Chigorin Ruy Lopez and the Mystery of Statistics

Chigorin Ruy Lopez and the Mystery of Statistics

| 10 | Other

Chigorin Ruy Lopez and the Mystery of Statistics


Niranjan Navalgund asked:

My question is about the Chigorin Variation of the Ruy Lopez.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 O-O 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Qc7 12.Nbd2. After this move, what is black’s best chance?

Dear Mr. Navalgund,


Saying “best chance” makes it seem that black’s in trouble, when in reality he’s holding his own theoretically. I hope it was just a poor choice of wording and not your real view about this line, which has a long and impressive history, and has been used by a who’s who of great players over the years.


So, let’s dive right in!


1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0–0 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Qc7 12.Nbd2 and now the classical 12…Nc6 (Rubinstein’s System) is my recommendation, though Black also does fine with both 12…Bd7 and 12…cxd4 13.cxd4 Nc6 14.Nb3 a5 15.Be3 a4 16.Nbd2, which leads to completely different positions than 12…Nc6. 


Before looking at 12…Nc6, though, here’s a game (featuring a slightly inferior move order – the move order isn’t important, but the final position is critical since it also occurs from better move orders) that shows the kind of position White dreams of and Black must avoid:


1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 Na5 9.Bc2 c5 10.d4 Qc7 11.Nbd2 Nc6 12.a4 Rb8 13.axb5 axb5 14.dxc5 dxc5 15.Nf1 Be6 16.Ne3 0–0 17.Ng5 Rfd8 18.Qf3 Rd6 19.Nf5 Bxf5 20.exf5 h6 21.Ne4 Nxe4 22.Bxe4 Bf6 23.Be3 and white’s advantage is obvious (pressure on the queenside and kingside, plus two killing Bishops), Rauzer-Riumin, Leningrad 1936.

Okay, it’s time for us to enter the Rubinstein System:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0–0 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Qc7 12.Nbd2 Nc6 13.dxc5


I started out as a 13.e4 player and I always captured in this way – my view was simple: “If Fischer did it, I would do it!”


Later I switched to the space-gaining 13.d5, but now it’s thought to be satisfactory for Black: 13…Nd8 14.a4 Rb8 15.axb5 (15.b4 Bd7 16. bxc5 Qxc5 17.axb5 axb5 is fine for Black) 15…axb5 16.c4 b4 17.Nf1 Ne8 18.g4 g6 19.Ng3 Ng7 20.Kh2 f6 21.Be3 Nf7 22.Rg1 Kh8 23.Nd2 Bd7 24.Ba4 Ra8 25.Bxd7 Qxd7 26.Qc2 Ng5 27.Bxg5 fxg5, =, L.Schmid - Smyslov, Havana 1967.


13…dxc5 14.Nf1 Be6 15.Ne3 Rad8 16.Qe2


For years, White won many nice games from this position since, aside from ideas like Ng5 and Nf5, he can also tickle black’s queenside by a4. Then, all of white’s warm, fuzzy feelings about this position changed in the game Fischer - Kholmov, Havana 1965 when Black found a new and powerful plan:




Giving black’s pieces access to the c5-square and setting up a play for d3 by ...Nf6-d7-c5-d3.




17.Nf5 Bxf5 18.exf5 Rfe8 19.Bg5 (19.Ng5 Nd4 20.cxd4 exd4 21.Ne4 Kf8 22.Nxf6 Bxf6 23.Be4 d3 24.Qh5 Kg8 25.Bd2 Bxb2 26.Rab1 Bf6, =+, Konikowski-Ronczkowski, corr. 1971) 19…h6 (Perhaps best is 19…Nd5 20.Rad1 Bf6 21.Be4 Nf4, =) 20.Bxf6 Bxf6 21.Nd2 Ne7 22.Ne4 Nd5 and Black will continue with ...Be7 followed by ...Nf6 when the Bishops of opposite colors will keep things fairly level (no more than a slight edge for White). 


17…h6! 18.Nxe6 fxe6 19.b4? Nd4! 20.cxd4 exd4 21.a3


21.e5 d3 22.exf6 Bxf6.


21…d3 22.Bxd3 Rxd3 and Black had a clear advantage and went on to win the game: 23.Ng4 Kh7 24.e5 Nxg4 25.Qe4+ g6 26.Qxg4 Rf5 27.Qe4 Qd7 28.Be3 Qd5 29.Qxd5 Rxd5 30.f4 g5 31.g3 gxf4 32.gxf4 Rf8 33.Kg2 Kg6 34.Rg1 Rd3 35.Kf3+ Kf5 36.Rg7 Bd8 37.Rb7 Rg8 38.Rb8 Rg7 39.a4 h5 40.axb5 axb5 41.Rxb5 Bh4 42.Ke2 Rg2+ 43.Kf1 Rh2 44.Kg1 Re2 45.Bb6 c3 46.Kf1 Rh2, 0-1.


If you like these variations and wish to create a whole repertoire with 1.e4 e5, I highly recommended Mihail Marin’s two book repertoire masterpiece: BEATING THE OPEN GAMES (Quality Chess, 2007), and A SPANISH REPERTOIRE FOR BLACK (Quality Chess, 2007). These cover everything White can throw at you after 1.e4 e5.



Jal3ous asked:


In the QGD, after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6, statistically 4.cxd5 is the strongest move for White, yet it’s not the most popular one (4.Nf3 and 4.Bg5 are more popular).

Any explanation of the reason behind this would be very helpful.


Dear Jal3ous,


In my database, 4.Bg5 was played 31,583 times and scored 59% while 4.cxd5 was second, scoring a staggering 65% in 16,142 games. 4.Nf3 was seen in 13,436 games and, like 4.Bg5, scored 59%.


The fact is, these statistics could mean almost anything. For example, in the case of 4.cxd5 Kasparov employed it quite a bit, which pushed white’s average rating higher and also added to white’s win percentage. I should also mention that 4.cxd5 can lead to positions where White castles queenside and pushes with g2-g4, or where White castles kingside and plays for central expansion with f2-f3 and eventually e3-e4, or it can lead to a placid but dangerous minority attack where White castles kingside and plays for queenside targets by b2-b4-b5. That’s a lot of stuff for Black to deal with, and if the average rating of the second player was lower than against 4.Bg5 (meaning that there was a lot of folding when faced with all those White options), then all the stats could easily be driven up in white’s favor.


In general, both 4.Bg5 and 4.cxd5 are thought to be equally good (depending on taste). And, when viewing two sound, powerful opening lines, one should put very little value on most statistics. In the case of 4.cxd5, the computer said that White performed Elo 2337 against an opposition of Elo 2230. These ratings are simply too low to offer any meaningful numbers.

Once you notice that Kasparov, Karpov, Short, and just about every top grandmaster constantly plays these positions, then it’s clear that they are excellent openings. In such situations the only thing that matters is which line appeals to you the most.


If you must use statistics when dealing with highly respected systems, only include games played in the last thirty or forty years, and only between players with ratings of 2500 or above. In that case, stats will offer a far more honest representation of an opening’s worth.

More from IM Silman
The Downs And Ups Of GM Elmars Zemgalis (Silman's Last Article)

The Downs And Ups Of GM Elmars Zemgalis (Silman's Last Article)

How To Build Winning Chess Positions

How To Build Winning Chess Positions