18 August 2011

Spraggett on Smirnov

A day after posting the latest pick for my fortnightly Video Friday series, More GM Instruction, in one of those strange coincidences that occur so often in the blogosphere, I noticed that the same video was spotlighted on GM Spraggett's blog in a post titled Commercializing chess instruction. While I had chosen the video as the best of the previous fortnight's weak offerings and had ignored the blatant marketing by GM Smirnov at the end of the clip, Spraggett pounced on that marketing as the clip's main message. He's right about that, but carried it farther.

I don't want to criticize Smirnov's efforts to promote chess -- my god, there are so many worse 2nd-rate books, videos and DVDs out there -- but it seems to me that something has been lost along the path that Smirnov started on years ago...

Take a look at this free video that Smirnov has put on Youtube. Although it is filled with useful advice for beginners, it is also filled with cheesey contradictions. For example, Smirnov advises players not to play 'dubious' openings like the Kings Gambit (!), the Center counter (1.e4 e5 2.d4) and the Bird's Opening (1.f4) -- "and stuff like that" as Smirnov puts it. But later on in this video lesson, he suggests that a good way to avoid your opponent's computer preparation against your Kings Indian is to play the Dutch (1.d4 f5)! Go figure that one out!

These comments immediately got me thinking. I had watched the video twice, and although there was nothing revolutionary about its content, I thought it contained a few tips aimed at average club players rather than 'useful advice for beginners'. I was also puzzled by the classification of the Dutch Defense as a dubious opening. After all, Botvinnik used to play it against GM-level opponents in important games. I wasn't aware that, in the 50+ years since Botvinnik's heyday, opening theory had relegated the Dutch to the trash pile.

I watched the video again. Here is the rest of Smirnov's advice after 'Don't play dubious openings':-

Q: How can you detect whether a given opening is good or not? • A: Detect how many players over 2600 rating play this opening.

Q: You are playing a game and your opponent is making his opening moves very quickly. He is obviously using his pre-game preparation. What should you do then? • A: You should not be afraid of an opponent's preparation in strategic positions, but you should break his preparation ASAP in tactical positions.

Q: You have prepared for a game and are ready to play against your opponent's opening. When the game begins, an opponent suddenly plays something totally unexpected. It is obvious that he has prepared this line especially against you. What should you do then? • A: You should not play your usual opening, but turn to something new as soon as possible. Maybe you will play the line you are not well versed in. However, you should not be afraid of it, because your opponent won't know it either.

I'm sure this advice isn't aimed at beginners. They have no idea what distinguishes a 2600 player from a 1600 player; couldn't tell the difference between a strategic position, a tactical position, and a hole in the ground; and would never imagine that players actually prepare specific openings against specific opponents. GM Spragget travels in more elite chess circles than I do and apparently considers any player with a rating less than 2000 to be a beginner. I set the cutoff around a thousand points lower.

As for the classification of the Dutch as a dubious opening, I decided to follow GM Smirnov's advice to 'Detect how many players over 2600 rating play this opening'. This is a technique that I use for my own repertoire -- mainly to keep track of recent theoretical developments -- so I already have the tools. As of mid-2011, I counted over 30 games where a 2600+ player conducted the Black side of 1.d4 f5, and in 2010, over 40. These counts don't include any games where Black chose another move order to avoid the Staunton Gambit (2.e4). This compares to less than a dozen 2600+ games with the King's Gambit in 2010 and 2011 combined, and an equivalent number with Bird's Opening (most of those with GM Nakamura playing White).

The Kevin Spraggett page on Chessgames.com tells us that after the King's Indian and the Queen's Pawn Game, the Dutch is his third favorite defense against 1.d4. The most recent of the games were played in 2008, all of them draws, so the opening was not a youthful indiscretion abandoned after a catastrophic loss. Why is Spraggett so down on the Dutch? It's a mystery to me.

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Later: This post appeared in the Hebden Bridge Chess Club's Chess Improvement Carnival: September Edition.

1 comment:

ChessAdmin said...

I don't believe Spraggett's down on the Dutch - he's a master at it - but by overall consensus it falls into the same general category as the other more or less offbeat openings listed as "dubious" by Smirnov. Ones that Spraggett evidently doesn't himself consider dubious - hence the (!) comment for the King's Gambit, which sees some very current use at the GM (and even super-GM) level, for example.

I believe he was trying to make the point that Smirnov is being contradictory when he says on the one hand to play only top-level validated openings (i.e. the most popular at the GM level), but then recommends ditching the KID for the Dutch (which is still a relative rarity).

How many players over 2600 play a particular opening (Smirnov's quote) in fact says a lot more about its being fashionable and not necessarily implies much about its soundness. Conversely, Magnus Carlsen recently played the Philidor to secure his Biel tournament win, so does that mean everybody should play it?