...questions were expressed this time as a series of dilemmas.
1.e4 or 1.d4?
1.e4 is likely to lead to open and semi-open games, while 1.d4 is more likely to lead to closed and other more murky structures.
By 'open game' I mean a position after the opening which features open files and diagonals, a fairly clear centre and no locked pawn chains. Closed games are the opposite.
Hmm, why is that?
After 1.e4 e5, White can follow up with d2-d4, immediately or after some preparation. White gets open diagonals for the Bishops, and (at least) the chance to get (at least) a half-open file in the centre.
After 1.d4 d5, e2-e4 looks like it loses a pawn right now, and may be hard to organise later. If White has to settle for e2-e3, then White may be obliged to develop the Bc1 before touching the Bf1 and castling. So, the game unfolds more slowly, and open files and diagonals emerge only later.
After 1.d4 Nf6, White may even be invited to play e2-e4, but where any open lines will emerge is not clear.
Why should you care?
Well, open games tend to be easier to follow, easier to play, and are easier settings in which to practice the sorts of things you should be practising when starting out (fast development, king's-side attacks, tactics, endgames). Closed and Indian systems are not as easy to play or understand. You have to put up with Black's other responses to 1.e4, but against at least some of them you can steer for an IQP position. If you learn how to play IQP positions, you may not always be able to claim an opening advantage, but you will always be able to know what you are doing.
So, if you start with 1.e4, you're making a good choice, and one that you needn't ever change. The Italian Game is a good place to start, while the Ruy Lopez and Scotch Game are both still played by Grandmasters.
1.e3 or 1.d3 or neither?
Long answer: Either or both!
An opening is only as good as the ideas you bring to it. (I think that's a quote, but I Googled it, and got this website... Could someone let me know where I stole it from?)
If you make moves at random, you might hit on 1.e3 d5 2.a4, or 1.d3 d5 2.Qd2, but those are not opening systems. You have to have a set of ideas you can bring to oppose different Black approaches. You can play either first move with a ready-made set of ideas, maybe e3/b3/Bb2/Bb4 (Nimzo-Larsen Attack), or d3/g3/Bg2 (King's Indian Attack), and do well. You may note that two of our strongest players, Graham Bolt and Tim Paulden, have been using the Hippopotamus with both White and Black, which uses both e3 and d3, and doing pretty well.
King's Indian Defence or Grunfeld?
In the King's Indian Defence, White is invited to set up a big pawn centre with c4, d4 and e4. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d6 4.e4 Bg7 5.Nf3 0-0 Black generally hits back in the centre with ....e7-e5, when one likely result is that White pushes on with d4-d5, resulting in blocked central pawn chains, rather like the French Defence. 6.Be2 e5 By the way, Black doesn't lose the pawn on e5: 7.dxe5 dxe5 8.Nxe5 Qxd1+ 9.Bxd1 Nxe4! 7.0-0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7
I've already talked about the virtues of rehearsing a particular pawn structure, the IQP, above. Similarly, a KID player gets to play this blocked centre position repeatedly, and will be able to adopt and adapt from known plans and piece placements. Black's pawns point to more space on the King's-side and a break with ...f5; White has more Queen's-side space and a break with c4-c5.
Viktor Korchnoi was always known as a King's Indian Killer, being able to show the virtues of the White structure against the strongest players in the world. But this is how he got on against Bobby Fischer in a rapidplay game:
Good advert, yes?
Meanwhile, over in the Grunfeld, White can get you into a variety of very different central structures.
You get one in the Exchange:
A different one in the Russian:
And another from the Taimanov, which is actually characteristic of the Queen's Gambit, Exchange Variation:
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Bg5 Ne4 6. cxd5 Nxg5 7. Nxg5 e6 8.Nf3 exd5 ...
Black is doing OK in all of these structures and all these variations, but my guess is that you are going to have to understand more different structures than in the KID, and you are going to have to rely more on exact knowledge than general plans and analogies from similar positions.
Benoni: immediate or delayed?Short answer: delayed, but try the Benko instead.
The classic Modern Benoni structure is one where the positions are lively and unbalanced, and where the overall plans for each side are clear enough but the complications may be intense.
Black has a Queen's-side majority, White a central majority. Black may advance on the Queen's-side, supported by the strong Bg7 on the long diagonal. White is going to try and push through e4-e5. White can try and do this with pieces alone, but it's natural to seek support by f2- f4. So, White might move the Knight from f3 to... hmm, where, exactly? Well, how about d2, thence to c4? On c4, it supports e4-e5, and if Black is restrained from ...b5 by a2-a4, it will stand very well.
So, Black players devised a cunning plan: delaying ...e6xd5. Black reasons that White is going to run out of constructive moves. Black can prepare ...b5 for a long while without taking on d5, while White simply cannot play Nf3-d2-c4, because there is a pawn on c4.
This is one argument for avoiding the Schmidt Benoni which uses 1.d4 c5 2.d5. White gets a very early signal about the structure, and can delay or avoid c2-c4, keeping c4 free for a piece.
Overall, I might prefer the Benko for Black: you get a small range of structures and the initiative. I have got into the habit recently of describing the art of chess as creating a position which is too hard for your opponent but not you. I think the Benko is easier to play for Black than for White.
Bonus: How to out-think HoudiniTom B reports that when faced with this line: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3 cxd4 7.cxd4 Bd7 [I trust you are all savvy enough to avoid 7...Nxd4? 8.Nxd4 Qxd4?? 9.Bb5+] 8.Bc2 Qa6 9.Nc3 Rc8
Houdini and other strong chess programmes can currently be relied on to repeat the position: 10.Bd3 Qb6 11.Bc2 Qa6