The Road to ELO 2000: The opening

Sep 21, 2009, 8:18 AM |

The problem with playing 1.e4: why you should play minor 1.d4 systems

Chess in many ways, is a mystery to the developing player. Each novice goes through his or her own  path of improving by working hard at various phrases of the game: the opening, the middle game and the endgame.

The experts all agree that it is the endgame that most novices are weakest in, but ironically it is the one phrase of the game that is most overlooked by novices. Why? Well, first off, to learn the endgame properly, one must invest considerable time to learn the proper techniques, time which is often not available to woodpushers who have to struggle with the means of making a living. Second, the endgame phrase is rarely reached in novice play, most games having concluded within the first 20-30 moves. The victor more often then not making the most of an opportunity granted to him by his opponent during the opening or middlegame phrase.. the endgame being the difference only between similar skilled opponents. So it makes more sense to invest a little more time at first in the opening to reach playable middlegame positions. Only after a solid opening repertoire has been archived should one consider studying endgames on a more diligent basis. The novice will now find himself reaching endgames situations more often,  rightly so because of his improved opening preparation and presumably his greater understanding of the middle game.

Now the novice faces the most perplexing issue of all, choosing an opening repertoire which suits his style of play.  I have always considered myself an swashbuckling attacker. I love space and love sacrificing anything to gain an attack. Nothing pleases me more to conclude a game having mated my opponents king under a flurry of tactics. Having said this, naturally my first conclusion was to select a repertoire based on 1.e4 and have played this first move faithfully for 3 years. However, I have since reconsider this choice of opening move.. the reasons of which I shall now address in the following paragraphs:

The modern amateur in chess knows a fair amount of chess theory. By which I mean, he/she would be expected at least to be somewhat familiar with a solid defense against 1.e4. Let's say, a novice in black is an exponent of the french defense and knows his theory for about a dozen moves in almost every popular continuation. This would mean that the White player would have to know his/her lines in the french defence up to the same level in order to force a equal middlegame situation. Now, in the next round, our white player faces an exponent of the scandanvian defence, who knows his or her lines up to a dozen moves. Our white player must yet again, know his chess theory to an equivalent amount to match his opponent. Repeat the situation with the sicilian, the roy lopez... and you get the idea.Frown

So what are we (novices?)  to do? Well, apart from hunkering down and memorising lines from popular continuations, I can only see 2 practical solutions...

1) adopt a highly dubious gambit variation (as early as possible) for every major defence to 1.e4 and hope one's opponent is not prepared.This is very risky and most likely the results will flunctuate tremondously.

2) adopt a practical opening system which results in  stable solid opening development without much risks (nor much gain either) and outmaneurve your opponent in the middlegame

the 2nd solution is much more sound and practical. Having used the first solution for over a year, i can attest to the fact that it can only bring you so far before you encounter opponents who will refute gambit systems easily.

Thankfully, there are the colle and london systems (as well as the versov, tromposky and BDG's) which suit the later solution perfectly. The best part is.. they both have practical sting to the unprepared opponent, allowing one to unleash mating attacks on the black king in certain lines. They are also played occasionally at master levels (which means that they are sound). Lastly, they take a fraction of the time to learn as compared to the amount of theory found in 1.e4

Hence, if you are an amateur seeking to improve your game quickly, you can't go wrong with developing a consistent opening repertoire. Bearing the above in mind, check out the london and colle systems as white. They don't take too long to learn and guarantee safe solid development in the opening, what more can you ask for?