Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Opening Theory

While nursing my cough+sore throat, which practically put me out for the last 4 days, I got very little time to study any chess material.

Yesterday, my neighbour gave me some green apples and I proceeded to make an apple strudel out of it and gave my neighbour some of it. My wife liked it.

If anyone wants this recipe, it's fairly straightforward:

4 green apples, cored, peeled, chopped into cubes.
2 sheets of puff pastry
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon of ground cinnammon
1 cup dried raisins (shredded)
1 egg whisked in 1 cup of milk

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees
Line the baking tray with baking paper
Boil the apples till they are slightly soft and mix them in a large mixing bowl
Add sugar, raisins and cinnamon
Mix thoroughly
Line the baking paper with a sheet of puff pastry
Pour contents of mixing bowl into pastry
Raise the edges of pastry
Cover with the 2nd sheet of pastry and use water to seal the edges
Poke holes with a fork all over pastry to allow steam to escape
Brush top of pastry with egg/milk mixture
Bake for 35-45 minutes till pastry browns


Okay so what has this got to do with chess?

While baking, I started thinking of the steps I did to make the apple strudel. It was easy, straightforward. I had a plan, an idea and a strategy (making optimal use of time - took me half an hour to prepare the ingredients before chucking the whole lot into the oven).

And then I got to thinking how opening chess theory is so similar. You have a plan, you form your core strategy around your plan and you proceed to follow it like A-B-C.

Unfortunately, chess theory is also a lot more complex. Certain openings like the Sicilian Najdorf or the Sveshnikov runs into tens of lines of theory just to get an opening edge or not fall into a losing position. It's scary but it makes you wonder why people play this opening.

Lest it be known, I have a limited memory capacity. Unlike GMs who have Terabytes of RAM hardwired to their brains, unfortunately, little me is running on 64 Kilobytes of RAM and can only accomodate a limited amount of information. That's why my pet lines tend to revolve around tactics and endgames rather than on opening theory.

I'd noticed with lower rated players (I'm only a 1450 rated player), opening theory quickly went out the window. Last week against a higher rated player, I was playing the first 6 moves out of memory and then my opening theory ran out and started playing on my own. I didn't realise that my subsequent play had gone into one of the major lines of that opening.

Seeing players like Topalov who have such a huge opening theory in their repertoire scares me. There's no way I can commit to memory such long sequences and variations of an opening to boot (not to mention the analysis that goes into it).

When I throw in endgame theory, suddenly my brain is yelling me to stop before it threatens to implode.

Do I play offbeat lines then? I don't. Suprisingly, I play a lot of major lines. The Caro-Kann, Sicilian, Pirc, French, Petroff, Ruy Lopez, KID, KIA, QID, NID, Slav, Semi-Slav, QGD, English, Catalan etc.

Why do I do that? I am trying to get accustomed to different pawn structures and different middlegame strategies. Despite my lack of opening theory, I usually "muddle" my way through the myriad of complications and try to grasp a better understanding of each opening and the strategy behind them. eg. playing the KID involves understanding dark-square strategy or how to handle the Carlsbad structure and Isolated Queen Pawns positions arising from the QGD. I noticed that by playing a variety of openings, I start to slowly understand how to handle different positions.

I feel this is extremely important as a chess player. Pawn structures and pawn formations are fluid and change all the time. As a result, it is important to understand different pawn formations and how to handle them should they change.

I don't win most of my games but it was sure fun to play them!


  1. exactly! bravo!

    ** hope that your flu gets better, i am finishing my flu/cold as we speak. 'it goes around as they say'. the stress in our life is liek the bad move which blows the position.

    openings. again, with you all the way. i am back to chess now six years or so, after being away for 27 or so years, was it.

    the advise that i got, early on, good advise, was NOT to study openings, i thought rightly, since i as a youth, i did this extensively (i was 1678 elo or so, in 1974 before ratings got inflated, maybe like 1800 elo now??), and starting, already had a good overview of them [openings].

    now, years latter, i am there. it is time.

    i am starting, nothing to heavy or super formal, but daily and in chessbase for sure, making inroads.

    i couldnt have the courage to ONLY make a 300 game file on the caro kann, as Jacob Aaagard suggests in Excelling At Chess ('go through games say 2550 elo and up, on your favorite opening' my paraphrase of course),

    but instead a 30,000 game file.

    the bad news is, its too big. the good news is, is that a glance i can pull up all the games of the qwelerous 1.e4 c6 2.f4 and see them all in a row... i need to have this down pat.

    the good news is, now it is easy to create that smaller file from this...

    then the slav. i have avoided playing it, but the benko instead. not always, of course...

    but now i will make myself.

    if i love the Caro that much (i do!), then the two should go together in a deep structure way.

    similarly, i play the Reti but dont play the dragon as black (ever, but did in youth as my main line), and this bothers me.

    so thus i begin the long slog up the mountain, but it is fun again.

    love dk

  2. thanks dk for the vote of confidence! i really appreciate it.