Don’t Blame the Opening

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Last Thursday, I played against Allen Becker, a local 2000 player. Typically, when I have White against Allen, I play the 6.Be2 Najdorf. I planned to compile a file of all of the games in this line from 2023 in which both players were 2500 minimum, then work through them in preparation for this game.

My Chessbase had other ideas, and I had to spend some time deleting and recreating my search booster, along with some other maintenance work. So, I was thinking before the game that I had two choices.

First, I could play into what would likely be the 6.Be2 Najdorf. I assume Allen spent some time that day (and perhaps prior) looking at these lines to prepare.

Second, I could play 1.d4, and we would likely wind up in a Queen’s Indian.

Decisions needed to be made, and I ultimately went with Option 2. As I mentioned to Allen after the game, the problem here is that I have played the Najdorf as recently as he has, whereas I hadn’t played the White side of the QID in years.

First, let’s start with the game:

Now, let’s start with the excuses.

  • “I had to stay out of his prep.”
  • “I didn’t know the opening/I didn’t have time to memorize the lines/I’m not playing my normal stuff.”

Are those legit? Perhaps in their own way, but certainly not in relation to this game. Let’s look at why.

First, take this position:

This is where it’s easy to say stuff like, “Here, I went wrong with 13.Rc1 since 13.Ne5 has been played more than five times as often.” That is a 100% true statement, but let’s face it, it’s an excuse. The three most popular moves here, in order, according to my database, are 13.Ne5 (73 times); 13.Re1 (19 times); 13.Rc1 (14 times), and so there it is, right? The third most popular line equals didn’t know the opening well enough, and that’s why I lost!

However, Stockfish 16, at a depth of 40, gives the following as the top three moves in this order. 13.a3 (-0.09); 13.Qb1 (-0.09); 13.Rc1 (-0.13).

So, ultimately, I played the best move of the three shown in my database, according to the engine. Hmm… it must not be that I didn’t know the opening.

Now, let’s take this position:

Here, I play a move that has never appeared in my database, 13.Na4?. I can pretend as long and as loud as I like that the reason I played this move is that I didn’t know the opening, but you don’t have to know an opening to know enough not to make stupid moves.

My thought process here is that I want to fight for control of the c file, so I want to get the knight out of the way. Stockfish 16, again at a depth of 40, will tell you that the position here is -0.60. This is hardly the evaluation of a dead-lost position. In fact, it’s only slightly worse.

The problem isn’t the eval; it’s the lack of understanding. Here, I refuse to abide by solid chess principles. After all, my vague dream to “fight for control of the c file” is nonsense in this position. Allen can play 12..Ba3 13.Rc2 Qe7 and so much for any hope I have to control anything.

While Allen doesn’t play that line, what he plays is fine. This leads us five moves later, to this:

Here I know I need to get my knight back into the game. So I start calculating. I look at 18.Qb2 and 18.Nc3. I ultimately decide the Nc3 idea has the trappy little idea in it.

I look at the following:

13.Nc3 Rc8 14.Nex4 Rxc1 15.Nxd6 Rc6 16.Nxf7 Kxf7 and it seems a bit unclear  to me, but probably a little better. The engine will tell you it’s much, much better, but I did not know during the game if it was, just that it likely was a bit better, though unclear.

However, after 13.Nc3 Rc8 14.Nex4 Black doesn’t have to take the queen. He can play 14…dxe4 instead. But here, I can just play 15.Qxc8+ and then after 15…Nf8, I must be completely winning since I can save the knight on f3.

Oops. Do you see the fatal flaw? Give it some thought. It’s below my signature.

So here we are at the end of an important lesson. It’s easy to blame the lack of opening knowledge, but that wouldn’t be correct since that’s not what cost me the game. It was my lack of understanding in general, along with the utter oversight in calculation.

The good news is that this understanding means that the problem can be fixed, whereas taking the easy way out and blaming the opening would mean that I wouldn’t have identified the actual issue.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscot





Oops, the bishop on a6 will snap off the queen. I missed this entirely.