Don’t be Naive


One of my least proud moments as a chess player on the international circuit was in 1998 when I lost a game with absolutely no involvement from either player:

Sergei Tiviakov – Jacob Aagaard
Breda 1998

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Na3 b5 9.Nd5 Be7 10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.c3 0–0 12.Nc2 Bg5 13.a4 bxa4 14.Rxa4 a5 15.Bb5
I knew Sergei was playing this off-beat move, but I had recently written a book on the Sveshnikov and not found anything wrong with the official defence.

15…Ne7 16.Ncb4 Be6 17.Nxe7+ Qxe7 18.Bc6 Rac8 19.Rxa5 Rxc6 20.Nxc6 Qb7

My book said that this was the way to play with Black and that it should all end in perpetual check. I did have a little voice in the back of my head that asked why Sergei was entering this variation if this was the case. But in a moment of complete stupidity, I ignored it, thus wasting a chance to play a real game against a truly great player. Then the “novelty” came.

21.h4! Qxc6 22.hxg5 Qxe4+ 23.Kf1 f6 24.Ra4 Qb7 25.Qd3 Bf5 26.Qxf5 Qb5+ 27.Kg1 Qxa4 28.Qxh7+ Kf7 29.gxf6 Kxf6 30.Rh3 Ke6 31.Qxg7 Qd1+ 32.Kh2 Rxf2 33.Rh6+ Kd5 34.Qb7+

Luckily I got to play Sergei for real nine years later. Although I fell into a bad opening line again, this time I was only badly worse and managed to fight my way out of it. I was even winning somewhere towards the end, but at that point I relaxed, happy not to lose the game.

Looking back at this stupidity, it is reassuring that while putting the final touches on the next volume in the Grandmaster Preparation series Attack & Defence, I realized that even the best players in the World can at times be naïve.

In the London Grand Prix last year, Kasimdzhanov (a second of Anand’s) came up with the following novelty:

Veselin Topalov – Rustam Kasimdzhanov
London 2012

1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Bd3 Bb7 9.a3 Bd6 10.0–0 0–0 11.Qc2 Rc8 12.b4

12…c5!! 13.bxc5 Bxf3 14.gxf3 Nxc5 15.dxc5 Rxc5 16.f4 Nd5 17.Bb2 Nxc3 18.Bxc3 Qc7 19.Rfc1 Rc8 20.Bxh7+ Kh8 21.Bd3 Rxc3 22.Qxc3 Qxc3 23.Rxc3 Rxc3 24.Bxb5 Bxa3 25.Kg2 g6 26.Rd1 Rc7 27.Rd7 Rxd7 28.Bxd7 Kg7 29.e4 Kf6 30.Kf3 a5 31.e5+ Ke7 32.Ba4 Bc5 33.h3 Bb6 34.Bb5 Bc5 35.Ba4 Bb6 36.Bb5 Bc5 37.Ba4

You cannot fault Topalov for being surprised by this …c5 idea. But you would think that a top player, preparing against Anand, would have this …c5-push in mind? He should, but at times we are all naïve, not making the obvious connection. In those cases life teaches you a lesson…

Levon Aronian – Viswanathan Anand
Wijk aan Zee 2013

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Bd3 Bd6 9.0–0 0–0 10.Qc2 Bb7 11.a3 Rc8 12.Ng5 c5

13.Nxh7 Ng4 14.f4 cxd4 15.exd4 Bc5 16.Be2 Nde5

17.Bxg4 Bxd4+ 18.Kh1 Nxg4 19.Nxf8 f5 20.Ng6 Qf6 21.h3 Qxg6 22.Qe2 Qh5 23.Qd3 Be3




58 thoughts on “Don’t be Naive”

  1. In the first game where you play Tiviakov:
    Why 25 ….Bf5 and not 25 …..f5 ?
    Where bishop is sacrificed for what benefit?

    I am not a high rated player and moves like this puzzle me.
    Is there some underlying basis positional or otherwise?
    Please if you could briefly explain. Thank you.

  2. Jacob Aagaard

    Sure, I wanted to win the rook. After 25…f5 a slow and painful decline was inevitable, so I played a silly move to win the exchange.

  3. Jacob Aagaard

    The Aronian-Anand game; yes. I know it is very well known, but for once I decided to go with a famous game, rather that an unknown one, as is my general preference. It just illustrated what I wanted to illustrate very well; which is something entirely different from this article.

  4. Well the title does me immediately think to the chapter 9 of Willy Hendriks book: Free Advice.

    Now before somebody is getting angry (which isn’t my intention) I try to explain why.
    Obviously everybody knows that being naive isn’t a good thing so there can’t be anything wrong in stating to be less naive.
    On the other hand one also has to trust its own variations. It has no sense to study loads of theory and then fear at the board that the opponent will come up with something refuting the lines.

    – There is no possible way to know in advance (an exception is Karpov if we can trust Kasparov in Modern chess part 2) what the opponent has prepared or not and if this will be decisive or not.
    – We can safely assume that in the majority of the games nothing decisive is laying ready, especially when we speak about a level under GM. Pure coincidence but a big piece of my last blogarticle was built on that aspect:
    – Teaching students to doubt, seems to me more harmful than let them be confident on the accomplished studies.
    – Running into a well studied novelty can be good for e.g. your own chessunderstanding. You lose a few rating points but your learned a (valuable) lesson. Not all losses are evil.

  5. @brabo
    Maybe it’s me, but what exactly are you trying to say? In my opinion Jacob’s examples make it pretty clear what he means by ‘don’t be naive’ :-). And it makes a lot of sense to me…

  6. @Jacob Aagaard
    I’ve read the complete article. In general tems this can’t be applied to the level of the amateur but even looking to the GM-level, I personally find the examples simply not convincing enough to say that somebody was naive. I’ve seen Sergey playing many grandmaster draws just to get a rest so very often he simply has no decive novetly available. Also playing c5 with or without a pawn on b4 sounds to me a big difference. The dynamics are completely different.

  7. I also want to point out that 21.h4 was known since 1978 from the game Sutkus- Vaitonis and only 23…f6 was the real novelty.
    Besides I don’t see a clear direct win after 21…Bf6. I didn’t check in detail as I don’t play this system with either side but todays computerengines are coming up with some pretty strong resistance. In fact I notice some draws in my databases with 21…Bf6.

  8. Jacob Aagaard

    If you have a 2650 player, having a line as his standard line and your book says it is a forced draw, and you do not ask yourself whether or not this might be the case. This is naive.

    Also, with Aronian, I am sure he was kicking himself for not seeing …c5 coming.

    Whether or not you find this applicable in your own games, does not really change the point made. I do not have the goal to say something everyone can use all the time in these posts. Then you risk ending with headlines without content…

  9. I think “the little voice in your head” and the notion of being naive are interrelated. The useful point here is: do listen to the little voice in your head, and always check your book lines at the board. I do not think it is useful to start a discussion about the semantics of the word naive. I think Jacob was not naive since he had the little voice in his head. Naive people do not have this voice, they simply believe the book suggestion.

    However, you did not listen to your little voice. Now that is just a missed opportunity in my opinion.

  10. And to be honest, I think “On the other hand one also has to trust its own variations. It has no sense to study loads of theory and then fear at the board that the opponent will come up with something refuting the lines. ” sounds pretty naive to me. I always fear my opponent. Why do you study loads of theory? To feel safe? There is no safety at the chess board. Safety is at home reading books about chess. That’s the safe zone. At the board you do not have books nor an engine, you only have your own mind which hopefully remembers correctly all that theory and its conclusions.

  11. @Indra Polak
    I believe you hit the right point here. If Sergey would’ve not come up with 21.h4 then Jacob wouldn’t never mentioned the game. At the board we are continuously making evaluations of the risks. We don’t know in advance how the opponent will react. Afterwards it is too easy to say, hey this I knew in advance. In fact we are coming back on the previous discussion about critical moves. Last night I posted on my blog a long article going much deeper on this topic:

  12. @Indra Polak Fear is seldom a good adviser. There is no way to know in advance what the opponent knows and what not. At some point you need to evaluate risks. If you studied well some theory then i believe it is realistic to say that playing the studied theory will provide good odds. It is well possible that afterwards the contrary is true but in advance you made the best possible guess and you had the right approach to the game.

    Why somebody is studying theory, is a completely different discussion. On my blog you can grasp why I do study but i believe this is depending from individual to individual.

  13. Jacob Aagaard :
    Whether or not you find this applicable in your own games, does not really change the point made. I do not have the goal to say something everyone can use all the time in these posts. Then you risk ending with headlines without content…

    Well here i must confess that i misunderstood the idea of the article. I had the impression that the article was related to a thinking process which can be applied for any sort of player (as was the case for the critical moves concept). If this article is purely relevant for GM level then clearly you are better placed than myself as I am only FM. Nevertheless I keep my strong doubts if we can really speak here about naivety as mentioned in my other posts.



    I’ve started to play The Grunfeld. So I bought Avrukh’s 2 vols! I’m planning to obtain also the Delchev’s book. Do you agree?

    But I also wanted to ask you for your suggestion about fast acquaintance with typical startegies, tactics and so forth. Which book would you recommend me? Yours Starting out, or Rowson’s Understanding the Grunfled?


  15. garryk :@LE BRUIT QUI COURT Can I give you an advice? Take also Rowson’s book. It’s very old and some variations are busted but his explanations are fantastic.

    I totally agree. Start with Rowson. He explains the ideas in a entertaining manner. This will gave you enough energy to also read Delchev en finish with the GM books. I also have other books on the grunfeld but those you’ve mentioned (Rowson, Delchev, Avrukh) I like the most.

  16. @brabo
    I don’t agree at all that Fear is seldom a good advisor. Lack of fear is seldom a good advisor. I played a rated game last night against a 1900 player where my play could be deemed fearless, but while some amateurs may claim I won because of a fearless attack, Jacob, any computer, and even myself would tell you that I won this game because of a complete series of errors by Black after White decided to start the game off wrecklessly.

    If you think playing without fear is the way to play chess, how come the following game that I played “fearlessly” has left me with a horrible taste in my mouth even though I won in only 23 moves?

    Judge for yourself – I had White here:

    1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 O-O 5.O-O d6 6.d4 c6 7.Nc3 Nbd7

    (So I felt that Black had just mixed two lines together. More common here are moves like 7…Bf5 or 7…Qa5. I should, at this point, just proceed normally and play 8.e4.)

    8.b4 Nb6 9.Nd2 Be6 10.b5 d5?

    (10.cxb5 advantage Black)

    11.c5 Nbd7 12.bxc6 bxc6 13.Qa4 Qc8 14.Nb3 Nh5 15.Na5?

    (Here I am playing wreckless when 15.e4 is just flat out good for White!)

    15…Nxc5 16.dxc5 Bxc3 17.Nxc6 Qd7

    (17…Qb7 advantage Black)


    (Here I go, playing “fearless”, though “wreckless” is more accurate. Why not 18.Rb1 Rfc8 19.Qa3 with an equal game?)

    18…f6 19.e4

    (At this point, White has no choice. The Knight is pinned, the Rook is attacked, the Bishop is attacked, and yet, White is forced into playing yet another flashy move.)


    (Flashy, fearless play should be countered by common sense. 19…fxg5 20.exd5 Bf7 21.Rac1 Bf6 22.Rfe1 Kh8 23.Qe4 Rae8 and Black still holds the advantage.)

    20.Bh6 Rfc8 21.e5 Kf7??

    (Last chance for Black. 21…Bxa1. Common sense is all it takes to keep the advantage.)

    22.exf6 Nxf6??

    (Even 22…exf6 23.Rad1 is better than what was played, but even here White has a significant advantage. The move played in the game is just dumb.)

    23.Ne5+ 1-0

  17. @Indra Polak
    I think what brabo was trying to say is that worrying about the quality of your preparation at the board is futile. The worrying should be done beforehand, when you are preparing. Then if somebody comes along with a novelty, deal with it OTB as best you can, learn from it afterwards, and adjust your book as necessary. Fear is the mindkiller.

  18. @Patrick
    Do a google search on fear and bad advisor/ counselor and you will find dozens of sites using this proverb. Anyway you also true that being fearless can also be bad.
    What i wanted to say is that one should evaluate risks without bringing emotions like fear playing a role.

  19. It is an interesting question to what extent you should trust your own opening preparation, how hard your really need to work at it in any case and to what extent you should question it during the game. I certainly feel book authors and players that don’t check (in-depth) the lines played by certain experts (say, for 1.d4 white repetoire against the Grünfeld you dismiss Svidler’s pet line, because after 2 seconds Fritz does not like it, against the Chigorin you don’t dig a little deeper in what Morozevich used to play, because it just gives up the bishop pair for nothing, and in the KID you don’t look at what Radjabov plays against your line…), then I’d say that’s naive or lazy. Once you’ve checked it thoroughly and to the best of your ability, then at some point you have to trust your analysis. Nowadays with how strong computers are, it’s pretty hopeless for me as a 2200 amateur to overly much question what GMs play when the computers confirm it as sensible. Perhaps there’s some cases where I have my doubts on general grounds (um, let’s check that sacrifice really doesn’t work and go a few moves deeper…), but mostly that works best at home when I can check with the computer and I don’t want to spend hours doing that. At the board I no longer tend to question my preparation and quite honestly looking over my games I’ve only had 4 cases where I was in serious trouble due to following my preparation (all with black) in the last 10 years (quite a few leagues and tournaments). Perhaps my preparation is not deep enough, but honestly neither is that of my opponents (I’m 2160 and mostly play people rated 1900 to 2400 with the occasional 2400+ opponent thrown in), which may seem odd since I play fairly main-line stuff. Perhaps at a GM level or IM level opening preparation matters much more, but a lot of the time I seem to get away with being pretty naive about the opening and profiting from any middle game training I did instead of preparing too much.

  20. @Indra Polak
    As a linguist I will point out that a word means what people generally think it means and thus my use of it is probably entirely correct. However, your point is of course very poignant and your distinction useful.

  21. @brabo
    I think you misunderstood my main point in the answer. Ok, this is not something you find relevant to you specifically; fine. But this does not mean that the article had no value. I did not mean to throw the GM title around like that and I am sorry you understood it in that way.

  22. One other thing I started to think about. If you recently wrote a book about an opening but at the first chance to show something from it on the board, you deviate then what kind of publicity is that for the book?
    Personally I would think that the author has
    1) Hidden the best pieces for himself so the book is having lots of gaps
    2) Didn’t spend much time on it so doesn’t really trust the published stuff himself
    In both cases I would as potential buyer be scared away. At least if you lose by playing the stuff from your own book, you show that you have big confidence in the quality.

  23. @brabo
    Please e-mail your opening repertoire to all your opponents in advance of any tournament your participate in for a year and we can talk about it.

    Traditionally our authors play their openings extensively in the 6-12 months before publication. After this, they like to vary. When they play, they want to win, not be walking commercials.

  24. @Jacob Aagaard
    For my opening repertoire, I refer to my blogarticle: which explains it pretty well.

    In the end I do believe one has to make a choice between winning a maximum of points or selling a maximum of books.

    I once heard/ read the French grandmaster Anatoli Vaisser complaining that after writing his book about the Benoni that he wasn’t able to play it anymore. Everybody was entering the same dreadful variation which he mentioned in the book. It was no fun anymore to play the Benoni.

    So I do understand there is a problem. However playing from the first game after the book has been published something else, seems to me not appropriate. Theory is evolving so I would fully understand that after e.g. 1 year that one is giving up the opening but not from day 1.

  25. Jacob Aagaard :
    Actually, I might write a blog post about this and opening preparation in general.

    This kind of thoughts, I also have often when getting some feedback. Next is to find time to put everything on paper or more correct on the website.

  26. While you were on vacation someone had the idea of an article about the best way to use an opening book. Any thoughts about a future article that would address that?

  27. Relevant to the topic of ways to use an opening book is ways to learn an opening. I saw a recent article of the Britsch grandmaster Nigel Davies on his blog about it:
    Interesting stuff, especially i like the taboo of writing in opening books. I know some FM’s doing the same but i prefer to store my notes on a computer by building an opening tree.

  28. Gilchrist is a Legend

    @Jacob Aagaard
    With the very proximate publication of what could possibly be the longest book on one single variation of an opening, which is actually not even one of the very main variations of the King’s Indian as the Mar Del Plata, the King’s Indian Fianchetto 700 page book, I think the post of how to study opening books would be quite interesting. I know that in the excerpt it was stated by Kotronias that no one neither should, nor can, memorise all of the material, but how to compartmentalise the information into a practical usage for a tournament game without trying to memorise so much.

  29. Giri lost yesterday mixing up his preperation. He said: “I cannot really explain what happened. I remembered there was Rad8 in this line but now I’m not sure where exactly. I would automatically play 15…Bd5 if I was not so concentrated on my preparation.” This nicely illustrates the dangers of “naively” following book lines or prepared analysis.

  30. Friday was Nessie supposed to leave Loch Ness. Has any one seen Nessie ever since – and maybe the Kings Gambit book as well 🙂 ?

  31. @Hesse_Bub
    This project is truly jinxed. We are now told that the books will leave the printer and arrive in our warehouse maybe Friday. After saying this, the next thing I will do is no doubt to let a vampire into my house…

  32. Indra Polak :
    Giri lost yesterday mixing up his preperation. He said: “I cannot really explain what happened. I remembered there was Rad8 in this line but now I’m not sure where exactly. I would automatically play 15…Bd5 if I was not so concentrated on my preparation.” This nicely illustrates the dangers of “naively” following book lines or prepared analysis.

    This has nothing to do with naively following book lines or prepared analysis. I’ve described in detail this kind of failures in detail in my blogarticle of chessintuition:
    To summarize, we switch down our chessintuition in the opening to replace this with computerprecision in the hope this increases our odds on the board. In most cases it does but sometimes it goes terribly wrong. In my article I give an example from my own practice and one very famous example from the worldchampionship between Kramnik and Leko. I doubt that somebody would dare to say that Kramnik was naieve, no clearly something else was going on.

  33. Gilchrist is a Legend

    I see two changes to the Coming Soon, as I check everyday…

    Rating/AttackDefence for August,
    Two French books for September.

    I suppose Monday 22 July is the new date for the websale distribution for King’s Gambit/King’s Indian/Trompowsky.

  34. @Ray
    Well you have the wrong perception. 3 reasons why:
    1) If I want to push my blog then I would write in English and not Dutch
    2) There are no advertisements on my blog so everything is published in my free time and without any financial benefits. Most is written by myself but there are some friends now and then also publishing some articles.
    3) This commentbox doesn’t permit to give a well balanced reply on some topic. We can work with oneliners as you just do but that is pretty superficial. On my blog I’ve discussed many topics in detail so it would be silly not to use them by making some references.

    Anyway I notice, each time that I make a blogreference that first I get the message that this will be checked for moderation. I assume Jacob checks the relevance of my blogreference and if ok then agrees to make the comment visible to the public. This sounds to me a fair method of working.

  35. Gilchrist is a Legend

    Comments I think are moderated automatically if the post has a URL link, not just certain references.

    I can understand about 65% of the blog. But I am trying to get to B2 in Dutch, so perhaps it is good practise, but I understand your reasoning as probably not everyone here studies (or is a nativespeaker) Dutch…

  36. @Ray
    Well I use often googletranslate if I want to read a website which is in a language that I don’t understand. It is not perfect but I do understand what is written as afterall chess is a universal language. I notice daily traffic from many countries where no Dutch is spoken. I don’t think these are all Dutch speaking expats or tourists so it seems quite some people are ok with the googletranslate option. At least is saves me lots of time not to translate everything.

  37. @Brabo: “To summarize, we switch down our chessintuition in the opening to replace this with computerprecision in the hope this increases our odds on the board.” Switching down chessintuition sounds extremely naive to me. Somewhere you “know” (that’s your intuition) what you are playing is bad, and still (even though you know better) you follow computerprecision advice. So you trust some third entity too soon which in my opinion is naive. You can be more precise about the how and the why of the behavior, but in essence it’s really simple: you know somewhere that what you are doing is wrong, but you trust something or someone else to know it better.

  38. @brabo
    Just try to translate a Chinese manual of some home appliance with Google translate if you want to have some fun. I think a lot of nuance is lost, which could cause a lot of misunderstandig, but obviously you could have an endless discussion on this topic. Do you measure how long the average foreign visitor of your blog stays on your website?

  39. @Indra Polak
    I agree, and the problem is that some of these ‘computer lines’ are counter-intuitive and therefore difficult to remember. I read that recently Anish Giri lost two games quite quickly because he couldn’t recollect his home preparation.

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