donderdag 9 oktober 2008

Too deep!

A question every chess player faces once in a while is: how deep should prepare my openings. If you grab your opening books you will find many variations that go all the way up to move 20 or 30. This has always made me believe that to be well prepared, I should learn my openings up to move 20 on average. But now I think I have to question this assumption. Memorizing openings up to move 14 on average, should be enough!

How I can tell? Hans Ree has written a column in the NRC, (a dutch newspaper, so the article is alas in dutch) in which he gives the results of some research he did. He checked how many moves it took in every game of the current Russian championship, to reach a unique position. After the first two rounds the maximum number of moves to reach a unique position was 17, the minimum 9 and the average number of moves after which a unique position was reached was 14.

Of course the 12 games of the first two rounds are only a small number, and it would be better to take lets say 10 recent tournaments to get more reliable statistics. But I did a small test with my own games of the last year (OTB, slow time control). My average was 13! Try it out with your own games. Just to see if you can really expect to see some benefits of memorizing openings up to move 25 or more.

13 opmerkingen:

liquideggproduct zei

I don't know any openings in depth, so it's somewhere around move 4 or 5.

Interesting way to think of it though. In some circles there seems to be a reaction against over-preparing the opening--it will let these people feel vindicated.

chesstiger zei

Herman Grooten, another dutch chess player wrote in one of his books that opening theory doesn't matter if you dont have a rating over 2300 points. I will stick with that advise. Maybe it's because i am to lazy to drill myself to know lots of opening theory.

transformation zei

bravo man!
thats some real research, if you ask me.

we all love the new Phaedrus 3.0!

where did you learn all this stuff? you now have the gift of expressing your own latent, pre-existing chess blogger freedom!


warmest, dk

Temposchlucker zei

It seems to me that those chesplayers are quite lazy in their opening preparation, if they don't come up with something of their own before move 14.

Phaedrus zei

While it is certainly true that some of us do not know anything more about openings than 4 to 5 move, most of the chessplayers I know, have memorized their openings at least up to move 15 to 20. I made me feel relieved to see that this is probably not necessary.

Cor van Wijgerden (my chess guru) says that openings start to matter as soon as you want to rise above 2000. I am (as always) inclined to agree. But I gradually start to see what preparation at my level is about. And that is certainly not memorizing beyond move 14. It is more about knowing what to do to pull the positions towards your side.

Just like in my work and in my past (ans short) political career it is mainly a matter of picking up the good stuff, throwing away the bad, and trying to give it a personal flavor. This post is 50% Hans Ree, and the only thing I did was trying to figure aout what this could tell me about my own preparation.

I suspect there is some irony in your comment. Playing variantions in which you come up with a novelty at move 28 is not uncommon at grandmasterlevel. Some variations of the sicilian or Kings Indian require such detailed knowledge.

It is all about trying to create winning chances. Sometimes at grandmasterlevel this is done by entering the long variations. sometimes this is done by entering unknown territory. I think the laze player will tend to chose the last strategy.

Below master level there is no need to create winning chances by playing (and memorizing) the long variations. In our games we (mostly unwillingly) deviate before reaching the key positions at grandmaster level.

Temposchlucker zei

Irony? You must be kidding! Only for the first 4 moves ther are about 20 billion possibilities. Do you want me to believe that there aren't tons of novelties to find there which are perfectly playable? Fashion, lazyness and fear let us copy what others do. Think for yourself!

Given the statistics there must be an incredible confirmation bias among grandmasters. Hasn't the computer proven time and again that former theoritical backwaters are perfectly playable?

How often did this happen to you:
You read an opening book. You chose in a line four times a move with a lesser assessment. Then you read the assesment at the end of the variation: about equal, unclear or even.

To play chess you need a confirmation bias. In order to sift out the vast amount of possibilities and to get some numbers that are managable. Otherwise it would overwhelm you. That is how pet variations emerge.

Phaedrus zei

copying indeed can indeed be an expression of laziness. The same can be said for improvisation. If a player like Kasparov prepares long lines, he is not doing this because he is too lazy to think for himself. If a player like Morozowich plays unusual opening lines, he is not doing this because he is too lazy to prepare.
In both cases the players chose a strategy which they believe may give them the best chances to win.
And a chess player like me, who memorized a lot of long variations may be called lazy because he does not take the effort to come up with a novelty. But one can also praise the effort he put in to this kind of preparation. I guess it is just the point of view that determines if one considers a player lazy for choosing the long lines and main variations to play or not.

chesstiger zei

Cor Van Wijgerden has indeed a big knowlegde of chess. When i was in his class (for the chesstrainers course) i agreed with most of his explanations and such. Helas, we never discussed openings since that isn't important for teaching step 1 to step 3 (the three golden rules are enough). So can you please expand a little why Cor finds it's necesary to study openings that deep if you want to cross the 2OOO rating? Thanks in advance.

likesforests zei

1 move deeper than your opponent? ;)

Thanks for the useful information! When you say the minimum was 9 moves do you mean...


1.a b
2.c d
3.e f
4.g h

or 9 MOVES?

1.a b
2.c d
3.e f
4.g h
5.i j
6.k l
7.m n
8.o p
9.q r

I want to be certain we are using the same lingo since a subtle difference here makes a big difference. :)

Phaedrus zei

Cor van Wijgerden has explained his opinion in opening study in the textbook of step 6. I will use a future post to summarize his opinion on the study of openings.

I am talking about moves here. And you are right, we have to be precise here, and I certainly try to be.

Temposchlucker zei

My point wasn't about laziness but about the strange contradiction between the amount of playable possibilities in a chessgame versus the amount of possibilities that is thought to be playable by grandmasters. Fischer even invented his random chess to avoid the memorization of long lines. He basically multiplied the first move with 960. What strikes me is that I'm the only one who seems to be struck by the astonishing fact that it is rather strange that a game that already has 20 billion posibilities at move 4 seems to need more possibilities to avoid memorisation.

Anoniem zei

I'm at a a much lower level ( Chess-wise) so I find that I can memorise about 4 or 5 moves ( more on certain variations ). I guess its also practice. The more I play an opening ( ie the Pirc is the most common for me as Black ) the better I remember variations and of course understand it.

Amusingly ( if my poor Nederlands is correct ) one of the comments to the original Hans Ree article refers to a Leko-Kramnik match analysed in an Endgame book with 26 Kg2 referred to as an opening novelty ( een openingnieuwtje ! ).
I guess with computers the opening extends even further than previously. Some Spanish variations presumably lasting well beyond 17 moves and all of then heavily analysed.

A good blog, keep it up.


Phaedrus zei

This is indeed a strange paradox. But I guess that creating opening theory, and following these well trodden paths, is all too human. We seem to be genetically inclined to project order (theory) into a basically chaotic universe (the game of chess).

The computer sure made it possible to extend theory in sharp variations. Many unclear and highly tactical variations can now be analyzed, because brute force enables us to get a reliable evaluation of all the sidelines.

The way you go about learning the Pirc is excellent. Trying to understand what happened in the opening after the game is a very organic procedure. You can be sure that this is more sustainable than just memorizing book lines.