Q&A with Coach Heisman Oct 11, 2013

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"Should I continue playing a weak opening if I know it well?" This is one of those questions that depends on more information, such as:

  • "How weak is the opening?" 
  • "Who considers it weak?" 
  • "Who are you playing", etc.

I gave the example of the "Weak" system 1.f3 2.Kf2 3.Kg3. Although it was rumored that before he passed away Bobby Fischer would play 1.f3 2.Kf2 to give "odds" on internet games he would play anonymously, I don't think even Bobby would venture 3.Kg3. So no matter how well you know this system, no, probably best not to keep playing it.

But suppose you play an opening like the Riga Variation for Black (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Nxe4 6.d4 exd4) in the Ruy Lopez? As GM Andy Soltis pointed out in his fine book GM Secrets: Openings, it's a line that few amateurs play just because few professionals play it. But it's not that bad a line and it can be very complex, with excellent winning chances for Black if White doesn't know it. And, as GM Andy points out, even if your opponent knows the very best book line, he just gets a slightly better endgame with the bishop pair vs a rook and two pawns:

Capablanca played this line for White and, ever since, GMs have stayed away for Black. But try winning this for White if you are not a GM (much less Capablanca). Most amateurs think a rook and two pawns is better than two pieces (it's usually about even) so they would probably be thrilled to have this position as Black unless someone told them otherwise (PS: Don't play 14...f5?? as 15.Bg5 is mate...) Smile.

I have a funny story about the Riga. When I first started teaching Howard Stern about 5 years ago, I told Howard what I related above, and he started playing the Riga for Black. He played it about 100 times, mostly against humans online, but occasionally against weak computers, and not once did anyone play the "Capablanca" line against him. That means theoretically he was at least even, if not much better, in all 100 games with Black! You can't do much better than that. Of course, he often went wrong in the complications and lost, but it wasn't because he didn't get a good position out of the opening.

So if you like a fighting defense, I agree with Andy - try the Riga. The downside, of course, is that you have to get your opponent to play the White side of an Open Ruy. If he plays another type of Ruy, like the Exchange Variation or 5.d3, that's another game. And of course if he plays something else against 1.e4 e5 like the King's Gambit, Vienna Game, Bishop's Opening, or Italian Game (Giouco Piano and Two Knights Defense), then you have to be ready for that, too. So it's not all upside on the Riga, but it is fun when you get it.

With the World Championship match approaching, I got several questions on my opinion. In all the matches between all-time greats where one was 15-20 years younger (Lasker-Steinitz, Capablanca-Lasker, etc) the younger one always won. So if this were a 24 game match, which used to be standard, then I would consider the much higher rated and younger Carlsen a mortal lock. But this is only a 12 game match, with the accompanying much higher standard deviation, and Anand with a clear home court advantage. I still favor Carlsen but I would not be shocked if the first player to win a game won the match, and that could easily be Anand.

Someone gave me an interesting, unbalanced, position and asked me to evaluate it. I thought possibly Black might be better but later someone said that a deep computer evaluation gave +1 to White. My second answer was to take the evaluation of the 3200 computer over the 2200 human Wink.

I often get questions about how someone can have a rating of N in one pool and N+400 (or N-400) in another. The pools could be different servers, or even different time controls on the same server. Doesn't matter. You just have to realize that even the same rating system used on different pools is not absolute - it measures your relative strength, not some absolute measure. So if I put an average member in A Room Full of Grandmasters (an unrelated article about time management), then their rating might be 600, but in a room full of first graders it might be 2600. Same rating system, different pool of players, and even a different standard deviation among the pool.

A question about my family prompted me to let viewers know that this week, as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are auctioning off a trip to meet Howard Stern and his gang at their studio in New York. With two days to go, the top bid is currently $13,100! Smile Net proceeds go to the Holly Heisman Memorial Fund at The Philadelphia Foundation to support women in need. If you can't beat that bid but want to make a donation, take this link and follow the instructions at the bottom of the page for either online or donation by check.

A viewer asked about the popular book How to Reassess Your Chess by Jeremy Silman. It's already a classic and I like the fourth edition better than the others. But its still an advanced book; I don't recommend it to players until they get to about 1600, but I do recommend my Novice Nook discussing Silman's work with respect to Chess Books and Prerequisites to anyone wishing to improve their chess.

The mods did a great job on this show, thanks! The next show, Oct 25, will be open to diamond and platinum members. Hope to see you then!

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