What's Black's Plan After 1.e4?

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"What's Black's Plan after 1.e4?"

We tried a new format in "Q&A with Coach Heisman" (our TV show the first Friday of each month from 5-6:30 PM ET). The first hour of the show was restricted to questions about positions - it could be from an opening, an endgame, a game position, a puzzle, etc. Then the final half-hour would be "open" to any chess question.

The above question may have been tongue-in-cheek - I certainly hope so! - but it was indicative of the type of question that was asked during the first hour.

Many of the questions were worded in such a way that was difficult to answer. Some included just a position (or, more likely an opening sequence) with no question. Others gave a position but did not say which color they had or what was the concern. Others gave a question but it was not about a specific position, e.g. "What about the Queen's Gambit?"

The biggest problem was that almost all the questions were about opening sequences, especially the ones the viewer could have easily looked up using our Game Explorer. If you don't know about our site's database, take the link and spend a few minutes exploring (no pun intended) how to use it! It may come in very handy for the remainder of your chess life.

For example, one viewer asked "What is White's main move after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5?". This is the Giouco Piano, and I quickly answered that 4.c3 is the main line but 4.d3 is acceptable (4.Nc3 is rare, often leading to a Four Knights or Giouco Pianissimo).

Looking up this line in the Game Explorer, we see that 4.c3 is the most popular move, and the Evans Gambit 4.b4, is also popular. The Game Explorer is not a purely international player database, so the strange/rare (at the higher levels) move 4.O-O was played fairly frequently. You won't find this move in many GM games, nor even discussed much in opening books!

There were no questions about puzzles or endgames! That's a shame, since there are so many instructive puzzles (probably more instructive than opening sequences, IMHO) and fascinating endgames. The good news was that many viewers were sastified to have so many opening questions, even if they did range in interest from absolute beginner to heavy intermediate.

So my suggestion for next month's show might be to split the show into three half-hour segments and take questions on:

  1. The first half-hour on opening positions and sequences
  2. The second half-hour on all other positions and games
  3. The final half-hour open.

"Who is the most talented chess player of all time: Morphy, Capablanca, Fischer, Kasparov, or Carlsen?"

That's a great five to pick! Of course, some non-world champions may have matched them on talent but not the needed time or work ethic (or nerves or...?) to become world champion.

It's also a much different question than "Who is the best chess player of all time?" You might think that, say, Botvinnik would be in the mix for the latter but no one ever suggested he was the most naturally talented. Capablanca, in fact, was reported to have been rather lazy, and rarely worked on chess, letting his natural ability take the lead. It has also been said that chess has become much more knowledge-oriented and scientific since then, and Capablanca was the last world-champion that could have gotten by on so little work and so much talent! Probably so.

"I'm a 1500 player; what do I need to do to improve?"

I get this type of question all the time (and not just on the show)! This question makes the unbelievable assumption that all 1500 players are similar and what it takes to get them to 1600 or 1700 and beyond is going to be similar, too. Nothing could be further from the truth; it's like calling a doctor on the phone and saying:

"My stomach hurts; what should I do?"

Based on that, the doctor doesn't know if you have food poisoning, stomach cancer, were shot in the stomach, or just ate too much!

For example, in chess, some 1500's play way to slow and get into unnecessary time trouble. Other 1500's (probably way more) play way too quickly and need to take almost all their time each game to seriously improve. Should I make the same suggestions to both?

There are probably close to 100 talents/abilities/knowledge that make up your chess ability, e.g. analytics, evaluation, time management, stamina, determination, will-to-win, ability to tolerate losses, ability to learn from your games, patience, board vision, tactical vision, concentration, etc. Any given 1500 player might differ from another massively in any given talent. Not to mention that there are many different rating pools, so a 1500 in US Chess Federatin rating might differ greatly from a 1500 on Blitz or Turn-based. So how I can give advice to someone to help them improve just from the information that they are rated 1500?

Now there is one trait that pretty much all 1500 players share in common and that I could assume - they all play "Hope Chess" to one degree or another.

That is, they don't consistently make sure every candidate move is safe by asking if the opponent could reply to their move with a check, capture, or threat that cannot be met. Then, when the opponent does make such a threat, on the next move they think "Uh-oh! What do I do now?" and hope there is an answer, which often there is not!

So one advice I can give pretty much everyone under 1650 is:

When you play slow games, take your time and try to determine for each candidate move if it is safe, i.e. "If I make this move, can my opponent reply with a check, capture, or threat I cannot meet next move?" If you do this every analytical move, it takes time, but then you are much less likely to get into that "Uh-oh!" situation and your rating should start to clearly improve.