Q&A: Opening Prep And Troll Attacks

Q&A: Opening Prep And Troll Attacks

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Taylor_chess85 asked:

“I would like to understand the type of games I am interested in playing. I am a beginner, and I thought that maybe I might make a database of every game certain people played with a certain opening. My idea is to go over the first 15 moves of all those particular games. Wins, losses, and draws.

"The idea is that I would come to understand the ideas and concepts of that particular opening. Then from there go over the middle games and understand the tactical possibilities that arise from said games, and after that the type of endings that normally arise and know those as well. Am I on the right track, or how should I approach best learning an opening?”


That’s a great idea, and you can follow that plan to the letter and you’ll do quite well.

Personally, though, I would make a slight adjustment: After creating a database of games that has the opening you’re interested in, by the players you like, go through the WHOLE game all at once. Openings are not just about opening moves, it’s about the plans associated with them and the pawn structures that rule them, so getting a feel of how it all blends together is quite important.

Thus, the only way to really know the ideas and concepts of an opening is to follow it past the initial moves and well into the middlegame. In fact, sometimes certain openings create certain kinds of endgames, so looking at everything (from move one to 100) is the only way to get the full picture.

As you can see, the true study of an opening takes you far beyond the mere memorization of moves.


For example, let’s say you want to study the King’s Indian as Black. Find all the KID games (as you wisely said, win, lose, or draw) of Max Euwe, create a KID/Euwe database and study every bit of every game. Notes are not important. Instead, concentrate on typical pawn structures, piece placements, pawn breaks, and common tactical themes.

Then create a KID/Boleslavsky database. Then create a KID/Bronstein database. Then a KID/Fischer database. Then a KID/Kasparov database. Then a KID/Radjubov database. And finally a KID/Nakamura database.

After doing this, you’ll have a very good feel of the opening as a whole. Then find a book on the KID that not only has the theoretical lines, but also explanations about the typical plans for both sides.

Finally, play lots of online blitz chess, using the KID whenever possible. Make sure all these games are sent to you, and look at each one to see when the book lines were left behind. Look up the correct continuation and, because you had personal experience with the variation, you’ll remember it.



Several online trolls said (over the years):

“You stole games from Pachman's and Euwe's books!”


The trolls have brought up the subject on several occasions. Whenever I share the latest troll attack with my fellow chess writers (we all suffer from troll attacks), they sadly shake their heads, groan, and then we move onto other topics.

Let’s be honest, there’s no shame in not knowing how things work. And if these individuals had approached me and asked, “Please, I don’t understand, why are you using some games that also appeared in other books," I would have happily answered in a polite manner.

But trolls... no, in their twisted minds they know everything, and are never wrong (or they know they are wrong, but just love creating chaos).

Nevertheless, it recently it struck me that the question deserved to be answered. And though the trolls won’t believe anything I say and will continue being trolls, those that don’t know the chess writing process might find my answer interesting.

Before the advent of chess databases and even computers, a chess writer had massive difficulties finding games that suited his purpose. Serious writers had to search through tournament books, magazines, newspapers, and other chess books. Imagine the amount of time this took!

First you copy (by hand) tens of thousands of games from these sources onto index cards, then you file them according to theme. Writers lived in a world of endless searching –- and often getting this resource together took longer than the actual writing of the book!

IM John Watson told me harrowing tales of his endless search for English Opening games (leading to thousands of individual game scores spread all around his office), which included all the sources I mentioned earlier. His famous, groundbreaking series on the English Opening was the result.

Naturally, the books the trolls are referring to are the ones I wrote in the pre-database era. And like Watson, I had to use the same index-card method (a nightmare!).


Tossing the pen away due to the acquisition of a computer, and having a database of games was a game changer, but one still has to search for GOOD games, games that suit your needs. And since my database has close to 6 million games, looking for a truly great example on one specific topic still means I have to, at times, look through several thousand games with that theme.

Nowadays every chess writer uses a database, but many perfectionists also still search through the old sources.

To a writer, nothing is better than that “perfect” example, and if you find it, you’ll use it. Since nobody owns a game (anyone is welcome to use Kasparov’s games, my games, or a beginner’s game), the very best are sometimes used to exhaustion.

Steinitz would win a game, publish it with notes in a magazine, another author a few years later would use that game in his book, a magazine a couple years after that would use it again, and eventually that very nice game had found its way into hundreds of magazines and dozens of books.


Ponder this: Where did Reti, Euwe, Reinfeld, Chernev, Benko, Pachman, and literally every chess author in history get the games they used in their books? Think about it.

And if a writer wanted to do a book on Alekhine’s or Fischer’s or Karpov’s games, do you really think he didn’t look up the notes of the players themselves first? The more immersive into the mind of the player you go, the better your own notes will be.

Of course, fresh games are great, but sometimes it’s very hard to ignore the classics, or even a game by Joe Blow who, by some miracle, played a masterpiece.

Simply put, if it’s exceptional, I will want to use it no matter when it was played or who played it.

All of that is par for the course – everyone does it. But what makes it yours is: 

  • Analysis: The author writes his own notes. If you want to use another player’s analysis, you should add a citation (“Analysis by Joe the Plumber”). Sometimes a writer, using the index-card method, will forget where an analysis came from, or even mistake it as his own. In that case, a citation is not possible. If a line is forced or obvious and something your hamster would see, like a simple mate in two, no citation is needed.
  • Discussion Of The Topic: Using a sentence or two, or even a paragraph, of another writer is usually okay if you add a citation. Readers enjoy seeing the words of past and present greats, and authors like to share them if they bolster what the author is trying to teach. If you use one or more paragraphs (a sentence can easily be inadvertently replicated, but a whole paragraph... no) and pretend you wrote them, that is plagiarism and you can be sued unless the book is in the public domain. However, even then you should give citations.
  • Stamping The Book/Article With Your Mojo: Your message should be YOURS: If you write about a queenside pawn majority, a particular mating pattern, a space advantage, etc., you know you aren’t on the trail of something original. Countless people have written about this same thing. What makes the article or book worthwhile is the author’s personal take on the subject. This calls for good writing skills, a deep personal knowledge of the topic, and the ability to explain things simply and carefully (unless it’s an advanced article, when the writer can explain things at the level of his expected audience). It’s all about your ability to discuss the topic in your own, very personal, tone.

I still see the old games used again and again, and I love it! These games should be studied endlessly, and chess writers are the ones that bring these masterpieces into the public eye.


If you’re able to take an instructive classic (or a great modern game) that has been prodded, jabbed, and dissected a million times in a million magazines and books and give it a new perspective, or just make new players realize how wonderful the game really is -- bravo!

To those people who brought this up via multiple nasty comments, allow me to say this: Ignorance is a human condition. None of us know the truth about something unless we study the topic or ask an authority -- once we do that, our ignorance disperses.

Unfortunately, the Internet is two-faced, and is filled with wonderful information and, at the same time, complete rubbish.

Some unknown wise man wrote: “If you want to turn a lie into truth, simply announce it on the Internet and 50 percent will forever think the lie is truth.”

Sadly, he’s right!


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