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Updated version 4.0 of chess styles

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I've made a model for chess styles inspired by parts of Secrets of Endgame Strategy by Lars Bo Hansen (Gambit, 2006), Winning with Chess Psychology by Benko & Hochberg (McKay, 1991) & Secrets of Practical Chess by Nunn (Gambit, 1998). It's like Hansen's model in his books, expanded.

Style is a set of tendencies (tastes/fortes) that can show in cases of near equivalent available choices; any may affect a game's character a long time. The avg. # of cases per game is uncertain, & a tournament/opponent/clock situation may make a usual choice less attractive. One should be set for all sorts of positions, but ignoring style may cost.

Here's my 4D model for styles, with 4 major tendency axes or continuums; one may add IMHO minor ones:

1) Offensive tendency ranging to Defensive tendency:

As Benko & Hochberg allude to, Defensive players take no unnecessary risks, even before obtaining a won game (no one should after that), & often do best with 1.d4 (or even 1.c4, 1.Nf3 or 1.g3) which can allow a slow build up while limiting opposing activity. Offensive players (liking to attack even with unnecessary risk to a degree) worry less about security & often do best with the open 1.e4.

As for all axes, a player can be virtually between Offensive & Defensive (or even Offensive in the opening with 1 colour, & Defensive with the other), i.e. they can be neutral (universal) for the given axis. If much in doubt, a player's favourite Black defences might help to quickly identify their style for all 4 axes.

2) Ultra-mainline tendency ranging to Non-ultra-mainline tendency:

Ultra-mainline players virtually always use mainline openings (e.g. over 95% of the time), a trait Nunn alludes to. Non-ultra-mainline players at least occasionally use sidelines or openings that are at least slightly offbeat. IMHO, 1.b3 & 1.f4 are the offbeat White 1st moves that come closest to full respectability (with 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.c4, 1.Nf3 & 1.g3 as standard 1st moves). Larsen's Opening suits Defensive or Offensive players, depending on how White reacts to Black's play, while Bird's Opening suits Offensive players, if they go into a King's Gambit after 1...e5.

3) Tactical (or facts based) tendency ranging to Positional (or general concepts based) tendency:

Tacticians tend to calculate a lot, while Positional players tend to look more at the big picture, a distinction many (e.g. Nunn) allude to. Openings that have low tactical complexity, i.e. those generally leading to solid/simplified positions, can suit Positional players, which means they may often be happier than tacticians when scoring just a draw will do. Note that afaik Hansen's 2D model didn't necessarily say 'Tactical' = 'facts based', or 'Positional' = 'general concepts based', whereas I prefer to. His model used 'facts based' ranging to 'general concepts based' as 1 of just 2 axes of his 2D model.

4) Logical (or controlled thinking/play) tendency ranging to Intuitive (or uncontrolled thinking/play) tendency:

Intuitive players often choose the right move based more on feeling (e.g. by trying to prioritize principles that might apply, &/or by using analogies from what they suppose are relevant patterns, among ones that they already know) - often that makes them good at finding subtle nuances in a position (whether it's positional or tactical). That's rather than choosing the right move based on logical (methodical, deductive or concrete) processes (which can give a game a certain flow, or thread, through much of it).

Intuitive players can do well in positions or openings that are to some degree unclear. Note that afaik Hansen's model didn't necessarily say 'Logical' = 'controlled thinking/play', or 'Intuitive' = 'uncontrolled thinking/play', whereas I prefer to. His model used 'Logical' ranging to 'Intuitive' as the 2nd axis of his 2D model.

[1st & 2nd updates: Openings Tactical Intuitive players might do well with are wild/messy, e.g. for an Offensive one: Modern Benoni, Leningrad Dutch, Marshall Attack, Dragon, King's Gambit, Sozin or Alekhine-Chatard Attack; for a Defensive one: Grunfeld Defence, Ragozin, Kan, Taimanov Sicilian, 4.Nf3 Nimzo-Indian, Modern Exchange Grunfeld & Saemisch KID.

Positional Intuitive players might do well with openings that can lead to a somewhat murky contest of difficult-to-exploit minor advantages in cases where simplification can occur, e.g. for a Defensive one: Chigorin Lopez, Caro-Kann, Bogo-Indian, QGA, QGD Exchange, Exchange Slav or g3-QID; for an Offensive one: 12.Nbd2 exd4 Keres Lopez, MacCutcheon, Cambridge Springs, Tartakower, Classical Caro-Kann, Moscow Sicilian & Exchange Lopez.

Openings Tactical Logical players might do well with are less messy, e.g. for an Offensive one: Najdorf, Open Lopez, Tarrasch QG, KID, Richter-Rauzer, Scotch or Panov-Botvinnik Attack; for a Defensive one: Classical Sicilian, Scheveningen, Semi-Tarrasch, Old Indian, Meran, Classical Exchange Grunfeld & Classical KID.

Positional Logical players might do well with solid long-lasting opening systems, e.g. for a Defensive one: Breyer, Berlin, Moscow Semi-Slav, Hubner Rubinstein Nimzo-Indian, Averbakh KID, Catalan or English Opening; for an Offensive one: Hook Winawer, Kalashnikov, Stonewall, 4.g3 Ba6 QID, Advance French, c3-Sicilian & Quiet Italian.

Note that many openings are at least somewhat compatible with more than 1 style, e.g. the Marshall Attack has positional aspects to it.]

What now follows is a table that uses the 4 tendency axes above, resulting in 16 style categories (labels explained further below). I've put the names of 4 players, including world champions & grandmasters, in each category, for where I considered them to be reasonably appropriate (for when in the prime of their career, or for presently, if the player in question is still relatively young). Any of the players listed within one's own category might be studied closely, & their openings & play emulated to some extent. Also, recall that one's chances of success in a game may improve significantly if an opponent can be steered into playing a type of position that's virtually opposite to his style:

Col =1= (Off.) and file     Col =2= (Def.) and file    file 1 = Tac., file 2 = Pos.
   11            12             21            22       Row and rank (R & r)
Off. & Tac. Off. & Pos.     Def. & Tac. Def. & Pos. Rr rank 1 = Logical, rank 2 = Intuitive
Wild Mav.   Agile Mav. Resourceful Mav. Elusive Mav.
(Activist) (Reflector)      (Activist)  (Reflector)
Morozevich        Glek          Kamsky  T.Petrosian 22 Row 2 = Non-Ultra-Mainline
Nakamura   K.Spraggett          V.Hort    Andersson 22
Ljubojevic     McShane       Agdestein        Adams 22
D.Bronstein    Smyslov          Rowson     Seirawan 22

Killer Mav. Crushing Mav.      Sly Mav. Grinding Mav.
(Pragmatic) (Theorist)     (Pragmatic)   (Theorist)
Chigorin        Larsen        Korchnoi    Nimzovich 21
Alekhine         Short       Em.Lasker     Steinitz 21
Keres       Tartakower         Spassky      Suttles 21
Sambuev     Moskalenko       M.Carlsen   Romanishin 21

Wild T.H.   Agile T.H. Resourceful T.H. Elusive T.H.
(Activist) (Reflector)      (Activist)  (Reflector)
Topalov       Grischuk           Anand   Capablanca 12 Row 1 = Ultra-Mainline
Shirov          Bareev         Gelfand   Rubinstein 12
Tal            Uhlmann          Shipov       Karpov 12
J.Polgar       Psakhis       Beliavsky        Dreev 12

Killer T.H. Crushing T.H.      Sly T.H. Grinding T.H.
(Pragmatic) (Theorist)     (Pragmatic)   (Theorist)
Svidler       P.Morphy            Euwe         Leko 11
G.Kasparov    Tarrasch  Graf{Nenashev}      Kramnik 11
R.Fischer     Ivanchuk       Reshevsky  M.Botvinnik 11
E.Hansen{CAN}   Timman           Flear    A.Yusupov 11

[3rd update: Partly in fun, I've provided the following suggestive sub-labels for certain tendencies, or tendency combinations, in order to give short labels to each 1 of the 16 categories shown in the table (I've also indicated in brackets in the table how [sometimes IMHO] Hansen's 2D model would classify the players in a given category instead):

For an Ultra-Mainline player: 'Theory Hound' (T.H.); for a Non-Ultra-Mainline player: 'Maverick' (Mav.).
Adjective for an Offensive Tactical Intuitive player: 'Wild';
Adjective for an Offensive Positional Intuitive player: 'Agile';
Adjective for a Defensive Tactical Intuitive player: 'Resourceful';
Adjective for a Defensive Positional Intuitive player: 'Elusive';
Adjective for an Offensive Tactical Logical player: 'Killer';
Adjective for an Offensive Positional Logical player: 'Crushing';
Adjective for a Defensive Tactical Logical player: 'Sly';
Adjective for a Defensive Positional Logical player: 'Grinding'.

As an example, Shirov is classified in the table as being a 'Wild Theory Hound' (or 'Activist', under Hansen's 2D model).

Fwiw, being virtually still in the prime of my chess career IMHO (& noting also I'm not a professional player), I'd put myself pretty much in the same category as Glek (i.e. an 'Agile Maverick'). That is, having a style that's basically Offensive, Positional, Non-Ultra-Mainline & Intuitive, noting that I have slightly more tactical openings than positional ones, but I tend to lean on the latter more often. Personally, I continue to want to try to move (&/or improve) more & more towards being as universal as I can be (for all 4 style axes). A chess player's style may change over time; often it takes many years.]

Here's a link to another blog entry of mine that includes discussion of chess style, especially in regard to selecting a repertoire, & which may help you decide, if in doubt, which side of certain axes your style may belong on:

Updated 12-10-2015 at 03:13 PM by Kevin Pacey

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