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In the Arena Playing Black INSIDE THE MIND OF GM VARUZHAN AKOBIAN By GM VARUZHAN AKOBIAN & WILLIAM FAULK One of our top players gives his insights on playing the second move.

AMONG GRANDMASTERS, having the white pieces constitutes such a consider- able advantage that Black is typically merely trying to equalize and often hopes only to draw. The white pieces allow a high-level player to take full advantage of preparation and even grandmasters are usually much more confident when they have white. White is able to dictate play given that he starts the game with the ini- tiative and has some control over what type of battle will ensue: positional or tactical. My own results serve as evidence of the superiority of the white pieces when they are in the hands of a high-level player. My winning percentage is signif- icantly higher when I’ve had white and this is true of most grandmasters. Given the fact that White has the first

move, he dictates and limits—to a large degree—Black’s feasible responses. It is usually a good idea for a non-titled player to select one defense against e4 and one against d4 and learn them “inside and out” so to speak. This limits the amount of studying a player must do in order to become proficient in the opening with black. Black must however, have a solid response, not only to 1. e4 and 1. d4 but also to 1. c4 and 1. f4 at minimum. The openings 1. c4 (the English) and 1. f4 (the Bird) are much less common than the openings in which a pawn occupies a center square but the player seeking to improve with black should become famil- iar with a solid response to each. With regard to less common openings, for example 1. g4 (the Grob), if Black pos- sesses a sound knowledge of opening principles, he can often rely upon this knowledge to find sound responses to White’s quirky opening without actually knowing it in detail. According to statistics, among top-rated

36 Chess Life — July 2012

players (FIDE 2500 and above) the best chances for Black against: 1. e4 is 1. ... e5. Black’s 1. ... e5 response to 1. e4 is known as the “open game” aka the “double king’s pawn game.” However, despite its statis- tical superiority, it is only the second most popular defense among players rated FIDE 2500 and above as most grandmasters opt for some variation of the Sicilian Defense (1. e4 c5)—the most popular choice against 1. e4. The Sicilian is regarded as an “attacking” defense as it immediately strikes at the center at the d4-square. Note that if all of the games contained in the databases are taken into account, then it is the Sicilian that offers best chances for Black while 1. ... e5 is second. In fact, it is primarily because of the power and success of the Sicilian that 1. d4 offers White better chances than 1. e4. The move sequence: 1. e4 e5 is the

first move in a variety of open game open- ings that include the Ruy Lopez, the Vienna Game, the King’s Gambit, the Center Game and many others, most of which are less favored. The third most popular defense for Black, after the Sicil- ian Defense and the open game, is the French Defense (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5). It is my choice against 1. e4 and I’ve been a practitioner of the “French” over the past 20 plus years. Statistically, the most successful

response, that is, the move offering the best chances for Black to win or draw ver- sus 1. d4 is 1. ... Nf6 when it leads to the Nimzo-Indian Defense (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4). Reaching the Nimzo-Indian depends upon White’s third move choice in the Queen’s Gambit. Given that the Queen’s Gambit (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4) offers the best chances for White and so is very commonly played, the Nimzo-Indian is often available to Black. However, if White

plays 1. d4 and the Queen’s Gambit as follows: 1. ... Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 and Black still responds 3. ... Bb4+, he is now playing the Bogo-Indian Defense which offers Black very low winning chances but the best opportunity to draw out of all available defenses. Black’s move 1. ... d5 is statistically the second-most successful response to White’s Queen’s Gambit when Black plays the Queen’s Gambit Accepted (1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4) or the Semi-Slav Defense (1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 c6). Note that the “text” or best moves in the

opening are “best” because they have been tested by the strongest chess engines and more importantly, by the strongest human players. The best opening moves have been proven to secure an advantage for White and maintain equality or near equality for Black. Other moves are less than optimal for one’s position. They fail to improve a position or worse, cause it to become inferior. Against another grandmaster, the player

having the black pieces may nevertheless press the action despite White’s initial advantage. Whether Black does so nor- mally depends upon the strength of the opponent having the white pieces. Human nature is such that if I happen to know that my opponent is one hundred or more rating points lower than I, I am probably going to play more aggressively even if only subconsciously. When an opponent is rated significantly

lower than I (for example, two hundred or more points) but the position is equal, it is likely that I will continue playing any- way even when I have the black pieces. I will attempt to create problems for him; for example, by applying and maintaining pressure (such as by trying to seize the initiative) by creating complications with

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