Game 5: SmithyQ – Elboricura: Punishing Disregard for Opening Principles

More ink has been spilled on chess openings than any other part of the game, and it’s easy to think it’s some mystical thing, too deep to understand.  It really isn’t.  For 98% of opening positions, Basic Opening Principles explain exactly what to do.  They aren’t a secret.  Here they are.

  1. Develop pieces, preferably Knights before Bishops.
  2. Make as few pawn moves as necessary.
  3. Castle quickly.
  4. Do NOT move the same piece twice.
  5. Do NOT bring the Queen out early.

That’s the opening in a nutshell.  The vast majority of my games stick to this.  Openings really can be this simple.  Violating opening principles is a surefire way to lose quickly.  That’s what happened here, in my fifth game since returning to chess.

[Event “Let’s Play!”]
[Site “”]
[Date “2015.03.31”]
[Round “?”]
[White “SmithyQ”]
[Black “elboricua581”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “C23”]
[WhiteElo “1532”]
[BlackElo “1359”]
[Annotator “Pettit”]
[PlyCount “29”]
[EventDate “2015.??.??”]
[TimeControl “1”]

{A game where Black ignores basic opening principles and pays the Royal Price.
} 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 c6 $5 {This is a non-essential pawn move in the opening, so
it should be a mistake … and it probably is, but I don’t think it’s that bad.
Now, if you’re rated below 1700, this is playing with fire while swimming in
gasoline, but it’s not losing itself.} ({For instance, the following is a
normal line in the Bishop’s opening} 2… Nf6 3. d3 c6 {and if White plays Nc3
here, the position could transpose to the game. Again, not necessarily the
best way for Black to play, but plausible.}) 3. Nc3 Bb4 {This, though, is
strange. Yes, you developed a Bishop, good, but it isn’t threatening the
Knight, it isn’t pinning it, it’s not really doing anything. Lasker said
Knights before Bishops, so why not Nf6? Decide later where you want to play
this piece.} 4. Nf3 {For my part, I have played the four most normal opening
moves possible.} Qf6 $6 {We all know not to bring our Queens out early, right?
Because she will get attacked and pushed around.} ({A problem for Black is,
because he played 2…c6!? instead of developing a piece, he’s facing
unpleasant pressure, and it’s not easy figuring out how to defend the e-pawn.
The most natural move is} 4… d6 5. d4 {but now White is doing exactly what
he should be doing: opening up the center with a lead in development. Black
can easily get in trouble, for instance:} exd4 (5… Nf6 {This move works, but
Black must avoid the following trap.} 6. Ng5 O-O (6… d5 {is the only move to
avoid immediate disaster.}) 7. dxe5 dxe5 8. Bxf7+ $1 Kh8 (8… Rxf7 {and White
has succesfully deflected the Black Rook.} 9. Qxd8+ $18) 9. Qxd8 Rxd8 10. Bb3
$18 {White emerges up a clear pawn and threatens Nf7+ fork. Notice how White’s
lead in development seamlessly allowed for aggression and tactics.}) 6. Qxd4 {
and White has four pieces developed to Black’s one, and in addition, White is
attacking g7 and threatening Bxf7+, with a discovered attack on the misplaced
Bb4.}) 5. O-O Ne7 {We see another disadvantage of both Qf6 and c6: it’s harder
to bring the other pieces into the game. Neither Black Knight has a good
square currently. Also, notice Black’s King still stuck in the centre.} 6. d4 {
That’s why I strike in the centre first, before Black can organize his pieces.
Indeed, I’ve done everything to the book: Knights to c3 and f3, Bishop to best
square, castled, and now I open the center. Black, meanwhile, has violated
virtually every opening principle, and it’s only been six moves!} O-O $2 {
This move loses, though not in the most obvious way.} (6… exd4 {It’s not
pleasant, but Black needs to resolve the central tension before it runs him
over.} 7. e5 Qf5 8. Qxd4 {and Black is in huge difficulties. White is two
moves away from completing development and already has big threats. Natural
moves fail Black, for instance} O-O 9. Bd3 {hitting the Queen and Bishop.}) 7.
dxe5 Qg6 8. Nh4 {And just like that the Queen is trapped.} d5 9. Nxg6 Nxg6 {
Okay, so I’m up a Queen, what do I do now? I still have a lead in development,
so my priority should still be to attack. In the meantime, d5 is underdefended,
so let’s start there.} 10. exd5 Nxe5 11. Bb3 {I choose to drop my Bishop back
on this diagonal, rather than d3 or e2, because it stares at f7, and the pawn
on d5 won’t stay there forever.} Na6 {Note that Black has to develop in such
strange ways, all because of his earlier opening mistakes.} 12. Qh5 {Time to
start the attack. This hits the Knight, and it also looks at f7. Note that Bf4,
developing while attacking the Knight, would also be an excellent move, but
this gives Black more problems.} Bd6 13. Ne4 {I bring another piece closer to
Black’s King, and I’m also threatening the only defender of Black’s Knight.}
Bg4 14. Qh4 {I’m threatening the Bishop, and if it moves, to play f4 and kick
away the only defender of the Bg4. There is no good defence. Black tries one
more move but then calls it quits.} f5 15. dxc6+ {Black has had enough. So
what happened? Mostly, he ignored opening principles. He got a poor opening
position, and I don’t mean GM poor, I mean squalor levels of poor. This made
his position unnecessarily hard, and he was lost by move 7. Don’t ignore base
opening principles.} 1-0


Take a look again at my first eight moves.  Were any of them that hard to find?  I developed my Bishop to its best square, then my Knights to their best squares, then I castled.  Easy.  I needed to develop my other Bishop, and my opponent hadn’t castled, so I played d4.  Easy.  Black then hung a pawn and his Queen.

Openings are as hard as you make them.  If you are trying to memorize the n-th line in the Marshall Gambit, then yeah, openings are tough, and that won’t help you when your opponent plays 2…c6.  If you just follow the opening principles, you play the first eight moves in 10 sec and suddenly find yourself up a Queen.  Nice.

I have several games against players much lower rated than me.  I win most of them, as I should, but I have to work a heck of a lot harder when they follow opening principles.  Do it.

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