Who was that masked lecturer?

by admin on July 4, 2013

This morning I listened to one of Dennis Monokroussos’ most recent ChessLectures, entitled “Jobava’s Giuoco Piano Forte.” It was a nice lecture, going over a game where Georgian (as in Republic of Georgia) grandmaster Baadur Jobava crushed Sergey Karjakin with a beautiful rook sacrifice. I heartily recommend both the game and the lecture (if you are a ChessLecture subscriber).

Jobava is a player I “discovered” maybe a year or two ago, when I was doing some research on the King’s Indian Four Pawns Attack (which I eventually decided not to play, but that’s another story). I noticed that Jobava had played it several times, and in fact I gradually realized that he plays a lot of really colorful, dynamic openings. Here’s a guy who is not afraid to think outside the box, and you can hardly argue with his success. He is currently rated #55 in the world, just a touch under 2700 FIDE, and of course a victory over someone like Karjakin (#6 in the world) proves that he is a worthy opponent for anybody.

At the end of Dennis’s lecture he gave a two-minute speech about opening preparation, which sounded exactly like something that I would have said. Why is this surprising? Well, we had a little discussion on this very topic on our respective blogs. First, in 2008, I wrote a post called Dana’s opening philosophy, in which I made the provocative claim that “Opening theory is a scam.” In 2011, Dennis took the bait and argued for the virtues of book opening study in a post called Dana Mackenzie’s Opening Philosophy, and Why You Shouldn’t Follow It. By the way, because Dennis’s blog is quite widely read, his link made my original post one of my most popular ones ever, so I should really thank him. But in any case, Dennis made the very good point that when you study openings from books, you are leveraging the hard work and insight of the most powerful players in the world, so of course you will understand the opening more deeply. If you try to go your own way, devising your own opening theory and variations as I recommended, he argued that you would work harder and in the end you would have less to show for it. (I hope that I’m summarizing his post fairly.)

Finally I wrote a response to his rebuttal, called Opening philosophy, part deux, in which I conceded that my claim that “Opening theory is a scam” had been somewhat exaggerated for dramatic effect. Nevertheless, I continued to argue that a creative approach to openings, which is informed by opening theory but not bound by it, is desirable for players at all levels.

More concretely, I believe in looking for sound moves that are nevertheless not the most popular. My belief was, and is, that in many opening positions the “main line” is considered the main line not because it’s actually better. (Or it may be better by such a narrow margin as to be irrelevant for anyone but super-GMs). It’s the main line just because somebody famous played it. Then everybody else, from amateur to GM, rushes to play it because they want to be just like Kasparov, or just like Kramnik. In my opinion, it’s much better to play a good move whose rationale you understand than to play the latest fashionable wrinkle from the latest super-GM tournament.

So at the end of today’s lecture, Dennis outlines three approaches to opening preparation. #1 sounds like what he advocated in his blog post, studying from books and learning the most topical lines. He still considers it a principled and “honorable” approach. (I believe that was the word he used.) #2 sounds like his caricature of my approach — playing bad moves just because they’re different, and getting inferior positions that you can’t do much with. But what’s new here is approach #3, the Baadur Jobava approach, which is to play original or less-traveled opening lines because they set unfamiliar problems before the opponent (my point exactly) and because you will reach opening positions that you are comfortable in (my point exactly). As long as the moves are fundamentally sound, Dennis seems to agree that this approach has merits.

I could say “I told you so!” but I won’t. All I can say is that I agree 100 percent with what he said. All we have to do is call it “Baadur’s Opening Philosophy” instead of “Dana’s Opening Philosophy,” which I am glad to do.

P.S. If you’re wondering, the opening variation that Jobava played that set off the whole discussion in Dennis’s lecture was the following: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 (the Giuoco Piano) 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 ed. This is the main line so far, and White usually plays 6. cd, but here Jobava played 6. e5, which is not better or worse, just different. It’s still within the realm of established opening theory, though. Karjakin played 6. … d5 and now instead of the main line, 7. Bb5, Jobava played the seemingly less ambitious but perfectly sound 7. Be2. As I said above, this is informed by opening theory but not bound by it. The problem with the main line is that Black eventually plays … Bg4, with a pin on White’s knight, and gets pressure on the d-pawn (after White recaptures on d4). With 7. Be2 Jobava prevents the pin and sets his opponent some new problems. The game continued 7. … Ne4 8. cd and now Karjakin played 8. … Bb4+, the routine move, which Dennis argues is nevertheless not quite the best. I’ll stop here (I don’t want to repeat the whole lecture!) but this shows the theme of creating an original position where your opponent, even if he is #6 in the world, may not be able to come up with the best plan.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Phille July 6, 2013 at 2:04 am

You might also call it “Carlsen’s Opening Philosophy”.
As with many things it’s mainly a matter of degree, I guess. I feel playing the Marshall-Defense is to much “Dana”, whereas playing the Marshall-Attack (mainline) is to much “Dennis”. 😉
My personal issue is that whenever I play a dodgy gambit I get rewarded, but in the long run I should probably play stuff that doesn’t implode against an IM.


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