The Art of Stealing

The Art of Stealing

| 25 | Opening Theory

The Art of Stealing

by IM Jeremy Silman

A chess professional has to do many forms of chess preparation: If he’s having trouble in endgames and technical positions, he has to do a detailed study of that phase of the game. If he finds that he often fails in sharp positions, he needs to do everything possible to iron out this flaw. And, of course, he also needs to go over all his games (especially losses) to see what he did well, and what he did poorly – once he figures out the poor part, it’s back to the grindstone in an effort to fix all his chessic ills!

Preparation is a never-ending part of a chess professional’s life, but one area that always seems to be riddled with holes is a player’s opening repertoire. No matter how hard you work on it, new moves constantly crop up from all corners of the globe that challenge your favorite lines. Thus databases and magazines need to be carefully scrutinized so that you’ll be forewarned about some hidden “bomb”, thereby preventing it from crashing down on the board and turning your favorite opening system into mush.

Since theory changes minute by minute on the world stage, a player’s openings can never be as safe or as effective as he would like them to be. And, because memorizing a bunch of book lines just doesn’t cut it, a real pro needs to fortify his systems with new moves and ideas, and new interpretations of old ideas.

Since staying on top of the game is a 24/7 process, a true chess professional doesn’t have much of a life outside the game. In fact, even if the hunky chess god manages to somehow score the attentions of a young lady for an evening, he’ll be so obsessed with the millions of variations swirling around in his brain that, as her lips draw close to his, he’ll be thinking, “Damn, how do I answer Kasparov’s new idea in the Sicilian? This is a nightmare! I must come up with something or I’m toast! And what about Anand’s bust to my Philidor’s Defense? I think Vishy did this to me on purpose! He’s out to get me! But what can I do about it? What am I going to do?”

Yes, all chess professionals live in a permanent state of hysteria. And, while our dates might take that far away look in our eyes and the drool that’s pouring from the side of our mouth as the first sign of infatuation or even love, they never guess that it is indeed love/devotion/passion – but for the game, not them.

Since the opening workload is so enormous, and since the cutthroat world of chess is so overwhelming, every player (without exception!) has to fully embrace one of the most important and useful preparation strategies available: The art of stealing other player’s ideas!

This “stealing” comes in a few forms:

* You pay other players to come up with new stuff, and they give it to you (with a signed statement that they will never use it … it’s yours and only yours!).

* You take other player’s recommendations and make them your own.

* You work with other players and, hopefully, they’ll come up with some neat ideas that you can use before they do!

I remember a situation in Toronto 35 years ago – a famous grandmaster was playing for first place in the final round but didn’t know how to meet his opponent’s ultra sharp system in the Sicilian. Since I was known to be an opening expert in those days, he asked if I had anything interesting against this system and, when I said yes, he offered to buy it from me. So, like a drug addict and his pusher doing their business away from judgmental eyes, we consummated our unholy deal in the privacy of his room – I handed him several pages of analysis and he handed me cold, hard cash. Months later, thanks to the game he played, the line I sold him became all the rage and the pundits sang songs of praise about the grandmaster’s creative genius.

The most common way of finding a new scheme, system, or analysis is by looking for games with a strange new move – the stranger the better since most players will discount it as garbage. A serious look might convince you that it’s actually quite good, and after some work you’ll be ready to unleash it against an unsuspecting opponent. The same holds true for game annotations like, “Also interesting is 23.Nb5!?” The word interesting translates to, “I just thought of this so I’ll offer it as filler. Of course, I’m too lazy to see if it’s actually any good, or even if it’s playable.”

The well trained chess pro’s eye leaps at every “also interesting” note, and tries hard to ascertain whether or not it’s legitimate.

And finally we come to my favorite opening prep technique: working with another player and, if they show me some amazing new idea, playing it as quickly as possible and claiming it as my own! There’s nothing like the look of fury on my analyst partner’s face when I use an idea he’s worked on for 2 years to beat a world class player in the last round for first place! After I collect my huge check, I always make a point of avoiding him for a few months until the memory of my “crime” fades. Then I’ll call him from out of the blue and see what other ideas I can wring from his fertile mind.

Here are a few examples of the “stealing process” from my own games:

While sifting through a Chess Informant in 1980, I noticed the following game:

E.Kuuskmaa – V.Salceanu, correspondence 1978. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.Bf4 a6 8.Nf3 b5 9.Qe2 Ra7 10.e5 Re7 11.Be3 Ng4 12.Ne4 dxe5 13.d6 Rd7 14.Bg5 f6 15.Nxf6+ Nxf6 16.Nxe5 Qa5+ 17.Bd2 Qa4 18.Nc4+ Re7 19.dxe7, 1-0.



My first thought was, "9.Qe2 can’t be good!" Yet, nobody else had played it after the Kuuskmaa game. Apparently everyone had the same impression I did – that 9.Qe2 was too primitive to work. Nevertheless, I began to analyze it and, to my amazement, I decided that 9.Qe2 was not only fully playable, it was extremely strong! So, after putting many weeks of analysis into this line of the Benoni, I decided to give it a go:

ME vs. G.Sanchez, San Jose 1981

This game was a last round contest for first place. A lot of money was at stake (at least, it was a lot of money for me at that time). My opponent was a very strong, solid master, so I decided to “gift” him with my little opening surprise.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nc3 g6 7.Bf4 a6 8.e4 b5 9.Qe2 Bg4?? (Believe it or not, the game is now over!) 10.e5 (Black can resign, but he didn’t realize that he was in trouble!) 10…Bxf3 11.gxf3! Nh5 12.exd6+ Kd7 13.Bh3+ f5 14.Qe6 mate. Wow! He didn’t see it coming!





I continued to play Kuuskmaa’s 9.Qe2, though it seems I was the only player in the world to do so! Good news for me since it remained a surprise for a long time to come (information moved slowly in those days) and that meant lots of juicy points against a variety of grandmasters and international masters!

ME vs. V.McCambridge, San Francisco 1982. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nc3 g6 7.Bf4 a6 8.e4 b5 9.Qe2 Nh5 10.Bg5 f6 11.Be3 Bg4 12.h3 Bxf3 13.Qxf3 Nd7 14.g4 Ng7 15.Qg3 Qe7 16.Bg2 O-O-O 17.O-O h5 18.b4! h4 19.Qf3 cxb4 20.Nb1 Ne5 21.Qe2 Ne8 22.Bb6 Rd7 23.Nd2 f5 24.f4 Nf7 25.Nb3 Bg7 26.e5 dxe5 27.Rac1+ Nc7 28.Nc5 exf4 29.Qf2 Rxd5 30.Nxa6 Bc3 31.Nxc7 Rd2 32.Qxd2 Bxd2 33.Nd5+ Bxc1 34.Nxe7+, 1-0. A nice game, if I do say so myself!





ME vs. Nick De Firmian, San Jose 1982. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nf3 g6 7.Bf4 Bg7 (Nick avoids 7…a6, but he still gets squashed in the opening) 8.Qa4+ Bd7 9.Qb3 Qc7 10.e4 O-O 11.Be2 Nh5 12.Be3 a6 13.Nd2 b5 14.a4 bxa4 15.Nxa4 Bb5 16.Bxb5 axb5 17.Qxb5 Ra5 18.Qb3 Nd7 19.Nc4 Ra7 20.O-O Rb7 21.Qc2 f5 22.exf5 gxf5 23.f4 (The opening is a complete fiasco for Black, who is already dead lost.) 23…Kh8 24.Rf3 h6 25.Re1 (Making life difficult for myself.) 25…Nhf6 26.Qxf5 Rb4 27.Qc2 Nxd5 28.Bd2 Rbb8 29.Re6 Rf6 30.Qe4 Nf8 31.Rxf6 Nxf6 32.Qf5 d5 33.Ne5 c4 34.Be3 Qa5 35.Nc3 Rxb2 36.Bd4 Rb7 37.h3 Ne4 38.Qxf8+ Bxf8 39.Nxc4+, 1-0.





Looking in my database of several million games, I noticed that (other than the Kuuskmaa contest) the earliest game mentioned was V.McCambridge – E.Lobron, Dortmund 1982! That’s right, Vince was so impressed by “my” 9.Qe2 that he took it up himself against grandmaster Lobron and scored a win! I’m sure people in Europe were saying, “McCambridge’s 9.Qe2 is pretty interesting!” Indeed, after that game the move finally became popular.

1982 was a busy year for me, and I often analyzed with former US Champion John Grefe. During one of our sessions, he showed me a new idea he had for White in the 4.f3 Nimzo-Indian. A few days later I found myself facing the very strong George Kane, and after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 decided to “steal” Grefe’s idea there and then!

ME vs. G.Kane, San Francisco 1982. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.f3

Poor Mr. Kane was the unlucky recipient of a couple of my novelties. The first occurred after 4.e3 d5 5.Bd3 0-0 6.Nf3 b6 7.0-0 Bb7 8.cxd5 exd5 9.a3 Bd6 10.b4 a6 11.Qb3 Re8 12.a4 Nc6 13.Ba3 a5. At the time, this position was thought to be comfortable for Black, but I showed this assessment to be false after 14.Bb5! axb4 15.Bxc6 Bxc6 16.Bxb4 Ne4 17.Rfc1 Bxb4 18.Qxb4 when I had a clear advantage and scored a smooth win (part of that game appeared in Chess Informant).

4…c5 5.d5 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Nh5 7.g3 f5 8.e4 f4

This well-known position was considered to be quite nice for Black at that time, but Grefe’s idea completely turned this assessment around.

9.dxe6 Qf6

Of course, 9...0-0 loses right away to 10.Qd5 with the double threat of 11.Qxh5 and 11.e7+.

10.Ne2 fxg3 11.Bg2 Qxe6 12.hxg3 Nf6 13.g4

White now has a clear advantage, though I can’t say my technique was all it could have been. Here’s the rest without comment: 13…O-O 14.g5 Ne8 15.Nf4 Qe5 16.Nd5 Qg3+ 17.Kf1 Nc6 18.Rh3 Qe5 19.Kg1 g6 20.f4 Qg7 21.e5 d6 22.Nf6+ Nxf6 23.exf6 Qf7 24.Re3 Qc7 25.Bd5+ Kh8 26.Qe2 Bf5 27.Bd2 Rad8 28.Re1 h5 29.Re7 Rd7 30.Re8 Rd8 31.Rxf8+ Rxf8 32.Qe8 Qd8 33.Bxc6 bxc6 34.Qxc6 Qd7 35.Qxd7 Bxd7 36.Re7 Bf5 37.Rxa7 Rb8 38.Ra6 Kg8 39.Rxd6 Ra8 40.Be3, 1-0.





Imagine my surprise when I was reading the excellent Play The 4.f3 Nimzo-Indian by Yakovich (2004) and noticed this same line (they hold off on …Bxc3+ for an extra move, meaning …f4 comes on move 7 instead of move 8 – of course, it all transposes back into the exact same position) with this comment: “Up to the end of the 1980s it was generally thought that 7…f4 promised Black a good game. However, Moskalenko’s discovery 8.dxe6! gives White the advantage.”

What the hell? I go to the trouble of stealing this from Grefe only to have it stolen from me? Do the Russians have no shame? Even worse, they then give the following “analysis”: 8…Bxc3+ 9.bxc3 Qf6 10.Ne2 fxg3 11.Bg2! Qxe6 12.hxg3 Nf6 13.g4 0-0 14.g5 Ne8 15.Nf4 Qe5 16.Nd5 with a winning game for White. They didn’t just steal 8.dxe6, they also stole my entire game! Oh chess, at times you just break my heart.

In 1994 I was flitting around Eastern Europe playing in various events. While in Budapest, I spent time with English grandmaster (and chess writer extraordinaire) Peter Wells. Somehow we began talking about Kasparov and I brought up a little mystery: Why did Kasparov go into this line? Did he have something special prepared?

Z.Ribli - G.Kasparov, Belfort 1988 1.Nf3 g6 2.e4 c5 3.c4 Bg7 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nc6 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nc3 Ng4 8.Qxg4 Nxd4 9.Qd1 e5 10.Nb5 O-O 11.Qd2 Qe7 12.O-O-O Nxb5 13.cxb5, 1/2-1/2.




It turns out that Wells had pondered the same thing and set out to discover what Kasparov’s improvement was (Much later we discovered that Kasparov didn’t have an improvement and entered the whole line more or less by mistake). He showed me a very inventive idea for Black, but for some reason didn’t seem to have that much faith in it. On the other hand, I continued to look at it and thought the whole line was extremely interesting. Again, luck was on my side since I arrived at Kasparov’s final position a few days later in a game against E.Anka (now a grandmaster).

E.Anka vs. ME, Budapest 1994. 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.c4 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nc3 Ng4 8.Qxg4 Nxd4 9.Qd1 e5 10.Nb5 O-O 11.Qd2 Qe7 12.O-O-O Nxb5 13.cxb5 d5! (theory) 14.exd5 Rd8!! (the new move) 15.d6 Qe6 16.Kb1 Bf8 17.Bc5 b6 18.Bb4 Bb7 19.h4 Rac8 20.h5 Bxd6 21.Bc3 Be7 22.Qe1 Qf5+ 23.Ka1 Rxd1+ 24.Qxd1 Rd8 25.Qb3 Bd5 26.Bc4 Bxc4 27.Qxc4 Qxh5! and I went on to win a tough technical grind: 28.Qf1 Qf5 29.a3 Bc5 30.f3 Bd4 31.Qe1 Qd3 32.Bxd4 Qxd4 33.g4 Rd5 34.Qh4 Rxb5 35.Qxh7+ Kf8 36.Qh2 Rb3 37.Qc2 Rxa3+ 38.Kb1 Rd3 39.Qc8+ Ke7 40.Qc7+ Ke6 41.Qxa7 Rd1+ 42.Rxd1 Qxd1+ 43.Ka2 Qd5+ 44.Kb1 Qd6 45.g5 Qc5 46.Qb7 b5 47.Qa6+ Ke7 48.Qf6+ Ke8 49.Qh8+ Kd7 50.Qb8 Ke7 51.Qb7+ Kf8 52.Qb8+ Kg7 53.Qd8 b4 54.Qf6+ Kg8 55.b3 Qg1+ 56.Kc2 Qf2+ 57.Kd3 Qd4+ 58.Ke2 Qb2+ 59.Ke1 Qxb3 60.Qxe5 Qe6 61.Qxe6 fxe6 62.Kd2 Kf7 63.Kc2 e5 64.Kb3 Ke6 65.Kxb4 Kf5 66.Kc4 Kxg5 67.Kd3 Kf4 68.Ke2 e4 69.fxe4 Kxe4 70.Kf2 Kf4 71.Kg2 Kg4 72.Kh2 Kf3 73.Kg1 Kg3 74.Kh1 g5 75.Kg1 g4, 0-1.



I published an article on this opening variation in New in Chess Yearbook and, in an effort to make poor Wells feel a bit better about me stealing his analysis, I made sure to give him full credit for its creation! Using other people’s ideas is one thing, but claiming that you were the one that came up with them is quite another!

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