Explanatory Opening Books and a Reader’s Pet Line

Explanatory Opening Books and a Reader’s Pet Line

| 16 | Opening Theory

Explanatory Opening Books and a Reader’s Pet Line

James asked:

I hope I’m not writing this to you in error, but I seem to recall a recent article of yours on choosing an opening, when someone asked if there was a text that explained the plans involved in all of the openings. You said you were unaware of any such text. Recently I’ve come across IM John Watson’s Mastering the Chess Openings volumes. I’ve found that one of Watson’s main goals is to help players understand the plans involved in the openings including good decisions for piece placement. 

Dear James,

Thanks for bringing this up, it’s very much appreciated! There are some old books that discuss the ideas in chess openings, but I’ve never been fond of them. More recently we’ve been given a bit of opening explanation by Everyman Chess’s STARTING OUT opening series, and by Gambit’s CHESS EXPLAINED opening series. Both are excellent, but in my view are too advanced for players under 1400.

Some years ago, I was giving some serious thought to writing a huge tome on opening ideas (no real analysis, just concepts, plans, etc.). I brought in John Watson to do the project with me (after all, he’s one of the world’s finest chess writers and a close friend), but it soon became clear that his vision of the book was directed at a slightly more advanced audience than mine. Anyway, I lost interest (in favor of an endgame book, which eventually became SILMAN’S COMPLETE ENDGAME COURSE) and gave Watson the go ahead to do it on his own. With Gambit behind him, he did it in a huge way, cracking out his magnificent multiple-volume MASTERING THE CHESS OPENINGS: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Modern Chess Openings.

However, though Watson’s work is undeniably wonderful, I still think it’s too advanced for players under 1400. Fortunately, a book has just appeared that is written especially for the audience I wanted to help: FCO – Fundamental Chess Openings by Paul van der Sterren (also published by Gambit!). This 479-page monster covers every opening and gives you the ins and outs of every system. The beauty of this is that it allows you to look through the whole gamut of opening systems and make an educated decision about which ones suit your taste, style, and abilities. Going through FCO will help you with openings you already play, and is also a great starter for new systems and whole new repertoires. Once you read FCO and pick your openings, and once you feel you fully understand the material offered (meaning that you’ll have a firm base of knowledge about it), then you might wish to take the next step and buy one or more of the other books I’ve mentioned.

Johnkorean asked:

I hope you will be able to answer my question. I have recently become fascinated with the response …Bg4 to the Queen’s Gambit. I have not been able to find much of anything on this particular move, but after discussing this defense with other members, I think we have arrived at the following move order as best for both sides:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 Bg4 3.cxd5 Qxd5 4.Nc3 Qd8 5.f3 Bh5 6.e4 (then perhaps 6...e6).


My questions are:

1) Can you improve on this move order?

2) After this position, is Black hopeless? White has a massive center and it’s not clear what, if anything, Black has accomplished, but it’s not immediately clear to me that this position is unplayable for Black. Could you please offer me some guidance? Thank you!

Dear Johnkorean,

I’ve never seen 2…Bg4 before! The good news is that it’s been played before. In fact, I found 15 games with 2…Bg4 in my three million game database. The bad news is that White scored 14-1 against it. The good news is that all the players (for both sides) were very low rated, so the results don’t really mean much.

However, I have more bad news for you: this opening isn’t very good. First, let’s look at your preferred sequence: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Bg4 3.cxd5 Qxd5 4.Nc3 Qd8 5.f3 Bh5 6.e4 and now you indicate 6…e6, but that’s actually a blunder: 7.Qb3! and White wins material since attempts to defend b7 (7…b6 or 7…Qc8) lose the h5-Bishop to 8.Qb5+ followed by 9.Qxh5. After 7.Qb3 Black can try 7…Nc6 but then 8.d5 exd5 9.Qxb7 Nb4 10.Bb5+ Ke7 11.Nxd5+ Nxd5 12.exd5 Rb8 runs headlong into 13.d6! which is game over (both sides had all sorts of alternatives after 7.Qb3 [all bad], but I decided to just give this one fanciful line). Instead of 6…e6??, Black should try something like 6…c6, but his position is awful (due to the very factors you mentioned).

Another problem is that, though 3.cxd5 is excellent (and is the move I’d choose), White has other tempting options like 3.Qb3 (though I don’t see why White should give Black development when he can get a huge edge with no risk with your 3.cxd5) when things at least get interesting: 3…dxc4 4.Qxb7 Nd7 5.f3 (I don’t like this move but it’s in keeping with the stuff you mentioned in the other line. Safer and stronger are 5.Nc3 and 5.h3) 5…Bh5 (5…Be6 6.Nc3 Rb8 7.Qxa7 doesn’t give Black nearly enough compensation for the lost pawn) 6.Nc3 Rb8 7.Qxa7 e5 8.dxe5 Bc5 when, no matter if this is good or bad after 9.Qa4, the chaos (and huge lead in development) should please Black.

I wish I could be more positive, but your own sequence pretty much dooms 2…Bg4. After 3.cxd5 Qxd5 4.Nc3 white’s just much better.

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