Ashley’s Secret: Aikido Chess!

by ChessBase
10/20/2010 – American GM Maurice Ashley is one of the games premier commentators. He has authored books, traveled the world promoting the virtues of chess and has recently released a DVD in partnership with ChessBase. It offers a new and general strategy: look for what your opponents last move did that actually hurt his position. Review by Michael Jeffreys.

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Ashley’s Secret: “Aikido Chess”

Review by Michael Jeffreys

On his DVD, GM Maurice Ashley has taken the art of Aikido, and brilliantly applied it to chess. That is, instead of "looking for the best move in the position," which is the normal thing chess books tell you to do, GM Ashley has you look for what your opponents last move did that actually hurt his position. In other words, what was the drawback of your opponents move?

Aikido (合気道) is a Japanese martial art which uses the motion of the attacker, redirecting the force of his attack rather than opposing it head-on. It requires very little physical strength, as the practitioner "leads" the attacker's momentum to his own advantage.

GM Maurice Ashley has used Aikido as his paradigm for a new and highly effective strategy that chess players can us

Like with Aikido, you are using your opponent’s movement/energy against him. “Okay, he pushed a pawn... now the two old squares it was guarding are no longer guarded... how can I use this to my advantage?” or “His bishop came off of the a2 - g8 diagonal and now his knight is no longer defended. How can I exploit this?”

In a way, this is the Yang to IM Jeremy Silman's Yin. What I mean by this is Silman's philosophy includes having his students ask themselves before playing a move, "What wonderful thing does this move do for my position?" (Yin).

Well, I could just imagine GM Ashley's students asking themselves, as soon as a move was made by one of Silman’s students, "What horrible thing did that move do to my opponent's position?" (Yang).

Ashley's concept is simply taking advantage of the fact that we live in a dualistic world. That contained within anything "good" is equal amounts "bad"– they are the opposite sides of the same coin, i.e., you cannot have one without the possibility of the other. For example, the moment you win $1000.00, you suddenly and simultaneously create the possibility that you could lose $1000.00.

In a way, you could call this pessimists chess. Your opponent is focused on all the good things his move does, but you, “the eagle-eyed pessimist,” spot all the problems with the move!

GM Ashley explaining the philosophy of what he calls "drawback
chess,” as in, "What's the drawback of my opponent’s last move?"

Verlinsky, Boris-Alekhine, Alexander 0-1
All-Russian St Petersburg, 1909

In the game below, video #5 on the DVD, Maurice nicely explains the Aikido philosophy to us as he takes us through one of the great Alexander Alekhine’s lesser known games. White has just played 9. b3, with the clear idea of playing Bb2 and taking control of the a1-h8 long diagonal.

White has just played 9.b3, and Alekhine found an an interesting and aggressive reply. Can you find it?

Black played 9…c4!?, taking advantage of his opponent’s last move, which created a target. Now, White has a tough choice to make. Do you ignore the pawn and just continue with 10.Bb2, or do you grab the “free” pawn? Well, White figured if he doesn’t take the pawn, then Black will play 10…cxb3 next move, and get rid of his doubled pawns. This would give Black a healthy 3 vs 2 pawn majority on the queenside, which means strong winning endgame chances. And so, White bit the bullet and grabbed the pawn with 10. bxc4.

And now, Maurice explains that Alekhine’s next move didn’t feel right to him. Alexander played the somewhat obvious 10…Ba4?, attacking the c2 pawn. However, Ashley shares that when he first saw this game, his intuition told him that Black must have a better move than simply trying to win the pawn back right away. What move did GM Ashley prefer here?:

Black to play. Can you find GM Ashley’s preferred move to Alekhines 10…Ba4?

Maurice likes 10…0-0-0 here, and it’s hard to argue with him. It tucks Black’s king away safely and brings a rook to the open d-file. This, combined with open lines for the two bishops, give Black a significant lead in development and attacking chances (and since Alekhine is renowned for his attacking games, it is a bit surprising that he did not play this.) So now, this is the position in the game:

Now, the tables are turned. How could White have punished Alekhine’s 10…Ba4 here?

In other words, what is the drawback of Black’s last move? Ashley shows here that Verlinsky’s response to Alekhine’s move was the lazy 11.c3?!, moving the pawn so it cannot be captured by the bishop. However, had he been familiar with another of Ashley’s Aikido principles, that of actually encouraging your opponent to do what he wants to do, he might of found the strong: 11.Nbc3! This move not only immediately attacks Black’s bishop, but sets a trap in that now 11…Bxc2? loses a piece to 12. Kd2! Instead, after Verlinsky’s 11. c3, Alekhine went on to win.

The lesson here is that had either player utilized Ashley’s Aikido principles during their game, they would have found stronger moves that what they actually played.

Rarely does a DVD come along that introduces a whole new way of looking at the wonderful game of chess. However, in “The Secret to Chess” DVD from ChessBase, GM Maurice Ashley has done exactly this. On a personal note, I got a tremendous amount out of watching this DVD and my guess is you will too. My highest recommendation!


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