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Black Is OK, or the presumption of innocence in the Game of Chess

by GM Andras Adorjan

Preface - Is Black OK?

(How Dark Is the Black Side of Chess?)
Straightforward Answers to Shaky Questions

Are You prejudiced in any way, dear reader? Of course You are! Don't be ashamed of it – who isn't? Who isn't shackled by dogmas, beliefs, reflexes, routine? Those who deny it are liars or saints. But, as saints make the tiniest minority in the world, we, sinful humans had better be honest to ourselves and each other. There's no point in blaming one another; although the human race is extremely diverse, our imperfection is still the same: that of frail mortals.

Shall we then accept our limitations with resignation, and despair of our pretensions to change, to make things change, or to make things better? No way! Why, there's nothing as certain on earth as change! It's up to us whether we remain mere spectators of what's going on, or active participants, moulders, controllers of 'the ways of the world'.

"Oh no! Here comes the usual rubbish about the redemption of the world and the meaning of life" - moans the reader, who has already had quite a few disappointments, and lost faith in empty phrases and flowers of rhetoric. However, it’s not the words we should blame for lies, it’s those who distort and misuse them. Or is there a single word, a single noble, holy ideal, in whose name no villainy has ever been committed? So shall we stop believing in anything, shall we throw way the most beautiful words? Shall we accept a drab, meaningless existence where animalistic(?) instincts prevail? Only over my dead body! Human destiny, carried by the strength of faith in spite of disappointment, sad experiences, doubts: this is our lot, our only hope. YES, to redeem the world, YES, to continue the work of Creation, YES, to fight against superstition, darkness, ready-made panels that replace thought, YES, to seek truth, this can be our only goal. To be satisfied with anything less than that would be cowardly and sinful!

Pretty pompous, some may say. Yes, it may sound somewhat lofty, bombastic even. Think what You please, gentle reader, but do believe me that You, in your daily work, are also shaping what is going to be reality tomorrow. Creation didn't end on the sixth day, everybody can make his or her contribution. We, chess-players of the Globe, seek truth on the board. Evolution requires respect for eternal values and unbiased, matter-of-fact observation of actual phenomena. Alas for the one who can't get rid of the clog of prejudice, can’t ignore the caprices of worthless fashion!

My own mission is to make my contribution to the quest for chess truth by fighting 'apartheid', that is, the “colour prejudice” in the royal game. It is this 'BLACK Is OK' spirit that guides me and my friends when we launch our magazine, edit other publications, organise tournaments, courses. In order to have real blessing on our work, though, we need Your benevolent, but critical attention. Please join us, after all:


András Adorján

The Way It All Started
(The Story of 'BLACK Is OK')

1985 was a very BLACK year, and not 'OK' at all. My mother died. Those who have already had a trauma like this know more or less what I went through; for others I should say something about this kind of experience. It's completely different to hear about an earthquake or a flood killing 10000 people. This is all the same just a number, a momentary heartache, maybe with some feeling of relief - we are ashamed of it, but it's true -, saying "Thank God it did not happen here, with them reading about it over there." There is a classic epitaph from a Hungarian cemetery in Transylvania (now part of Rumania): "Now You are reading: / 'May he rest in peace’. / I wish I could be reading / that You rest in peace." So when death gathers its crops on a large scale, but at a safe distance, it is - what a regretful fact! – not such a big deal for us. We are all like Tolstoy's Ivan Ilyich: we can accept death in general; it's more difficult to accept the death of someone close to us, let alone ourselves: we can't even imagine passing away! The loss of a relative or friend, or just someone of the same generation, or someone very young, shakes us deeply. And it's not only that we cry for the deceased – as we know from Hemingway, hearing the bell toll, you should never ask for whom it tolls. It tolls for you. It's preceded by the statement that it's me who loses something with every death. That's why you should never ask for whom the bell tolls.

We mourn for our loved ones. We mourn with pity, guilt, sorrow, and, feeling sorry for the deceased, we feel sorry for ourselves as well. We mourn over our own mortality, our momentary loneliness, and, first of all - at least in such moments - we think of what our existence is all about. Every cloud has a silver lining, or so we are told. But can there be anything good in losing someone you loved? Isn't it a morbid thought? Well, let me tell you just one thing before trying to answer this painful and eternal question. I was far from being as good a son as my poor mother liked to think. I was lucky to have the chance to soothe her suffering in her last hours a little bit, doing some penance while she was still alive. (During one of my travels abroad, I saw the question looking at me from wall-posters: “When did you last call your mother?” And You, dear Reader? Do it while you still can!). I managed to tell my mother on her deathbed: "Don’t you be afraid, you of all people. You've done a lot of good to others in your life, and you are doing good to us even at the moment of your death. You're reminding us to keep together, and to leave as little debt as possible." She, poor soul, was still teaching in a primary school a couple of months before her death (at the age of 70), in rather bad health. She was happy at the school, surrounded by children, more than anywhere else.

So what did this blow of fortune bring me? A good lesson. Experiencing that human life is ephemeral, I was forced to ponder the meaning of us being here. That is, what are we supposed to do? When I finally felt that I am able to come up with an answer, I figured we should do something in return for the oxygen we breathe in and transform into carbon-dioxide during our presence on earth… We must leave something lasting, something that lives on when we die.

That was the time when I started to think of building up a 'life-work', and seemed to have found writing as the right course of activity to follow. I had done a lot of writing before that anyway, from my teens on: chess articles, analyses, reports, prose and poetry, lyrics, occasionally even music. I am extremely extroverted, as a psychologist would put it – blessed (or cursed) with an enormous desire for self-expression. So I didn't have to force myself to take pen in hand, and grasp it even stronger than before.

What I wanted to write was something original, novel and daring: some sort of a series of articles that have something in common, some kind of 'meaningful harmony', but still, each piece can be taken for a whole, with an essence of its own. I didn't get too far for a while. Then I took to jotting down the theoretical subjects in which I'd ever had an original idea (most of them had already been successfully tried in practice, I even had followers in some cases, including top players) on slips of paper. When I had a list of 18-20 variations, I started to look for what is unmistakably common in them. And then came the moment when I suddenly realised that they all support Black’s case, with maybe 2 or 3 exceptions. Then I recalled that I liked playing with BLACK (or at least I wasn't afraid of the “dark” days) already at the age of twenty and what a great number of tournaments I had where I held most of my victories with BLACK, and so on. Today - being perhaps not only older but wiser as well - I can't help thinking that it was not me seeking and finally finding my task - no, it happened just the other way round. I was probably predestined to do it, it was my calling, all I had to do was listen to the message. 'It took me a little long, oh long, but the voice of my master was strong!' - as the poet would say.

So I got down to work, and I started (as mentioned already in the preface to the book BLACK IS OK!, first published in English in 1980) with the Keres Attack, followed by the others in quick succession. The articles written with the help of my friends were published in the chess magazines of practically every country in the world. The reception was encouraging, not bad for a start (and not only for a start!). Then I decided to pursue the 'BLACK Is OK' mission, and this way committed myself to something much more than just a well-sounding witticism. It was (and is) something I did and do believe in, and my belief is getting deeper and deeper, if it's possible at all. In the beginning, however, even my best friends looked at this thesis with - how to say it - condescending cheerfulness, considering it a strange hobby-horse. Not that anybody told me anything nasty - but it was in the air, and I could smell it. Well, after all, they didn't disturb me playing, and I kept 'building my sand-castle', with persistence and dedication. And, as time went on, the army of sceptics lessened, seeing my things published in various chess magazines from India to Singapore, from the USA to the (passed-away) USSR, all the countries of Europe, Australia, not to mention… yes, let’s not mention them! What really matters is not what makes me pleased. It is that the people (judging by the reception of the articles) appreciated and enjoyed the results of the cruelly concrete analyses, created by myself and my ‘brothers-in-arms’ in a humble effort to ‘straighten out’ a little part of the world that had ‘gone aslant’. It is not by chance that Don Quixote became the ‘logo’ of our struggle, as in the early days our efforts - to make people rethink things day by day instead of following dogmas – seemed just as futile as fighting windmills.

However, while at the beginning the whole idea sounded as heretic as - maybe the comparison is a bit pretentious - Martin Luther's theses nailed to the gate, nowadays there are probably very few people who completely reject the idea that it is quite tolerable to play with BLACK. I even received two letters whose writers went even further, one of them saying that there is a limited number of 'good moves' for each player in the starting position, and if someone runs out of these, he can only make things worse with every further move, and the ‘right’ to move actually becomes a nuisance. Now, as white starts the game, he will have to make the first 'bad move'. Therefore, with both players making the best moves possible, BLACK must win. Well…
My other pen-friend challenged the view that it is White who determines the character of the game. I think he is right in saying that BLACK can also choose from a great variety of answers, influencing the position at least as strongly as White. The information that the disadvantage of starting is not unfamiliar in some board games, e.g. in nine-men's morris, also comes from him. What I am saying is, though, not more than 'BLACK is OK'. I will probably repeat it on my deathbed, unlike Goethe, who wanted - on the contrary - more light. Or another 'fellow-heretic', who claimed that "The Earth is moving just the same".

To cut a long story short, I don't think I could deny it in the torture chamber, unless… someone convinced me it isn't true! So my ‘mission’ is actually a scientific experiment to find out how each idea works in practice. It is all very nice that in my own practice playing with BLACK was rather a bliss than a burden, and that my results seem to support my thesis. But it is still rather like someone vaccinating himself with BLACK pox, then with the serum he has invented, and surviving. It doesn't prove that the vaccine can be used expansively, only that this particular guy didn't die. In clinical practice it takes 5-10 years to legalise a drug, to prove it isn't toxic, to rule out all harmful side effects etc. Now we can similarly get thousands of games by organising subject tournaments, and see how my ideas stand the test of serious tournament practice. The statistics of these tournaments concerning wins and losses with BLACK and white is also interesting. Hopefully, it will not be as sad for BLACK as the overall tournament statistics of our times.

Finally, let me tell you that the ultimate goal of the experiment is not to confirm my thesis, and definitely not 'by all means'. It is to discover the truth. Summing up the results after 5-10 years, we might realise that BLACK is not OK at all, or just a little bit OK. Well, it will be a disappointment for me personally that my hypothesis is wrong, and in fact it's just myself and a couple of ‘kindred spirits’ who are able to use this 'left-handed' approach. But my personal disappointment - which would come quite unexpected to me! - would also do great service to chess science, as a failed hypothesis takes us closer to truth, too. So the strongest motivation of this work is curiosity. Curiosity that keeps asking somewhere inside "What's going to become of all this?" Will it prove to be a revolutionary theory, a fresh spring breeze sweeping out the ‘junk’ of all times, or will everything remain the same, allowing White to get a devastating 8-1 record at a match for the world championship in 1986? Well, if you think this is normal, and will be the same till the end of time, just think of the fall of ‘invincible’ empires!

I must tell you an anecdote: a woman went to see a psychiatrist and said: "Doctor, my husband is getting so funny." "Why, tell me about it, perhaps I can help you." "The poor fellow thinks he is a hen." "A hen? Well, this is a serious case" - the doctor wrinkled his forehead. " And how long has he had it?" "For 4 or 5 years." "4 or 5 years? And you are coming here only now? I could have probably helped you easier in the starting stage." "Well, you know, Doctor, we are not really well-off. To tell you the truth, the money for the eggs came in handy." So my thesis might be totally refuted in the future, waiting in a dusty school equipment store for the teacher who can tell the amused students about what nonsense people took into their heads - a couple of millennia ago. But I sometimes daydream about another possible turn of events. It's kind of a vision, and not entirely funny: some centuries from today triangle-headed, intelligent creatures with wooden legs and green bodies from outer space appear on Earth. These creatures, who are a whole lot cleverer than our proud human race, and also still alive, get down to studying the records of the history of our culture. Among other things, they come across my book called 'BLACK Is OK', and, as they can play chess (it would be a funny piece of a galaxy with intelligent beings who can't play chess, right?), they have a look at it. A little bit later they say with a heavy sigh: "What a pity! This poor devil was the only one who knew it. It's a shame he wasn't important enough to be listened to!"…

Well, dear Reader, only time can decide which of these possibilities will come true. As for me, I will keep 'laying eggs' like the hero of our anecdote. If You don’t mind, I will win quite a few games as BLACK, whether on firm scientific ground or just by the power of faith. In return, I promise that I am not going to push anyone to take my side. I will use only concrete facts, data of experiments, statistics, that is, objective factors to recruit new ‘converts’. It's usually said about artists that they're tolerated by the rest of mankind and saved from Hell for their works only. If my BLACK Is OK mission is successful, perhaps I can also hope for a place in Purgatory…

Black is OK, or the Presumption of Innocence in Chess

In criminal law, the suspect is entitled to the presumption of innocence until it is proved beyond reasonable doubt that he is guilty. It might help me a lot if I was well-versed in law, but perhaps it would also make my argumentation bloody boring. So what am I getting at is that we should try to take an unbiased approach, and think of the starting position of the chess game. BLACK does NOT have to equalise, as it is not BLACK who has to prove anything in the first place! I presume - in the spirit of the presumption of innocence - that the position is equal. It is White who has to prove that he can get an advantage. And, as he has the right to move first, he sees to it immediately. Naturally, starting the game should not be mistaken for taking the initiative!

The significance of the right to start varies from game to game. In tennis, for one, the server has an enormous advantage if he serves well. The opponent may not even be able to touch the ball, or may return it so feebly that the server ‘smashes’ it at once. Or take handball. While the attacking team has the ball, the opponent can not do anything but line up in front of the penalty area, with perhaps one of them running about trying to intercept passes - and pray for dear life. All they can hope for is that the other team makes a mistake, or runs out of attacking time - but what they have is play at one goal! Football is different: the referee tosses a coin at the beginning, and the team whose captain got heads or tails right has a choice to make. And what do they usually choose? Always the half of the pitch! It depends on where the sun shines from, or which way the wind blows. The point is that this advantage belongs to them till halftime. Kick-off and the right to launch the first attack are not as important as this. It would be interesting to know exactly how many attacks and counterattacks there are in an average football game. There are a lot in any case, and there are very few goals compared to this number. Therefore both the players and the fans know very well that it is not extremely important which side kicks off.

In chess, however, the right to move first still sounds like an achievement. Not too bad, is it: White can move any of his pieces, and some of the possible moves are even good. A whole lot of them, on the other hand, are definitely foolish. Some first moves have been in rivalry since the ‘heroic age’ of chess for the title of the best first move. They are 1.e4 and 1.d4, and that is basically it, as 1.c4 and 1.Nf3 often have no individual significance. Sometimes the players just develop their forces quietly, and the stronger one beats his weaker opponent. Which first move is best is an open question, and it is highly debatable whether we will ever answer it. On the other hand, we can tell for sure which moves are out of competition. Such moves are, for example, h4, a4, g4 and b4. There are quite a few first moves after which BLACK can stop worrying and lay back.

The right to move first, however, is an obligation at the same time. We can all remember cases - even from our own practice - when this right became a sad necessity, or zugzwang. Take a simple pawn ending: opposition, and the person to move loses the game, regardless of colours. You can not say ‘No bid!’ in chess, and those who argue that White has the initiative and can decide what course the game takes, and which way it can not go, are partly right. On the other hand - as pointed out by Árpád Földeák in his article - this involves a certain responsibility, which is not to everyone’s liking.

And this takes us to the point when we can ask anyone, from highly-qualified chess professionals to devoted chess fans or people having nothing to do with chess whatsoever, how they think a hypothetical ‘perfect game’ would end? We may get all kinds of answers, especially from those not involved in chess, but qualified players will mostly come up with the same reply as a great number of world champions or chess thinkers since Lasker: the logical outcome of the game is a draw. This view is usually shared even by fierce attacking players who love playing with the White pieces.

Nobody has ever won a chess game without his opponent making some kind of mistake. Whether it is blundering a rook or just some minor inaccuracy, the refutation of which takes deep strategic insight and flawless technique is naturally important from an aesthetic or professional point of view, but makes no difference concerning the general point. If one of the players wins the game, his opponent has certainly made some mistake. All games ever played in the history of chess serve as evidence of this statement, whether they took place on benches of public squares or on the stages of world championship matches. The ‘correct’ result of a chess game is draw. Why is it so surprising, then, that BLACK IS OK? If the game is drawn with both players making the best moves from the starting position, then BLACK can not possibly have any problems if he plays well.

Opening variations in theory books and game annotations usually end with BLACK equalising all of a sudden. I cannot remember any analysis starting from move 1 where White suddenly makes a good move, which is awarded an exclamation mark by the author, who then decides that the position is equal. That is, in a ‘correct’ game - in the traditional sense of the word - BLACK equalises with good play, and then, so to speak, ‘holds’ this equal position, and the game is drawn. Well, that’s where the trouble starts, as it never occurs to me that any party should ‘equalise’ from the starting position. The starting position is equal, at least if you ask me. As far as I am concerned, the whole opening theory - even the works of high standard - is based on a fallacy, because they assume that White - within certain limits of course - can do almost anything. However, if you take an opening book, and start to analyse positions labelled as ‘equal’, then what you will see in seven, or rather eight cases out of ten (a moderate estimate, I am trying to avoid exaggerations) is that they are not equal (BLACK is better)! But this can not be put on paper, this is taboo for some reason, BLACK simply can not stand better, merely because the aggregate results of chess games show White’s upper hand.

In the real world, people do win games as BLACK quite often, of course. Hungarian chess historian Árpád Földeák even wrote an article in the Hungarian chess monthly Sakkélet in 1995, pointing out that a Hastings tournaments at the end of the 19th century saw quite a few top players of that time fare better as BLACK than with the White pieces. Naturally, this is just a curiosity, and neither Földeák nor myself consider it to be typical. Naturally, a lot depends on how one lays the foundation of the game. Lajos Portisch said something to the effect that he had tried almost all openings and defences during his long chess career, and found that about two-thirds of these were disadvantageous for BLACK. So there is the remaining one-third, and all BLACK has to do is play these openings and defences, and then he has nothing to fear. Of course he did not give out which ones he considered weak and which he thought were good, you can not expect a tournament player (he laid out his views three years ago) to do so. Moreover, instead of asking a chess player questions, one should look into his games and see which openings he plays and which ones he avoids. I personally think that, although Lajos is a great player and he is right in most cases, the element of subjectivity is present with him as well as any of us. I saw him, for example, experiment with the Gruenfeld, and he could not make heads or tails of it. Somehow it was not his cup of tea. On the other hand, I have also seen him play strategies I considered much more difficult with a devastating effect.

Personally, I do prefer playing as BLACK, but this is naturally the other extreme. I have invested so much time and energy into the rehabilitation of the BLACK side and the improvement of my BLACK repertoire that this way of seeing has simply permeated me. My repertoire is more ambitious, I play openings which suit my style better, and so on. BLACK IS OK means that everything is all right with BLACK, no more, no less and nothing else!

It would be worth surveying whether there is any difference between the statistics of games played by top-level, mediocre and very weak players. I have the impression that White has the better score everywhere. Why? How is it possible that White won 8 games at the World Championship match between Kasparov and Karpov in 1996, while BLACK won only 1? Why does White have a sweeping score at great tournaments, as well as in lower-level chess (at least that’s how I feel)? I simply can’t believe there has to be such a big difference! OK, it could be something like 55:45 in 100 games, but it is not like that. This is said to be a fact, a kind of ultimate, unquestionable evidence.

A considerable part of my life, however, has been devoted to efforts to change this, because it is not a necessity! I have never been into denying or manipulating facts, but let me remind you that heavy objects had been moved about long before the wheel was invented. However, this was not a sufficient reason for not inventing the wheel! Furthermore, objects had been falling downwards long before Newton published anything on gravity, and everybody had been aware of this circumstance, they only didn’t know the reason. So Newton did not discover anything new; he gave an original and correct interpretation of a well-known phenomenon.

The overwhelming majority of chess players try to build up a serious repertoire as White, and aim for safety as BLACK. They do not really want to win with the BLACK pieces, or can not imagine how it is possible. The opponent might, of course, overdo the attack and lose, but this is accidental, people do not expect this to happen. This is understandable, as it is extremely difficult nowadays to have ambitious, versatile and up-to-date repertoires with both colours. As I pointed out as early as 1988, people do not win too often with the BLACK pieces because they do not even want to, and that’s why White has a psychological advantage, although it could be turned around. I managed to do so in my better days. Regretfully, I was so successful in it that I ‘forgot’ how to play with the White pieces. Still, BLACK has a lot of psychological plusses, which can be turned into a chess advantage, as people usually play for a win as White.

I personally think that Anatoly Karpov can be ‘blamed’ for this one-sided approach to a certain extent. In the best 15-20 years of his career, he had a ‘shamelessly’ good score in his White games, and therefore he was not forced to play for a win as BLACK. E.g. a considerable amount of his games ran like this: NN-Karpov 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Re8 11.Ng5 Rf8 12.Nf3 Re8 13.Ng5 draw. (Of course, he could win BLACK games as well, if he was ‘rushed into it’, but he usually wasn’t.) And it is typical of most people to mime the ‘top guns’ instead of searching their own path. They easily succeed in copying surface elements like behaviour, choice of openings or even clothes, but not strength of character, talent, or skill. (kell-e ez a bekezdés(?)

Anyway, chess is an ancient game, and it is still played, so it is simply impossible to claim that BLACK stands no chance whatsoever. If this was the case, the game of chess as such would be ‘over’, as the lines leading to White’s advantage would have been elaborated ages ago. But, as we are all aware, this is not the case. Those speaking about the death of chess, and computers, and the information boom, and all that jazz, are parroting half-truths. As long as it is still possible to come up with novelties of at least equal value as early as move 6, 5 or even 3 (cf. the ‘Adorján-gambit’ 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3 e5!?, which ‘went off’ in Kramnik-Lékó, Tilburg, 1998.), this whole line of argumentation is simply rubbish! Another point, mentioned by Árpád Földeák as well, is that counter-attack has a certain advantage over attack. It is a well-known fact that you cannot launch an attack without exposing some weaknesses in your own position. When a boxer lifts his arm for a punch, he necessarily leaves some part of his body unprotected, and if the opponent reacts quickly, the outcome of his ‘initiative’ will be two or three blows that he will remember for the rest of his life. Moreover, it is common knowledge in the art of war that your troops must outnumber the enemy several times if you want to occupy some enemy position, territory or high ground. Most chess sacrifices are aimed at gaining superiority at a certain part of the board (most often in the vicinity of the king).

But let us go on! Another common argument is that White starts the game, and thus he determines the course of the battle and the character of the position. All BLACK can do is adapt to it. To what extent is it true? White plays, say, 1.e4. This is a very good move indeed, as it deprives BLACK of the possibility of playing any Indian defence... There are a lot of things BLACK cannot play indeed, except for rare move order shifts. So can we say that White has won the opening battle already? No way! If BLACK plays 1…c5, White can say farewell to the Spanish Opening, and there will be no Pirc, Modern, French, Caro-Kann, Alekhine or Nimzowitsch, either. And BLACK has quite a number of alternatives after 2.Nf3, too. 2….Nc6, d6 or e6 are considered the best options. Now it is White’s turn again to make a decision. The main line is 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4, and here BLACK can decide which variation to go for: Najdorf, Paulsen, Sveshnikov, Dragon, Rauzer or Sozin. All in all, the ‘bidding’ takes a while. (Except if the White player has only one repertoire, and he sticks to it no matter what.) How long? It may be six, eight, even ten moves. By that point, things will have more or less settled down, with the character of the play has been more or less established. If both players have developed their forces in a normal and healthy way, the position remains equal, at least in terms of opportunities, and it does not, and can not, have any significance whatsoever who is White and who is BLACK!

It is such a simple truth for me that I really wonder why it still seems to be some kind of ‘black magic’ for some people. My thesis is that in chess, the extra tempo can have some significance only if the position acquires a symmetric character. Even in those positions, it is not always the case! In a sharp position, however, where both players fight hard for the initiative, attack, or counterattack, colours are of no importance. White’s only advantage is that he can avoid sharp play in any opening, exchange the pieces off, and if he does it well, he will have his draw all right. Or he may even win if BLACK takes too much risk.

On the other hand, I think there are three things that can, and do have significance. First, who the stronger player is. Second, who is in better ‘shape’, or in a frame of mind more favourable for chess, on that very day. And, last but not least, it is also important whose knowledge of that specific variation is deeper, that is, who is more familiar with the spirit of the position. This can make up for several categories of playing strength!

So far so good, but if both players make good moves, they will inevitably reach an equal position. This is the point when ‘old salts’ call it a day and agree a draw - if they can. It is not always possible, as they have team-mates, team managers, spectators etc., who all expect them to play for a win as White, saying that it is an advantage! This is where BLACK’s chance lies. If White does not realise that he has reached the point when he has to play carefully to keep the game balanced, the process of the ‘disappearance’ of his ‘advantage’ may become irreversible in a couple of moves. A chess game is never in perfect equilibrium, except for obviously drawn positions. It is more like a seesaw in continuous motion. Perhaps this is what they call dynamic equilibrium, and this may well be the basis of the popular wisdom that once BLACK has equalised, he is already better. This means that, although the game is still balanced, the pendulum swings in the direction White has pushed it in. If White fails to stop the pendulum, BLACK obviously takes over the initiative, which may not mean too much in the strict sense of the word (that is, on the board), but it has important psychological implications. (This is the difference between human beings and computers.) Let’ suppose you play a game, and have a good position in the beginning (or so you believe), and then you realise that the position is not so good any longer, or simply believe that you are actually worse. In this situation, chances are you will play badly from that point on, because you are disappointed, afraid of losing the game, worrying about what people will say etc. All these psychological factors may play an important role on BLACK’s side.

There is another thing I have been ‘prophesying’ for a long time. It might be just my personal hobbyhorse, but I do believe in it: playing BLACK puts you in a morally superior position, as BLACK exercises the ancient right of the assaulted party: self-defence. And if he does it in a courageous and active way, e.g. sacrificing material, he will definitely make the audience sympathise with him, and - what is perhaps even more important in chess - his opponent will be astonished. ‘This guy is playing as BLACK, and fears nothing!’ - he may think to himself.
People play for a win with the White pieces, because they believe in it. They have been taught and expected to do so. (Except for those sad tournament situations when a draw is sufficient for White. He can surely have his draw if he does not set about it in a passive and cowardly way. In this sense we can say that it is better to play as White, but such situations are rare.) The beginning of mass psychosis - in my opinion - is when children are taught a lot of useful things like how the pieces move etc., and then the next lesson is that it is better to play as White(?!). Those who play this game at a high level (including my humble self) know very well that there are some basic principles of the game, e.g. the Bishop is stronger in an open position than the Knight, and all that. Some of them, however, turned out to be nonsense as such, while some others must be thought over in all specific positions! The thesis that White has an advantage due to the right to make the first move belongs to the latter group. The whole thing is just so naive. In the last century, and even at the beginning of this one, people who declined sacrifices were dismissed from the club. It has been only for a mere thirty, or perhaps fifty years that chess is played on a scientific basis, instead of just hoping for some Bxf7 check, or some romantic mating attack without preparations.

A Russian chess journalist gave a very witty and sharp answer when I asked him how big White’s advantage was: ‘At least 50 years!’ This is the point! It may well be even more, as it - most naturally - has its psychological reasons. What we call ‘opening theory’ has somehow always looked at things from White’s point of view. Game analyses were based on the presupposition that White is better. What happened to me is the opposite of this: I could learn how to play with BLACK because I put a lot of work in it. Unfortunately, I did not have the healthy, down-to-earth approach that helps to avoid exaggerations, so I overdid it and fell for the other extreme.

Nowadays there are attempts at some tournaments to make people fight and avoid quick draws; nevertheless, most people play chess with the White pieces, and try to get their draw as BLACK! Although once the organiser is so ambitious, and wants to have ‘eternal’ games in his tournament, it would be so much more fun if people set their eyes on the full point with both colours! This is simply the way it works! I am really concerned by the possibility that once the BLACK IS OK repertoire comes out in, say, five volumes, it will be called the only possible way. But what about the people who do not like playing the openings recommended by me? I can’t claim omnipotence, and tell people to play this or that, can I? Let us not forget that Grandmaster Portisch said ‘two-thirds - one-third’, and the repertoire I recommend is only a small part of this one-third! There are a lot of things I have never played as BLACK, but if I had to face them as White, I had no idea what to do! I am absolutely sure that the ‘duo’ of the Slav and the Caro-Kann is perfectly capable of solving BLACK’s problems (in good hands, of course).

When I published the BLACK IS OK thesis in practically all chess periodicals of the world, as well as some books, people thought I was crazy. Still, since the moment when I made this discovery, I have been trying to prove and spread this idea in various forms, including ‘philosophical’ writings like this one, as well as analyses, articles and books. Just give it a thought: if ‘White to play and win’ was all chess had to offer, the game would have been exhausted and buried in oblivion for a long time, wouldn’t it?

Dear Readers!

Let the real debate start now! Readers can come up with very clever and interesting things, and it is not laid down in the ‘rules of the house’ that everything has to be thought up by me.
So could you please answer the following questions (lazy people may only care to give the number of the question and a short answer, although it looks a whole lot better with an explanation!)

1. Which colour do you prefer?

  1. White
  2. Black
  3. Makes no difference

2. What is the logical outcome of a game if both sides play perfect?

  1. White wins
  2. Draw
  3. Black wins

3. Is there any difference between the statistics of top-level games and games played by mediocre or very weak players?

  1. The higher the level of the players, the bigger White’s advantage becomes
  2. No difference
  3. Black might even get a ‘plus’ at lower levels

4. How does the type of the tournament (correspondence, rapid, junior, senior, open, round-robin) influence the balance? If you have data of this kind (or perhaps ‘merely’ some decades of personal experience), please share it with us!

These are maybe the most important general questions. I’m sure everybody has an opinion about them. And it’s not an exam with good or bad answers and marks, since the whole subject is in the state of research.
Some players expressed that they are not good enough to take part, speak up. Wrong! Just like in the chessboard, where anybody may find a good move (even incidental…) in this circle of subject everybody has a right to say. What is more: remember, many of the great discoveries were born by chance. One more thing. Please feel free to tell any personal experience of your own, or what you have seen or heard. Nothing can replace such individual observations that are 1./ first-hand 2./ since we’re all different makes our study picture colourful.

We expect your reply at fax (06-1) 318-6259,
postal address H-1053 Budapest, Kálvin tér 2. II. 4.,
or e-mail

© Andras Adorjan, 2003

All text Copyright Alexander Baburin unless otherwise noted