by J. Franklin Campbell
We all know many of the important elements contributing to success in correspondence chess: study the concepts of opening systems (not just parrot the moves of masters without understanding the principles involved); don't rush moves into the post but consider each move carefully; analyze all of our losses to identify and correct our weaknesses; consider every reply to our moves to be sure we don't overlook a shot by our opponent; examine games played by our opponents to identify their weaknesses and prepare the appropriate openings; don't give "if moves" in complex situations where our opponents may gain information about our future plans; don't give away potentially critical information to our future opponents (by publishing our games and opening analysis); and other guidelines I'm sure you can add. Many cc competitors acknowledge the intelligence of these guidelines, but how many competitors actually keep their noses to their respective grindstones and maintain consistent allegience to these critical guidelines? Am I the only one who, through laziness or choice, ignores these guidelines at my own peril? Or are there legions of others out there playing without proper regard to increasing their winning chances through hard work and consistent play?
I can't approximate how many others there are like me, but I must finally confess publically that I am a lazy cc competitor. Like many others I feel that with enough work and dedication I could gain a much higher rating. I recall how, as a freshman at MIT many years ago, I thought I should sacrifice my comfort and enjoyment in the short run to devote myself to my math and science studies ... after gaining the proper education there would be plenty of time to enjoy life and the fruits of my labors. I'm afraid I was just as unsuccessful with that approach as I've been with my plans to become a great chess player. Back then I went to movies and attended music concerts. I enjoyed the company of my fellow students in non-academic endeavors. I sat staring into space.
How about opening preparation ... how do I prepare my openings? Prepare ... that's surely an odd term for my approach. Generally, I choose my openings in a rather haphazard way. Sometimes I start a tournament without any idea of the openings I will play. There are times when I've picked up a recent book concerning a specific opening or repertoire. When an opponent's move arrives I leaf through the book to find the current position and make the recommended move. Eventually we leave the book and I finally take a serious look at the situation I've gotten myself into. Oh my, this is just what we've been warned about over and over! I've reached a position full of difficulties which I don't understand at all. The position doesn't suit my taste and plan after plan that I examine make me think, "I wish I had my opponent's position." After repeating this cycle over and over I've come to the conclusion that I'll probably never learn the folly of my ways. More precisely, I'll probably never force myself to devote the effort required to correct my evil ways. I need a new book titled, "The Lazy Man's Approach to Mastering the Opening."
Another approach I've taken to openings is to play something familiar for the first few moves. For years I've played 1. d4 almost exclusively. However, against some very standard replies I never know how I will continue. When my opponent opens 1. e4 I'm also at a loss. I've experimented with the Alekhine Defense, the Caro-Kann, the Pirc, The Modern and other openings. I'm really not too fond of the double King-pawn openings. Generally, after a disasterous tournament I switch to a different response with similar results. Mastering a set of openings is not a task for a lazy player! I frequently return to the French Defense, an opening I've played since my early days. At least I have some feel for the positions that arrive out of the openings, strictly through having played the opening a lot. Still, I often haven't decided whether to play the Winawer or another variation till the decision must be made. Usually it's my opponent who decides which variation we'll play.
Now here's an interesting approach. When a given opening position has been reached I just search my databases for all the games that reached that exact position. If I have White, I can sort the games and choose just the White wins and then look at the moves made by White. If White won with this move, how bad can it be? On the other hand, just how bad is this approach?! It's probably worse than accepting the recommended move in a book. However, it is rather fun to search my databases and follow this approach. It's also a good lazy man's approach. During the sometimes lengthy searches, it also gives me a lot of time to stare into space.
How about carefully examining every response to my move by my opponent? This is no fun! Actually I do attempt to check every reasonable response, but it's frightening how often my opponent's move is a complete surprise. My stronger opponents surprise me the most with their clever and unreasonable looking (but strong) moves. With a little more effort and work I'd spot some of these moves and avoid many unpleasant positions. "Effort" and "work" are not the strong points of the lazy competitor, however. Still, one of these days my rating will soar when I start following this approach. Yes, one of these days ...
Would you care to guess how often I carefully examine my losses? How much effort would you expect me to put into discovering my bad concepts and weaknesses in my playing skills? Yes, I'm sure you've guessed it by now. I positively enjoy going over my past wins, my brilliant moves, my great inspirational wins! Why in the world would I want to dwell on my failures? Oh yes, I could learn a lot and improve my play ... but at what cost? Of course, the cost is effort and hard work. These are hardly the hallmark of the lazy cc competitor, and I rarely spend time on my losses. Not only is it hard work, it isn't even much fun.
How about examining the previous games of our opponents? With the current availability of big databases it is often possible to find a surprising number of games played by our opponents. The Ultimate Database contains about a dozen of my games and many games played by possible opponents. Several databases are available containing games played in organizations and events that may contain games played by my opponents. Sometimes I make a quick search for opponents' games, but I must admit that I rarely spend any time examining them carefully. It's more fun just concentrating on the games at hand. I'd rather play than analyze previously played games.
What about publishing our games and analysis? I must admit that I love to be published. Many of my best wins have seen print or are in the databases. In the excellent book "Winning at Correspondence Chess" Tim Harding writes on page 49, "... you should not be too keen to publish your games and analysis because they reveal details of your style and opening preferences." Of course, another viewpoint was expressed by my old chess hero GM Mikhail Botvinnik who encouraged us to publish our analysis to expose it to public view. He felt that such publishing was critical in developing our skills at correct analysis. However, Harding certainly has a point from the competitive point of view. My published games don't necessarily reflect my serious efforts to improve my skills of analysis and don't indicate laziness, but they do reflect my approach to enjoying the game ... it's fun to see our games in print. I often put fun before serious effort.
My approach to "if moves" don't actually reflect laziness, either, but they do reflect my occasional lack of patience. I feel an obligation to send a conditional when my opponent's move is forced or obvious. Sometimes I just want to keep the game moving and use conditionals to get past the boring, predictable moves so we can get to the interesting moves. Will my opponent go into the line I'm trying for, or will he vary and spoil my plan? A more serious, patient approach would dictate against giving the conditional. Oh well, I must be true to my personal "vision."
Another interesting and useful book for the serious cc competitor is "Chess for Tigers" by English ICGM Simon Webb. His chapter on "How to catch Rabbits" advises us on how to approach opponents with much lower ratings. If an occasion occurs where you can complicate the position and create opportunities for your lower-rated opponent to go wrong (at the risk of possibly going wrong yourself), this should be avoided. There's no need to take these risks. You will certainly be offered other opportunities in the future to win without these risks. However, this isn't always to way to have fun, at least on the surface. Recently I had just this situation. My lower-rated opponent offered a piece sacrifice. I saw it coming and also had a slow positional plan for gradually improving my position. However, I enjoy defending (particularly up material) and decided it would be more fun to accept the piece and hold on through his big King attack. Later I discovered his attack contained more risk for me than I had anticipated and I found some excellent attacking lines for him. It turned out that I would have enjoyed the game much more if I had followed my slower, positional approach.
I still plan to work on my openings and other playing skills in the future ... not today, but sometime in the future. One day I'll overcome my lazy tendacies and put in the kind of effort required to build a solid opening repertoire. I'll study those typical positions that all strong chess players need to understand. I'll read some of my hundreds of books devoted to improving playing skill. When I do these things my rating will soar and I'll win tournaments and titles and become a real force in the world of cc. All it takes is a little more effort. One day ...
Copyright © 1998 by J. Franklin Campbell
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