Out of Book, [Out of] Luck

Often times, tournaments have a book vendor on site with loads of good reads.  Naturally, most of them are opening books, whether popular or sidelines.  Take a stroll through the skittles room, and more often than not there will be players analyzing an opening or a game in the opening phase.  Minutes before the round, most of the top-rated players will be focused on their computers, preparing for their upcoming opponent.  For those who have coaches, chances are, the time they spend on openings is significant enough to count as a substantial amount.  So much emphasis is put on opening knowledge these days, and players are often compared to each other by the depth of opening knowledge that they have stored in their brains.  As sometimes is the case, games are won based on superior opening knowledge.  A couple decades ago, if someone had a deep opening knowledge, they were often given the upper hand over opponents of similar strength.

Nowadays, however, preparing for a game by memorizing as many lines as deep as possible in your favorite lines tends to be inadequate for a clear upper hand over a similar-strength opponent, due in part to the fact that the opponent probably prepared in the exact same way.  So, other methods of preparation need to be experimented with.  One of these methods is the polar opposite of the type of preparation we just examined, and it just may take you by surprise – preparing something you’ve never played before.

This technique is especially effective against a frequently-played opponent who probably prepared for whatever opening you would typically play.  By preparing something completely different, you have an immediate upper hand out of the opening, especially if it is an obscure line that probably hasn’t been prepared against by your opponent.  However, this technique has the potential to work against almost anyone, as long as the line is prepared for deep enough and in enough different directions.  If prepared correctly, obscure openings can become your strongest weapons.

There is also the other side to it all – assuming that you will never see an opening over the board and thus choosing not to study it can be disastrous.  Not having a clue what to do in a position can lead to making a seemingly innocuous move, only for it to be a blunder; and that’s not even mentioning the possibility of extreme time discrepancies resulting from it.  I’ll admit, I’ve been on both sides of this – I’ve prepared sidelines for frequent opponents just before a game, and I’ve also had to face obscure lines without any clue of knowing what to do as well.  Luckily, I was able to pinpoint and dig up the exact games I was thinking of so I can share some of them with you.

Del Rosario – Kobla, Potomac Open, 2014

In this game, right from the gates, I didn’t have a clue what the best moves were.  However, I should have realized in the middlegame that the position was similar to typical Pirc setups; this would have allowed me to at least stand a better chance.  However, playing aimless moves while bleeding time wasn’t a good recipe, and White won fairly easily.

Kobla – Schenk, ACC Action, 2014

Just a month after the aforementioned game where I was surprised out of the opening, it was now my turn to return the favor to another unsuspecting opponent.  After the first few moves, knowing basic ideas of the position allowed me to build up a menacing attack that eventually allowed me to win the game.

Kobla – Theiss, NVA Chess League, 2017

Although I got off lucky with a good position, this game had all the ingredients for a possibly bad game.  As White in the Sveshnikov, no player ever wants to trade off the beautifully-placed Nd5.  However, that was something I had to commit to if I was to avoid the three-move repetition.  If Black had seen the idea behind 17. … f4, it would have been interesting to see what the outcome of the game would have been.

From the examination of a few games, a few conclusions can be drawn:

  1. Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone for openings. At the end of the day, it could be the key to winning the game, and playing new openings/positions always adds fun to the game.
  2. Never neglect sidelines. They are just as important to study as the main lines, since losing a game due to not knowing a sideline could occur in the worst possible circumstances.  Such losses are definitely preventable, but it is up to the player to make it that way.
  3. When playing someone you have played multiple times before, switch it up if you’re up for it. Keep in mind, the earlier the deviation, the better, since you don’t want to get stuck in a situation where your opponent is able to spring a surprise on you before you can play your own!

And, as always, thanks for reading.  See you next time!

2 thoughts on “Out of Book, [Out of] Luck

  1. Richard Yi

    Ah yes, Frisco del Rosario was quite well known for his offbeat openings in the area where I grew up. However, one time I witnessed a talented junior counter-troll him by beating him with the Halloween Gambit 😛

  2. Pingback: Happy New Year from Chess^Summit: Looking Back – chess^summit

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