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Friday, July 6, 2012

Play Unsound and Refuted Gambits?!

      Savielly Tartakower occasionally experimented with bizarre openings and wrote "A chess game is divided into three stages. The first, when you hope you have the advantage, the second when you believe you have an advantage, and the third... when you know you're going to lose!"
      Any unsound gambit is likely to be a successful weapon at lower levels.  But just because 99 percent of us aren’t good enough to refute them does that mean it’s a good idea to play such an opening?  It’s argued that by playing them you can improve your tactics.  Is that so?  Couldn’t you just as likely win with the Najdorf Sicilian or the Nimzo-Indian? If your opponent is weaker (or maybe even a little better) than you isn’t he just as likely to make a tactical mistake in the Ruy Lopez as in the Latvian Gambit?  Are you less likely to blunder material in the Queen’s Gambit Declined than you are the Blackmar Gambit?
       John Nunn made some observations about the strengths and weaknesses of chess books. He said the main point of buying an opening book is that it gives a good overview of the opening, along with its plans and ideas. He then offered this advice: "In order to choose a good opening book, check to see if the author has played the opening himself; someone who has practical experience in an opening is far more likely to be aware of move-order finesses, doubtful evaluations and untested but interesting ideas."        Nunn went on to say about opening books in general, "Many chess books feature good advice supported by doubtful examples. While it would be nice to have totally clear-cut examples of every principle, real-life positions tend to have messy details and distracting sidelines. The author then has the choice of ignoring the messiness and pretending that everything is clearer than it really is, or giving a totally objective commentary which risks obscuring the point his is trying to explain."         Nunn also railed against the common practice of many authors, especially those who write books on gambits claiming you can win a lot of games by playing them, who lead gullible readers to believe that some unsound gambit line will score lots of points. What does Nunn really think of these books?  "Less honest authors are entirely shameless about such matters. They recommend the most outrageously unsound lines without blushing even slightly. They would never play such lines themselves, of course."  He recommended avoiding these books because their unscrupulous authors are doing nothing more than trying to pull the wool over their readers’ eyes and make some money.
       Alex Yermolinsky advised amateurs "to stand on the shoulders of giants", and study and play critical mainline opening lines, especially against higher-rated opponents. He confessed that nothing relieved him more than when a weaker opponent shied away from the main lines.
       When it comes to teaching chess, Yermolinsky is big on teaching by example.   He wrote, "The idea is to teach by example, rather than offer ready-to-consume recipes. Who knows, maybe chess should be observed, just like a language should be spoken around you, in order to be understood and transformed into a skill. I'll select a few examples on each area--knowledge, tactics, ability, and intuition--that...serve as illustrations of how such work of improvement can be done."
       Yermolinsky is also critical of books that offer simple systems "to play and win," or which promise to reveal "the secrets of the Soviet School of Chess."  He is also critical of books  advertised to as "'secret' openings that would allow players to handle the resulting positions with ease, operating with 'ideas' and 'schemes' instead of memorizing variations and calculating tactics."
       When Yermolinsky lived in Cleveland, Ohio he ran, along with the very strong master Boris Men, the Yermolinsky Chess Academy.  He wrote of the Academy, "we do not practice a 'quick fix approach' that is popularized by many teaching GMs," and students are urged to avoid "primitive set-ups designed to avoid theory."
       He admitted, "Like many amateur teachers, I was tempted to cut down...by offering 'simpler' opening systems. But soon I realized that...to teach chess off the top of my head...is not reliable. In fact, it's no more than an illusion, and practicing it borders on plain old cheating."
       If strong players and respected teachers like John Nunn and Alex Yermolinsky tell you to avoid weird, disgusting, unsound and refuted gambits, it seems to me that that’s what you should do.  Study current opening theory…openings the GM’s play.  You are going to have to study anyway, so why study worthless material?  Instead, study stuff that will actually improve your understanding of chess and make you a better player in the long run.


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  2. Why do you think some people thought he was mentally ill then? My epistemology has it that he was not a nutter!