Friday, September 28, 2012

Opening Principles

Prospect opened the 2012-2013 season yesterday with a 44.5-23.5 victory over Rolling Meadows

Our fifth board asked me to comment on his opening play so I'll start with some basic opening principles.  The three main goals in the opening are (1) activating forces, i.e., development, (2) controlling the center, and (3) finding a safe place for the king, usually by castling.   As important as it is for a player to achieve these goals, he should never forget that his opponent has the exact same goals and he should always be on the lookout for moves that hinder his opponent in achieving his goals.

The game began 1.e4 d5.

This is known as the Scandanavian Defense.  It is not terribly popular among masters, but it is a sound response to 1.e4.  White then played 2.Nc3?!.

This move does two good things: (1) it develops a piece and (2) it protects the pawn on e4.  It has one big drawback though:  the White knight is not secure on c3.  This gives Black the opportunity to play a move that not only furthers his own opening goals, but also hinders White's, 2...d4!  drives away the White knight and gives Black more space in the center.  A perfectly natural sequence might be 2...d4 3.Nce2 Nc6 4.Nf3 e5.

Although White has moved two knights and Black has only moved one, I would assess Black's development as better at this point because he has good spots immediately available for all his minor pieces whereas neither of White's bishops can move yet.   The point to remember is that a move that achieves an opening goal may be good, but one that achieves that goal while hindering the opposition from achieving his goal is even better.  A move that doesn't achieve any opening goals may even be good if it forces the opposition to use several moves to achieve his.

Instead of 2...d4!, Black played 2...Nf6?!, which suffers the same drawbacks as 2.Nc3.

However, White did not take advantage of the opportunity to gain time and space with 3.e5 and instead played.  3.Bd3?

This is a move that I hate to see, a player using his bishop to protect one of his central pawns before the other central pawn had moved.  The reasons I hate this are because it has a bishop doing a job that could be just as well done by a pawn and it hinders the development of the other bishop.  There is rarely a good reason to develop a bishop this way.  In this particular position, it's not a terrible blunder, but it's awkward.  A reasonable response might have been 3...dxe4 4.Bxe4 Nxe4 5.Nxe4 Nc6.

The players are equally developed and have about the same control of the center but Black has the two bishops in an open position which is a slight advantage.  Instead, the game went 3...e5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.0-0 Bc5 6.exd5 Nxd5 7.Be4 Be6.

At this point, I would call the position fairly even.  Black has followed sound opening principles in his development, but he has neglected the opportunity to hinder his opponent's pursuit of his opening goals.

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