn duo on e4 and f4. This kingside spatial advantage is to be used as a ground for a Kingside attack. Once white has that duo, he has many options. He can push the f pawn to form a battering ram, or the e-pawn (locking in the dark-squared Bishop), maneuver the Queen to h4 via e1. The Knight move Ne5 from White is also thematic. Black, on the other hand, will either aim for d4 or e5, and try to use his queenside space advantage to go for an attack therein.

On the down side, White's Queen Knight is a little awkward, especially since c3 is a natural place to put a pawn to take away activity from black's g7 Bishop. Hence, sometimes the b-Knight ends up on a3 or some such queer square. Also, it can happen pretty quickly in the main lines that the queens are traded off, rooks are traded off, and we have a fairly quiet perhaps even drawish game pretty quickly. Indeed, that crazy planning exercise which generated so many good comments is a typical position reached in the Bird. By most accounts, it is fairly drawish.

Also, black's Bishops are both better than white's, and that may offset the spatial advantage white enjoys in many lines.

Also, Coach B pointed out that in the same line in the Dutch, getting in e4 (well, e5 for black) is considered equalizing. As white, do I really want to play an opening where meeting my main goal is merely equalizing? Of course white is a tempo up in this variation, and isn't the Classical Dutch halfway decent (I actually don't know, I don't know anything about the Dutch, have no basis of comparison in my mental database)?

Bird-Larsen Attack (1 f4, 2 b3)
The second major line I have been thinking about is the Bird-Larsen attack. The major tabiya after black's sixth move is as follows:
The Bird-Larsen Attack


Comparing the pieces to the Classical, we see that white's Bishops are better placed. His dark-squared bishop is a monster. His light-squared bishop is decent, though perhaps not as well-placed as black's light-squared Bishop.

The main fight is for the e5 square, which right now white has clamped down pretty impressively.

On the down side, black still has a spatial advantage on the queenside. White's Queen-Knight again is awkward, especially compared with black's Queen-Knight. This might even be more awkward than in the Classical. Where is it supposed to go? To get it to d2 requires weakening e3. a3 is a strange place for a Knight. c3 jails the Bishop, which sort of defeats the purpose of the fianchetto (or am I wrong about that?).

This position is tough to evaluate. There is a great deal of dynamic tension with the two Bishops facing off.

On the other hand, unlike the Classical variation, I'm not quite sure what the main plans are for white. OK, fight for the e5 square. Great. Now what? I have control over the square. What's next? What are the main attacking themes? In the Classical the pawn duo suggests all sorts of kinky pawn pushes and kingside attacks, coupled with Qe1-Qh4 and such. I love that shit!

Unfortunately, Taylor spends tons of time orgasming all over the Classical, and gushing about the surfeit of plans, but just badmouths the Bird-Larsen type lines, doesn't talk at all about general plans and such. He says basically of the Bird-Larsen that "This is drawish if black plays well, so don't do it. Plus it's old and overanalyzed, so don't do it."

Coach B gave me some games of his to check out, so perhaps that will give me some ideas about typical plans and attacking ideas. One thing I read last night is that white will often put his light-squared Bishop on d3, and with the other B on b2 that can form a pretty devastating rake against black (especially if black doesn't fianchetto Kingside). That's what I'm talking about. I want to see more such ideas!

The verdict
The databases agree that black has decent chances in both positions, the two Birds are statistically equal. Indeed, black actually scores better than white in both lines in my database, and Fritz gives a slight edge to black in both tabiyas, with pretty much the same evaluation to each (around -0.10).

Hence, as I said there is no "objective" difference between the two lines. I am starting to think Coach B has a good point, though. As white, I want to play to win, and if I go into lines where black can pretty much force the trade of all the major pieces, leaving us with a drawish endgame, what does that say for me as a fighter?

Plus, Coach B is my coach, and the whole point of hiring a coach is to put my faith in someone better than me, drink the koolaid and follow him down the yellow brick road to see if I can find chess skills (there should be a fourth character in the wizard of Oz, the crappy patzer Tiger looking for chess skillz). He's rated 2300, has some experience with the Bird-Larsen, so why not take the plunge? That said, he doesn't really strongly prefer either one, and said he would probably prefer the Leningrad Bird (aka Polar Bear, where white fianchettoes Kingside--this is what Tempo plays).

More important than any of that, though, is what is the most fun to play? I've been playing around with the Bird-Larsen, and frankly it is a lot of fun because of the increased piece activity. Coach B pointed out that the Classical is actually a fairly quiet, strategic opening, that if I want a little more fireworks the Bird-Larsen may be a better bet (though it is also fairly quiet and strategic). [Edit: he emailed me to say that he actually thinks both of them are fairly quiet and strategic.]

Frankly I haven't completely made up my mind, so I will play around with both for a bit and see what's going down. Whose koolaid will I drink? Of course, both is an option.

What do you guys think? If your only thought is that at my level none of this matters, you don't need to share it because it is obvious. Yes, I know I could play the 'Hit my head with a stick' opening and it wouldn't affect my rating. My games are typically won and lost in the middlegame. Regardless of such facts, this is fun, so let's talk about the chess, not the meta-chess.

Any people play the Dutch or Bird out there that have good intuitions about this?

18 Comments:

Blogger Tommyg said...

I think from the diagrams that the Bird/Larsen looks fun! The pawn formation for white looks like it could go a lot of ways with white gaining a lot of space to noodle around with.

Another reason I like the Bird/Larsen diagram is that there is activity on both sides of the board for white. Black can't just concentrate on one thing.

And as an aside about openings: We are told that they aren't important but yet when I look at my own games I win more as black, where I know and understand my opening choices. With white I am still flitting around in the wind and thus don't score as well. So I think there is a healthy balance and that yes openings are fun AND important. In fact, while I am touring this week, I am trying to cram in a crash course on the King's Gambit for a tournament on Saturday because I am so fed up with my white openings!

Can't wait to hear which one you pick if you do decide on one or the other.

5/12/2009 09:54:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tommyg: thanks for the comments. Your blog seems to have some really good stuff on it. I thought you had disappeared. :)

5/12/2009 11:23:00 PM  
Blogger Hank said...

Just out of curiosity, how many of your opponents so far have known enough about the opening to stay in book for up to 6 moves (12 ply)? I wonder if the Bird might be more fun for its surprise value against unprepared opponents - where they go out of book and fall into some traps or get bad positions - but once you reach a playing level where your opponents regularly know enough to stay with the tabiyas then the drawish/quiet middlegames might start to get a little boring? Or do you feel like you might continue enjoying the typical middlegames in The Bird, in general?

-- Hank

5/13/2009 01:06:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Hank: it is played at GM levels, so I look at it as an opening that has both aspects. It is tricky and has some tactics if black has no clue, but then once black gets a clue it is still a decent opening. It should be a lifetime opening.

Consider the Dutch as black. It is a decent opening, will not be "busted" by theory. The mainline Bird (1 f4 d5) is just the Dutch with an extra tempo, an extra tempo that apparently comes in handy (note I know this logic isn't foolproof--if it were everyone would play the English).

Taylor has had good luck with it, beaten GMs, IMs, and such. Hence, I'm not worried about its power.

As for people getting to move 6 in book, it is fairly common, especially in the Bird-Larsen. It is a bit less common in the Classical. Generally, though, at my level nobody knows much book at all (including me).

5/13/2009 02:06:00 AM  
Blogger chesstiger said...

I guess it depends on if you want some piece play (Bird-Larsen) or if you want a manouvering game (Classical Bird). If i had to choose i think i would go for the Bird-Larsen just for the fact that the queen's bishop doesn't have troubles getting into play. The queen's knight one can develop via d2 to either support a e4 or c4 push i guess but i dont know the opening so i cannot talk much about the dynamics, plan(s) of the opening moves.

But for players of your rating (1100+ and rising i believe) i would always choose for the more active one so that you get a grasp of how the pieces work together rather then a manouver game (which even at 1900-2000 level is hard to play) in which a tiny mistake/oversight can be the cause of win or lose.

But then again, at our level every opening is playable, even those that aren't played at GM level anymore. So whatever one you choose make certain you feel comfortable with the positions during and after the opening stage.

5/13/2009 04:53:00 AM  
Blogger Aziridine said...

Here's a slightly different way of framing your options:
1. Play both. You understand them well enough already, so try them out, then you can see which one works out better for you.
2. Play whichever one your coach tells you to play.
3. Play neither ;-)

5/13/2009 05:04:00 AM  
Blogger Wrimle said...

I am a bit fascinated by the Bird as I play the Leningrad variation of Dutch against 1.d4. The Leningrad took a while getting used to. There are some cheap tricks that White can try early on. White also gets some nice outpost squares too close for comfort. Still I think my results with it are quite decent, and I usually have the advantage of being better prepared.

You will find that not many know the standard opening moves. It might be a good idea to learn a couple of variations, choosing which one depending on how White deviates. I sometimes find that I artificially try to force the familiar Leningrad setup when for example the Stonewall might have been better.

The down side of playing an offbeat opening, is that you rarely get the pleasure of seeing top players use it in tournaments. As a spectator I enjoy it more when the players are playing an opening in my repertoire.

5/13/2009 06:56:00 PM  
Blogger Hank said...

One thing I do like about the Bird is that it pretty much forces the opponent into a (relatively) narrow range of options that you have a good chance of being at least as familiar with as they are (and probably more so). So it cuts down on the range of opening lines you need to study/prepare for and draws them onto "your turf" -- similar to what Robert Pearson was saying about the Scandinavian and the Alekhine in his latest post (http://rlpchessblog.blogspot.com/2009/05/alekhines-and-centre-countre-black-in.html).

That goes along with the idea of devising a repertoire that allows you to spend more time studying other aspects of the game, rather than getting bogged down in opening theory.

If only it were a little less "quiet" I'd probably take up the Bird myself, now! But I'm not quite sophisticated enough for positional subtlety yet... :)

By the way, Angus Dunninton's "Winning Unorthodox Openings" (http://www.amazon.com/Winning-Unorthodox-Openings-Everyman-Chess/dp/1857442857) has a chapter on the Bird. Out of curiosity I've requested it from our library via Interlibrary Loan...

-- Hank

5/13/2009 11:41:00 PM  
Blogger DutchBird said...

If you want to learn the Bird, instead of Taylor's book I would look to the man who really earned some infamy from playing it for many years in correspondence, Master Keith Hayward. Google for his page of Bird analysis by searching for "Keith's Krap".

5/14/2009 09:10:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Chesstiger: Good points. I like piece activity more than subtle maneuvering. :)

Aziridine: :) I like option 1.

Wrimle:: It would be fun to play openings that were played frequently at the super-GM tournaments. I wonder how long before I start playing 1 d4. :)

Hank: In my experience it usually isn't all that quiet. White has a pawn on f4, which freaks out black often into taking undue risks.

Dutchbird: Great site, thanks a lot for pointing us toward it!!! More thorough than Taylor.

5/14/2009 09:30:00 PM  
OpenID chessmasterorbust said...

Play 1.b3...

5/14/2009 11:09:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

CMoB: I have seen that book. Does it show transpositions to Bird? Is that part of the repertoire?

I don't want to play 1 b3 as then 1...e5, and we are in very different lines. I like 1 f4, as then if e5, then we have the Fromm Gambit, which is fun.

Plus, I am sick of changing openings, buying new opening books, etc.. The Bird is decent enough to get me to 2000, and since I will never reach 2000, it is good enough for me. :)

5/14/2009 11:26:00 PM  
Blogger katar said...

Hey i learnt something from your great overview of the 2 Bird setups. You def killed 2 birds with one, uhh, blog posting. The nice thing is you can learn both, then play whichever suits your mood. You can learn as a 3rd option the polah-beeyah (so pronounced by Danielsen :)

When that's boring you might branch out to 1.b3 intending f4. Keep a notebook and master your systems and they'll serve you well. Main thing is to have fun. Also .10 is not "better" but simply equal.

As for the 1.b3 book, look for the bright review at chessvibes.com.

5/15/2009 03:49:00 PM  
OpenID chessmasterorbust said...

The Nimzo-Larsen Attack can indeed transpose into the Bird. But the opening in itself often involves f4 ideas as well. See here a transposition to the Bird. See here an example of an f4 idea. Anyway, statistically, 1.b3 offers you more of a winning chance then the Bird. And you said you liked playing for a win, right?

5/15/2009 11:53:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

CMoB: if percentages in databases were the most important thing, I would play 1 d4. I may end up playing e4 again, though, like the old days. International Chess School has some very good material on the Ruy for white, so I may take the plunge. Truthfully, it is my favorite opening as white, and the reason I don't play it is b/c of all the gay sidelines like the Scandy, Philidor, Petroff, but especially that French bitch. I hate her.

5/16/2009 12:00:00 AM  
OpenID chessmasterorbust said...

Hahaha! I hear ya :-)

5/16/2009 03:53:00 AM  
OpenID chessmasterorbust said...

Oh and in the case of the Ruy without getting into those gay sidelines and into someone else's book... 1.Nf3 might be your best bet. All you have to do is hope your opponent plays 1. ... Nc6 :-)

5/17/2009 01:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I play the Bird regularly, and agree with most of what is said here about the b3 of f4 variation. Mainly, I play f4 and try for the Classical, but I'm sure 1. b3 will produce interesting results. However, as also mentioned, it gains through its relative rarity, and has a positive and possibly, psychological surprise effect. As Taylor writes "..given how few players actually prepare for the Bird, you might find a few who sail blissfully into a bad position, unaware that their casual choice on move two or three could make their subsequent game quite difficult." Maybe that is the point...as White, you end up in positions that you recognise and know, but that are almost completely alien to your opponent, as well as being interesting ! Must be worth something.

6/10/2009 05:22:00 PM  

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