Memory is the first to go.

May 8, 2010, 1:39 PM |

My experiment last weekend at the Mass game 60 was a bit alarming in realizing how QUICKLY I lose my memorized opening lines. Now, before you all jump on me about opening preparation and how it shouldn’t be a case of memorization and all, sit down. I realize this and part of the reason why I do the history tour and review game collections from old tournaments is to learn this game from whole games. The way I process information requires me to find neural pathways into long term memory through experiential exercises that challenge more than rote memory. Getting into the narrative story of a match, the emotional build up of the opening struggle followed with a middle game melee seems to be seeping ever so slowly in this thick skull of an old dog learning new tricks.



The problem I have is that it’s very hard to “unlearn” my old ways of learning openings via rote memorization. It’s a process I have to work on. What happens is that when I have a lapse in chess activity, the first thing that goes is the rote memorization of the openings. In particular, WHEN I PLAY WHITE 1.d4, the number of lines to stay on top of is insurmountable. 

 How do I approach this from a practical perspective when there are so many similarities  yet nuances making a Benoni like a King’s Indian except that it’s not and I am not an expert.


When I played against IM Igor Foygel, I knew it was going to be a cat and mouse game. Right on move 4 I was lost. 1.d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3.d5 e5 was the move order for a Czech  Benoni ( modern Benoni plays 3…e6). I know this now because AFTER the game I looked it up. During the game, all I could remember was that after 2…c5 White needs to advance the d-pawn to maintain the edge. That was it.


I didn’t know what followed. How do I maintain an edge with advancing the d-pawn? Building a strong pawn center but I can’t get my pawn to e4 because of his Nf6.  I couldn’t recall that White’s plan is to build a center and maneuver for a king side attack while watching for Black’s breaking moves on the c- and f-files.  Instead, I fell prey to creating false weaknesses and eliminating pieces in an effort to get to a playable middle game.


I played  4. dxe6 which allowed the Master to open up the f-file. During the post mortem, he asked me why I captured. I told him it was my intent to create a weakness. His words of wisdom “ Don’t create a weakness unless you can take advantage of it right away. Every Weakness is only good if you can use it.”  Also, in hindsight, the choice between development versus creating weaknesses in the opening is now clear. Especially when I am taken out of “book”, basic principles should apply. Better to develop Nc3.


Here’s the game in all its ugliness.




Playing white is a problem for a patzer like me. I used to use an opening system to get by this hurdle but found it to be tiring against stronger players who know how to play sharply around them.  I buckled down and decided to learn Queen’s gambits after I studied the games of Harry Nelson Pillsbury a couple years ago.  But the problem with this is that in practice I have to deal with all the Indian defenses, orthodox defenses, move order variations, slav defenses and the friggin Dutch. It’s too late to switch gears before the World Open in July unless I wuss out and resort back to my London System.


The good news is that I play the Slav and after studying the New York 1924 Games, I learned the Rubinstein Variation of the Nimzo-Indian. The Kings Indian Defense of the Zurich 1953 studies have yet to make practical “head room” in my noggin.  It’s overwhelming to think of all the variations I should be prepared for when I play a Queen’s pawn game.  At one point or another, I “prepared” for the Dutch, Benoni, and other Indian defenses. Unforetunately, it only made it to the scratch pad memory  of my internal processor. This gets reset every time I learn a new thing or take a break from “serious” play.


Igor says, “ Don’t worry about studying openings at your level. Just play chess. Look at book AFTER the game. Then you will learn.”


Yes master. Thank you Master.