Opening Theory

Like I was saying on Tommy’s Blog, I have been planning on getting rid of some of my White repertoire books. Just looked at the Alekhine Exchange variation in my CA database. Wow, opening theory has moved on. Black has improved in order to avoid all of White’s cheap tricks. The beat goes on, as they say.

Another reason for letting some books go is that I forget it all anyway, and then keep going back to the same books to remember some theory which is no longer current cutting edge, anyhow, if that was the motivation for having them, AKA “tricks”. Chess is about a lot more than tricks. The best tricks to know are probably either endgame ones or tactics, not openings as much. The only nice thing about openings is feeling confident and comfortable with them, other than that they usually don’t determine the game unless you outbook, which seems to be more rare than the normal course of events.

But the other big reason I don’t want to play the “remember your openings” game, particularly as White, is that these books really draw away attention from books/concepts that haven’t been studied yet, but deserve the attention.

Here’s my question: Tal – Hort, Montreal 1979 (Tournament of the Stars, famous tournament). This game is quoted by Nunn as well as I believe MCO 13.
http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1058097
What has this game to do with the opening? The endgame is utterly fantastic/magical, but the opening?

In another line of the book on the Pirc (1980, first edition) by Nunn, I play past some line quoted as ” = ” and the next thing I know great complications arise out of nowhere and it strikes me that it is suddenly more like a game situation than a casual openings perusal. In fact, I would say the #1 thing to openings is maneuvering, whether by pieces or pawns, but it’s usually centered around the mobility of the pieces, because the combos almost always arise sooner or later during a game. But first, maneuvering is what can throw off the equilibrium of a game in order to lead to chances.

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11 thoughts on “Opening Theory

  1. I have actually come to the opinion that the “opening books” that are provided (for a charge) by chess engines such as Hiarcs, Junior, Rybka and Shredder are actually more useful than most written opening books.

    The Hiarcs one in particular is great because for 30 bucks you get 3-4 updates per year.

    There are no explanations BUT you can see the move choices (in the right GUI) and then explore them yourself, and compare to databases etc. etc. and then once having made a choice you can have that engine or another see what they think. It is a more interactive way of checking out openings. (and more fun as well)

    This is what I am using for some minimal opening study and I have found it fun and enlightening!!

  2. I partially disagree with “don’t want to play the “remember your openings” game”.
    Do not forget, you need to reach that middlegame/endgame having playable position. Yes, sometimes I managed to find the good moves in unknown position even playing with the strong opponents and here your #1 thing is right. But there were also times like the 4th round of the last tournament when I played the book line – just picked it up, against the expert and had ~1.3 advantage after the opening according to Fritz (and really superior position according to any human estimate). I just don’t play a lot of OTB games, in blitz it happens much more often – you play some line, find improvement and here you go – almost the next game happens to be played with the same line, you use your experience and win. It’s not only the lines, it’s also familiarity with the position, knowing ideas and typical moves.

  3. Here is a great strategic position that I don’t think an opening book is going to solve for you. This game was virtually non-annotated, but did have a couple no-biggie comments.

    http://www.redhotpawn.com/chess/grandmaster-games/viewmastergame.php?pgnid=55063&subject=Alex_Fishbein_vs_Berge_Ostenstad

    Here’s my analysis: …Nb4? is a strategic blunder. Black’s plan could consist of …g6, …Bg7, ..0-0, then perhaps prepare either …f6, or get the …Bd7 out. Is a book going to say this, hardly, you basically wind up with something like “….In Joe vs. Bloe, this game turned out well for White and seemed to overthrow previous thinking.” Then again, perhaps the job of an openings bookwriter is mainly to pose the question?

  4. lihnuxguy,
    Actually, in Watson’s “Play the French 3” he gives 9…Nb4= (an assessment I agree with, by the way; the two bishops compensate for the doubled h-pawns after the trade on h6) with no further comment, but he also mentions two “more interesting” moves: 9…f6 (“exploits Black’s considerable lead in development to break down White’s centre”, followed by a game reference that shows how that’s done) and 9…Nf5! (“most straightforward,” followed by an explanation of why this is an improved version of a variation he just analyzed two paragraphs above). So we have proof that a good opening book will help you solve questions like the one you just asked, provided you study it carefully.
    I do agree that studying openings is much, much more than just learning a couple of tricks. It’s about learning enough about an opening that one can come to the position you gave and recognize without having to crack open the book that 9…Nb4, 9…Nf5 and 9…f6 are all legit moves for Black, even though they involve three totally different plans.
    tommyg,
    Be careful – I think statistics and computer evaluations are more likely to mislead you than a well-written opening book, especially when you are just beginning to understand an opening. If the computer cannot explain its reasoning to you, how can you trust its evaluation of a position?

  5. Hi Aziridine,

    I agree that one should be careful, whether with regular books or a computer opening book such as the Hiarcs book.. The Hiarcs is prepared by a GM. And even when I use it I check out the different variations, compare it to annotated games and try to make my own evaluations and ask a lot of “why?” questions.

    If there were well written opening books I would love them but most of them don’t explain enough concepts anyway. The only one I have ever seen really explain an opening was Gallagher’s, Starting Out: The King’s Indian Defence.

    So I feel that by taking my time using the Hiarcs book as a guide and consulting games (annotated and unannotated) I am actually going to learn more because I am more involved in the process. Written opening books have not really helped me at all.

    (although I am enjoying Dismantling the Sicialian-but even then as a guide)

  6. I have one of Nunn’s books on beating the Sicilian, I simply don’t like the opening lines he chooses, but maybe later I will.

    I like Gary Lane’s books, he is right on target, but understanding it and remembering those deep-sacrifices at the board that makes a line work are two different things.

    As rule though, I agree with what you are saying, TommyG, times have changed. 😉

  7. Linuxguy,
    Those are some pretty old books you have (Gary Lane hasn’t written anything worth reading for some time now). I’ve found that there’s been a tremendous increase in the quality of opening books within the last ten years, thanks to the rise of publishers like Gambit, New in Chess, Chess Stars and most recently Quality Chess. Everyman’s “Play the…” and “Starting Out” series have also raised the bar – Gallagher’s book is excellent.

  8. Shoot, I’m still stuck in the early 90’s when bookstores actually carried books like Lane’s one on the Ruy Lopez (I also have his on the C3 Sicilian, and Winning with the Scotch and Beating the French), and every time I would go in I would read some more of it. Later, I bought it through a catalog, should have bought them at the regular book store.

    Nowadays we tend to purchase books online and it’s been perhaps 15 years since bookstores carried books on chess openings, other than MCO. Sad, but true. Such a great recruiting tool to have those books in the bookstore. Anyhow, under Expert, they should still get the job done, or at least be equal.

    This weekend, I patched up my Sicilian Accelerated Dragon, and Dragon as White. I’ll play the QGD Exchange var. for now and look for an endgame win. The Nimzo is easy for Black, Capablanca variation, but like an IM once said, it’s one more piece traded so it’s not exactly like playing a “Sicilian Def” for Black against d4, drawish. Incidentally, what is the “Sicilian Def.” type of response against d4, where you have lots of wins and losses versus only draws?

    My Two Knights against the Caro-Kahn is iffy. I patched it up once a bit, but already forgot it. No one OTB has played it against me recently, but Black can get a great game if White doesn’t play well, I think there is a Bb5 in there somewhere.

    I am doing one thing along the lines of what you are suggesting, I am going through my old books one last time before letting them go, freshening up the bookshelf so to speak.

  9. I think opening books got a lot better once computers came along and authors could rely on them to double-check their analysis and get a second opinion. Even in the best books from ten years ago, there’s usually a lot of lines ending in comments like “unclear”, “chances for both sides” or “double-edged”. Nowadays that’s just a sign of sloppy analysis. Btw Batsford seems to have stopped publishing opening books for a few years now – too much competition maybe.
    The IM was joking right? Surely trading off one piece doesn’t make the game drawish. While I like the Nimzo I wouldn’t call the Capablanca 4.Qc2 “easy” for Black – that’s probably the most critical test of the opening these days.
    In terms of not being drawish, I think the closest analogy to the Sicilian against 1.d4 would be the King’s Indian.

  10. Hmm, I thought you may have picked the Slav. KID is interesting, perhaps I should look into that.

    I have a book by Silman on The Accelerated Dragon. It seems he follows Crafty’s DB rather closely, only one problem. He gives all of the alternative moves in a main line, but overlooks an obvious one in f4, which is not given by Crafty only top 96% replies are given. But I checked it out with Crafty and the complications which fail for White in an analogous position actually work, winning for White in this one. Following a DB’s choices blindly can lead to a blindspot and in this case a huge one, good possibility for minatures from White. But yeah, the stuff he covers he does a good job on and you’d think White would have nothing from skimming through the book. I looked through all the main lines, and his analysis does shut down most everything I saw.

  11. No, according to my database the Slav draws 35% of the time, whereas for the KID and the Sicilian the draw rate is 30%. It is less drawish than the QGD or the QGA though.
    Both editions of Silman and Donaldson’s book were classics in their time, but the opening isn’t too popular these days and theory doesn’t regard it too highly – unfairly so, I think; perhaps we’ll see a revival in the future. At club level it’s definitely still a decent weapon.

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