A Novice Look At History

A Novice Look At History

Jan 27, 2012, 10:13 AM |

One of the ways I spend my study time is learning about the ideas within the opening lines I play. It is a common enough canard that novice players are wasting their time studying opening lines but that they should learn the ideas behind an opening.

So I have started on a quest to learn the ideas behind my opening, by approaching the history of the openings I play and see why certain ideas developed. I expect that I will learn quite a good deal not only about how to play the QGA lines I favor in terms of specific move orders, but I'll also learn a good deal about general opening theory and the history of chess in general.

So the first question is, how old is the oldest known 1. d4 line? Well, in my copy of ChessBase 11, the oldest game I can find was published by Gioacchino Greco in 1620. It starts out: 

 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 





3.e4 b5 4.a4 c6 Here the play is in many ways appears quite modern.

Black's pawn majority on the queen side looks like a menacing wing attack in response to white's build up in the center. This is an idea which is certainly retained into current opening theory. But really this exact position is fairly rare in top level chess according to my database.

Black's pawns do not appear to the modern idea to bemobile because he has no piece support behind them. Without pieces supporting his play he can't make use of any breakthrough he might create. The black pawns in this position represent an empty threat to my eye. 






5.axb5 cxb5 6.b3 Compare the game position with a more modern treatment that respects the principles of piece development. For example, a game between Ruslan Ponomariov and Ivan Sokolov continued: 6.Nc3 Bd7 7.Nf3 e6 8.Be2 Nf6 9.0-0 Be7 It is clear that both sides are focusing on developing their pieces to ideal squares and seeing to king safety. 







Where I black, I would be looking to take a stake in the center and develop my pieces. Something like the following seems logical and playable: 6...e5 7.dxe5 Qxd1+ 8.Kxd1 


7.bxc4 b4 And once again from a modern perspective there seems very little to recommend here for the modern player to emulate.

The second world champion, Emmanuel Lasker, formulated rules for the opening. And while these rules are not always followed exactly in modern opening theory, the spirit of the rules has been shown to be substantially correct. One of those rules is "Complete your development before moving a piece twice or starting an attack."

And it is clear that neither white nor black is following this sound advice.

It is easy to see white's concept here. Having a large pawn mass in the center, white hopes to simply overwhelm black with his pawn play, and drive black off the board. But the flaws in his plan from a modern perspective are simple: pawns that are not supportable by pieces are weak, not strong; undeveloped pieces can not sustain an attack; and a king trapped in the center on an open board is a fine target for the opponent! Any modern club player playing white would refrain from the pawn push to d5 and easily find a move like 8. Nf3 to support the center. Likewise, a modern player with the black pieces would respond to 8. d5 with either a developing move like Nd7 or Qc7 or else counter thrust into the center e5. This game clearly shows how much our understanding of opening play has changed over the years since this game was played. 


8.d5 e6 9.Nd2 exd5 10.exd5 Bc5? 





Bc5 is a remarkable error in judgement but from the standpoint of "attack at all costs" it is understandable. However, it is simply tactically unsound. White will be able to push black around due to his extra space in the center. The correct idea for black was to simply develop.  [10...Nf6 11.Ngf3 Bd6 And the game appears to be fairly equal. Both sides would continue their development, castling king side (if the game was played with castling rules, in 1620 the modern castling move was not yet universally accepted), and white would try to attack in the center while restraining any queen side counter play by black. It would be a relatively equal game. ] 

  The next few moves have black trying to fend off an attack with less than stellar defensive technique, and the resulting position is almost comical. 11.Nb3 Bb6 12.c5 Qe7+ 13.Qe2 Qxe2+ 14.Bxe2 Bd8 15.Bb5+ Kf8 




Consider what most modern players feel the goals of a good opening are: To control or contest the center. To develop one's pieces to ideal squares. To castle the king or otherwise see to the king's safety. To avoid lasting positional weaknesses without compensation. Somehow, in 15 moves black has managed precisely none of these goals. While white has barely managed to develop two pieces.

Still, white is simply winning from this point forward. Black's lack of development and his king's awkward position ensure the end is near. The remainder of the game is a nice example of conducting an attack with superior piece mobility and space. 

 16.c6 Bb6 17.Be3 Bxe3 18.fxe3 Nf6 19.d6 g6 20.d7 Bxd7 21.cxd7 Nbxd7 22.Bxd7 Nxd7 23.Rxa5 1-0