Monday, December 8, 2008

Getting my Strength Back. Plus 'Starting Out: the Dutch' Reviewed

So it's been well over a month since my surgery, and I'm really just now starting to get my strength back. Did a little work with a Chen Tai Chi stylist, his approach was very different from the Yang style I'm somewhat proficient in (I'm probably about 1800 in Tai Chi). I might do more.

I'm only now regaining my chess strength too, and I've found that I've lost the ability to play good 3 minute chess. It's crazy, I know, but all those long games have made me fond of thinking about my moves, if you can believe it. I find myself getting good positions and losing on time every game. I know that the clock is an integral part of the game, especially at such fast time controls; this is not an excuse, merely a pattern I see emerging that makes it hard to play 3 minute. 5 is about the fastest I can go, and I prefer 5/3 or even 2/12 or straight 15. Eventually I might just stop playing quick chess altogether. I don't know. I like long games better now. Evolution of a chess player, I suppose.

I was going to post a 2/12 game I played on ICC, but upon reflection I realize that no one wants to look at the fast games of a Class B player. So instead, I'm going to give a brief review of a book I recently bought.

A little background: I hate the Dutch. I find it hard to play against, because there is no set plan that one can employ. It's very flexible for black (a good reason to play it if a draw won't do), and the battles tend towards the positional. It's the opposite of openings I like (such as the Najdorf), where I know exactly what I'm after and can develop my pieces freely with few initial worries about strategy. I've struggled with it since I started pushing the queen's pawn, and I figured it was time to try and learn the basics.

I found Starting Out: the Dutch (by Neil McDonald) to be a good basic text, though the coverage is tilted heavily towards black in all sections. McDonald makes a point of covering white's best lines, but in each case leaves the reader with the impression that they're not really all that challenging if black knows the proper response. I've never liked such statements, because they are universally true. If one assumes chess is a draw from the starting position (a bold assumption perhaps), then all openings are equal if black makes the correct replies for the whole game. I don't feel that McDonald really gives the second player a feeling of which white plans are hardest to counter, which are most flexible, etc. As a d4 player this makes it hard for me to take McDonald at his word that a particular line is strong for white, since he usually undermines his case right away.

Those few issues aside, I do think the book is a good introduction to the theory and strategy of the Dutch. I have changes a few lines that I play against various Dutch setups as a result of reading it, and I have changed the way I play some of my current repertoire as well. I think this book helped me to get a better understanding of how to play against the flexibility of the Dutch, as well as how much patience is required on white's part to make his space advantage count. Since you can get this book new from outside vendors on Amazon for something like $8, it's worth picking up if you are interested in playing or playing against the Dutch.

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