Why Do Grandmasters Play "Beginner's Moves"?

Why Do Grandmasters Play "Beginner's Moves"?

| 22 | Opening Theory

A popular saying insists that there are no bad questions: there are only bad answers. Well, I have a confession to make. There is a sort of question that is really difficult to answer. It usually goes like this: A student rated around USCF 1200 comes to me and says that he found a bunch of games where Fischer was taking the b2-pawn early in the game. While in the opening you are not supposed to waste time for "pawn grabbing," Fischer very quickly defeated his grandmaster opponents.

Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer, always an iconoclast. Photo: Dutch National Archive.

"Maybe I should play like Fischer and go after those pawns in the beginning of the game?" The student queries. What should I answer? Of course, I explain that Fischer's brilliant opening discovery is a major exception from the general rule, and there are dozens of opening catastrophes for every single game where capturing the b2-pawn with the queen went unpunished. Like this one:

Or this old classic:

It is a really sticky situation. From one side, practical advice would be just to ignore such pawns in the opening until you gain more experience (and rating points!). But from the other side, such advice would be wrong, since those exceptions are a part of the game and truthfully speaking, they make chess so beautiful. Wouldn't it be just boring to always play strictly according to the rules? 

So, today I want to talk about one of the opening setups that looks like a beginner's play, yet makes perfect sense. Look at this position that frequently happens in beginner's games:

And now compare it to the next position:

What's going on, how come one of the strongest players in the world plays like a beginner? Well, there is a method in his madness. If Black allows his opponent to regroup his pieces by c3 and Bc2, then after d2-d4 White will get a beautiful center! So, what's the difference in these two diagrams? It is all about the d7-d5 break. Let's see why the idea c3, Bc2 and d2-d4 doesn't work in the first position:

Levon Aronian

Levon Aronian has both a colorful fashion sense and style of play.

Meanwhile Aronian was able to maintain his strong center despite Grischuk's d7-d5 strike! You see, when you analyze a game where a strong player is breaking the rules, try to understand why he is doing it and the reason it works. If you are just blindly copying the grandmaster's "unorthodox play," then the result could be not what you are expecting. See for example the following game:

In the Sicilian Defense after the initial moves 1.e4 c5 2. Nf3, White can play 3.Bd3 against all three major moves: 3...Nc6, 3...d6 and even 3...e6, like in the next game:

This group of opening set ups where White plays Bd3 is known as the Kopec System, named after late IM Danny Kopec. White's opening play looks so weird that even people who normally don't play the Sicilian Defense used it against Kopec to see the awkward-looking move Bd3. Sometimes the desire to punish Kopec for his unusual opening backfired really badly:

It is funny that GM Damljanovic tried to refute Kopec's "beginner's move" Bd3 with the 'beginner's pawngrabbing move" ...Qxb2 that we already discussed in this article.

In conclusion, I want to remind you of the opening approach of GM Bronstein that we discussed here."One needs only to be aware of all the pluses and minuses of this idea, and everything will be fine!"

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