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Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Latvian Gambit

I finally met a decent opponent on Chess Hotel. He has a mid-1800 rating there, I think. He played the Latvian Gambit…a gambit about which I know absolutely nothing. I knew it as the Greco Counter Gambit but these days it’s rarely called by that name. It’s an aggressive but dubious opening that can lead to wild and tricky positions. Surprisingly some correspondence players actually use the Latvian Gambit and some of them are pretty good players.

I should add though that in one book I was reading (I forgot which one and who it was) the author was pointing out the dangers of books advocating these types of openings. He pointed out that the authors often, well...lie. They give games played by low rated players that illustrate their "proof" that opening is good. Whomever it was that I was reading gave an example using one of these Latvian Gambit books and proceeded to destroy a lot of the analysis. Of course he was a GM and most of us won't be going up against any players of that caliber who will be able to so handily refute bad lines.

I learned my lesson a long time ago (before engines) when I was playing a CC game against a former US championship competitor. I was following a line in a popular opening book. Shortly after mailing my move I was studying the position when I saw what looked like a refutation, but what did I know? I didn't write the book. As it turned out I was right and my opponent refuted the move then informed me there was a mistake in the book.

The Latvian Gambit has a lot of adherents despite it’s generally poor reputation and I can understand people’s fascination with it. But the fact that I don’t know anything about it, and really am not all that good a player, but in this game had no trouble against it, ought to tell you something.

And as Jeremy Silman wrote, “There is a whole community of players who live for this opening, but the fact that no grandmasters use it speaks volumes for its true lack of soundness. Nevertheless, it is tricky, and offers Black good practical chances against an unprepared opponent. Though various “refutations” have appeared, fans of the gambit always find ways to keep Black alive (or so they claim), until gambit debunkers come up with new ways to kill it. Then Latvian aficionados fix it again, the debunkers kill it, and…well, it's a never-ending cycle." I guess if you’re willing to gamble, it has merits.

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