Hate Chess Opening Theory? There Is A Solution!

Hate Chess Opening Theory? There Is A Solution!

About a hundred years ago, the third world chess champion, José Raúl Capablanca, expressed concern about the death of chess due to its drawish tendences. He said that in times when there were no computers claiming "0.00" and when chess theory was still evolving. Now, it is more true than ever: Most of the openings are extensively analyzed, a plethora of books on endgames are written, and the overall strength and resistance of players has grown. The picture below illustrates that well.

(C) Chess Evolution

However, tournament games are played by humans, imperfect creatures. It is not enough to memorize all opening lines and endgame positions. I would also argue that it is a pretty tedious task, and perhaps impossible, for any human, even a super genius, to analyze and remember all lines and all positions, say, from the Lomonosov Database with 7 pieces. To store such a database somewhere 8-15 TB of space are required

Here is an example from the Candidates Tournament in Berlin. One of the strongest chess players in the world, Sergey Karjakin, mixed up the move order in the opening, became much worse, and lost to Levon Aronian. Refer to this excellent report by Peter Doggers for more details and the game: https://www.chess.com/news/view/fide-candidates-tournament-aronian-caruana-win-in-incredible-round-4

I would like to present Sergey's words at the press conference to illustrate the point: : "I was actually preparing this line... but I mixed it up," said Karjakin. "I forgot that I had to play 14.Rh3 immediately. And I played 14.Rb1 first, [thinking] it was hardly important. After 16...Nc5, I felt like Levon in the game against Vladimir after ...Rg8. Instead of fighting for an advantage, you are clearly worse with White in 10 minutes. It's just a terrible feeling."

Ouch. And that happened to a world-class player who almost beat Magnus Carlsen, and who is the record-holder for becoming the world's youngest grandmaster. 

Therefore, I think it is too early to talk about the "death" of classical chess, but I strongly believe that chess would benefit from more Fischer Random and rapid and blitz tournaments. So far, 2018 doesn't let us down. Carlsen and Nakamura played the first Chess960 match in Norway with perhaps more events like that to come. 

However, what made me sit down and write this article is an unpleasant feeling that as a chess professional, when you face a well-prepared opponent with the Black pieces (and actually with White too), and you want to "get a game" instead of following 30 moves of theory for two results (if you know or remember the theory - then we have a draw, otherwise you keep suffering). I recall, once I was preparing against Pavel Eljanov in round two of the 2015 World Chess Cup in Baku. I was planning to play a Grunfeld in our first game. I spent eight hours(!) refreshing all the lines that he could have potentially played. But I was actually happy when I went to sleep at four a.m. thinking "I have him!", and I could make a quick theoretical draw. He surprised me already on move five. Although, I had an equal game later on, I started making very suspicious decisions in time trouble and eventually blundered and lost. I should have perhaps slept and kept up my energy instead of refreshing all my lines until morning.

So, now, I try to be more pragmatic. I have no time or energy to refresh all the Grunfeld lines for eight hours because there is always a risk that my opponent can deviate or even surprise me on move one. And if I don't refresh, then there is a risk that I might get "caught" in his prep somewhere. So what to do? Well, I think we should play creative chess and force our well-prepared opponents out of book as early as possible! Consider the many examples from Jobava or Rapport  

Of course, it is objectively better to play something like a Berlin or Najdorf and to deeply understand the former and keep an enormous amount of lines in mind for the latter, but I try to approach chess from the practical standpoint. Thus, I often play openings that, mildly putting it, make players and followers wonder "What the hell is that?!".  Sometimes my opponents even have an extreme reaction. Sam Shankland, a strong GM and a member of Magnus Carlsen's opening team, after this game mentioned the word "disrespect" when I played 1.d4 Na6 against him.

He can say whatever he wants but, being out of book, he misplayed the opening with White so badly that he was close to being lost on move fourteen, and again lost in the endgame. We eventually drew, but it was my lack of technique and inability to play well in time trouble that let him escape with a draw. Also, a few rounds earlier in the same tournament I played a very provocative opening against the super solid and cultural player Alex Onischuk - 1.d4 g6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 e6!? 4.e4 Ne7 5.Nf3 d5. Although I lost the game, Black's position was completely OK right out of the opening, and I actually started playing aggressively being 20 minutes up on the clock. My opponent was never worse, always kept his position solid, but from the opening outcome point, I was OK with Black and avoided many theoretical lines where otherwise I would have suffered against a strong player like Alex. 

Recently, I have been trying to convert Cemil Can to my "chess religion." As a result, he played 1...b6 against GM Akshat Chanda in the Spring Classic Group B tournament and did well in the opening too! Watch his video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyMv-MrhyUg

And, finally, I attach several recent games in the appendix. Thanks for reading!  

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