When to Deviate... and When Not To...

Apr 28, 2009, 12:06 PM |

The following is a list of the 12 games I played from the SWRR 2009, and the exact move that we landed in a deviation. A deviation being a move that is played very rarely if at all. In some cases the deviations are outright blunders, but in other cases they are interesting moves which can be thought-provoking. At the end of this I try to come up with some general guidelines on when to deviate.


1.e4 b6!? Sukoluk – Whissell

Along with Joe, Roger is one of the most difficult players to make it out of the opening against. Here he opted for Owen’s Defence, which later transposes into the Hippopotamus.

Was the deviation successful? Yes- Roger achieved a middlegame position where he could have equlaized and even given White problems. He also avoided reems of unnecessary theory and headed straight for playing a game of chess.


1.c3!? Martin – Whissell

You could criticize this move because it breaks opening principles: it doesn’t seem to fight for the center. But then it may well fight for the center because it supports a pawn on d4, or after 1...c5, could transpose to the Alapin Sicilian with 2.e4. I just continued to fight for the center with 1...d5 and White has little better to aim for after 2.d4 then an offbeat system like the Colle or London System.

Was the deviation successful? Yes – Josh just wanted a chess game to play and he got one. Certainly he was no better out of the opening, but there was no way I was going to bowl him over after the quiet 1.c3 I followed with 1...d5 and he played 2.d4 and we transposed to quiet Queenpawn lines that can be just fine for either side and avoid a good deal of theory. I think his best bet after this move order was to aim for a London System with Bf4. Again unpretentious development, but if it is Black who has to prove something, then this system is just fine!


1.Nc3!? Lalonde-Whissell

This move does indeed fight for the center, but it does have the drawback of preventing the c-pawn coming forward. White has eliminated a lot of the most testing set-ups against  1...d5. Following this, he could continue with either of 2.d4 aiming for either of the Veresov or Blackmar-Deimer Gambit - neither of which is theoretically testing -but  both of which have their chances. Failing that, he could continue with 2.e4, which is the line the Van Geet is known for. Thus this opens up a lot of transpositions that Black must be ready for if he plays classically with 1...d5.

I responded 1...c5, and was perfectly happy after Drake played 2.e4 and we headed into a variant of the Sicilian. White, however, could have side-stepped this transposition and played 2.Nf3!? which would have been in true Van Geet style.  I think this would have been a better continuation.

Was the deviation successful? No – Drake did not have enough preparation to head for the tricky lines of the Van Geet. He had prepared a sole line against my response 1...f5!? which he hoped to have faced. Realistically this is just not going to cut it, as there is no need to risk a Dutch when White is admitting he isn’t going to tip his hand either. To play a move like 1.Nc3, one requires a good deal of preparation since there are a great deal of Black responses to handle and it is really rolling the dice hoping for just one of the many.


1.e4 Nf6  Dumontelle-Whissell  and  Nicholson-Whissell

The Alekhine’s defence is no longer a nebulous land of ‘let’s just play chess’ in all of its many variations. If White wants to play the mainline, then he'd better know a tonne of theory. Yes, a metric tonne. In an open tournament I can only imagine this move is even more powerful than here, where everyone knew I played it. I’d advise this defence to anyone who is in a provocative mood and wants White to come after them.

Was the move successful? Yes – It promoted positions where I was more familiar than my opponents were, which meant that even when I was in trouble, I knew it and my opponents didn’t! Getting into your comfort zone - while avoiding your opponent’s - is of massive interest to all players. Consider the alternatives. Playing 1...e5 against Matthew is like asking to play against Rybka for the first 15 moves, since he has analyzed the King’s Gambit so thoroughly. Playing 1...c5 against Joe lands him happily in KIA land after the unpretentious 2.d3, which would have been just perfect for him.


1.e4 Nf6 2.Bc4?! Dumontelle – Whissell

White cedes a very important central pawn and the bishop pair to dislodge the black king after 2...Nxe4 3.Bxf7+ Kxf7 4.Qh5+ g6 5.Qxd5+ e6 6.Qxe4. He hopes that the misplaced black King will cause black enough problems to compensate for the loss of his center.

Was the deviation successful? No – There are no immediate open lines to exploit the weakened king position. Worse yet, black is prepared to play ...Bg7 followed by ...Rf8 and ...Kg8 and complete what is known as manual castling. I have seen this line enough times in blitz and even 15 minute games to know that it has all but ceded white's opening advantage. In addition to his strong central presence, Black also has the bishop pair.


1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d3  Meyer – Whissell


People should remember the late, great World Champion Bobby Fischer used this move to devastating effect in numerous games. The King’s Indian Attack is also a favourite of Joe Dumontelle.


Was the deviation successful? Yes – Ralf’s unpretentious development gave him a perfectly level game against me and every chance to therefore score either a full or half point. The KIA has no immediate refutation, keeps all the pieces on the board, and reserves the fight for later. This is a terrific choice against higher rated opposition too, as White is content with solidity. In fact, in the game I was out of my element and Ralf had an opportunity for the advantage – something to remember folks.




1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 Whissell – Dukic 


This is my own personal move order which I like to use since it keeps the possibility open of playing a Closed Sicilian with 3.g3 or even a Grand Prix Attack with 3.f4, both of which are fairly good anti-Sicilian set-ups. Note that Rogozenko thinks that none of these alternatives can provide anything against the Sicilian.

Was the deviation successful? Yes – As we’ll see immediately below, Vedran thinks he can now take over the center, but forgets that white’s birthright of an extra tempo prevents this.


1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 e6 4.d4 d5? Whissell - Dukic

Black is out of book, in fact – Black has no book! Vedran scored second place overall in the tournament and he has absolutely no book knowledge whatsoever! His calculation and ability to play chess put him up to second place overall and that should be a sign that here we have some chess talent. The only thing I wish he would remember is that a maximum of two draw offers is sufficient! Regardless, if he had not made this opening error it would have been a very hard struggle.

Was the deviation successful? No- My move order is solid, and should transpose to the Open Sicilians after 4...cxd4. This is not to say that Vedran’s move order isn’t without chances, however I was able to calculate through the move 4...d5? (it took me at least 15 minutes) and find the most testing response. In fact Black is losing after Vedran’s choice 5.exd5 exd5 6.dxc5! d4 7.Ne4 and now Vedran could have complicated matters with 7...Bxc5!? relying on a Queen check, but even then this problem could be solved over the board with due time.


1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 c6!? Nicholson – Whissell

I remember after I played this move my opponent became very red in the face and the pace of his moves – which had been quick up to this point – ground to a halt. This move (4...c6!?) is a speciality of GM Alexander Baburin and has the benefit of very little theory surrounding it.

Was the deviation successful? No – Nicholson did what was correct in such situations. He asked himself why he didn’t see this move more often. He took the time out to consider all his options and came up with a very testing response by playing good chess. The game continued: 5.c4 Nb6?! 6.Nc3 dxe5 7.Nxe5 N8d7 8.f4 and already Nicholson’s accurate opening play yielded him an advantage. Unfortunately there is still a game of chess to play after the opening...



1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Be3 Bg7 5.Qd2 Ng4?! Whissell – Cote


I would like to harp on this move, since I actually studied a game where Beliavsky lost with it to try and better understand it. It ends up that it just loses time, and I have faced it many times before on ICC. Sure, I can no longer exchange my bishop for his, but the horrible weakened black kingside isn’t worth it in the end.


Was the deviation successful? No – This line is a poor choice for Pirc players, and much more testing is 5...c6. By delaying castling Black asks White how he wants to proceed. Black will be busy expanding on the Queenside in short order.




1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ne2 c4??  Whissell - Fleming

I dont think this deviation of Derrick’s was particularly selected as a surprise weapon, and it is hard to fathom why he played it.


Was the deviation successful? No – This is a no-no in the French. Black resolves central tension entirely to White’s benefit as he has clarified the center much too early. Now White has a free hand to orchestrate his typical f4-f5 push on the Kingside, and it will take Black forever to get things going on the Queenside. A big positional mistake, uncharacteristic of a fairly good French player.



1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0–0 9.d4!? Bg4 10.h3? Highcock-Whissell


While the 9.d4!? variation of the Ruy is playable for White, it is accepted to not give him anything special. In addition it requires a precise follow-up. Still, that is not a reason it doesn't deserve a try every now and then.


Was the deviation successful? No – I think this was just as Derrick’s move above, the dreaded ‘ok I am out of book now’ move. The theoretical tries for White in this line are 10.d5 and 10.Be3. Bruce ends up with a very weakened Kingside after 10.h3? Bxf3 11.Bxf3. It is possible he thought I wouldn’t exchange a bishop for a knight so early, but here it makes perfect sense in the battle for the center.



1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 b5 6.Bb3 Be7 7.Re1 d6 8.c3 0–0 9.h3 Be6!?

Whissell - Caldbick


Evan has played either of the Closed Ruy or the Archangel, and has demonstrated ability with either of these types of positions. Last year in the SWRR2008 I was completely lost to him, and only tricked my way out. I think here he aims to throw me on my own resources on move 9, but I have seen this line enough - as a constant Lopez player - to know how to handle it.


Was the deviation successful? No – This line is frequent enough it is hardly a surprise weapon, and White’s most testing reply is well known. What is funny is that Evan deviated even further on move 11, and this caused me to come up with a plan that would solve my early opening questions. Play continued 10.d4 exd4 11.cxd4 Na5?! Evan is headed for the bishop pair, but this bishop was going to be useless anyway after 12.d5! Bc8 13.Bd2 (now I am even forcing the knight to finish the job) 13.Nxb3 axb3 when I had ready-made pressure down the c-file on the way. If a planned deviation like this is to be played on move 9, it is important to know the follow-up. An early deviation should also set the opponent some tough to solve problems, which this did not.




1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ne2 Qb6 8.Nf3 cxd4 9.cxd4 f6 10.exf6 Nxf6 11.0–0 Bd6 12.b3 0–0 13.Bf4 Bxf4 14.Nxf4 Ne4! 15.g3 Nf6?



This was easily the most theoretical game I played the entire tournament, and rightfully so. Desmond is a correspondence player who has been playing on and off since the days of the Fischer-Taimanov match when the Russian was terminated 6-0. I’m happy that after a 30-odd year hiatus Desmond has returned to over-the-board chess. Here Desmond makes the best moves right up all the way until move 15. Unsure of what to do with his advanced knight, and the coming pressure on the e-file, Desmond admits he is not certain and correctly heads backwards instead of playing insanely to justify a continuation neither of us could see (the mainline is 15...Rf6, which neither of us could find afterward).


Was the deviation successful? No – In this case Desmond admits he never plays against the Tarrasch variation (3.Nd2) and he ends up landing out of book before I do. Thankfully my games on the ICC had me reach this position several times and learn what to do with it. In this case my experience was advanced through practice and helped my theoretical knowledge to yield the oft sought but rarely achieved opening advantage.






WHEN IT IS EARLY it does the job best, since the position has the highest degree of unfamiliarity to the opponent. Look at Roger’s use of the Hippopotamus or even the Van Geet used by Drake, which brings me to my next point (see below). Deviating on move 25 of the Ruy isn’t going to cause too many problems, since there will be a great deal of thematic moves, general and ending principles that can aid the surprised player.


WHEN IT IS PREPARED THOROUGHLY. It’s not enough to just say: “ok, then we play chess after I deviate.” You should have a plan in mind. My erroneous use of Baburin’s 4...c6 line in the Alekhine landed me in hot water in less than 10 moves! Be prepared for a critical response to your deviation. Evan’s use of 9...Be6!? in the Lopez could have cause many more problems if he had studied it deeply, but the follow-up 11...Na5?! suggests he was flying by the seat of his pants.


WHEN IT ADDRESSES EXTERNAL FACTORS If your opponent is much higher rated then you, what is wrong with playing into an equal position with White from the word go? Nothing, since they are the ones who have something to prove and they may have to take chances or unnecessary risks to prove anything.  Ralf’s use of the KIA is a nice example of this, when I over-pressed and ended up in a worse position. Another good example is Josh’s quiet 1.c3 which just says “show me something”.


Another example along this idea is if your opponent is a pure attacker, and not really into prophylaxis. This is a reason why the Alekhine’s defence causes so many players so very many problems. They don’t understand how to handle space (my advice is to read Silman) and that their center needs protecting.