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The King’s Gambit – About a man with a plan

Did you ever go into a game as the undisputed underdog? 

What was the plan?  
Execute your “regular” gameplan as good as possible?  
Control the damage and walk out relieved with an acceptable 15 point loss?

Since a while, I’m caught up in The Queen’s Gambit, which created a worldwide hype around the game of chessBut not on Euroleague gamedays.  A few weeks ago, I switched from Netflix to Valencia (7-4) – ALBA Berlin (3-7). 

In a pregame interview, ALBA’s coach Aito basically states that they don’t stand a chance.  Makes sense if you look at the ranking and the fact that they miss 4 key rotation players.

But there’s something in his eyes.  I’m in doubt. 

Is it just a twinkle of the 73y old Aito who clearly loves his job?  Or is it the gameface of a man with a plan?  Anyway, it makes me stick around.

Next, I’m watching the jumpball. 

ALBA dropped Kresimir Nikic in their starting line-up.  Nikic is a 21y old 7 footer who had played … 9 minutes all together in the previous 10 Euroleague games. 

Against Valencia he’s the bischop in Aito’s chess game.  As one of the tallest pieces on the board, he’s able to cross the court in a blink of an eye.  

The jumpball ends up in Valencia’s hands and ALBA shows a zone from the start.  Nikic steps up to pick up the point-guard from halfcourt on.  But one blink later he drops to the heart of the zone or traps the ball in the short corner.  While he barely played before on this stage, he’s all over the place now.

This specific zone allows ALBA to keep it tight in the first half (50-51).  Allthough mainly the shot selection of Valencia stands out.  On many possession they’re in doubt.  In Q3 Valencia sputters offensively against the zone.  It’s the foundation of a 17 point lead (!) after Q3.  Final score 92-100. The last image I see is Aito walking off the court with the same twinkle in his eyes.

One week later, the same zone lead to a 89-63 victory over Fenerbahce.

Aito is definitely not new to playing chess on the highest basketball scene.

Last season, ALBA was in a similar situation when they welcomed Zalgiris Kaunas.  From the jumpball, Aito opened with a box-and-one on their newly acquired playmaker Rivers.  Zalgiris clearly didn’t find a solution and finished Q1 with a historic … 7 points.

Still three quarters to play, but everybody watching that game, knew that Aito forced the opponent to lay down their King… CHECKMATE!

The opening strategy (“gambit” in chess) of King Aito worked!  And he never allowed his opponent to play his normal game.

Will it turn out well every time?  No, of course not.

But at least you can look in the mirror afterwards and say that you tried!  Instead of just showing up and settle for an acceptable loss. 

This weekend I will be finishing up my breakdown video of the best opening strategies of Aito.  I’ll come back to you in a few days to share all the ins and outs.

But first things first.

I have to watch that final episode of The Queen’s Gambit.

Enjoy your weekend!
Pascal.

PS: You want to get notified about the upcoming videobreakdown and future content? Sign up for my free newsletter on www.pascalmeurs.com.

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Recently I did a podcast with Chris Oliver of Basketball Immersion.