Sunday 31 July 2016

Irregular, like this blog

One of the great pleasures of the British Championship has always been that some people seem ready to play any old nonsense in the openings. I don't know whether that's because
  • they're not taking the tournament sufficiently, or
  • they're taking it too seriously, or (most likely)
  • neither, and the only person taking this too seriously is the present writer
but anyway: South Coast silliness kicked off in Round One with Wells v Birkett [1-0, 34] which was drawn to our attention by the ECF Twitter account.

The Modern never looked like this when Ray played it. This version's not so much an Irregular Opening as an opening from a parallel universe where no such thing as regularity exists. By comparison Claridge-Hansen v Pleasants (all the pinkish diagrams are from here) was relatively sensible

1. c4 e5 2. g3 h5 3. h4

in so far as I could work out why the moves were played. It was, however, even more brief [1-0, 21] than the effort above.

Simons v Brown wasn't irregular in so far as the Blackmar-Diemer possesses a name

1. d4 Nf6 2. f3 d5 3. e4

but I can't say that I was surprised to see it knocked over in short order [0-1, 21].

Modi v Mason's opening not only has a name, the Portuguese Gambit, I've actually gone so far as to play it -

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Nf6 3. 3. d4 Bg4

and to be fair, [1/2, 17] was better than I did.

After the opening round the lunacy eased off. I guess people are prepared to give anything a punt if they're giving away 250 or so Elo points, as all the players were, save one, who punted in the examples above. (The exception was Mason, who wasn't giving anything away - far from it, he enjoyed an Elo lead of nearly 500 points over his opponent. But "enjoyed" isn't the word, though, given that this was a junior and manifestly wildly undergraded opponent. A draw may have been a comparative relief rather than a disappointment.)

After the first round the eccentricities tend to be left to the habitual eccentrics, and we move, mostly, from the realms of the ridiculous to the rarely-seen - for instance Varney v Dilleigh [1/2, 65] in Round Two

1. e4 e6 2. c4

or Gill v Osborne [1-0, 50] in Round Three

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Bd3

both of which are lines you'd find in the unthumbed sections of a Watson Play The French volume, but are rarely-played rather than shouldn't-be-played. Talking of the French, Nick Pert's played a few, albeit from the Black side, and Pert v Batchelor [1/2, 40] from Round Three looked like a particularly odd one

1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e5 Ne4 5. Nce2 Qb6 6. d4 e6 7. Nfg1 f6. 8. f3 Ng5

though it wasn't. But Nf3-g1 to enable f2-f3 is a nice touch.

Oyama did play the Bird's against against Harvey [1/2, 97] in Round Four

1. f4

and there was this from Taylor-Simons [1/2, 33]

1. Nf3 Nc6 2. d4 d6 3. d5 Ne5 4. Nxe5 dxe5

but openings like these are just a bit of mucking about compared with the overt running across a busy motorway that took place in the first round.

Chacun a son goût, but I'm not convinced that mucking about - or, for that matter, running across a motorway - is really worth the candle. Do you actully get to throw your opponent off their stride, or are you more likely just to find yourself in a terminal struggle, early on, and never have the chance to make your opponent work or worry?

It's a strategy Simon Webb called How To Trap Heffalumps in his very influential Chess For Tigers (OUP, 1978)

in which the idea is that you probably can't beat the Heffalump in a straight fight, so you lure it into a swamp and try to beat it that way. The game Browne v Taha is given as an example. Super though that game is, I'm not sure it's that helpful - or at least, it's not that helpful to interpret our anti-Heffalump strategy as playing a ropey old opening and seeing if the Heffalump goes wrong before we do.

Hence, perhaps, Palliser-Gill [1-0, 27] in Round Four, which opened thus.

1. d4 d5 2. c4 Nc6 3. Nc3 dxc4 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bh4 Bg4

Oliver Gill seems to have been playing Chigorin lines for some years and presumably knows what he's doing, better than I did when I used to do the same.

I packed it in because it was far too easy to lose very quickly with Black if you weren't very sure what you were doing - and the number of lines in which you could lose very quickly was a large one, so you were, in truth, most unlikely to be sure.

In the line above, for instance, Black's sixth is an error after which he's already a good deal worse, and he's never in the game. One of those things? Perhaps. Rating gap of more than 300? Sure. Still, it's a shame to give it away so early.

But it's a strategy I understand. More baffling, though, is what Andrew Smith, an FM, a very experienced player (and for that matter, an affable bloke, to my recollection) has been doing on the Black side of open games, against weaker rather than higher-rated players.

Here for instance, from Round Four, is Starney-Smith [1-0, 25].

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bc4 Qf6

What on Earth is this? And is it merely mucking about, or running across the motorway? I'd have said the latter, and being run over in twenty-move moves suggests the same. But, wackier than the Wacky Races, Andrew was unpersuaded that this was such a bad idea he shouldn't try it out a second time.

So, from Round Six, we have Moreby-Smith

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 Nd7 4. Bc4 Qf6

with the near-inevitable car crash, though it did feature some dinky driving by the player of the White pieces [1-0, 32]. But Black was simply flattened right across the fast lane.

Nought out of two, and it should have been less. Will Andrew give it a third go?

Rather him than me.


Anonymous said...

Andrew Smith has been playing that line since he was a junior. It's long been suspected that there's a bust and Moreby or his computer engine may have found it.


ejh said...

I recall from my own Philidor days that 3. d4 Nd7 is dicky, but I don't think I'd ever seen the ...Qf6 versions before.