Edward Winter's Chess Explorations (38)

4/6/2010 – Commentators have remarked that certain masters have favourite moves, an example being Gideon Ståhlberg’s liking for the pawn advance ...c4 in the Queen’s Gambit Declined and the French Defence. The Editor of Chess Notes gives a number of examples of such predilections and invites readers to delve further into the subject on the basis of research with databases.

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Chess Explorations (38)

By Edward Winter

In C.N. 18 we wrote:

‘Particular players particularly like particular moves. Bent Larsen is famously fond of flank pawn advances, such as a4/a5 or h4/h5. In his book H.E. Atkins Doyen of British Chess Champions (London, 1952), R.N. Coles points out that the great player (nine times British champion between 1905 and 1925) regularly played f4 or ... f5 early in the game. We would welcome other instances of pet moves.’

Page 12 of the book concerns a game in which ‘Atkins employs a stratagem which was to become a favourite weapon in his armoury, the advance P-KB4 when both players have pawns on K4 and Q3’. A game annotation on page 31 mentions that Atkins ‘sees already the opportunity of playing his favourite P-KB4’.

A number of Chess Notes readers subsequently put forward proposals concerning other masters. In C.N. 409 W.H. Cozens (Ilminster, England) suggested Euwe’s Qb3/b6 and Suttles’ h4/h5. Hugh Myers (Davenport, IA, USA) wrote to offer g3/g6 for Suttles, and g4/g5 for Basman. A further contribution, in C.N. 620, came from Sixten Johansson (Göteborg, Sweden), who noted a pet move of Gideon Ståhlberg: ...c4 as Black in both the Queen’s Gambit Declined and the French Defence.


Gideon Ståhlberg

C.N. 740 quoted from pages 22-23 of Nigel Short: Chess Prodigy by David Short (London, 1981):

‘If Nigel has one “favourite move” it has to be e4-e5.’

In C.N. 1043 we wrote:

‘This theme was touched on by A. Soltis in Chess Life & Review, November 1979 (page 608). Crediting the BCM (no date given), Mr Soltis quoted the following: Marshall – Bd3/d6; Chigorin – e4/e5; Philidor – c3/c6; Morphy – f4/f5; Steinitz – f3/f6. He then added: Larsen – h4/h5; Karpov – Qcl or b1/c8 or b8; Fischer – Bc4/c5; Suttles – Nh3/h6; Spassky – d5/d4; Petrosian – b4/b5.’

Here it may be added that the BCM item for which Mr Soltis gave no exact source was the final part of an article by Stasch Mlotkowski on pages 134-135 of the May 1918 issue:

C.N. 1242 quoted an observation by W.H. Watts on page 20 of One-Hundred-and-One of My Best Games of Chess by F.D. Yates (London, 1934):

‘Having played through every game in this book at least three times I am convinced that P-KKt4 after castling on the king’s side must have been adopted by Yates more often than by any other player.’

In C.N. 1518 a selection of Reshevsky’s early games was presented, and in the following item we noted how often, as White, he played Qe2 in the initial stages.

It may be noted too that Janowsky commented on Chigorin’s liking for ...Qe7, on pages 15-16 of the 21 January 1903 issue of La Stratégie. Annotating a game between Collijn and Mieses which began 1 e4 e5 2 d4 exd4 3 c3 dxc3 4 Bc4 cxb2 5 Bxb2 Qe7, Janowsky wrote:

‘Une variante de M. Tschigorine adoptée par lui au tournoi de Hannovre contre M. Mieses. Il est curieux de constater que M. Tschigorine a une prédilection particulière pour ce coup baroque, il le joue à tout propos; que ce soit dans la Partie Française, dans la Partie Viennoise ou dans le Gambit Danois, il le trouve toujours bon ... quant à nous [nous] le trouvons bon pour l’adversaire!’


Dawid Janowsky

All the above citations come from the pre-database age, being essentially founded on general impressions as to masters’ pet moves. It would be interesting to find out whether such beliefs can be confirmed, invalidated or supplemented by computer research.


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All ChessBase articles by Edward Winter


Edward Winter is the editor of Chess Notes, which was founded in January 1982 as "a forum for aficionados to discuss all matters relating to the Royal Pastime". Since then, over 6,500 items have been published, and the series has resulted in four books by Winter: Chess Explorations (1996), Kings, Commoners and Knaves (1999), A Chess Omnibus (2003) and Chess Facts and Fables (2006). He is also the author of a monograph on Capablanca (1989).

Chess Notes is well known for its historical research, and anyone browsing in its archives will find a wealth of unknown games, accounts of historical mysteries, quotes and quips, and other material of every kind imaginable. Correspondents from around the world contribute items, and they include not only "ordinary readers" but also some eminent historians – and, indeed, some eminent masters. Chess Notes is located at the Chess History Center. Signed copies of Edward Winter's publications are currently available.


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