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Classified Chess Openings

No, we’re not talking about top secret opening analysis. Instead it’s the attempt to “classify” chess openings into a fixed and arbitrary category that raises an eyebrow, especially if the proposed categories were popular over a hundred years ago. This pre-modern classification method has four basic elements:

* The Open Game (1.e4 e5). Any double King’s pawn opening; classic open games include the Danish Gambit and King’s Gambit.
* The Semi-Open Game (1.e4, then moves other than 1…e5). This class of openings includes the French, Caro-Kann, Sicilian, etc.
* The Semi-Closed Game (1.d4, then moves other than 1…d5). Here are the Indian openings, plus the Dutch, Benoni, Gruenfeld, etc.
* The Closed Game (1.d4 d5). Any of the double Queen’s pawn games; the typical closed game is the Queen’s Gambit.

But does this classification system tell us anything practical? Under that Open/Semi/Closed regimen the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit is a Closed Game, while the Smith-Morra Gambit (the BDG’s mirror image on the Queenside) falls to the Semi-Open Games. The French Defense after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 is quite closed, yet it’s a Semi-Open Game; and many lines in the Giuoco Piano, an Open Game, are closed indeed. Nor does the classification system under discussion take account of Flank Openings (1.c4, 1.Nf3, 1.f4, and others) or Irregular Openings (1.b3, 1.Nc3, 1.e3, and others).

So there are gaps and contradictions in this old grouping of chess openings. It is, however, a useful system if you’re building a general survey or compendium like “Modern Chess Openings” – or BCO, ECO and so forth. And that’s exactly what ChessBase is attempting with their new Chess Opening Tutorials. Two volumes have been released so far:

1) The Open Games

2) The Semi-Open Games

The idea is to gather experts in various fields of opening theory and to survey a number of openings in one compact form. That ChessBase is striking out in electronic format is no surprise, and will be a boon to many computer users. And the general overview of an opening (or group of openings) does fill a gap in chess literature – somewhere between “How to Play the Opening” and a specialized DVD on, say, a sub-variation of the Richter-Rauzer Attack in the Sicilian Defense.

We can now guess that at least two more volumes will follow, maybe more if ChessBase includes the Flank and Irregular openings. Let us wish them success in reviving an old chess opening classification system, and in bringing it to the 21st century on DVD.

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One Response

  1. Great and useful information! Thank you!

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