Traps, Tricks & Mistakes: Practice Makes Perfect

“Practice makes perfect” is a proverb we have heard many times and we often repeat. All human activities require practice. We began walking by falling and standing up many times. Chess, as a game combining science and art, is not an easy activity. There are many books about the theory of openings, strategy, endgames, and so on. And knowing the theory needs the complement of practice. Once a player chooses an opening repertoire, he/she needs to understand, assimilate, and practice in order to familiarize with it.

Some players panic when facing an important game and make a common mistake. They try to surprise their opponents by choosing an opening they have never played before. Their reasoning is more or less as follows: “Probably my opponent has analyzed my games and knows my opening repertoire. Therefore, I’m going to shock him/her by playing an opening I never used before”.

The failure of that reasoning is that by acting in that way, they place themselves in a disadvantageous situation because they also don’t know that opening.

A similar case happened to soviet GM Mikhail Gurevich in his game against English GM Nigel Short, played in 1990.

In the last round of the Manila interzonal, Nigel Short played Black and needed to win. His opponent Mikhail Gurevich only needed a draw to qualify for the Candidates. Gurevich was a Queen Pawn player and presumably against 2.c4, Short intended to answer with 2…f5. Anticipating his opponent’s preparation, Gurevich tried to surprise him with a change of plans and played the Exchange Variation of the French Defense. Gurevich’s intention was to reach a simplified position after many trades. In other words, Gurevich was playing unambitiously for a draw and that mindset led him to a defeat.

The English GM and journalist Raymond Keene described the game in ‘The Spectator’ writing: “In the last round, Mikhail Gurevich just needed a draw to qualify for the Candidates. He chose the French Exchange (despite being a Queen Pawn player with White). Short beat him like a drum, and proceeded to face Kasparov in the World Championship. Gurevich’s never recovered from this blow (to qualify to world Championship level).

About the Exchange Variation in the French Defence, Anatoly Karpov, once confessed that he committed a similar mistake at the age of eleven: “In a game against a strong candidate master, I badly needed a half-point. I impudently played for a draw with White: traded on d5 on the third move of the French and then kept exchanging pieces. With every trade, my position worsened, if only microscopically. That game I lost…

The best a player can do is to stay true to the openings he/she is familiar with.

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