English as a foreign language

I have two chess opening books:

  • Starting Out: Alekhine’s Defense, by FM John Cox
  • Starting Out: Queen’s Gambit Accepted, by GMs A Raetsky and M Chetverik

I started playing the Alekhine and scoring points right off the bat. I started playing the QGA online and did not start scoring points, and many months later I still don’t. In the QGA, for the most part, I get crushed in every manner imaginable by players of all strengths.

Here are possible explanations, or factors at any rate:

– The Alekhine is a very concrete attempt to confuse your opponent with weird imbalances and antipositional moves. I am relatively good at this kind of play. The QGA is an attempt to gradually equalize by putting your pieces on good squares. I am not good at that.

Okay, that might be the whole story. But:

– John Cox is an FM; the other guys are GMs. Maybe the FM, as a weaker player, is better at anticipating the really basic questions that people like me need to address. The GMs might automatically write for a higher-level audience.

Yeah, maybe, but:

– The really interesting question is whether Cox as a so-called Westerner (he’s English) fundamentally writes in a manner that’s easier for me as a Westerner to grasp. Have you read Russian or Ukrainian or Georgian literature and history etc? Is it possible that there’s a barrier not of language per se but rather of East-versus-West world view or cognitive style? That even though they’re writing in perfectly good English, I don’t really understand their points?

(Here’s betting if Denys weighs in as a Ukrainian living in the US, he finds a nice way to say “Your first theory was best – you just suck positionally.”  :)

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4 thoughts on “English as a foreign language

  1. I think the most important thing is just that Cox is a really good writer, better than almost all other native English speakers as well. He’s superb at balancing the concrete with the abstract, and at phrasing things in an informal but clear way.

    His other books are excellent too. Starting Out: 1 d4 ultimately turned out to be too scary for me (all topical main lines), and The Berlin Wall is probably meant for masters and above, but Dealing with d4 Deviations is awesome absolutely essential for dealing with all that Colle/London/Veresov/etc. crap as Black.

  2. I had bad luck with the QGD because it just gives white a ton of space, and black has to be comfortable maneuvering with a slightly cramped position. I would just as often get steamrolled.

  3. “Horses for courses.”

    I think it’s a matter of style and temperament fitting in that particular opening, rather than the individuals who wrote the books. The reason I say that is because I love to play against the QGA and have a very good score against it, even though it seems to be a perfectly good defense. White just plays moves that seem perfectly natural to me and has instant open lines from move 2! Plus, I just love to push center pawns!

    However, since I don’t have either of the specific books in question to examine and ponder, I’m basically talking out my…err, talking through my hat.

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