Play Like A Beginner!

Play Like A Beginner!

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Two months ago, one of the oldest grandmasters in the world, Mark Taimanov, turned 90.  Just like any professional chess player he had many ups and downs in his career, but due to his limitless optimism he is still a very active person.

He writes articles, gives interviews and takes care of his 12-year-old twins! (They were born when Taimanov was 78.)

The darkest period of his chess career happened after the notorious match vs. Fischer. In this article, I briefly described this episode of Taimanov's life. Many people know the story about the book by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, which was found in Taimanov's luggage after he returned to Moscow. The book was banned in the Soviet Union at that time, but Soviet grandmasters were never frisked at the customs so Taimanov thought he was safe.

When a customs officer found the book, he said, "I am sorry Mark Evgenievich! If you beat Fischer, I would personally deliver this book to your home, but now I'll have to report you."

Taimanov via Wikipedia

That's when the famous joke was born:

-- Have you heard Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn got arrested?

-- What happened to him?

-- They found "Nimzo-Indian Defense" by Taimanov in Solzhenitsyn's luggage!


A funny episode happened during one of the meetings where a proper punishment for GM Taimanov was discussed. The principal of the famed Leningrad's Pioneer Palace had a long speech where he severely criticized Taimanov's offense.  

At the end he said: " Shame on you, Grandmaster Taimanov! The government spent a lot of money for your preparation, training camps, seconds, etc. Instead we could have sent our janitor, Glasha, and the result of the match would have been the same!"

Little did he know that a couple of months later the janitor Glasha could successfully substitute for GM Bent Larsen too, since his match vs. Fischer ended with the same lopsided score of 0:6.

As you can see, sometimes total beginners can perform just like grandmasters, but can they actually play better chess? While I doubt that it is possible for a beginner to play a whole game better than a grandmaster, in certain situations a beginner would definitely play better.

I am not talking about some extraordinary situations, like the famous "Archil, take the rook!" which we discussed here -- it can happen in a pretty average position! To explain what I mean, let me show the game played just last week in a local scholastic tournament.


White just played g2-g3. The good thing is he saw that Black was threatening the back-rank checkmate by Qe1+, etc. The bad thing is the move loses right away.  To be fair, even after the best move 1.Qg1 or 1.Qf1 White would be absolutely lost!

After 1.g3 Black has a tough choice. She can checkmate in one (1...Bxf3), or in two moves (1...Qxf3). Black can also play 1...Qf2 with a bunch of unstoppable threats (like Re1 or Re2). Instead Black played 1...Qe1?? trading all the pieces. Some 20 moves later White (!!) missed a simple win, and here is the final position of this dramatic game.

Don't be too harsh on two eight-year-old chess players whose combined rating is less than USCF 1000. Here we see one of the rules pushed to extreme. The rule I hate so much because most of the beginners learn it first and it costs them many points because they execute it blindly regardless of the situation on the board. The rule that says: "when you are ahead in the material, trade pieces!"
As you can see in the game above, just like a well-programmed robot, Black neglected a checkmate in one or two moves in favor of trading pieces! Now let's look at the game from a slightly different level.
I highly doubt that the girl who played 1...Qe1+ in the previous game and rated about USCF 450 would be able to find the whole sequence, but I am absolutely sure that she would play the first move of the variation without much of hesitation, after all, "when you are ahead in the material, trade pieces!"
Therefore, at least for one move a beginner would play better than a super-GM! Here is how the actual game ended:
You want another example? Here it is the same tournament and the same opponents!
Instead of a relatively simple technical win after the bishop trade, Black played something else in the actual game:
About 100 years ago, the Soviet master Blumenfeld recommended: "Before you make your move, look at the position like if you were a beginner."
Indeed, sometimes while looking for something complicated, we miss very simple ideas. Grandmaster Alexander Kotov wrote two famous books: "Think Like A Grandmaster" and  "Play Like A Grandmaster."  
Maybe he should have written one more volume: "Play Like A Beginner"!
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