An Opening Line For Masters

An Opening Line For Masters

| 25 | Opening Theory

Last week we analyzed a line that could be a decent opening weapon for club players. As you remember, unlike the openings played by super-grandmasters, it didn't require any special opening knowledge and could be learned in one minute.

The obvious downside of the line is: it doesn't promise any opening advantage if Black knows what he is doing.

Say you are an advanced chess player, who wants to play a more sophisticated line in order to get an opening advantage as White, but still is not quite ready to spend weeks or even months analyzing the ocean of the modern opening variations? I have  good news for you: there is always a line that allows you to fight for an opening advantage and yet doesn't require much memorization. 

Let's investigate the same French Defense from this point of view.

First of all we need a good guide. Last week it was Jacques Mieses who helped us to build a weapon against the French. Today we'll follow one of the most imaginative chess players, GM Igor Zaitsev. The starting position will be the advance variation of French:

Let's consider Black's options:

1. Black tries to undermine White's e5 pawn that cramps his position.

If you are wondering why Black didn't accept White's sacrifice on move 10 and didn't take the e5 pawn, you are not alone! The future super-grandmaster Vassily Ivanchuk had the same question. The answer of his experienced opponent was very harsh. Try to find the final combo from that game:

2. Black is trying to immediately trade his "bad" French bishop.

3. Black closes the queenside by playing c5-c4.

This is the most popular of Black's plans, since it prevents White's queenside advance by b2-b4. This is the key position:

The c4-pawn restricts the natural development of the bishop on f1, so Zaitsev came up with an idea to move the bishop to the h3 square where it immediately hits Black's camp.

Despite the closed nature of the position it can lead to unexpected fireworks, like in one of the games GM Zaitsev played in a simul. Can you find the winning combo here?

Here are two more games by GM Zaitsev that show White's ideas in this variation:

Now we can compare both lines and see the key differences in openings for club players and openings for masters.

The Mieses variation is very easy to master since it is pretty much a one-trick pony (castle queenside and a pawn storm on the kingside).

The Zaitsev variation is much more complicated and leads to different strategical situations. Consequently, while you can start playing the Mieses variation instantly, it takes some time to analyze and understand the key ideas of the Zaitsev variation.

The Mieses variation almost always leads to sharp, exciting play; meanwhile the Zaitsev variation frequently leads to a slow maneuvering game. But as a reward, the Zaitsev variation promises White an opening advantage no matter what defense Black prefers; the Mieses variation leads to an equal position in most cases.

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