What Is Chess Culture To You?

What Is Chess Culture To You?

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My article from last week has caused quite a dispute. Many readers argued that there is nothing wrong with the Bongcloud or any other "junk" opening. Indeed they have a point there: after a long day at work why not unwind and have some fun by playing the Bongcloud? Isn't having fun and enjoying ourselves the main reason that we play chess?

Let me tell you my personal story that has nothing to do with chess (or maybe it does ). About 10 years ago my wife and I spent a week in Paris. Our schedule was very tight since we were going to attend all the traditional tourist attractions. On the last day, we allocated six hours for the Louvre. Initially, everything went according to plan. First of all, we took a mandatory picture with the Mona Lisa.

Then we quickly moved from one room to another. Pretty soon all the paintings started looking the same: some men with swords, ladies in medieval clothes, cherub-looking children... It was really easy to pass a painting by spending just a couple of seconds on it. At some point, we noticed people listening to some sort of device. After our inquiry, we learned that there was an audio guide for the Louvre, so we decided to buy one and that was a real catastrophe! It was so fascinating, that we realized that it would be necessary to spend at least 10-15 minutes per painting to understand its real beauty. 

Therefore the six hours that we allocated for the whole Louvre wouldn't be enough to enjoy just a quarter of one room! Yes, our plan was ruined and we were not able to visit all of the rooms. But with the audio guide, we enjoyed the art much more. It was a real eye-opener that every single detail, even if it was just a little fly, was there for a reason and the painter wanted to say something by placing it there.

So why am I talking about my trip to the Louvre? Well, just like any other form of art, in order to enjoy chess to the full extent you need to possess a certain level of knowledge. Yes, you can replay the Opera game in just one minute and enjoy the beautiful final position, or you can spend hours appreciating Morphy's genius that he displayed in his preparations for the final combination. Let me give you a very recent game as an example to show the difference.

If you are following the 2022 Speed Chess Championship, you probably saw the following game featured in this article.

If you quickly look at the game, you'll probably notice White's combination on move 27 and that would be all. Indeed, why spend more time on just a blitz game? That would be similar to my approach in the Louvre, where initially I was passing beautiful art with an average speed of two seconds per painting. But remember, this game was played by two grandmasters! Just like painters who tell stories with every brush stroke, every move in the above-mentioned game should tell you something. Let's take a tour!

You can notice that in the game that Black delayed his d7-d5 move and played it only after White castled. Why? The answer has been known for over 100 years already. White plants his knight on e5 and starts a very dangerous attack. Here is how the author of the classic book Chess Middlegames, IM Romanovsky, fell victim to this dangerous setup:

If you check a database, you'll see that in eight games played in the position after move 11.Ndf3, White won seven with just one draw! By the way, in our stem game, GM Tuan Minh Le also occupied the central square e5 with his knight which gave him an early initiative. This wasn't his first time either—it looks like this setup is his pet weapon in Titled Tuesday tournaments! 

Is there any defense against this miracle opening setup that gives White chances for a direct kingside attack so early in the game? Sure! The remedy has also been known for about 100 years:

Of course, this beautiful game of Alexander Alekhine deserves its own guide, because here you can learn a lot about doubled pawns, open files, an attack against the opponent's king, etc. Just get a book of Alekhine's selected games and read his instructive comments. He particularly praised his move 5...Bd6! because it significantly improves his position in the center.

Does it mean that after White was allowed to plant his knight to e5 the game was over? Not at all! There is a very typical defensive idea in positions like this. You trade White's bishop or knight on the e5-square and then play f7-f5 (or f7-f6). If it works, it usually significantly reduces White's attacking potential. The key word here is "if," since this defensive mechanism frequently backfires. Just like in the following iconic game:

So, how should have Black defended in our main game? Here are numerous moments where Black could execute this defensive setup:

After Black failed to defend his king with the f-pawn push he was doomed and a simple but very powerful combination 27.Bxg6! sealed the game.

To summarize, you can definitely enjoy this game by just glancing at it and noticing the powerful blow 27.Bxg6 and the following massacre of the black king. Or you can appreciate many hidden layers of the game with numerous attacking and defensive ideas. As a bonus, you can even use the opening of the game as your new attacking weapon. 

Similarly, if for you the joy of chess is playing the Bongcloud, who am I to tell you that it is the wrong way to enjoy chess? After all, I did way worse when I was passing the treasure trove of the Louvre with the speed of two seconds per painting. Only when I got an audio guide did I realize what I was missing. 

Nevertheless, I see no excuse for top players to deliberately play bad chess. These individuals, who are supposed to be the equivalent of the Louvre's audio guide, showing amateurs the true beauty of chess should remember the words of Jerry Springer. In a recent interview, the 78-years-old-veteran said: "I just apologize. I’m so sorry. What have I done? I’ve ruined the culture. I just hope hell isn’t that hot."

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