July 16, 2011

Review of Opening Moves

I am currently working on my openings. Well, to put it more bluntly - I'm working on surviving the opening. Although I don't have a lot of games under my belt, I still thought it prudent to review the games I do have and see where my common mistakes might be found.

Out of 27 recorded games, so far I have seen:

1.e4 e5 - The Open Games - 13 games

1.d4 d5 - The Closed Games - 8 games

1. everything else - 6 games

In this post, I will only cover the Open Games. The Closed games and "everything else" will be in another post.

Almost half of the Open Games can be covered in two openings:

RUY LOPEZ - 2 games

1.e4 e5
2.Nf3 Nc6

This is a very old and popular opening. It is really one that I should know and understand.

In the Ruy Lopez, White creates a potential pin of the d-pawn or Knight and starts an attack immediately, while simultaneously preparing to castle. White generally directs pressure on Black's e-pawn and tries to prepare for a pawn on d4. It's known that Black's best reply on move 3 is a6, which attacks White's attacking bishop. After that, White can back up (Ba4 - tuck the Bishop) or exchange pieces (Bxc6).

In the two games I have (both played as Black), I played the recommended a6, and the response was Ba4. Out of the two games, I won after chasing the Bishop back with 4. .. b5 and lost with the passive 4. .. Nf6. It's interesting to note that I still played Nf6 in the won game, but only after I had chased the Bishop back one more time.


1.e4 e5
2.Nf3 d6

I saw this three times as Black and once as White. I won two as Black, lost as White and this was the game where I had my only Draw (Stalemate). The major difference between this and the Ruy Lopez is 2. .. d6 > and since I was black 3 times with this opening, it appears that this is something I'm doing to bring about this one. Well, if I'm going to use this opening, I may as well learn it and understand its nature.

The Black fortress is solid. White should not wait before attacking it, because Black can play 3. .. f5 if White plays a passive move, which would definitely equalize. The best move is probably 3. d4. White threatens a queen exchange with dxe5 dxe5 Qxd8+ Kxd8 and Black can forget about castling. It puts pressure on the center and Black fortress may collapse at any time. Another possibility is 3. Bc4 leading to a more positional game, playable for both camps.

Interestingly enough, none of us played 3. d4 and none of us played 3. Bc4, either. Half of the time, we went for 3. Bb5+ right away. Perhaps that is an amateur mind at work - feeling as though you have an upper hand by being able to check first. But looking at the board - I really like Bc4 better. I can see myself playing it as White. I would have a hard time playing d4 - since it's such a confrontational move. The queen exchange happens IF dxe5 - but what if it doesn't? A simple 3. .. exd4 changes that dynamic. Or another option would be 3. .. f6 - which allows you : 4. dxe5 fxe5 - and that leaves a front gap for White and an open King's flank for Black. But it does not exchange Queens.

So as White in this situation, I would like to remember to play 3. Bc4 as White. As Black, I have a number of choices to answer 3. d4. I would like to remember to play 3. .. exd4 , 3. .. f6 , or 3. .. f5. I'm not sure which one of those options I could use to a better advantage. I guess I will need to revisit this after playing that combination a few times and seeing the outcome.

The other two games went in a different direction. One was played 3. Nc3 and the other was played 3. c3. I answered the Knight move with a threat from my Bishop 3. .. Bg4 and my opponent found the 4. Bc4 move that should have been move 3. The other game - 3. c3 was answered with 3. .. Nf6 4. Qc2 Be7. It looked like he was setting something up, but whatever he had in mind didn't materialize.


My suspicion is that these 'other' Open Games are basically 'botched' openings. I say this because to start, two of them are "Mate in 8" games. I would especially like to find where I went wrong on those games! Both times I was Black, so this appears to be some setup/trap that I ran full-force into.

Game 1 - King's Gambit

1. e4 e5
2. f4 ... EEEK! This is where I faltered here. This was an unexpected move and my lack of experience left me without an idea of how to properly answer this one.
2. .. f6 DOH! Okay - so this is where I blundered.
3. Bc4 Bc5
4. fxe5 fxe5
5. Qh5+ g6
6. Qxe5+ Qe7
7. Qxh8 Kf8
8. Qxg8#

Now that I know it's the King's Gambit:

This opening was the most popular opening in the 1800s. White offers a pawn in exchange for rapid development. It's rarely seen now at the master level; according to Keene it's been found that Black can obtain a reasonable position (giving nothing for White's pawn).

Yeah, right. Black (me) choked and died on this one.

There are two main branches, depending on whether or not Black plays 2... exf4: the King's Gambit Accepted (KGA) and the King's Gambit Declined (KGD).

In Wikipedia, if you accept the Gambit, there are about 16 different Gambits and other continuations listed. If you decline the gambit, there are 3 ways (Countergambits) to do so.

Panteldakis Countergambit 1. e4 e5 2. f4 f5

This is dubious because 2. exf5 with the threat of Qh5+ gives White a good game.

Falkbeer Countergambit
1. e4 e5
2. f4 d5
3. exd5 e4

Black sacrifices a pawn in return for quick and easy development. It was once considered good for Black and scored well, but White obtains some advantage with the response 4.d3!, and the line fell out of favour after the 1930s.

Nimzowitsch Countergambit
1. e4 e5
2. f4 d5
3. exd5 c6

Black is not concerned about pawns and aims for early piece activity. White has a better pawn structure and prospects of a better endgame. The main line continues 4.Nc3 exf4 5.Nf3 Bd6 6.d4 Ne7 7.dxc6 Nbxc6, giving positions analogous to the Modern Variation of the gambit accepted.

The Classical Defense to decline the gambit is 2. .. Bc5, the "classical" KGD. This seems a bit easier for me to play. I'm not sure I could remember d5 instead of f6 or f5 instead of f6. I could easily confuse them. But to remember "Freddie isn't ready" (don't move on the F file right away) and use the Bishop. Well, that just follows better for me. That leaves the pawn on f7 - so the Queen can't check with h5 or pin with h5 and then gobble up my pawn and Bishop. Queen to h5 could be met with Queen to e7 - protecting the center pawn and the Bishop. If the Queen went for any of the 3 pawns she can reach, she would be captured - or exchanged evenly.

Game 2 - Botched opening > Mate in 8

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 d5 <--- Here's where I lost this game.
4. exd5 Nd4
5. O-O Nxf3+
6. Qxf3 Bc5
7. d6 cxd6
8. Qxf7#

This could have been any number of openings if I hadn't botched it with 3. .. d5.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Italian Game
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 Giuoco Piano
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Evans Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Be7 Hungarian Defense
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 Two Knights Defense

Then I played the same person as above -- again, as Black and won! However, I actually correctly used the Giuoco Piano opening - which seems to have worked for me.

The next game reviewed looked strange at first. However, if you realize that White's 2nd and 3rd moves in reverse order - make this actually the Three Knights Opening.

1. e4 e5
2. Nc3 Nc6
3. Nf3

Black usually plays 3...Bb4 or 3...g6. The game will then typically continue 3...Bb4 4.Nd5 or 3...g6 4.d4 exd4 5.Nd5. The Three Knights is almost never seen at master level nowadays, as Black players have sought more active tries, even within the Four Knights.

In my case, I played (as Black) 3. .. Bb4 and lost. However, I know I lost in the middle game or endgame. At least for this one I made it out of the opening alive.

And the next game reviewed can say the same. It was a properly played Four Knights Opening. I was White in this game, and lost. I would probably have to dig much deeper to find out where I went wrong in this game, but I know it was not in the opening.

1. e4 e5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. Nf3 Nc6
4. Bb5 a6
5. Bc4 Bc5
6. O-O O-O

If I remember correctly, this was one of my favorite games. It was challenging and seemed to go on forever. I felt that I was evenly matched in this game and enjoyed the play.

The next game reviewed looked like it might be another transposed opening - and if you look closely, it transposes into the Italian Game.

1. e4 e5
2. Bc4 Nc6
3. Nf3 d6

Unlike the move 2.Nf3, which attacks Black's e-pawn and therefore limits Black's possible responses to some extent, the Bishop's Opening allows Black a wide range of second move alternatives. Fortunately, none of them are especially good. But White should be prepared to face them from time to time, especially in club or blitz play.

However, once I played Nc6 and he played Nf3, we had an Italian game on our hands. The other Italian game (above) was the one I lost in 8 moves. I played 3. .. d5 for that train wreck. This time I played 3. .. d6. If I remember correctly, I was just trying to get the Bishop out with that move. Again, this looks like a game that was lost further down the page. So, I'm somewhat satisfied with d6, but again, want to either push my Bishops out or get my Knights activated.

The last Open game reviewed used the Portuguese Opening. Wow. I was White. I didn't really know I was using that opening - I guess I was just trying to do something different?

1. e4 e5
2. Bb5

The Portuguese is an uncommon opening. In contrast to the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5), by delaying Nf3 White leaves the f-pawn free to move and retains the possibility of playing f4. The trade-off is that White's lack of pressure on e5 leaves Black with a freer hand.

[Since I was playing against Joel in that game... I shouldn't have given him such a free hand.]

So that covers my Open Games so far. I was glad to realize that the unknowns weren't botched openings. Two turned out to be transposed openings and three turned out to just be openings that I didn't recognize.

Posted by BlueWolf on July 16, 2011