Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Road to the Sicilian Defense

Write It Down
Following the advice of my friend I finally wrote down my opening repertoire. As white, my repertoire is fairly compact and thematic, with an emphasis on reaching Isolated d-pawn positions.

I want to include as many IQP positions as possible, because I understand the play and know the plans for both sides, making it much easier to remember my openings. Instead of memorizing long variations, I can often just stop when I reach the IQP and say "OK, I know how to play this, I don't have to remember the rest."

As black, I play the Sicilian and Queen's Gambit Accepted. Again I hope the IQP where possible (either playing against it, or with it). I could have chosen the Tarrasch, but that's another tale of woe. The QGA results in many IQP positions and that is good enough.

The Sicilian, however, is a completely different animal.

There aren't many IQP positions (with the exception of the c3 lines, and the Sicilian Four Knights). Also, there are so many ways to play a Sicilian, and you'd better know what you are doing. You can't expect to just sit down and play chess against a well-prepared opponent and not have your ass handed to you.

Far Too Many
First of all, what kind of Sicilian do I want to play?

There are about 26 plausible black setups, most notably being the Scheveningen, Taimanov, Kan, Dragon, Accelerated Dragon, Najdorf, Sveshnikov, Kalishnikov, Four Knights, and the Classical.

I have always been a fan of the Scheveningen setup: two center pawns and a solid defense. However, there are too many nutzos out there waiting to battle axe you with the English Attack or the Keres Attack. That is way too much preparation for something you will hardly ever see. But you cannot wing it. The same applies to the Dragon and Najdorf.

I absolutely hate the Sveshnikov (there are too many empty-heads using it and winning), and I refuse to be another clone.

By process of elimination, I decided on the Classical Sicilian:
  • Direct attempts to attack with Be3 and O-O-O can be mitigated
  • It is not often seen at the amateur level
  • In some cases it allows happy tranpositions to Schevenigen and Dragon positions
  • Most bad players think you are playing a Najdorf
  • Who studies the Richter-Rauzer below 2200?
This line of reasoning is fine and dandy, assuming white plays the Open Sicilian like a good dog.

Black can reach the Classical via 2. ...Nc6 or 2. ...d6. I have tried both, and know that I reach the Open far more often using the 2. ...d6 move order. Bb5 packs less punch when there is not a knight on c6 to exchange, and most white players will play Bb5 to eliminate the Kalishnikov/Sveshnikov/Accelerated Dragon complex risk free. Against d6, they just play d4 and go into an Open Sicilian, typically aiming for English/Yugoslav Attack Be3 + O-O-O setup. Or some ridiculous Keres attack.

That's good news. By utilizing the d6 move order, I will reach the Open Sicilian more often than if I were to use the Nc6 move order, and therefore reach the Classical Sicilian more often. I won't be memorizing critical main lines in the Classical Sicilian which I only get to play in 1 out of 30 games. I will be memorizing critical main lines which I will get to play 1 out of 15 games.

Disease-Ridden Bums
However, I still have to address the disease-ridden lot of Anti-Sicilian-playing bums.

Since failing to plan is planning to fail, I wrote down as many Anti-Sicilian variations as I could think of, and then I was going to write my response to each. Easy enough, right? Let's get started.

1. e4 c5
Plausible Anti-Sicilians on move 2:
2. a3
2. b3
2. b4
2. c3
2. c4
2. d3
2. d4
2. f4
2. g3
2. Nc3
2. Ne2
2. Bc4
2. Bd3

Good grief. To make my life simpler, I am going to respond to all of these with a quick e6-d5. The ideas are pretty easy to remember, and e6-d5 has the benefit of not having to learn a different setup against the Closed, the Grand Prix, the Rossolimo, etc. This means less memorization.

Against 2. Nf3, using a Nc6 move order would result in a bunch of main-line Rossolimo's and Grand Prix Attacks, where the e6-d5 idea slower than I'd like. It also allows white more options. Against 2. ...Nc6 3. Bb5 e6, they have the option of Bxc6, entering the Rossolimo player's world. Against 2. ...Nc6 3.Bb5, 3.Bc4 or 3.f4, the e6-d5 plan is still pretty good, but has less punch.
I want to play my openings, not theirs.

When white plays 2. Nf3 like a good dog, I will play d6.

Go fetch.

1. e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6
Plausible Anti-Sicilians on move 3:

3. a3
3. b3
3. b4
3. c3
3. c4
3. g3

The usual suspects. It should be noted that since c3 can be played at move 2 or 3, I should not rely on 2. ...d5 as my response, since after 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. c3 I cannot play that defense any more. If I want to include the IQP setup and play 2. ... d6, then I will have to learn 2 defenses to c3. So it looks like I'll be playing the Nf6 lines.

3. Be2
3. Bd3
3. Bc4
3. Bb5+

Bb5+ being the most dangerous of the lot. Bd3 leads to Lopez-like middlegames, while Bc4+d3+a3 can be a dangerous setup against indifferent play.

The Crux of the Problem
3. Nc3

Against 2. Nc3, I had planned a quick e6-d5. However, having already committed to d6, this is not a good plan any more. White may now elect to play a Closed Sicilian. Despite this being objectively less dangerous since he has blocked the f-pawn, I would have 2 setups to learn against the Closed Sicilian. Ok, let's just buckle down and learn 2 setups. But what about...

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3
Now what? If white had played 2.Nf3, I certainly wouldn't have played 2. ...e6. White can now enter the Open and I cannot play my Classical Sicilian. But...

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 d6 3. Bc4 = Grand Prix Attack, the kind of rubbish opening every Lev Alburt clone plays. Even if I learn 2 setups against the Closed, I have to know 2 setups against the Grand Prix, or learn a second Sicilian involving e6. Are you kidding me? A backup Sicilian?

If I try to avoid the transposition problem by playing Nc6, then I have a Rossolimo every other game, not something I was hoping for although objectively this isn't bad for Black.

3. d3

Here is another problem. When playing the 2. ... d6 move order, white can play a KIA at move 2 or at move 3. If I want to play only one setup against the KIA, then it should be the one with d6, right? Now I'll have to revise my earlier plan and not play e6-d5 against 2. d3 and opt for d6: 1. e4 c5 2. d3 d6

But now 3. Nc3 is a Closed Sicilian, the good kind, where I can't play a quick e6-d5. So I'm stuck with 2 lines against the Closed.

But Wait, There's More
White can play the KIA using 1. Nf3. To stay within my QGA repertoire, I need to play d5 in case white wants to transpose. I need to be able to play dxc4 if white hits me with the c-pawn.

System 1: 1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 Bg4 4. d3 e6 5. Nbd2
System 2: 1. e4 c5 2. d3 e6 3. Nd2 d5
System 3: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d3

Now I have 3 different setups agains the KIA!

System 4: 1. g3 d5 2. Bg2 e5 3. d3 Nf6 4. Nf3 Nc6

Now there are 4! It's a disease...

I haven't even entered my main line preparation. There are about 7 alternative to the Richter Rauzer. And 400-page tomes have been written about the Richter-Rauzer alone. What have I signed up for?

The Good News
Learning the Sicilian is a life-long endeavor. Once you have gotten the Anti-Sicilian foundation layed, it is much easier to change from one Sicilian complex to another. The Classical offers a middle-of-the-road approach, with opportunities for me to gain experience in nearly all of the major pawn structures.

I realize it is very ambitious to completely change your opening repertoire from both white and black all at once. But to be honest, I never really had anything against d4 or e4: the Fort Knox French, 1. ... Nc6, bastardized Dutch lines, a poorly played Tarrasch... And nothing whatsoever against c4.

It looks like I won't be able to duck the Anti-Sicilians with a one-size-fits-all e6-d5 response.

Lucky for me, everybody in Louisiana plays 1. f4, 1. b3, or 1. e3...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

International Masters are human, too

Today, I beat an IM on ICC while in the 5-minute pool. I am white, playing against this guy.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. d4 Bb4 5. Nxe5 Nxe4 6. Qg4 d6 7. Qxg7 Qf6 8. Qxf6 Nxf6 9. Nxc6 bxc6 10. Bd3 Rg8 11. Kf1 Be6 12. Ne4 Nxe4 13. Bxe4 f5 14. Bxc6+ {Black resigns} 1-0

To be fair, I should also be posting the games where I lose to players rated < 1000. But where's the fun in that? Besides, I'm not an IM :)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Louisiana G/60 Championship

On Saturday, I played in a 4-round G/60 one-day event. I won all 4 games, 1st place, and sweet moolah. Overall, I was pleased with my performance.

However, no game came easily. Every position, even completely winning ones, can be botched.

In round 2, I spent 40 moves and 58 minutes to achieve a winning king and pawn ending. I triumphantly played c8=Q+ , and then my heart skipped a beat as he simply took the queen with his king. I had forgotten to protect the queening square with my own king! Fortunately, I had 2 extra pawns to win; however, they were rook and knight pawns, and if I had been missing either of them, it would have been instantly drawn.

I made mistakes, but my opponents made more mistakes. That is how chess games are won.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

King and Pawn vs. King trick

Today I spent an afternoon at Barnes and Noble studying endings. I must regretfully inform you that, after the pawn reaches the 6th rank, I did not know that a draw is forced once my king reaches the queening square. I redeemed my lack of chess culture in the following 3 0 speed game. While critically low on time, I foresaw that my opponent could not force a win, thanks to my newly acquired chess knowledge.

42. Ke5 Nxf4 43. Kxf4 Kf8 44. Kf5 Kg8 45. Kf6 Kf8 46. g7+ Kg8 47. Kg6 {Black stalemated} 1/2-1/2

How to beat the Smith-Morra Gambit

A 3 0 speed game that my opponent played poorly. Checkmating the Smith-Morra gambit in 25 moves is refreshing.

1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 Nf6 4. e5 Nd5 5. cxd4 d6 6. exd6 Qxd6 7. Nc3 Nxc3 8. bxc3 b6 9. Nf3 Bb7 10. Be2 e6 11. O-O Be7 12. a4 Nd7 13. Ba3 Qf4 14. Bxe7 Kxe7 15. Qb3 Rhd8 16. Rfe1 Kf8 17. Bd3 Bxf3 18. gxf3 Qxf3 19. Bxh7 Nf6 20. Qb4+ Ke8 21. Bc2 Rd5 22. h4 Ng4 23. Rf1 Qh3 24. Rfb1 Qh2+ 25. Kf1 Qxf2# {White checkmated} 0-1