Thursday, January 05, 2006

Opening binge...I need to purge

My opening binge has been fun, and has made me realize a few things.

Most importantly, it has made me realize that the disadvantages that accrue from going off book are typically so small that they just don't matter at my level. The "off book" openings are often just barely worse than "on book" openings: I was naively imagining that when my opponents go off book, my opening would supply a simple recipe to punish them with a suite of well-known responses that would put me up at least a minor piece. Alas, it just don't work that way : typically the repertoire has a series of moves that make the game equal after 10 moves rather than slightly in white's favor. A 5 centipawn improvement is not going to win this patzer any games. I now better understand why people try to teach beginners opening principles rather than opening systems.

The binge has also showed me that obscure opening systems are a double-edged sword. In the Ruy Lopez even Patzers like me usually stay on book for 5 moves (until 5. Bb3). However, when I play the Accelerated Dragon and Nimzo-Indian white is often "off book" by move 2. On one hand this is good, since in theory when someone goes off book that is supposed to be an opportunity to punish them (but see previous paragraph on why this isn't really all that big a help). On the other hand, it means I have to learn a lot more variations: when other people don't know what is "on book" they play lines I haven't investigated, and I am simply not good enough to immediately see why one line is worse than another. Another pitfall is that when I am in "opening book" mode during a game my thinking cap is in the desk drawer, so I need to be very careful to stop and think after the first move that is out of my repertoire (I remember reading a Heisman article that advises precisely this strategy).

Thirdly, the strong excitement I had for 'Chess Openings for Black, Explained' (see two posts ago) has begun to give way to reality. One frustrating thing is that they sometimes overstate how good its moves are, saying things like "Black's chances look good here" when the board is one on which I would much rather be white. Also, any opening book that gives the advice to not switch openings, to just stick with it, is in some ways cultish and self-serving. If you are a master and have been playing the Guico for years, I grant that switching would be a big pain. But for people just starting out, switching around is probably good for gaining overall knowledge of the sport, and will help me find the best system once I have a better sense of my chess style. At that point, I will be better suited to pick that opening which best suits my style, and should probably more rigidly stick to the "don't be a switcher" advice.

Hence, in conclusion, ipso facto, cogito ergo sum, caveat emptor, I am glad I have been focusing mostly on tactics all this time rather than openings! Putting my official opening study near the end of the Divine Tragedy is a sound strategy.


Blogger katar said...

Hi, I find your writing very enjoyable and I also find myself rooting for your improvement just as I would root for Rudy or Rocky or the Hoosiers. I wrote a post with you in mind, and it may be relevant to the other "knights" as well. It has a bit of a soapbox tone, but i hope you consider it.

Take care.

1/07/2006 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks for the thoughts. For those that can't see the entire link Patrick posted, click here.

You raise an issue that is a subject of perennial debate amongst the Knights. Most of the knights have worked through Silman's book at some point in the past, and feel it didn't help them that much. Personally, when I (or my programs) analyze my losses, they aren't subtle. I have tactical opportunities: I just don't spot them. Equally likely is that I'm missing a mate in 1 or 2 that my opponent has so I am caught off guard.

On the other hand, I (and most of the Knights) largely agree with you. In fact, it is because of concerns that you raise that I'm putting off the actual tactical seven circles for so long, working through the general Chess Tutor, and then Sierewan's 'Play Winning Chess', which focuses 3/4 on positional/strategic considerations and only about 1/4 on tactics (and essentially NONE on openings). Only then will I do an actual seven circles for tactical training.

If there were a good program out there for positional/strategic training, that would be sweet. It is so much easier to create a CD of tactical puzzles than a CD of good positional training. If anyone finds one, let me know. I frankly hate reading books where I need to work with a chess board at my side. I am digito-centric. If only Silman would release a computer training program rather than his damned books!

1/08/2006 12:33:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

P.S. If you are beating 1700+ ranked players after less than a year of playing chess, then you are quite a chess prodigy. I hope to hit a solid 1200 or so after my first year!

1/08/2006 12:46:00 AM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

I use one general rule for the opening: take care that when you are out of book, your opponent is too.
For years I knew only 3 moves with white against the caro-kan. But I reached a position that was very unfamiliar for caro-kan players.
So we both had to play chess at move 4.

Below 2000 allmost anything is playable.

1/08/2006 02:18:00 AM  
Blogger katar said...

Pandolfini's Weapons of Chess is designed to be read without a board. I cannot recommend that book highly enough to you. Peace out!

1/08/2006 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger King of the Spill said...

hmm...Cult of the Self-Serving Opening Followers...that does sound insidious!

1/08/2006 08:27:00 PM  
Blogger Pawnsensei said...

Hey BD, I'm going to have to kindly disagree with your points there, but I've stated my reasons in previous comments on your blog so I won't be a broken record. Anyway, keep up the good work!


1/09/2006 02:15:00 PM  
Blogger Ed Doyle said...

BDK i agree with you assessment on openings, as long as you stay sensible going off book is not an issue. A funny thing happened at our club this week. The serious players 1800+ were all discussing the main variations of the Budapest (an opening i have no understanding of whatsoever).

Reading from various authoritive texts on the topic they pushed the main variations. I looked at the board and suggested another line/option which seemed reasonable to me.

There was a general intake of breath followed by a round of sustained laughter, i didnt push it but i couldnt see what was wrong with it. 5 minutes later some genius produced the seminal work on the Budapest and there in lights was the option i had suggested as one of three recommended variations.

It had not even been referenced in any of the other books. The king stood naked there before me.

Lesson-> nobody knows everything, and if you think your analysis is right, and it feels right go with it. Worst case you will definitely learn something at the end.

1/11/2006 05:57:00 PM  
Blogger funkyfantom said...

Ehhhh...I wouldn't agonize too much over these issues. If you are having fun studying openings, keep it up.

When you get bored, do some tactical excercises. Then endings. Then read a strategy book. Then play over some annotated GM games.

Then give up studying- and only play.
Then give up playing- and only study. Then come back to playing. Etc. etc.

Just follow where your spirit takes you, man. It's all good.

1/12/2006 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tempo, that is an interesting tidbit of wisdom: I like how you put it. Once you are both off book, you are finally playing chess.

St Patzer: good points. It seems every opening I play, in which I am thinking it through and following the basic rules (e.g., try to control the center), even if I haven't studied it, it is usually considered in the opening books. Also, I am learning that the received wisdom is really unstable in chess, much more so than in science. For instance, I just got Dan Heisman's e-book on the Fried liver attack, and while the accepted wisdom is that it is a big loser for black, he argues (based on his own extended analysis as well as Fritz's) that it is actually an acceptable position for black.

Funkyfantom: I like your laissez faire attitude. I follow it to a degree, but all while adhering to a core sequence of study (namely, the Divine Tragedy). So, even though I'm messing about with openings, I'm still doing Tasc Chess Tutor religiously. I like to have a regimen to follow so I don't get into bad habits.

Patrick: lo and behold at Borders today they had that Pandolfini book and I had a little money burning a hole in my pocket. I needed a virgin strategy book, so I bought it. While I don't like the alphabetical organization (it seems like Pandolfini was just being lazy), he does thematize the encyclopedia at the beginning of the book. This should make good bedtime reading.

1/14/2006 03:31:00 PM  

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