28 August 2020

Annotated Game #250: Learning an opening the hard way

This final-round tournament game is an excellent illustration of how most new openings are learned: the hard way. Learning openings is not really about memorizing variations, it's much more about knowing the standard early middlegame plans and how to handle common tactical and positional themes. 

In the Dutch Stonewall, one theme is the pawn exchange on d5, if White initiates it. The usual rule (retake with the e-pawn rather than the c-pawn) applies here, and as Black I get a comfortable game out of the opening. The next key move occurs in the early middlegame, on move 11, and is the main teaching point: the potential power of the White pin on the a2-g8 diagonal. Here I ignore it and it makes itself felt immediately, then also later in the game on move 21. There are other useful lessons and observations that I got out of analyzing this game, but now I'll be very sure to recognize that theme in the future.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A90"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "61"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 c6 {this is a committal move, but I was planning to play the Stonewall in any case.} 3. g3 e6 4. Bg2 f5 5. O-O Nf6 6. c4 Bd6 {we now have the standard Modern Stonewall starting position from theory.} 7. Nc3 O-O 8. cxd5 exd5 {the general rule for an exchange on d5 in the Stonewall is to recapture with the e-pawn. This keeps the c-file blocked, allows Black to use the e-file for the heavy pieces, and gives the Bc8 more potential scope.} 9. Bg5 h6 {the direct approach.} (9... Qe8 $5) 10. Bxf6 Qxf6 11. Qb3 {this move should set off an alert, both for the pressure on b7 and the presence of the queen on the a2-g8 diagonal, which means the d-pawn is now pinned.} g5 $2 { I thought about sidestepping with Kh8, but didn't understand the urgency of doing so. The text move of course is what Black wants to play, but needs to better prepare it.} (11... Re8 $5 {is an active way of addressing White's threat to advance the e-pawn, while developing the rook. The king can subsequently go to h8.}) 12. e4 $1 $16 {now White gets in this strong pawn break for free, as the d-pawn is no longer controlling e4.} fxe4 13. Nxe4 { now this knight, which was effectively doing nothing on c3, is quite strong. White also has better prospects for controlling the e-file.} Qe6 {breaking the pin} 14. Nxd6 {by eliminating the dark-square bishop, this weakens Black's ability to defend the entire dark-square complex, including the central square e5.} Qxd6 15. Rfe1 Qf6 {I thought for a long time here and couldn't find anything better. The alternative would have been to start developing minor pieces, but I assessed that the text move would pose White more practical problems, given the pressure down the f-file.} (15... Nd7 {is what Komodo prefers, trying to catch up on development.}) 16. Re2 Bg4 17. Re3 Nd7 {White grabbing the pawn on b7 would be OK by me, giving me some more counterplay with the undeveloped rook.} 18. h3 $6 {this is essentially prompting me to play the best, equalizing move. Which of course I do not do.} (18. Qxb7 Rab8 19. Qa6 Rxb2 $14 {and now} 20. Qxa7 $6 Nb6 $11 {with full positional compensation for the pawn, as the knight will go to the strong c4 outpost and the rook on the 2nd rank is very good.}) (18. Rae1 $16) 18... Bf5 $2 {an example of how a piece can look nice visually, in this case on the h7-b1 diagonal, but it is not in fact doing much useful there. It even blocks the f-file pressure.} (18... Bxf3 $1 {an illustration of the power of piece exchanges. This should be a rather obvious choice, getting rid of Black's "bad" bishop - look at all the pawns on light squares - for White's good knight.} 19. Bxf3 Nb6 $11) 19. Rae1 (19. g4 {would have pressed the advantage.} Bg6 20. Qxb7 {now the Nd7 is hanging, so White can profitably take the pawn.} Nb6 21. b3 $18) 19... g4 {pinning my hopes on active play rather than passive defense with ...Rab8.} 20. Nh4 gxh3 $2 {this ignores my opponent's tactical threats involving the d5 square, but in practical terms it does encourage his next move, which gives away the advantage.} (20... Nb6) 21. Nxf5 $6 (21. Bxd5+ $1 {again we see the problems related to having the king remain on this diagonal.} cxd5 $18 {and White now has the pleasant choice between the simple Qxd5 or Rf3.}) 21... Qxf5 $11 22. Rf3 Qh5 23. g4 {I thought for a while here, but could not calculate the best plan properly, already being stressed and fatigued.} h2+ (23... Qh4 $5 {I seriously considered, but I was too wedded to keeping the h-pawn. Komodo gives} 24. Bxh3 Rxf3 25. Qxf3 Rf8 {and White has nothing better than to simplify into an ending.} 26. Qg3 Qxg3+ 27. fxg3 Nf6 $15 ) 24. Kh1 Qh4 $6 {here I did not consider the capture on f3, because of the threat to the queen; however, it is a dynamic (if complicated) way of dealing with the position.} (24... Rxf3 25. Qxb7 Rb8 26. Qxb8+ Nxb8 27. gxh5 Rxf2 28. Re8+ Rf8 {and White has a slight edge, but nothing more.}) 25. Qd3 {my opponent prefers active threats on the kingside (Qg6+) to snatching the b-pawn. } Rxf3 {this is still good and should be equal.} 26. Bxf3 Nf6 {this is OK, but unnecessarily complicated.} (26... Nf8 $15 {nothing wrong with good defensive play, taking away the g6 square from White.}) 27. Qg6+ Kf8 $4 {when calculating this, I missed my opponent's next follow-up, which wins. Fatigue dulled my ability to properly calculate the two sequences.} (27... Kh8 28. Re7 {I mistakenly thought won for White, but Black holds after} Rg8 $1) 28. Re6 $18 Ng8 29. Qf5+ Kg7 30. Rg6+ Kh7 31. Qf7+ 1-0

22 August 2020

Bad chess attitudes #3: My losses are too painful; everything is good in my wins; draws are just boring; so no need to look at my games

I'm highlighting in a short series of posts some bad chess attitudes that can harm our performance and hold us back from improving. To avoid being seen as too judgmental, I'll only share ones that I've struggled with myself.

Bad attitudes #1 and #2 both involved reacting in an unhealthy manner to your opponent's choices - in openings and time management, respectively - which in turn meant not focusing not enough on your own play. Here, it's about your game results and what you do with them.

Bad attitude #3 (expanded version): my losses are due to blunders too painful to look at; everything must have been good with my wins; draws are indecisive (and boring); so there is no need to analyze my games afterwards.

The above sentence I think sums up well my own (superficial) attitude about my games for the majority of my chess career, starting at the scholastic level. This sort of reaction to our results I believe is fairly common and is even understandable, while unproductive.
  • It is in fact difficult to relive losses, especially ones involving painful blunders. This is the first hurdle to get over. Giving yourself a bit of time before fully reviewing the game can help, as after a day or a week the emotional reaction is lessened and you can look at the game score more objectively.
  • A certain amount of work and energy is necessary. This means saving full game analysis until after a tournament, for example, when you are more hungry for chess again. Recording some initial comments and thoughts can help capture your thinking process in the moment - a good time for this is while you are putting a game into your personal database - but it will be more productive to save the heavy lifting for later.
  • Feeding games to an engine in order to see where you and your opponent blundered, then filing them away does not count as analyzing your games. This was part of my own practice for over a decade of non-improvement (see "The Long Journey to Class A"). It is now even easier to do this, thanks to the capability for near-instant "analysis" of games on major chess sites (such as Chess.com). In reality, this consists of a single engine pass that evaluates positions at a relatively low ply (move) level. This may have some use as an immediate blunder-check tool, along with its entertainment value; however, judging from public comments, many players take it far too seriously.
  • Your wins and draws contain just as many lessons for improvement as your losses. Serious work will reveal flaws in your wins, sometimes even more so than in your losses. (This may be part of why people avoid performing an objective analysis of all of their serious games.) It will also highlight strong moves and ideas that you found, as well as general patterns of your strengths and weaknesses over time. This type of self-knowledge and increased chess understanding cannot come from any other source.
The basic problem with bad attitude #3 is that if you keep on doing the same things without understanding why, you will end up getting the same results. "Why don't I progress if I play a lot?" is a common refrain. I do think that relatively frequent play, especially with opponents near or (ideally) somewhat above your current level, is necessary for improvement. Once you reach a certain point where simply playing more is not teaching you enough, however, it is time to go deeper in your understanding of chess, which of necessity includes analyzing your own games

19 August 2020

Video completed: "Why You Should Always Have a Plan" by Tatev Abrahamyan


"Why You Should Always Have a Plan" is the seventh video in the Chess.com series by Tatev Abrahamyan. I've resumed going through them after being distracted by various things. The main point of this lesson is to continue to actively plan at all stages of the game, including while playing with a winning advantage. In other words, don't just assume that once you achieve a comfortable position, even one where you should win, you can just coast for the rest of the game.

The first example game is Akobian-Caruana from the 2017 U.S. Championship. Caruana is up two connected passed pawns in the late middlegame, which should be enough to win. A apparently careless move by Black drops a pawn, then after a rook exchange they end up in a Q+N endgame with just the one extra passed pawn for Caruana - which again should be enough to win. Black passes up a chance to grab back a pawn and then White is able to get an annoying pin on his knight. Getting out of this, Black opens himself up for a knight sac tactic that would result in a perpetual check. White did not in fact play this, which turns out to be lucky for him, as later Black blunders and drops his knight, losing. It's not mentioned whether the two are in time trouble or not - which seems likely - but the game is still a good illustration of why even strong players cannot simply go on autopilot with what should be a winning advantage.

The second game is GM Alejandro Ramirez vs. GM Le Quang Liem, from round 5 of the 2019 Gibraltar Masters tournament. Abrahamyan points out how White followed an incorrect plan in the early middlegame starting on move 15, moving his knights without much purpose around the queenside instead of focusing on available kingside targets, with complex play. The outcome was poor placement of the White knights and giving some free improving moves for Black, who then was able to target White's weaknesses and collapse his position relatively quickly.

The final example is FM Carissa Yip - FM Annie Wang from the 2019 U.S. Women's Championship. Abrahamyan highlights how well White has set herself up in this Classical Sicilian, but in the middlegame she does not find a good plan to go from there. Black in contrast has a clear plan to play on the queenside, attacking White's castled king position. White decides to force the issue in the center, where she has built up her forces, but the resulting exchanges actually give Black better central pawn control and free up her pieces as well. The resulting attack is instructive, with Black bringing all her pieces into play while White's pieces all end up on the kingside, providing little help.

In each example game there are opportunities to pause and look at some key positions, which helps make the lessons more engaging beyond the overall theme, which underlines how drifting planless in the middlegame (or endgame) is a bad idea.

17 August 2020

Annotated Game #249: Hanging in for counterplay

This next tournament game in part illustrates Bad Chess Attitude #1, as I try to immediately punish my opponent for his deviant opening play. In this case, the move (6...f6) in fact is not good, but it is not so bad that I can generate a winning attack by immediately sacrificing material with 7. Nxe5? I therefore end up in the classic situation of having given up a piece for two pawns and an insufficient attack.

Rather than give up, I continue playing on, actively looking for counterplay. As Komodo points out, objectively I was lost, but I knew that certain weaknesses in my opponent's position - primarily his exposed king - gave me the possibility of some practical opportunities, if my opponent was not careful. By hanging in, I was eventually able to take away much, if not all, of his advantage, finding a skewer tactic to roughly even the material balance.

The endgame was still a big challenge, first with the tactically tricky 2R v R+2B, then a second nail-biting phase with R v 3P, which I deliberately entered. Although we were both tired from the long game and in the secondary time control, I feel I did well overall in finding the right continuations, with the exception of missing (as did my opponent) a winning idea for him.

Game analysis highlighted several of my weaknesses, as it should, but on a more general level it also showed one of my strengths, which is identifying potential avenues for counterplay when losing, then hanging in the game until my opponent opens one up. Part of the reason for this is the added mental focus that one gets when in trouble - which I naturally would prefer to start applying earlier, before I get into trouble.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "128"] {[%mdl 8256] A28: English Opening: Four Knights Variation} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bb5 f6 $6 {as is usually the case in the opening, an early ...f6 can only be bad for Black. But how bad?} (6... Nxc3) 7. Nxe5 $2 {this attempt to punish Black's opening inaccuracy does not work, as White will not have enough of an attack for the sacrificed material.} (7. d4 $14 {scores 100 percent in the database. The added pressure on e5 and Black's now airy king position give White an edge.}) (7. O-O $14 {scores over 90 percent, if White wants to emphasize king safety first.}) 7... fxe5 8. Qh5+ Ke7 9. Bxc6 {this seemed necessary to continue the attack and pick up the pawn on e5, getting a bit of material back, but it also removes the good White bishop from the board.} (9. d4 $5) 9... bxc6 10. Qxe5+ {now I started getting worried, as it is more evident looking at the board that White cannot bring enough pieces to bear on Black's exposed king.} Be6 (10... Kf7 $5) 11. Ne4 {trying to bring more force into the attack, but it's just not there.} Nf6 (11... Nb4 $5 { is what I was most worried about, since now the c2 and d3 squares are targets.} ) 12. b3 {this is a logical developing move, getting the bishop activated, but now Black smartly exchanges down material. The less pieces on the board, the greater his advantage.} (12. Ng5 $5 Qd6 $17) 12... Nxe4 13. Qxe4 Qd5 $19 { powerfully centralizing the queen, with an x-ray attack on g2, as well as offering to exchange pieces to Black's benefit.} 14. Qh4+ {the only way I saw to keep the queens on the board. According to the engine this worsens White's evaluation, but having the queens off in an endgame where my opponent has the two bishops to my one would just be a tortuous loss. With Black's king still in the center, I felt I had better practical chances with the queens on.} Kd7 ( 14... g5 $5 {and Black can already relax, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface.} 15. Qg3 Kd7 16. Bb2 Bd6 $19) 15. O-O Be7 16. Qg3 Bf6 {a minor slip, but it gave me a bit of hope that my opponent would start getting overconfident.} (16... Kc8 {evacuating the king from the center would consolidate the position.}) 17. d4 c5 $6 {my opponent seems intent on winning more material, but this is not necessary. He appears to ignore the fact that opening up the central files with his king there could give me counterplay.} 18. Ba3 (18. Bb2 $5 $17 {is more active than it looks, not only protecting the d4 pawn, which however is worth doing in itself.}) 18... cxd4 19. exd4 { my opponent naturally does not fall into the obvious trap of recapturing on d4, which would allow me to pin the piece with a rook.} (19. Rac1 $5 {developing with tempo, as the c7 pawn is targeted.} Rhc8 20. exd4 Ke8 $17 {preserves Black's advantage, but is tricky for him.}) 19... Qg5 $19 20. Qd3 Bd5 { blockading the d-pawn and centralizing the bishop with a mate threat on g2.} 21. f3 Rhe8 22. Kh1 {at this point it's clear that I have no compensation for the material, other than Black's king position, which however is quite defensible. However, I played on, since my opponent still had a chance of slipping up. This in fact occurred on the next move.} Re3 $6 (22... c6 $5 $19 { would shut down White's hopes of counterplay.}) 23. Qb5+ {this creates multiple threats, including an unavoidable skewer tactic with Bc1.} Bc6 (23... c6 $2 {of course loses the rook on a8.} 24. Qb7+ $18) 24. Qxg5 Bxg5 25. Bc1 Rae8 26. Bxe3 Bxe3 $17 {material is now roughly equal, but Black still has a significant edge due to the two bishops. Unfortunately I have a problem coming up with an appropriate plan here, in part due to lack of endgame understanding and in part due to exhaustion from having been fighting to stay in the game to this point.} (26... Rxe3 27. Rfe1 Rc3 $17) 27. a4 $4 {causes further problems for White, is Komodo's verdict. The text move just creates a backward pawn on an open file, which really makes no sense. The (superficial) idea was to take away the b5 square from Black, but that ignores the downside of the move.} (27. Rfe1 $17) 27... a5 (27... Rb8 {keeps an even firmer grip} 28. d5 Bxd5 29. Rfd1 $19) 28. Ra2 $6 {not the bravest move, comments the engine.} Bd5 29. Rb2 $2 { played under the illusion that the d4 pawn is tactically protected.} Bxd4 $19 30. Rd2 c5 {I simply missed this, a sign of exhaustion.} 31. g3 {back to desperation again. I felt I needed to get the king into the game.} Bxb3 32. Kg2 Re3 33. Rc1 {threatening to take on c5. I still haven't given up searching for counterplay.} Bd5 $6 {getting greedy by targeting the f-pawn. Black is still winning, but I can at least strike a blow in revenge.} 34. Rxc5 Bxc5 35. Rxd5+ Kc6 36. Rd8 {with the idea of harrassing Black from the 7th and 8th ranks.} Ra3 {preparing to wrap up the a-pawn.} 37. Rc8+ Kd5 38. Rc7 Bd4 39. Rd7+ Kc4 40. Rc7+ Kb4 {my opponent is becoming fixated on the a-pawn.} 41. f4 {with the idea of taking away the e5 square from Black's bishop. Also hoping for my opponent to not see the tactical risk behind...} Kxa4 $2 (41... Rxa4 {and the rest is a matter of technique} 42. Rc8 Ra2+ 43. Kf3 a4 $19) 42. Rc4+ {I had spotted this potential tactic earlier, although did not expect my opponent to fall into it. We had just made the time control, though, and he obviously was impatient to win.} Kb3 43. Rxd4 $11 {the ending is now a theoretical draw. However, given that only Black really has winning chances at this point, of course I expected my opponent to continue trying to win.} a4 44. Rd3+ Kb2 45. Rd4 Kc3 46. Rd7 {in general it is good to have the rook active in the back ranks like this, but here maintaining the defense on the 4th rank might have been a safer practical choice. With the text move, I deliberately go for a R v 3P ending.} (46. Re4) 46... Rb3 {Black can be proud of that piece} 47. Rxg7 a3 48. Rxh7 a2 49. Ra7 Kb2 50. Rxa2+ Kxa2 {I knew that this should be a theoretical draw, but have no real idea of how to actually play it. At the end of a long game and in the secondary time control, neither my opponent nor I play it out accurately.} 51. h4 $2 {any other available move is better, according to the engine.} (51. g4) (51. Kh3) 51... Rb8 {this keeps things level.} (51... Kb2 $5 {and now Black can more rapidly centralize his king, moving along the long diagonal.}) 52. h5 Kb3 53. Kf3 Kc4 {correct now would be to advance the king in front of the pawns, with either Ke4 or Kg4.} 54. g4 $2 { weakening the position} Kd5 $17 55. g5 Ke6 {now it's clear that Black's king is very well placed, controlling f5, while my king cannot support the further advance of the pawns.} 56. Kg4 $2 {this could have been a losing blunder. The correct response for Black would be to bring his rook into my rear.} (56. Kg3 $17) (56. h6 $17) 56... Rb5 $2 (56... Rb1 $19 {secures victory, as the combination of Black's king and rook being in their most effective placements means that Black can block ideas of queening and eventually pick up a pawn with the rook. For example} 57. h6 Rg1+ 58. Kh3 Ke7 59. Kh4 Kf7 60. Kh5 Rf1 61. g6+ Kf6 62. g7 Rh1+ 63. Kg4 Kf7 64. Kg5 {and Black just moves the rook back and forth on the h-file until White runs out of f-pawn moves.}) 57. h6 $11 { now I am a tempo up on the lines in the previous variation. I was even hoping for a win at this point, if Black messed up. Both of us still need to calculate carefully.} Kf7 58. f5 Rb4+ 59. Kh5 Rf4 60. g6+ Kf6 61. h7 {now Black cannot capture the f-pawn without allowing the h-pawn to queen.} Kg7 62. Kg5 Rf1 63. f6+ {one final potential trick} Kh8 (63... Rxf6 $2 64. h8=Q+ Kxh8 65. Kxf6 Kg8 66. g7 Kh7 {and White wins.}) 64. f7 {forced, otherwise Black starts gobbling up the pawns.} Kg7 {now neither side can make progress.} 1/2-1/2

10 August 2020

Bad chess attitudes #2: My opponent disrespects their clock and must be punished

I'm highlighting in a short series of posts some bad chess attitudes that can actively harm our game performance and hold us back from improving. To avoid being seen as too judgmental, I'll only share ones that I've struggled with myself. #1 was about trying to punish your opponent's opening choices; here it's about their clock use.

Old school clock, perennial issue
2. My opponent disrespects their clock and must be punished

This attitude can afflict chessplayers who consider themselves to be conscientious about time management. It is a common reaction to those opponents who show up late to a tournament game, which means their clock has significantly run down before they start playing, or to opponents who get massively behind on time and have to blitz out a number of moves to make the time control. Both of these things, of course, can occur in the same game.

The objective result of this situation is always an advantage to the player with more time on their own clock. However, even if you have more time on the clock, a misguided emotional reaction to the situation can disrupt your own game more than that of your opponent. Rather than focusing on playing as excellently as you can, which I think for an improving player should be the goal of every serious game, it is common to instead start trying to punish your opponent for their misuse of time. This attitude typically manifests itself in choosing to play more quickly than you know you should, to try to pressure your opponent into moving more quickly themselves. In essence, it is a decision to pursue a negative strategy (trying to force the opponent to make bad moves) rather than a positive one (focus on making good moves yourself).

The obvious problem with this strategy is that it puts you on roughly the same level as your opponent in terms of actual time usage. This means you end up playing your opponent's kind of game, rather than your own. Time-trouble "aficionados" - or "addicts" or whatever you choose to call them - by definition have a lot of experience in playing rapidly. This means they are used to it and maybe even enjoy it, especially if they play a lot of blitz chess. I believe it is a fundamental error to think you will successfully rattle your opponent by altering your own playing style for the worse. Occasionally it might work, but relying on luck (for your opponent to play badly) while deliberately compromising your own excellence of play is a bad idea in itself, and is not likely to be a winning strategy over time.

Instead, a practical approach to time management is to develop a general game plan for your clock usage at the selected time control - then stick to that plan, regardless of what your opponent does. This means consciously calculating your expected average time per move and using that as a cutoff point for think time, making an exception only if you are in a critical position. For example, GM John Nunn in Secrets of Practical Chess recommends forcing a cutoff of the thinking process when you cannot decide between two moves with very similar evaluations after a reasonable period of calculation/thought. Basically, you pick one on intuition and do a blunder check before going with it. This practice can help reduce unproductive mental wheel-spinning, since in many positions without forcing continuations, it is easy to simply keep calculating different possibilities with no real resolution.

A common thread for this bad attitude and #1 on openings is focusing excessively on how your opponent is choosing to play. In reality, you have little to no influence over their move choices or how they use their clock, which means your mental energy is much better spent on improving your own game. Like many things that seem simple and obvious, it is not always easy to enforce this kind of mental discipline during a game. Deliberately committing to an efficient time management plan and positively focusing on the quality of your own play, however, should provide a strong foundation for your game, regardless of what your opponent does.

06 August 2020

Bad chess attitudes #1: My opponent spoiled my opening

Many things can hold us back in our quest for chess improvement. One of the things that we can control (and improve) is our attitude towards chess, both at the board and away from it. Attitude directly affects our behavior and decisions, which in turn affect the outcomes we get at the board. This is why "chess psychology" is not some esoteric or academic topic, but in fact a very practical one for improving players.

I'll be highlighting in a short series of posts some bad chess attitudes that can actively harm our progress. To avoid being seen as too judgmental, I'll only share ones that I've struggled with myself.

From tigerlilov.com
1. My opponent spoiled my (favorite) opening (and must be punished for it)

This is an attitude you see a lot among amateurs, but almost never among masters. It is born out of frustration at frequently not reaching your favorite opening lines, ones that you've put so much time and effort into preparing. The attitude reveals an emotional attachment to particular lines and their aesthetics, which are then mentally built up into some sort of chessic ideal - which is then "spoiled" on the board by the opponent, who refuses to cooperate in creating this artistic masterpiece. I think having aesthetic value as part of your opening selections is actually helpful, since it is part of why we derive pleasure from chess as a game and an art, but becoming mentally wedded to some sort of "pure" type of opening position is not.

One common example is on the Black side of Sicilians, where amateurs can enthusiastically undertake preparation of lines in complicated systems (Dragon, Najdorf, etc.). These often get derailed at the board as early as move 2 or 3, which then results in complaints about opponents' poor attitudes or worthiness as chess players because they choose to avoid the "best" lines. This kind of reaction ignores the fact that your opponent always gets an equal vote in chess: it's called their move. It is just common sense, however, that if your opponent plays a move that is not theoretically best, but is nonetheless good or at least not a blunder, getting upset about it or wanting to "punish" it will not be very productive for you on the chessboard.

As with many things that are bad for us, social influence and pressure are factors that help create this kind of attitude. "Best" openings are frequently argued about, with fashionable variations or whole opening complexes pushed heavily in publications and public forums. This gives us the social phenomenon of opening popularity, which doesn't necessarily have anything to do with opening effectiveness for you.  Similarly, out-of-fashion openings are put down or ignored. We no longer see so much the Sveshnikov Sicilian against 1. e4, or the Grunfeld against 1. d4, or the Spanish game (Ruy Lopez) as White at top levels. Yet all were considered to be the top choices of professionals not so long ago - and may again be, in the future. No doubt you can think of your own examples.

It should be understood that at the top GM level, variations or openings tend to become unpopular because near-forcing drawing lines have been worked out in them, or it is found over time (and numerous practical examples) that one side (typically White) gets a slight plus with best theoretical play. However, this assumes that both players know how to play at that level and have worked out what to do through the middlegame or even the endgame (such as with the Berlin Wall variation of the Spanish game, which has frustrated professional-level White players). However, what is considered best for the 2600+ crowd at a particular time, while interesting to know, is not necessarily the best guide for your own play.

The most effective antidote for too often being a "taker" of others' opinions on openings is simple, but sometimes hard to do: think and evaluate for yourself. This is absolutely necessary to make progress in all phases of chess, but may be harder to do for openings, since so much material has been published on them. Your own evaluation of particular lines can of course be guided by "expert" opinion, but it should always be a conscious choice and for reasons that you understand. Otherwise your play and results will suffer, even if someone else (or an engine) has informed you that the position you reached was the "best" possible. The fact that any sound opening is playable, at any level, should be remembered. If you do at least semi-serious opening research, you will also inevitably find that "experts" disagree over time - and even at the same point in time - about their evaluations of variations, reinforcing the point that your own judgment is what counts most in the end.

Fundamentally, the purpose of the opening phase is for you to reach a playable middlegame position. This means one that is not clearly advantageous to the opponent, and contains elements and plans that you can understand and execute over the board. This seems like a simple proposition, but it is violated a lot in practice. We need to remember that opening preparation and analysis should be a tool for us to use for our own ends, not to blindly follow.

A modern-day analogy is the relationship we have with our phones: are they consciously used by us as an information and communications tool, understanding the trade-offs in time and efficiency involved? Or do we forego an active role and simply react to it, like a dog in Pavlov's experiment believing that it's always dinnertime when they hear something buzz? You decide.

From verywellmind.com