Email 7: Ken - "How I Start a Game"

Date: April 30, 2011

First Name: Ken
Last Name: Wilsdon
Country: Canada
Subject: Ken - "How I Start a Game"

Hi Graham,

New Window Test As far as what you were refering to in "I read your email with interest, particularly the third paragraph regarding your personal coding (+STM-P=2).", I have thought back to where I derived this thinking, and I believe that it comes from a book by Grandmaster Larry Evans, New Ideas in Chess.

While Evans (1958) gives a Bibliography of where his ideas come from, Horowitz (1960) does not, and it is my guess that Horowitz borrowed the ideas of Evans and developed the Point Count System from this book (without attribution).

Evans' section on "The Evolution of Chess" is extremely helpful to understand the history of the development of chess over the years and how the various elements he describes (Space, Time, Force (Material) and Pawn Structure) were first understood and developed into the weapons used in modern chess. The notation I described above comes from chapter 7 and 8 of his book. These two books complement one another and form a complete whole of the ideas of the 50's and 60's up until the time of Bobby Fischer.

Later, Evans wrote a book with Gligoric, Hort, Keres, Larsen, Petrosian, and Portisch entitled, "How to Open a Chess Game " (1974). In that book, Evans updates his ideas, and he and Gligoric in their separate chapters illustrates how Bobby Fischer is probably the best example of any chess player up to that era of how to utilize Time as a weapon of mass destruction in the enemy camp.

One quote from Evans in this book describes its importance "The first question a good player asks when he looks at a position is "Whose move is it?" Time is so vital that if a player with only mediocre ability were allowed to move twice in a row, at his option, just once in every game, he could become World Champion! The right to move is precious."

If you can find these books at a used second hand book store, they would be well worth the money. They will stand the test of time, merely being updated with new theory, similar to what is being done with My System from time to time.

Ok. So when I start a chess game as White, I know I have the advantage of the first move. My goal is to keep that advantage by developing rapidly, and only deviating when another advantage presents itself. I also want to begin to gain control of the centre, as my pawns and pieces have the most moves when they are in the centre, and control allows me to change from side to side as needed to extend any advantage or protect where I may be weaker, as well as hinder my opponent's development.

Of the 20 possible first moves, I consider only 6 that have the potential to accomplish both. They are c4, d4, e4, f4 and Nc3, Nf3. This may label me as a classical player, but any of the 14 other moves that could be considered by the Hypermodern chess players I feel either slows development or does not attempt to control the centre starting with move one.

As any pawn move on the A or B file, or the G or H file does not convey an immediate control attempt in the small centre, these moves I feel allows one an uphill battle to keep the advantage of the first move.

As for c3 and f3, these moves immediately take away one of the best squares for the knights, and thus may hinder development.

D3 and e3 allow the bishops to be directed where they can immediately influence the large centre squares e3, f4 and d3, c4 respectively. Yet because neither the pawn moves nor the bishop moves provide direct contact with the opponent's d5 or e5, and does not hinder the development of Black's pieces, these are eliminated from my repertoire. From here, it is a matter of taste which one to use.

Most masters eliminate Nc3, as it blocks the c pawn from going to c4 which could be vital in some openings by transposition. I have looked at c4, sort of a Sicilian reversed, but I believe Black has some good options, and this move limits White in some ways, so I avoid it.

So I am left with 4 moves that based on my style of play I would consider, in approximately this order: e4, d4, Nf3, f4.

Young players should have a go at the e4 lines, as it often leads to tactical games by attacking d5 and f5 or by moving to e5, and chess is about 90% tactics. It also allows 2 pieces access to their diagonals on the board, the Queen and the Kings Bishop, although the pawn itself is unprotected.

Another good move is d4, where it normally turns into more of a strategic game (although tactics can abound here as well), and strategy assessment such as a Point Count system will let you know when tactics may bring an advantage. It only allows the Queen's Bishop access to its diagonal, attacks c5 and e5, could threaten d5, and is protected by the Queen. These two moves (e4 and d4) should be the ones a player just starting out should consider, based upon their tastes.

Only later when they have a handle on what their repertoire should be, should they consider Nf3 and f4. Nf3 often leads to transpositions to e4 and d4 openings, which is why it would be for later. It also has a disadvantage of blocking the f pawn from going to f4, important in some transpositions, but in return, it develops the Knight quickly and may enable early castling on the King's side.

F4 is a move that can be dangerous for the unprepared, as there are gambits here, and it can transpose into all sorts of openings, like the King's Gambit, Bishop's Opening, Sicilian Grand Prix, etc. I would only consider it a surprise weapon against a club player, after I have learned some lines and avoided some traps, as it is infrequently played.

The reverse is basically true for Black, using these 6 moves as appropriate, with some additions. Black does not have the luxury of the advantage of the first move, so he must decide to either attempt to equalize immediately by playing similar moves (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 etc. or 1. d4 d5, etc), or seek to equalize later by attacking the centre from Black's first 3 ranks (1. e4 and then c6, Nf6, e6, d6, g6, b6 etc. or 1. d4 and then Nc6, c6, d6, e6, Nf6, f5, g6 etc).

With best play by White, Black is often put on the defensive and responding to White's moves, only counterattacking where he can find a weakness. So Black's first goal is to equalize in development, and look for ways to unbalance the game in his favor. I believe it was Botvinnik that said a player should develop one or two good lines for White, and spend more time on 3 or 4 lines as Black. So the keys here are seek to equalize, develop as rapidly as possible, control the centre at least from afar (think fianchettos), and seek to unbalance the game in your favor.

As far as a repertoire goes, besides the many repertoire books written for White and Black (most of which have one or two lines which I would consider, finding it hard to find one that has everything that I prefer), a couple of good web pages have good repertoire suggestions. There are two at
  1. by IM Andrew Martin: Andrew Martin Repertoire
  2. and by GM Nigel Davies: Nigel Davies Repertoire
  3. and a third by Michael Goeller of the Kenilworthian: Michael Goeller Repertoire
There should be something for everyone in those suggestions.

I seek a repertoire that limits the amount of lines I need to learn by rote memory (some opening lines have been analyzed 20 or more moves deep, and some with encyclopedic memories know them all!), allows me some opportunity to gain an initiative as either White or Black, and may come somewhat as a surprise to my opponent to take them out of their prepared lines and keep them in my prepared lines longer before we deviate into a distinctive middlegame and ending with our stamp of playing upon it.

This is a game where self-expression can blossom. I also want to be familiar with transpositions to other openings that either side could take. It helps if the opening has strong strategic aims that are evident (like the Benko Gambit Accepted with the a and b files for Rooks, and the Kingside fianchetto, attacking the Queenside, for instance).

Now that you know how I think, I would be interested in hearing how you look at a game from White and Black before the first move. What's going on inside your head?

It obviously has taken me some time to write this, and I thank you for your indulgence in the delay of response. When you are ready to play, let me know, and I can send you the link for our game with your chosen colour.

Hope this provides you with more to think about, and hope this also increases your enjoyment of this game of Kings.

Best wishes,