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The St. George's defense starts out with 1.e4 a6!? Most people think it's a horrible move. In fact, on Chessmaster's Opening book, this is the comment on 1...a6.
"A move with little to recommend it. It fails to stake a claim in the center or begin development."
I disagree! Let's look at the main line. Black does have a share of the center and is not far behind in development.
Does anyone know any refutations to this opening (1.e4 a6 2.c4 is a good try) or can someone explain why this opening is so lowly regarded?
can someone explain why this opening is so lowly regarded?
I'm not an expert by any means but I'll give it a shot. The fact that it's "ok" isn't good enough. Black's first priority is to equalize. White starts off ahead by a tempo, so by default he's ahead in development. Black needs to catch up in a hurry (for mere mortals like you and me, lagging in development or wasting several tempi might not matter - your opponent won't be good enough to punish your mistakes; against a master, lag in development and waste a couple tempi - and you're sure to get mated in under 20 moves!) After 10 moves, you say Black does have a share of the center and is not far behind in development. Ok, fine - but there are other openings where black has reached equality after 10 moves!
Specifically regarding 1...a6, the rook pawns (generally) shouldn't be moved in the opening unless there's a good reason to do so: http://www.chesscafe.com/text/heisman48.pdf
Can you explain to me: what does 1...a6 accomplish? Does it counter one of white's threats? Does it bring black closer to equality? If black wants to play a6 at some point, why shouldn't he do something more constructive with his first move, and play a6 later - for example, to chase away a white piece from b5?
The reason it is not highly regarded (and this is probably true of 99% of uncommon openings) isn't that a refutation exists (as far as I know), or that black will "definitely lose" if he plays this opening; rather, it's that black has several options which are better. 1...c5, e5, e6, c6 (for example - not that this list is exclusive) all accomplish something positive and constructive for black. Meanwhile, 1...a6 does nothing to solve black's immediate problems (namely, that he is behind a tempo and white has already occupied the center).
In MCO-14, Nick de Firmian writes that this defence is "viewed by the theory as unreliable. Some players use [it] anyway, counting on surprise value and the psychological impact of flouting known principles.
[. . .]
White gains the advantage with accurate play, but less precision allows Black the unclear game he seeks. Miles once used this opening to defeat Karpov, who was clearly shocked to see black's first move."
Any unusual move can have "surprise value". But surprise value is not the same as theoretical soundness, and theoretical soundness is usually the basis on which openings are discussed. Yes, it can be tricky for white, and yes strange moves can throw people off; but with "perfect play" from both sides, white should emerge from the opening with an advantage - meaning the opening is good for white.
This is the game chuckg99 is talking about... Though Miles does admit that Karpov could have played better.
The point of this opening is that it is so uncommon that errors are made and the pschological impact of this choice disadvantages the openent.
It looks ok in practise but leaves black a bit suspect to go down to a quick attack.
I think my line would be 1)e4 a6?! 2)d4 b5! 3)nf3 Bb2 4)Nbd2!
It also leaves black to passive untill move 5 or 6 but if he can survive i suppose it is just about play able!
All openings are sound below master level. -- William Lombardy
I've played the St. George in about 25 games, winning a little more than half those games. But in either case I don't think the opening had much to do with it. Most of the opponents in those games were rated about the same as I was at the time. (approx 1500) I also disagree with chessmasters statement. The Bb7 shoots right through the center and is therefor a developing move which affects the center. I also play the Nimzo-Larsen attack with white which is another slow opening considered not-so-sound. I win more than I lose with it. It also utilizes a Bishop fianchetto for center control from afar. I doubt that I surprise anyone with these openings since there are plenty of online resources available to my opponents. I'm playing at GrandMaster level until the theory runs out. Then it's a chess game.
I agree totally.
I use 1...a6 on occassion and dont mind emloying a Hippo set up.
As white against 1.e4 a6 i recommend 2.c4. Miles gave 2.c4 the go ahead so why not!? True, it does allow transpositions but why try and battle on unknown territory which Black wants. Here are a few transositions and with a little more thought im sure you can find some more. Hit move list for them all. Enjoy.
I'll always call it the Miles defence, like i've been calling it since 1980.
Black's strategy is to try to transpose into a favourable line of some other defence where ..a6 is to by played anyway.
Karpov-Miles of course transposed on move 2 into the Polish defence, which is not so good! [unlike the Polish ie Sokoloski opening 1. b4.
Agree with Graw8's comment above; Miles's recommendations are why i prefer to call it the Miles defence.
One interesting but maybe too simplistic approach to meeting 1...a6 is to play the KIA (could transpose to Closed Sicilian; also good idea). The idea being that Black may (and thats the determining factor) want to expand on the queenside thus costing him a tempi. For example, while White is attacking on the Kingside, Black will create his own counter attack on the queenside by advancing pawns, usually something like c5,b5,a5 (a5 being played in one move, not a6 and then a5, 'the tempi') followed by either c4,b4,a4 etc.
The drawback is that because the KIA leads to closed positions (generally) and slow play should be ok anyway. In contrast, passive play in an sharp open position could cost you.
To explain where the KIA idea comes from is that against the O Kelly variation of the Sicilian some players try to show that 2... a6 is played to early and could cost Black time if he intends ...a5. They do this by instead playing the Closed Sicilian rather than Open Sicilian.
Just an interesting idea i thought id share.
Kasparov lost against it!
I have a question. So many thoughtful opinions, has anyone actually read both of Michael Basman's "Play the St.George" books?
I have "The New St. George" from Basman, but I haven't actually read it...
I have both; they make for fun reading, although I've never read all of either one. For those who like unusual openings, they'll be hard pressed to find ideas more unconventional than Basman's.
In "Play the St. George" (120 pages), he says he prefers 1...e6, and only then, 2...a6. But he says he likes it better just for "aesthetic reasons" and that 1...a6 operates on the same principles.
"The New St. George" (167 pages) updates some of the same ground, but he also devotes part of the book to other wild ideas, such as opening with an immediate h6 and a6 for Black (or h3 and a3 for White). He also spends a dozen pages on Owen's defense.
One book was published in 1983 and the other in 1993, so I don't know what developments have taken place since.
Have you read them?
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