Tag Archives: chess opening guide

Center control in Chess makes for a forceful attack

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A vivid example on importance of center control in chess showed you the importance of this aspect of chess openings. At the risk of overstressing the point, here we bring another short game played with Sicilian Defense which is supposed to give Black a good fighting chance against White’s King Pawn opening.

We have already discussed about the theory behind one variation of Sicilian opening in Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 1 and showed examples in Chess Opening: Sicilian Defense Theory to Practice about the kind of play that can win for White or Black.

Sicilian Defense is the choice of combative players because Black is playing to create advantage, not just to achieve equality. At the same time, Black must realize that by not directly going for the control of center, he may be allowing White an early initiative. Therefore Black has to play carefully so as not to be swept off his feet by a quick attack before his own thrusts have taken effect.

Just adopting Sicilian Defense without this realization is not going to help Black to get the upper hand. He must be prepared to play aggressively but precisely in line with the theories to snatch the initiative, otherwise it could be a recipe for swift demise! That is what happened in the following game played at Bad Gastein in 1948 and we try to identify where Black went wrong and allowed White his brilliant attack.

Nicolas
Rossolimo

 
Ivan
Romanenko
 
1. e4   Aims to control d5 and f5 and create space for King side initiative
 
1. c5    
 
Shows black’s intention to go for Sicilian Defense.
 
This move apparently violates the principle of controlling the central and semi-central squares as it applies pressure only to d4.
 
Unlike moves like …e5 or …Nc6 which challenge center control or develop minor pieces, …c5 does neither. It also needs some more pawn movements like …d6, …e6, …a6 etc., allowing White a lead in development with attacking chances.
 
Then why go for it?
 
On the positive side, it gives Black

  • space advantage on Queenside and further actions on that flank
  • pawn majority at center by exchanging this pawn with White’s d4 pawn when he advances it to get full control of center
  • control of open c-file after the exchange, using his Queen or Rook in that file to facilitate Queenside counterplay
2. Nf3 Nc6   Moves and countermoves to wrest control of d4 and e5 squares
 
3. Bb5  
 
To quote Al Horowitz, this move was ‘actually an idea of Nimzowitsch, who called it one of his little jokes in the opening’. It was Rossolimo who adopted it many times to achieve remarkable success (as in the present game). That is how this line of Sicilian Defense goes under the name of Nimzowitsch-Rossolimo attack (ECO code: B31)
 
The main purpose is to get a rapid development and a strong center with c3 and d4. The struggle for d4 dictates the tactics for both sides and Black must be ready to capture on d4, else White gets great lead in development.
 
3. g6   Black is getting ready to develop his KB to g7 and to apply pressure on d4 and e5 squares.
 
White’s usual intention is to play Bxc6, giving Black doubled pawns. Black’s major responses are 3…g6 preparing …Bg7, 3…d6 preparing …Bd7, and 3…e6 preparing 4…Nge7.
 
4. 0-0 Bg7   White safeguards his King and wants to use KR as part of his attacking plans. Black of course carries on with his development plans.
 
Position after 4 moves
rossolimo_variation1
 
5. Re1   Normal continuation is 5. c3 Qb6 with a struggle for control of d4. The text move was introduced by Gurgenidze for expected line of play along 5. Re1 e5 6. b4
 
5. Nf6   This changes track from control of d4 to attacking e4 pawn and exposed the Knight to an early attack.
 
6. Nc3   White develops his Knight to support his QP as also his KB and adds to the control of d5
 
6. Nd4  
 
In keeping with the strategy discussed against move 3, Black should have gone for 6. … e5 followed later by …Qb6. Other alternatives would be 6 … d6 to enable …Bd7 or to safeguard his King (because of the distant and not so distant pins by White’s Bishop and Rook) by …0-0. The text move was not consistent with any of these ideas and hence a questionable move.
 
7. e5 Ng8   Black’s inhibited play and inconsistencies allow White considerable space in center with tempo through attacks on enemy pieces.
 
8. d3 Nxb5   See how Black is surrendering all initiative to White. While White opens lines for his QB, Black’s QB is still locked in and his King’s Knight has retreated and blocked castling for his King. His center pawns remain immobile. The exchange of Knight and Bishop was originally the intention of White’s 3rd move to reduce Black’s control on d4 and e5. Without being forced, Black Knight has taken the trouble of wasting several moves to give White what he wanted!
 
9. Nxb5 a6   Another questionable move by Black. As subsequent moves show, White’s QN was headed for d6 square, Black’s move just assisted it in taking that step!
 
One of the basic tenets in chess is that you should not force a badly placed enemy piece to move to a better square. By extension of the logic, do not induce your opponent to take a move that he was ready to take. Both these lose tempo for you as you could use that time to make more profitable moves for your own pieces.
 
Position after 9 moves
rossolimo_variation2
 
10. Nd6+! exd6?   White knew that the capture of his Knight would give him a fierce attacking opportunity and so his move was an excellent idea. But Black still fell for it, making a bad situation really worse by exposing his King to the possibility of a discovered check. After this, White’s attack through a brilliant combination simply rolls on.
 
11. Bg5!  
 
White has timed his moves to perfection! He held back the discovered check to first drive away the Queen which could come to some help against what White planned. With an immediate discovered check, Black would be able to extricate himself with Ne7.
 
There is a couple of important lessons here. Firstly, you can sometimes get out of a difficult situation by returning the material that was sacrificed by your opponent to gain an attack. By doing this, you are still even on material, but the opponent’s attack may fizzle out. Trying to hold on to the material only adds to your difficulties.
 
Secondly, you need not be in a hurry to execute a move which is there for the taking when you can make some other move that compels your opponent to attend to it first. All good players know this maxim of looking for a better move when a good move has been found.
 
The text move by White takes care of both these possibilities.
 
11. Qa5   11. … Qb6 would not be any better.
 
12. exd6+ Kf8  
 
At this stage, White’s win was only a matter of time and most players would possibly go for the simple 13. Qe2 with one likely line as:
 
13. Qe2 Bf6 14. Qe8+ Kg7 15. Ne5 (threatening 16. Qxf7#) Bxg5 16. Qxf7+ Kh6 17. Qf8+ Kh5 18. g4+ Kh4 19. Qf3 (threatening 20. Qg3#) Bf4 20.Qxf4 Nf6 (or Qb4) 21. Nf3+ Kh3 22. Qg3#
 
But White found a more elegant line.
 
Position after 12 moves
rossolimo_variation3
 
13. Re8+! Kxe8  
14. Qe2+ Kf8  
15. Be7+ Ke8   15. … Nxe7 16. Qxe7+ Kg8 17. Ng5 with Qf7# to follow
 
Position after 15 moves
rossolimo_variation4
 
16. Bd8+! Kxd8  
17. Ng5 Resigns   It is either 18. Nf7# or 17. … Nh6 18. Qe7#
 
The final position:
rossolimo_variation5

 

Chess Opening: Sicilian Defense Theory to Practice

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In Chess Opening: Queen’s Gambit Theory to Practice and Chess Opening: Nimzo-Indian Defense Theory to Practice, you have seen that starting with the basic theory of the respective openings discussed in Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 3 and Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 2, how some actual games proceeded to bring win to White as well as Black. The idea was to enable you to look carefully at the moves by the players to understand where White or Black went wrong in following the rules of chess strategy as well as chess tactics, which handed over the game to their opponents.

In continuation of the same theme for developing your comprehension about the opening theories, we now take up two games using Sicilian Defense that was discussed in Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 1. Here also, White wins one game and Black wins the other within practically the same number of moves. None of the players may be known to you but all had ELO ratings in 2300-2600 range.

Since you have seen the first five moves of Sicilian Defense Najdorf variation in Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 1, here we start with move 6 in both the games (ECO code: B95)

Borek Bernard-Tomas Civin
Prague, 2003
  Leonid Milov-Robert Ruck
Griesheim, 2002

 
6. Bg5 e6     6. Bg5 e6  
 
Position after move 6   Position after move 6
 
sicilian1   sicilian1
 
7. Qf3 Nbd7     7. Qf3 h6  
8. 0-0-0 Qc7 Had 5. … a6 not been played, White Knights would be able to move to b5 to harass the Black Queen.   8. Bh4 Nbd7  
9. Qh3 Nc5     9. 0-0-0 Qc7  
10. Bxf6 gxf6     10. Qh3 Be7  
 
Position after 10 moves   Position after 10 moves
 
sicilian2   sicilian3
 
You may note that White’s position is nearly identical in both games, but Black’s position looks cramped in both, though more solid in game 2.
 
11. Be2 b5     11. f4 b5  
12. a3 Rb8     12. a3 Rb8  
13. b4 Nb7     13. e5 dxe5  
14. Bh5 Nd8     14. fxe5 Nxe5  
15. Rhe1 Bd7     15. Bg3 b4  
 
Position after 15 moves   Position after 15 moves
 
sicilian4
 
  sicilian5
16. Nd5! exd5     16. axb4 Rxb4  
17. exd5+ Be7     17. Nf3 Nfg4  
18. Rxe7+ Kxe7     18. Qh5 Bf6  
19. Qe3+ Ne6     19. Re1 g6  
 
Position after 19 moves   Position after 19 moves
 
sicilian6   sicilian7
 
20. Bxf7 Kxf7     20. Nd5 exd5  
21. dxe6+ Kg7     21. Nxe5 0-0!  
22. Nf5+ Kg6     22. Nxg4 Bxb2+  
23. Rd5 Resigns   White was threatening 24. Qh6#
 
23. … h6 24. Qg3+ Kh2 (24. … Kh5 25. Ng7#) 25. Qg7#
 
23. … Bxe6 24. Qh6+ Kf7 25. Qg7+ Ke8 26. Qxc7 (threatening 27. Qe7#) Bxf5 27. Qxb8+ Kf7 28. Qxh8 etc.
 
White missed a quicker win by:
23. Qh6+ Kxf5 24. Qh5+ Ke4 (24. … Kxe6 25. Re1# or 24. … Kf4 Rd4#) 25. Qd5+ Kf4 26. Rd4#
 
  23. Kd1 Rd4+   White Resigned.
After 24. Ke2 Qxc2+ 25. Ke3 Qd2+ 26. Kf3 Bxg4+ 27. Qxg4 Rxg4 28. Kxg4 Qg5+ 29. Kf3 (29. Kh3 Qf5+ 30. Kh4 Bf6#) Qh5+ etc. with checkmate only a matter of time.
The final position   The final position
 
sicilian8   sicilian9

 

Chess Openings: the most popular ones

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As all chess games start with a first move by White and then Black has to decide on his response. It is not surprising that the most common questions from beginners are related to the openings they should adopt when playing as White and the appropriate responses when playing as Black.

In 10 steps to raise your game, we discussed about the general issues that should be considered in taking such decision. You should also be familiar with the principles of good chess strategies as the opening moves lay the foundation of the kind of game you are likely to have with its advantages and disadvantages.

All chess openings aim to achieve certain strategic targets as have been discussed in Chess
Strategy and Chess Tactics in a nutshell
as also in Classical Opening Principles in Chess. But as your opponent also has his targets which will try to nullify yours, it is not possible to achieve all the ideal strategic goals unless your opponent is playing badly! Normally, you gain advantages in some areas while conceding some to your opponent. The theoretical ideas behind the openings from both White’s and Black’s sides try to balance these gains and losses.

When playing as White, you will naturally try to play the opening moves that give you a decided advantage. But if your opponent is as good as you are, he will obviously not allow you to follow those lines and choose his moves to take you to areas that give him at least equality at the end of the opening phase. So whatever you may adopt as the opening of your choice, learn the underlying ideas and play to fulfill those to the extent possible. The same goes for you playing as Black in preparing the responses against White’s moves.

After saying all these, we are now giving a list of the most popular opening moves by White and corresponding responses by Black as per the basic data available at Wikipedia but spread over its different pages. What we have done is to make a gist by combining those data to give you a kind of ready reckoner for the most popular combination of first moves by White and Black and the ECO codes that relate to those first moves. We have included only those first moves which are estimated to occur in at least 2% of the games used by Wikipedia to prepare the statistical data. It appears that the following set of first moves cover 86% of the games.

White’s 1st move Black’s response Frequency ECO codes Nature of Game
e4 c5 18% B20-B99 Semi-open
e4 e5 11% C20-C99 Open
e4 e6 6% C00-C19 Semi-open
e4 c6 3% B10-B19 Semi-open
e4 d6 2% B07-B09 Semi-open
e4 d5 2% B01 Semi-open
d4 Nf6 20% A45-A79, D70-D99, E00-E99 Semi-closed
d4 d5 10% D00-D69 Closed
d4 e6 2% D31-D49 Semi-closed
Nf3 Nf6 5% A05 Flank opening
Nf3 d5 3% A06-A09 Flank opening
c4 Nf6 2% A15-A19 Flank opening
c4 e5 2% A21-A29 Flank opening

 

You can understand that after these first moves, the subsequent moves can take you to a wide variety of openings as apparent from the number of ECO codes shown against each set of first moves. The nature of game that may arise is only a broad indication. From the applicable ECO codes, you may choose one or several lines of play that most suit your personal preferences.

 

Ruy Lopez opening Basic Moves

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rulopez

One of the oldest chess openings is the Ruy Lopez opening. Also referred to as a Spanish Game, the Ruy Lopez opening is a very complicated opening and is usually more favorable to the person using white pieces in the initial stages, as the developments and plots can cramp the movement of some black pieces either temporarily or permanently. If one can learn and gain mastery over this Spanish opening, then he or she can develop as a very good chess player.

Without going more in to the other trivia of Ruy Lopez opening, let me go ahead and discuss the very basic moves of this very fascinating opening.

The Ruy Lopez opening is part of the open games, where the first move from White would be the king pawn moving two squares to “e4” in an effort to have control over the central part of the game – the important 4 central squares, e4, e5, d4 and d5. The black responds with the similar move to “e5” in an effort to gain a fair share of the central field.

In response to black’s move to have a fair control over the centre, White opens up the kingside knight to f3, or simply Nf3, attacking the black pawn at e5 seeing that there is no support for the black pawn at e5.

The black, visualizing threat for his king pawn at e5, which is immobile due to block at the front and no pieces to capture on the diagonals, offers to support the pawn at e5 by placing the Queenside knight at c6, or simply Nc6.

Now, White tries to put pressure on Black’s queen side knight placed at c6 by moving its kingside bishop, or White bishop from “f1” to “b5” – written as Bb5 in chess notation. The primary idea of the White in this move is to force the Black’s knight to move away from that place so that the White Knight at “f3” can attack the Black pawn at “e5”.

However, this is not the only intention of the White. There is one more motive or indirect pressure on Black. Can you visualize that?

The pawn in front of the Black Queen, which is at “d7”, cannot be moved before the threat from the White bishop at “b5” is averted. If, per chance, the pawn in front of the Black queen, or simply queen pawn, is moved a square up to “d6” to offer support to the king pawn at “e5”, then the queen knight will become a pinned piece for the Black King.

The above-mentioned five moves are the very basic moves, which can be categorized under the general Ruy Lopez opening in chess parlance. The black has many alternative means to counter the moves by either counterattacking the White Bishop or attacking the white pawn in “e4”. Each of those moves are categorized under different variations leading to a fascinating middle game that calls for strategical planning by both the players.

In Chess Opening basics: Ruy Lopez, some more steps beyond the basic moves have been shown for Classical Variation of Closed Defense, explaining the moves step by step graphically.

Classical Opening Principles in Chess

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chess-opening-principles

The game of Chess, said to have been invented as early as 600 A.D. in India, is said to have been characterized by attacks against the enemy King. Nevertheless, since the popularization of the game since the past 3 centuries, a number of principles have been evolved by the erstwhile masters of the game, which have been tried and tested over a prolonged period.

One of such principles related to the opening moves of a chess game, initiated and advocated by Francois-Andre Philidor in the year 1749. Unfortunately, the importance of the principles of Philidor was realized much later than he expired, in the nineteenth century, and is commonly referred to as Classical Opening Principles of Chess.

Philidor moved away from the general notion of attacking the enemy king at every possible opportunity in the game of chess. Philidor insisted that the attacks should be more properly planned and executed to win over the enemy. He also laid emphasis on minor objectives in the game. You may have known by now that the major objective of chess game is to attack the enemy king. Philidor emphasized that apart from the major objective, minor objectives such as conquering the centre from the enemy and controlling the conquered centre, should be pursued as part of the development of the game. With this concept getting popular among the chess players, the art of defending against attacks gained more prominence and the games challenge and fascination was taken to a new level.

Without dwelling more on Philidor, let me explain the classical opening principles.

Well, the centre of the chessboard refers to the four vital squares in the central part – the four squares commonly referred to as e4, e5, d4 and d5.

The four major aspects of Classical Opening Principles are —

  • Centralization
  • Quick Development
  • Early castling
  • Knights before Bishops

Centralization: The most important part in the chessboard is the centre. It is but obvious that pieces placed in the centre attack more squares than those positioned on either sides of the board. For example, a knight placed in “d4” can effectively attack eight squares. Do you know what they are? They are c2, b3, b5, c6, e6, f5, f3, and e2. Assuming that the same knight is not in d4, but in h1 – then the knight can attack only two squares – f2 and g3.

If you do not control or possess a fair share of the centre, then it might be difficult to maneuver pieces from one side of the board to the other side of the board.

Quick Development: The second important part of Classical Opening Principles is Quick Development. You might know that pawns are of the lowest cadre. The minor pieces such as bishops and knights are the next cadre. The Queen and the rooks are the major pieces in the chessboard while the ultimate superior is the King.

According to classical principles, developing minor pieces is considered important before developing major pieces such as rooks and the queen. It should be ensured that pawn movements are restricted to the minimum. The knights can jump over other pieces in the board and as such, pawn movement is not necessary for developing the knights. If you open up the pawns in front of the King and the Queen, then the two bishops are opened up, and so are the Queen and the King.

Early castling: Castling, as you all know, is one of the special moves in chess, where the king is allowed to move two squares in a single move. In addition, two pieces are moved in a single move, the King and the Rook.

The two rooks are in the two corners. In line with the concept of quick development, both the minor pieces such as bishops and knights can be moved out after the pawns in front of the queen and the king are opened. Now there will be no pieces in between the King and the Rook at the kingside, while queen will be there in the queenside. You can take up castling on the kingside, thereby opening up the rook to combine with the Queen and the other rook. In addition, the King in the first row will be guarded by the Queen and two rooks.

Knights before Bishop: Another part of the classical opening principles is to move the knights before the bishop. As already stated, the knights can be moved without waiting for the pawns to leave way, as they are capable of jumping over pieces lying in between the original square and the destination square of the knight. As such, it is suggested that knights are moved into the front before opening up the bishops.

These classical opening principles, if employed effectively, can open up to fascinating contests in the middle game, as the art of defense and attack needs to be mastered to enhance the level of knowledge in the game of chess.