I was reading a couple of forum posts about openings again. Several people were discussing that most favorite of all topics: openings. The question was about the possibility of playing a particular “system” or series of moves that would be good against everything your opponent can throw at you.
Things like the Torre Attack (my personal favorite), the Colle and the King’s Indian Attack are all perfectly good and acceptable openings and you can play them against everything. What most players fail to understand is that even in those systems, you still have to know some opening theory. To play them correctly you have to know how to proceed depending on the defensive setup your opponent has used. For example if you play the KIA, you have to know the proper strategy against the French, Sicilian, K-Indian, Gruenfeld, QGD, etc. type Black formations. If you don’t you’re just bad off as if you know no opening theory at all because you are going to play it all wrong.
Anyway, it’s that transition from opening to middlegame that’s often most difficult to play because it’s at that point that you are on your own and have to start making plans and coming up with your own moves. Everybody knows that in the opening your general goal is to complete your development, but after that it gets tricky because the correct path will depend on the position.
One thing I’ve noticed is that players often think they’ve completed their development when they have, in fact, not. For example, what about the R still sitting on f1 after castling? It’s not doing anything there, and you can't open the f-file and there seems to be no other good file to put it on.
The correct reasoning is that even though the R can’t do anything at the moment, it should be placed on the file that is most likely to become open. For example, in the Queen's Gambit Declined you know that Black is bound to play ... c5 sooner or later, so that he can look forward to the d-file becoming open. Therefore White usually plays his KR to d1 and the QR to c1 because the c-file is likely to be opened after …d5.
Generally speaking, if you get your R’s ready by occupying future open files, you’ll be doing well. Taking time for this precaution is much better than launching a premature attack in the belief that you have completed your development. OK, I know you’ll see masters break this rule but it is best not to break it yourself without a good reason.
Sometimes it does happen that the opening allows for no good place for the R’s. A good example is in the Giuoco Piano. With the N’s on c3 and …c6 and f3 and …f6 both sides are blocked from playing either d4 and …d5 or f4 and …f5. One player has to undertake opening up a file up for himself, but usually in the process that means opening up the same file for his opponent. That is why in an opening like the Giuoco Piano the first move ceases to be an advantage. So my point is that before thinking your development is complete, make sure the R’s are on an open file or a potential opening file and, preferably, connected. You’ll rarely go wrong.
Now, suppose you have developed your R’s. This is where the middlegame really starts and you have to discover a good strategical plan. Right? Wrong!!
The first thing is to look around for any possibilities of a combination or a forcing line of play and if there are any, look to see if any of them are sound. A tactical possibility may appear at any time and even though a position (yours or your opponent’s) may look strategically good, the first thing you must do is make sure that his last move (or your contemplated move!) does not have some hidden flaw.
To this end of spotting a combination, many players simply start looking at moves and mentally trying them out to see if anything works. This isn’t a very good procedure. A better idea is to look for motifs.
If you spot any of the following things, your tactical antenna should be alerted.
1. Exposed king
2. Castled King without any pieces protecting it
3. Any undefended pieces
4. Any pieces that are sitting in a position that would allow them to be forked.
5. Masked pieces. For example the possibility of a discovered check or a Q sitting opposite a R.
6. An enemy piece without a retreat, or with only one retreat which can be cut off.
7. Q or R on same rank, file, or diagonal.
8. Pinned pieces
9. A pieces protecting another piece.
Any of these things will be a tip off that the possibility of a combination exists. Therefore these things are more important than positional weakness such as a backward Pawn. Of course if you’re opponent is a half way decent player these motifs will be the exception rather than the rule. Unfortunately the lower the rating of the players, the greater the likelihood they will overlook or ignore such indicators.
For many player if the motifs are missing it doesn’t matter a whole lot because they’ll just sacrifice something so they can exercise their “tactical style.” These players are the one who have read “chess is 99% tactics” so think that strategy and planning are only important if you’re rated over 2200. They don’t know anything about planning and how to examine the weaknesses and strengths of each side.
Some positional weaknesses are:
1. weak squares
2. weak P’s
3. P’s moved in front of castled K
4. confined pieces;
5. generally cramped game
Some positional strengths are:
1. well-posted piece
2. more space
3. greater mobility
4. control of center
In the absence of any tactical possibilities strategical planning becomes a necessity. Your plan may have any or some or all of the following objectives:
1. Taking advantage of enemy weakness
2. Establishing your own strength.
3. Removing your own weakness
4. Removing enemy strengths
Some plans, in fact most, aren’t more than 2-3 moves. For example in a closed position trading your “bad” B for an opponents well placed N. Or maybe maneuvering a N to a strong outpost. If you follow these simple guidelines and avoid making any serious tactical errors, I think you can defeat most players and can probably get to at least 1800, or possibly 2000 without much difficulty. I urge you to go back and read my post of CC Chess the Duliba Way and read the part on anti-engine strategy strong correspondence players use. “You’re not interested in positions where a single tactical slip could be fatal. Try to keep the game level and equal exchanges. Rarely should you castle on opposite sides.” Look to keep the game simple and avoid tactical slips yourself while waiting for you opponent to make one…then pounce.
This strategy will work well until you start playing masters. My experience usually has been that tactical mistakes are rare in my play. I am far more likely to squeezed to death and outplayed in the ending by stronger players, but then they understand chess better than I do so are able to take advantage of the positional strengths and weaknesses. I remember as a mid-1600 playing losing a rather long ending to a master. After the game he asked me what my rating was and when I told him he said, “You’re (expletive deleted) me! I thought you were at least 2000.” See, my method works.