Material, planning, Exchange sac, Opening systems

1. Planning

I just spent a long while with a student trying to find a plan in this position:

jud-hee

1hr 05mins
Bristol, 2009

r-q-r-k-
p-pnb-pp
-p-pNn--
-----p--
--P-----
P-NP--P-
-PQ-PPKP
R-B--R--
w - - 0 13

If my notes below aren't enough, I think Silman's recipe in How To Reassess Your Chess is useful.  I'm not sure he's actually hit on something entirely original, but he's broken it down into simple steps that you can shout at yourself: where should I be organising?  What is my ideal piece formation on that side?  And, having got that formation, is it any bloody good?  Then you can pick a plan, and then a move order, and then analyse some sequences.

The jud-hee position isn't typical, because you're a pawn up (you noticed that, right?) and should be winning with some simplification -- you can change out of normal chess gear to I'm-winning gear, which has different priorities.  But that pawn was a long way from making a difference, so it felt like normal chess anyway.  I think the language we need is to distinguish between a candidate move ("d3-d4"), a goal ("attack on the King's-side"), and a plan ("h4 Rh1-h3 Ra1-h1 Bg5 Qd2-f4 h5 h6...").  By moving those pieces to their intended positions, I think we found that nothing very wonderful was happening for us on the King's-side.  Not surprising perhaps: there was no structural hint that White should be attacking on that side. But when we turned our attention to the centre ("d4 d5 Bb2 Rae1 e4..."), we found a pawn break to open a file for White's Rooks, a dominating diagonal for the Bishop, and every prospect of achieving those desirable exchanges.

In fact, all the moves we hit on are also part of White's usual repertoire in the Dutch (without being a Pawn up) in order to dominate the centre.  I guess had we known that to start with, we'd have a head start towards finding the right plan (or at least a good one).  That shows the benefits of knowing how to handle a variety of structures.

Homework might be to have a breeze through
http://exeterchessclub.org.uk/content/pawn-formations
and see if you think you knew all that, or could do with a brush-up.

1b. Planning and the opening.

My student's current opening repertoire - English/KID/Pirc - is one that I eventually got talked out of.  The arguments against are:
i. That's all chewy hypermodern stuff -- I'm trying to run before I can walk.
ii. Every game is fluid, leading to different and possibly unique structures.  There's no chance to become experienced in and expert in particular structures.
iii. The goal is to play better than your opponent, to play the opening better than your opponent.  You are more likely do that if the positions you play are easier to play for your side, and frankly, the Modern is easier to play from the White side.

Instead, choose opening systems which have clear strategic themes and which might even be related to each other, so you have some cross-fertilisation going for you.  This leads us to consider: 

2. A complete opening system

I think the best universal opening system -- a way of playing suitable for playing as White and as Black -- is probably the King's Indian Attack/King's Indian Defence/Pirc.  The White side of the King's Indian Attack has enough flexibility and sting to be worth playing, and the Black defences are trusted at all levels.  If you're happy with a different White opening, the KID and Pirc are actually an OK choice: I can remember GM John Nunn playing these a while ago, and I can't see him relying on anything with a weak link anywhere.

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0p0p0p0p|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+P+N).|
|P)PHP)B)|
|$.GQ+RI.|
+-----------------+

+-----------------+
|rhb1.4k+|
|0p0.0pgp|
|.+.0.hp+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+P)P+.+|
|+.H.+N+.|
|P).+.)P)|
|$.GQIB+R|
+-----------------+

+-----------------+
|rhb1.4k+|
|0p0.0pgp|
|.+.0.hp+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.)P+.+|
|+.H.+N+.|
|P)P+.)P)|
|$.GQIB+R|
+-----------------+

So why change?  The KID does have a fair body of theory to come to grips with.  Joe Gallagher did the Black side a big favour a while ago, explaining that you can dodge a lot of Classical theory with 6...Na6, and that you don't have to suffer against the Fianchetto but play an evil gambit of his own devising.  The Pirc goes in and out of fashion; it's a good way to keep the tension and play for a win, but White does have a fair choice of systems, all of which are a potential challenge to the Black side, all of which seem easier to handle from the White side, and which are all pretty different (which is in the end what led me to take up the French).   (You can play ...d6 and ...e5 without a fianchetto, of course, and that makes some sense as a repertoire too.)

Shifting to the light-square defences: the Slav and Caro-Kann are a natural pair, and for a White opening you can use the Colle.  I don't imagine many players are kept awake by the thought that their opponent might play the Colle, on the other hand my score against it is 0-2.  I guess any of the light-square defences with ...e6 would go together: French/Caro/Scandinavian with Dutch/Nimzo/Ragozin/English, depending on your appetite for theory and your desire for active play.

+-----------------+
|r+b+.4k+|
|0p1.gp0p|
|.+n+ph.+|
|+.0p+.+.|
|.+.)P+.+|
|+.)B+N+.|
|P).H.)P)|
|$.GQ$.I.|
+-----------------+

+-----------------+
|rhb1kg.4|
|0p+.0p0p|
|.+p+.h.+|
|+.+p+.+.|
|.+P).+.+|
|+.H.+N+.|
|P).+P)P)|
|$.GQIB+R|
+-----------------+

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0p+.0p0p|
|.+p+.+.+|
|+.+p+.+.|
|.+.)P+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|P)P+.)P)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

After that, I'm damned if I can think of something similar.  You can say Dutch (good)... Bird (hmm)... Philidor Counter-Gambit!? (bleah). 

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0p0p0p0p|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.).+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|P)P)P+P)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0p0p0.0p|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+p+.|
|.+.).+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|P)P+P)P)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0p0.+.0p|
|.+.0.+.+|
|+.+.0p+.|
|.+.+P+.+|
|+.+P+N+.|
|P)P+.)P)|
|$NGQIB+R|
+-----------------+

Systems with d6/e5 make some sense, but I can't think of a matching White opening:

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0p0.+p0p|
|.+.0.+.+|
|+.+.0.+.|
|.+P+.+.+|
|+.H.+.+.|
|P).)P)P)|
|$.GQIBHR|
+-----------------+

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0p0.+p0p|
|.+.0.+.+|
|+.+.0.+.|
|.+.)P+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|P)P+.)P)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0p0.+p0p|
|.+.0.+.+|
|+.+.0.+.|
|.+P).+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|P).+P)P)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

Or I did once play the English, Benoni and Sicilian Accelerated Dragon, but the Benoni is suspect in a couple of lines, the English really doesn't go at the same pace as the Sicilian, and I never got to play the main lines of the Sicilian anyway.

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0p0p0p0p|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+P+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|P).)P)P)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

+-----------------+
|rhb1kg.4|
|0p+p0p0p|
|.+.+.h.+|
|+.0.+.+.|
|.+P).+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|P).+P)P)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0p+p0p0p|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.0.+.+.|
|.+.+P+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|P)P).)P)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

I guess you can play the Polish: 1.b4 and 1...b5 (preceding this with 1...a6 against 1.e4).  Not much theory, not going to be refuted any time soon, not to be put off by Sam Collins including this in a chapter called 'Garbage'...

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0p0p0p0p|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.).+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|P+P)P)P)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0.0p0p0p|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+p+.+.+.|
|.+.).+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|P)P+P)P)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|+.0p0p0p|
|p+.+.+.+|
|+p+.+.+.|
|.+.)P+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|P)P+.)P)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

I wouldn't fancy 1.b3 and 1...b6 so well, because 1.e4 b6 is not easy for Black, but you can play the French there. 

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0p0p0p0p|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+P+.+.+.|
|P+P)P)P)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0.0p+p0p|
|.0.+p+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+P).+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|P).+P)P)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0.0p0p0p|
|.0.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+P+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|P)P).)P)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

What else...  Catalan... Grunfeld... Gurgenidze?!  While the first two are an exercise in fluid dynamism, the last is sticky toffee.  But it might suit someone...

+-----------------+
|rhb1kg.4|
|0p0.+p0p|
|.+.+ph.+|
|+.+p+.+.|
|.+P).+.+|
|+.+.+.).|
|P).+P)B)|
|$NGQI.HR|
+-----------------+

+-----------------+
|rhb1kg.4|
|0p0.0p+p|
|.+.+.hp+|
|+.+p+.+.|
|.+P).+.+|
|+.H.+.+.|
|P).+P)P)|
|$.GQIBHR|
+-----------------+

+-----------------+
|rhb1k+n4|
|0p+.0pgp|
|.+p+.+p+|
|+.+p+.+.|
|.+.)P+.+|
|+.H.+N+.|
|P)P+.)P)|
|$.GQIB+R|
+-----------------+

Hmm, I imagine you can put together a repertoire based around Nc3/...Nc6 systems, but as White you're often hoping to exploit transpositions into other lines, so it's not quite the refuge from theory that it might appear. Maybe Veresov/QGD Tchigorin/Nimzowitsch Defence are a trio that make sense.  Dunno.

Lastly, you can put together a gambit repertoire which has a feel more than a set of moves in common.  Nigel Davies has published a two-volume repertoire (White/Black) which might be worth a look -- probably the usual mixture of good ideas and soggy bits that grace most repertoire books.  Maybe you're better off looking at the games of someone who really does play a gambit in every game if they can -- Gerry Jepps might be a local model, and there are GM hackers like Velimirovic, Hector and Vitolins.

Conclusion: KIA/KID/Pirc or the Light Square Bunch with the English or Colle really are the main choices.  If you don't want to stick with your current systems then the Slav probably is a good choice. 

Comments invited...

3. Exchange Sacrifices.


NN
NN

Practical Chess Exercises (1)
Palm Handheld, 2007











1. Rxf6 gxf6 2. Nd5 Qd8 3. Nxf6+ Kg7 4. Bd5 * [Cheng R.]

We also had a look at this position.  Quickly solved, but comment was "But I'd never play that in a game."  Worth some reflection.  To some extent, whether you fancy that punt suggested by Cheng (his position #24) or not depends on your style, but that does look the best way to win to me, and if you don't fancy it, you're probably letting some important chances go by in your games particularly if you play openings where Rooks get to look at Knights.  I had a go at this last year, so I'll just point you to the material I put together then.
http://www.exeterchessclub.org.uk/General/chesblog.html#22ndJuly2008
I don't play them very often, but I do have a go sometimes, and sometimes they come off.

I think exchange sacrifices are a good test of chess skill, and bear on perhaps the key feature of master play: dynamism.

    "One of the main aims has been to highlight the differences in approach between a Grandmaster and a weaker player, and to try and narrow the gap. To some extent this comes down to technical matters - more accurate analysis, superior opening knowledge, better endgame technique and so forth; but in other respects the difference goes deeper and many readers will find that they need to rethink much of their basic attitude to the game. One example of this would be the tremendous emphasis which is placed on the dynamic use of the pieces, if necessary at the expense of the pawn structure, or even of material. This is no mere question of style; it is a characteristic of the games of all the great players." -- Peter Griffiths, Introduction to Secrets of Grandmaster Chess.

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