Jeremy Silman has two diametrically opposed recommendations when it comes to a club player developing an opening repertoire.
OK. First things first: Who is Jeremy Silman and what is a repertoire? If you are asking what an opening is, then this is probably not the chess material you should be reading. An opening repertoire is a planned set of variations and lines that you want to play. If you play 1. e4 for example, you will need a repertoire (chosen variations) against the Sicilian, the French, the Alekhine and so on. If you are playing the black pieces, then you need a repertoire to meet White’s first move choice: i.e. Philidor vs. e4 and Slav vs. d4, etc… So what makes Jeremy Silman’s advice on openings worthy of consideration? Jeremy is a long-time chess coach and author as well as an International Master. He has coached the U.S. Junior National team; he also has a cool chess website: http://www.jeremysilman.com/. I am taking for granted then that I am addressing tournament chess players. Let’s return to Silman’s apparently paradoxical recommendation.
When building an opening repertoire, Silman writes in How to Reassess Your Chess, you should choose lines and variations that complement your strengths and temperament. If you are an attacking player choose sharp tactical open games. Methodical as a slug? Choose more positional lines that will complement your patience and endgame prowess. OK. Nothing monumental about that first part of his wisdom. But, Silman adds, if what you want out of chess is not simply to gain a few rating points, but to understand the game then “choose openings that don’t suit your style…that cater to your weaknesses…that freak you out and leave you feeling vulnerable and insecure!” That’s right. His theory is that this approach will help you face your (chess) fears so that you can overcome them. And in doing so, you will in the end become a better player.
As a teacher and a coach this is the kind of advice that is easier to give that to take to my own over-the-board rated play. I mean, one thing is to tell a 4th grader, who has years of chess ahead of him, to think long-term and another thing is to submit myself – as a 41 year-old – to the pain and humiliation (“and there will be pain and humiliation,” Silman warns!) of losing like a beginner because I am now playing the Sicilian Accelerated Dragon which scared the Colle System loving heart right outta my throat! So this is precisely what I did. After all, forty plus year olds, are we just simply playing chess to scrape up a bit more rating points? I know I am! Or are we committed to raising our understating and love of the game? Yes, I hear all across tournament halls the “give me rating points” chants. I am, nevertheless, moving forward head first against this fear of rating points drop which may potentially make our economy look bullish.
So it all started this past Tuesday at the QCCA club Tuesday night G/90. Here is my game against 2242 rated Master – and all around cool kid – Josh Mu. This is officially the first time I play the Dragon and you’ll notice there is a great deal of pain and humiliation – for me, that is. There also may be a lesson at the end of it. First the game with just a few comments:
So what did I learn for all my trouble and tears in this 18 move miniature for Josh Mu? I’ll tell you what: I now agree with Jeremy Silman and I am going to go ahead and scrap my entire safer than Mayberry on a Sunday afternoon opening repertoire. I am committing one year to playing all the sharp and tactical lines I have sought hard to avoid. No more 1. Nf3 and no more safe lines with black against 1. e4, like my favorite Philidor. I do hate to let that one go because it has brought me some nice victories, but nope: all Dragon! Just saying that scares me. But that may just be the thing to keep me growing. Not the desire to scrape up 20 more rating points, but the exhilaration of playing a fun game of dangerous chess. And in the end I hope to be a better more rounded player and a person who faced his fears.
I may lose another 100 rating points and update you on more humiliating losses, but I am willing to become a beginner for one year starting with that painful loss to Josh Mu on July 10th, 2012. And now to build that razor-sharp repertoire; I’ll keep you updated!
Fabio A. Hurtado, Chess Coach and Upper School Dean of Academics at Cannon School in Concord, North Carolina.