Speaking Prep & the English Opening

Speaking Prep & the English Opening

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Eric asked:

You once mentioned that when you were in Budapest, you asked to see Fischer. If you got that opportunity, what would you have said to him?

Dear Eric:

I’ve found in my life that, when it comes to big meetings, it’s very important to prepare virtually everything you’re going to say beforehand. In Bobby’s case I was still in the preparation stage before he vetoed our dinner appointment. I had decided to sing a song, since I felt that would have a greater emotional impact than a mere handshake and “pleased to meet you” stock BS. One possibility was (after we sat down to dinner in the crowded restaurant) a tune that probed into his heavy dislike of Jews:

You hate the Jews what’s that about,

You’re a Jew I’ve found you out, but so am I.

Since we’re the same (but not in fame),

Two Jewish men, though you’re insane

I want to cry.

And Bobby I miss you, the Fischer of old,

I’ve prepared several questions,

If I might be so bold.

Of course, I was also thinking of dancing while I sang this, but perhaps that would have been a tad too much?

Nevertheless, preparing questions in such situations is extremely important. When I dated a woman for the first time, I would always be ready with several questions, such as, “How much money do you make?” “Do you like kittens?” “Tell me all about your childhood.”

The childhood question was a huge hit, and could easily eat up 4 or 5 hours. The trick to this is to pretend you’re listening, even though you’re really going over your opening lines blindfold.

After all your questions have been explored with a fine-tooth comb, it’s decision time. If she’s insane and unattractive, you split the cost of the meal, shake hands and smile as if you had the time of your life, and then leave (never seeing her again). If she’s insane and attractive, you pay for the whole meal, and then invite her back to your place for more meaningful and deep conversation.

You’ll find more on this subject in my upcoming book, “Dating Advice for Male Chess Players – The Art of Outmaneuvering the Female Mind”.


First off, I didn’t ask to see Fischer. I’ve been to Hungary several times, but in that instance I was there to interview Pal Benko for the Benko/Silman book, “Pal Benko: My Life, Games, and Compositions.” While going over his history, Pal mentioned that he was going to have dinner with Fischer in a couple days and asked if I would like to join them. Though Fischer was a raging anti-Semite, I viewed it as a sign of mental illness on his part (since almost all his friends were Jewish, Benko included – Fischer also frequented Jewish Delis when he lived in Los Angeles), and thus didn’t hold it against him. So I said yes.

I was at Benko’s house the night of the “dinner”, but right before we left to meet him Bobby called and started raving about me being a “filthy Jew”. I am a Jew, but filthy? Nevertheless, he was a raving lunatic so I shrugged my shoulders and accepted his freakout without holding any grudges. And that was that. No big deal.

When I meet someone, whether they are famous or the average guy off the street, I avoid pointed questions and just try to flow into any conversation that’s going on. Famous people want to relax over dinner, and lambasting them with some third degree madness does nothing but make them uncomfortable. Thus, if some Oscar winning actor is discussing politics while his 25 year old daughter is giving me goo-goo eyes on his left, I won’t ask if I can date his daughter since that would be a mood killer and thus quite rude. Instead I would go out with her without his knowledge, thus avoiding undue stress for all parties involved. As you can see, politeness is very, very important.

In Fischer’s case, there wouldn’t have been any prepared questions. And I would not have challenged him since he would have flipped out, ruined everyone’s evening, and I would have been the idiot that caused it. Why do that? Instead, I just intended to flow with whatever conversation was going on and, if he went berserk anyway, I would just consider it a nice evening’s entertainment.


Smakchappy asked:

I was wondering how to play the English Opening. I started playing with it to expand my opening horizon, but have very little source material to study from! The few master level games I found were helpful, but nowhere near as expansive as I was hoping. All the reading material I’ve found seems to only include it because it is an opening, tells you that you start with c4, and doesn’t delve much deeper than that. I was wondering in particular how to deal with a symmetrical English.

Dear Smakchappy:

Very little source material? There’s an abundance of material on the English opening! One way is to play over a ton of English Opening games from a database (my database has 276,640 games featuring the English Opening!). This lets you see the common pawn structures roll by, where the pieces are placed, and the kinds of typical middlegames and endgames that result!

Of course, there’s also a massive amount of literature on the subject. Here are some of the better books:

OLDER BOOKS on the English that can be found in used bookstores or online bookshops:

English – Bremer Partie (in German) by Rolf Schwarz (hardcover, 1963)

The legendary Watson series on the English –

English I: 1…P-K4 (Batsford 1979)

English II: 1…NKB3 Systems (Batsford, 1979)

English III: 1…P-QB4 (Batsford, 1980)

English IV: Franco, Slav and Flank Defenses (Batsford, 1981)

These are wonderful hardback books, brimming with heavy theory, new ideas, and useful prose. However, they are advanced.

English: Four Knights by Nigel Povah (Batsford, 1982)


STILL OLD, BUT NOT ANCIENT books on the English:

Another older series on the English is Bagirov’s English Opening: Classical & Indian (Cadogan Chess, 1994) and English Opening: Symmetrical (Cadogan Chess, 1995). Also advanced.

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3, A29 by Viktor Korchnoi (Chess Informant, 1993)

1.c4 c5 2.Nc3, A34 by Beljavskij & Mihalcisin (Chess Informant, 1994)

1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 e6 5.Nc3 Nc6, A33 by Sax (Chess Informant, 1994)

The Gambit Guide to the English Opening: 1…e5 by Carsten Hansen (Gambit, 1999)

Of course, all these are very advanced, technical books.


A NEW CENTURY of English Opening Books! 

As we wormed our way into the new Century (2000 – 2010 and beyond), we still got technical books on the English, but a new animal also appeared: books on the English for non-masters! 

English …e5 (the Reversed Sicilian Lines) by Raetsky & Chetverik (Everyman Chess, 2003) – advanced

How to Play the English Opening by Karpov (Batsford Chess, 2007)

FCO, Fundamental Chess Openings by Paul van der Sterren (Gambit, 2009) – 49 pages on English Opening basics

The Dynamic English by Kosten (Gambit Publications, 1999)

Grandmaster Repertoire 3 & 4: The English Open Volumes 1 & 2 by Mihail Marin (Quality Chess, 2009 and 2010) – very advanced

Chess Explained – The English Opening by Zenon Franco (Gambit, 2006)

Play the English by Pritchett (Everyman Chess, 2007)

Starting Out: The English by Neil McDonald (Everyman Chess, 2003)

I’m sure I’ve left out many, many good books on the English in this list. However, as you can see, there’s more than enough material for anyone to make a thorough study of this excellent opening.

For non-masters, I’ll recommend:

FCO, Fundamental Chess Openings by Paul van der Sterren (Gambit, 2009) – 49 pages on English Opening basics. It gives all the openings, but the ideas and plans given in those 49 English Opening pages will prove useful to players under 1800.

Starting Out: The English by Neil McDonald (Everyman Chess, 2003) gives basic ideas in the English, gives analysis on all of black’s major replies and sidelines, let’s you know what ideas are theoretical and not so theoretical, and ultimately gives you a solid base of knowledge if you intend to play this opening. Useful for players 1400 to 2100.

Chess Explained – The English Opening by Zenon Franco (Gambit, 2006) gives useful explanations and plans that White must know if he wants to play the English. It would be a nice addition to your English studies if used with Starting Out: The English. Good for players 1400 to 2100.

The Dynamic English by Kosten (Gambit Publications, 1999) is a personal favorite. It gives you a complete English repertoire, teaches you the ideas and plans, and offers the Botvinnik setup as a major English weapon (White plays a pawn to c4, another to e4, a pawn to d3, g3 and Bg2, Nge2, 0-0, perhaps toss in h2-h3, and then you have several plans based on the pawn breaks d3-d4, b2-b4, and f2-f4-f5 with a kingside attack (a huge amateur favorite that rakes in the points time and time again).

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