Lesson 3. How to Play Good Opening Moves
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As a science progresses from its infancy to widespread acceptance, tenets that seemed at first to be grounded in witchcraft are replaced by those based on logic and verified by experimentation. This is the
stage that chess has reached today. The basic principles are agreed to and understood by the leading scientists (top players). It can be stated with a high degree of confidence that the basic principles of opening play will not be superseded by new discoveries in the foreseeable future. These principles have obtained a kind of universality.
This does not mean, however, that the age of discovery is over. If anything, just the opposite is true. Many new opening schemes are still to be discovered, and our understanding of many current openings increased. As more is learned about certain currently unpopular or unsatisfactory systems, some of them may well be rehabilitated.
The direction of discovery should be generally positive. There is no reason to think that any current lines that are based on both sound logic and practical successes will suddenly be proven unsound. Therefore, the tools presented in this book for learning how to find good opening moves will remain valid. Good moves will remain good; the progress of opening theory will lead to the discovery of more good moves.
The three areas of greatest significance for opening play are king safety, piece development and center control. The importance of the king is not a controversial matter, and the need for its safety in the middlegame is well recognized. lt is important, too, to keep the king’s safety in mind from the very first move. It is false security to think that one’s king must be safe just because the opponent doesn’t have many pieces out.
The logic of rapid and purposeful development has been referred to earlier and at this point needs no further discussion. The value and importance of the center is not, however, sufficiently appreciated by a majority of chess amateurs. The center and the control thereof are of utmost significance in both the opening and the middlegame. If we consider such popular sports as basketball, ice hockey football or soccer, we see that most of the action is concentrated in the center of the field. Local skirmishes may take place in the corners, ends or sides, but the grand plays generally begin at or near the center. A similar situation exists in chess. The exact center in chess consists of the squares d4, e4, d5, e5. These are the four squares of maximum importance and are called the primary central squares. Also of considerable importance are the squares adjoining these primary squares, called the secondary central squares. These form the larger square c3-c6-f6-f3.
Viewed strictly from the standpoint of central importance, the secondary central squares along the c-file are equivalent to those along the f-file. Therefore, it would seem to be just as logical to use the respective f-pawns for central action and support as to use the c-pawns for this purpose. Yet when we recall the need for king safety we see that this is not so, since moving the f-pawn of necessity loosens the king position. This is always a factor with the king still uncastled and may be significant even when the king has castled kingside. This of course does not mean that the use of the f-pawn for central purposes is taboo, but whenever such use is contemplated one must feel sure that the advantage to be gained in the center is not outweighed by the decreased safety of the king.
No such constraints exist for the use of the c-pawn, unless queen-side castling is anticipated. It also follows from the above discussion that weaknesses of squares on the f-file in the vicinity of one’s own king are potentially more dangerous than similar weaknesses on the queenside; i.e., vulnerability at f2, f3 and f4 is more serious than at c2, c3, c4. In general: the c-pawn is a natural instrument for central action, but before employing the f-pawn for this purpose, make sure that the king remains safe.
The importance of controlling the center has been known to those following chess theory ever since Wilhelm Steinitz started to expound on strategic principles in the late 19th century. At that time control of center was synonymous with actual possession. For example, to control d4, it was thought White must either have a protected pawn or piece there. It was the hypermodern school of the 1920s that significantly deepened our understanding of central play. What mattered, according to the hypermodernists, was not possession but control, and it may be even advantageous to achieve this from long range!
In synthesizing the ultimate truths of the classic teachers and the hypermoderns, we have indeed learned that the center and its control control are of major importance. What our free thinking has taught us is that how we accomplish this is usually irrelevant. If we again consider the d4, any and all of the following methods for controlling it are of equivalent value:
A) 1 d4
B) 1 e3
C) 1 Nf3
D) 1 b3 followed by 2 Bb2
E) 1 c3
For realizing the advantage of the first move, White can do better than alternatives B) and E). However, for the purpose of controlling d4 all are valid. As a particular opening is played and the need develops to control d4, any one of them can be considered with a clear chess conscience.
With the above background in mind it is now possible to formulate the following three principles of correct opening play:
1. Bring your king to safety by castling.
2. Develop your pieces toward the center so that they are ready for middlegame action.
3. Control the center either by actual possession or by short-range or long-range action of pieces or pawns.
One overriding standard must be emphasized: unless an opening move works towards at least one of the above objectives, it is not a good move.
The Practical Approach
On the first move everything is rather clear. If you play in accordance with opening principles, your choice will be fine. But what about move two or move 10? As play develops, the position becomes more complicated, and necessarily, more specific thinking is required when selecting your move. It cannot be overemphasized that, on balance, your choices will work out much better if they are in accordance with the basic principles. To give preference voluntarily to a move that does not contribute to development, is irrelevant to center play or is deleterious to king safety is madness unless it also offers some fantastic positive feature(s).
In fact, such features exist only rarely Most moves that are unmindful of opening principles turn out to be clearly inferior. Yet the yen for experimentation often grips chess masters as well as amateurs. Too often we think that perhaps “in this specific position" we can choose a move that violates basic principles, because a special situation exists. Statistics show that such special situations exist much more rarely than we-in our creative optimism-think.
What kind of benchmarks should we use in deciding whether a move is good? By far the best guide is its conformity to good opening principles. It should further at least one of our basic objectives. The kind of thinking to use will be demonstrated in the following examples, illustrating both traditional and new ideas.
White: Georgiev Black: Razuvaev
1 e4 e5
Developing the king knight toward the center with a gain of time is a perfect move and White’s best choice here. `
2 ... Nc6
The e-pawn needs protection, and providing it by developing the queen knight to its best central location is Black's most popular response. Since Black has selected the e-pawn to be his main central bastion, the use of his c-pawn for central work is neither required nor readily possible. Therefore, there is no disadvantage in the queen knight's blocking the c-pawn in this case.
Completing the development of the minor pieces on the kingside and preparing to castle immediately. By attacking the queen knight, White exerts indirect pressure on Black's e-pawn. Thus the bishop move can actually be seen as part of White’s plan to achieve central superiority. White’s third move has brought about the well-known Ruy Lopez opening.
3 ... a6
Chasing back the bishop, since White can't win a pawn by 4 Bxc6 dxc6! 5 N xe5? because of 5 … Qd4, and Black regains the pawn with a fine game. It is not at all obvious that 3 a6 is a good move, however, and it required extensive tests in master games before the value of the move was established.
Maintaining the status quo. An alternate plan of equivalent value is 4 Bxc6 dxc6 5 0-0!.
4 ... Nf6
Developing the king knight to its best central square.
And so in five moves White has achieved good central pressure and development while bringing his king to safety by castling. White has no need to fear 5 Nxe4 since after 6 d4! he will win back the pawn by force. Though not completely obvious, this conclusion can be anticipated because the open nature of the position will require Black to concern himself with the safety of his own king, and will have to castle rapidly. White will be able to capture Black's e-pawn while the latter is catching up in development.
5 ... b5
A controversial move. To prevent threats to his e-pawn, Black protects his queen knight from attack by White’s bishop, but this move chases it onto the diagonal aiming at f7. Unless Black can castle quickly, this square can become very vulnerable. The time-tested, most common move is the quiet development with 5 Be7.
6 Bb3 Be7
By protecting the e-pawn with his rook, White brings about the normal position in the Closed Ruy Lopez, which usually results after 5 Be7 6 Rel b5 7 Bb3. Instead, White can force Black to solve more difficult problems with the aggressive 7 d4!, since after 7 exd4 8 e5 is very annoying.
Note that after 7 Re1 White's rook is centrally placed. At the moment, its primary function is defensive, but it can also readily become aggressive along the e-file.
7 … 0-0
Black's King is now safe.
Planning to build a strong center with 9 d4.
8 ... d6
Protecting the e-pawn and opening up the diagonal of the queen bishop. If White proceeds with the immediate 9 d4, Black can exert strong pressure on the d-pawn with 9 Bg4.
The sole purpose of this move is to be able to play d4 without allowing the pin Bg4. Since Black cannot prevent the coming d4 and has no immediate threat, White can afford this loss of time. The position after White’s 9th move has been analyzed to great depth, since Black has many possibilities. Formerly the Chigorin Variation (9 … Na5 10 Bc2 c5) was very common, and in the 1970s Breyer’s idea of 9 Nb8 10 d4 Nbd7 caught fire.
9 ... Bb7!’?
Only in the last couple of years has this move appeared in master practice. Why has it taken so long for this discovery to be made? Based on basic opening principles, the move is surely worth very serious investigation. Black completes the development of his minor pieces and positions the queen bishop so that it bears directly on the center. Whenever Black's queen knight moves away, the bishop will be attacking White's e-pawn.
10 d4 Re8
The basic position in this sub-variation. Black’s rook is posted both to support his e·pawn and indirectly to attack White’s e-pawn. Since White has some central superiority, he still has the slight advantage that comes with his right to make the first move. His most consistent plan now is to start developing the queenside pieces with 11 Nbd2. Instead, White shows in this game that he is satisfied to draw against his better-known opponent. The Soviet grandmaster playing Black is not satisfied with such a result, but by continuing the game with second-rate moves, he avoids the draw only to lose instead: 11 Ng5 Rf8 12 Nf3 h6'?! 13 Nbd2 exd4?! 14 cxd4 Nb4 15 Qe2 c5 16 a3 Nc6 17 dxc5 dxc5 18 e5 Nh7 19 Ne4 c4 20 Bc2 Re8?! 21 Bf4! Nf8 22 Qe3 Ng6 23 e6! Nxf4 24 exf7+ Kxf7 25 Qxf4+ Kg8 26 Qf5! Rf8 27 Qe6+ Rf7 28 Rad1 Qc8 29 Qg6 Rxf3 30 Nd6! Bxd6 31 Rxd6 Kf8 32 gxf3 Qc7 33 Rde6 Qf7 34 Qxf7+ Kxf7 35 Bg6+ Black resigns.