Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ask Dr. Johnsen

Today 'anonymous' left this message under my entry 'The Smallest Repertoire':

Q: I am due to play against a much stronger player in an on-line tournament soon, and wondered if you had a recommendation on how to approach it?
I can see that he uses the French (I'm playing White) which I could prepare against (I'm an e4 player), but should I do something more psychological? Assume that he feels confident against me and adopt an opening as White that he has to attack me to win? Is there such a thing as a reversed Pirc, as I really enjoy that opening?
Any ideas welcome....

I don't really pretend to be a chess guru. But with too little time (and energy) to play tournaments myself, it's tempting to give advise to those who actually do play. So here are my 50 cents:

First of all: It's fully possible to play a reversed Pirc. 1.g3 d5 2.Bg2 e5 3.d3 might be a good attempt but it really depends on which lines you favor. However, I wouldn't expect you to gain much by heading for a reversed Pirc. Quite likely your opponent will choose a line which is not considered to give (White) a lasting advantage but which gives (Black) easy equality when reversed.

If you are willing to invest some time and work in this game, my main recommendation is to head for the sharpest mainline. Most strong players hates to risk losing to a weaker player who happens to be better prepared. Consequently they are quite likely to chicken out with an inferior move in order to avoid prepared surprises. With some luck this will give you a clear opening advantage. If the difference in playing strength isn't too great this could offer a chance for a win (or a draw offer from a position of strength).
More concretely:
1) Find out as much as possible about your opponents preferences in the French. Does he play the Winawer? The Classical? Which subline(s) does he prefer? Does he tend to follow the mainlines or does he play some home-brewed mixture?
2) Find a good book about the line you are most likely to encounter. Concentrate on the sharpest mainlines (that's the most ambitious lines for White). You will not have time to prepare for all the ways he may deviate but at least you should know when he leaves your prepared line (and you have to start thinking rather than remembering).
3) During the game, try to give an impression that you are well prepared and looking forward to a theoretical duel.

If this approach should fail (he is after all a much stronger player), you at least are likely to learn something from your preparations. If theoretical mainlines are not to your taste, you have got two main options:
  1. Try to complicate from move two, and hope he gets more confused that you. You most likely will lose, but there always is a chance that he blunders first. 1.e4 e6 2.b3 d5 3.Bb2 dxe4 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.g4 could be a try.
  2. Play unashamedly for a draw. If he isn't too much stronger than you, he may worry if he really will be able to win a dead level ending and try to introduce some complications himself. That could backfire and give you an undeserved chance. 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 is the obvious (and banal) solution.
Option 1 has the added bonus that it will give you a reputation as a dangerous chess pirate. Yet I suspect that option 2 is most likely to bring success.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Most surprised to find my question answered on the "front page", but thanks for the advice, it was good and I thought it over a lot before deciding.

At first,I was going to investigate the Tarrasch variation, as my opponents games were mainly the Advance, Exhange and Winawer. I started to look at this,
but even though the opinion seems to be that this is an excellent line for White, others suggested it was complicated and would be too much to learn in a short time.

I toyed with the Wing Gambit, but as a weaker player, giving up material is surely not quite right ?

Finally, I decided on 2.d3, with a view to the King's Indian Attack, which seemed to offer a route to a middle-game and a strong position with a chance to use tactics ( I had been humiliated in a previous game : lost in 14 moves ! )

This decision was sparked by Exeter Chess Club's French Defence page (http://www.exeterchessclub.org.uk/Openings/french_d.html)
and KIA ( http://www.exeterchessclub.org.uk/Openings/sic10.html ), but then I found an entire chapter in the recently acquired "Opening Preparation" by Mark Dvoretsky about the King's Indian Attack !

I think this was the key. Exeter gave me the idea,but playing through the sample games with the themes was the best ( knight sacrifice on g5, or d5. c4 to undermine the centre, etc ). Surprisingly good with enough clear explanation.

I think I succeeded in my aim. I reached a middle game with a decent position, and had the idea ( Nd2 - f1 - h2 ) that could attack, but in my game also defend. I also benefitted from my opponent's mistakes, especially 20..Ne5+, and took my time over moves,where I would normally play automatically.

In all a thoroughly enjoyable game. Not just for the result, but the experience : very satisfying, and proof that preparation pays off.

Thanks again for the advice !

[Site "FICS"]
[Date "2008-02-02"]
[Round "1"]
[White "ZP"]
[Black "Opponent"]
[Result "1-0"]
[WhiteElo "1433"]
[BlackElo "1725"]
[TimeControl "60 30"]
[Time "09:56:51"]
[PlyCount "62"]

1. e4 e6 2. d3 d5 3. Nd2 d4 4. Ngf3 c5
I think I should have played e5
5. g3 Nc6 6. Bg2 e5 7. O-O Nf6 8. Re1 Be7 9. h4 Bg4
I wondered about this, but decided I was protected enough and that Qxf3 was good for me
10. Nf1 Qd7 11. N1h2 Bh3
I didn't think this was too much of a threat. He may exchange on g2,but the bishop isn't critical for white ?
I played a3 as a waiting move,and to prepare b4
12. a3 Bxg2 13. Kxg2 h6 14. Rh1 g5
I didn't think his attack was good...
15. hxg5 hxg5 16. Nxg5 Nh7
This was unexpected, but white is a pawn up, so exchange...
17. Nxh7 Rxh7 18. f4
I expected Qh2+, but had also worked out that Kg1 wasn't great (Qxg3+) ,but that Kf3 protected g3, and tempted an exchange of Queen for Knight & Rook
18... Qh3+ 19. Kf3 exf4 20. Bxf4 Ne5+
Another surprise ! I had expected 0-0-0, to activate the Rook. I saw Qh5+, but also Ng4. Did Black miss this ?
21. Bxe5 Qh5+ 22. Ng4 Qxh1+
I thought this was a mistake as White is a piece & pawn up. I didn't see his trap a few moves later,which I think this was the set up for
23. Qxh1 Rxh1 24. Rxh1 Kd7 25. Nf6+
Black tempts White into this....Ke6 26. Kf4 Bxf6 27. Bxf6 Kxf6 and its much more equal !
25... Ke6
I almost automatically played Kf4, but stopped and tried other moves. Rh6 was surprisingly easy to find
26. Rh6 b5
26...Kxe5 27. Ne7# ..but I felt that I was almost there !
27. Ng8+ f6 28. Nxe7 Kxe5 29. Nf5
Almost 29. Nc6+ , but Nf5 blocks the pawn and I could see another mate
29... a5 30. Rh7 Ke6
Was expecting 30...Re8, then 31.Rd7 to threaten mate again
31. Re7#