One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

11/8/2007 – Some people find the typical household chore of taking out the garbage annoying, but in chess it’s a real pleasure facing and taking out the opponent’s garbage openings. In his Thursday night Playchess lecture, Dennis Monokroussos scrapes the bottom of the barrel and targets what he considers may be the worst opening in chess: the Latvian Gambit.

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Dennis Monokroussos writes:

Some people find the typical household chore of taking out the garbage annoying, but in chess it’s a real pleasure facing and taking out the opponent’s garbage openings. There’s a saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and it’s true in chess as well. Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov were virtuosi with the King’s Indian Defense (treasure), but Tigran Petrosian often joked that he fed his family with the proceeds from the King’s Indian. Petrosian also said that if your opponent threatens to play the Dutch Defense, let him. We’re not going to cast any aspersions on the King’s Indian or even the Dutch, however. No, we’re headed straight for the bottom of the barrel: our target for this week’s show is possibly the worst opening in chess, the Latvian Gambit.

The Latvian Gambit, formerly known as the Greco Counter Gambit, got its name from the Latvian player Karlis Betins, who analyzed it in the early part of the 20th century. The opening is characterized by the moves 1.e4 e5
2.Nf3 f5?!
, which give it the appearance of a King's Gambit with the colours reversed.

Some might protest that the Latvian Gambit is not really that bad, and especially that it’s a “practical” choice (this is code for “if my opponent has never spent five to ten minutes studying it or fallen for its two or three basic traps before, I might have a chance). The statistics do NOT bear this out. Even though many Latvian players are specialists, while their white opponents see it at most every five to ten years, PowerBook 2007 shows White with a gargantuan 67.8% score after 2…f5? – and that figure goes up to 71.9% when White plays 3.Nxe5. In the correspondence database it’s a bit more balanced, but there are an awful lot of games between weak players. Once it’s filtered to include only games where both players are over 2000 – a pretty modest requirement – White’s score goes to 69%. If both players are over 2200, it soars to 74%.

Why, then, do people trot this opening out from time to time? More importantly, what should you do when you see such an opening? And how should you respond to writers advocating offbeat variations like these? We’ll discuss all these questions and more during our show, and along the way we’ll look at David Bronstein’s brilliant dispatching of Vladas Mikenas from the Semi-Finals of the 1941 USSR Championship. Mikenas was a strong master at the time, while Bronstein, a few years away from becoming one of the world’s best players, was just 17 years old. Even so, and despite facing this unusual opening, he introduced a very interesting novelty on move 6, was winning by move 8, and won in 24 moves (with mate in one pending). In short, it was a complete success for Bronstein, and as we reflect on the game, we’ll know how to succeed as well, when it’s time to take out the trash.

Curious? If so, join me at 9 p.m. ET today (Thursday) – Latvian fans are welcome!

Dennis Monokroussos' Radio ChessBase lectures begin on Thursdays at 9 p.m. EDT, which translates to 01:00h GMT, 02:00 Paris/Berlin, 11:00h Sydney (on Friday). Other time zones can be found at the bottom of this page. You can use Fritz or any Fritz-compatible program (Shredder, Junior, Tiger, Hiarcs) to follow the lectures, or download a free trial client.

You can find the exact times for different locations in the world at World Time and Date. Exact times for most larger cities are here. And you can watch older lectures by Dennis Monokroussos offline in the Chess Media System room of Playchess:

Enter the above archive room and click on "Games" to see the lectures. The lectures, which can go for an hour or more, will cost you between one and two ducats. That is the equivalent of 10-20 Euro cents (14-28 US cents).



Monokroussos in Mexico: world championship 2007
 

Dennis Monokroussos is 41, lives in South Bend, IN, where he teaches chess and occasionally works as an adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and Indiana University-South Bend.

At one time he was one of the strongest juniors in the U.S. and has reached a peak rating of 2434 USCF, but several long breaks from tournament play have made him rusty. He is now resuming tournament chess in earnest, hoping to reach new heights.

Dennis has been working as a chess teacher for ten years now, giving lessons to adults and kids both in person and on the internet, worked for a number of years for New York’s Chess In The Schools program, where he was one of the coaches of the 1997-8 US K-8 championship team from the Bronx, and was very active in working with many of CITS’s most talented juniors.

When Dennis Monokroussos presents a game, there are usually two main areas of focus: the opening-to-middlegame transition and the key moments of the middlegame (or endgame, when applicable). With respect to the latter, he attempts to present some serious analysis culled from his best sources (both text and database), which he has checked with his own efforts and then double-checked with his chess software.


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