Isaac’s Mailbag

I decided over the weekend to add a new installment called “Isaac’s Mailbag”. In this post, I want to answer common questions that people have asked me about chess. If you wish to send me a question, feel free to leave it in the comments section, and I’ll answer it in the next installment of this post.

For this week’s post, I’m going to answer questions prompted by members on my school team at the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School.

1) What is a strong system to play against 1. b3 (the Larsen Attack)?

This was probably the hardest question I got this week, so I figure I would tackle this one first.

The Larsen Attack is a different opening, and is rarely seen at amateur tournaments. I sometimes will play 1. b3 in Blitz, but then will transpose to an English (c4 openings) or the Bird’s (f4 openings). I find that this seems to be the common trend with Larsen players, so its even rarer to see someone else play something different. While it means taking a theoretical approach, I find that the positional struggle is often better than the tactical melee for Black.

1… e5 and 1… d5 are the most common defenses for black, so I suggest looking at those first. 1… b6 is interesting but its symmetrical and can lack dynamic play. While I think its a good approach to play positionally, there are still many positional lines to consider. I suggest looking through these Grandmaster games and choosing a system that feels comfortable for you.

1      2      3      4      5

 

2) What is a good goal (for my tournament this weekend)?

Setting a goal is probably one of the most important things you should do before going into any tournament. Having an expectation for yourself and trying to meet it is healthy, and can easily drive your performance. Ideally, a good goal is to play good chess, but it is nice to gain a few rating points while doing it.

If you are the highest rated player in your section, you need to find stronger competition.

If you are within 100 points from the highest rated player, you should always aim to win the tournament.

If you are in the top half of your section, your goal should be to get a norm, in most cases meaning that you perform at over 200 points above your rating.

If you are in the middle of the section, I suggest aiming for at least a half point above equilibrium, so 3/5, 3.5/6, or 4/7 are all good results.

If you are in the bottom half (or at the bottom), push yourself to finish at equilibrium. This means a quality performance.

A lot to remember? That’s what I thought, play good chess and the goals above will happen!

 

3) Did Kasparov win that FIDE Election?

Unfortunately, the former World Chess Champion lost the FIDE election by a wide margin. While the election is over, he wrote a thought provoking article on chess24 that you can read here. While there are some politics as to how FIDE should be run, Kasparov does point out that there are some clear problems that need to be fixed with chess.

 

4) What is a good book for studying how to play the Smith–Morra Gambit as white?

For those who are not familiar with the Smith–Morra Gambit, it starts

1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3

White sacrifices a pawn for development, and gets full compensation, if you are a Sicilian player, you ought to know a defense to this line, both inside and out!

Mayhem in the Morra by Marc Esserman is a clear first. Being a Sicilian player, the thought of looking through this book scares me. Esserman’s variations are very detailed and account for many ways that the Morra could go out of book. I have a friend from Maryland who won a game in 9 moves at the World Open last summer from knowing the theory present in this book. A lot of people say that the Evans Defense is the cure for the Smith–Morra, but I wouldn’t be so sure after giving Mayhem in the Morra a read.

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