By Davide Nastasio
Everyman Chess 2016, 220 pages
This title made me curious, because in some of the open tournaments I play I find a lot of sandbaggers who are underrated, and I wish they were overrated! I cannot even understand how they keep their rating around a certain number so precisely year after year. Everyone else changes. Even top GMs, as they get older, may drop from 2700 to 2400, but the sandbaggers are able to keep themselves around their 1700 or 1900 rating without ever going too over or too under throughout their chess careers!
The author James Schuyler is famous for another work on an opening which could be controversial: 1…Nc6. The book title was The Dark Knight System.
An additional reason I wanted to read Your Opponent is Overrated was relative to my improvement. On the road to chess mastery we need to use all the tools at our disposal for improving. This book is aimed at giving us methods to improve our practical play, develop a win-oriented attitude, and examine ways to induce our opponents to blunder (at least this is written on the back cover).
The author tells us that the title he wanted for the book was “No Draw!” and begins an elaborate reasoning to show why we should NOT play for a draw, that we should play for a win or loss. To support this statement, I must add one small anecdote I became aware a couple of days ago, thanks to IM Sachdev and her passion for Fischer’s games!
There was this game played between Fischer and Geller in 1968, and the funny story told by IM Sachdev is the following: Geller, after 5-6 moves asks Fischer for a draw, and Fischer tells him that he would like to play a little more because it is too early. Then they play another 10 moves, and Geller once more asks for the draw, and Fischer answers: “Now it is too late!”
(I don’t want to spoil the story, which is funny; however, I do always check my sources, and this “Geller” was not Efim Geller, 6-time Candidate at the World championship.)
Here is the game, which is quite instructive because it proves the author’s point when he writes that we should avoid draws and always play for a win!
I found the following reasoning made by Schuyler in the book very important, and often misunderstood by scholastic players who ask for a draw every other move: “And since you rarely accept draws, your games are longer, and you accumulate more experience, especially in endgames.” And while this is a technical aspect, the psychological aspect is considered too: “Your opponents start to fear you, since every time they play you, they are stuck in the ring with you until there is only one of you left standing.”
At the same time I disagree with some statements made by the author, for example at page 11: “What’s this The Blackmar-Diemer gambit? Everyone knows that it is unsound, like the Smith-Morra and the King’s gambit.” Now the author in reality is supporting White’s decision of playing the Blackmar-Diemer, because he says against a higher-rated opponent one should play aggressively.
However, the part I disagree with, and which could throw off a beginner, is about the unsoundness of gambits. I spent at least 1 year playing all types of gambits, and I think it is fundamental for a “young” player (be it for age or just meaning someone who just learned the game recently) to play gambits, because it will open the mind to some important chess concepts like Time and Development.
But for those who are not familiar with the King’s Gambit, let me show you one of the rising chess stars, an Indian GM who played the King’s Gambit against the 2nd-best player in the world, someone who many foresee as a future world champion.
Gambits are fun, violent, and give you that shot of adrenaline which makes life remarkable! Here is a Smith-Morra gambit. Notice the White player, GM Gareyev, was giving a blindfold simul in which he broke the world record. The simul lasted 23 hours if I remember correctly. It was a marathon. But take a look at the game, and remember there is no refutation for the Smith-Morra. Best play by Black gives equality.
As reviewer of the book, I’d like to reason on some points which for me are not clear. In game 3, page 23, the author presents us with some statistics: “This deranged move initiates the Halloween Gambit … if Black defends correctly he is close to winning, according to various sources included Stockfish 5…. Yet somehow when the gambit is actually played the statistics are 44% to 44% with 12% draws. But the gambit couldn’t be possibly successful against a strong player. White is outrated by 400 points….”
Here the author presented one game where White was outrated (because Black was a GM) and White won.
1.e4,e5; 2.Nf3,Nc6; 3.Nc3,Nf6; 4.Nxe5,
This is the game for those who are curious, however it is well annotated in the book:
Now let’s come to the points I don’t agree with:
1. In game n. 3, Black does lose but at move 42, which makes me think the problem wasn’t in the opening. In fact, the “blunder” which doomed the game for Black was played at move 37.
2. Where did Schuyler get those statistics, and for which ratings? Because statistics are often misused. Let’s say the result of White’s wins (44%) is made against Black players rated 1200-1800, while the 44% of Black’s wins is made against White players rated 2200-2600. Clearly we would know this opening is a great success for Black, and we should all play it. But now let’s switch the statistics. Same ratings, but reverse White and Black, and we know Black should never play it.
3. I have used Megabase 2017 for my statistical research and used this wonderful tool called Opening Report, for the opening in question.
These are the results:
- White scores averagely (54%)
- White performs Elo 1913 against an opposition of Elo 1885 (+28)
- Black performs Elo 1844 against an opposition of Elo 1872 (-28)
- White wins: 72 (=47%), Draws: 19 (=13%), Black wins: 61 (=40%)
- The drawing quote is very low. (3% quick draws, < 20 Moves)
- White wins are shorter than average (33)
- Black wins are of average length (38)
- Draws are shorter than average (33)
But it also breaks it for lines one could play:
Maybe according to the author, 44% was based on an average rating of 1893. In any case, the following report would have been more clear for a reader, who maybe is unaware of the tools chess players have at their disposal today, and which shapes the decision to play or avoid some openings. For example, Polok tried the same opening 2 years later in the European Blitz championship. Result? Not so good! He lost in 17 moves!
What the author really wants to say in the chapter dedicated to the “Opening” on page 28 is “if you are serious about generating wins, you cannot afford to let the opening phase pass without trying to pose problems for your opponent.” I do agree with such an idea, but the problem is that the author forgot to tell me “HOW” I should do that, so I can test if such an approach is valid in practice.
Let’s return to review the book: it is made up of 17 chapters, as we saw in the chapter related to the Opening. It is full of ideas which can generate a debate between the author and the reader. Such polemics can be quite good, because through questioning oneself, or the author, one can reach a new understanding on how to go forward in the journey toward chess mastery. This is the reason we buy chess books, chess DVDs, lessons from GMs, etc. We all want to become master one day, and we hope that a certain book or DVD will bring us there. The book deals with what every amateur would like to know, and has doubts about. It does this through an array of different topics, treated in different chapters, e.g. material imbalances, lost positions, clock, the endgame, etc. These topics are worth pursuing and reading about, because maybe they can shift our view and give us an extra edge in the next tournament game.
In the book there are also many games played by Schuyler, mainly used to prove his point of view, or introduce us to it. Those games show Schuyler’s tournament experience, and the lessons learned. In the chapter about the middlegame, the author mentions Alex Sherzer, a titled player not active anymore, who in his opinion has some beautiful games which are easy to understand for students. Well, this is what I’m looking for in a book. When the author shares some games or gives me a hint of what to look for, and through that search I learn something new. Does this mean I’ll become a GM thanks to reading the book? Surely not. But I’ll improve as a chess player, and that is worth it for me.
I’d like to conclude the review with a game which is nicely annotated in the book, and one that you will not find in any major database. I loved the final position.
As a good exercise, try to annotate the game for yourself, and then once you have the book compare it with the author’s annotation.
Review: Chessbase Magazine 175 Next Post:
Review: The Sicilian Dragon Move by Move, by Carsten Hansen