Lesson 2. Ideas Behind the Chess Openings

Jan 29, 2013, 8:56 AM |

General Principles         

It is always true, though not always clear, that moves in the chess openings are based on certain definite ideas. These ideas form the background and foundation, while the moves themselves represent actual construction.

All this holds true in chess, just as it holds true in every held which is a combination of theory and action. And since action  or moves in chess are much less standarized than, say, the construction of a house, theory as represented by ideas is so much more important.

An apt illustration occurs in deviations from “book." A game begins with 1`e4 f6? The reply is bad, so bad in fact that it will not be found in any collection of standard opening moves. What to do about it? The man who has memorized oodles and oodles of moves without understanding them is at a loss; he will not even be able to give a good reason why the move is bad. But the man who knows that Black has neglected the center, deprived his King knight of its best square, and weakened his King position will end it a simple matter to refute his opponent’s failty play.

It is perhaps not generally realized that opening theory in chess proceeds on certain definite assumptions. They are simple enough and once learned they will never be forgotten. They are:

1. In the initial position White, because of the extra move, has a slight advantage. Consequently:

2. White’s problem in the opening is to secure the better position, while

3. Black’s problem is to secure equality.

The elaboration of these questions in each individual case is what is meant by “the theory of the openings? Once either question 2 or 3 is clearly answered, the "theory" is satisfied and the rest is left to mortal man.

As yet, however, nobody has found a method of determining values which is superior to that of good master practise. That is, by sticking to well-established rules and principles we get to a position where there are pros and cons for both sides. In that event a game between two experts is the most important clue that we can possibly have. This is one of the chief reasons for quoting games. We shall return to this question a little later but suffice it to say for the time being that in many examples “theory" is nothing but "good practise."

Throughout Practical Chess Opening and other similar treatises there is continual mention of "normal" moves and “normal” positions. This “normalcy” arises in the following manner.

There are two fundamental concepts in the opening: development and the center. Development is getting the pieces out. The center consists of the four squares in the geometrical center of the board. The basic principle is that it is essential in the opening to develop all the pieces harmoniously and in such a way as to secure the most favorable position possible in the center.

More elaborately, there are ten practical rules which are usually worth sticking to, though the more expert player will be aware of the many exceptions. These rules are:

1. Open with either the King’s Pawn or the Queen’s Pawn.

2. Wherever possible, make a good developing move which threatens something.

3. Develop Knights before Bishops.

4. Pick the most suitable square for a piece and develop it there once and for all.

5. Make one or two Pawn moves in the opening, not more.

6. Do not bring your Queen out early.

7. Castle as soon as possible, preferably on the King’s side.

8. Play to get control of the center.

9. Always try to maintain at least one Pawn in the center.

10. Do not sacrifice without a clear and adequate reason.


In number 10 we can further specify that for the offer of a Pawn there must be one of four reasons: a) Secure a tangible advantage in development; b) deflect the enemy Queen; c) prevent the enemy from castling, either permanently or for several moves; d) build up a strong attack.

Finally, it is worth remembering that there are two questions which must be answered for each move played:

1. How does it affect the center?

2. How does it an in with the development of my other pieces and Pawns?

Any move which is in accordance with the basic principle is "normal"; any move which is not is abnormal." Thus 1 e4, which places a Pawn in the center and aids the development of the K-side, is normal, while 1 a4, which helps neither development nor the center, is abnormal. Similarly, after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 developing and threatening a center Pawn, is normal, while 2 b3, which develops a relatively unimportant piece, and does not affect the center, is abnormaL The reader will readily think of many similar examples.

Sacrifices and gambits sometimes seem to violate sound opening procedure. This is in a sense true, since every sacrifice requires special justification. However, it is a well-known and easily established fact that under certain circumstances extra material is useless when it is hampered by an immobile position. In such cases sacrifices are likewise perfectly normal.

With gambits, the sacrifice is the essence of it all. Normal procedure must necessarily take that into account and accordingly a third factor is introduced. While this analysis is correct from a purely theoretical point of view, in practise it will be found that the center is relatively of less moment, so that the essential question to be answered by both sides is: Is the advantage in development sufficient compensation for the material given up or not? Normal moves in gambits are those which help to answer this question.

In almost all openings there is a well-defined series of normal moves which leads to what is usually called a “normal position." This normal position is the point of departure for further opening investigations. If it is favorable for White, theory concerns itself with the improvement of Black’s defensive possibilities. Conversely, if, as is usually the case, it is even, the problem is to better White’s play. Sometimes - as in the Orthodox Defense to the Queen’s Gambit Declined - it is theoretically even, but in practise full of pitfalls and diflicultles. In that event theory can and does concern itself with an examination for both sides, to give White better winning chances on the one hand, and to make Black’s task easier on the other.

An allied pertinent conception which will be used on occasion is that of "ideal positions.” An ideal position is one which is reached by a sequence of normal moves for both sides and which represents the maximum positional superiority which one player or the other can secure. It is therefore a worthwhile goal for one man, but something to be avoided for his opponent.

In a number of modern openings - such as Alekhine’s Defense and the Catalan System - the play of one side or the other turns out to be highly successful even though it is in apparent contradiction with healthy opening principles. The contradiction can be resolved only by considedng the element of permanency. E.g., in Alekhine’s Defense Black allows White to build up a powerful Pawn center not because he believes such a center is bad, but because he is convinced that he will be able to crack it sooner or later. Consequently, among other things in some opening, we must examine how long a given advantage will last.

Another modern nuance is transposition, which is quite common in the Queen’s Pawn Openings. It is important to be clear about the question of the evaluation of a position reached in the opening. This must, of course, be based on the general analysis of any position. Such general analysis involves live factors: Material; Pawn structure; Mobility; King safety; Combinations. In most openings (except gambits) only Pawn structure and mobility are really important (the center is a special case of mobility, for the side which has control of the center automatically enjoys more freedom for his pieces).

It will sometimes be observed that the ideas which are said to be at the basis of certain openings are either avoided or entirely absent in practice. That is because ideas are not dictatorial laws but counselling guides. Strategy, the body of ideas, holds only as a framework. Tactics, the individual variations, is what goes into this framework, which is why the result often varies so widely from the original conception. Frequently a line which carries out the basic idea and is therefore strategically sound must be rejected because there is a tactical refutation: it just won’t work. Proper timing comes in here. Further, in most openings there are several ideas for each side, not all of which maybe realized in a single game.

Source : http://www.icschess.com