Thursday, June 23, 2005

My Philidor.... time to move on?

I play the Philidor Defense. A lot lately.... it is always my opening for 1. e4 e5. 2. Nf3. Old fashioned? Yes. Stupid? Not sure.

I have been lucky enough to record my last 1000 chess games and analyze them from different perspectives. While statistics often skew truths, with such a large body of numbers it is hard to dismiss certain statistics as mere anomalies or flukes.

Statically the Philidor has fallen on rough times: Producing a mere 33.51% of black wins for me. To give an idea my total average on the black side is 44.8%, thus there is a whopping 11.3% difference. To give it some perspective, the Petroff defense, what I have played for ages before switching to the Philidor, was producing 43.45% wins.

What's the story?

I wish I had an answer. I think I am at a level where any respectable opening is going to lead to roughly the same chess result. The Caro-Kann should produce the same amount of wins after 100 games as the Vienna under this theory (both are solid, respectable openings). My logic is that so much of chess at the amateur level is just pure tactics and as long as you play a solid open, the game will be determined by tactics and not the slight edge or disadvantage onew will obtain in the opening. Michael de la Maza in his "Rapid Chess Improvement" would seem to agree as he laments how many amateurs "waste" their time studying openings only to leave various pieces hanging during key moments of the game.

But... the law of large numbers suggests otherwise. Why is the Philidor fairing so poorly? I initially thought that timing was an issue. I started with the Philidor in the very early years of my chess playing -- when I wasn't very good (even worse than now!!!). Could that be weighing down the average? Perhaps. If you take the games from 2005, the rating only comes to 34.6% (not a big jump from 33.51%), but it is 47.05% since April of this year when I (a) bought a book on the opening; and (b) started memorizing various lines in the opening (

But maybe this is just a fluke (i.e., the new book and studying don't affect the results). I tested that theory with the Italian game (where I also bought a book and started memorizing the lines). Over the last couple years, my average was 53.11% (I always do drastically better with white.... a subject for another posting, but also suggesting maybe Maza is wrong, and amateur chess is not 100% tactics), but since April it has dropped to 45.83%. So maybe all that hard work doesn't mater!

Or then again maybe there is simply no rhyme or reason to my chess playing.

For example against the Scandinavian Defense (1. e4 d5), as white, my score is 38.88%. Against the King's Gambit (playing black), my win rate is 19.04% (!) which is by far the worst for me for any major opening. No offense to practitioners of either opening, but both (while reputable and ultimately sound) are seen to be more on the risky side and are not held as in high regard as say the Sicilian or the French (where as white my win rate for both is 50.0%).

It's for that reason (and the fact that I love being able to dictate the opening after 2... d6) that I'll probably stick with the Philidor for now.... even despite its poor reputation. I don't like to see how low my numbers are when dealing with the Philidor, but after weighing all the evidence, I can't truly decide how relevant any of these numbers are.