Year-End Wrapup

by admin on December 30, 2009

This morning I decided to tally my tournament results for the year 2009, breaking them down according to whether I was White or Black and according to the level of opposition. The results, I think you will agree, are rather surprising:

Against Masters Against Exp/Below TOTAL
w/ White +1 -7 =3 (23%) +5 -4 =1   (55%) +6 -11 =4 (38%)
w/ Black +3 -3 =1 (50%) +8 -1 =1   (85%) +11 -4 =2 (71%)
TOTAL +4 -10 =4 (33%) +13 -5 =2 (70%) +17 -15 =6 (53%)

I was aware during the year that I was doing badly with White and very well with Black. But I did not know the disparity was so extreme! I thought it was just because in most of my tournaments I happened to play White against the good players and Black against the weaker players. However, what the table shows is that the rating didn’t matter: no matter whether I was playing against a master or against a non-master, I still did way better with Black!

I’m not really sure how to explain it. Either my White openings are bad, or my psychology with White is bad. Or, just possibly, I was really unlucky with White this year.

What should I do about it? One extreme possibility might be to play 1. e3 on the opening move, with the idea of responding to 1. … e5 with 2. e4, thereby transposing to Black! I’m not sure I am willing to take it to that extreme, however …

A better idea would probably be to have more balance between 1. e4 and 1. d4. I have played 1. e4 exclusively since 2000. Jesse Kraai often talks admiringly about young players like Magnus Carlsen who are equally at home playing both of those opening moves. It would not be too much trouble to emulate them. The problem is just that I like most e4 openings better than most d4 openings. But liking does not necessarily translate to good results. If I can win more often with 1. d4, I ought to play it, whether I like it or not. It will also be good for my general chess understanding to see different kinds of positions.

It’s great that I got to play 38 rated games this year. I think that is close to the busiest year I’ve ever had. However, I now have a huge backlog of tournament games that I have not studied carefully. One of my principles for years has been to study EVERY tournament game I play, win or lose. But I am now 32 games in arrears! To catch up, I will have to analyze them more selectively. Probably I should study all the games with masters, plus the most important or interesting or puzzling non-master games.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Goeller December 30, 2009 at 7:06 pm

I think your openings are the most likely culprit in all of your losses. I mean, come on, 9…Bb7!?!?!?? in the Fritz-Ulvestad?

Face it, you do play some unusual lines (even if that’s “the pot calling the kettle black” to some extent). I’d be curious about the specific break down. Have you lost with the Homo Erectus (4.g4!?!?!?? Caro-Kann Advance) or Sic Nuke (1.e4 c5 2.f4 d5 3.Nf3!?!?!?!?? etc) this year?

I don’t know if you need to switch to 1.d4 so much as to just adopt safer stuff against strong opponents. Yermolinsky talks about that in the Road to Chess Improvement, where he says he most dislikes it when lower-rated players stick to mainstream theory, because then he is basically having to face GM-quality moves.


Ernest Hong December 30, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Hi Dana,

Your analysis of your results made me Google Yoda quotes for one that was apropos. Here’s a conversation:

Luke: “Is the dark side stronger?”
Yoda: “No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.”
Luke: “But how am I to know the good side from the bad?”
Yoda: “You will know… when you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

I would also appeal to you to get rid of Mrs. Kim in the upper right corner of your blog and put in Yoda’s:

“No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” ―Yoda to Luke


Brian Wall December 31, 2009 at 8:15 am

I can think of some reasons for doing better with Black –

1 – reaching more familiar positions
2 – more alert, more afraid of losing, more content with equality with black, arrogant with white
3 – barking dog theory, trying to defend “your turf “, “your openings ” , more pride involved in play, digging in


admin December 31, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Ernie, Thanks for finding the right Yoda quote! I have made the change on my sidebar. Also, I really need to put up some new chess quotes there. It is always at the bottom of my priority list for the blog, but still I should do it because I know that people like to see fresh stuff now and then.

Here’s a breakdown of my games with White against masters (the category where I did worst)

Lost in French Defense vs. GM Jesse Kraai.
Lost in Sicilian Grand Prix vs. FM Michael Langer.
Lost in Sicilian Grand Prix vs. NM Mike Splane.
Lost in Caro-Kann “Homo Erectus” vs. GM Larry Kaufman.
Drew in King’s Gambit vs. NM Dale Sharp.
Lost in Nimzo vs. NM David Roper. (Yes, I was so desperate that I played d4 for the first time in nine years.)
Drew in Center Counter vs. FM Gregg Small.
Lost in Sicilian Grand Prix vs. IM Ed Formanek.
Drew in Sicilian Grand Prix vs. IM Daniel Naroditsky.
Won in Alekhine vs. FM Jake Kleiman. (My best game of the year!)
Lost in Sicilian Grand Prix vs. NM Michael Aigner.

Obviously that Sicilian Grand Prix is not working out so well. No one lets me get into the queen sac variation, and I just don’t seem to have a clear enough idea of what I’m doing otherwise.


henry January 4, 2010 at 7:45 am

Happy new year. What is so interesting about the Sicilian Grand Prix that you play it so often?
“Whether I like it or not” GROSS!
Sounds like something my mother would say to me about eating my vegetables
Love your lectures and maybe one day I will send you one of my very amateur games 🙂


admin January 4, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Happy new year, Henry! Looking forward to seeing one of your games.

The main reason for playing the Grand Prix Sicilian is the futile hope that I can get into the queen sac variation, 1. e4 c5 2. f4 d5 3. Nf3 ef 4. Ng5 Nf6 5. Bc4 Bg4?! 6. Qxg4!?!, which I beat IM David Pruess with in 2006 and haven’t gotten a chance to play OTB since. (I did get to play it in a very interesting online correspondence game, which I did a ChessLecture on last year.) The trouble is that Black does not need to play the over-aggressive 5. … Bg4; 5. … e6 is just fine. Also, he can deviate earlier with 2. … d6 or … Nc6 or … e6. I do have some preparation in these lines that works fairly well against lower-rated players, but it just doesn’t seem to be working against masters.

I think you’ll see me going back to 2. Nf3 this year most of the time, with 2. f4 reserved for times when I want a change of pace.


Eric January 5, 2010 at 7:36 am

I had the very same problem a year or so ago, having a much better record with black than white. Knowing that I switched to more aggressive mainline 1.d4 openings (I used to play the english) and my results have much improved.


Vernon R Young January 6, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Great post Dana. I forgot how important it is to take a macro look at one’s overall results. The new year is a great time to do that. Your results with black are interesting and maybe you just happened to focus on the black side more and just went with the flow when you were white. I look forward to reading more on your blog!


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