Uncooperative Opponents & Computer Symbols

Uncooperative Opponents & Computer Symbols

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Richard asked:

I have been experimenting with the Fritz chess engine and it uses a number of evaluation symbols as it analyzes alternative moves. I think I get some of them, like +- means white is winning. Does the symbol always apply to White, or if it’s black’s move and I see -+ does that mean Black is winning or that /Black is losing? Kind of confusing. And then there’s =/+ and -/+.

Do you happen to have a summary interpretation of these symbols?

Dear Richard: 

Plus (+) over equals (=) or plus equals (+=) means that White has a small advantage.

Equals over plus means that Black has a small advantage.

A small advantage is usually given a numeric value of 0.20 (close to equal) to .60 (not the end of the world, but tangible).

Plus over minus (-) means that White has a clear advantage.

Minus over plus means that Black has a clear advantage.

A clear advantage is usually given a numeric value of .65 (not huge but annoying) to 1.1 (Black is in serious trouble).

Plus followed by minus (+-) means that White has a winning position.

Minus followed by plus (-+) means that Black has a winning position.

A winning advantage is usually given a numeric value of anything over 1.2.

Things get murky in the 0.10 to 0.30 range. These “advantages” are so slight that you can play many positions that have been labeled with the negative side of this kind of numeric and not only do well, but actually prefer it!

Finally, there are positions that computers simply get wrong, so don’t always believe what it says!


Mr.Tuba asked:

What if I as Black want to play the Sicilian but White does not want to cooperate? If White plays d3 rather than the standard, taken for granted d4, what is Black to do? What makes white’s d3 so bad that it isn’t even mentioned in any analysis I’ve seen? 

Dear Mr. Tuba:

When using the word “cooperate”, you are no doubt referring to white’s refusal to enter the main lines. White often doesn’t “cooperate” (in the Sicilian and other openings) for the following reasons:

* White sees that you’re excited about trying your latest super theoretical Sicilian line and he decides to avoid all your stuff and screw with your head. It’s a psychological bombshell, leaving you gelded and helpless by move two.

* White doesn’t want to deal with a theoretical battle and, with 2.d3 (or 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d3) he announces that he will toss some KIA (King’s Indian Attack) or Closed Sicilian ideas your way and just play chess.

* Let’s say white’s a grandmaster and he’s facing some 2400 player. Perhaps this 2400 is known to be a theory hound. Why enter main line theory against the guy (when you would, in effect, be playing Kasparov and any number of other theorists) when avoiding it and setting up a non-theoretical position will almost always be good enough to get the win vs. the 2400, who might have a great memory, but no elite skills.

* It’s a blitz game or some other kind of fast time control affair. Playing an off-kilter system is a particularly wise choice when facing a guy that knows his mainline stuff.

* White just feels in the mood for something different.

* White’s refusal to cooperate is actually his refusal to dance your dance. Instead he has prepared one of many anti-Sicilian lines and “invites” you into them. In other words, he wants you to dance his dance!

* Keep in mind that if White enters main lines with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 followed by 3.d4, you will know what line you intend to play and be thoroughly prepared, while he must know dozens of main lines, any of which you might toss at him! That places quite a heavy burden on White!

In general, 2.d3 or 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d3 steer the game into reversed King’s Indians, a King’s Indian Attack, or a Closed Sicilian. However, White has many other ways to avoid black’s heavy preparation after 1.e4 c5. Here are the most common:

* The Smith-Mora Gambit – 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 followed by Nf3, Bc4, 0-0, Qe2, and Rfd1.

* The Wing Gambit – 2.b4 cxb4 3.a3.

 * Alapin’s System – 2.c3 which simply intends to grab the center with 3.d4.

* The Rossolimo Variation – 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5.

* The Moscow Variation – 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+.

* The Closed Sicilian – 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3.

* Attempting to turn the game into an English Opening, Botvinnik System by 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 g6 4.g3 Bg7 5.Bg2 d6 6.d3 followed by Nge2, and 0-0 with a solid position. White can then try a plan based on b2-b4 (a3, Rb1, and b4) or he can go after black’s King with f2-f4-f5.

* The Grand Prix Attack (a form of Closed Sicilian) – 2.Nc3 (2.f4 is also possible, though in that case 2…d5! 3.exd5 Nf6 gives Black very active play. Playing 2.Nc3 first avoids this possibility) 2…Nc6 3.f4 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 and now both 5.Bb5 and 5.Bc4 lead to highly sharp, tactical situations.

* Queenside Fianchetto – 2.b3 intending Bb2 when White will probably be more familiar with these situations than Black.

* The Knight’s Dementia Variation – 2.Na3, which has been used by grandmasters like Shabalov (often!), Savchenko, Malakhov, Stripunsky, Zvjaginsev, Davies, and even Svidler.

Playing these alternative systems makes a lot of sense, since White is suddenly the booked up guy, and you’re the one wondering what’s going on. Indeed, you really need to know your stuff vs. many of these lines, or you’ll be summarily smashed off the board.

Here are two games that show grandmasters using 2.d3 to good effect:

S.Movsesian (2747) - T.Likavsky (2487), Hustopece 4th Rapid Open 2009

1.e4 c5 2.d3 Nc6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 d5 5.Nd2 e5 6.Ngf3 Be7 7.0-0 0-0 8.c3 Re8 9.Re1 Bf8 10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Nc4 f6 12.Qb3 Re6 13.a4 Kh8 14.a5 Rb8 15.Ncxe5!, 1-0. Black didn’t fancy 15…Nxe5 16.Nxe5 Rxe5 17.Rxe5 fxe5 18.Bxd5 with an extra pawn and the better position, while 15…fxe5 16.Ng5, threatening 17.Bxd5, 17.Nxe6, and 17.Nf7+, is even worse!


L.McShane (2620) - L.Van Wely (2655), 7th Staunton Memorial 2009

1.e4 c5 2.d3 g6 3.f4 Bg7 4.Nf3 d5 5.Be2 Nc6 6.0-0 Nf6 7.e5 Ng4 8.c3 d4 9.Ng5 Nh6 10.Bf3 dxc3 11.bxc3 Nd4 12.cxd4 Qxd4+ 13.Rf2 Qxa1 14.Rb2 Nf5 15.Nc3 Nd4 16.Nge4 Nxf3+ 17.gxf3 b6 18.Qc2 0-0 19.Rb1 Qxb1 20.Qxb1 and White went on to win.


In general, 2.d3 (or 2.c4 followed by d3, or 2.Nc3) can be safely answered by 2…Nc6 followed by …g6 and …Bg7, clamping down on the d4-square. Here are two games showing black’s side of the story:

F.Frenkel - Silman, National Open 1992

1.e4 c5 2.c4 Nc6 3.d3 g6 4.f4 Bg7 5.Nc3 d6 6.g4 Nd4 7.h4

Frenkel, a strong master, played this kind of thing a lot. I didn’t have anything prepared, but I trusted my position and, if he wants a shootout, then let’s get it on!

7…h5 8.gxh5 Rxh5 9.f5 Nf6 10.Bg5 Bd7 11.Bg2 Qa5 12.Nh3 0-0-0 13.Nf4 Rhh8 14.fxg6 Be8 15.h5 fxg6 16.hxg6 Rxh1+ 17.Bxh1 Bd7 18.Kd2 Rh8 19.Qg1 Ng4 20.Bg2 b5 21.cxb5 Nxb5 22.Nfe2 c4 23.Bf4 Rf8 24.d4 Nxd4 25.Nxd4 Rxf4 26.Nde2 Rf2 27.Ke1 Qb6 28.Bh3 Bxc3+ 29.bxc3 Qe3 30.Qxg4 Bxg4 31.Bxg4+ Kc7 32.g7 Rg2, 0-1.


A.Fedorov (2575) - G.Kasparov (2845), Wijk aan Zee 2001

1.e4 c5 2.d3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.f4 d6 6.Nf3 Nf6 7.0-0 0-0 8.h3 b5! 9.g4

The battle-lines are already set in stone: White will play for a kingside attack and Black will do his best to crash through on the queenside (and both players must be careful that the opponent doesn’t find a good way to burst through the center!).

9...a5 10.f5 b4 11.Qe1 Ba6 12.Qh4? c4 13.Bh6?

Going for the gusto, but this doesn’t work. Kasparov felt that 13.Rd1 was better, but even then, after 13…cxd3 14.cxd3 Qb6+ 15.Qf2 (15.Kh1 Ne5 16.Nxe5 dxe5 is also very much in black’s favor) 15...Qxf2+ 16.Kxf2 Rfc8 white’s in serious trouble (analysis by Kasparov).

13...cxd3 14.cxd3

Kasparov gives the following exciting line: 14.fxg6 dxc2 15.gxh7+ Nxh7 16.Bxg7 Kxg7 17.Ng5 Nf6 18.Rxf6 c1=Q+ 19.Kh2 Rh8 and Black wins.

14...Bxd3 15.Re1 Bxh6 16.Qxh6 Qb6+ 17.Kh1 Ne5! 18.Nbd2 Rac8 19.Ng5 Rc2 20.Rf1 Bxf1 21.Rxf1 Rfc8 22.fxg6 hxg6 23.Nb3 Rxg2 24.Kxg2 Rc2+ 25.Kg3 Qe3+, 0-1.

So 2.d3 isn’t bad at all. It’s just one of many ways to avoid main steam theory and test black’s skill IQ, not his memory IQ. For the most part, most of these “avoidance” systems don’t offer White any theoretical advantage (The Alapin – 2.c3, and the Rossolimo – 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 are exceptions and do give White a reasonable shot to fight for an opening edge), but they have huge practical plusses.

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