Understanding what you play.

In Petrosian’s book Chess on the Top, the former world champion said that one should‘trust, but verify’. This teaching should not be taken lightly and my interpretation of this is that it is essential that you add your own thoughts and opinion on everything you read.

This is especially important when it comes to studying theory books. It has taken me quite a few years, but finally I’ve come to the conclusion that if an opening variation is too weird for me then I shouldn’t play it, regardless who the author backing it is or how prestigious the engine spilling the moves is.

For example, in one of my recent tournament games the following Catalan position occurred after 6 moves:

White To Move

I knew that the latest recommendation for white was to continue with 7.Nc3 followed by 8.Nd2 or 7.Nfd2 followed by 8.Nc3. White plays e4 next with a comfortable position.
This continuation has been played by quite a few strong players so it must be good.

Position after 7.Nfd2

However, I have tested the position on move 7 with several students just to compare opinions. Plans like 7.b3 8.Nc3 9.Bb2 or 7.Qc2 8.Nbd2 9.Rd1 or 9.e4 have been suggested. I have to admit that to my understanding, these plans are more natural and simpler than the artificial looking Nfd2.
In the game I went with 7.Nfd2, even though I was not thrilled by it. After some imprecise play I found myself in a harmless positionnin which I could only hope for a draw.

Regardless the fact that I found a minor drawback to the plan with 7.Nfd2, the bottom line is that chess can be played in many ways and one should not take theory as the sacred word. What works for others not necessarily will work for you.

When choosing my options nowadays I even ask myself, would I be able to explain this move to an student who knows nothing about this position? If I can’t explain it, then it is no good for me.

Following your instincts is a much better way of doing things. Trust, but verify!

International Master
Renier Castellanos

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