On Typical but Incorrect Plans

On Typical but Incorrect Plans

WIM energia
Apr 2, 2010, 12:00 AM |
8 | Strategy

 Our life-preservation instincts generate fear and awareness of danger. At a chess board a player also experiences similar reactions. One can hear from time to time that this or that chess player has a "good sense of danger." Among super-grandmasters this sense of danger shows mainly in how a player can evaluate the position after lengthy calculations and if his feeling tells him that, for example, the weak pawn on d5 will cost him the game. The sense of danger is a broad term and I am not sure how to define it. However, we can state some characteristics that a player with a good sense of danger should possess. Such player should be aware of the opponent’s plans and direct his game to oppose these plans if they are threatening. A danger could come in two forms: underestimating (or not seeing) the opponent’s plans and overestimating one’s own plans. Usually two of those come together and are common to a player who is overly confident. World Champion T. Petrosian is a good example of a player who had an amazing sense of danger. He wouldn’t go for complications unless the final positions were favorable for him, thus in many cases his games were lacking in tactical battles not because he has not seen those moves but because he avoided them due to his sense of danger.

On the other hand, one might think that the great ‘magician’ Tal did not have any sense of danger. Many of his games featured fearless sacrifices, not always correct ones if the opponent put up the toughest defense. But Tal knew what he was risking by sacrificing the material. The resulting positions were impossible to evaluate as winning or losing; they had to be played out. He knew that the chances were approximately equal and thus knew that his attacks were not the ones where he could calculate all the lines until the end with an assessment of "win". On the other hand, if he thought that his attacks were winning because he simply overlooked the defensive resources of the opponents, then he could have been correctly labeled as lacking a sense of danger.

When I started playing the Dragon in the Sicilian Defense for black I realized the difference between knowing where the position is really dangerous and where it is dangerous but not enough for the sacrificed material. Prior to that I was almost always on the attacking side, sacrificing material, wholly believing that the attacks will work and not even seeking the defensive resources that the opponent has. This is a good example of having no sense of danger. Now, I am on the defensive side of the Dragon but I know that one mishap and the end will come. On the other hand, I know that Black has enough defensive resources to hold the position and to end up with more material, eventually. In other words, I know the risks, I have seen many successful attacks and I have seen many of the most beautiful games played for white in Dragon.

This experience can backfire too. For example, by defending successfully against vicious attacks one can assume that he can defend against any attack and be careless in preventing them. This is in a way saying "I am really good in defense, prove that you can mate me." And in some positions one does not have to do much to prove a sound attack, as it can develop rather naturally. This is especially the case when playing the black pieces: a few careless moves and one can end up in a lost position out of opening.

My personal experience from the past tournament in Chicago confirms this. Finishing with a 50% score in a strong tournament where most of the game I played higher rated players can seem an ok result. But looking at the games one can see a disaster that happened while playing the black pieces – 3 losses and only 1 win. Around move 9 in each of the 3 lost game there was a moment of loss of trend of the game and then it was too late to fix things. There was a problem of spending too little time in the opening. Also, not particularly caring why the opponent made this or that specific move. As you know, move transpositions in the openings can be particularly dangerous and not paying attention to nuances can have a high cost. Now, I come to realize that there is a more fundamental flaw in my thinking process that caused this disaster- refusal to think in the opening. Nowadays, openings are worked out at home and all one has to do is to remember the analysis and replay it at the board. One does not come up with anything creative/novel at the board, all the work is done at home. For me middlegames are the most interesting part in chess because one can do a lot of novel things there. Openings I dismiss as something one has to get through. This approach is wrong and as I learned from the played games, thinking in the opening in terms of plans and checking tactics is as important as in any other part of the game.

The first position is from my first round game against grandmaster Mitkov. In the opening he played really fast, not spending any time at the board, looking more at the other games. This gave me the sense that I should also play fast, even though the position was not too familiar. I knew general plans but nothing specific. It turns out this is still theory but black has to be extremely careful because if white launches his attack as he did in the game, to defend would be close to impossible. If I had realized the dangers the position bears then moves such as Nd4 or Na5 would follow with the idea to exchange the main attacker Bb3. Then the game will be more in positional mood. Playing so many Dragon games, where the white pawns get really close to the black king I underestimated the attack that followed here, since the position looks very resilient for black. Playing a6 is in a way following a plan with queenside pawn attack b5- Qb6 but it turns out to be too slow. Only by realizing the dangers the position hides can one find the right plan here.

The second position is from round 3. I confused plans in the opening, wrongly exchanging my knight on f6 for his knight c3 when he hadn’t yet played c4 thus losing time and ending up behind in development. Here I spent only four minutes: mainly deciding whether to put the pawn on d6, d5 or wait with the pawn push and castle. There was no such question in my mind as: why did he play c3 instead of 0-0 on the last move? The answer is simple: he is waiting and c3 is a generally good move protecting the center. Black should catch up with development and the best plan is to play d6 and Nd7. Still, white is slightly better but the game is still far away from any decisive evaluation. Being so occupied by my own plans I completely missed out on ideas that my opponent has. I castled and was in complete shock when he without much thinking played h4. I could not believe it but his attack is completely sound! He developed his pieces and has a firm grip on the center, what else can one ask for? Mistakes do not come in single packages, they arrive in batches. Still being in shock, I did not believe that his attack works and played h6 on the next move. Whereas h5 would give up some important squares, but was totally a necessity.

I'll give you one week without homework. Celebrate!
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