Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Chess Openings: For Winning.

There are two ways to look at opening preparation. "I want to learn more about openings, so I can win more games now"; or "I want to play openings that will make me learn more about chess". When I chose to change from a King's Indian Attack (KIA) based repertoire to a Catalan based repertoire, I was making a choice to not win as many games, but to force me into the type of games that would make me grow as a chess player.

I believe that making opening choices that will make me grow stronger as a chess player is the right choice for me, but if you just want to win more games, then I have some advice.

For a club or class player to win more games, you should pick easy to learn solid openings that will get you into the middle game easily, and focus any chess study time on master games, tactics problems, and endgames. Using trappy and tactically difficult openings is problematic, because you have to spend a lot of time learning them, and they are easily avoided.

Lets look at one of these openings, the Fishing Pole line of the Berlin Defense to the Ruy Lopez.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 The Berlin Defense 4.O-O Ng4?! is the Fishing Pole 5.h3 h5 and we get this position.

6.hxg4? hxg4 and White will have to give the knight back, as 7. Ne1?? leads to mate. 7... Qh4 8.f3 g3 9.any Qh1#

But White does not have to take the offered knight. The simplistic 6.d3 and develop will give white a clear advantage. Black will eventually have to retreat the knight. White can do something more productive than 5.h3, too.

The fact is that the knight on g4 is out of place and does not help black fight for control of the center. The moves 5.h3 h5 weaken Black's kingside more than White's. For which, black has moved a piece twice in the opening and will eventually have to move it back for a waste of two tempi.

This is contrasted with a similar kind of idea in the Ruy Lopez Exchange. 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.O-O Bg4 6.h3 h5, where Black can upset White's general play, but does not pay so much of a penalty.

Black's general plan is similar to the Fishing Pole, but there are several differences. The bishop on g4 pins the knight on f3. The move does not waste a tempi, but develops a piece to a good square. If black must move the bishop back, it is only the loss of one tempi, rather than two in the Fishing Pole. White will have to make some moves to shore up his kingside, before he really threatens to take on g4, so Black may not lose any tempi.  Black is in a better position to contest the game if white does not fall for the trap.

You might win some games with trappy openings, but you have to learn way to many to cover all the openings. Even some mainline gambits are regularly avoided by move orders. I play 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3, which undoes several tricky black ideas against the Queen's Gambit like the Blackmar-Diemer (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5), so you would need something besides the Blackmar-Diemer against other move orders.

Solid openings like the London, Colle, and the KIA for white, and the Queen Gambit Declined and 
Caro-Kann for black are ones that do not require too much opening study to play, and get you into the middle game without too much danger, where you can use the time spent on tactics to win more games.

If you are an USCF member, Chess life is a rich source for study with master games, tactics problems and one endgame column a month.

Chess.com, lichess.org, and many other sites have chess problems and annotated games.

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