HOW TO BEAT YOUNGER PLAYERS

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NIGEL DAVIES

The tournament hall is quiet.  Play is moving into it's third hour.  If one listens carefully there is just the hum of super-charged brain cells.  At one board a small hand travels over the board, pick's up a piece, places it down purposefully and in a falsetto voice the owner of the hand declares "Mate".  On the opposite side of the board, the player - old enough to be his opponent's father or even grandfather- clutches his forehead in anguish and utters a groan of dismay.  He stretches out his hand to ruefully clasp the digits that have created this havoc, probably thinking that he would rather throttle his opponent than shake his hand. 

Recognise the scene?  Of course you do! You have at some time been in the position of the elder player and have suffered the torment of having to own up to your friends the measure of your disgrace.

You wonder how long it will be before such a memory fades and dread the next time you will have to sit opposite a player in his early teens once again.  Don't worry!  Help is at hand in the shape of grandmaster Nigel Davies and this, his latest Fritztrainer DVD.

This is a particular apt subject for today as chess is very quickly becoming a young man's game and if one is over the age of, say, 35 it is increasingly likely that 75% or more of your opponents will be younger.  The main disadvantages that militate against mature players is that today playing sessions demand quicker play and are demanding on one's concentration and fitness.  Furthermore, one's time for study is curtailed by other responsibilities of family and work.

Apart from suggestions on how to maintain fitness by exercise (mainly walking) and avoiding high adrenalin drinks during play, Nigel puts forward some sound and logical ideas on how to conduct play.

Initially he considers the use of "low maintenance openings" i.e. openings away from the main theoretical lines that demand little preparation.  After all, in the main, mature players do not have the time and opportunity that younger players have to follow the latest published twist in the theoretical main lines and the chance to test these against computers.  Such low maintenance openings are the Accelerated Dragon in the Sicilian Defence and the Rubinstein Variation of the French Defence when answering 1.e4.

Using the theme of restraint, Nigel deals with some psychological aspects that the mature player can consider when playing younger colleagues.  Here he advocates playing for small advantages and eschewing wild combinations that can be better handled by younger minds.  The end game can be a fruitful phase for the elder player and steering a game in this direction will also reduce the stress levels.  In this particular section, he gives as an example the play of Mark Taimanov  at the Owens Corning tournament of 1997, when the ex-Soviet grandmaster - then aged 71 - won even though there were several stronger and younger players taking part.  He did so mainly by his restrained play leading to endgames, in which of course his expertise bore many rewards.  

An example given is his game with Donaldson from the second round.  Playing a restrained Bogo-Indian as Black, the game reached this position after 36 moves.

At first glance, it would appear that White holds a slight advantage in that he has two pawn islands compared with Black's three islands.  However, as Taimanov was able to demonstrate, (not without some help from his opponent, it must be admitted) that White's pawn at b2 is the critical feature in the position.  He went on to win.

This also illustrates another point made by Nigel. A younger player can get frustrated when faced with playing a technical game and this could lead to his demise.  In his later years Emmanuel Lasker was a past master in this particular ploy.  The DVD gives an example of the way in which he handled younger players using his win against Euwe at Nottingham in 1936 as an example.  Nottingham was destined to be the last tournament in which Lasker participated but he had not lost his unique understanding and ability to play in many different modes. 

The DVD is wrapped up with a close look at four grandmasters whose longevity demanded that they had to (and some still do!) fight against younger players - Lasker, Kortchnoi, Smyslov and Karpov.  What is notable about these four is their technical expertise in end game play.  Of particular interest is the game Kortchnoi - Tiviakov played at Banyoles in 2006.  Kortchnoi won with seemingly simple and unanswerable ease, and the lecturer describes the nuances in a clear and precise dialogue.

This DVD is a significant addition to the Fritztrainer strategy series.  In fourteen lectures covered by over three hours of video presentation, Nigel Davies lucidly explains some of the ammunition that the mature player can employ against young and aggressive opponents.  As befits a coach he has an engaging style of delivery and combines this with penetrating explanations of critical moments in the games he uses as examples. The format is again in the impeccable ChessBase media system that continues to give a clear and very visually appealing picture.

There is just one other thing that ChessBase can do to complete the appeal of this DVD to mature players and that is to bar sales to anyone under thirty-five years of age!

 

Bill Frost

May 2009