Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Gambit not so Galore

My first flirt with the Gibbens-Weidenhagen gambit was like a Microsoft demo. Everything looks fine but it just doesn't work properly. After just a few moves I had a clear advantage against a decent player. For the price of a g-pawn I had the center, easy development and self-confidence. But then reality crushed in! After a few weak moves I just got outplayed.

Note to self: Openings never replace thinking.

My second and last try with the gambit started bad and then got worse. My opponent played daring active moves and soon I found myself on a position hated by Mr Houdini and with My king as exposed as the king in a well known H.C Andersen story.

Does it make sense to play gambits with long medival double names? Well, why do you play Chess? If your answer is "to have fun" or "to exercise the brain", then why not? The road less travelled will take you to uncharted territory fast where you and your opponent will have to play Chess. What about the first move advantage? I am convinced that experience from playing wild weird stuff will offer a practical advantage. And do not forget the fun factor.

 Post Scriptum: Check out what Frisco has to say: Frisco's Post


  1. I decided to save some space on the Internet. Well, I made a few silly blunders early on and I wanted to focus the blog post on the Opening per se and not be distracted by record breaking blunders by yours truly!

  2. Great post! Especially like the Microsoft demo analogy.

    These kinds of gambits are fun, so like you say, why not play them occasionally?

    That said, I think that in general they may work against the improvement process. You usually have to already be a strong player in order to understand the positions and play them with any success. Playing any opening (especially offbeat gambits) without understanding the positions is asking for trouble, sooner or later.

    1. I think you have a great point that learning to do more than just caveman style hack attacks against the enemy king is important, and it can be very easy to fall into a pattern of going for hack attacks instead of being more flexible, if you play gambits. That is something I'm trying to deprogram myself from a bit. There can also be a tendency to go several games where all your opponents fall for various traps in your openings, and you spend no time actually thinking in the games. These are all things I've become well aware of after a year of playing the Blackmar Diemer, Smith Morra, and Evans Gambit as my main openings with White.

      It is very harrowing that there are many people that have published heavy analysis showing their pet gambit is not refuted with best play, yet somehow none of these people are grandmasters... despite the practical utility of their opening and the fact that supposedly it works out even in the critical lines for them. I can find IMs that might 'main' a gambit opening but never a GM. They're only ever used as surprise weapons at that level it seems.

      Still, I don't think the risk is too much of a concern--no more than the risk of being overly focused on any other particular opening variation. You run the risk of stagnating if you play passive openings all the time as well. I suppose that's why some GMs are strong proponents of playing stuff like the Ruy Lopez and Sicilian Najdorf a lot, just because of the variety of positions which can lead to attacking games and positional, strategy-driven games depending. If you can learn enough moves to get to the chess part of the game, then the main lines will force you to learn how to prioritize and strategize.

      I do think there are three utilities to learning at least a couple gambit lines to complement your repertoire though. I'm getting to the stage where now learning to wield a gambit opening involves knowing when to go all in for the attack, but also being able to recognize when it's not happening and look for a way to turn my development into a dynamic endgame where the pawn doesn't help my opponent (if they still have it by that point). Learning to shift plans and not be single-minded in my approach is the big issue now. This is an important thing to know, even in the mains, but you never really have opportunities to learn in the mains.

      The next important thing is learning *how* to attack. Learning all the various ways to attack, which in turn can teach something about defense. You don't get those opportunities so often in the mains. Hence why I think the classically trained students that (for instance) have never seen a morra played by a competent and well-prepared player--the ones that pontificate about the unsoundness of gambits, these are often the most vulnerable to being scalped by weaker players that will go for every practical try they can.

      The other and most important thing of all is playing an opening you love, and enjoy playing. If you don't have fun playing chess, you won't play chess. If you have a lot of fun you'll want to play more chess, and as a consequence learn faster, so this is a very practical use.

  3. Thank You!

    I guess you are right but since I am a backward grumpy geezer, I have trouble to really understand the often presented veiws that you should play a certain set of openings in order to improve. Pattern recognition is important and playing vanilla openings will lead to structures that are common in a lot of vanilla openings. My guess it that playing offbeat stuff repeatedly will help your chess in other ways.

    1. You will have a "familarity" advantage if you play the same offbeat stuff all the time.
    2. You face the risk that your opponent will be armed with some prepared line against your preferred stuff

    Basically, there are no free lunch and no matter how you twist and turn there will always be an ass or two behind your back.

    As an amatuer of any degree of seriousness you should not overlook the fun factor, I am convinced that having fun is benefitial.

  4. I agree on the fun part. The risk to improvement comes in playing lines that are simply not good, even if not losing (for example 1. h4). A player can still win due to strong talent - Basman used to do that kind of thing all the time, or Miles with his 1. e4 a6 victory against Karpov. But he has to have the talent first, then baiting opponents with a sub-par opening may actually be good psychological strategy. Playing openings like the Dutch or Nimzo-Larsen that aren't mainstream, but aren't bad either, I consider can be fun. Gambits are especially tricky in that regard, since without knowing what the compensation is or how to use it, you're just down a pawn. Some gambits are of course better than others. Anyway, good luck with the g4 gambit.