Thursday, June 28, 2007

Studying Openings

At the risk of sounding blasphemous - flying in the face of all of those trainers out there - I want to assert that I think that studying openings is valuable, imperative even, for chess improvement. Maybe there is so much force on the other side of this argument because so many books focus on openings and so many players obsess over openings. Maybe it's because teachers think that students simply memorize the moves without thinking them though - maybe they do some of the time.
Studying openings though, is about learning the patterns.
It's easy enough to say that studying tactics will get you through the opening; just don't make any mistakes. Heh. Yeah. The trouble is, you can easily find yourself in disastrous positions because you didn't see a tactical motif many moves away and now you have your pieces positioned so that they can't do anything about it. More frustrating even, you can find yourself all happily developed in a position where your pieces aren't useful, aren't able to do anything effective.
In this sense, the study of openings is about learning position types, usually by learning thematic structures and reading through games played in them so that you will have a sense of the paths and ideas in the middlegames that you will be seeing in your own praxis. Knowing exacting sequences is helpful, sometimes necessary, but the key is the ideas.
All right, enough bluster, how about some examples then, right? Well, plenty of times I have played the opening ignorantly but without error only to find myself in positions where I had no idea what to do.
White: Lior Rozhansky (1651)
Black: Joshua Haunstrup (1699)
Event: MCC Tuesday Swiss (3)
Date: 2006-02-21
(A46 Queen's Pawn Game)
1.d4 Nf6
2.Nf3 e6
3.Bf4 c5
4.e3 Be7
5.Bd3 Nc6
6.Nbd2 cxd4
7.exd4 d6
8.c3 a6
9.0-0 0-0
10.Qc2 h6
11.Rfe1 Bd7
12.Ne4 Nxe4
13.Bxe4 Rc8

So what is black doing here? Don't look at me, I only played the game. My pieces look rosy; I have the central proponderance; I'm sure I thought I was better. But what's that knight up to on c6? Where can it go? Should I push d6-d5 and let white's knight to e5? What's the game plan.
I followed up with the rather vacuous but seemingly logical sicilanesque,
and then I was smacked in the teeth by
15.d5 Ouch!

Here's another one, similar in many ways,
White: Joshua Haunstrup (1699)
Black: Nikita Konovalchuk (1783)
Event: MCC Tuesday Swiss (2)
Date: 2006-02-14
(B06 Robatsch (Modern) D)

1. e4 g6
2. d4 Bg7
3. Nc3 c6
4. Bc4 d6
My position seemed very active. A good diagonal for the bishop. So far so good.
5. Be3 Nf6
6. Bb3 0-0
7. a4

Like a Sozin Sicilian, right? Then I remembered something about not allowing b5 in the modern complex, so, alright.
7... Nbd7
8. Nf3 e5
9. 0-0 h6
Yuck. Now there's no Qd2 because of the icky Ng4 threat. What am I doing now anyway? Beats me, but I sure haven't blundered anything, I just don't know the opening, haven't a clue.
10. h3 Kh7
11. Qe2 Qe7
12. Rae1 Nh5

Oh, I get it, f5 is coming. That's peachy.
13. dxe5 dxe5
14. Nd2 b6
No no no, a7-a5 and Ba6 is terribleness. Better put the bishop back on the f1-a6 diagonal.
15. Bc4 Qh4

Uh-huh. That's cute. Give a guy all day to come up with something and eventually he will.

The point is that even if you don't make any bad mistakes, if you don't know what you're doing in an opening and resultantly, in a position, you can't really compete. At a certain level, your opponents will probably eventually drop something if you don't but beyond the point of severe blunderitis, you will just lose if you don't have a plan.


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