Aug 152011

Brause = German (noun). To fizz or pop in an effervescent way, like soda.

For this post I’d like to welcome back (after a slightly longer break than originally anticipated!) one of our guest columnists, The Swashbuckler. In his first post he set out his manifesto by sharing with us his Rules of Swashbuckling”. In this second post he starts his very own “Swashbuckler’s Hall of Fame”.

Hello readers. It’s good to be back to continue a series that I hope will become a monthly instalment in future. Today I would like to introduce you to the first of my swashbuckling heroes, Brause. Ok, so none of you have heard of him, if indeed I can call it a him! Readers will have gathered from the quote at the beginning of this post that the name is in fact, a nom de guerre — in this case the name given to a very particular chess engine.

Perhaps I should explain. Years and years ago (we’re talking mid to late ‘90’s here) I was playing chess on the Internet Chess Club when I happened to accept a challenge by a player called “Brause”. We agreed on a game of blitz and, playing with the Black pieces, I was most perturbed when the opening moves went 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3. “Oh dear”, I thought, “this is going to be a dull Four Knights Game. Perhaps I should have ventured the Latvian Gambit.” I paused for a moment’s thought as I tried to figure out how I could enliven proceedings in the next few moves and then played 3…Nf6. To my very great surprise the response was 4.Nxe5!?

Halloween Gambit after 4.Nxe5!?

What on earth was this? I paused again for a few precious seconds and then remembered that I’d seen this played before. It was a known gambit but I couldn’t remember what it was called. All I could remember was that it was supposed to be highly dubious for White.

“Ok,” I thought, “let’s just play natural moves and see what happens”. So I played 4…Nxe5 5.d4 Nc6 6.d5 Nb8 and thought; “This just can’t be enough initiative for the pawn”.

But it turned out I was wrong for Brause absolutely crushed me inside 20 moves! I couldn’t believe it. Ok, his rating was much higher than mine but he’d just played one of the most “swashbuckely” openings I’d ever seen and destroyed me. Wow!

A few days later I bumped into Brause online again. Again we played. Again the same line appeared. Again I lost a violent miniature. Now I was intrigued. Who was this Brause and how did he get away with playing this line? I researched the opening variation and found out that it was called the ”Muller-Schultz Gambit”. Every piece of writing I could find on it condemned it as tripe. Sure White could develop some initiative for his knight but not enough to offer real compensation. The line didn’t even seem to be held in high regard by the types of player who were willing to venture things like the Cochrane Gambit against Petroff’s Defence or the Traxler Variation of the Two Knights Defence. In the end I stopped looking at it. It just didn’t seem viable. Eventually I forgot about the Muller-Schultz Gambit and I forgot about Brause.

But then, this time only a couple of years ago, I stumbled upon an article by Tim Krabbé in which he described having had a similar experience on the ICC. He had faced a player who had taken him to the cleaners with the Muller-Schultz. Krabbé, however, had not taken it lying down. He’d done proper research (not like my half hearted effort) with databases and he stumbled on a gold mine of swashbuckling brilliance. Many of the games (over 300!) he tracked down were from online blitz games and lots of them had been played by, you guessed it, Brause.

But Krabbé went further. His interest piqued, he resolved to track down Brause and he succeeded. In his database he noticed something that I had not. Brause was an engine. Armed with that knowledge he tried his luck with the internet search engines and he got lucky. Arriving at a website he discovered that Brause was the fevered brain-child of one Steffen Jakob. This German is the chess equivalent of one of those guys who “pimps” their car. He’d taken an existing engine called “Crafty” and tweaked it. One of his tweaks was to adjust it’s repertoire so that it favoured lines like the Muller-Schultz. Over the course of two years Brause played the opening many times and, in between blitz sessions, Jakob built up a formidable understanding of an opening that he renamed the Halloween Gambit. In an e-mail to Krabbé, Jakob explained:

“Many players are shocked, the way they would be frightened by a Halloween mask, when they are mentally prepared for a boring Four Knight’s, they are faced with Nxe5.”

Visitors to Jakob’s website can chare the wonder of this crazy line because he has published his variation tree as well as a PGN database of Brause’s games. Jakob is clearly a generous man and I suppose that he is the real hero behind this story. The aspect of it that I find most interesting is that, through skilful and focused programming, Jakob was able to create an engine that played with the swagger and braggadocio of a swashbuckler on steroids! I’ve started to play the Halloween Gambit myself in blitz games — I published one such in my first post for this website. One day I might even try it over the board.

Personally, I think the opening should be renamed again in honour of the labours of Steffan Jakob and his swashbuckling chess engine. I think it should be called “The Brause Gambit”.

Here’s one of my favorite games from the treasury in the Brause database.

Apr 192011

Today dear readers I would like to introduce you to a new columnist for this blog who I hope will be making regular returns to these pages. Wishing to be known only by the nom de guerre of “The Swashbuckler”, he will hopefully provide some inspiration for any player who wants to introduce an air of swagger and panache to their games instead of dour, avoid-losing-at-all-costs solidity. He promises that his columns will be less about self-improvement and more about developing a playing-style for those of you who want to play like neanderthals! I’ll let him explain more:

Yes I do always where this outfit at the board!
The Swashbuckler #1: Rules of Swashbuckling

Welcome readers to my first column for the Hebden Bridge Chess Club website. Hurrah! Today, in anticipation of the mouthwatering scraps and adventures that I have in store for you, I would like to set the scene by defining the philosophy that I play my chess by and which will dictate the tone and content of my future postulations. Perhaps the best place to start would be to define the term “Swashbuckler”.

The dictionary definition of a Swashbuckler is:
  1. A flamboyant swordsman or adventurer
  2. A sword-wielding ruffian or bully
  3. A dramatic or literary work dealing with a swashbuckler

For our excellent purposes we can discard the third of these meanings although I hope that the word “dramatic” will be applicable to all the games I share with you on this blog. I should like to expand a little on the first two meanings however because in modern culture it seems that our interpretation of the term at hand is influenced by many of the books and films of the last century that have fixed an image of ‘swashbucklers’ and ‘swashbuckling’ so vividly into our imaginations. Whilst our first instincts here are useful I don’t want to lose sight of some of the original meaning of the term. Time for a bit of etymology and here I’d like to quote directly from an excellent blog that I discovered during my research called “The Pirate King”:

“Although you and I may associate “swashbuckling” with pirate stories and Hollywood movies, the term was originally anything but complimentary. A “swashbuckler”, when the word first appeared around 1560, was a swaggering braggart, bully or ruffian. “Swashbuckler” actually came from the antiquated words “swash” (to make a noise by striking) and “buckler” (shield).
A “swashbuckler” was originally a mediocre swordsman who compensated by making a great deal of noise, strutting through the streets banging his sword on his shield, challenging passersby to duels, and just generally acting like a jerk.”

So, from this information, what can we deduce should be the defining characteristics of the chess-playing-swashbuckler (CPS)? I’d like to offer the following profile for your consideration:
  1. A CPS is, first and foremost, defined by their bravado. They delight in displaying naked aggression and revel in their flamboyant style even though their bark is almost always more potent than their bite
  2. They are adventurers in the field of opening theory selecting unusual, old-fashioned, eccentric and rococo systems that others deem to be at best unclear and at worst diabolical
  3. CPSs are, to use a modern term, ‘flat-track bullies”. The weaker their opponent is the more absurdly insulting the opening system will be that they deploy and the greater level of risk they will be prepared to take during the middle game. Endgames simply tend not to occur in the score books of dyed in the wool swashbucklers.
  4. They value the means as greater than the ends and would rather suffer a glorious and blood soaked defeat than a turgid and attritional victory. 
  5. CPSs are, by their nature, disruptive. By this I mean that they will take every opportunity to create disharmony at the chess board. They strive to create material imbalances that are terrifyingly hard to assess and may play moves that flout the conventions of orthodox chess teachings

Well, that will do for a start though I reserve the right to add further defining characteristics to this profile as I see fit.

Now that I’ve defined the raison d’etre for this column I think it’s only right that I tell you about the format that I have in mind. In each column that I publish here I will introduce readers to either; a “Swashbuckling Hero” from the annals of history, many of whom will be plucked from relative obscurity; or an opening system that I deem to be suitable for budding swashbucklers to add to their repertoires. In either case I very much hope that the games I share with you will inspire you to introduce just a little bit of ‘swash’ and ‘buckle’ to your chess life for, as I like to say to all my students: “Life’s too short for endgames!”

By way of prologue to the themes I’ve introduced today I’d like to share a game I played online recently:

Thanks for reading folks. Please do give your thoughts on this game and/or the swashbuckling methodology I’m advocating in these columns. See you again soon.

The Swashbuckler