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Chess Openings For Dummies

Chess Openings For Dummies

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Chess Openings For Dummies

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Jul 8, 2010


Improve your chess game the fast and easy way

You never get a second chance to make a first impression?especially in the game of chess! Chess Openings For Dummies gives you tips and techniques for analyzing openings and strategies for winning chess games from the very first move you make!

This friendly, helpful guide provides you with easy-to-follow and step-by-step instructions on the top opening chess strategies and gives you the tools you need to develop your own line of attack from the very start.

  • Includes illustrations to help ensure victory
  • Equips you with the tools and strategies to plan a winning strategy
  • Also serves as a valuable resource for curriculums that use chess as a learning tool

Whether you?re a veteran or novice chess player, Chess Openings For Dummies is the ultimate guide to getting a grip on the openings and variants that will ensure you have all the right moves to open and win any chess game.

Jul 8, 2010

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Chess Openings For Dummies - James Eade


Part I

Principles of Play

In this part . . .

This part helps you understand what a chess opening is. First, I explain the various types of openings. Then I describe the style of play that’s suited to each type of opening and provide a general overview of the principles of play in the opening phase of a chess game.

This part gives you the ammunition you need to understand specific opening strategies employed in different types of games. It helps you zero in on the opening that’s right for you.

Chapter 1

Understanding Chess Openings

In This Chapter

Understanding what a chess opening is

Choosing openings that fit your playing style

Getting familiar with chess notation

Chess is typically divided into three phases: the opening, the middlegame, and the endgame. Although the exact point of transition from one phase to another can sometimes be ambiguous, each phase of the game has properties that distinguish it from the others. The opening phase of the game is all about mobilizing your forces as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

In this chapter, I explain how you know when an opening has been established. I also ask you to sit back and think about your style of play, because how you play the game helps determine what type of openings you favor. Finally, I include a quick review of basic chess notation.

Identifying a Chess Opening

The first phase of a chess game is called the opening. Players concentrate on the rapid mobilization of their forces during this phase of the game.

In the following sections, I explain what makes an opening an opening, and I show you how one move turns into an opening.

Distinguishing the opening from an opening

In chess, opening can mean two different but related things, and it all depends on whether the or an comes before opening.

The phrase the opening refers to the phase of the game when you get your pieces (by pieces, I’m referring to the rooks, bishops, knights, queen, and king — basically, everything but the pawns) off the back rank and reposition them where they can do the most good. (The other phases of the game are the middlegame and the endgame.)

The phrase an opening refers to a specific sequence of moves. When a move or a specific sequence of moves, by pawns and/or pieces, is given a name, you have yourself a chess opening. These openings are what I cover throughout this book.

There are many, many chess openings. Some are named after players. Some are named after locations. But to be considered an opening, for the purposes of this book, a sequence of moves has to have a name. (I cover chess naming conventions, which are frequently a source of head-shaking, in Chapter 3.)

Chess players and scholars generally agree on what to call a particular opening, but sometimes it depends on where you are. For example, the Ruy López, which I cover in Chapter 7, is called the Spanish Opening in some parts of the world. Throughout this book, I refer to the generally accepted opening names as they’re used in the United States.

Seeing how a move turns into an opening

Openings are defined and categorized by their pawn structure and piece placement. Although the pawns may not appear to have a lot of power when you’re in the thick of a game, at the start of the game, they open lines for your pieces to take advantage of.

The most frequently played opening move is 1.e4 because it does the most to help you develop your pieces (or move the pieces off of their starting position). However, the move 1.e4 is not considered an opening (see Figure 1-1).

Figure 1-1: An opening move, but not an opening.

Ranks, files, and diagonals are collectively referred to as lines. The move 1.e4 opens a line for both the queen and the bishop. They’re now free to move off of their starting positions.

If Black responds to the move 1.e4 with 1.…e5, you have a position that can be classified as a double king pawn, which is a type of opening known as an open game. (I cover the variety of chess opening types in Chapter 3.) But these opening moves are not yet an opening, because they don’t have a name.

If now, however, White continues with 2.Bc4, you have yourself a named opening! This position is called the Bishop’s Opening, which I cover in Chapter 5 (see Figure 1-2).

Figure 1-2: The Bishop’s Opening.

Watching an opening transform right before your eyes

According to Wikipedia, The Oxford Companion to Chess lists 1,327 named chess openings and variations. A variation is an alternate line of play within a particular opening.

It’s also possible to arrive at a particular opening or variation by different move orders, or to start out in one opening and end up in another, which is called transposing. Many opening systems offer the possibility of transposing from one opening into another, and top-notch players use this possibility to keep their opponents guessing.

It’s not so much the exact sequence of moves that matters, but the position you arrive at. As long as you understand the general ideas behind that position, you’ll be able to navigate through the maze of possibilities at your disposal.

Finding an Opening That’s Right for You

People have different styles of play when it comes to chess. Your style doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how you behave in real life. You may be shy and retiring in your everyday encounters but a real tiger when it comes to chess, or vice versa.

I first became serious about chess when Bobby Fischer challenged Boris Spassky for the World Championship in 1972. I had suffered a skiing injury and spent some of my enforced downtime with a chess book that featured a lot of Nimzo-Indian Defenses (see Chapter 16) and French Defenses (see Chapter 10). They became the openings that I chose to play in tournaments.

I noticed, however, that the majority of players in those tournaments played Sicilian Defenses (see Chapter 9) and King’s Indian Defenses (see Chapter 17). It became clear to me that this was because Fischer played those openings. Fischer was a trendsetter.

But what about you? Do you want to play something that’s in fashion now, or do you want to go your own way? Out of all the available openings that exist in chess, which ones are right for you?

There is no right or wrong chess style. Two great players became World Champions in the 1960s, and their styles could not have been more different. Mikhail Tal (1936–1992) became World Champion in 1960 and was one of the fiercest attacking players of all time. On the other side of the ledger was Tigran Petrosian (1929–1984), who became World Champion in 1963. He was a staunch defender who was extremely difficult to beat.

Ask yourself what appeals to you the most about chess. Do you always want to be the aggressor and go on the attack at all costs? Check out the openings in Chapter 4. They may be right up your alley.

The different openings can be grouped together by type, as I explain in more detail in Chapter 3. In general terms, openings that feature open lines and easy piece development are grouped together in Part II of this book. Openings with closed lines and more limited piece mobility are grouped together in Part IV.

You may already know what type of player you are, and the organization of this book will steer you toward the type of opening that suits you best. If you don’t know what type of chess player you are, browse through openings from each type and see which one appeals to you the most.

Chess fashion sense

A chess opening can become popular simply because a famous player uses it. Another opening can become unpopular if a move is discovered that seems to give the advantage to one player over the other. Openings can be rehabilitated, too — sometimes, even newer moves are discovered that change the evaluation yet again.

Chess openings have been exposed to enormous scrutiny, but there still are no final answers as to which variations are best. I always felt that the latest and greatest wasn’t for me. I wanted to play something I understood, and it was fine by me if it wasn’t popular with other players. Play what you like, and don’t worry about chess fashion.

After you figure out the type of opening you like, take a closer look at some of the specific openings in that section. You’ll find games where White’s strategy succeeds and games where Black’s strategy comes out on top. If you feel an intuitive attraction to any particular opening, pay attention to that feeling!

If an opening seems too complicated, or if it just doesn’t feel right to you, keep looking. Matching the right opening to your style of play makes you a better player, and it guarantees you more playing pleasure in the long run.

Reviewing Chess Shorthand

Throughout this book, I use game scores from notable games to explain how an opening influenced the outcome of a match. These game scores use standard chess notation. Unless you’re a chess novice, you’re probably familiar with chess shorthand, but I include the main points in the following sections just in case you need a quick refresher.

Describing the board and pieces

Chess players use an alpha-numerical system to record chess moves. Each file (column) is given a letter from a to h. Each rank (row) is given a number from 1 to 8 (see Figure 1-3). So the lower left-hand square is a1, the upper right-hand square is h8, and so on.

Figure 1-3: Each square can be referenced by its coordinates.

The pieces are described as follows (note that capital letters are used to distinguish these abbreviations from the letters that describe the files):

If the only designation is a square, such as 1.e4, that implies a pawn move. If on White’s second move the bishop moves in front of the king, it would be written as 2.Be2. If you’re not comfortable with chess notation, find someone who is, and ask the person to explain it to you. It’s much easier than it looks!

Describing the action

Chess is an action-packed game. Those who’ve played enough often comment on whether a move is good, bad, or fatal when writing about a game. The following chess symbols are the shorthand for conveying these ideas:

If the only designation is a square, such as 1.e4, that implies a pawn move. If on White’s second move the bishop moves in front of the king, it would be written as 2.Be2. If you’re not comfortable with chess notation, find someone who is, and ask the person to explain it to you. It’s much easier than it looks!

Chapter 2

Exploring the Elements of Chess

In This Chapter

Increasing the mobility of your pieces

Gaining an advantage in space

Winning the battle for material

Examining some common pawn structures

Making sure the king is secure

Chess openings may seem to veer off in a million different directions, but they all share certain fundamental characteristics: time, space, material, pawn structure, and king safety.

Army generals know that getting their forces someplace fast can be more important than the magnitude of the force itself. They know that if they have more room to maneuver, they may be able to outflank the opposition. These military teachings apply to the game of chess as well. In this chapter, I break down the fundamental elements of the game and help you understand how you can use these concepts to your advantage and to avoid mistakes.

Every rule has an exception, and most rules are really only guidelines meant to steer you very generally in the right direction. However, you better have a good reason for violating the basic principles of chess openings, or you may find yourself wishing that you hadn’t.

Getting Time on Your Side

The element of time in chess is called development. Development doesn’t refer to the speed at which the game is played, or how long it takes to complete a game. It refers to how quickly and effectively you deploy your forces. Each side takes a turn making a move, and each turn is important. You want to spend this time increasing the mobility of your pieces. A move that increases their mobility is called a developing move.

The power of the pieces is tied to their mobility. The player who develops his pieces to effective squares most efficiently has more power to command. If you make a move that doesn’t increase your mobility, you may be wasting time. Because White has the first move, White starts out with a slight advantage in time.

Here are some points to keep in mind to maximize your mobility:

Make only as many pawn moves as are necessary to get your pieces out.

Move your knights toward the center.

Put your pieces on active squares that are also safe from enemy attack.

Avoid moving one or two pieces multiple times. Get everyone into the act.

Chess players use the Italian word tempo to refer to a single unit of time. They speak of winning or losing a tempo, meaning that they’ve either gained or lost time. Winning a tempo is like getting a free move, and losing a tempo is like giving your opponent an extra turn.

In the Scandinavian Defense, Black eliminates White’s center pawn, but at the cost of a tempo following the moves 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3. White develops the knight to c3, where it attacks the Black queen on d5. The queen must move for a second time, and White gains a tempo (see Figure 2-1).

Figure 2-1: Black’s queen is under attack and must move again.

When Spacing Out Is Good

In many ways, chess is a game of spatial conquest. All things being equal, the player who controls the most space controls the game. In the opening, the quest for space usually involves a fight for the center (see Figure 2-2).

Figure 2-2: The four center squares are the key to controlling space.

If you gain an advantage in space, you have more freedom of movement for your pieces. Most pieces gain more mobility when you move them toward the center, which is called centralization. A knight, for example, has significantly less mobility on the edge of the board than it does in the center. (See Figure 2-3 and Figure 2-4.)

Figure 2-3: A knight on the edge of the board attacks only two squares.

Figure 2-4: A knight in the center attacks eight squares.

The most popular opening move is 1.e4. It opens a line for the queen and the light-squared bishop, but it also grabs space (see Figure 2-5).

Figure 2-5: White is now attacking squares on Black’s side of the board.

The most common opening strategy is to use the center pawns and minor pieces (the bishops and knights) to control the four center squares. If these pieces are centralized and your opponent’s pieces are not, you’ll generally have more space, which means more mobility and more power.

Here are some other points to keep in mind regarding space:

Control the center prior to initiating attacks on the wing.

Avoid locking your bishops behind your own pawns.

If you have less space, try to exchange pieces of equal value.

If your opponent launches a flank attack, strike back in the center.

Keep the king away from the center until the endgame.

Making the Most of Your Material

The collective force of the pieces is referred to as material. Not all material is created equal, however. Some pieces are more mobile than others. The more mobile a piece is, the more powerful it is. The queen has the most mobility and is the strongest piece on the board. Table 2-1 shows the relative value of the pieces. The table doesn’t include the king, because there’s no way to value the king — its loss means the game is over!

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