How to Play Against Old Guys, Pt. 1
I’ve been retired from over-the-board combat since the end of 1999. Though I probably will never play again, I have (from time to time) toyed with the idea of competing in the World Senior Championship, which (if you win) not only makes you a World Champion, but also gives you an instant grandmaster title.
When I think about this, I often ponder what the right strategy would be for such an event. Thus, I look at quite a few games from the World Senior tournaments to see if typical weaknesses show themselves. And yes, they do! Here’s my basic list:
* Old players get tired. Really tired. Often really fast.
* Old players can (and do!) easily lose concentration.
* Old players are often clueless about modern opening theory.
* Old players often miss basic tactical shots (due to tiredness).
* Old players can often fall into a state of total passivity.
One would think I could make use of these weaknesses to cruise through the event. But there’s one small problem: I’m an old player too! Thus, all of these weaknesses also apply to me. So, since I would only play if I fully intended to win the event, what could I do to give myself a realistic chance at victory?
Well, let’s create another list. This time we’ll ask what older players have going for them:
* Old players have tons of experience.
* Old players have a firm grasp of chess psychology and know how to use it.
* Old players know old fashioned but very sound openings extremely well.
* Old players are often still very, very, VERY strong at positional chess.
* Old players are often mentally and emotionally tougher than young players.
Let’s look at a couple of examples from the these World Senior events:
White was completely outplayed in the following game and his position is hopeless. Since there’s no defense to black’s threatened ...d2-d1=Q, White tried his last shot:
In our next example, white’s been playing a bit passively but he’s still perfectly okay. However, the threat against b2 seemed to spook him, and a series of hysterical moves lead to a surprisingly rapid downfall:
Playing with less energy (passivity), getting tired, and missing tactics affects even the strongest older players. But the old greats still have scary skills, and if you can’t get them out of their comfort zone you’ll find that you’re in for a bumpy ride!
White has many ways to win here, but what’s his best (and most beautiful) move?
So what strategies will prove advantageous for a World Senior Tournament? My dear friend Anthony Saidy (who played in only one World Senior) decided that full bore conflict was the way to do it, and he battled every game to the end. In doing so he won or lost every game, with zero draws (unheard of in a senior event)! However, he didn’t win the tournament.
Most players just play as correctly as they can, keep things from getting out of hand, and hope that an undefeated record (with a few draws) will give them the title. This is quite reasonable. But, since I feel the need for speed, let’s look at a completely different outlook from famed American wild man Jude Acers.
I first met Jude Acers (he peaked with a 2399 USCF rating and is 10 years my senior) when I moved from San Diego’s conservative neighborhoods to San Francisco’s exciting and bizarre Haight Ashbury in 1972. He was a bit of a legend, and his articles in the Berkeley Barb were always tremendous fun to read. However, our paths didn’t cross again until I visited New Orleans (25 years ago!). There I found Jude sitting by his “world chess table” near the Gazebo Café on Decatur Street. He made his living playing anyone and everyone… for a fee of course. We chatted for a while, he showed me around, and that was that.
More time passed, I heard about Jude’s near death experience during the New Orleans flood, his subsequent stint in a displaced person’s camp, and then, when the city achieved a semblance of normalcy, he once again was seen near the Gazebo with his board and pieces set up and ready to rumble.
Years zipped by, thoughts of Jude faded from my mind, and then, out of the blue, I heard that Acers was playing in the 2007 World Senior Championship in Austria! When one considers that he hadn’t played tournament chess for decades, I didn’t think he had a chance in hell of winning the event. And make no mistake about it, Jude would surely entertain serious aspirations towards that World Senior title. Unfortunately, ego and dreams often have little to do with reality, and though Jude didn’t win the tournament, he did end up with a perfectly acceptable score of 5 wins, 4 draws, and only 2 losses.
Since then Jude has continued playing in that event, and he continues to win and draw against some very strong opposition. How does he do it? What’s his strategy? Jude Acers spits on convention and instead plays rare/strange openings or gambits, and he does everything he can to drag his opponents screaming into hyper-sharp, tactical situations. Let’s take a look:
Here's the rest of the game in puzzle form:
Jude Acers (2214) – E. Sveshnikov (2507), [D00] World Seniors Championship, Greece 2012
1.d4 d5 2.Bg5
Sveshnikov is light years ahead of Acers regarding opening theory, so Jude quickly takes the game out of normal channels.
2…f6 3.Bh4 Nh6 4.f3 Nc6 5.e4 dxe4 6.d5 Nf5 7.fxe4 Nxh4 8.Qh5+ Ng6 9.dxc6 bxc6 10.Nf3 e5 11.Bc4 Qd7 12.0-0 Bc5+ 13.Kh1 Qg4
Black’s clearly better, but he might have missed Jude’s next move.
If Black missed it, this is the kind of move that can give him a heart attack! Fortunately for Sveshnikov, it’s not dangerous.
Of course, 14…Kxf7?? 15.Nxe5+ wins for White.
15.Bxg6 Qxg6 16.Qh4 Qg4 17.Qe1 Rb8
17…Ba6 seems stronger: 18.Qa5 Bxf1 19.Qxc5+ Ke8 20.Qxc6+? (20.Qf2 allows White to play on, though after 20…Bc4 Black should win) 20…Kf7 21.Qxc7+ Kg8 and white’s dead meat.
18.Nbd2 Ba6 19.h3 Qf4 20.c4 Be3??
Black avoided a Nxe5 tactic on his 14th move, but here he walks right into it!
21.Nxe5! Qxe5 22.Qxe3 Rb6 23.Nf3 Qxb2 24.e5?!
24.Rad1! Bc8 25.e5 would have given White a devastating attack.
24…Kd8 25.exf6 Bxc4 26.Qe7+ Kc8 27.f7 Bxf1 28.f8=Q+ Rxf8 29.Qxf8+
Jude is still winning but now he’s facing a problem: the game is going to turn technical and that isn’t his strong suit. As a result his advantage dwindles with each passing move until it’s completely gone.
29…Kb7 30.Rxf1 Ra6 31.Qf5 Rxa2 32.Rb1 Ra1 33.Rxa1 Qxa1+ 34.Kh2 a5 35.Qxh7 a4 36.Qd3 a3 37.Qb3+ Kc8 38.Qe6+ Kb7 39.Qb3+ Kc8 40.h4 a2 41.Qe6+ Kb7 42.Qb3+ Kc8, 1/2-1/2. Poor Jude was so close to grabbing the biggest upset of the tournament!
Though Jude started off with a poor position vs. Sveshnikov, he made a comeback due to his opponent missing some tactical shots. Unfortunately his technical failings deprived him of the win.
In the next game (vs. another strong grandmaster!), Jude tries to mix things up with the Schliemann gambit (also known as the Jaenisch Gambit). Unfortunately his opponent knew the theory, and the resulting position, though not terrible for Black, left White with all the long-term prospects (better structure) and few real attacking chances for Black in return. In other words, the position he got didn’t suit his tactical needs at all!
Jude’s strategy works to a degree, but it needs to be helped along with better technique and positional skills. As a result of his “knock him out or lose” style, Jude’s able to have enormous fun and fair results, but winning the tournament isn’t a possibility.
Next week we’ll take a look at a player who planned his approach perfectly and, as a result, won the Senior Championship of the World.