Jun 16, 2008, 8:37 PM |

As mentioned earlier, openings have always been the fun part of chess for me.  Here on, although I've just joined, I'm hoping to make many contributions to the Openings forum.

Again, my theory on openings is simply:

If a game features a sharp opening, the better-prepared person wins.

It doesn't matter whether the opening is theoretically sound or not.  If I play an unsound (but complex) opening the pressure is on my opponent to demonstrate its not sound by specifically knowing the moves that make it so.  If he doesn't know those moves, then the theoretical judgement on the opening is irrelevant.

Keep in mind that I play this opening every game, while the fact that it's unsound means my opponent faces it once every blue moon.  In fact, this may be the first time he's faced it over the board.  In that circumstance, I have a great advantage.

Even if the opponent is able to thread his way through the theoretical mindfield, avoiding all the pitfalls, as long as the disadvantage is not fatal (say best play yields the opponent the two bishops with more space) I am still infinitely more position with defending that position than my opponent will be at prosecuting it.  There are many examples of such delightful openings that will yield up many more points than they ever cost, as an example the Philidor Counter-Gambit, illustrated with 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 f5 ?!

Clearly white has to do something as black is threatening 4...fxe4.  He can defend the e-pawn with 4. Nc3 but then after 4...fxe4 5. Nxe4 d5 followed by 6...e4 it looks like the white knights are being bullied around by black's center. 

Maybe white can take himself with 4. dxe5 fxe4 5. Ng5.  But after 5...d5, black's center still has an ominous look to it. 

The point is there's a whole host of options that white COULD exercise...but which one is the right one?  Which path leads to the theoretical equality he should enjoy?  Now add to the equation that given the popularity of the sequence 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3, how often does black get to play this position as opposed to the poor white player?  Fact is, this may be the first time white has faced this position in his life, while for black, in the same tournament, it might not even be his first time in the position that day!

    So white has to make each move, struggling to remember what the book says he should do, while black is literally on cruise control, waiting for a white mistake so he can pounce.

    Or, for the 1.d4 players in the house, what do you do about 1. d4 d5 2. c4 Bf5?!:

Of course, black shouldn't be able to make that kind of move.  After all, the whole point of the normal Queen's Gambit Declined (1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6) is that black should have to WORK to get that bishop out.  Having his light-squared bishop placed so provocatively, black has stopped white from being able to carry out his rote plan of Nc3, Bg5 (or Bf4) followed by Bd3.  Once white's light squared bishop (a critical part of white's strategic plan) is developed to d3, black will simply trade it off with ...Bf5xd3.  This simultaneously gets rid of (what should be) black's worse piece, trading for (what should be) white's best piece.

If white does nothing in the diagrammed position, black is merely going to play 3...e6 and develop his pieces, with his light-squared bishop staring longingly into the heart of white's position (squares b1, c2, and d3).  So again, the pressure is on white...what to do, what to do?

The first thought might be to play 3. cxd5, knowing that when black plays 3...Qxd5, white can develop with tempo via 4. Nc3 forcing the queen to move yet again.  Reasonable enough.

So white smugly plays 3. cxd5, to which black replies 3...Bxb1!  Now all white can say is...oops.  After 4. Rxb1 Qxd5 there is no knight with which to chase the black queen; further, the queen is hitting the pawn on a2, which must be defended.  An example of what could follow is 5. a3 Nc6 6. Nf3 O-O-O 7. e3 e5! and white is going to lose that d-pawn. 

Backing up to the previous diagram, how about then the sensible looking 3. Nc3?  After 3...e6 4. cd ed 5. Qb3 (D)

white establishes HE has the advantage since he is simultaneously hitting the pawns at d5 and b7.  Black can't defend them both....

But again, black has a clever retort.  After 5...Nc6!, black simultaneously hits two rather sensitive points in white's position, the squares d4 and b4.  If the knight gets to either square, it will threaten an almost unstoppable check at c2, since the bishop on f5 is providing support.

Thus, if 6. Qxd5 Nxd4! followed by ...Nc2+.  If 6. Qxb7 Nb4 and white has to deal with the dual threat of 7. ...Nc2+ along with 7...Rb8 where black can force a draw if it suits his fancy, since white's queen has nowhere to go but to the pawn on a7.  Black then plays 8...Ra8 and after going back to b7, white will be faced with a repetition after 8...Rb8.

Lastly, white might consider the immediate 3. Qb3 as the answer to 2...Bf5?!, again threatening 4. cxd5 winning a pawn as well as 4. Qxb7.  However, after 3...e5 we have this crazy position:

Although you really need a computer to figure out what's going on here (precisely the circumstances black wants to provoke), suffice it to say black has chances.  An example of the silliness that could arise is 4. Qxb7 Nd7 5. Qxd5 Nf6 6. Qf3 Bxb1 7. Rxb1 Bb4+ 8. Bd2 Bxd2+ 9. Kxd2 exd5 where black has totally disrupted white's position for the small cost of a pawn.

What all of this has to do with your author is that my opening repertoire has featured trappy openings like these for over 30 years.  The other player is caught off guard and has to muddle through to a playable game, avoiding a potentially lost game with each move. 

Two problems arise, however, that one discovers after a number of years.  They are:

  1. Your rating gets high enough where your typical opposition is no longer thrown into a panic by such offbeat attempts, and
  2. You retard your own development, ultimately, by making such a deal with the devil, gaining quick wins which (while yielding rating points) end up insulating you from learning the nuts and bolts of winning chess.

This is where yours truly finds himself.  So, while still wanting to be true to my style, I have to find a way to bundle it within an opening repertoire of sound (but still exciting) openings that don't automatically put you at a disadvantage against upper-echelon (2200+) competition.

The process of rebuilding an opening repertore from the ground up is painful.  But that's exactly what I'm about to do.