Saturday, May 7, 2011

Warning - this post could change the way you play chess!

A bold claim. But consider this position in which Black has just played e5. Come on, be honest, it's not a move you'd ever play, is it? Those who disagree, please comment - SO WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE, LOL!

You may well be reluctant to play such a move because it obviously creates a backward pawn - a potential target for White to exploit. Well, that's fine. There is a rule floating around that tells us to avoid backward pawns.

The moves in the above game are 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Be2 e5. It is denominated as B58: Sicilian, Boleslavsky variation. I've known about it but never considered playing it myself because of the aforementioned 'rule'.

In John Watson's "Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy - Advances since Nimzowitsch" such rules are treated to searching analysis. In fact he tackles the whole subject of chess evolution in a text that has been described by GM Simen Agdestein as one which "may have as much influence on our future understanding of the game as Nimzowitsch's MY SYSTEM had". Another bold claim but, on reading the book myself, I would be hard put to find reasons for disputing it. In the above case, he also provide statistics to show how the above line only began to appear around 1935. The examples which appear in the book are, in my view, especially well chosen - entertaining as well as apposite.

More than this (chess evolution), the book has forced me to re-evaluate my approach to the game - completely. It shows how a lot of reported chess wisdom is simply misleading. The rules that we absorbed as chess novices are called into question. John Watson "frees" us from our prejudices and may allow you to play "your own game". Frankly, I am now looking forward to a chess future where my own creativity can blossom and flourish - without worrying about the consequences of breaking the rules laid down in stone (which were actually millstones round my neck).

What would you play in the following position (another example from the book)?

Most players would instinctively go for 19. Rfd1 to "intensify the pressure on the backward d-pawn". But have we all become robots? Always playing to a recipe of assorted rules and prejudices? Actually Botvinnick played 19. e5!, being another rulebreaker. His intention was, as is explained in the book, to "threaten Ne4 (or Bxc6 and Ne4)". It does of course, sacrifice a pawn. He continues to follow the game (fully interactive here at the  chessgames website), thus:

"19...Qc5 20. Qd2 Qxe5 21. Bxc6 dxc6 22.Re1 Qf5 23. g4! The queen has to be driven to a square on which White's Ne4 will come with tempo. 23...Qf3 24.Re3 Qf6 25.Rd7. Here is the point. A rook on the seventh will not only create middle game threats, but will win a number of endgames".

As you see, Watson is not averse to quoting "rules" himself. What he does is to clarify which are of general application and which are ... suspect. As such, this is an important book. For those who do not have it on their bookshelf, I hope you will take the point about the dangers of allowing yourself to become "hidebound". Sometimes you have to play against the rules ie when the position demands it. Be your own person ... or, in this case, chessplayer!

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