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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Universal Openings and Defenses

      Lately I’ve come across several players who have been adapting the same moves with White and Black, apparently with the idea that by playing the same moves no matter what White (or Black) plays, they can eliminate the need to be familiar with, or study, opening strategy.

      I don’t think that approach really works and it does nothing to increase one’s understanding of the game. If such an opening existed then GM’s would be playing it. Also, when it comes to using the same moves as both White and Black (usually involving a fianchetto) that approach can’t be right either because, as GM Alex Yermolinsky has pointed out, the opening strategy for White and Black simply can’t be the same.

To give some examples:
      In the Pirc, after the moves 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 Black intends to play ...e5 or ...c5 putting pressure on the dark squares in the center. He usually waits until after playing ...Bg7 and ...O-O.
      BUT, sometimes it is desirable to play his P-breaks more quickly because the timing of White’s central push or Black’s advance in the center is critical. Failure of either side to recognize this point will likely result in incurring a disadvantage.
      In the Robatsch Defense after 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 White has a wide choice of moves: 4.f4, 4.Be3, 4.Nf3, 4.Bc4, 4.Nf3 and even 4.f5 which, by the way, after 4…d5 5.e5 has transposed into the 3…g6 line of the Caro-Kann. It should be evident that Black’s correct response is going to depend on which move White plays.
      In the K-Indian Attack where White opens with the moves 1.Nf3, 2.g3, 3.Bg2, 4.0–0, 5.d3 and 6.Nbd2 his correct strategy is going to depend on what type of formation Black selects. Black can set up defenses similar to the QG, K-Indian, Q-Indian, Sicilian, French, etc. and in order to play the opening correctly White is going to have to adapt his strategy accordingly.
      Unfortunately, there is simply no such thing as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ opening or defense and there is simply no shortcut or substitute for the hard work involved in trying to learn how to play good moves whether it’s in the opening, middlegame or ending.
      Once again, my advice when it comes to openings is to play solid, mainline openings that you see GM’s playing. Get a good opening book that explains the ideas behind the opening of your choice and one that contains complete games. Study the ideas behind the moves then play over a lot of games with those lines trying to absorb the ideas. Eventually you’ll find yourself playing ‘book’ lines without even realizing it and, as a bonus, you’ll understand to some extent what it is you’re trying to accomplish.
      This isn’t something I thought up on my own; it’s the advice of Yermolinsky and it’s the way masters and GM’s do it. I forgot who said it, but one GM said that when he wants to incorporate a new line into his repertoire the first thing he does is download about 25 recent GM games off the Internet and play over them to see how his peers handled the resulting positions. That’s so he could get an overview of typical positions that were reached and how they were played by other GM’s. Only then did he begin to do a critical analysis of typical positions that arose. That’s too much like work for most of us though…we’d rather just play the same 6 or 8 moves against anything our opponent throws at us and hope for the best.

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