Tag Archives: Openings

Learn Chess in 40 Hours

Great for adult novices

Things are tough for the older player who has taken an interest in chess: most books are either written for children or for experienced tournament competitors.

Learn Chess in 40 HoursGM Rudolf Teschner (1922-2006) gave this forgotten crowd much help with his well-structured course Learn Chess in 40 Hours: A Self-tutor for Beginners and Advanced Players. It was originally published in 1993, but re-issued in 2004 by Edition Olms.

As I’ve said before, Edition Olms produces beautiful, high-quality chess books. I have such confidence in them that I would be willing to buy their volumes sight unseen.

Learn Chess in 40 Hours is broken into blocks of 1-hour chess lessons:

  • Hours 1-6 on the basic mates and the most basic endgames. A good treatment overall.
  • Hours 7-21 cover the most important openings, giving just the most important information and insights. This is beautifully done! He also includes a table of openings for reference.
  • Hours 22-30 cover tactical ideas very nicely. Go elsewhere for puzzle practice.
  • Hours 31-40 focus on strategy, with lots of good explanations.

I definitely recommend this title ahead of, for example, Chess Fundamentals. Teschner doesn’t hold your hand, but he guides the reader very efficiently. There is plenty of prose, and all the important variations are there — though the novice will need to stretch themselves a bit to make all of it stick.

No need to rush. Instead of 40 hours, don’t fret about taking 60 or 80. It wll be worth it.

I believe a motivated novice who seriously works through Learn Chess in 40 Hours two or three times could reach at least 1600 — maybe 1800 if they have a bit of talent and lack bad habits.

Highly recommended.

Chess Tactics: Radjabov — Naiditsch, 2003

Teimour Radjabov

Teimour Radjabov. Photo: 365chess.com

Teimour Radjabov was born in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1987.

He was at one point the youngest grandmaster in the world, achieving the highest title in chess at the age of 14 years and 14 days (at that time, Bu Xiangzhi was the youngest GM ever, before Sergey Karjakin shattered the record in 2002).

Radjabov began playing top tournaments at age 14, making appearances at Dortmund, Wijk aan Zee, and Linares. His peak world rank was No. 4 (October 2012), and a month later he achieved his highest mark on the FIDE Rating List: 2793.

In recent years it seemed the gifted Azeri was finished as an absolute top player, but he surprisingly won the 2019 World Cup, defeating Ding Liren in the finals. This earned him a spot in the 2020 Candidates Tournament. FIDE screwed the pooch on that one, but I look forward to seeing Radjabov in the next Candidates.

 

Dortmund 2003 is best remembered for a monumental upset: Victor Bologan (World No. 42) triumphed in a six-player double round-robin over Vladimir Kramnik, Vishy Anand, and Peter Leko — ranked 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in the world, respectively.

Two youngsters also took part in that event: Radjabov and Arkadij Naiditsch.

Everyone should play through Alexander Finkel’s annotations for ChessBase to the Round 8 battle, below — how to handle, or in this case not handle, a direct kingside attack from a Queen Pawn Game (here, the Torre Attack).

White to play. How did Radjabov launch a deadly attack?

13.?

 

Where is your counterplay coming from?

Which Chess Opening Move is Best? Part 3

In Part 1, we discussed 1.e4. Part 2 was all about 1.d4. Now it’s time to talk about the so-called Flank Openings.

Since I have discussed 1.c4 previously, I’ll focus on other moves, starting with…

 

1.Nf3 — Definitely NOT for keeping things simple

Former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik was the most successful exponent of 1.Nf3. Photo: ruchess.ru

Unless you are married to 1.e4 until death-do-you-part, opening with 1.Nf3 seems very appealing because of the flexibilty it allows in the closed openings. You can weave in and out of different systems based on your preferences or the opponent you are facing.

I’ve dabbled with 1.Nf3 since 1999 (A Strategic Opening Repertoire by John Donaldson). Conclusion: the move is more trouble than it’s worth.

Prepare an opening repertoire based on main lines, then play it. Start with 1.e4, 1.d4, or 1.c4. Your rating will thank you. Don’t get cute. More often than not, you’ll confuse yourself or you’ll wind up in lines your opponents know better than you do!

There is one more move to seriously consider that doesn’t get mentioned nearly as often:

 

1.g3 — A reasonable choice!

Obviously, this move commits White to a kingside fianchetto; otherwise, I think it could be a good choice for the right player. Black cannot be sure what exactly he’s facing, or not facing: 1.Nf3 takes away the King’s English (1.c4 e5), the Benko, Albin, and Budapest…but it also creates limitations against the Queen’s Gambit, Grunfeld, and King’s Indian, for example.

GM Samy Shoker has made a career of this move and wrote a book about it, with Emmanuel Neiman.

 

Now onto a bunch of moves I don’t recommend against your peers or better. My commentary may be harsh or dismissive, but that’s exactly how strong opponents will treat these moves.

Yes, they are playable. No, you should not be struggling for equality with the White pieces! It’s not the right way to play chess (though anything is fine occasionally). Sorry, not sorry!

I wholeheartedly agree with Greg Shahade when it comes to building an opening repertoire.

Of course, all of this goes out the window if you are facing significantly weaker opposition, or find yourself in a blitz/rapid competition.

 

1.b3 — I thought Spassky refuted this in 1970?

I’m kidding…sort of. In case you don’t know, I’m referring to this:

Larsen-Spassky was played during the USSR vs. World match in Belgrade 1970. Photo: FIDE

50 years have passed since this game; even now strong players occasionallly use Larsen’s Opening. So why do I bring up this game?

Black’s play is easy and natural; White’s setup is shaky from the get-go. Why do this to yourself?

Once again, I’m not saying to never use it, but please don’t on a regular basis!

 

1.f4 — Are you sure?

Henry Edward Bird

Henry Bird (1830-1908). 1877 drawing by Sam Lloyd. Source: Wikipedia

Be honest, Bird’s Opening regulars: how many of you push the f-pawn because you don’t want to spend time and energy studying something else?

Experienced opponents will be on guard from the beginning, recognizing the latent attacking potential in your setup and prepare for it long in advance.

One can argue White is playing a Dutch with an extra tempo, so it can’t be that bad. Still, I would not want to use it all the time against players who know it’s coming.

1.Nc3 — Pointless

Most likely, this move will box you into worse versions of openings you’re desperately trying to avoid. Next…

 

1.b4 — At least it gains space and doesn’t weaken the kingside…

Alexey Sokolsky

Alexey Sokolsky (1908-1969) A giant of chess in Belarus. Photo: Wikipedia

I think the Orangutan (or Sokolsky’s Opening) is a great opening for creative types to employ against someone rated 400+ points below them, because it is not completely ridiculous, admittedly.

Fittingly, New York IM Yury Lapshun wrote a book about it, co-authored with late National Master Nick Conticello. RIP, NIck.

But I’ll echo what I’ve said many times already: White is taking on a handicap by regularly using this against peers.

 

Others?

1.g4 is, to me, a riskier version of stuff like 1.b4. Instead of this, you’re better off pushing the a- or h-pawns, if you feel you must.

If you want to play with chemicals, the Sodium Attack (1.Na3) and Ammonia Attack (1.Nh3) at least develop a piece.

Again, no argument from me if you want to use this stuff against much lower-rated players, or in non-classical settings. Otherwise, avoid!

Chess Tactics: Zukertort — Blackburne, 1883

Battle of 19th Century Chess Legends

Johannes Zukertort

Johannes Zukertort

This game from the London 1883 tournament is very famous, and for good reason. You won’t forget it once you’ve seen it!

Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888) was born in present-day Poland. One of the leading players of early tournament chess, he challenged Wilhelm Steinitz in the first official World Championship match in 1886, which he lost (5 wins, 5 draws, and 10 losses).

In contrast to Zukertort, Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924) enjoyed a much longer chess career. “The Black Death” competed in top tournaments (and matches) from London 1862 through St. Petersburg 1914!

 

The Black king is clearly in distress, but how should White continue?

Deflected Again!

Chess Tactics: Bisguier — Larsen, 1965

A Dean of American Chess

Arthur Bisguier - Chess Life Dec97

Arthur Bisguier was featured on the cover of the December 1997 issue of Chess Life.

Arthur Bisguier (1929-2017) was a grandmaster (1957) from New York. The 1954 U.S. Champion won clear or shared first place at the U.S. Open five times between 1950 and 1969. He also represented the USA in five Olympiads between 1952 and 1972.

As an author he wrote, among other works, The Art of Bisguier: Selected Games 1961-2003.

Bent Larsen (1935-2010) was a top player, and a famously combative one, often employing risky openings with both colors. This may have extracted more points than usual against relatively weaker opposition, but sometimes things went badly wrong, as here.

 

Who’s Afraid of the Pirc/Modern?

In May 2020, I featured another classic demolition of the Pirc; do I have something against this opening?

Variations and symbols are from the bulletin (source: MegaBase). The text comments are mine.

Chess Tactics: McShane — Cheparinov, 2009

Luke McShane keeps it simple

Luke McShane

Luke McShane. Photo: FIDE

Luke McShane (born 1984) is an English Grandmaster who won the World Under-10 Championship in 1993 and Wijk aan Zee B in 2011. He reached a peak FIDE rating of 2713 in July 2012, and his peak world rank of 29 in November of that year.

He has scored victories over Michael Adams, Levon Aronian, Etienne Bacrot, Magnus Carlsen, Sergey KarjakinVladimir Kramnik, Alexander Morozevich, Hikaru Nakamura, Ruslan Ponomariov, Nigel Short, Wesley So, and Radoslaw Wojtaszek

…in classical chess.

McShane added another notch to his belt when he took down Ivan Cheparinov in just 20 moves during the 2009 European Team Championship.

Longtime readers of the Chess Essentials blog know I’m not fan of sidelines, espeically with White. Many are playable, some even good. But I think players sometimes get into trouble overthinking how they should play these lines. If your line calls for an all-in attack, go for it!

I don’t know how Cheparinov felt, but I would be taken aback by such shameless aggression! I don’t recommend this approach every game against strong players, but I’ve long said that simple, direct plans executed well are easier to play and very effective. Luke McShane provides a great example with this Closed Sicilian/Grand Prix Attack hybrid.

 

So Easy, A Caveman Can Do It

Which Chess Opening Move is Best? Part 2

In Part 1, we discussed 1.e4. I opined that the King Pawn universe is not for everyone. That begs the question:

What About the Closed Openings?

This is a much broader topic, because it includes basically everything except 1.e4!

Still, there’s an obvious place to start.

1.d4 — Have it Your Way

Generally, you’ll prefer 1.d4 to 1.e4 if you don’t want to play directly for kingside attacks most of the time. 1.d4 tends to lead to White seeking an advantage on the queenside. That doesn’t mean you can’t play aggressively if you choose to! Far from it.

Botvinnik Keres

Botvinnik and Keres met in 20 tournament games. Photo: Verendel.com

White can go for the throat against even Black’s most solid options: consider the classic game Botvinnik — Keres, 1952 (given at the end of this post).

The 6th World Champion meets the Queen’s Gambit Declined with the seemingly dry Exchange Variation … and then plays directly for a central and kingside attack! He won in crushing fashion; even now this is considered a model game for the QGD Exchange.

For many club players, it’s the model game.

On the other hand, White can adopt a slower strategy; consider the model game Evans — Opsahl, 1950 which I discussed in an earlier post.

Against the solid Nimzo-Indian (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4) White has many solid approaches, but he can also satisfy his bloodlust with the Sämisch Variation.

When Black tries more double-edged systems like the Modern Benoni Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6), Dutch Defense (1.d4 f5), King’s Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 and 3…Bg7), or Grünfeld Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 and 3…d5), White can play solidly (the first player could choose a quiet kingside fianchetto against each of these, for example) or meet fire with fire.

Even when Black seeks to take control from the get-go with the Benko Gambit, White can throw down the gauntlet.

Efstratios Grivas

Efstratios Grivas. Photo: FIDE

If you’re a 1.d4 player looking for several good recommendations against Black’s options in one place, I recommend taking a look at Beating the Fianchetto Defenses by Efstratios Grivas. The esteemed Greek trainer is not always my favorite author, but this offering is very well done.

He chooses sensible systems against the Benoni, Benko, KID, Grünfeld, and Modern Defenses, and then delves into the typical middlegames and endgames that arise from them.

 

I hope I’ve provided some food for thought. Below is, as I promised, Botvinnik — Keres, 1952. Note that it arises from a Nimzo-Indian move order.

The fun doesn’t stop here. In Part 3, we’ll discuss the Flank Openings — perhaps the most interesting way to open a game! Stay tuned!

Chess Tactics: Ftacnik — Cvitan, 1997

A King’s Indian Sprint

Ognjen Cvitan

Ognjen Cvitan. Photo: Šahovski klub Draga

Ognjen Cvitan (born 1961) is a Croatian Grandmaster most notable for winning the 1981 World Junior Championship.

Our featured position comes from a game played during the 1997-98 season of the German Bundesliga, one of the top team chess leagues in the world.

In a wild King’s Indian Defense, typical of the evergreen Mar del Plata Variation, Cvitan reaches the finish line ahead of the renowned Lubomir Ftacnik.

 

How did Cvitan (Black) kick off a memorable combination on his 23rd move?

 

Cornered!

How to Defeat Kids in Chess Tournaments

The Impact of Scholastic Chess

Children usually have more time to devote to chess improvement.

Kids have been taking over chess for a long time now. This is great for the game in the long term, but what about the adults who have to face these youths in tournaments?

A kid or teenager is usually still improving; if an adult is getting better, it’s typically at a slower rate. I’ve never been convinced that this is because of “younger vs. older brains.” Older players simply have more life responsibilities which require focus and energy that cannot be spent on chess.

Given two players of the same rating facing off, I would bet on the younger player in the absence of other information.

All is not lost, however.

Understand Your Adversary

I have played in many quads over the years where all of my opponents were kids or teens rated similarly to me, that is, in the 2000-2100 range. Bearing in mind everyone has a different style, here are some things I learned:

Home prep can make a huge difference

Kids stick to their openings and either don’t suspect or don’t respect prepared variations.

Research! If you know what openings your rival plays, do some pre-tournament work and find wrinkles to set them challenges. You can really make hay if you regularly face the same set of opponents and can develop a game plan against them.

Also, especially in Swiss tournaments, remember to go for a walk early in your rounds to see what potential opponents are playing. On a related note …

Put your thinking cap on

In one event, I noticed in the first two rounds that a player I was due to meet in the final round displayed impressive middlegame and endgame play, both tactical and strategic. His openings were quite refined as well. I asked myself: “Why is he under 2100 and not 2200+?”

I concluded the reason was likely psychological. Probably, he gets nervous and doesn’t handle pressure on par with other players of his rating class.

When we faced off, he got a definite advantage with the White pieces, though Black has some counterplay:

Trusting my scouting report, I played 21…Nd5 confidently and … offered him a draw!

Mind you, the clock wasn’t an issue for either of us.

He started to think … and think … and think. He began turning red and looked ill.

Soon he did what I expected, and agreed to the draw. I could tell he knew he shouldn’t do it, but he didn’t have the stomach to play on. I understood his emotions, because I’ve been there!

Target their Weaknesses

I faced one Expert kid five times. I lost the first game, drew the second from a much better position, and then won the last three encounters!

What happened?

In the first game I went for a slow, maneuvering Chigorin Ruy Lopez as Black, with the idea that young players are generally more comfortable with livelier positions. I was outplayed and lost the game, but I got to watch some of his other games in that event and others before we met again.

In our second game I went for a kingside attack, after observing that he didn’t handle direct attacks very well. I had great winning chances, but couldn’t crash through and drew.

After seeing more of my adversary’s games, I was able to prepare effectively for the final three battles and went for aggressive play. Our fourth game began with the sequence 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 (I knew he played this line) and now 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.g4!? which had been popularized by Alexei Shirov.

I won in 17 moves.

I’m not a great attacker, but judged that he was an even worse defender.

Don’t be a Hero

Conversely, another Expert I often faced became my angstgegner. This was in large part because I was stubborn and kept trying — and failing — to refute his opening. But at a certain point, I felt I was doomed against him no matter what I did, and it affected my play. The final tally: one win, one draw, and four losses.

The bottom line: learn as much as you can about your young opponents’ playing style, openings, and likes/dislikes. Prepare well, establish a blueprint for your games in advance when possible, and trust your skills!

Good luck!

Which Chess Opening Move is Best? Part 1

Should I Open with 1.e4, 1.d4, or something else as White?

Not surprisingly, the short answer is “it depends.”

Let’s dig deeper.

First, there is one thing you certainly should not do. Don’t play offbeat moves (1.b3, 1.b4, 1.f4, 1.Nc3, etc.)  just to avoid theory. I’ve touched on this before. Only use moves like this if you enjoy playing the resulting positions. 

Having gotten that out of the way, we really have only four or five serious moves left. There’s no question which one we should discuss first.

1.e4 — Best by Test?

The famous game Fischer-Tal from the 1960 Leipzig Olympiad was a sharp draw in the French Defense. You can actually purchase a print of this photo here.

To a certain extent, I think Bobby Fischer was right. But not everyone should follow his advice.

Opening with the King Pawn requires the most well-rounded skills. Generally, you must attack the Sicilian Defense or give Black at least equality. Aggressive play is also the best recipe against the French Defense, Caro-Kann, and Pirc Defense, among others.

At the same time, patience and maneuvering skills are needed to play the Ruy Lopez or Italian Game well.

The higher up the rating ladder a player advances, the less opponents are afraid of gimmicky attacks — aside from feeling confident against gambits, they might willingly enter slightly worse positions with a chance to grind you down. Michael William Brown was in my group at the 2008 Western Invitational Chess Camp (organized by Robby Adamson). His main defense was the Closed Ruy Lopez, and he really knew how to play it. Sure enough, Michael became a Grandmaster in 2019.

Maybe the biggest question is: can you break down the Berlin Wall or Petroff Defense?

My point is, I think 1.e4 requires the most diverse range of skill to play well consistently — in other words, to legitimately play for a win against strong opposition. Contemporary role models include CarlsenCaruana, and Karjakin. 

It’s no coincidence these players have contested the last two World Championship Matches!

Not everyone prefers the King Pawn, or possesses the ability to play it well — or at least as well as the ability to play other first moves.

In Part 2, we discuss some alternatives, starting with 1.d4.

In Part 3, I give my opinions on various Flank Openings.