Hello, dear readers, and welcome to Everything Openings #3! In these next few installments, we dive into one of the most dangerous theoretical mazes in chess, or more accurately, we decide how far in we want to go.
In this post and the next one or two, we'll follow the longest opening "story" of my chess career as I attempt, again and again, to do several things against the dreaded Sicilian: find lines that are comfortable against every strength of player, fight for an advantage, and most of all, keep Black from having more fun than I want them to.
It's not just a matter of practicality. It's about staying away from situations where positional pressure could cause me to fall face-first down the slippery slope of amateur chess.
We begin at a scholastic event in February 2016, in the second event of a small slump. I had slept poorly last night over that and one other question: Is it even worth driving a couple of hours to play with a bunch of lousy kids? I thought I was over it as I walked into the playing hall at noon the next day, but I could not have been more wrong.
That's why as always, our post starts with me getting utterly destroyed.
Looking back, this game wasn't that bad. My only real mistakes were the tone-deaf 14. Rdg1? and the howler 19.c3??. But the Dragon has a certain reputation, and when you play against it for the first time, your heart begins to race and calculation and even cold, hard reasoning go out the window.
After this game, I immediately switched to 3. Bb5+ and took up the Rossolimo for good measure.
That decision probably wasn't quite rational (that reputation again!), but it worked well against lower-rated players... and strong players too. Just three months later, in my first game with the variation, I nearly beat a 1900 player but had to settle for a draw.
As for the lower-rated players? I often made myself work harder than I needed to, but nevertheless, they almost beat themselves in this line. It says something about just how good this line was for me that I was better out of the opening and throughout the game in every single one of these.
Everything was as it should be. I was beating 1300s easily, taking all of the "stuff" there was to be had, not giving them a single positional plus, and saving my energy for the tougher rounds. But then, as always, I got destroyed again, twice, by the same 1900 and in the same line.
In my time with the Canal-Sokolsky, I've scored massively with it - about 70%, and 90% against lower-rated players. This isn't due to any feature of the opening itself. Many lines are just a dry kind of equality. Rather, it's because I played with a plan. My opponents didn't, and got overwhelmed by sheer opportunism. By playing this line, I got a nagging opening advantage and a position where Black couldn't have any fun, and most of my opponents screwed themselves over with an early ... e7-e5 anyway.
After getting destroyed against the 1900, I stopped playing the line against him, and all stronger players. I was sick of being tied to my e4-pawn, but I also switched on the advice of an NM, who asked me this point-blank after winning a game with 3. Bb5+:
NM: Do you have a good memory?
Me: I would say so, at least for chess.
NM: Then maybe you should play something more topical. Against good opposition, this 3. Bb5+ line isn't going to get you anything.
I've long since switched to 6. g3 against the Najdorf/Scheveningen and 9. O-O-O d5 10. Qe1!? against the Dragon versus good opposition, but I continue to play this line against weaker players, because it does far too well for me to drop it.
Besides, why would I let 1300s have any fun?
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