Make Your Own Opening Theory
What's your special chess opening?

Make Your Own Opening Theory

| 107 | Opening Theory

"Every strong chess player should have his own opening theory which is different from the mainstream theory."

This is one of the most important rules I learned from World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik as a student in his famous Botvinnik-Kasparov school.

"The more outrageous your personal opening theory is going to be, the better for your results," he liked to add. As an example, he would quote his early success with what later became known as Botvinnik variation in the Semi Slav. Initially, his opponents saw this unusual opening as some type of junk and didn't take it seriously. So Botvinnik kept winning game after game in this line. The situation changed after Botvinnik's famous game against GM Denker in which the U.S. Champion was completely annihilated:

The variation was named after Botvinnik, was extensively analyzed by the world's best players and became mainstream. As a result... Botvinnik essentially stopped playing it!

Fast-forward to modern chess, and we see a similar situation. Take, for example, the young Russian grandmaster Daniil Dubov who recently beat Magnus Carlsen with the ancient Philidor defense. He explained his opening choice in a lecture for Moscow chess fans. I truly hope that the Q & A session after the lecture will be translated into English since it is highly enjoyable and instructive. Daniil is not only strong but also very smart and witty. By the way, when I called him strong, I didn't mean only in chess. Can you do this?

In the past, I got a lot of flak for calling former women's world champion Mariya Muzychuk smart and beautiful. I hope it is less offensive to call a person strong and smart, but you never know these days. Anyway, here is a very interesting part of the above-mentioned Q&A session where Dubov was asked about the Philidor Defense:

"Even though the Philidor Defense is obsolete, it is very solid. Moreover, it is so obsolete, that it becomes a surprise for many players. It goes without saying that you cannot bluff in tournaments of this level, so if I thought that it was a clearly bad opening, I wouldn't play it. Meanwhile, it seems to me that it is just a good opening, but people simply underestimate it. I like that when I go to, and it shows an evaluation of +0.7, people write comments like, "This idiot [sic] Dubov again got a lost position right out of the opening." But if I play this opening more than once, it means that I have a good reason to do it."

If I thought that it was a clearly bad opening, I wouldn't play it.
—Daniil Dubov

This is exactly what Botvinnik taught us. Now let's try to establish our own opening theory! Following Dubov's advice, we'll use a very old game where a U.S. genius played a very unpopular opening.

The database demonstrates that some strong players (including World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz) played this offbeat opening.

So, should you play this opening in your next tournament where you are trying to score an IM norm? Probably not. But if you are a club player who enjoys sharp, unusual positions, then you can give it a try. At least, it is not worse than the Offensive Opening. Finally, if you are going to play Carlsen and are out of opening ideas, try this old Morphy weapon. After 2..Nf6, just play 3.d3, and you'll get the Philidor Defense with an extra tempo.

As Dubov has proven, Carlsen is uncomfortable in these kind of positions.

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