An Important Lesson from my Youth
Hello dear chess fans!
This is the first installment of my weekly column and I would like to thank chess.com for giving me this opportunity to share my experience with fellow chess players. Here I will discuss openings and particularly traps and combinations in openings.
If you go to any book store and take a look at the chess department, you’ll see that by far the majority of chess books are written about openings. Also, based on my experience, the lion's share of any chessplayer’s personal library consists of opening books. Add to the mix modern databases that help you instantly find a move played by GMs in any particular opening position and you might think that most chessplayers play openings flawlessly or at least with a minimum of mistakes. Of course, any experienced player knows that this is not true. Thousands of games are won and lost in less than 20 moves. In my opinion, the reason is the way most of the books and databases teach openings. In the best case they explain some basic opening principles (development, center, the danger of pawn grabbing, etc) but in most of the cases they just show how to play some particular opening and some particular positions. In other words, they show how to play, but don’t teach how to think.
Fortunately, chess is a very logical game and a little thing called common sense will help you to avoid many opening disasters. Let me give you a very simple but graphic example.
Below is a game I played when I was a kid. I am sure that all of you had a similar experience, since a trap like this is almost as unavoidable in the beginning of everyone’s chess career as the Fool’s mate. I was playing White.
1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Nd4?
I don’t remember my exact thoughts at that moment, but I have no doubts that I was happy that my opponent blundered an important central pawn and allowed me to create a deadly threat to the vital f7 square.
4. Nxe5 Qg5!
This move came as just another proof that I was playing a patzer who didn’t even notice my threat.
5. Nxf7 Qxg2
What a bummer! If I take his Rook he takes mine with a check! I doubt that I saw the variation 6. Nxh8 Qxh1 7. Bf1 Qe4 8. Be2 Nxc2 9 Kf1 Qh1X but instinctively I decided to save my Rook.
6 Rf1 Qxe4+ 7. Be2 Nf3 checkmate!
And I think I just ran away crying. It was not the loss that I was so upset about ( I was a relatively experienced player by that point who knew that you should accept a loss as part of the game of chess). It was just unfair that my opponent broke all known rules of the opening, blundered a couple of pawns and yet managed to beat me so quickly and convincingly. The problem here was that I was taught the opening principles, but wasn’t taught how to think properly. Lets analyse this game again and see what we can learn there and how to avoid such painful defeats.
These days my attitude towards moves like this is the same as towards late night infomercials. If something is too good to be true, then it probably is. So, the guy moves the same piece a second time in the opening, which is already not good , and he also blunders a very important central pawn. He is either a patzer or a genius. I always accept the genius version. This way, if I am right and he is a genius indeed, I avoid a potential trap, and if I am wrong and he is just a patzer… well, then it is just a pleasant surprise for me along with an extra pawn. So, here if you assume that the guy is a genius and you look for a trap, it is not above a human ability to spot the whole Qg5-g2-e4 idea. In this case White has a pleasant choice. He can play 4 c3 Nf3 5 Qf3 further increasing his lead in development, or, even better, he can play 4 Nxd4 exd4 5 c3 and since 5… Bc5 loses to 6. Bxf7+ Kxf7 7 Qh5+ and 8.Qxc5 follows, Black's only option is 5… dxc3 6 Nxc3 and you can see that Black’s Nd4 idea has failed, since now it looks like White played three moves in a row (e4, Bc4, Nc3) and Black hasn’t started the game yet. Now, suppose you prefer to think that your opponent is a fool, because only a fool would play 3...Nd4, so you confidently play 4.Nxe5 only to see your opponent’s 4...Qg5! response.
If 3… Nd4 to me is like a late night infomercial, than … Qg5 is more like a 419 scam (also known as the Nigerian scam), because it is way too good to be true. I just won one pawn on e5, I am going to win another one on f7 and also I'll get his Rh8 the very next move. It simply cannot be true! Having such a strong warning sign (or rather a police siren) it is not that difficult to see that once he takes the g2 pawn, the whole White position collapses. A panic quickly sets in and it is easy to rush with 5.Ng4 which both guards the Knight and saves the important g2 pawn… only to run into 5...d5! This wins a piece due to a double attack to the Bc4 and Ng4. The correct approach of course is to calm down and assess the damage. Clearly, the Ne5 and the g2 pawn cannot both be saved and in this position the g2 pawn is much more important than the Ne5, since if the g2 pawn falls, the whole White King’s Side becomes endangered so it is not ‘just a pawn’, it is His Majesty, Ke1. By now it becomes clear that we need to jettison the Ne5 but keep the g2 pawn. So, if we are losing the Ne5 anyway, we should at least get as much as possible for the poor guy. This simple logic leads to the following sequence of moves:
5.Bxf7 + Ke7 6.0-0 Qxe5 7.Bxg8 Rxg8
It’s time to reassess the position again. White has two pawns for the Knight and the Black King is vulnerable. Not that bad after the near death experience in the opening. But let’s continue our analysis. Naturally White wants to utilize his pawns and create a monstrous center, so he plays 8.c3 Ne6 (if 8...Nc6, then 9.d4 is very strong again) 9.d4 and here we can make a final evaluation. Black cannot take the e4 pawn because in this case after d5 the Ne6 cannot move due to the Re1 pin. So the Qe5 must run for her life. White has very good attacking prospects for the lost (or should I say sacrificed?) Knight. I think most chessplayers would prefer White here.
As we can see, simply by following elmentary logic and common sense White managed to avert a disaster and acually to turn the tables. Paraphrasing Yogi Berra’s famous "You can observe a lot just by watching" you can find many good moves just by thinking.
So what’s the moral of the story? How should you think about your moves (and I am not talking about just openings here)?
1)First you should always remember that it takes two to tango and therefore your opponents is part of the game just like you are. Therefore we have to respect him and his ideas. Even if we cannot see the point of his move, we shouldn’t think that there is none; it is more likely that we didn’t try hard enough to find it. If something looks to good to be true, most probably it is!
2) When you find yourself in a difficult situation, don’t panic, instead try to find a way out. It almost always exists!
Sounds simple? Yes, those are basic guidelines we follow in our everyday life and yet tend to forget in the heat of a chess battle. Follow these two simple rules in your next game and you’ll see that they work!