Why do we play chess? Ultimately, it’s to have fun, right? Sure, winning is nice and seldom gets boring, but given the choice, you’d rather win and have fun than win while being bored out of your mind, right?
This is where I am struggling, and it chiefly relates to my opening choices. I have a very correct opening repertoire. I play the Queen’s Gambit and Ruy Lopez as White, considered the two best openings after 1.e4 and 1.d4 respectively. Against 1.d4 I chiefly play the Nimzo, perhaps the most sound yet ambitious opening Black can try, and against 1.e4 I have played a little bit of everything but mostly the Kan / Taimonov Sicilian and the Open Spanish, which are again two of the oldest and most respected openings around.
All of this is great and all, and it would compare to any GM anywhere … and yet I don’t think I like any of these positions. Continue reading →
Someone posed a question on my blog asking, “What is equality anyway?” On one hand, it’s an easy question: if the game is equal, then that’s equality. If both sides have the same material, the same pieces, no weaknesses, same development, then that’s equality. That’s obvious, but chess is a deep game, and many positions are far from simple … and yet GMs will still claim that the game is equal.
In this post, I want to discuss some ideas behind equality. There are quite theoretical, so I don’t expect it to radically change your play, but you might understand chess better afterwards. First, though, I want to discuss the basic strategic ideas behind the chess game. Continue reading →
Chess has three main stages: the opening, the middlegame and the ending. The middlegame is everyone’s favourite, because that’s where all the tactics, sacrifices and combinations come to the fore. If you have a favourite game, either a classic one or one you played yourself, it’s almost certainly the middlegame that made it stand out for you.
Or maybe the background stood out to you. Both work.
This is also why no one likes the endgame: there are virtually no tactics or sacrifices. Nothing really happens and then suddenly one side loses. Or, more often, it’s a draw. Yawn. Chess players like nothing more than to play the middlegame and ignore the endgame … but when it comes to studying, nothing supplants the opening. Continue reading →
If you ask the average chess player a question about openings, they’ll likely have pretty strong opinions. They like certain openings, dislike others, and they can list off names and variations left and right. There’s nothing intermediate-level players like to study more, and beginners think their biggest issues are always opening related.
You can find resources on openings just about anywhere. There are more chess books released each year about openings than the rest of the literature combined. Heck, I’ve recently published two of my own posts discussing opening advantages and opening traps, respectively. Bottom line, there’s a lot of information out there.
And, in all honestly, you don’t really need it. You don’t need to focus on openings. You need to focus on good chess. Continue reading →
There are two ways a chess game can be decided in the opening. Someone might fall for a trap and lose instantly. That’s perhaps what most people think about when they consider winning in the opening. The other possibility is that one side gains some sort of advantage, perhaps material but usually positional, and then uses that to win the game.
This second possibility is much, much more common at the grandmaster level. There, the tiniest sliver of an advantage may be nursed into a won game. For us amateurs, that’s usually not the case. It’s not uncommon to have an advantage turn into a disadvantage within three moves, sometimes even less … something I know all too well…
However, in amateur games, sometimes you can gain such a huge positional advantage that the game really is over. Obviously this implies that your opponent has made some type of mistake. It will be most obvious if we look at some of my examples. Continue reading →
I wrote last week about my journey finding a defence to 1.e4. It started with just knowing opening principles, turning into the Sicilian Dragon … then literally every other possible defence. I couldn’t find an opening I liked, as everyone seemed to have some flaw, something that made it unplayable from my perspective.
That said, all of this was minor compared to my problem against 1.d4, or 1.c4 for that matter. At first glance it might not seem bad at all, as there are relatively fewer systems against the closed openings. You can accept or decline the Queen’s Gambit, or you can play a Nimzo structure or a King’s Indian structure. Not many choices, especially compared to 1.e4, where virtually anything goes.
Is there anything sweeter than winning a chess game in the first ten moves? Nothing shows your superiority more than finishing a game before it even starts. That leads some players to spend a lot of time learning various opening traps. After all, the easiest way to win a game is to have your opponent fall into a trap and lose instantly.
That said, there are two types of traps, good ones and bad ones. If you set a good trap and your opponent doesn’t fall for it, you are still fine. Your position is normal. With bad traps, if your opponent doesn’t fall for it then you are in a worse position. A bad trap is the equivalent of gambling that your opponent won’t see something.
I don’t recommend you play chess that way. I never go out of my way to set traps, but I do play some openings that have trapish tendencies. That is, if my opponent plays normally, it’s a normal game, but if my opponent makes a misstep then he loses. In what follows are some of my main trap lines, though I can’t possibly list them all. First, though, a warning.
Why You Shouldn’t Play Bad Traps
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nd4?!
This is the Blackburne-Shilling Gambit. It’s bad, in the sense that White gets a great game … as long as he doesn’t fall for 4.Nxe5?, which loses immediately to Qg5! Many beginners have lost to the following trap.
If White avoids this, though, he gets a great game. I managed to do this. Note: at the time, I didn’t even realize I could win the pawn, so I lucked out big time!
Black’s opening strategy has been a disaster. White wins back his material and Black is in deep trouble. He makes an inaccurate move and loses instantly in fact.
13… Kd8 14.Be6 Bxe6 15.Qxe6 Bg5 16.Rf7 1-0
Black is getting mated. He never recovered after he wasted time in the opening setting his trap. Hopefully everything is clear: don’t set bad opening traps!
Some Good Traps
Cambridge Springs Variation
I won several games with the following Cambridge Springs trap, but my record with this opening when White doesn’t fall for this was very low, which is why I dropped it.
Four Knights Caro-Kann
I’ve won with the following trap FOUR times. Unfortunately, if Black plays 3… Bg4 followed by exchanging and playing e6, the position becomes pretty unfun. If Black doesn’t know that, though, then he can get in trouble playing natural Caro-Kann moves.
Winning a Pawn in the Ruy Lopez
I have several games against 1400-1600 rated players that fall for some variation of the following ‘trap’. When I watch lower-rated players play, I see it fairly often as well. I think Black gets worried that his Knight is pinned and will be hit by d5, but still, losing a pawn this way is pretty basic.
It’s often games like the above where Black things “I lost because I don’t know openings.” Of course, that’s not true. He lost because he blundered. When you play a6, what do you think will happen? Either exd4 or Bd7, two logical moves, and Black is fine.
Bg4 in the Queen’s Gambit Accepted
This is very common amongst those under 1300-rating and have never seen the Queen’s Gambit before.
That was my favourite variation of the attack, and one of the rare times I’ve gotten to sacrifice my Queen. More common, though, is something like the following.
Obviously if Black doesn’t play such useless moves as a6 or h6 then these traps don’t work … but these aren’t really traps. White is playing completely normal moves, and if Black is careless he can fall for some standard tactical motifs.
Danger in the Philidor
Lower-rated players often play the Philidor, often not by some conscious choice but simple lack of opening knowledge. I’ve feasted on the Philidor during my lower-rated days, and the following is probably the best trap in the Philidor.
The Sozin Bishop and Sicilian Move Order
Let’s end up with perhaps the worst opening trap I’ve fallen for (or at least remember falling for!). I liked playing the Dragon Sicilian, or at least liked the idea of playing such a dangerous opening. I never studied it, so I wasn’t very good at it… and then I fell for traps like this.
Notice the tricky move order, which caused me to play an early Nc6, and when I later played g6 without thinking, the trap was sprung. This is an excellent trap, as White makes normal moves and Black may make moves he didn’t mean to. One careless move later and it’s over before it even started.
There are literally hundreds of different traps. Some win a pawn, some win a piece, some win the King. You might object that some of my traps here aren’t very good, as they require the other side to make a bad move … but that’s every trap. A trap, by definition, is your opponent missing your threat. Some traps are more subtle than others, but they all require blindness by your opponent.
Regardless, the point isn’t for you to memorize reams of traps. Notice that I didn’t so much set traps as simply played good moves (except in the game I lost!), natural moves that obeyed the opening principles. If you do that and your opponent doesn’t, you are giving him the rope to hang himself.
Also, in the grand scheme of things, I’ve won less than 5% of all my games from opening traps. It makes no sense to intently study traps when they occur so seldom. They are fun to know and even more fun to play, but spend an appropriate amount of time on them and you’ll be fine.
Here’s my chess confession: growing up, I never knew what to play as Black against 1.d4. Nothing seemed to work. QGD and Slav positions always ended up passive; Nimzo positions ended up simply lost. I asked around, and apparently the King’s Indian was the best chance to attack as Black. I tried that … and lost about 80% of my games. I clearly was not a KID player.
To be fair, I didn’t study much if any theory before playing these openings. I just looked at a few games and then tried it out myself. With 1.e4 openings, that seemed fine. I had an intuitive sense of what to do. The 1.d4 openings, though, left me completely in the dark … until I found the Dutch defence.
1…f5 gave me renewed hope. For the first time, I was not just winning, but winning easily and in style. This gave me confidence. I would later give up the Dutch after several painful losses, but not before it gave me some memorable wins. Let’s look at some. Continue reading →
If you hear a seasoned chess player talk about chess, it’s usually one of two things: either about famous players or openings. What else is there to talk about? Everybody has his or her own favourite player, be it the dauntless Tal or the dominating Capablanca or the demolishing Fischer. Finding your favourite player is generally pretty easy as well. Go through a collection of famous games, see one that catches your eye and presto, your favourite player.
For the record, my favourite player is Siegbert Tarrasch.
Openings, though, are completely different. While you might enjoy going through your favourite player’s games, you need to play your own openings. You need to study hard and memorize lines if you want to avoid opening traps, especially in the heavy theoretical lines. Each opening is different, leading to different positions, and it can seem overwhelming. Where to start? Which is best? How can I possibly know any of this? Continue reading →
I’ve started to play more games the past few weeks, but I only managed to finish one of them. Fortunately, it was an interesting, double-edged game in which both sides made mistakes, and the game became sharp right from the opening. I will analyze the game, highlight the key moments and ask questions to you, the reader. You can thus be entertained and, hopefully, learn something, too.