We know from chess openings like the Grunfeld Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5) that Black may control the center with pieces instead of pawns. But what about the Grunfeld’s poor cousin, 1.d4 d5 2.c4 g6, clearly a member of this hypermodern family? The first issue of Kamikaze Times (November, 2002) called this line the “Alekhine Defense” against the Queen’s Gambit. Alekhine did play this opening, but the editor correctly notes that Blackburne takes precedence. Unusual and seldom seen, there is not much theory to learn nor many games to consult; those who enjoy offbeat chess openings may investigate further. First we have Blackburne at work:
Check out Kevin Butler’s new chess video introduction to the Steinitz Gambit, covering the important ideas underlying this wild chess opening! After 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 exf4 4.d4 Qh4+ 5.Ke2 the White King is perfectly comfortable behind his strong central pawns, and the monarch even plans on better placement in case of any endgame. Very bold! Kevin’s video explains what’s going on, and shows how you can use the fighting King in your chess openings.
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These three short articles, appearing weekly, gives us 21 days to master the King plus Bishop and Knight vs. lone King checkmate. Plenty of time; indeed we should clock ourselves at, say, 5 minutes against anybody. We can do that because we’re not thinking about chess openings. Of course we like to play chess games and there sits the start position every time, so let’s learn a chess opening that’s safe and sound, allows for rapid piece development, keeps our pawn structure solid and provides opportunity to transition into standard openings when ready. Finally, our “universal system” has to work for both the White and Black pieces while avoiding chess opening theory where possible.
Keeping these points in mind, consider the virtues of 1.Nc3 as White and 1…Nc6 as Black:
We develop our Queen’s Knight to its most natural post, attack two central squares and preserve all options for our pawns. This first move is early without objection, including the fact that very little is known about this “Queen’s Knight Attack”. Let’s look at what can happen when we bring out the Queen’s Knight immediately.
After 1.Nc3 as White we’re playing the “Dunst” or “Van Geet” opening, called the “Sleipner” in Germany. Here we can enjoy free form chess, making up our own chess opening as Black reacts. The common 1…e5 isn’t a very good answer because of 2.Nf3 and then 3.d4 next. If 1…d5 by Black we go 2.Nf3 or 2.d3 or 2.e3 – and even 2.f4 is also good. The same ideas hold for 1…c5 and 1…Nf6, and White can never be forced to play a mainstream opening. But note that we can easily add traditional chess openings; the Veresov following 1.Nc3 d5 2.d4, the Closed Sicilian after 1.Nc3 c5 2.e4 and the Vienna after 1.Nc3 e5 2.e4 are just three examples. So 1.Nc3 offers much to the chess beginner and the novice chess player too.
What about Black after 1…Nc6 then? Now everything depends on White’s first move, but our Queen’s Knight is ready for any case. If 1.e4 Nc6 we have the Nimzovich Defense, an underrated and little known chess opening. Next 2.d4 by White meets with 2…d5 (and 2…e5 is fine, but not until we know 3.Nf3 the Scotch Game), and 2.Nf3 on White’s second move is answered 2…d6, 2…e6, 2…Nf6 or later the “normal” 2…e5 when we add the Ruy Lopez to our opening arsenal. Should White go 2.Nc3 we have 2…e6 and 3…Bb4 afterward, and we can always add the Vienna Game later on with 2…e5 instead.
Nothing else White can do is very fearsome after 1.e4 Nc6, but that leaves 1.d4 Nc6 to examine. Once again Black is well placed to defend unexplored ground or add main line chess openings as we please. For example, 1.d4 Nc6 2.Nf3 d5 can enter variations of Chigorin’s Defense to the Queen’s Gambit, or Black may steer the game his way with 2…e6 or 2…d6 here. If 1.d4 Nc6 2.e4 we’re back in the Nimzovich Defense where 2…d5 was our answer. That leaves only the sequence 1.d4 Nc6 2.d5, pushing around our Queen’s Knight in an opening we’ve dubbed the “Bozo-Indian Defense“. And if White avoids 1.e4 or 1.d4 on his first move, then there is no stress for Black at all with our 1…Nc6 answer.
In summary, we can do quite well with our “Queen’s Knight Attack”, provided we follow up with rapid development of each piece and keep our pawns in good order. Make one or two pawn moves, bring our men out efficiently, then castle. After a few moves we’ll cash in on that time spent learning middlegame chess strategy, tactical combinations and chess endings. By the way, did you know that a King plus two Knights can checkmate a King if he has one pawn? Study that fun checkmate instead of chess openings – bring out the Queen’s Knight on move one!
If we follow the advice of Sigmund Tarrasch, then chess beginners and novice chess players are busy learning endgames first and middlegame ideas second. Simple chess endings to more complex examples, then middlegame strategy (pawn structure, weak squares, etc.) and tactics (chess combinations, Kingside attacks, etc.). On this foundation we can build our knowledge about chess openings – and for now we only want an opening “system”, a chess opening to get us safely past the first 12-15 moves.
To be fair, when Tarrasch finally introduces the opening phase of chess he provides a general survey, a little taste, of all the main chess openings. It’s okay to peek ahead and get a feel for what lies ahead, because someday we’ll adopt a few of these standard King’s Pawn or Queen’s Pawn chess openings as our own. But at this point in our career let’s find a simple and universal way to get through the opening of a chess game.
In fact, let’s save study time and find a true “stereotype”, a chess opening we can play with the White and Black pieces both. One obvious example is the King’s Indian:
Depending on what the opponent does we’ll advance our e-pawn or c-pawn two squares, staking a claim in the center. Move order is flexible, so we can play 1…g6 or 1…d6 (as Black) in answer to 1.e4 and still reach the diagrammed position; the Queen’s Knight can also be held back for deployment elsewhere. As White this layout is called the King’s Indian Attack, and as Black it’s the King’s Indian Defense or (after 1.e4) the Pirc/Modern complex, but they’re all clearly related.
Another “automatic” chess opening might be called the “Queen’s Indian” formation:
We can play Nf3, Be2, 0-0 and then push a pawn to c4 or d4 as our center play. Again we have a wide choice of follow-up plans, with a safe and solid position. Here White is playing the “Larsen Attack” and Black the “English Defense” but again the opening concepts have much in common.
It is interesting that both chess opening systems described above can lead to the “Hippopotamus Opening”, in which we redirect our King’s Knight to the e2-square:
We might plan a c-pawn push followed by Qc2, and we’re practically in the middlegame already.
Each of these chess opening “systems” pass muster – that is, we exit the opening quickly and in good order with either White or Black. It must be understood, however, that these chess openings are essentially counter-punching strategies; the enemy is free to grab the chess board’s center while we ponder how to strike back or die. This pleasure is paid for by creeping around on the first three ranks and not attacking or threatening anything. A sophisticated proposition, perhaps, for the beginner or novice at chess. But we are at least getting our chess pieces organized, and can trust to win the game with our superior new skills in middlegame chess strategy and endgame play.
The “universal” chess openings just described, playable for both White and Black, are certainly worth a look. No other plans of development fit the bill, although some chess openings come close. Bird’s Opening with 1.f4 is typical, and can be played with White or Black (the Dutch Defense) equally in all cases – except, that is, when we’re Black and White has played 1.e4 on his first move. Another near miss is 1.Nf3 and 1…Nf6 against anything, which we reject because 1.e4 Nf6 is Alekhine’s Defense and 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 leads to a crush of Grandmaster chess opening theory.
But there is another chess opening that can be played with White or Black, one that offers more piece activity than we’ve seen yet, and one that applies more directly to the “standard” openings we’ll want to learn later. Next time let’s examine ChessCentral’s favorite opening system for beginner and novice chess players!
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Beginners at chess and even Novice chess players are today awash in a flood of books and software programs directed especially at them. New chess players risk drowning in a sea of advice about “courses” to take and “training” to do. In this circumstance even the strongest swimmers looks for a lifeline, so take hold of the following idea.
Don’t waste time on chess openings. It’s common knowledge that Dr. Tarrasch, after teaching the elementary checkmates, would then demonstrate chess endgames. After that came solid grounding in chess strategy and middlegame themes, tactics and piece coordination. Only then was there any discussion of the opening in chess, but only enough to illustrate the concept of rapid and fluid piece development.
We conclude, therefore, that Beginner and Novice chess players ought to look at the opening as something to be gotten past, to be survived in good enough condition to then pound one’s opponent. New chess players need a simple, plain and universal way to begin each chess game, devoting their time instead to tactics, strategy and chess endings. Far better to know the Lucena and Philidor Rook endgame than the latest wrinkle of Sicilian Defense opening theory.
Good. Then how do we do that? Suppose White plays 1.e4 and you have the Black pieces – what “simple system” gets you past the best chess opening move on earth? Or maybe White goes 1.d4 or any of a dozen reasonable first moves; or you get the White pieces yourself and what then? The choices seem limitless, and there’s no way to be ready for everything.
Perhaps not, but let’s find two or three universal chess openings for easy use by beginner and novice chess players. A chess opening “system” that allows us to live long enough to win with our acquired tactical and endgame skill. Next time we’ll offer some concrete examples…and meanwhile keep practicing that Bishop & Knight checkmate!
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Let’s summarize: we now have the best possible Center Game chess database, but there’s no convenient way to sort through these 10 or 11 thousand chess games. To be clear, the assumption all along is that our game collection is in ChessBase format and that we’re using chess software like Fritz to manage these games. Other good software is available, of course, and it’s also quite possible to get as far as we’ve come without spending a dime. Free chess software is readily available; just get on the phone and call the Internet!
Returning to our 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4 Center Game chess database, we know from last time that an Openings Key is a good thing. Lest we miss any chance to exploit the mining metaphore, think of Openings Keys as mine cars on tracks, bringing your gold topside. We’re not going to cover transferring or copying keys from one database to another, or anything very technical at all – the Chess Exchange is available for hard core information of all kinds. It should be pointed out, however, that using Fritz (or the fancier ChessBase program) makes it possible to create an Openings Key from scratch.
That’s exactly what we should do, by the way. We want to know each crag, pocket and drift of our chess mine and building an Openings Key is excellent survey work. Once your key is in place, then you’ve graduated from a tin pan chess prospector to a full-fledged junior producer! Another short series on making your own custom Openings Key is in the offing, but for now let’s take a typical shortcut to jump start operations.
Any commercial chess database worth its salt is going to have a specialized Openings Key already installed. It happens that the Center Game Data Library is available, an unannotated collection costing $7.95 and featuring 3,664 games. Looking closely, we find that this chess database is about 10 years old, but even though we get plenty of chess games not in our brand new collection the main benefit is the chess Openings Key, with its 205 classification positions. This key can be expanded to suit individual needs, as we’ll see in a future series.
At this point, assuming you put your coins on the counter, it’s best to simply copy all the games from the chess database we’ve been creating into the commercial database just purchased. Then once more kill and delete the duplicate chess games, and we find ourselves left with a larger more complete chess database – and the games are sorted into 205 variations! By clicking the “Openings” tab in the Fritz database window we can begin to understand the structure of this old chess opening, what variations are most popular and so forth.
Stay tuned – after a short intermission we’ll backtrack and build our very own chess Openings Key.
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