01 October 2013

Opening Wisdom from Anand

After creating the file of World Champion Anand's games over the past ten years (see Anand's TMER PGN for background), I started to study the games to see what I could learn. The first thing I looked at was his basic opening repertoire -- what early moves does he favor, up to the fifth move or so. I discovered that his repertoire tends to follow the current trend: sharp variations of today's most popular openings.

Not seeing how I could write a post around that observation, I opened his book 'My Best Games of Chess' (I have the 1998 edition) to see what I could learn there. I discovered many pithy examples of grandmaster wisdom applied to the opening, especially in the context of chess as a game between two players. Here are a few given with the game reference from the book. To play through the full game, see the collection My Best Games of Chess by Vishy Anand on Chessgames.com.

Anand vs K Ninov, 1987

These were still the pre-computer days, when players were much more intuitive. Nowadays everybody goes home and checks everything with [an engine]. The use of computers has made people more sceptical and now they are more prone to go Pawn-grabbing unless there is definite compensation.

Anand vs S Agdestein, 1987

[My opponent] is fond of offbeat systems [...] I was quite happy to see it on the board. White can play natural moves and there is not much risk even if he commits a slight inaccuracy -- a pleasant situation when placing the top seed.

Tal vs Anand, 1989

How do you explain a move that violates the rule not move the same piece twice in the opening? Well, I can't really find a general principle that justifies it, but it does seem to work!

Anand vs Spassky, 1989

During the course of his career, [my opponent] has played just about every opening there is. [...] I felt that [his] knowledge of the main lines would be much greater than mine, so I tried, with some difficulty, to find a relatively unexplored continuation.

R Kuijf vs Anand, 1990

Technically, it may be a novelty, but I am reluctant to call it that. To my mind, novelties should be at least a bit difficult to find. If you play the most obvious move and then discover that by an accident of history nobody has played it before, I am not sure that it deserves any special appellation.

Anand vs Kasparov, 1991

I hadn't really bothered to prepare for this game -- I decided that whatever I did, it would be inadequate. He'd played this line so many times I couldn't hope to outprepare him, so I preferred to concentrate on keeping a clear head for the game. Although the strategy worked well on this occasion, it would be easy to exaggerate its advantages!

Anand vs Ftacnik, 1993

I had quite a few interesting ideas [in this line], but this is a very difficult and complex variation to analyze. It has taken many years for theory to converge on what are now considered 'main lines'. The positions are so tricky that you can never be sure that your ideas are correct; the advantage is that your opponent has the same problem!


In such messy and complex positions, I think it is better not to calculate too much -- the tree of variations can get enormously dense. I prefer to wait to see what my opponent plays, and that immediately removes a large percentage of possible branches.

Anand vs Kamsky, 1994

At the time [my opponent] played many openings, but I wasn't sure whether he had really studied them or whether he gave priority to being difficult to prepare for. Later it became clear that he does study and understand a lot of different openings, but not too well! I often encountered holes in his repertoire.

Anand vs Timman, 1995

Even chess professionals are human beings, and if you have seen a position hundreds of times then it is possible to become stale. A bit of variety helps to keep one's interest alive.

The last set of quotes I collected were related specifically to World Championship opening preparation. Since that is a topic I've covered many times in this blog, I'll return to it in a separate post.

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