The Daily Review, Sunday, December 31, 1978

Richard Shorman


By Cecil Purdy

I have heard many arguments about handicapping in chess, but to my mind there is only one good system.

The ideal handicapping system would satisfy the following requirements:

(1) It would be applicable both to tournaments and to single off-hand games between two players.
(2) It would be almost universally adopted, so that if a player announces what his handicap was in a certain tourney, it will be a good guide to the handicappers in any other tourney.
(3) It would make the game interesting for the odds-giver as well as the receiver. The strong player is doing the weak one a favor by playing, and a system that does not enable him to enjoy the game must inevitably break down.
(4) It would lead to a type of chess in which the objects are substantially the same as in chess on level terms.

Only the system of playing at odds, i.e., starting the game with less than the normal complement of pieces, satisfies all these requirements in over-the-board play and, moreover, has stood the test of time.

Critics may assert with respect to point (4) that the objects are not substantially the same as in ordinary chess, but they are. The expert is in the position of having obtained a lost game against a weaker player, and of having to fight his way out, while the weaker player must try to hang on to his win. In fact, this situation constantly arises in level games.

A great deal more fun could be got out of chess if half of the friendly games in the world now played on level terms were played at odds. And it is quite easy to arrive at a fair handicap after one short trail; always let the stronger player select the odds, on the understanding that he reduces them if defeated.

The odds of "pawn and move" (the stronger player takes Black and removes his "f"-pawn before the game begins) leads to a good game, and many famous matches have been played at these odds. The odds system has been part and parcel of the royal game for centuries and leaves plenty of room for variations: odds of two moves, pawn and move, the exchange and two moves (The player minus the knight starts with White and makes two moves before Black, who concedes a rook, makes his first move), knight, knight and move, rook, rook and move, rook plus pawn and move, rook and knight, queen, queen and knight, etc. Of course, the differences between each pair of graduations on the scale of odds is not the same, so discretion must be exercised in its use. The piece removed is always a queen-side piece, while pawn odds always refers to the "f"-pawn.

Much could be written on odds technique, but the glaringly obvious points may be summarized briefly. When receiving a knight, and White plays 1 e4, reply with 1d5! When giving a knight, play 1 e4 (intending the Evan's Gambit) only if your opponent is not wise to the 1d5! trick. Best for general use is Bird's Opening, 1 f4.

If conceding the exchange and move, do not answer 1 e4 with 1e5, as 2 d4 is then quite strong, since you have no knight to hit the enemy queen after 2ed 3 Qd4.

When receiving the odds of pawn and move, play 1 e4 and force your opponent to worry about a possible 2 Qh5, e.g., he cannot reply with 1e5.

When accepting any odds, but particularly a knight or more, seize opportunities to trade down, even at a very slight cost in position, as simplification both increases the ratio of your material advantage and makes it easier to avoid your material advantage and makes it easier to avoid blunders. Naturally this advice should not be followed blindly, but most odds receivers tend to neglect opportunities for exchanging off material, even when it would pay them handsomely in the long run.

Above all, the odds receiver should rate rapid development as even more important than in level play, and he should seldom be tempted into grabbing a pawn. It is only when all your force is in play that your extra material will worry the odds giver much. Neglect of this precept is the chief cause of defeat for the weaker player.


Here are some fine examples of odds play, recorded in streamlined coordinate chess notation (files lettered "a" to "h", ranks numbered "1" to "8," always counting from White's lower left hand corner regardless of whose turn to move; pawn captures designated by file letters only).

White: R. Saunders. Black: G. Gundersen.
Melbourne Chess Club, Goldsmith Cup Handicap Tourney.
Sicilian Defense
(Remove White's knight at b1 and Black's rook at a8.)

1 d4 e6
2 c4 c5
3 e4(a) cd(b)
4 Qd4 Nc6
5 Qe3 Nf6
6 Bd2 b6!(c)
7 Be2 Bc5
8 Qg3 Ne4
9 Qg7 Bf2
10 Kd1 Bd4
11 Qh6 Nf2
12 Kc2 Qf6!(d)
13 Nf3 Qf5
14 Kb3 Nh1
15 Rh1 Rg8
16 Nh4 Qe4
17 Qh5 Bf6!(e)
18 Rf1 Nd4
19 Ka4 Qc2
20 Ka3(f) Rg5!!
21 Bg5 Nb5!!(g)
22 cb Bb2
23 Resigns(h)

(a) Results in the exposure of White's queen: the odds receiver should beware of violating general principles. The natural move is 3 d5.
(b) White cannot now afford 4 Nf3 because of 4e5! (5 Ne5? Qa5), the ordinary break by c3 being impossible.
(c) Making the most of his opening advantage, which is compounded by Black's bad reply.
(d) Previously Black played for complications, but now he welcomes a simple endgame with a pawn up (13 Qf6 Bf6 14 Rf1 Bd4) rather than allow White any attacking possibilities after 13 Bg5.
(e) Initiating a really pretty combination.
(f) Now can you see a quick forced win for Black? All the obvious moves give White chances for prolonging the game.
(g) The rook was sacrificed to block White's queen. The knight sacrifice unblocks Black's active bishop. If 22 Kb4, then 22Qb2 23 Ka4 Nc3mate.
(h) Black mates in two.
(Adapted from "The Australasian Chess Review," July 15, 1943, pp. 97-99)

White: Morphy. Black: Amateur. New York 1857. Evan's Gambit (remove White's rook at a1.) 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 b4 Bb4 5 c3 Ba5 6 d4 ed 7 0-0 Nf6 8 Ba3 Bb6 9 Qb3 d5 10 ed Na5 11 Re1 Be6 12 de!! Nb3 13 ef Kd7 14 Be6 Kc6 15 Ne5 Kb5 16 Bc4 Ka5 17 Bb4 Ka4 18 ab mate!

White: Morphy. Black: Pindar. London, 1859. Center Counter Defense (Remove White's knight at b1.) 1 e4 d5! 2 ed Qd5 3 c4 Qd8 4 d4 e5! 5 Bd3 Bb4 6 Bd2 Bd2 7 Qd2 Nc3 8 Ne2 Nf6 9 d5 Nd4 10 Ng3 0-0 11 0-0 Re8 12 Rae1 Qd6 13 f4 c5 14 fe Re5 15 Re5 Qe5 16 Re1 Qd6 17 Qg5 Bd7 18 Rf1 Re8 19 b4 b6 20 Qh4 h6 21 bc bc 22 h3 Re3 23 Ne4 Ne4 24 Qd8 Qf8 25 Qd7 Rd3 26 Re1 Nf6 27 Qc7 Nf5 28 Resigns (e.g., 28 Qa7 Rd2 29 a4 Qd6 30 a5 Qg3, etc. An excellent example of how to win against piece odds.).

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