I'd like to take a quick digression from my normal blogs where I more-or-less just archive my games, to talk about something that I heard at the tournament I'm currently playing in.
Going into round 3, I was expecting to be paired against a lower rated and much older opponent who had far more OTB experience. A surprise result on another board ended up changing that pairing, but I heard through the grapevine what my opponent had prepared for me.
As many of you know, one of the strongest parts of my game is my opening preparation. My predicted opponent knew this as well and so, as I heard, his plan was to 'get me out of book as soon as possible'. This got me thinking, is that really a good plan?
To use an illustration, imagine you are poor and need more money to get by. You could take a few paths: You could make no changes and eventually run out of money completely. You could start using counterfeit money, but risk being caught. You could lower your standard of living. Or, ideally, you could try to increase your income.
Chess is sort of the same thing - if your preparation is poor compared to the field you compete against, you could make no changes and continue to be a punching bag. You can play non theoretical and/or trick lines, but occasionally be busted. You could adopt non-promising 'systems' where you will always be a little worse as black and no more than equal as white. Or, ideally, you could improve your own preparation.
In more practical terms, I believe my opponents ideology was incorrect. Theory is theory because strong players have agreed by consensus that those moves are the best moves in that specific position. Players are free to avoid those positions alltogether, and always be a little worse; they could play inferior moves, but risk being refuted; or they could, and should, just learn the theory.
Really, by avoiding theory because you believe someone is too well prepared, you're making several mistakes. One, you're admitting you're afraid of them. Two, you've made their preparation a success, as they were gifted a good position without even having to demonstrate that they actually knew the line. Three, and most importantly, you're being lazy.
All three of my games in the Hart House tournament I'm currently competing in demonstrate this (all have been blogged). In the first game, my opponent played an inferior system in an effort to avoid having to study complex Sicilian theory. The result was free equality for me (as black) which I carefully turned into a pawn up advantage. This opponent made no attempt at an opening advantage, forfeited his first move privelges, and went on to lose.
In round 2, my opponent played cutting edge theory, but did not know the line well enough, and was defeated. If he was to go into the same line again without further research, he would fall into the aforementioned category of "punching bag". However, because this particular player is by no means lazy, I know he'll do his homework and come back stronger than ever because of it. This is the correct approach.
In round 3, similar to round 1, my opponent played a slightly offbeat line, where he forced me to show my preparation, and once I demonstrated that I had done my homework, the game fizzled out into a draw. This is better than the entirely unambitious attempt made in round 1, but inferior to playing 'accepted best' lines.
My point is this - don't be lazy! Do your homework. Prepare your openings. Avoid stunting your development with 'trick lines'. And most of all, don't be afraid of your opponents just because of their percieved 'reputation'.
But all this is just my opinion! I'd love to hear your thoughts...