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How to React to a Chess Novelty?

User Rating: / 10
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 10 July 2013

By GM Lars Bo Hansen, PhD, MBA

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One of the psychologically most difficult moments in chess is when you are surprised by a novelty by your opponent. How to react play cautiously to avoid any abrupt prepared assaults or try to refute the new idea?

Often the second option, although dangerous, is the right one.
Young chess stars: Anish Giri vs. Sergey Karjakin, Round 1
Photo from the official website

Sergey Karjakin has gotten off to a great 3/3 start at the FIDE Grand Prix in Beijing and his round 1 win vs. Giri offers a highly instructive example of how to react to a novelty. Giris 17. f3 was a novelty 17. Nxe6 had been played before, including by Karjakin as White vs. Grischuk earlier this year.

When faced with a novelty, I recommend this approach:

1) Take at least 8-10 minutes on your reply even if it appears obvious, just to get into the right psychological frame of mind.
2) Try to figure out what the idea behind the new move is, including its strengths.
3) Also examine the possible drawbacks of the move; there might be a reason why it has not been tried before. This approach also helps you identify candidate moves for both sides for closer examination.
4) Only then proceed with concrete calculations; remember to include also creative ideas as candidate moves which might have received little attention by the opponent in preparation.
5) Be careful not to react too passively. Instinctively it may make sense to avoid running into a home-cooked blow if you choose an active, principled continuation, but that is often what the opponent hopes for, banking on the surprise effect to cause the opponent to voluntarily go on the defensive. It is a well known fact also in other disciplines, though, that new ideas are not necessarily better than existing ones. Therefore there is no reason to be excessively cautious by default; it is often better to choose the most principled line and let the opponent show his hand. It may not be as strong as feared.

Replay the Giri - Karjakin game

Position before 17.f3

This appears to be the case with Giris 17. f3 too. Karjakin judged correctly that the best response was to go for the most critical continuation, highlighting the drawback of 17. f3 that Black can win a pawn by 17Bxc3 18. bxc3 Bxa2.

Position after 18...Ba2

This allowed Giri to show the point behind the novelty 19. Ne4 Rh8 20. e6! Bxe6 21. Bxc7, and Blacks king appears at first glance to be in some trouble, stuck as it is in the center.

Position after 21.Bc7

Remember that Black cannot castle as his king had previously moved. But Karjakin again reacted correctly; he first coolly defended his pawns with 21b5 and 22Rg8!,

Position before 22...Rg8

and with 24Bxg4! he boldly walked into a potential discovered check by White.

Position before 24...Bg4

Maybe that is what Giri underestimated in his preparation it looks dangerous for Black, but there appears to be no follow-up.

Position before 25...f6

Karjakins 25f6! was another strong defensive move (although 25bxc4 was also possible), securing an escape route for Blacks king via f7 and g6. Soon it was clear that White had no compensation for two pawns.

If you like the article, you can learn more about GM Lars Bo Hansen & his books at

Related materials:
A lesson from the Ukrainian Chess Champion
Carlsen-Anand @ Tal Memorial
Strategy of Restriction

Comments (1)
1. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 10:59 10 2013 .
Given the ubiquity of Houdini and other super-strong engines, it seems odd that Giri\'s engine would not have pointed out this defense in Giri\'s pre-game preparation even if it hadn\'t occurred to Giri on his own. It is exactly this sort of cold-blooded defensive idea that is hard for humans to say, but easy for computers.

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 10 July 2013 )
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