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The Art of Doing Nothing

  • GM Gserper
  • | Mar 17, 2014
  • | 25560 views
  • | 47 comments

I cannot tell you, my dear readers, how many times I've had this conversation with my younger students while we analyze their games:

"What did you try to accomplish with your last move?"

"Nothing!"

"Then why did you play it?"

"I don't know!"

Then I have to patiently explain to them that every single move should have a purpose, that according to a very well known chess saying, it is better to play with a wrong plan than with no plan at all... yada, yada, yada.

And here I am, writing an article about doing nothing?? Have I watched too much Seinfeld?

Ten years ago I played a strange game in the U.S. Championship. To say that the game got mixed reviews is an understatement. Just look at what a very respectable website, ChessBase, had to say in their report about the U.S. Championship:

The Serper-Nakamura game has to go down as one of the more bizarre things we've seen on a chessboard in a while. Serper clearly wasn't interested in a long day on the stage, despite having white against a co-leader. He set up a solid symmetrical formation, and on move 17 he started moving his bishop back and forth between d2 and e1. For nine moves in a row! Was there a method to his madness? We may never know if this was an odd way to offer a draw, a strange way to gain time on the clock, or a brilliant try to get Nakamura to create weaknesses in his position. Whatever it was, Nakamura ignored it and expanded on the queenside, eventually breaking through. But there was no way to gain a decisive advantage in the position and despite pressing for 94 moves (!), Nakamura finally had to give up the half point.

Hikaru Nakamura

It's been ten years since this beautifully written report painted a completely incorrect picture of the battle. Why have I decided to tell my side of the story only now? Well, I am going to use the wisdom of the famous Chinese general and philosopher, Sun Tzu, in today's discussion, and here is the first opportunity to quote him:

"Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance!"
- Sun Tzu 

At the time when the ChessBase report was published, I was an active chess player, and I preferred for my future opponents to be misled and arrogant about my play. Of course after I retired from the tournament chess, I can share my view of that memorable game. But before we start analyzing what really happened there, let me just show you what all the fuss was about:

Then, some eight moves later:

You can notice that White's position is exactly the same, and Black just played a bunch of free moves. So, what's going on there?

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."
- Sun Tzu

Let's start with the first sentence from that report: "The Serper-Nakamura game has to go down as one of the more bizarre things we've seen on a chessboard in a while."

 Of course after reading this introduction most of the readers assumed that they just witnessed some black magic that had never happened before in the noble game of chess. But before you send me to a bonfire for witchcraft, take a look at this game:

Then, some 13 moves later:

While playing thru the game, please don't forget that at that time Ulf Andersson was one of the leading chess players in the world. And yet he lost to the player who basically did nothing!

Ulf Andersson | Image Wikipedia

“If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.” 
- Sun Tzu

But let's get back to the ChessBase report. The second sentence was: "Serper clearly wasn't interested in a long day on the stage, despite having white against a co-leader."

Since I am not really thrilled with their psychic abilities to read my mind, I could talk a lot. Instead I'll just quote Sun Tzu once again:

"All warfare is based on deception!"
- Sun Tzu 

Back to the report: "He set up a solid symmetrical formation." 

Finally we have a pretty accurate observation. Indeed, this is a very common way to play this variation. Just take a look at the next two games played by super GMs and featuring this symmetrical pawn structure. It is interesting to note that Carlsen played this variation with both White and Black! It is more proof that our World Champion plays different openings and variations, but the only thing that stays the same is the result of his games!

To be continued...


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Comments


  • 2 months ago

    Jake-The-Snake-2000

  • 2 months ago

    yxwl

    [COMMENT DELETED]
  • 5 months ago

    cdowis75

    Thanks for the article.  I remember in a game I did a "do nothing" move and my note on the move was that I just wanted to see what the other guy was planning.   For me, a good plan needs to show an understanding of the opponent's plan.

    MY plan was not ready until he made his "tell", as they say in poker.

  • 5 months ago

    peristilo

    This is weird. A few days ago I was playing Houdini. I wanted to find out what its plan was in a certain position. As black I started to move my king to h8 and g8 and to h8 again and again. I was trying to do nothing just to watch how the engine would crush me. Surprisingly enough, it started to move pieces back and forth without any progress. It was clear the engine had no plan at all. It needed to change the pawn structure to achieve something. However, for some reason, it wouldn't do so, probably to avoid weakening its structure. Only after around 20 "nothing" moves I was forced to move my queen her best square. Then the machine started to make progress and came after my king, which of course was mated in great fashion.

  • 5 months ago

    AdarshIsMe

    never do nothing...im a FIDE 2700 so im credible

  • 5 months ago

    ROG_pawn

    This is GM Croc - the master of doing nothing.. 

    But beware because when you're so near he slowly creep/swim until he catches you by surprise! :D

  • 5 months ago

    rjb

    Wonderful article, GM Serper.

  • 5 months ago

    u2krazie

    In Silman's article on positional chess, he used the example of Petrosian beating Peters. It took Peters 30 days to find out the reason for the loss. As for me, I experienced it once when a master told me about his plan of beating me. He had no plan at all. He just made his move and patiently waited until I made a mistake. I couldn't understand it because I tried to follow the "every move has a purpose," "play with a plan," "identify the imbalance," etc. De La Maza experienced it too and after losing his knight gave up the positional crap and concentrated on his tactics. So, how do the amateur players applied this knowledge?  This is really deep s**t reminding me of Bruce Lee's saying "the art of fighting without fighting." So, titled players, please tell me how I can learn and applied this knowledge? Give me some of your games examples.

  • 5 months ago

    u2krazie

    In Silman's article on positional chess, he used the example of Petrosian beating Peters. It took 30 days to find out the reason for the loss. As for me, I experienced it once when a master told me about his plan of beating me. He had no plan at all. He just made his move and patiently waited until I made a mistake. I couldn't understand it because I tried to follow the "every move has a purpose," "play with a plan," "identify the imbalance," etc. De La Maza experienced it too and after losing his knight gave up the positional crap and concentrated on his tactics. So, how do the amateur players applied this knowledge?  This is really deep s**t reminding me of Bruce Lee's saying "the art of fighting without fighting." So, titled players, please tell me how I can learn and applied this knowledge? Give me some of your games examples.

  • 5 months ago

    IanB2000

    There's a Seinfeld episode of everything!

  • 5 months ago

    The_Ghostess_Lola

    There are many times in which I do 'nothing' on the board....then get absolutely crushed....dum dee dum dee dum....Smile....Lola

  • 5 months ago

    FreeRepublic

    There are many endings where the weaker side must keep his pieces optimally placed and do as little as possible. For example, he may keep his king on a good square and shuttle a bishop back and forth on a key diagonal.

    Sometimes this "do nothing" approach occurs in the early ending or late middlegame, where a "fortress" is established. That is remarkable enough. To see this approach straight out of the opening is quite amazing.

  • 5 months ago

    jetfighter13

    At Jake sure I'll take one or two

  • 5 months ago

    Serginh0

    excellent !

  • 5 months ago

    Jake-The-Snake-2000

    Of course I will! K9 is out on Skaro sorting out the daleks at the moment anyway, he'll be back soon though. Jellybaby anyone? Laughing

     

  • 5 months ago

    jetfighter13

    even though its the wrong doctor, could you tell K9 I will not play chess against him.

  • 5 months ago

    Jake-The-Snake-2000

  • 5 months ago

    u2krazie

    Can anyone suggests other games where the art of doing nothing is the theme?

  • 5 months ago

    zazen5

    Another good article on chess.com.

    As a GM you will be hard pressed to get people to give reasons for why they do anything, let alone chess moves.  Most people dont know why they do anything, they are sheep, zombies basically.  Fortunately there is chess to combat idiocy.  

    I know why I make chess moves.  I know why I lift heavy weights.  I know why I go to work(money for me, my daughter and my wife-no other reason-people at work are annoying/boring/stupid and traffic is horrendous-but I cant quit cause I dont have the money).  I know why I sleep:  Cellular repair.  The list goes on and on.  Unlike the majority I know exactly why I do everything.  I know myself.

    The high level games included in this article are excellent programming material on how to think on the board and life.  Thanks for including them.

  • 5 months ago

    NM Splane

    Dana MacKenzie wrote a column in his chess blog with the same title and showing a similar type of game. In the game featured in his column, Black does nothing for eight moves.

    http://www.danamackenzie.com/blog/?p=1030

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