Lessons of a Great Battle

Gambiteer walks among us

"Gambiteer loves it when the opponent hates it."

Here are four lessons of A Great Chess Battle, the ultimate goal of those players who consider chess more as an adventure than a deadly serious sport. Sometimes the Great Battle leads to A Brilliant Victory, which is always nice, but the Great Battle alone can make the chessplayer satisfied.

Hereafter I call this adventurous player by the name Gambiteer. Of course, one does not have to play gambits to reach the noble goal of brave chess, but it definitely helps. Gambiteer's mission is twofold:

  1. Win fast. Giving a checkmate as soon as possible gives some pleasure. As White is assumed to have a small advantage in the opening, Gambiteer has to break some rules and set the board on fire in order to take total control of the game. His style of play has to be active, optimistic, risky, often unsound. He has to set opening traps constantly.
  2. Fight brilliantly. The great battle gives the greatest pleasure; the result is less important. Fascinating combinations, sacrifices and attacks inspire Gambiteer and give the whole meaning for the game. Games are wild and spectacular, moves double-edged.

Lesson 1: Surprise, surprise!

"Some players always play to win", wrote Avni in Surprise in Chess. And so does Gambiteer, which can work, quite surprisingly, as a surprise weapon because in many situations most players are more willing to take a safe draw than take a risk for a win. All-or-nothing players have many psychological assets: very few like to face mad and sudden attacks. The will to win is half a victory.

Without a plan, many players just follow well-known paths in the opening. A strange opening will shake them awake. Unorthodox openings require an exploring mind, but they also suit for the lazy players! The explanation is that instead of learning all the trendy variations of the respectable openings, Gambiteer can go deeply in some rare openings and variations, thus most often outplaying the opponent. Gambiteer is not looking for the objectively strongest move but the strangest one.

Lesson 2: Take risks?!

Gambiteer walks a tightrope even as White, taking a risk of losing the slight advantage given by the first move -- in order to gain even bigger advantage. But it should also be considered what are the risks of not taking the risk: the game might turn into some standard, boring, easy-to-understand opening.

According to Avni, the analogy between chess and war is not perfect because chessplayers have equal chances: the starting position is (almost) equal, both players make one move in their turn, and they both see the whole battlefield all the time. What is most important, it is notably easier to take risks in chess as, after all, it is only game -- for most of us anyway.

Lesson 3: Create complications!?

The more you have pieces, the more you can create combinations. Gambiteer's guiding stars, combinations, typically arise from complicated positions that no-one can objectively assess. This strategy includes inherent optimism: finding the best plan in complicated positions is difficult, and the player more familiar with that type of positions clearly has better chances. Gambiteer trusts his imagination in finding more profound tactics; many players dislike complications and are prone to make weak moves.

The player with more material wins most endgames, and Gambiteer by definition has less material. Simplifying the position, for reaching endgame, is therefore hardly ever an option for Gambiteer: he knows by heart that all exchanges shall be avoided. In fact, he considers exchanging pieces only in three cases:

Lesson 4: Attack!!

To win fast, one must attack. Typically only the player with the initiative can attack. The initiative can be gained in two ways: passively, by waiting for the opponent's error; or actively, by playing in an unorthodox way.

Gambiteer is used to sacrifice in order to take the initiative. Steinitz urged the player with the initiative to init an attack. But how do you know when you have the initiative? Hard facts (space or time advantage) often tell it, but there are also psychological factors: by always attacking, Gambiteer may eventually gain the initiative!

Start to fight

There are a huge amount of wild and unexplored openings to choose from. For the beginning, Unorthodox Chess Openings (UCO) by Schiller introduces more than 1,200 of them! A review of UCO by British Chess Magazine put it nicely: "Schiller seems more comfortable sifting through the garbage of the more weird and wonderful opening-mutations than appreciating the best of contemporary theory."

Many players miss promising opportunities just because of their deep love for material. They simply are afraid of sacrificing -- unless, of course, there is an immediate win, or extra material is clearly to be gained in the end.

Spielmann gave an advice: "In the opening of a game; play like a book; in the midgame, play like a magician; in the ending, play like a machine." Choose unorthodox openings, and you can play the opening by your own book!

Example: Diemer-Duhm Gambit

Most unorthodox openings are perfectly fine, except maybe for master-level correspondence games. Here is one sample of a quick and delightful kill in the Diemer-Duhm Gambit (DDG) by the strongest (rating around 2500) and most tireless DDG player in the world: Brause, a crafty chess program.

Brause - itz, Internet Chess Server, 1996

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.c4 (DDG) 3...dxe4 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.f3 exf3 6.Nxf3 c5 7.d5 Bd6 (7...exd5 8.cxd5 Bd6 is the critical variation, also included in UCO) 8.Bg5 h6 9.Bxf6 Qxf6 10.Ne4 Qe7 11.Nxd6+ Qxd6 12.Bd3 e5 13.Qe2 Nd7 14.Bf5 O-O 15.O-O Re8 16.Rae1 (White has developed all pieces) 16...g6 17.Bxd7 Bxd7 18.Qe3 g5


19.Nxe5!! (Today Spielmann might say: "In the midgame, play like a machine") 19...f6 20.Qe4 fxe5 21.Rf7! 1-0

More games, analysis and provocative articles are available on the DDG pages: http://www.funet.fi/pub/doc/games/chess/ddg/


Amatzia Avni, Surprise in Chess, Cadogan, 1998.

Eric Schiller, Unorthodox Chess Openings, Cardoza, 1998.

Jyrki Heikkinen 1999