How to Play Against Old Guys, Pt. 1

  • IM Silman
  • | Apr 13, 2013

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.


  • 7 months ago


      I played Jude when I was in NOLA this past February and it was an incredible & challenging experience. He stomped me in the first game when I tried to play the classic King's Indian Fianchetto. I was in a lost position after about 10 moves, even though it's the opening I've spent the most time studying. The next game we played I somehow managed to draw him.

      I was so intent on winning the game and so focused that I played my all-time best. He then proceeded to give me an endgame lesson that I took a lot from. All in all, I hung out with him for an hour, played 2 games, and got an endgame lesson, for only $10!

      It was an experience that I'll never forgot and I hope to one day spend some more time with him as he is a great personality and I had a lot of fun.

      I told him that I hope to play him again one day and he said I'm only allowed to come back if I bring my girlfriend again :-)

  • 8 months ago


    Good article

  • 4 years ago



  • 4 years ago


    I find the best way to play against older guys, is to draw the game out through to adjournment. There's always the chance my opponent will not be survive to resume the game.

  • 4 years ago


    Thank you for sharing

  • 4 years ago


    R-S: Thank you for sharing. I will make a note to study the Nimzo-Larsen if I have to draw a game against someone who I think will blow me out of the water with sharp tactical play.

  • 4 years ago


    "and this final humiliation convinced White to resign and (most likely) head for the nearest bar."

    lol - a page from the storybook of my life...

  • 4 years ago


    I read this article last week and I happened to be traveling to New Orleans for a vacation. I'd like to share my experience. I found Jude sitting in his customary spot and I played him 5 times.  I'm an attorney with strong calculation/visualization but I've only been playing for 5 years, so my theory and postional chess greatly needs improving.  As a background, I have no official rating, however I have beaten someone as high as FIDE 2030.  As IM Silman pointed out, Jude immediately drags you into a tactical battle, which in my case ended up with him winning a pawn and doubling another within the first 17 moves in multiple games for very little compensation on my part.  I had the illusion of my own passed pawn becoming a queen but alas i was several tempos behind due to inaccurate play.  He then proceeded to ram his passed pawns down my throat.  Next he checkmated me in a third game in a similar manner to the Ante Jadrijevic game, although i didn't last as long.  He marched his kingside pawns forward, forcibly ripped open the files and mated me with the queen/bishop combo.   Next he performed another opening sequence/tactical destruction on me in a fourth game using the classic knight fork on the rook and king.  I thought I had some sort of aggressive compensation on my own, which turned out to be wrong and 0-4 was sufficent learning that day.  It felt very similar to playing a computer, whereby you simply make a mistake or play inaccuartely and very shortly thereafter you are powerless.

    I went back the next day after reviewing a few of his career losses.  I tried to open with the nizmo-larsen attack, which he admitted to me he did not know all that well.  I played the opening well until i made a mistake regarding what happens when you aren't careful about the lines opened by playing e3. Prior to the mistake, he announced to me that I could draw the game and that he couldn't beat me from the resulting position.  This is a perfect type of opening to play against a tactical gambit wizard.  I have never had someone so easily take an advantage off of 1. d4 d5, and this includes computers because they don't play as aggresively as he does.

    He did, however, provide some valuable advice.  He extolled the virtues of a "simple plan."  He explained to me that he was simply playing sound logical moves and waiting for me to make a mistake (which i did every game).  He demonstrated the value of waiting moves and also showed me an example of how to simplify the endgame with exchanges, even perhaps technically losing material in exchange for the ability to march pawns unstoppably. 

    It was well worth the $25 to play 5 games with a player of his knowledge and caliber.  And of course his whimsical musings on a whole host of topics ranging from Carlsen to Kate Upton to Karma and the Dali Lama were much appeciated.  If you ever find yourself in New Orleans, walk down Decatur Street in the French Quarter and you'll find him.  Be warned, if you aren't titled, you don't stand a chance...

  • 4 years ago


    Mr. Silman; Are you not an advocate of 'Play the position on the board and not your opponent'?

    As for Age, I'm an old boy, I play chess 8 Hrs a day and study for 1-2hrs a day every day including mondern theory!

    I think that senior players may be better than you may give them credit for!

    Still what do I know! 

  • 4 years ago


    Can't wait for part 2! I know Larry Kaufman won the world senior championship a few years ago, since he mentions that in his opening repertoire book...

  • 4 years ago


    Chasm. Read back a little bit. Should answer your question. Laughing

  • 4 years ago


    Mr. Silman, do you plan on playing in the Senior Championship when you qualify?

  • 4 years ago


    Then you can use my name! By that time, chances are I'll be shot dead by some jealous husband, anyway!

  • 4 years ago

    IM Silman

    Hey guys, I appreciate the good wishes but I think you need to be 60 to participate and I'm "only" 58. I'll seriously consider playing in the World Senior IF I still remember my name when I hit 60.

  • 4 years ago


    GO FOR IT!

  • 4 years ago


    Do it Silman! You HAVE to win!

  • 4 years ago


    Jeremy Silman wrote:

    "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."

    The right strategy is to follow a diet and lifestyle that makes you physiologically younger than your chronological age. This is possible and has been a focus of Living The CR Way for 20 years. I am talking not about unproven strategies and disinformation that floods the Internet but, rather, about 75 years of solid scientific research, indicating that such a lifestyle increases significantly the likelihood of extending both lifespan and healthspan.  Most likely your competition in the World Senior Open will have no idea how to apply this to their lives and to chess play.

    Here are some videos introducing the concepts:


    Jeremy Silman wrote

     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.

    Fatigue depends in large part on health status, including a proper preparation regimen for the game. You can improve your stamina substantially, so you can use it as a strength – retaining your concentration as the game progresses, while your opponent’s wanes.

    * Old players can (and do!) easily lose concentration.

    Often true. But retaining and even increasing concentration capabilities are possible as one gets older – so that some people who reach advanced ages have better attentional processing than people 30 years younger.  Here’s a blog post that gives some clues as to how to do that: Calorie-Restriction-the-CR-Way for a Better Brain

    I had the privilege recently of creating a teleconference featuring Dr. Emily Rogalski, who hasidentified the brain characteristics of SuperAgers. She found that some people at 80 have better cognitive function than those at 55. We have identified how to retain and regainthose characteristics, thus improving cognitive function – if you work at it.Here's more about it: Brain Training, combined with Daily Intermittent Fasting, Improves Cognition.

    Jeremy Silman wrote

    "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?"

    If you maintain the superb skills that allowed you to become an International Master and apply and integrate the suggestions above into your life and training methods, you will have an excellent chance of victory!

    I can’t thank you enough for You have created an extraordinary way to improve chess skills. I intend to renew my premium membership and use the tools you have created to improve my chess as well as my cognitive skills generally. My main focus for chess improvement will not be chess study, however. It will be to further improve cognitive function by continuing the research that allows me, along with hundreds of others to get smarter as we get older.

    Many chess players work very hard at the game but pay little or no attention to how their health status affects their ability to play. I predict that won’t be possible among elite players of the future. The rapid advances in longevity science will allow players who apply it to have great advantages over those who don’t.

    Wishing you the extraordinary health and much success when you enter and win the World Senior Open!


  • 4 years ago


    I had my ass kicked by an old guy the second time I played chess.Then, I had my ass kicked by a schizophrenic old dude shortly after that. That made me fell pretty awesome.....

    I saw two old guys at a tournament go at each other for almost 5 hours in consecutive games. I was exhausted and they were sipping coffee staring at the board the entire time. I dont thing they got up from thier chairs more than a few times. Probably to take a leak (you know how that isWink).

    Not so sure, I would take all older people so lightly, but I know that's not what this article is saying. Its very interesting. Thanks

  • 4 years ago


    Master Silman, You should do it. You've got a legion of fans who would cheer you on all the way, Win, Lose or Draw.

    You are already a living legend and would still leave a wonderful legacy as is.

    But if you went for it, what a true champion indeed! 

    You didn't come this far in your chess  to proverbally fade out into a sterile equality. Bring it up a notch and declare war against every thought trying to rob you of your destiny.

    The rally cry roars, "Sil-man! Sil-man! Sil-man!"

    Do it for every one who was so busy trying to avoid failure that their dreams died on the altar of playing it safe and their music still trapped within them at the end of their days.

    Nay! Not You! Leap into your grave laughing all the way 'cause you pursued your damsel fate and didn't relent until she was ravagely yours!

    Grandmaster Jeremy Silman kinda has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

    The set time to appoint favor to Silman has come.

    Step into that promised land with your head held high and claim your inheritance. Seize it. Own it and it shall be yours.

  • 4 years ago

    IM Silman

    @ Brunk, who asked: "Can Jay Whitehead be far from senility?"

    Jay Whitehead died October 4th, 2011 from cancer. He was only 49 years old.

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