The Art of Doing Nothing

The Art of Doing Nothing

| 51 | Strategy

I cannot tell you, my dear readers, how many times I've had this conversation with my younger students while we analyze their games:

"What did you try to accomplish with your last move?"


"Then why did you play it?"

"I don't know!"

Then I have to patiently explain to them that every single move should have a purpose, that according to a very well known chess saying, it is better to play with a wrong plan than with no plan at all... yada, yada, yada.

And here I am, writing an article about doing nothing?? Have I watched too much Seinfeld?

Ten years ago I played a strange game in the U.S. Championship. To say that the game got mixed reviews is an understatement. Just look at what a very respectable website, ChessBase, had to say in their report about the U.S. Championship:

The Serper-Nakamura game has to go down as one of the more bizarre things we've seen on a chessboard in a while. Serper clearly wasn't interested in a long day on the stage, despite having white against a co-leader. He set up a solid symmetrical formation, and on move 17 he started moving his bishop back and forth between d2 and e1. For nine moves in a row! Was there a method to his madness? We may never know if this was an odd way to offer a draw, a strange way to gain time on the clock, or a brilliant try to get Nakamura to create weaknesses in his position. Whatever it was, Nakamura ignored it and expanded on the queenside, eventually breaking through. But there was no way to gain a decisive advantage in the position and despite pressing for 94 moves (!), Nakamura finally had to give up the half point.

Hikaru Nakamura

It's been ten years since this beautifully written report painted a completely incorrect picture of the battle. Why have I decided to tell my side of the story only now? Well, I am going to use the wisdom of the famous Chinese general and philosopher, Sun Tzu, in today's discussion, and here is the first opportunity to quote him:

"Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance!"
- Sun Tzu 

At the time when the ChessBase report was published, I was an active chess player, and I preferred for my future opponents to be misled and arrogant about my play. Of course after I retired from the tournament chess, I can share my view of that memorable game. But before we start analyzing what really happened there, let me just show you what all the fuss was about:

Then, some eight moves later:

You can notice that White's position is exactly the same, and Black just played a bunch of free moves. So, what's going on there?

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."
- Sun Tzu

Let's start with the first sentence from that report: "The Serper-Nakamura game has to go down as one of the more bizarre things we've seen on a chessboard in a while."

 Of course after reading this introduction most of the readers assumed that they just witnessed some black magic that had never happened before in the noble game of chess. But before you send me to a bonfire for witchcraft, take a look at this game:

Then, some 13 moves later:

While playing thru the game, please don't forget that at that time Ulf Andersson was one of the leading chess players in the world. And yet he lost to the player who basically did nothing!

Ulf Andersson | Image Wikipedia

“If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.” 
- Sun Tzu

But let's get back to the ChessBase report. The second sentence was: "Serper clearly wasn't interested in a long day on the stage, despite having white against a co-leader."

Since I am not really thrilled with their psychic abilities to read my mind, I could talk a lot. Instead I'll just quote Sun Tzu once again:

"All warfare is based on deception!"
- Sun Tzu 

Back to the report: "He set up a solid symmetrical formation." 

Finally we have a pretty accurate observation. Indeed, this is a very common way to play this variation. Just take a look at the next two games played by super GMs and featuring this symmetrical pawn structure. It is interesting to note that Carlsen played this variation with both White and Black! It is more proof that our World Champion plays different openings and variations, but the only thing that stays the same is the result of his games!

To be continued...


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