Monday, July 28, 2008

A Thought on GM Openings

I just renewed my lapsed subscription to New In Chess, and I've been going over some of the recent tournaments. My repertoire database in Chessbase is starting to get to a decent size, so for kicks I tested it out by generating a repertoire using the games from the Corus tournament (Section A). For those not familiar with this feature: Chessbase can search a collection of games and compare it to a database of lines you consider to be part of your repertoire. It then spits out all games that match your repertoire. This search actually did produce some significant games (Carlsen-Polgar and Radjabov-Anand, for example).

In the course of reviewing some of these games, I was struck once again by how many of these GM lines seem to teeter on the brink of disaster. Some lines are just positionally awkward, and can only be justified tactically.

I would compare these cutting-edge openings to cutting-edge aircraft. Planes are now being designed with "negative stability". These aircraft are inherently unstable and require a "fly-by-wire", computer-controlled system in order to stay aloft. If a system were to fail, the plane would be uncontrollable. In contrast, a plane designed with "positive stability" will tend to maintain its attitude without external control. The pilot can't just doze off, but the plane has a natural tendency to stay aloft.

My preference is middle of the road...major lines that you see high-rated players play, yet fairly well grounded in general chess principles. No Colle or King's Indian Attack for me (though those would fit the bill as openings with "positive stability"), but no Smith-Morra Gambit or Botvinnik Semi-Slav/Anti-Moscow either.

To each his own. There's an argument for playing highly tactical openings, in that they force you to hone your ability to calculate. For some of these GM lines, though, I think the average club player would just fall into the trap of spending time memorizing lines rather than understand why certain crazy moves are essential.


likesforests said...

It's often the case that the line that promises slightly more requires more preparation. I guess one should put more preparation into the lines that they encounter more often over the board (and just have something simple ready for the one-offs).

likesforests said...

It's neat that you have such a wide and complete repertoire. I'm still slowly assembling mine, although now I at least have a basic idea what to do in any situation. :)

tanc(happyhippo) said...


like likeforests, I am also in the midst of preparing a more thorough opening repertoire.

i play a variety of openings to get a feel of the different strategies and plans in each of them.

i am one of those players who is not afraid to play tactical openings because they force me to improve my calculative ability and thus, i thoroughly agree with you about the need to memorise lines.

thankfully, most opening lines can get by with general opening strategies and being aware of the traps hiding in each of them. and as long as one is aware of what to do, even in razor sharp opening gambits, one is not likely to stumble.

the thing about GM games that teeter on the brink of disaster is that we need to remember that GMs have the tactical portion of their ability down pat.

thus, i think that it's important to understand GM games from a combination of strategic, positional and tactical point of view.

and in order to appreciate these games, it is important to learn and acquire these abilities to a moderate level so as to understand them before delving head on to severe complications/continuations.

thus, i take a rather extreme tact, rather than not going tactical in my games, i'd rather embrace it.


Grandpatzer said...

likesforests: I wouldn't say wide or complete. I tend to stick with openings for a long time (I played the French 13 years before switching to 1...e5). And I have trouble remembering what I'm "supposed" to play in some openings such as the Nimzo (but that was my plan: don't memorize, but figure out what you like on your own). Especially in openings that I don't see as much on ICC (e.g. Nimzo, Alekhine) I'm pretty much out of book by move 6.

One of my longtime struggles is deciding on Sicilian lines after 1...e6 or 1...Nc6 (especially since the Sveshnikov is considered a terrible weapon for Black in the local club). That's where I've waffled the most.

Caeruleum Canis said...

I think that this is true of some players' openings more than others. The best example is probably Radjabov, who consistently plays lines in the King's Indian, the Scotch, and especially the Schliemann that are incredibly ugly structurally and constantly on the brink of refutation.

As for memorization, it's sad that some openings require so much. It's not bad to have one or two systems you play that are very memorization heavy (I for one love the Botvinnik Semi Slav and will not stop playing it anytime soon), though a whole repertoire like this could be awfully tough to maintain. One thing that really helps me is taking a GM game, following the opening up until an important branching point or Tabiya, and then analyzing it with a board but without a computer for an hour or so. It's amazing how much more I remember about positions when I study this way as opposed to just reviewing lines in my computer. It is however much more time intensive...though it has the added bonus of honing calculation and visualization ability.

CHESSX said...

Opennings can be a big problem to get right. I to use to play the same opennings for a long time, to long.The french as black against 1.e4 and the queens gambit against 1.d4 but 1...d5 can lead into many other lines.
I have trouble remembering line upon line of moves.
I found a book by GM edmar Mednis How to play good openning moves.
It talks reasons for the moves rather than lines of play.

chesstiger said...

Chess openings are only important from the 2000 rating border. Before that it's better to concentrate on tactics and calculation.

For the opening one must only apply the three golden opening rules namely
1. put one pawn in the centre, not more then two.
2. develop your pieces
3. King safety ( 0-0 or 0-0-0 )