Beginner Level: Game analysis: Do you need a plan in the opening?
Sure you do!
Most of you have read –somewhere– about the center's occupation and (or) control, (fast) development, moving the King away from the center, keeping a healthy pawn structure, not to move a piece twice without good reason, to develop the Knights towards the center, things like that.
These principles, however, were formulated in a time when it was assumed that the opening, the middlegame and the ending were three different stages of the game. The idea was that, by following them, the beginner would have a sound position in the middlegame. Back in the 19th Century, few openings were played and investigated, and these principles had a good enough fit to what was seen in masters' practice (and it was easier to explain to students *hint*). Today's chess openings are way more varied, and some are even designed to take advantage of those –blindly– following these principles.
Truth is that it's been known, for at least 80 years now, that the opening is organically linked to the middlegame and, sometimes, even the ending. The opening's principles are still followed, but in the understanding of their relative value, that's subordinated to the demands of the position.
A concrete approach to the opening.
The concept of concrete approach isn't new either, but it was originally used as a counter to the argument that only permanent positional advantages were important in the game. Its application to the opening is more into developing a plan (short term, long term, general), based on the existent pawn structures, aiming for –long lasting– piece activity, with particular attention to the center of the board.
If the King, in the middle of the board, may prove a source for the opponent's piece activity, then we remove the King from the center. If the opponent's pawn and piece occupation of the center allows us to build pressure (activity) against it, beyond our opponent's capability to withstand it, then we let him occupy the center, to destroy it later. If our Bishop in c1 is doing an excellent job where it is, we worry not about its "lack of development" when we can continue our active operations without the Rook in a1.
Thus, a concrete approach to the opening is about using a middlegame approach right from the start, instead of only using general principles and hope for the best once the middlegame arrives. This means evaluating both sides existent pawn structures –and foreseeable evolution– to develop flexible plans according to them.
"Pawns not only create the sketch for the whole painting, they are also the soil, the foundation, of any position", ex–World Champion, GM A. Karpov. "The most important feature of the Chess position is the activity of the pieces. This is absolutely fundamental in all phases of the game: Opening, Middlegame and especially Endgame. The primary constraint on a piece's activity is the Pawn structure", GM M. Stean.
Let's see a couple of games played by amateurs under fast time controls (5+5 & 1+0), and check them against the concepts above.
A month ago, this was posted in the forums:
@TheKnightOne: "Hello all,
I am here to ask your opinion here. It seems in the beginning that my opponent played a series of wasteful development moves (many pawns moves in beginning and moving bishop back). It's clear that I made some blunders as well such as eventually losing my queen and my h3 pawn... that is not my concern. MY CONCERN IS: how I could have taken advantage of his total lack in development efficiently. Clearly his bishop moving twice was to create pressure on my king but many times, I've heard "he's underdeveloped" and to take advantage of it. My frustration is how to have done it. If I was able to see it, I wouldn't have had a hard time winning the game. Any ideas?"
As a curiosity, take a look at White's Ra1 and Bc1. Even is the most complicated variations shown by the end of the game, White had no need to develop the Rook, and the Bishop only way beyond the 20th move. Now, don't take me wrong, this isn't a refutation of the development principles in the opening, but one of those "exceptions" I mentioned before.
When I was a kid, it annoyed me that every time I played against an "Old Guard", he "had" to make some stupid moves in the opening "to take me out of the book". In blitz and bullet games, that happens a lot, particularly between amateurs (no need to be a 10 years old nor playing an old fellow to be "treated" like that).
Now, the problem of playing by general principles is that such approach isn't particularly efficient when –in such games– punishing the "offender" is the point. For example, "don't move a piece twice in the opening" gets on the way, "castle as soon as possible" too, not to mention "don't bring your Queen out too soon". Those games, in particular, benefit from a concrete approach because those "stupid" moves are leaving something undefended, or damaged beyond repair. Thus, you need to pay attention to what is that "stupid" move weakening, and do something about it.
Then, a couple of months ago I found this thread:
@macer75: "I'm looking through my past losses to see how I can improve. Can someone give me a few pointers on what I could have done better in this game?"
Which is obviously a joke (a bullet game, seriously?), but Black's opening moves reminded me of how annoying it was for me, and decided to annotate it as a reference for amateurs of how to deal with these woodpushers in the opening:
[Disclaimer: The annotations may be instructive, for opening purposes, until move 10 or so; to show some ideas until move 18. No need to continue after that; actually, don't continue after move 18.]