46. The Diversity Principle

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In blog post 42 I presented My Principles for composing a generic Opening Repertoire. Obviously, such a generic approach has to cater to the biggest possible number of users. Finding an appropriate solution equates to the search for the lowest common denominator. As the majority of chess friends are hobby players, they only have a relatively small amount of time available. Against this background, I formulated the principle number 6:

6. Versatility
If you have ambition, time and energy, by all means entertain a (partially) flexible repertoire, with options for sharp and solid play, depending on the situation. That way, you also widen your horizon.
The majority of readers, however, are amateurs with a need for economical solutions. Hence, my general view is that your lines should be versatile, which means solid and rich at the same time – fit for all occasions.”

In this text I already indicated that there is no one-fits-all-solution. There are always minorities which are in need of a tailor-made approach. Such a minority is the group of active and ambitious tournament players. They take chess very seriously, are eager to increase their playing strength over time and put a lot of effort in maximizing their chances for success in every particular game. For this group the Diversity Principle is a good guideline. The following is one way to formulate such a principle:

Try to learn two complementary lines or openings against every major variation of your opponents.

The reasoning behind this principle can be divided into sub-principles:

1. Unpredictability

In times of huge databases and powerful analyzing tools efficient game preparation is no longer an activity of professional players alone. The majority of hobby tournament players travel with their notebook when participating in open tournaments. For that reason, we have to assume that our opponent has done some kind of preparation when we face him at the board. In the best case he only browsed through the main lines of his antiquated opening book. In the worst case, however, he spotted a faulty line in our repertoire, indicated by his engine or recent top-level games. The more lines you play, the smaller the chances of meeting a well-prepared opponent or even becoming victim of a painfully effective analysis.

2. Manoeuvrability

The more lines you play, the better your ability to target the weakness in your opponent’s repertoire. If you play only one line, he might have a decent answer at hand or not. If you play two lines, the chances to detect subpar resistance already doubles. Now, think of the following case: You are fully aware of a weak handling of a certain line by your opponent, but you are not able to target that soft spot because this line is not part of your repertoire. While you would be happy to reach the target position, the slightest deviation of your opponent would leave you at a complete loss, as you are unfamiliar with the position type. Obviously, the attempt to reach the desired position would be one big gamble. The more diverse your repertoire, the higher your chances to target soft spots without taking any such risks.

3. Energy Drain

This important aspect is easily overlooked, according to my experience. The more lines you play, the more your opponent has to prepare before the game and the more exhausted he will be. It is as simple as that! The amount of preparation your opponent has to absolve can make the difference of him blundering before the time control or not. But also on a more general ground, he will be less fresh and creative throughout the entire game.

Here is a tip for those with a narrow repertoire (and no time for creating diversity, as suggested in this article): Many chess friends play only one line at a time. After they are fed up with their line, they switch to another and stay loyal to this new line, until it finally is abandoned and so on. Instead of acting so predictably, why don’t you pull your old lines out of the drawer, once in a while, even if you are not really convinced anymore? That way, you give the impression to your opponent that your old lines are still part of your active repertoire and thus force him to drain his energy while preparing. This, by the way, is an example for a good meta game strategy. You potentially sacrifice a bit of short-term expectation in favor of long-term gain.

4. Chess Understanding

Your chess understanding is one aspect of your playing strength and the diversity of your opening lines constitutes an important part of your chess understanding. Many players stagnate as they are too conservative with regard to their openings and only move on the same well-trodden paths over and over again. That way, they expose themselves only to a very limited number of “pictures”, i.e. structures, specific concepts, manoeuvres and strategic or tactical motifs of any kind.

Don’t forget that to some degree chess can be compared to a language. Each picture you know is the equivalent of one word. Needless to say, the bigger your chess vocabulary, the more fluently and effectively you can express yourself on the chess board.

5. Result Orientation

There are situations when you need a win or a draw or simply want a win or a draw, no matter why. While playing for a certain result is less of a problem with White, it can be a difficult task with the black pieces, especially if your options are limited. If you have a dual and complementary repertoire, however, this is manageable. Against 1.e4 for instance you could play the Petrov Defense or the “Berlin Wall” for a draw and one of the many Sicilian lines for a win.

6. Style Orientation

If you are flexible, you can also take into account style, strengths and weaknesses of your opponent. Against an attacking player you might decide to refrain from playing your Sicilian (in case it is of the defensive kind) and choose the Berlin Defense instead. Note, that what might be originally intended to be a draw weapon against an average player could turn out to be a winning attempt against an overambitious attacking player, as he might bump his head against your granite come what may.

 

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