Mastery: Openings

Now What?

Now What?

The fact is, all openings demand a certain amount of memorization. But far more important than the memorization of a bunch of moves is the understanding of what the pawn structures call for, where your pieces should be placed in these situations, and what the plans for both sides offer the respective players. The material in this course is designed to give you a taste of what these "prepackaged" plans look like, and this will help you search for such setups and plans in your own systems.

  • Accelerated Dragon: Doubled a-Pawns Are My Friend!

    Many amateurs play the Accelerated Dragon vs. 1.e4 because it's fairly easy to learn, it offers some nasty traps that lots of opponents tend to fall for, it's sound and doesn't allow White to generate an easy mating attack (as in the normal Dragon), it doesn't call for endless memorization, and the plans are both elegant and fairly simple to master. One key position for Black occurs after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Be2 0-0 8.f4 d6 9.Nb3 Qc7 10.0-0 b6 11.Kh1 Bb7 12.Bf3 and now Black plays 12...Na5! 13.Nxa5 bxa5 when Black allows doubled isolated a-pawns, but (as in the Benko Gambit -- except here you're not a pawn down!) you've created two half open files for his Rooks and easy pressure against white's b- and c-pawns.

    • 4 challenges
  • The Minority Attack

    The Minority Attack is one of the most important plans in chess and is so straightforward that anyone from 1200 on up can easily make use of it. Of course, this means that you have to play openings that lead to the pawn structures that allow this effective idea to occur. It's important that you adopt opening systems that lead to the kinds of pawn structures that appeal to you. For example, some players aren't fond of closed positions, so 1.e4 would prove more to their individual taste. Another player might find somewhat closed, maneuvering games to be delightful. Then 1.d4 or 1.Nf3 would be appropriate choices. In the case of the Minority Attack, it occurs most in the Queen's Gambit Declined, though the general ideas can appear at any time from almost any opening.

    • 4 challenges
  • Key Defensive Formation

    Every opening has various key lines and key setups designed to challenge almost every enemy plan, be it an attack or positional scheme. However, instead of memorizing one situation and its set of moves, it's far better to remember the enemy plan/setup and the appropriate pawn structure used to combat it. In this way you let the pawn formation be your guide and, as a result, it will always be there for you in that particular line, or in other similar situations.

    • 5 challenges
  • Slow & Steady

    When playing any system, it's important to know if the resulting positions are, in general, static or dynamic -- do they need to be slow played (static) or fast played (dynamic)? Of course, either can occur in any opening, no matter how wild or calm its reputation might be. But most openings or systems within those openings do retain a certain character and it's critical that you know it (while remaining flexible enough to see when the normal character has changed).

    • 4 challenges
  • Block His Plan, Push Yours

    When playing any opening, you should be able to tell anyone -- with no thought whatsoever -- what the philosophy of your system is. For example, in the Alekhine's Defense (1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5) the idea is to let White build a big center and then use that center as a target to tear down. The same holds true for the Grunfeld (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7) and the Modern (1.e4 d6 2.d4 Bg7). All these lines give White space and a nice pawn center, but anyone playing them knows full well that they are expected to do everything they can to knock down these centers and reduce them to rubble.

    • 5 challenges
  • A Square to Love and Fear

    Every opening has its key positions -- situations that both sides know whether to seek or avoid, or situations where both sides have their pluses, and where the stronger player will have every chance (as either side) to outplay his weaker foe. These positions are more important to know than the moves that get you there because, once you know what your goal is, you can often figure out the way to reach it (or something similar that still retains the same basic imbalances and ideas).

    • 4 challenges
  • Monster Mash

    When a player makes 1...g6 the system of choice vs. 1.e4 and 1.d4, that player understands that one of two things will likely drive his whole game philosophy: 1) Tearing down White's pawn center. 2) Turning the dark-squared Bishop into a monster that claims the a1-h8 diagonal and, almost by itself, mashes the opponent into pulp.

    • 4 challenges
  • Two Jans Dancing Cheek to Cheek

    Key positions abound in the Ruy Lopez, and a firm understanding of them is a must if you want to be successful with either side of this opening. One of the most common (and a Fischer favorite) appears after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Qc7 12.Nbd2 Nc6 13.dxc5 dxc5 14.Nf1 Be6 15.Ne3 Rad8 16.Qe2. White needs to know the immediate ideas and long term goals for both sides.

    • 5 challenges
  • Laser Beam to the Outside Corner

    Once again we'll be looking at a typical Ruy Lopez motif. When Karpov brought it to the public's consciousness in this game, it was considered a brilliant positional stroke. Now his maneuver (in this and other positions) is common knowledge and every Ruy Lopez aficionado would play it in a heartbeat if the chance arose.

    • 3 challenges
  • Hyperdrive

    Certain openings tend to create tactical positions and others positional situations. But no matter what opening you play, things can go dynamic or static at the drop of a hat. Our latest example shows White making this kind of decision and, once that decision is made, embracing it completely.

    • 6 challenges
  • The Big Idea

    Many openings (or the typical pawn structures that come from them) are all about "the big idea." If you know it then you will be fighting to achieve it as soon as the right pawn structure arises. Or, if you are playing the other side, you will also be aware of the idea and take steps to prevent it or make it innocuous.

    • 4 challenges
  • The Formula

    At times an opening variation can be very popular, when suddenly someone figures out how to deal with it. This formula then becomes common knowledge and a must know for both sides in that particular system. Of course, aside from the practical implications -- one side would love to play it while the other avoids it -- it enriches one's understanding of the whole opening's strategic and tactical possibilities, and this knowledge can be carried over into other positions with similar structures.

    • 4 challenges
  • Early Structure Knowledge

    In every opening there are "basic" structures. This means that there are certain structures you want to avoid, and others that are to be embraced. These structural basics must be known if you wish to be even mildly conversant with the opening you're playing.

    • 4 challenges
  • The Ideal Position

    In every opening there are basic ideal positions you know are good (or bad) for you. Clearly, you need to have this knowledge to aspire to these situations, and once you know what you want, you also have to have the force of will to find a way to actually get what you want.

    • 4 challenges
  • Working on the Cut

    Most openings can be "mastered" as much as most people need simply by learning the basic moves, understanding the opening's concepts and main ideas, and memorizing a few typical positions/structures and the plans associated with them. This lesson will explore a very simple piece setup with an easy-to-understand idea. And, though easy in one sense, it also packs a lot of sting and will often leave the opponent wondering what's going on.

    • 5 challenges
  • The Catalan Bishop

    The term "Catalan bishop" refers to the financhettoed g2-Bishop found in the Catalan opening (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.g3, or 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2). However, one can also refer to a particularly powerful g2-Bishop from other openings as a Catalan bishop if the structures are similar. And, once one accepts he has a Catalan Bishop, then he can also embrace the Catalan ideas that make this Bishop so desirable. Thus the whole Catalan philosophy can be copied in similar positions from different openings with confidence.

    • 4 challenges
  • Know Your System's Strategic ABCs

    When studying an opening, it's crucial to become completely familiar with the little things that make your system attractive to you. Does your opening give you space and, if so, how was that space used by grandmasters in the past? Does you opening offer attacking chances and, if it does, when is that attack most likely to succeed or fail? Does your opening lead to exchanges and, if it does, are those exchanges usually good or bad for you? All these individual things and many, many more, form the strategic ABCs of your system and are easy to learn and, when put together, often add up to a very attractive whole.

    • 5 challenges
  • Terminate! Terminate!

    Quite often you'll make the first couple moves of your favorite system, only to be confronted by something that looks more like an alien life form than a real chess idea. If this occurs early, then all your saved up plans and positions might not count for much. However, you'll never be left to drift that sea of confusion if you simply go back to your chess basics.

    • 4 challenges
  • Attacking Patterns

    Knowing the key strategic ideas in openings that feature quiet, positional situations is a must, but it's just as important to be aware of key attacking ideas in sharper openings where time and initiative are king.

    • 4 challenges
  • Nutcracker Ballet

    During a game, and often during the opening phase, one is left with basic questions to answer: Should I grab space? Should I let my opponent grab space? Should I leave my King in the center or get it castled as quickly as possible? These are just a few of the endless mysteries most of us face. But are they really mysteries, or are we simply inept at the systems we play? Did we study the basic structures and plans, or did we merely memorize a bunch of moves? When all is said and done, memorization won't get the job done, but understanding typical positional and tactical motifs will.

    • 4 challenges
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