Monday, September 17, 2007

The USCL -- Assessing the Openings

It's Week Four of the USCL and already 72 chess games have come and past. With a universe of 72 games, it’s extremely difficult to analyze the openings statistically. However, even with 72 games, some interesting patterns are already emerging.

First of all, the black pieces are taking a pounding! Even the most average chess player knows that Black is traditionally disadvantaged – this perhaps is best demonstrated by the USCL’s MVP point system where players receive a full extra point if they win with the black pieces. Still, by the end of Week Three, Black has an exceptionally pathetic record. (See Chart Below).

Theories? Well, again the season is young and this could just be a deviation (again, 72 games is hardly a large sampling pool). But could it be something more subtle and distinct regarding USCL play? I wonder if, during a match, the players playing with black lay off a tad and play for the draw hoping that their teammates with white will gain the crucial wins to win the match. This may not be a good thing. As Bobby Fischer once said: "The turning point in my career came with the realization that Black should play to win instead of just steering for equality." Could the USCL format be promoting the exact opposite reaction for the black pieces – and to Black’s ultimate disadvantage?


The other interesting pattern is the dominance of the Sicilian Defense. (See Chart Below). Take 1. e4 (which was played the majority of the time). The Sicilian is the dominating response with 57% (again, using my Chessmaster 9000 database as a very imperfect measuring stick -- the average is 46.2%). The move that seems to be being "neglected" is 1... e5 (with the Chessmaster Average being 20.9%).

I thought, originally, that perhaps the Chessmaster database was skewing the results. Most notably is the fact that the database lists in its 500,000+ games several hundreds from the 18th and 19th centuries -- far before 1... c5 was even remotely fashionable. But, I took a look at 's "Over 1900" database (filled with games from their best ranked players in the site's relatively short history), and again it seems that in USCL play 1... c5 is enjoying a hefty dose of popularity at the expense of 1...e5 (Here, the Sicilian was played 44.0% of the time, while 1... e5 was played29.35% of the time).

As the season continues along, and as more games are finished, more accurate statistical assesments can be made. In the meantime though -- as a piece of worthless advice from a Class-E, patzer like myself -- I would advise the league players to pay extra-special attention to the Sicilian Defense. The way league-play is going -- chances are you will see it much more than usual.

(For those of you curious . . . . after 2. Nf3 variety quickly kicks in: 2… d6 was played 44.4% of the time; 2… e6 27.7%; and 2… Nc6 22.2% of the time.)


At 9:30 AM, Blogger BlueEyedRook said...

Greg Shahade has just informed me that black actually had a winning record last year. So pretty much throw away any theories I had regarding Black's recent problems being the result of USCL rules/play.

I think I mentioned in one of my earlier postings . . . I am pretty much full of crap. Thanks, Greg for sharing that point (even at the expense of some of my ego!).

At 12:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Blue -

Chess Express Ratings is processing all of the USCL games, as usual, and a "wall-chart in progress" of this season's games may be viewed at:
... additionally, any of the players may be looked up from the CXR home page in order to see lots of performance stats.


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