Friday, April 30, 2010

'What's good for the goose ...'

I'm not going to use the phrase 'What's good for the goose is good for the gander' to raise feminist issues ie that the sexes should be treated the same way (goose=female, gander=male) and so on! In this case the goose is equivalent to a Grand Master and the gander is us poor average players.

All chess players need to find openings that work well - but the problem is that, having chosen them, we perhaps expect too much. The opening has yet to be invented that is a 'catch all' (sorry to have to disillusion you). And the reasons we choose as we do are often suspect. Let's talk about the Catalan, thrust into the limelight by the current Anand versus Topalov battle for the World Chess Championship match, Sofia 2010. The openings used so far are as follows:

Game 1 - Anand responds to 1.d4 with the Grunfeld defence (loses)
Game 2 - Anand deploys the Catalan, also a favourite of Vladimir Kramnik (wins)
Game 3 - Anand switches to the Slav Defense after his loss in game 1 (draw)
Game 4 - Anand again deploys the Catalan (wins)

Well, Anand certainly seems to have found an opening that works - but is this a useful signal to the rest of us that maybe our previous choice of opening needs to be re-evaluated? in other words, 'is what's good for the goose, good for the gander'? No, I don't mean that Anand is a 'goose' in any derogatory sense - if you've ever been stalked by a goose, hissing insults at you, then you'll know that a goose is no mean opponent anyway!

So - the Catalan. As Wiki usefully describes it - "The Catalan is a chess opening which can be considered to be White adopting a mixture of the Queen's Gambit and Réti Opening: White plays d4 and c4 and fianchettoes the white bishop on g2". From my point of view as an average player, it is quite a revelation that White allows this opening whereby he is a pawn down with a weak looking Q-side structure. For example, the comment at 64 Squares is that "Topalov has been allowed to build up a strong queenside pawn position".

As you see, my interest has been caught by the fourth Sofia 2010 game, the moves of which are given, with my comments, below.

My point is that, although this opening is working for Anand at the highest level, it would be silly of me, as an average player, to go into a line where I have to play seemingly anti-positional moves such as 10.Na3 - which places a knight at the edge of the board. at my level I am still meeting players who do not always find the best moves against simple, straightforward developing moves. But then again, when they do (find the best moves) - of course I lose. What to do? If I develop simply and naturally then I am going over well trodden paths and my opponent can pluck out a nice line from theory with which to hit me.

Yet the alternatives (for me) seem to be far too dangerous. Of course, First of all, I accept that any new line will need to be thoroughly tested over a period of time before it can become a useful part of my repertoire. That's OK. But it's too much of a stretch at my stage of chess development to start using the alternatives which are being used by the 'geese' - simply trusting that, if such an illustrious player thinks the line is sound, then so be it! It's not just an issue of their knowledge of the latest opening lines as such - the problem is that they have the 'imagination' which allows them to 'see' complete lines of play starting from moves, which in my clumsy hands, would lead to complete disaster. For example, I would never play a move like 8.Qxd2 in the game below - which for me would represent a lost opportunity to develop the queen's knight and a preference for the beginner's fault of moving the queen twice! I would play 8.Nbxd2 - of course!

It's either a case of my reach exceeds my grasp or "don't run before you can walk". One must only play moves that one actually understands! In this case it is dangerous to follow Robert Browning's injunction relating to “Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?” - even if it well behoves us to follow his advice ... most of the time.

The game is analysed more fully at both Chessdom and The Week in Chess.

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