Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Answering DK

Update: A nice positional win today at Corus here.

DK wrote in a comment:

there was a time in the past that this would have been a private email, not a public post, but time and again you say you prefer this. here it is. my god, its even spell checked: ----------

Now that I have dispensed an obligation—the sending of extensive Caro-Kann material to you—I turn to a very different subject: the proffer of a question if not an implicit critical remark. So there I am—first supporting then a something else…

I was as once gladdened then surprised at your remark here that you were going to study the Caro-Kann. I hope that i am not reading too much into it, but having deliberately held off from any study of the opening for a VERY long time as a matter of principle, now that I am doing so, am employing a rigorous approach.
In fact, you might laugh, but a student of mine who is a candidate to be an International Master ASKED me about organizing his opening study, asked me about how best to approach it. Yes, I coach him—I give him coaching in organization and effectiveness, and he is on hand for me in my chess. It has not been an equal trade for a LONG time, but he has become a friend, believe in him greatly, and the little help and assistance he has given has been truly invaluable to guiding my chess development. That said, I believe that at your level you should already have had an opening repertoire mapped out or established by now, and if you either have not or are deviating at times as you describe here yet already have one, is a sign of weakness, or disorganization. Ok, I said it.

I believe that at a certain point you make decisions. Good or bad, you say: ‘To 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc, I will always play 3.e3.’ I am not talking ten or twelve moves out, but fundamental chess decisions that go to the bedrock of ones own stability, and sense of definite certainty.
Now, whether this is a good decision or not, and I am not sure as I still very much WANT to play 3.Nf3, this provides STABILITY, AND allows me to KNOW my own territory with more predictability. I am not sure if I need to revert back to 3.Nf3, but did a LOT of prep against it, and it became a zoo of variations. A fucking smoke belching Greek monster with twenty seven heads spinning round and round. Similarly, early on found that I hated to play against g6, so adopted 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 and 3.Bg5 as my anti-indian approach. My coach suggested this instead of 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 as it was ‘more classical’. I only play this, and am very, very glad to have this established. Against the Dutch, only play 1.d4 f5 2.Bg5. Kasparov played it. The main thing is a coherent approach. For me it all started to come together when I gave up the Catalan, Reti, English, and KIA as Wht, the Reti and only played 1.d4 each and very time. I found that against higher rated opponents, always did better. It clearly fit me. It solidified when as Blk I gave up the Benko and a medley of variations to only play the Slav. And in the Caro-Kann only, each and every time ONLY play the Bronstein-Larsen variation 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.cf3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6 gxf6. I don’t want to sound or be dogmatic. Everyone must find his or her own lines. But whatever they may be, apart from the individual decisions, there is very great value in making decisions upon a coherent approach to the openings taken as a whole, and sticking with them till when and if such time comes as you may no longer go forward with them. But I am not gonna wake up one day and say: ‘now I will play the French’, or the KID, etc. That aint gonna happen. I am too systematic for that, and encourage you to get this resolved. Its getting too late not to.

DK, thanks for your concern. I appreciate that you feel free to write as you do.

When I identified that tactics were a weak point of mine, I rigourously replaced my openings by gambits. On every opening I had a gambit prepared. I have played gambits solely for 7 years. I have enjoyed it very much. I have learned a lot about the initiative, the value of a pawn, the value of an open line and so on. I even invented a few gambits of my own. I got nerves of steel, the weirdest positions don't scare me anymore, Kd1 or Kf1 are common for me in the opening. I ate Queen sacrifices before breakfest in order to be prepared to play gambits. But I never became a gambit afficionado. Allthough I enjoyed it, I never became convinced that it is the right way to open a game. Gambit play is quite alien to my character (I never take risks if it can be avoided). I employed gambits in a disciplined way as a method to improve my main weakness (i.e. tactics).

After 7 years of playing gambits I felt that my main problems with tactics were fixed enough for the moment. A year ago I identified another issue that now has become the most weak : positional play. In order to fix that I am replacing my gambit repertoire by positional openings. Exactly according my plan from 7 years earlier. Now with the Caro Kann I have about completed my positional repertoire. Once I have fixed my positional weakness within a few years I hope to be ready to choose my final opening repertoire. Since I don't know what kind of player I am it is way too early to make that choice now.

I have the secret hope that due to my thinking about the center there will come one day that I can invent my own openings. Or possibly choose the already existing one that fits my ideas. Right now I'm far from that ideal. But once my positional skills are no longer on the bottom of the list of weaknesses I will reconsider my openings again, that is for sure.

Learning a new opening to the degree that I dare to play it in a rated game is in itself no big deal. The Polar Bear took me about 3 months, the Caro Kann 3 weeks, the Closed Sicilian (which I don't play anymore) about 3 days. Depending on how alien the ideas of the opening are to me.

DK, I hope that this reassures you. BTW thanks for the suggestion to study Botwinnik. I will certainly do.

Corus: Tempo 3/5 Margriet 4.5/5


  1. My "Dream Repertoire" would include two openings for White and two for Black against e4, to cover playing for a win and playing for a draw. But maybe only one defense against d4 is enough.

  2. LF,
    Yesterday I had my first outing with the Caro Kann in a rated game. It was a draw. People tend to say that the Caro Kann is drawish. I don't think so. You only need a lot of technique to convert it to a win. Technique most of us have not.

    To me it looked as if the CK had its own build-in middlegame-endgame plan. After the opening I had a kingside majority while my opponent had the queenside majority. After a minority attack your opponent is left with one weak pawn on the queenside which can be conquered. Then you have a plus pawn that you can try to promote.

    I'm going to use the CK for training this technique.

    In a rapidgame I would go for a gambit, though.

  3. Not a bad result at Corus. Keep it up!

    I never really studied openings since i never crossed the 2000 rating line. Every opening works for us patzers under 2000 rating.

    With other words, i will never delve deep into an opening if i have not reached the 2000 rating barrier atleast.

  4. CT, I quite agree. But sometimes one can't come around it. I trust that maintenance of my latest opening choices (Polar Bear with both black and white plus Caro Kann) will cost me very little time. I plan to focus solely on strategy and positional play. The point is that strategy is often close related to the opening of choice. But my intention is to spend as little time as possible on openings.

  5. Dear Temposchlucker,

    The way you work on your openings strikes me as rather coordinated. Speaking for myself I have noticed that the preference for openings is not all that rational at all. A few good results when you start playing an opening can hook you up to a system for years, even if the opening does not give you the type of position you would want to get the most.

    Having said this, and not questioning your choice for the Caro Kan, I still feel that if I had been asked to give you some guidance in this, I might have given you the French in consideration. You seem to love the type of game that results from the Polabia. The main systems of the Polabia are very much about pawn structures. The French in the overwhelming majority has similar characteristics. In my experience the Caro Kan has some characteristics in which heavy pawn structures dominate, but in most systems this is not a dominating feature.

    Having thrown the gauntlet though, I see no reason for you to return on your steps for the near future and I wish you all the best in your outings with the Caro Kan. Keep us posted!

  6. Phaedrus,
    Between the tournament in Groningen and Corus I was heavily in doubt which opening to chose, the French or the Caro. So I fired up 30 cc games, 15 with each. The dead wood on c8, the kingside attack of white and the symetric pawnstructure of the exchange variation were the 3 factors that tipped the balance in favour of the Car Kann.

    To win with the Caro you have to defeat your opponent 3 times. In the opening, in the middlegame and in the endgame. The opening seems to be not too difficult, my first two outings at Corus with the Caro were easy draws. Already I begin to trust the opening. The middlegame and the endgame are different animals. In these I'm weak, and the Caro offers me the chance to focus on them.

    As gambiteer I always frowned upon the Caro as being unambitious. Now I learn there is another side to it and another joy to, well, enjoy.

  7. It is too early to talk about preferences of an opening. Once the openings have done their duty by learning me what I have to learn, it is early enough to rethink what I actually like.