Understanding Opening Ideas and Blitz Chess
Dear Grandmasters Arun Prasad/Magesh Panchanathan:
I have questions and I hope you may answer them. I have not played over the board chess for a year and have mainly played blitz or rapid chess online. Before I took a break I managed to achieve expert category (2000-2199). Last night, I joined an over the board blitz tournament and I was top seed. I cannot believe I made obvious mistakes (i.e. blunder of queen!, allowing my opponent to achieve positional advantage, etc) and how my moves are only based on tactical sequence (i.e. one/two moves threat!) or my feelings.
(a) Do you think blitz/rapid chess reflect on a player's chess strength? Even though I WAS a expert, after the blitz tournament I felt like I am more like class 'C' or lower.
(b) Does playing blitz/rapid chess benefit or detrimental to a chess player? Some players tell me that blitz/rapid chess benefit them as it is a way to train for tactics and new openings. However, after the blitz tournament, I totally lost my feeling of playing good chess games until I read GM Prasad's article on recovering a loss.
(c) How should a stronger player play against lower-rated players? In the blitz tournament, I made my moves very quickly and forgot to double check whether my moves allow my opponent to check/threat. Also, I tried to play sharp openings (i.e. Sicilian Defence, King Indian Defence, e4) instead of my usual quiet openings (i.e. French Defence, Nimzo Indian, d4). Do you think playing sharp openings is a good idea to play against lower-rated players?
(d) I think there are many players out there who will share my experience of trying to beat lower-rated players as quickly as possible. This is when I tend to go 'all-out' (i.e. unsound tactics). Sometime it works..sometime not. I know I need more patience...Can you give any advices?
(e) The opening seems to be a weakness to me as I tend to remember the first few sequences of my main opening repertoire (i.e. Sicilian, French, Nimzo, KID, etc) and I understand the reason for their moves. However, when I played against lower-rated players they tend to play the sidelines. I try to book up on these sidelines and memorize it. However, my memory is not as good as I forget what I memorize after a week or so. How to study for sidelines? How to play a good opening as white and remain to have advantage due to having the first move?
(f) After the blitz tournament, I have a bad feelings about my playing strength. What are some of the ways for players to gain back their confidence?
Sorry for the numerous questions. Thanks in advance, grandmasters, for your help!
Dear David Zheng,
Well I somehow feel the blitz games played online and blitz games played over the board are very different. I personally play much better when I play over the board and I know players who play extremely well over the internet and over the board they are not as good. In your case it is simply because you don’t have the feel to play over the board. But I am sure this is just a temporary set-back. Just play more games, and you will find yourself getting back to your actual strength.
A) Not exactly, I know a player who is about 2450 rated and he manages to beat 2650+ rated GM’s quite often in a blitz game. But in a tournament game he is struggling even against 2500 and almost never gets to defeat a 2600 player. If you are good at blitz, it means that you are alert, good in tactics and you are able to calculate fast. In a blitz game these skills are of vital importance, but in a long game it is more your overall understanding of the game that matters. Your opponent will have enough time to calculate your tactics and if his chess strength is better than you, he will utilize your small mistakes and beat you.
B) Definitely Blitz/Rapid games are useful; as your friends said, when you prepare a new opening, you can’t just go and play in a tournament game. You won’t have the feel of the position, and finding the correct plans will be difficult. You can play rapid games with both colors and understand where the exact problem arises. Blitz games will help you improve your alertness level and keep yourself good in tactics. Never mind about blundering in one blitz tournament-- even GM’s blunder in regular tournament games. It is in fact good that now you know there is a problem which needs to be sorted out before the tournament game.
C) I think when you play a game you should not think about your opponent's strength. Whether he is stronger than you or weaker than you doesnt matter. If you think you are playing a weaker player then you might underestimate his chess strength and you might make weaker moves thinking it is good enough to defeat him. If you think you are playing a strong player, you will be scared to go into complications and end up in a bad position. So both are wrong. In a blitz game, it is good to play sharp positions against weaker opposition but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should play something out of your book to achieve such complications. If you have the option of choosing between a sharp opening and a solid opening, it is good to play the sharp opening against weaker opposition and solid lines against stronger opposition. This idea can be used in a regular tournament game also.
D) Once a 2700+ GM told me not to play chess differently against weaker players. Simply it is not correct, whether you play a master or an amateur, you need to play the same chess that you know. When you think that your opponent is weak and play unsound moves, you run the risk of losing if he manages to find the right moves. When you play a chess game, it is important to win but winning quickly or slowly doesn’t matter. Trying to win fast by playing unsound moves ultimately is just making way for developing a false pride which you will have to pay for sometime or other. So focus more on playing a good game rather than winning quickly.
E) Well that is a problem with modern chess players-- we try to memorize opening moves without understanding them. Let us take an example of an elite GM. Obviously he will have more than 100 pages of analysis (in a chessbase board window if you keep hitting page down it goes more than 100 times) in all the openings he play. He understands the crux of the position very well. He will have played several practice games before he plays an opening in a tournament game. He understands the meaning behind every move and knows the correct plan that has to be executed in the opening to middle phase and in the middle game.
So I would recommend you to understand the meaning behind each and every move in what ever opening you play. Also focus more on improving your overall chess strength rather than spending time on preparing and memorizing opening moves. Once your middle game and endgame strength improves then when you include opening preparation you will become extremely strong. I would also recommend books like Mastering Chess Openings by Watson, and Dynamic of Chess Strategy by Jansa. They deal with understanding the pawn structures and ideas of openings rather than computer-analyzed variations, which is what is useful for you.
f) Don’t take one bad performance seriously. It has nothing to do with your overall chess strength. In regular games you will have a lot of time to calculate properly and avoid blunders. I personally feel confident whenever I worked well. So work on some tactical problems, study some games of legendary players and continue to play more blitz games, as I feel you will be able to get back to your actual strength when you give yourself more chances.
Do you have a chess question? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and perhaps Magesh and Arun will answer it in a future article!