Understanding Big DataBase 2022: Playing against e4

by Nagesh Havanur
1/14/2022 – Among ChessBase products the Big DataBase stands in its own right. Unlike the MegaBase it has no annotations. This paves the way for independent study and preparation, and helps the player to hone skills on his own. The present edition offers 9.2 million games from 1475 to 2021. In this vast collection there are games from world championships, famous tournaments, past and present, not to mention little-known events that deserve greater recognition. There are magnificent battles, brilliancies and unknown gems all waiting to be discovered. Our columnist here introduces a few rare lines in e4-openings.

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The Big Database is often seen as a poor cousin of MegaBase as it has neither analysis nor commentary. I for one do not share this perception. The Big Database allows you to follow a game independently. After each move you ask yourself, "why" or "why not?" You enter your own variations and try to understand how the game was won, lost or drawn. Those lines that you see by yourself are your precious contribution to the game. But are they sound? So you ask wise old "Fritz" what he thinks. The old boy knows a thing or two.
On occasion you are not happy with his answer. Some times his way of thinking is too impersonal, not the way we ordinary mortals think. Then you ask the players what they think. If they tell you, well and good, otherwise the commentators will fill in the gaps. But no matter who says what, do use your own grey cells in the end for judging a position. That is what the Big DataBase is about.

Damiano Revisited

Now where do we begin? For starters, let me show you some kid stuff:

Shamilov-Renskov, 2009

 

If you are a parent preparing your kid for a children’s tournament, this kind of game is ideal. It’s a cautionary tale. A won game is not one until your opponent has tried the last chance for you to go wrong. In the above case first White was winning. That boy knew the trap. Elementary. Then he met with some resourceful resistance that should not have sufficed. It did. As for Black, once he had the upper hand, he was excited and played impulsively, thinking, "Anything wins." But "anything" does not win as the kid here  learnt to his cost:

When "Rules" are Broken

The second case is more serious as the line was revived by none other than Nakamura and in recent years by Carlsen. Take a look at the first two moves: 1.e4 e5. 2.Qh5!?

Your mind is filled with disbelief. Surely, they can’t play like that. It’s against "RULES" to bring out the queen so early in the opening. When you check this DataBase you find that Carlsen has seen this line with both White and Black. Here he is on the "wrong"side:

OK, he lost. But your gut feeling tells you, he was winning and a momentary lapse cost him the game.

So what if someone is still going to play this line with you? The following game shows how to deal with it:

Lindholm- Sammalvuo, 2020

 

How to play like Fischer and Tal

Now we come to the last example. Imagine that you are a club player seeking rating in a tournament. You need an opening repertoire and you know what it should be: The king pawn with White, Sicilian Najdorf with Black. Why so? You are a Fischer fan and Bobby played like that. What is more, you know every one of his games with the Najdorf.

At last the long-awaited tournament begins. In the first round you are paired with an IM notorious for his disregard for theory. "I don’t care for openings and I don’t read books." That’s his usual boast. So when he opens with the king pawn, you are eager to teach him a lesson with the Sicilian Najdorf. To your dismay he meets that line with 6.a4.

Now none of Bobby’s opponents had the gumption to play it against him. So what is to be done?

Your coach had told you once, "6.a4 is not a regular line. If your opponent still goes for it, pllay 6….e6 and allow it to transpose to the Scheveningen."

 "But I have no counterplay on the queenside without …b7-b5," you protest.

 "Haven’t you seen the games of Kasparov? OK, if you don’t like the Scheveningen, try the Dragon with 6…g6 followed by …Bg7 and …0-0. He won’t castle on the queenside as he has already played a4."

"But I don’t like the Dragon either," you mutter under your breath. Not loudly, though.

Your coach is strict and it’s not good to "argue" with him. That was months before.

Now you are in the tournament hall, facing the move that you don’t want to see. Your  opponent is of course confident and moves quite quickly. In no time he freezes your queenside with a4-a5 and starts an attack on the kingside. He wins hands down. His friends congratulate him, "You played like Karpov." Sure, unfortunately, you did not play like Kasparov. Blame it on Bobby. He never had to put up with 6.a4.

Any way you start working on Big DataBase with your own favourite 6…e5. Then a surprise awaits you. Many of the games with 6. Be2 e5 transpose to your line with a4.

Then to your delight you find Bobby himself showing how to play against it:

Unzicker –Fischer, Chess Olympiad, Varna 1962

 

After seeing this game, you are inspired. Now you are on a prowl. There must be more wins against this line. So you check the Big DataBase once again. First, disappointment awaits you. 6.Be2 e5  was played throughout the Karpov-Polugaevsky, Candidates’ Match 1974.

Poor Lev was punished with (what else?) a2-a4. Depressing stuff. Right when you think, there is no end to Black’s woes, you discover this game:

Unzicker –Tal, Tallinn 1977

 

The  late German grandmaster was known for his theoretical preparation and positional understanding. He played this game better than he did against Fischer. Still he lost. As for Tal, he played with admirable restraint and offered a glimpse of his combinational play only in the end.

Importantly, now you know, you don’t have to be afraid of 6.a4 against the Najdorf.

Summing up

Before I conclude this review let me anticipate a few questions.

"You have not said anything on the treatment of other defences against e4, not to mention gambits and countergambits in this opening…"

"I have not done so for reasons of space. Each deserves detailed treatment."

 "Can I build an opening repertoire based on the Big DataBase?"

"You can. But do supplement the same with a correspondence chessbase. There are novelties galore in a CC Database."

"Where do I find most irregular lines with White?

"Try the lines under A00 opening code. You don’t have to play them yourself, but you should know how to deal with them as Black."

"You started this review, claiming that the Big DataBase lets one think independently. But you have given only examples to be copied and used. Where is the originality in that?"

"As Tal once put it, first you need to know all that is already known. Then you can depart from it all and be original.

A broad hint: choose lines unfairly given up on account of a loss by the player after a good game."

Play well.

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Prof. Nagesh Havanur (otherwise known as "chessbibliophile") is a senior academic and research scholar. He taught English in Mumbai for three decades and has now settled in Bangalore, India. His interests include chess history, biography and opening theory. He has been writing on the Royal Game for nearly three decades. His articles and reviews have appeared on several web sites and magazines.

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