Monday, March 22, 2010

The Sicilian Labryinth

Here's what I found at the SCF website lately:

"The Singapore Chess Federation announces its National Junior & Youth training game Programme 2010, which shall promote best opening play as White and best defense/counterattack as Black.

The “Open Sicilian”, starting with 1.e4! c5! 2.Nf3!, followed by 3.d4! cxd4! is regularly played by leading International Grand Masters, who consider it as practically the best modern way to play for a win by both White (with 1.e4!) and by Black (with 1… c5!). Then again, White’s best practical options remain with the “Open Sicilian”.

1.e4, followed by 1…c5, further followed by the Open Sicilian, ensure asymmetrical and dynamic positions at the very start of the game. On their way to the top, World Chess Champions benefited – mostly from these.

In an effort to nurture and promote Singapore Chess Lions into Roaring Lions, starting at the Developmental level of our Training Pipeline, trainees shall intensively practice, by their own choosing when with Black pieces: the Najdorf, Dragon, Classical, Scheveningen, Sveshnikov, Accelerated Dragon, Gaw-Paw, Kalashnikov, Four Knights, Taimanov or Kan Sicilian variations, and when with White – by choosing own responses to these variations.

We are confident that our new and improved training play guidelines and instructions will help all our young chess players in achieving their highest potentials from the earliest age and sustain these throughout their chess playing careers."

Uh-oh, no, this leads the children straight into the Sicilian Labryinth. What's a labryinth?

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as a a complicated irregular network of passages or paths. That is precisely what the Sicilian Defence is.

Most active chess players know what it takes to play this opening, which is the most complex yet sophisticated enough to warrant the attention of the Masters and Grandmasters of the game.

My gripe with this approach is this -

To study and play the Sicilian well (whether for White or Black), there must be a few pre-requisites on the part of the player.

1 The player requires strong nerves to press on his/her attack and not shirk to defend his/her position when threatened. Good calculating skills and strong tactics are required.

2 Great knowledge and a good memory is required to learn about the many traps and pitfalls which has already been uncovered over the last 40 years. One needs only to look at the large number of books written on Sicilian miniatures where Black or White can be demolished quickly due to a slip in move-order. Hence, it would be pointless to know the first 13 moves and forget the remaining ones as this often means victory would go to the player who knows it more. There are also many thematic sacrifices that one must be familiar with when playing the Sicilian as these may easily occur. Strong players spend hours re-playing the latest games from the major tournaments to know the latest word on their variations so there's no substitute for time-consuming hard work.

3 Extra time is required not just to memorise the main variations the student is playing, but also the numerous Anti-Sicilians where White plays other than 2 Nf3, especially 2 c3, 2Nc3 etc.

To do all this within 5 hours a week, in my opinion, not a realistic way to go for children who nowadays pack a hefty school, tuition and other courses in their school-term. I am simply wondering how on earth the kids are going to find the time to learn all this, that is if they are suited temperamentally to play this opening in the first place.

My deepest worry is that we are committing the children in this training program to undergo a very time-consuming approach to rote-learn the variations, without having sufficient time to understand the characteristics of the complicated twists the games can result. They could end up, as a world-famous Russian coach points out," Play the opening like an expert and the middlegame like an idiot".

Time will tell if this happens in the performance of these children in the December competitions. Good luck.

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