Openings Workshop 2008

Interesting... much more general questions than previous years. There may be a theme of these questions, about the  tension between seeking opportunity and accepting risk.  So here goes...

How should you play against 1...Nf6 when you want a Stonewall Attack?

The Stonewall Attack is 1.d4 d5 with 2.e3/3.Bd3/4.f4, intending to clamp down on the centre then attack on the King's-side with moves like Nf3/O-O/Ne5/Qf3/Qh5/Bxh7+... 

This can be very dangerous if Black castles into it, although if you can see it coming in time it's easy enough to dodge (Bf5/g6/O-O-O).  If Black replaces 1...d5 with 1...Nf6, White's system may come to nothing, pointing in the wrong direction.  

The common solution is for White to play 2.Nd2, threatening to take over the centre with e2-e4, which may provoke Black into playing 2...d5, when we can return to our standard system with relief.  If Black doesn't play ...d5 then you can either stick to your guns with e3 and f4, or carry out your threat to play e4.  It's not a bad idea to have a second string system, like the Colle, that you can switch to in case of move order problems.

Delaying castling or castling queenside in the London System?

It's unusual.  Johanssen remarks in his book with Kovacevic that:
"Although queen's-side castling is relatively rare in the London system, it may sometimes pay to keep the option open."

...which is about as much use as a rubber crutch.  There are some games in that same book where Queen's-side castling appears:

These suggest that the times you might consider queen's-side castling are:

  •   If there is an open h-file
  •   When you wish to throw up your King's-side pawns
  •   When your opponent is aiming at the King's-side in a similar manner

I always liked Pillsbury's guidance:

"Castle because you will or because you must; but not because you can." -- Harry Pillsbury.  

See for general advice on delayed castling.

Playing Black against 1.d4?

See separate pages and separate blogs   

What about 1.e4 c5 2.c4?

I was surprised to find 800 games played in recent years where this move was played, with a normal spread of results (55% to White).  I wouldn't play it as White because I would find it difficult to make any play against the locked centre after 2...Nc6 and 3...e5.  However, out of the 800 games, this scheme was rarely chosen by the defenders, presumably because Black also wants to leave enough play to win, hoping also to leave open the option of transposing into a favourite version of the Sicilian.  If that's so, White might be able to sneak across into a version of the Maròczy Bind; for example, lots of Black players went 2...g6, which probably leads to the best-known version of the Bind.  I'd prefer 2...e6, even though 2...g6 is in my repertoire.

Why is the Bind so uncomfortable for Black?  Because lots of the appeal of the Sicilian depends on having a half-open c-file, a minority attack with ...b5 and the chance of blowing up the centre using your extra central pawn with ....d5; once White plays c4, all that goes out of the window.

I keep getting caught out in common gambit openings...  

Here's a player getting caught out:

 [C21] Danish gambit - fork, 2000
1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Bc4 cxb2 5.Bxb2 d5 6.Bxd5 Nf6 7.Nc3 Nxd5 8.Nxd5 c6?? 9.Nf6+ gxf6 10.Qxd8+ Kxd8 11.Bxf6+ ...

Full marks to Black for having the courage to take on White's opening and accepting the gambit, but this involves definite risks if you forget (or never knew) the traps in each variation.  Most gambits have traps like this.  Let's have a list of gambits:

  • Vienna Gambit 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 (3...exf4? 4.e5)
  • King's Gambit 1.e4 e5 2.f4
  • Danish Gambit 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3
  • Göring Gambit 1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3
  • Scotch Gambit 1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 and 5.c3
  • Evans' Gambit 1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4

The best way to avoid problems depends on your taste: "...d5 is the antidote to the venom in most gambits" as they say, but you will struggle to play that against the Evans.  I recommend to start with:

  • Vienna Gambit 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 d5!
  • King's Gambit 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf5 3.Nf3 Be7 4.Bc4 Nf6! 5.e5! Ng4 and 6...d5
  • Danish Gambit 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 d5!
  • Göring Gambit 1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3 d5!
  • Scotch Gambit 1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Nf6 5.O-O Nxe4!
  • Two Knights' 1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 b5!?

All of these lines need some study, but I hope this is a shove in the right direction.  

P.S. The game I found where Black got Danished... was won by Black (Berry)!

Is the Benoni any good?

Sometimes! The type of Benoni usually played is the Modern Benoni with ...e6xd5.  This is a high-stakes opening where you really can't busk it in the sharper lines, you have to study and learn... and all the lines are pretty sharp...  That said, it's a fine way to unbalance the game and so play for a win as Black.

I've recently recommended to Charlie that he play the Benoni, but delay the exchange.  (I believe our very own Andy Pickering was a fan of this approach.)

Two reasons for choosing to delay:

  1. After ...e6xd5 and cxd5, White has a standard way of arranging their pieces which usually includes Nf3-d2-c4, where the Knight frees the f-pawn to move, and from c4 it supports e4-e5 and puts pressure on d6.  If Black delays ...e6xd5, then clearly White is going to have to find something else to do for a while, and there is a view that Black can more easily find useful things to do [trying to arrange ...b5 with Na6-c7,Rb8,Bd7] than White.  
  2. The main line Modern Benoni has a problem, which is the Taimanov Attack (Flick-Knife Attack) with 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e6 4. Nc3 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 6. e4 g6 7. f4! Bg7 8. Bb5+!.  e.g.
    Black faces a serious attack and has found no clean way to equalise; White is taking risks too, so if White falters at all the counter-attack will be swift and terrible...  but many players of the Benoni prefer these days to play it only after White has played Nf3 (e.g. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5). Delaying the exchange avoids this difficult line (and maybe some others).  

The lines without ...e6 are slower and stodgier; Black often plays ...e5 when the lines divide according to whether you plonk the Bf8 on g7 or e7 (when it usually goes next to g5).  These lines are more solid but harder to play for a win.

What are the Dos and Don'ts of the Scandinavian with 2...Qxd5? What plans should each side follow?

"This fine defence..." -- Jonathan Speelman
"...Sucks all the life out of the position." -- Anon.  

Many of us associate the Scandinavian with some devastating Fischer miniatures from the 1960s.  But since Larsen re-established this defence as an option for GMs at Montreal 1979... has had a dedicated following, resulting in its ultimate achievement, successful use in a World Championship match by Anand, when Kasparov couldn't show anything against it, even though he won in the end.  (However, Anand did not repeat his experiment!)

The Scandinavian 2...Qxd5 is particularly difficult to get a handle on because the unforcing nature of most of the variations.  After the exchange of pawns we have a 'structure' rather like the French Rubinstein or main line Caro-Kann, in which lines Black has given up their stake in the centre and can be said to have made another concession, either blocking in the Bc8 with ...e6 or playing the unnecessary ...c6.  After ...Qxd5 and ...Qa5 (say) Black has supposedly lost time but has made no commitments with their pawns, which means they can adopt a very natural development scheme.  

It's often said that exposing the Queen on d5 'wastes time', but after Nc3, Qa5 each side has developed one piece, so I don't see it: however, White is still ahead in development because they start first.  White can maybe get another free hit against the Queen by Nf3-e5-c4 or Bd2/Ne4, and that's when White gains time to improve their position (not to develop).

Hmm, plans... It's not possible to 'read' the structure to generate moves in such a straightforward way as, say, the French Advance.  [For these reasons, I dislike playing against it and I don't think I'd ever take it up!]  It's hard to talk in general terms, it's more about specific piece arrangements and move orders and whether they make any progress, but let's have a go.   [In his magisterial two-volume review of the strategies behind chess openings, John Watson pointedly avoided talking about any variations with wPd4 and bPe6/bPc6, rather devoting 7 pages to common themes from the French/Caro/Scandinavian.]  Deep breath:

White normally gets in d4 and operates on four ranks.  Black holds back on the first three ranks, not wanting to open up lines while they are behind in development, and must avoid weaknesses – which I guess is a plan of sorts.  

White has advantages in space and development but these are each hard to make use of because of the lack of tension in the position and because these advantages can evaporate with time and exchanges.  So, White needs to avoid exchanges, to keep active, to make problems...

Next level down: the Scandinavian is what I call a light-square defence, leaving White with a pawn on d4 and control of e5 but disputing the centre at d5 and e4. Perhaps the ultimate for Black is to play ...Bb4, ...Bxc3, ...Nb6, ...Qb5 with a grip on all the light squares.

If White gets enough oomph, it may be they can blow up the position with d4-d5.  Black usually restrains the white d-Pawn with ...c6, when it starts to look a bit like a Caro-Kann, with White's Queen's Knight on c3 instead of e4.  

Black wants to play ...e6 and play the Bf8 somewhere, but before playing ...e6 the Bc8 should be developed.  Black can't hang around, as Bc4 in combination with Ne5 will force ...e6.  The Bishop when on g4 or f5 then can become the target of attacks, either by h3/g4/Ne5 or Ne5/g4.  This can lead to some very sharp play with both sides making committal moves, as in the famous game Anand-Lautier.

Black has some choice over the timing of ...Nf6, ...c6 and ...Bf5, depending on which ideas they wish to avoid or allow.  [Ian Rogers tried hard with ...Bg4 but these days ...Bf5 holds sway.]  So, delaying ...Bf5 gives you the option of ...Be6 against 6.Ne5; while delaying ...Nf6 avoids White's Bd2/Ne4/Nxf6, making a mess of Black's pawns.

Let's have a look at the quiet main line variation:

Black has been experimenting with 3...Qd6; this keeps the Queen in play but obviously restricts the Bf8 and may offer White another free hit with Ne4 or Bf4.  There are other sidelines like 5...Nc6, 5...Ne4 and 4...e5 which are tricky to meet if you haven't seen them.  White can also mix it up by delaying Nf3 in favour of Bc4, or playing an early Bd2/Ne4.  

Advice for White?  There's no consensus in books for our level: Keene/Levy ignored 5...Bf5 in 1994; Gufeld (1996) gives the quiet main line; Collins recommends the sharp main line as played by Anand; Dzindzhi (2007) suggests Kasparov's 6.Ne5, a move order also favoured by Baker (1998); and Emms (who must have some sort of grasp of this opening, having written about it several times) recommended 6.Bd2/7.Ne4 in 2001 without considering it a cosmic mind-blower in 2004.  Emms' 2004 book includes the direct try 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.d4 c6 5.Bc4 Bf5 6.Bd2 e6 7.Qe2 Nf6 8.d5 cxd5 9.Nxd5 Qd8 10.Nxf6+ Qxf6 11.0-0-0 Nc6 12.Bc3! which he thinks is better for White.

Nigel Short went through a creative phase when playing against the Scandinavian, and we can perhaps borrow his idea of delaying d4:

Or 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.Bc4 Nf6 5.d3 followed by Nge2, 0-0, Ng3 and perhaps f2-f4-f5 (Sodjerg).  And if you really can't bear it, you can try 2.Nc3 or 2.d4 dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.f3.

What about the Four Knights' Game with 4.g3 (Glek Variation)?

Some White players are prepared to give up the fight for the advantage in the Ruy Lopez and just get into a reasonable position which suits their style and look forward to outplaying their opponent around moves 25-40.  One opening that is used for this purpose is the Four Knights' Game, where Gunsberg's 4.a3 and Glek's 4.g3 have been played.  John Nunn's "New Ideas" reviews some of the early experiments with both moves.  There is no 'answer' for Black, because there is no 'question' being put, other than, can you survive the middlegame against me?

I think the earliest g3 was Nimzo, but here's the main man these days, Igor Glek.

One response that you might save for a rainy day in Exmouth is 1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.g3 Nxe4?! 5.Nxe4 d5 6.Nc3 e4 7.Ng1 Bc5, with some attacking chances.  I've managed to lose to this idea in Blitz...  Here's a game from a chap who sounds like an Indian computer facing the reincarnation of the spirit of defence...

Classical or Hypermodern?

The eternal debate...  I recommend avoiding hypermodern approaches until your chess is good all round; because of their amorphous nature, you have to be prepared to play a variety of positions.  So, after 1.e4 g6, White has a number of systems available, most of which are very flexible, and Black has a hard time deciding whether to challenge the centre by ...c5, ...d5, ...e5 or all three, while making sure that White doesn't break through with d5, e5, f5, h5 or all five.  

Having said that, I know Jonathan W has been playing the Alekhin and Grünfeld: "I have to adopt unusual openings, as otherwise I tend to get into trouble with more experienced players who know the familiar ones that little bit better than me.".  

Perhaps these defences are not so variable in their themes as the Modern.  I dunno, for a while I was playing nothing but hypermodern openings...  On your own head be it!

I have a piece on this issue elsewhere:


Emms Attacking with 1.e4
Keene/Levy An opening repertoire for the Attacking Player
Alburt, Dzindzhikhashvili&Perelshteyn Chess Openings for White, Explained
Gufeld An opening repertoire for the Attacking Player
Plaskett The Scandinavian Defence
Emms The Scandinavian
Collins  Attacking repertoire for White
Johanssen/Kovakevic The London System
Soltis The London System
Baker A startling chess opening repertoire
Keene/Jacobs An opening repertoire for White
Nunn New Ideas in the Four Knights
Psakhis The Complete Benoni
Evans Stonewalling
Fine The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings
Znosko-Borovsky How to play the chess openings

Chess Quotes

"Later, ... I began to succeed in decisive games. Perhaps because I realised a very simple truth: not only was I worried, but also my opponent."
— Mikhail TAL