Man de la Maza

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Opening Theory

So, I've been reading opening books lately. Yes, I know heresy, but I've paid my debt to society, so I'm moving on. My theory is that if one learns one opening really well one will be introduced to all the major themes in chess strategy. Sort of like great literature. It is said that you if you read the whole body of work of any one great author -- Shakespeare, Dante, Proust, Faulkner, or Spider Robinson -- you will introduced to all the major themes of literature.

I started a topic on Chessninja a few months back to come up with the opening to study. My main criterion was that the opening have an excellent resource for study, presumably a book. I had three recommendations.

1) Trompowsky (1d4 Nf6 2. Bg5) -- Winning with the Trompowsky by Peter Wells
2) French Defense (1e4 e6 2d4 d5) -- Play the French by John watson
3) Queen's Gambit Declined (1d4 d5 2c4 e6 3Nc3 Be7 4Nf3 Nf6) -- Queen's Gambit Declined by Mathew Saddler

It was hard to reach a decision without studying the books ... so ... I bought all of them. This may seem wasteful, but you must recall that the second criterion for admittance into Heaven is possesion of chess books. (First being completion of the MdlM training program). I took a look at the first two chapters of each.

Winning with the Trompowsky is a wonderful book that I will enjoy reading in 3 years. Undoubtedly a trenchant and incisive treatement of the opening, it left me a little lost. Statements like "This leads to a Benoni structure unless black plays c6 in which case we have a Siclian Robatch chocolate flavored structure". When I know all the pawn structures and their meanings, then I'll pick this lovely book back up. Lots of people love Play the French. I don't get it. It seems to be one of those repetoire books that lists variantions without explanations. "d6 can be played here but one must consider e3. The h pawn lends itself to Nxe5 Bxe5 Qxd8 RXd4 Nxe5 Bxe5 Qxd8 RXd4 Nxe5 Bxe5 Qxd8 RXd4 Nxe5 Bxe5 Qxd8 RXd4 Nxe5 Bxe5 Qxd8 RXd4 Nxe5 Bxe5 Qxd8 RXd4 Nxe5 Bxe5 Qxd8 RXd4 Nxe5 Bxe5 Qxd8 RXd4 Nxe5 Bxe5 Qxd8 RXd4 Nxe5 Bxe5 Qxd8 RXd4 with a postional advantage. Of course, Karpov once played d6 in a blitz in Minsk in 1992, but he was drunk and not wearing pants. The game proceeded ..." Again perhaps in a few years.

I was going to toss in the towel and just go straight to Alex Baburin's Winnig Pawn Structures when Queen's Gambit Declined arrived. This is exactly what I was looking for. Simple. Basic. Explanation of the ideas and plans involved. So there it is. I'm a QGD player until further notice.

PS Thanks to Fussy Lizzard who recommended Mr. Sadler's book


  • I have boooks 1) and 2) on your list. Wells' book on the Tromp is one of the very best opening books that I have read in recent years. You might think that it is a bit over your head for now, but hopefully you will appreciate it later. It is full of chess knowledge and if you want to use thorough opening study for improving other parts of your game the Tromp with all of its dynamic considerations would be a very good choice. You can read my review of the book

    I never delved very deeply into Watson's French book. Your observation about it being an endless series of subvariations seems correct. I believe it has first and foremost praised because Watson makes qulaified assesments and his analysis has generally proved to pass the test of time.

    By Blogger Jens, at 7:13 AM  

  • With all the chess books I own, I'll be getting front row seats in Heaven! Do we have to read them all?

    I spent years studying openings and not much else, and I've finally come around to the way of thinking that we do study openings too much. But I believe studying openings is still a productive endeavor. The danger is in just memorizing lines.

    GM Matthew Sadler summed it up wonderfully in his book The Slav:

    1. Knowing the main aim of our opening.
    2. Knowing the value of move-orders.
    3. Understanding typical positions.

    My personal experience with openings has been that at the class level, the choice of opening rarely determines the outcome of the game. So I play openings that I'm most comfortable with (and you discover this through trial and error). If those openings are huge or light in theory, I don't care. Besides, if I leave theory early, it's rare my opponent knows how to exploit this. I've played games that went well into the middlegame with me following theory I knew -- and this is nice because I'm saving time on the clock and entering a position that's not only good, but one I'm familiar with. But I've also faced opponents who leave theory very quickly, and I have to think on my own.

    Regarding your books, Winning With the Trompowsky is excellent. Peter Wells does a great job of explaining many of the ideas. I'm seriously considering adopting the Tromp as an alternate White repertoire. Watson's book is the bible of French repertoire books, but you're right -- he's light on verbal explanation. Sadler's QGD book is very good (the best of all three in explaining what every move is about, starting from move one), but he does leave some major variations out. I used to play both the French and the QGD, but I realized I don't really like the resulting positions.

    By Blogger Chris, at 7:34 AM  

  • Don,

    Glad you finally came around to the Sadler book. I was afraid I would have to send a large man with a lead pipe to deliver a copy of the book to you to make sure you understood how much I like it (and how much you value your kneecaps). :-)

    I think people also like Watson's book for its thoroughness- it seems like everything is covered.

    Another bonus on the Sadler book is he also has books on the Slav and semi-Slav, which are also similar. I don't think they are quite as instructive since the openings are more complex, but he is good about pointing out relationships among these queen's pawn openings.

    My only gripe about the QGD is that, like Chris Kilgore, I am not all that excited by the resulting positions. I find I do better in more open, tactically-oriented games.

    By Blogger fussylizard, at 9:34 AM  

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