Monday, February 05, 2007

Rule independence in the openings

It's time to start studying openings again. Not to the exclusion of all else, not even more than all else. After three weeks of not studying openings at all, after focusing on general "rules" for opening play, I have gotten worse in the openings. And I am taking more time to make my moves. What a useful combination!

John Watson, in Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy talks about how the GMs constantly break the classical "rules" of chess when the situation demands it. E.g., it is sometimes the best move is to put a knight on the edge, to move a piece twice in the opening, or to give up the right to castle. He describes this situation-responsive play as 'rule independence.' And that's what intelligent chess is: it is the formation of a plan based on an evaluation of the concrete position in front of you. Paraphrasing Patrick, the rules (and patterns) merely suggest plans, but concrete analysis tells you what the best move is, what plan should be followed.

So, why study openings, why not just analyze the concrete position in front of you in the opening, using the rules as mere useful suggestions? I can think of lots of reasons. The following are in order of importance:
1) I simply enjoy studying the openings. Why deprive myself of that? Rule-independent doesn't mean I can't study them on my own time, that I need to figure everything out for myself OTB.
2) To save time in games.
3) Avoid annoying traps. While such situations are really just tactical, that doesn't mean I'll see them before they are sprung on me!
4) I have improved at chess, and I am starting to see more varied and hard-to-handle openings. I want to know about them.
5) The opening is the only position that occurs in every game. Study it well, young grasshopper.

My plan: I am not going to study deep, but broad, following Heisman's approach in this excellent article. It is similar to Sancho's sketch pad approach. Note, J'adoube has a discussion of these general issues here, written in his usual understated style.

As for specifics, I'm overhauling my repertoire in a couple of key places. I'm giving up the Bishop's opening for the Ruy Lopez. As black I'll play the Giuoco instead of the two-knights' defense. I don't like the two-knights. The proper response to the Fried-Liver attack is basically to give away a pawn and destroy your pawn structure. While the Giuoco has a boring reputation because of its symmetry, as black I just want to make it to the middlegame with a reasonable position. The two knights doesn't let me do that. Also, Watson's new book has good coverage of the Giuoco. This will be a good opportunity to use his book. (Tak: I don't want to play the Traxler :)).

This is fun. Note this is partly inspired by my tournament games (and this weekend I went 0/3, which I don't even want to talk about right now).


Blogger takchess said...

The GP? Man,you are only a few steps away from playing the French.

I would argue:
The proper response to the Fried-Liver attack is basically to give away a Bishop and a Rook and checkmate your opponent. 8)

Traxler Counterattack Promotional Committee

2/05/2007 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger Jim said...



Oh wait. . .that was sarcasm. . .never mind [grin]

I can't begin to tell you how much studying d4 openings has helped me. When you can go 10 moves deep into an opening as still know where to go from there is enormously helpful. I checked my times from the last tournament and I would only have run 3 minutes off the clock after 10 moves and be in great positions.

I dare anyone to tell me that isn't a good thing [grin].

2/05/2007 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger Jim said...


Pay no attention to that Patriots fan behind the curtain over there. . .play the French and win games! [grin]

Sorry Tak, gotta get my digs in :)

2/05/2007 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger Pendrax said...

If what you're after is a "plausible" opening to get you to the middle game, why not something like the Colle? There seems to be a fairly small body of stuff to learn.

Is it too popular these days?

2/05/2007 10:32:00 PM  

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