Why I play stupid openings

People often ask me why I play such stupid openings. If only I would play normal openings like the Ruy Lopez and the Queens Gambit Declined, I would get so much better results, they say.

What really makes me happy is when, as occasionally happens, someone says something like, "Sloan is a genius. Why, look at the openings he plays, and still he wins. Imagine how much better he would do if he played normal openings."

I am happy that a few people think this, but the truth is probably that if I started playing normal openings, my results would get worse, not better. Worse yet, if I played normal openings, I would actually have to study chess books and imagine the work that would entail.

Anyway, I have lately been quite friendly with Pal Benko. I drove him to the US Open in Cherry Hill and to the World Open in Philadelphia. I have visited him at his house in New Jersey many times in the past few weeks. He convinced me to try to play the Benko Gambit and to give up my beloved Anglar Gambit (1 e4 d5). Now, look at what happened:

[Event "Marshall 10 Grand Prix Points Tonight"]
[Site "Marshall Chess Club New York"]
[Date "2002.09.26"]
[Round "03"]
[White "Privman,Boris"]
[Black "Sloan,Sam"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B14"]
[WhiteElo "2261"]
[BlackElo "1973"]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.e3 e6 4.Nc3 cxd4 5.exd4 d5 6.Nf3 Nc6
(6... Bb4) (6... Be7) 7.c5 Be7 8.Bd3 O-O 9.O-O b6 10.cxb6
Qxb6 11.Na4 Qc7 12.a3 Bd7 13.b4 Nxd4 14.Nxd4 Bxa4 15.Qxa4
Qc3 16.Bxh7+ Kxh7 17.Be3 a5 (17... Ng4) 18.b5 Ng4 19.Rfc1
(19. Nc6 Nxe3 20. Nxe7 Nc4) 19...Qd3 20.Qc2 Qxc2
(20... Qe4) 21.Rxc2 Nxe3 22.fxe3 Bf6? (22... a4) 23.a4 Kg6
24.Rb1 Bxd4 25.exd4 Kf5 26.b6 Ke4 27.b7 Rab8 28.Rc5 Kxd4
29.Rxa5 f5 30.Rab5 f4 31.a5 f3 32.a6 f2+ 33.Kf1 Rh8 34.a7
OK. So what?

By move six, I had a bad position. It turns out that the normal looking, logical developing move 6. ... Nc6 is a bad move. I cannot be faulted for this. Several grandmasters have played this move. But, the results speak for themselves. There are 20 games with this position in the Big 2000 chess database. The score for White in this position is 16-4, an overwhelmingly bad result for Black.

This line as a way of declining the Benko Gambit is now being played by the strongest players in the world. Anand and Karpov play this for white. My opponent, Boris Privman, obviously knew this. I, who knew nothing, stepped right into it.

Turns out that the correct moves are 6. .... Bb4 or 6. ... Be7. Players like Judit Polgar and Timman have played these moves. Still, the results have been very good for White.

Anyway, my opponent, Boris Privman, is a middle-master. Turns out that either I played better than the others or he played worse, because I feel that I achieved a small advantage later in the game.

Looking at this position, I realized that I had played this position before, but from a completely different opening. In the third round of the 1964 US Open in Boston, I played as black the following opening against Robin Ault, who was three times US Junior Champion: 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. d4 cxd5 5. Nc3 e6 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. c5 .

I got a bad game and Ault beat me. Unfortunately, I do not have any of my game scores from the 1964-1967 period.

After the game, Privman said that I should have played b6 on either move 7 or move 8. However, I feel that I played correctly, playing it on move 9.

On move 13, I played a little combination, sacrificing my knight with 13. .... Nxd4. I recovered it immediately. I feel that I had the advantage after this. Privman felt that he was winning.

I then played 17. ... a5, which turned out to be a questionable move. I had a combination in mind, which he sidestepped. If I had left my pawn back on a7, it would have been difficult if not impossible for him to get a passed pawn and win the way he did.

I had never played Privman before and did not know him well. The spectators predicted that he was going to play 20. Qc2, because he always likes to trade queens, they said.

Still, I was doing OK, until I played 22. ... Bf6 ?? which was the losing move. Instead, I should have played 22. ... a4. This would have fixed the White pawn permanently on a3. My bishop on e7 would have attacked it forever and White would have been tied down defending it.

This was a 30 minute game and immediately after I played 22. ... Bf6 I realized that I should have played a4, but it was too late as he immediately played a4 himself.

After that, I was lost, for reasons shown in the game. So, I generally outplayed my opponent but played only one moderately bad move and lost, but that is what happens when you play an inferior opening.

For the rest of the tournament, I played my normal abnormal openings and won all my games. I was 12 minutes late for the start of the tournament and therefore took a half point bye in the first round. My second round opponent was an 8-year-old child. If you think I was complacent, I can assure you I was not. Nothing strikes more terror into the heart of an experienced chess player than a 8-year-old opponent. Fortunately, my opponent was not quite ready for prime time. He dropped a rook on move 6 because he thought he was threatening mate. Still, playing unorthodox openings may have helped me.

In the first round of the same tournament, my 8-year-old opponent drew Manuel Ugarte (rated 2092) and then in round three, after losing to me, he defeated Laurence Price (rated 1916). Imagine what he might have done to me had I played a normal opening which he had studied.

Watch out for this kid. His rating has increased by more than 500 points in just the last three months!!! http://www.64.com/uscf/ratings/12831900

When the kid grows up to be a master, he will always remember that I beat him.

[Event "Marshall 10 Grand Prix Points Tonight"]
[Site "Marshall Chess Club New York"]
[Date "2002.09.26"]
[Round "02"]
[White "Sloan,Sam"]
[Black "Gershenov,Ben"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A00"]
[WhiteElo "1973"]
[BlackElo "1633"]

1.g4 d5 2.Bg2 Bxg4 3.c4 e6 4.Qb3 b6 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bxd5 Qe7
7.Bxa8 c6 8.Qa4 Qd7 9.Nc3 Nf6 10.d3 Bc5 11.Bf4 b5 12.Qc2
Nh5 13.Bxb8 O-O 14.Bg3 Nxg3 15.hxg3 h6 16.Nf3 Bxf3 17.exf3
Re8+ 18.Kf1 Rxa8 19.Rc1 Bb6 20.Ne4 Rc8 21.Rxh6 Bd8 22.Rxc6
Qh3+ 23.Kg1 Rxc6 24.Qxc6 Bb6 25.Qe8+ Kh7 1-0

Finally, in the last round, I faced another underrated player. My opponent, although rated only 1740, had defeated Master Sam Barsky (rated 2200) in the first round and then had defeated expert Wayne Brown (rated 2069) in the third round. Imagine how he might have done had I played a normal opening against him. He seemed upset to lose to me. Perhaps he did not realize that I had him beat by move 12.

[Event "Marshall 10 Grand Prix Points Tonight"]
[Site "Marshall Chess Club New York"]
[Date "2002.09.26"]
[Round "04"]
[White "Sloan,Sam"]
[Black "Tanwir,Furqan"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A00"]
[WhiteElo "1973"]
[BlackElo "1740"]

1.g4 d5 2.Bg2 Bxg4 3.c4 c6 4.cxd5 cxd5 5.Qb3 Qc8 6.Nc3 Nc6
7.Nxd5 e6 8.Ne3 Bh5 9.Nf3 Nf6 10.Ne5 Rb8 11.Nxc6 bxc6
12.Bxc6+ Nd7 13.Bxd7+ Kxd7 14.Qa4+ Qc6 15.Qxc6+ Kxc6 16.b3
Bb4 17.Bb2 Rhd8 18.Rc1+ Kb7 19.Nc4 Rbc8 20.Bc3 Bxc3
21.Rxc3 f6 22.d3 Ka6 23.Kd2 e5 24.f3 Bf7 25.Rhc1 Rd4 26.a4
g5 27.b4 Bxc4 28.Rxc4 Rcxc4 29.Rxc4 Kb6 30.Rxd4 exd4 31.e3
Kc6 32.exd4 Kd5 33.Ke3 f5 34.f4 g4 35.b5 h5 36.a5 h4
37.Kf2 Kd6 38.b6 axb6 39.a6 Kc7 40.d5 b5 41.d6+ Kxd6 42.a7
b4 43.a8=Q Kc5 44.Qa4 1-0

In spite of losing to me, my opponent, Furqan Tanwir, won the prize for most rating points gained during this tournament.

I won a prize of $31.67 in this tournament, which I mention only because this is the first prize I have won in a long time.

Sam Sloan

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Contact address - please send e-mail to the following address: Sloan@ishipress.com