SwitChess – an experiment with the black pieces

by ChessBase
9/10/2016 – The first-move advantage in chess is historically varified. Statistics for the last 165 years show that White consistently wins between 52 and 56 percent of the games. Some chess theorists have challenged the view that this is solely a consequence of being able to make the first move. GM András Adorján wrote a series of books on the theme "Black is OK!", arguing that the general perception that White has an advantage is founded more in psychology than reality. András conducted an experiment to test his theory.

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SwitChess – an experiment with the black pieces

By András Adorján

SwitChess is very good for training and exhibition. It’s naturally played according to traditional chess. The only difference is that the two camps change places in the beginning position. Black is to start standing in the place of White, in return White that is playing in the place of Black replies.

1.e2-e4 (or anything else)

This mutation creates odd and comical pictures but not l’art pour l’art! It is an experiment. They say it is better to play with White. If it is really so, it could be only because of the right (and duty) of the first move. However almost all the associations connected with Black are negative. In the Middle Ages, and perhaps even later, each colour had a particular meaning known by everyone. Colours carried messages. Even today "colour language" has not been uprooted completely.

My book "Sicilian Subvariations" (everything other than 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 and 3.d4), a joint effort with my friends in 1994. It was part of the Black is OK! repertoire series, published in five languages – Hungarian, English, German, French and Spanish – at the same time, included a short piece in which I analysed the overwhelmingly negative associations of the colour black in Western culture. I (or any of you) can list at least as dozen phrases spontaneously (black market, black day, black widow, black cat, black sheep, blackmail, etc.) in a minute. My wife and I have collected close to a hundred from several large dictionaries, and we can rightfully state that the colour black is depressing to almost all people, if only subconsciously. White, on the other hand, usually symbolises purity, innocence and immaculacy. Typically, harmless little lies are called "white lies" in English.

So what we have on the chessboard is, subconsciously, the battle of good vs evil! Good feels morally superior, evil makes this feeling even stronger. It is simply scandalous! It’s scandalous that chess players, who are in any case often quite superstitious creatures, are given the black pieces when they have to execute the second move! I am definitely convinced that the juxtaposition of these two colours is largely responsible for the psychological handicap of the second player, and that makes Black less successful than he could be.

Well, the FIDE regulations read as follows: "The pieces of one side have to be lighter, the pieces of the other side have to be darker, and the different pieces have to be easily distinguishable." There is not a single word about "Black and White", and there are quite a few pairs of colours that satisfy the FIDE rule. We played a rapid tournament (in Bela Papp Memorial ’95) with two coloured chess sets. Red playing Blue was not bad, but Ochre taking on Purple was truly fantastic. On top of that, such chess sets make it much less tiring to play. Anyone who has already worked in the basement with no natural light will know what I am talking about. More about that in a second article.

Well, in 2009 we conducted an experiment and staged a rapid tournament (in Szombathely, Hungary). The aim was to learn whether moving first or playing White gives an advantage. Naturally you cannot draw firm conclusion of just one tournament. But I was sure that there would be interesting games and I was eager to see the statistics of this tournament: the first mover won 22, the second 17, and there were only nine draws in all 48 games (six rounds). Here is a game by the winner GM Adam Horvath, who was the second player but was moving white pieces:

This is a game you cannot convert and play over in ChessBase, but manually. Instead you can use the demo program Rainbow Chess to do so.

Makes you dizzy? The Sveshnikov and Grünfeld in SwitChess.

András Adorján (born March 31, 1950 in Budapest) is a Hungarian grandmaster and author. He was the European Junior Champion in 1969/70, and in 1969 finished runner-up in the World Junior Chess Championship (behind Anatoly Karpov). He gained his IM title in 1970 and the GM title in 1973 – the latter after he jointly won his first Hungarian Championship, going on to a further (outright) victory in 1984. He finished joint third at the Interzonal of 1979 in Riga and qualified for the World Championship Candidates Tournament. There he lost his quarter-final match to Robert Hübner.

In team chess, Adorján has an excellent record. Competing at the Chess Olympiad of 1978 he helped Hungary win the gold medal, ahead of the Soviet team that had won the event twelve consecutive times. His further participation in 1984, 1986 and 1988 contributed to a top five finish on each occasion. Adorján has also worked over the years, sometimes secretly, as a second to Garry Kasparov and to Peter Leko, helping them to prepare for important World Championship matches. He is known as a leading expert on the Grünfeld Defence, which has been favored by both Kasparov and Leko.

In recent years Andras has played less and concentrated more on writing, championing the cause of the player of the black pieces. His books – Black is OK, Black is Still OK and Black is OK Forever, challenge the popular perceptions of Black's chances. For their creativity with the black pieces Adorján cites the games of Tony Miles and Alexander Morozevich as a source of inspiration. His writing is always imaginative, quirky and anecdotal. In one review, it was suggested that Adorján's books could have been co-authored by Botvinnik and Monty Python.

Adorján's other passion is music. He has composed many songs and also translated Godspell into Hungarian.

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