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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Opening Extravagance

     Engines have pretty much ruined CC even on sites where they are not allowed and playing on sites where they are allowed is fruitless if all you have is a laptop and Stockfish. The number of draws is really high. I checked my last 5 tournaments on LSS and out of 105 games there were only 25 decisive games (23.8 percent). I did a little better, scoring +6 -4 =20, but only having a decisive result in one third of your games makes things pretty boring.
     On the other hand, maybe it's not completely pointless playing on engine sites. What's interesting to me were the openings because I've been experimenting with some unusual ones and I was interested in seeing how they fared in engine play. Here are some of the more unusual openings and defenses I've played in recent games. 

As White: 
Closed Sicilian (+2 -0 =3) 
Urusov Gambit (+3 -0 =4) 
Four Knights Opening (+1 -0 =1) 
Stonewall Attack (+0 -0 =3) 
1.a4 (+1 -0 =2) 
The following openings were all played once and resulted in draws: Irregular Sicilian (2.a4), Irregular (1.e4 e5 2.g3), Sicilian (2.Na3), Grob Attack, Blackmar Gambit, Vienna Game, Bishop's Opening, Evan's Gambit Accepted 

As Black: 
Ruy Lopez Schliemann +0 -1 =1 
QP Opening (2.Bf4) +0 -1 =0 
The following defenses resulted in draws: Budapest Gambit, QGD Chigorin (2 games), Giuoco Piano (4 games), Irregular (1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 a6), Elephant Gambit (2 games), Baltic Defense, Cornstalk Defense (1.d4 a5) 

     So, looking at the offbeat stuff, you can see that they did not fare as badly as their reputations might suggest. The Urusov Gambit results are the most surprising! It can be reached via various move orders. The most popular is 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 but in can also be reached via the Scotch. Tim Harding wrote of it, “The Urusov Gambit is actually an interesting challenge for analysts and a good training ground for players wanting to improve their understanding of tactics.”
     Some of the other weird stuff like 2.Na3 against the Sicilian, Elephant Gambit ( ‎1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d5) and a4 on the first move as either white or black worked pretty out well, too. I suspect this is because engines still don't play the openings very well without access to a “human” book. Or do they?
     Maybe some of this weird stuff is better than humans have believed. For now though, that's the appeal of correspondence chess played with engines...how much extravagance in the opening can I get away with?
     The following game features what is called the Ware Opening, or for some reason the Meadow Hay Opening, and white was too extravagant, but won due to the difference in their ratings. What it does indicate is the difficulty one may having in facing this weird stuff.  There's no immediate refutation and unless one has a good positional understanding and is tactically alert, it's easy to misplay the position and allow your opponent to equalize.  I can sympathize with black in this game because one time an IM blundered a piece at move 8 against me and I knew I had him.  That's when I got real nervous and tried to be cautious.  In my caution I started seeing boogie men, got befuddled and lost the piece back.  After that, well...you know what a 2500 rated IM did to me.
     According to Wikipedia the Ware Opening attacks the b5-square and prepares to bring the a1-rook into the game. The b5-square is non-essential and if Black plays 1...e5, the f8-bishop prevents the development of the white rook for the moment. The reply 1...e5 also gains space for Black in the center, a typical objective of most openings but one completely ignored by the Ware Opening. 
     An experienced player using the Ware Opening will usually meet a response of 1...d5 or 1...e5 with 2.d4 or 2.e4, respectively, since a reversed Scandinavian or Englund Gambit would be unsound here. At some later point the move a5 will be played, followed by Ra4 (as Ra3?? invites ...Bxa3 Nxa3 with a definite advantage for Black). All this mumbo-jumbo means that the Ware Opening is normally played only by beginners.
     In the 2012 World Blitz Championship, 1.a4 was employed as a little joke by Magnus Carlsen against Teimour Radjabov, who during the blitz championship two years earlier had told him "Everyone is getting tired. You might as well start with 1.a4 and you can still beat them." The game soon turned into a sort of Four Knights Game where Carlsen finally prevailed.

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