Upgrade to Chess.com Premium!

The Art of Doing Nothing, Part Two

  • GM Gserper
  • | Mar 30, 2014
  • | 15141 views
  • | 40 comments

In last week's article, we started an analysis of a bizarre game I played ten years ago in the U.S. Championship. The key moment happened around move 15 when, quoting the ChessBase article, Serper "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."

It is easy to criticize White's unusual plan of doing nothing, but I would appreciate if a good alternative was suggested as well. If I had a choice between doing something or doing nothing, I would prefer active play, just like about any chess player.

It is difficult to argue with another piece of wisdom from the great philosopher:

“Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?”
Sun Tzu

But what I could really do? Let's check the position:

Superficially, White's pieces are placed well, but what's my plan here? I cannot really play on the queenside where Black has more space, and I cannot play on the kingside where I have no pieces. The only possible way to play in the center is to prepare the e3-e4 break - but even that doesn't work. First of all, it is really difficult to prepare e3-e4 to start with. If I play Ng3 followed by e3-e4, then Black plays Bxg3 and wins my e4 pawn. In some imaginary case where the e3-e4 break doesn't lose the pawn right away, Black simply trades everything on the e4 square, and I am left with a weak isolated d4 pawn. So what should I have done here?

I spent about 40 minutes looking for a plan but all in vain. So, my time was evaporating, and the possibility of time trouble was becoming a reality. In case you have been living under a rock for the last ten years and are not aware of Hikaru's legendary speed, I can assure you that getting into time trouble against him is a sure way to lose!

I remembered the advice of the famous Russian coach Mark Dvoretsky that, if you see no clear plan, try at least to improve the worst piece you have. The problem (if I can really call it a problem) is that all of my pieces were pretty decent, and if I tried to improve any of them, then the result would have probably been counterproductive. I don't remember if it was Bronstein or Miles (but I am sure it was one of these two great original thinkers) who described his play in a worse position: "I tried to not make my position worse or, more importantly, tried not to make it better."

Unfortunately I don't remember the exact quote and the game it was referring to. I hope you, my dear readers, can help me there!

Just like any joke, this saying holds a lot of truth: sometimes, by trying to improve our position, we only make it worse.

David Bronstein | Image Wikipedia

But before I continue to describe my thinking process during the game, it is important to establish if White's position was indeed that bleak, or if I just wasn't able to find a correct plan there. I was really interested to know the opinion of my opponent, but since the game finished very late in the evening, we didn't really have a chance for a post mortem. But life is full of surprises...

The next year after that U.S. Championship, I was an instructor in a chess camp organized by a good friend of mine, NM Alex Betaneli, and the Wisconsin Chess Academy. The way Alex does his chess camps is really unique. Besides being a true chess connoisseur, he loves teaching kids and finding creative ways to do it. Betaneli's chess camps deserve their own special article. I remember how during one of the camps, we, the instructors, were supposed to play blitz with the campers, giving them insane time odds - like ten seconds vs. five minutes! I tried to convince Alex that it is impossible, but he insisted. As the result, I'll always be proud that I beat a future World Champion in less than ten seconds. I will conveniently omit the fact that Awonder Liang was about six years old then Smile.

In that particular camp where I met Hikaru, Alex Betaneli managed to outdo himself. Three GMs (Nakamura, Goldin and myself), one future GM (then-IM Friedel) and IM Donaldson were teaching the talented Midwest youngsters.

So, I couldn't miss the opportunity, and I asked Hikaru what he thought was a better plan for me in that position instead of doing a chess version of rope-a-dope. After some deliberation, Hikaru admitted that White didn't have a good plan in that position, which made me feel very good. It is one thing to do a clever trick while you have many other promising options, and it is a totally different situation when your scheme was caused by necessity.

Back to my thinking process during the game. When I was running out of options, suddenly I remembered a very old article by GM Keres published in the Soviet magazine Chess in the USSR. In that article, Keres analyzed a similar situation, and his advice was simple: prepare for the possible assault of your opponent the best way you can, and then do nothing since you cannot possibly improve the best defensive formation that you've already created. As an example, Keres referred to the next famous game:

Please notice White's moves: 29, 30 and 31.

So, I thought that if Lasker managed to save the position where he was down a pawn, then I should give his strategy a try. Besides, I didn't really have any other options.

To be continued...


RELATED STUDY MATERIAL

Comments


  • 4 months ago

    AmalPJ

    quite interesting!

  • 9 months ago

    Serginh0

    thank you !

  • 9 months ago

    Serginh0

    thank you !

  • 9 months ago

    GM Gserper

    Thank you, elobispo, it is an excellent quote from Dr. Tarrasch! Somehow I've never seen it before...

  • 9 months ago

    IM elobispo

    "H. v. Gottschall incorrectly calls this move weak. Black can afford to lose at least half a dozen moves, beacuse in this closed position rapid development is not important, and it is better to lose a lot of tempi than to make a move that permanently weakens one's position..." Siegbert Tarrasch. Three Hundred Chess Games, H. v. Gottshall-Tarrasch, game 109, page112, move12...Qb5.

  • 9 months ago

    kamalakanta

    elig, in your post you used the word "lying", which I think was inappropriate.

    "I dissent, and I feel that this is faulted, lying, or staging for an argument that is incomplete....."

  • 9 months ago

    elig5428

    Serper had an unacquainted weakness on the queens side, that is allt I was saying. I think I challenged and raised the issue properly, by these tykes avoid reading through my notes, and it was related to strength on b4, and, yes, I am saying it was pivotal and instrumental weakness at that time in the game, but if they want to avoid seeing my argument, that is representing their color and shoe size, i.e. lower ratings. I wanted to leave my game posted to indicate that I can knack a comment about reading a game, as a scoff, but not to be self-inflicted or overly self-preservational, but not for too much more contrived supposed esteem other than that, or none more than determined at any local base they can read it through at. ditck.

  • 9 months ago

    upquarked

    @mosca Thanks that was an interesting insight i overlooked. Thing is I dont see why white better in this position and by extension the point of the article with respect to the position. You shouldbe doing nothing when you have an equal or better position but here white is pitifully worse.

    Black has supreme compensation. With respect to his black bishop his pawns are all on white squares. Later Naka plays g6 fixing yet another pawn on white sq. His pawns are running down the ab file. He can play Ne4 f5 plan and white cannot do anything but sit around... should he choose to and limit himself to "only" moves later in the game.

    Re-reading it again serper admits white "has no plan". Or in other words, is stuck with doing nothing. Someone care to share your insights?

  • 9 months ago

    FM abetaneli

    Interestingly, Greg Serper was asked by Awonder Liang if he has ever faced....Lasker! True, the future world champion was only about six back then. :-)

  • 9 months ago

    Mosca_Perruna

    @Upquarked, a3 and b4 would reduce the scope of white's bishop and once you play it, then what? What new plans would be available with your pawns in a3 and b4? White would find it very hard to break with a4 while black could possibly prepare a5. I don't know if there are tactical arguments, I'm just talking about general ideas.

  • 9 months ago

    upquarked

    sorry can someone explain why gsperper doesnt play a3 b4 in the game?

  • 9 months ago

    GM Gserper

    Thank you, Taylorgus!

    Somebody already mentioned that book to me.  It would be really cool to know where exactly Bronstein used this hilarious comment. I vaguely remember that I read it in a game annotation, but what game and who played it, that's the question!

    Thank you again for your help!

  • 9 months ago

    Taylorgus

    Thanks Mr. Serper - I love your columns and find them very helpful and interesting. Apologies if this has been posted already, but the quote in question appears to definitely be from Bronstein, as cited here: http://books.google.com/books?id=j3-CpcRXI0QC&pg=PT8&lpg=PT8&dq=bronstein+I+tried+to+not+make+my+position+worse+or,+more+importantly,+tried+not+to+make+it+better.%22&source=bl&ots=NWY5LGFrLF&sig=j-1YNSqNE5zd3-5qN1KCHDsXwXU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Ous6U9XOBsOgsATVhYGoCw&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=bronstein%20I%20tried%20to%20not%20make%20my%20position%20worse%20or%2C%20more%20importantly%2C%20tried%20not%20to%20make%20it%20better.%22&f=false

  • 9 months ago

    pepbebot

    @ elig : your comment and the game you posted is a joke right??

  • 9 months ago

    varelse1

    This has always been a trouble spot for me. I mean, I frequently do nothing. But, it always seems to be the wrong nothing.

  • 9 months ago

    kamalakanta

    I don't understand elig's criticism of GM Serper's column. I thought the column is well written and the points well made.

    Maybe a few more examples would help to drive the point across more.

  • 9 months ago

    b2b2

    No plan at move 14 ???

    1. Did white not have a plan before he doubled rooks on the file? 

    2. Assuming he did have a plan, did he not anticipate black's replies? 

    If yes to both #1 and #2, then he should have foreseen the position at move 14 (back when he was on move 8 or 9).

    If no to either #1 or #2, then in the vernacular of Eastern Europeans he was not "playing chess." 

  • 9 months ago

    elig5428

    But I do also feel that GM. Serper was a little too close to late on closing up security on the b and c files, haha

  • 9 months ago

    elig5428

    Better yet, I withdraw my comment that this game is guiding to anything in my discussion, but it shows some lack of a counter-defense based on two to three real bad moves, which is why is a 17 move mater. Wheeew.

  • 9 months ago

    elig5428

Back to Top

Post your reply: