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How To Play Against Old Guys, Pt. 2

  • IM Silman
  • | Apr 21, 2013

In Part One of How To Play Against Old Guys, I gave the weaknesses and strengths of older players. I’ll repeat them here:


* Old players get tired. Really tired. Often really fast.

* Old players can (and do!) easily lose concentration.

* Old players are often clueless about modern opening theory.

* Old players often miss basic tactical shots (due to tiredness).

* Old players can often fall into a state of total passivity.



* Old players have tons of experience.

* Old players have a firm grasp of chess psychology and know how to use it.

* Old players know old fashioned but very sound openings extremely well.

* Old players are often still very, very, VERY strong at positional chess.

* Old players are often mentally and emotionally tougher than young players.

Having thought about it for a week, I realized there was one other potential negative for old players:

* Old players don’t play as often as they did when they were young. Thus they are often rusty.


I’ll return to this thought in a while.

Before moving onto new territory, let’s highlight some of the ideas from Part One. First up, experience! Though many older players don’t keep up with modern theory, they have usually mastered the ideas and subtleties of the systems they played throughout their career.

Grandmaster Mihai Suba is one of the greatest experts on the Hedgehog setup. He can play these positions at a very high level in his sleep.




Experience means a lot, but the idea of going for broke, while fun, won’t give anyone a real chance to win the World Senior (as we saw from the games of Jude Acers). In the following game White went for the gusto against his powerful opponent, but his gamble didn’t lead to the result he had hoped for.


In the recent tournament that determined who would challenge Anand for the World Championship, we saw the world’s finest young men literally crawl past the finish line. Imagine how that kind of effort would affect a man of 65 or 70!

The next game features a 2200 player vs. the extremely strong Yuri Shabanov. However, it was played in the tenth round and, from the moves played, it’s clear that the huge betting favorite was dead on his feet (when I’m that far gone I usually drool and speak in tongues).

And now it's up to you to find white's move.

Clearly, energy conservation is key to winning this event! Of course, the stronger players will always be favorites to win. Their combined understanding of countless positions plus their deep positional insight allows them to beat many of the weaker contestants without using up too much of their mojo. Here’s a simple but impressive example.

However, instead of 31.Ra7 White had a better option:

All this leads us to a serious question: Do any of the lower rated seniors have a real chance of winning the event? If so, what’s the secret? And this takes us the upset winner of the 2008 World Senior in Bad Zwischenahn, Larry Kaufman. LK was an International Master at that time and wasn’t considered a serious threat to take the title. Why? His rating (2391) didn’t compare to the powerful field that showed up that year:  M. Cebalo, Butnoriius, M. Podgaets, M. Suba, V. Jansa, W. Uhlmann, G. Danner, M. Tseitlin, A. Zakharov, L. Gutman, A. Kapengut, V. Onoprienko, J. Pribyl, V. Bogdanov, H. Westerinen, V. Sorokin, and many more.

However, he started out with a few of advantages, plus he devised a very nice tournament strategy which he milked to perfection.



* Born in 1947 he was only 61, making him a spring chicken compared to many of the other competitors.

* He always played a lot of serious chess, so he arrived at the event ready to hunt bear (while many of his opponents were rusty!).

* He is one of the strongest Western shogi players. Since shogi heavily relies on tactics, LK’s brain was tactics ready!

* He is an expert in the field of computer chess. This led to him writing the opening books for several different world-class programs, which meant he was up to the second in modern opening theory.



I’m sure he fully understood the problem of fatigue. And his “fix” for this disease was as follows: Play modern, sharp, cutting edge openings. This would give him more chances of wiping out the lower rated opponents, thus conserving energy. Yes, at times he would have to grind away in quiet positions, but proper opening choices would (with a bit of luck) keep this to a minimum.

Some might be surprised by my use of the word “luck” in chess. Before explaining, let me share an old chess saying: “The guy that won the tournament was lucky, but the guy who came in second played well.”

The meaning is clear. To win a big event, a number of fortuitous things will have to occur. Simply put, all his advantages and strategy doesn’t guarantee anything. He would need some luck if he was going to pull a tournament victory out of his hat. However, without those advantages, and without his very wise strategy, his chances of victory would have been very low.

LK mixed all of the above with great sporting form (another intangible – you never know if you will or won’t “have it” at any given time) to take the 2008 World Senior Championship and earn his grandmaster title. Brilliant play and a brilliant result! Below are examples of his play from both the 2008 and 2009 events.

Incredibly, Jude Acers (after seeing what happened to Mr. Feller) played the same dubious opening against him!

These two games took up minimum energy – a victory for good opening preparation! 

A recommendation to the readers: if you ever find yourself with the White pieces against Larry Kaufman, do NOT play the Wing Gambit!

Here’s an example of his opening preparation. 7.Qa4+ is Kaufman’s pet line.

Can you find Kaufman's move?

At times an opponent will play well and slow grinding can’t be avoided. Fortunately for LK, he’s skilled in this too!

How did LK punish black’s move?

LK can do everything well. Here’s a basic positional snuff, followed by a game which highlights his tactical prowess.

Finally, to win a strong event like this you have to be able to upset at least a couple favorites. Here he beats two very strong opponents, clearly demonstrating that he fully deserved the title.


  • 2 years ago


    Ugh, I play like an old player and I'm only 28. Cry

  • 2 years ago


    So why is 26 Qh5+ not a good move in the Alvise Zichichi  game.  It looks good to me, but Silman's comment is that it is clear that White's not all there.  How does Black punish Qh5?

  • 2 years ago


    Great Article. Thanks, Mr Silman!

  • 2 years ago


    Great article. Really useful ;)

  • 2 years ago


    A rather boring article. However, i do like mr.silman as a general rule of thumb. 

  • 2 years ago


    Mr. Silman, great work, excellent commentary on the games, useful (real life) puzzles, good job. Keep it up!

  • 2 years ago


  • 2 years ago


    Fantastic read as usual Mr.Silman! I love your articles really and wish all the very best for your participation in the Seniors Championship! Am totally sure you would do wonderfully well, unless of course, the other participants are also reading all your articles and preparing very well for play against you (with the help of some of their alien friends) :)

  • 2 years ago


    Well ... Jens Kristiansen was probably just as much of an upset last November in Greece

  • 2 years ago


    Silman 2013!!!

  • 2 years ago


    "In the recent tournament that determined who would challenge Anand for the World Championship, we saw the world’s finest young men literally crawl past the finish line."

    I must have missed that part- can I watch that on YouTube? ;)

  • 2 years ago


    I heard Carleson was also a master of Go Fish!. I also know that Shahade plays poker and Nakamura is a Monopoly Mogul!

  • 2 years ago


    playing against older players is just another example of imbalance at the chessboard...I urge everyone to Silman's book "How To Reassess Your Chess, 4th edition.

  • 2 years ago


    Silman, you loaded this article with information and puzzles and all sorts of fun. Thanks a bunch, a great read and I'll be very disappointed if you don't try and play in the championship at all.

  • 2 years ago


    Robert Hübner a great GM from Germany is also a master in xiangqi (chinese chess)

    that is one I know from.

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