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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Fine's Preposterous Openings

     Reuben Fine was formidable player with a solid style. Arnold Denker compared him to Bobby Fischer because both were active positional players who possessed a universal style and were able to win in a variety of ways. 
     Fine always aimed for precision without regard for where it lead tactically, positionally or into the ending. Tatrtakower observed that Fine, like Capablaca, was often able to make something out of nothing in his games. Denker even went so far as to claim that Fine was better than Reshevsky because he had a better understanding of the game. According to Denker, Reshevsky had the better record only because Fine lacked the tenacity and singleness of mind that Reshevsky had. 
     Today Fine is probably remembered more for writing Basic Chess Endings than anything else. It's hardly entertaining reading because it's like a text book on a boring college subject. It focuses on endings that occur most frequently and offers tried-and-tested rules. Over the years mistakes in analysis were found, but the value of the book has not diminished and a great deal can be learned from it. 
     The Middlegame In Chess was another of his instructional books. It's been republished by Burt Hochberg, but do NOT buy Hochberg's revision! Hochburg butchered the book; it's riddled with typos, wrong moves, incorrect diagrams and he removed some games from the original. Before Hochburg got his hands on it, Fine's original work was a classic that explained the basic elements of combinations and attacks against the King, how to evaluate a position, the significance of P-structure and space, the transition from opening to middlegame and middlegame to endgame and more. 
     While on the subject of Burt Hochberg, do any old USCF members remember sometime (possibly in the early 1980s) having received a mail solicitation from him to subscribe to a pornographic magazine he was going to publish?
     Fine also published a couple of opening books. Practical Chess Openings has been republished by Sam Sloan at Ishi Press, but there are much better opening books on the market. 
     Ideas Behind the Chess openings is old, outdated but a better book. It can be found around the internet as a free .pdf download and it's worth having because while the specific moves are no longer relevant, the ideas haven't changed and they are just as valid as when Fine first published it. 
    Before he became one of the world's best players, in his college days the teenage Fine sometimes played some pretty bizarre openings as the following games show...especially 1.h3 against Albert Simonson who in the 1930s was one of the strongest American players of the era and was part of the American team which won the gold medals at the 1933 Chess Olympiad. 
     Irregular is the name applied to any non-traditional opening. Up until the early 1900s it was used for any opening not beginning with 1.e4 e5 or 1.d4 d5.  But, as opening theory developed and openings formerly considered "irregular" became standard, the term has been used less frequently. Because they are not popular the standard opening references generally do not cover them in detail.
     One of the earliest “Irregular” opening references was made by William Lewis in 1832 in Second Series of Lessons on the Game of Chess. He classified openings under: 
King's Bishop's Game (1.e4 e5 2.Bc4) 
King's Knight's Game (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3) 
Queen's Bishop's Pawn Game (1.e4 e5 2.c3) 
King's Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.f4) 
Queen's Gambit (1.d4 d5 2.c4)
Irregular Openings (all other openings). 

    Lewis commented that irregular openings were "seldom played, because they are generally dull and uninteresting". Openings he analyzed as irregular included: French Defense, English Opening, Bird's Opening and a few 1.d4 d5 lines that did not belong to the Queen's Gambit. 
    Lewis assigned no names to those openings. Carl Jaenisch, an early advocate of the French and Sicilian, rejected the use of "irregular", saying that openings should rather be classified as "correct", "incorrect" or "hazardous". 
     For many years in The Chess-Player's Handbook (1847), Staunton accepted Lewis's overall classification system, but hinted that Jaenisch's classification had some validity. Staunton wrote that some openings other than 1.e4 e5 or 1.d4 d5 should, for the sake of clarity (he used the term “perspicuity”), be given names. He included the French, Sicilian, Scandinavian, Owen's Defense, the Dutch Defense, Benoni Defense, Bird's Opening and the English Opening under special headings. 
     Even when playing an irregular opening the objective must be based on sound opening principles. So, in the following games when Fine played 1.h3 against Simonson he ended up with a position reminiscent of a Colle Attack. And, after the move 1.f3 against Rappaport, Fine did not neglect the center.  When his opponent failed to take advantage of the opportunity to gain space with 3...d4 Fine was able to gain control of the center himself. 
     It's interesting that in correspondence games on Lechenicher SchachServer (where engines are allowed) I have occasionally played irregular openings and the engines have not been able to refute them. Apparently even today, just like in the old days, some moves that “theory” considers bad, aren't. 

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