Sunday, January 5, 2020


In the beginning there was nothing. And then Paul Rudolf von Bilguer said: "So let there be opening-theory!" And there was opening-theory: And that happened on the first day and von Bilguer rested, as he was worth it.
The second day he said: "White will open with 1.e4 or 1.d4 and black will have to think about his reply." That was the second day.
The 3rd day he stated: "Black will answer 1.e4 with e5 or c5. D4 he will answer with d5 or Nc6:" That was quite something for the third day.
On the fourth day von Bilguer got excited about 1.e4 e5. These will be called the "open games" as the other openings I will call them "closed games": White should answer preferably with 2.Nf3 and black has the reply 2...Nc6"
On the fifth day von Bilguer worked less and only made the discovery that after 1.d4 d5 or 1...Nf6 white's strongest move is c4.
On the sixth day Paul did some detailed analysis of only the Prussian opening.
On the seventh day von Bilguer was tired and said:" so now let von der Lasa fill in the remaining pieces of the theory".

The opening-theory has grown historically as people like von Bilguer considered it interesting, to learn from the best players how they start their games. Despite the strongest players knew how to play good moves in the opening (see for this the excellent enjoyable "Chess Secrets I learned from the Masters of Ed Lasker"), there was also a lot of personal flavor added. Often they got away with some silly ideas as they were strategically or tactically much better than "non-masters". Steinitz for example often chose some cramped positions but his opponents often didn't find any good plan to profit from it.

Was opening-theory in the beginning something simple, just a way to reach a certain middlegame, then it grew continuously till a monster in chess. People looking at games from the previous century see a very limited repertoire (Spanish, Queensgambit) which were ruling the top-tournaments. It doesn't mean there were no experiments with weird openings - the Budapest-gambit dates from around 1916, and was explored by Abonyi, Barasz and Breyer (indeed, the guy from the big Spanish opening-variant), which also explains the name. The white counterpart of the BDG, the Tennison-gambit was already played before 1900.

This crossroad remained: "real" players play mainlines but at the lower levels you will find many passionate players choosing their own creations. We think about Otto Tennison, Hugh Myers, Stefan Bücker, Gerard Welling, Blackmar and Diemer, Smith and Morra, Maurits Wind (breeze), Michael Basman Van Geet, …

But gradually the ideas are infiltrating from one side to the other side. Just think about the game Karpov - Miles, in which the Englishman won with 1...a6. Or the Benko-gambit, which was originally also just a wild idea from 1 single player. And recently Alpha Zero made a number of shocking discoveries for our game. The move h2-h4 was in the years 80 a very common move in ... games between engines, because the algorithms tried to give the rooks activity already early in the middle-game. More wasn't accomplished - the engine was "happy" that the rooks had more squares. Recently Alpha Zero demonstrated that the pawn can be used as battering ram to make weaknesses on the long term in the position of the enemy.

Everything is playable, there are many examples (e.g. weird opening-moves). Recently I saw at Quality Chess the book playing the Najdorf by David_Vigorito. It seems a fine book based on the excerpt which you can download on the site. I immediately noticed his recommendation against the English attack: after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 h5! There he is: the Alpha Zero move. Now, it is not illogical as white wants to play g2-g4 so black avoids it with h7-h5. Didn't think anybody else about this move before? That is not the case as already in "The English Attack" of the Firmian and Fedorowicz (Batsford, 2004) this move is mentioned, just only in a different position but with the same goal.   

That reminds me also about another little move a3 in the Pirc. Often the Austrian attack starts with : 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4 Bg7 5. Nf3 c5 6.dxc5 Qa5 and black wins back the pawn. The idea behind a3 in those type of positions is to be able to respond with b4 and black can forget about winning back his pawn.

So everything is playable - and opening-theory becomes redundant? Not completely of course, there are always better and less strong moves. But that is another crossroad in chess: scientific ("most correct chess") against sportive ("most result efficient chess") versus artistic ("the most beautiful chess"). Brabo is an adept of the scientific approach and that is his good right. But players like Lasker and Kortchnoi always tried to play against the opponent - and often tried to provoke just to avoid a draw. It does't mean you will always be successful by using some crazy idea (just think about the game Twyble-Sugden, the ultimate Van Geet game). But it does question too much focus on the opening-theory. Finally chess is a game about flexibility and solidness (make sure you have options) as knowing a lot of theory doesn't guarantee any success if your opponent decides with his 4x4 after move 5 to enter high pastures.

About that we should thank Carlsen as he brought chess back from the Kasparov-highway to the meadow of Carlsen. Kasparov played chess based on memorizing long lines combined with his tactical skills. Carlsen returned the game to the basics: a battle from opening till endgame in which you are tested in all aspects of the game also the physical part of the 6th hour. 

Another topic which Brabo touched is to be critical about exotic openings: engines are nowadays starting to refute openings like the Grob (and likely also Sokolsky, the Vulture, the Borg).  

Do I have a game to illustrate this article? Let me see... some years ago there existed a computer which defeated everybody in blitz with the moves 1.e3 2.Ke2 3.Kf3 4.g3 5.Kg2, but even those jokers stopped with it. Even Chessbase was fooled (the third coming of bobby fischer)… but it nicely proves my point. Nakamura also once opened a serious game against Sasikirian with 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 (and lost, see Danvers Opening).   

So as a tribute to the crazy side of chess, see below how Kasparov "made" a draw against 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 played by Hollywoodster Woody Harrelson (source: hans48)

[Event "Praag exhibition"] [Site "?"] [Date "1999"] [Round "?"] [White "Harrelson, Woody"] [Black "Kasparov, Gary"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C20"] [PlyCount "60"] 1. e4 e5 2. Qh5 Nc6 3. Bc4 Qe7 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Qh4 d6 6. d3 h6 7. h3 Be6 8. Nc3 Bxc4 9. dxc4 Nd4 10. Nxd4 exd4 11. Ne2 c5 12. f3 d5 13. cxd5 Nxd5 14. Qxe7+ Nxe7 15. Bd2 O-O-O 16. O-O-O g6 17. Nf4 Bg7 18. c4 dxc3 19. Bxc3 Bxc3 20. bxc3 b6 21. c4 Nc6 22. Kb2 Rhe8 23. Rxd8+ Rxd8 24. Nd5 h5 25. a4 Kd7 26. Kc3 Ke6 27. f4 Nd4 28. Rd1 Ne2+ 29. Kc2 Nd4+ 30. Kc3 Ne2+ 1/2-1/2


1 comment:

  1. My brother was an adequate player, and he always said that to play a really offbeat opening move against a good player who wasn’t familiar with your own capabilities created maximum confusion. It makes your opponent think, “What is he trying to do? Is this an opening game I haven’t come across? Is this guy some kind of chess genius? “ Makes for some fun games.