x
Chess - Play & Learn

Chess.com

FREE - In Google Play

FREE - in Win Phone Store

VIEW

Amateur Opening Preparation: The Evidence

sputnick
Jun 18, 2009, 11:26 AM 1

You may have seen opening analysis that cite statistical evidence regarding how well an opening fares. Those statistics are based overwhelming on games by players with ratings over 2200. What would we discover if we looked only at amateur games? Here is what I did to get an idea of how my prospective opponents might do at different openings. Using Chessbase I searched for games in my database (Big Database 2006 updated from This Week In Chess) from 2004 to 2009 between players rated 1500 to 1900. I filtered those games by 1. e4 opening and ran Chessbase's statistics function on the resulting games. This is what I found. First the basic responses to 1. e4.

 

Opening

White score

Performance difference

1.e4 c5

52%

32

1.e4 d5

55%

62

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5

52%

32

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5

51%

23

1.e4 e5

56%

65

1.e4 Nf6

55%

69

 

 

 

 

When white plays 1.e4, black does best to play the Sicilian, French, or Caro-Kann. This should not be surprising. Most chess players begin by playing 1.e4 e5 games. After playing 1. e4, playing something other than 1...e5 takes a 1500-1900 rated white out of his comfort zone. The exceptions to this are Alekhine’s Defense (1.e4 Nf6) and the Scandinavian (1.e4 d5), which score only slightly better than 1.e4 e5.

Breaking this down yields some interesting results. Let’s look first at the Sicilian.

Opening

White score

Performance difference

1.e4 c5

52%

32

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.e4

52%

33

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.e4

53%

38

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.e4

50%

8

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+

56%

96

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5

60%

104

1.e4 c5 2. c3

57%

96

1.e4 c5 2.Nc3

53%

44

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3

63%

165

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 Nf6

50%

16

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 d5

50%

29

The first thing to note is that black is scoring well when he gets to play an open Sicilian (characterized by the 3. e4 move). But, if white plays an anti-Sicilian, notably 3. Bb5(+) or 2. c3 he is doing very well. The Smith-Morra (1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3) scores very well, but black can decline the gambit with either 3...Nf6 or 3….d5, and then white has nothing. These results should not be surprising either. Most Sicilian players on this level are yearning to play like Kasparov and are not well prepared either practically or psychologically for anti-Sicilians.

The second result breakdown I want to look at is that following 1.e4 e5. Here are some results:

Opening

White score

Performance difference

1.e4 e5

56%

65

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5

57%

68

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3. d4

57%

70

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4

56%

81

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6

52%

21

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5

56%

71

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4

46%

-29

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nc6

48%

0

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6

54%

39

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6

50%

-12

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe4

57%

88

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3. d4

48%

-104

1.e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. Qxd4

57%

87

1.e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. c3

69%

186

1.e4 e5 2. f4

67%

307

Again, some very interesting results. White does very well with the Spanish (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5), Scotch (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3. d4), and 3. Bc4, which can become an Italian Game, Evans Gambit or Two Knights Defense. The Four Knights (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nc6) is a flop for white, giving it absolutely no advantage. Black does ok with the Philidor (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6) even though it is generally considered an inferior choice. The big surprise is the success of the Petroff (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6), which actually scores better for black than for white. The Center Game, Goring Gambit, and King’s Gambit (the last three lines on the table) score very well for white.

What is going on here? Again, among amateurs, I think much of this has to do with the comfort level of players. Those playing 1. e4 are dictating the course of the game when they play 3. Bb5, d4, or Bc4 after facing 2…Nc6. White is even more aggressive in dictating the game with the Center Game, Goring Gambit and King’s Gambit. On the other hand, black dictates the course of the game when he plays 2….Nf6 or 2…d6. If 2…Nf6 scores so much better than 2…d6, it is simply because it is a more solid opening. (Grandmasters play the Petroff on a regular basis.). Looking closer at the Petroff, we see that white does well when he plays 3. Nxe4, the best choice and a sign that white has some knowledge of the opening. One reason 2…Nf6 scores so well is that it is not something that beginners play. Thus the amateur will not have seen it countless times, and his comfort level will be much lower. Another explanation of its score is that 1. e4 players who have not prepared anything against the Petroff often transpose after 3. Nc3, Nc6 into the Four Knights, and the Four Knights is, as we see, inferior.

So, what is general conclusion here? First, on the amateur level playing openings that are not commonly played by beginners can be a plus. Second, dictating the course of the game at an early stage confers an important advantage. Third, there are common patterns of amateur opening preparation. For one, amateurs take lots of short cuts (such as the decision not the prepare the Petroff and to transpose into the Four Knights when faced with it). Another common pattern is what you might call “glory chess” preparation, preparing openings that have a great reputation on the GM level (the Najdorf), while ignoring the alternatives to your glory line that your opponent can play. If you keep these patterns of amateur chess in mind when doing your opening preparation, you will outfox your opponents and win more games.

Online Now