Something I’ve been contemplating of late is how players who have gone beyond beginner level should play the openings. Conventional wisdom advises that they should go for the classics in order to teach principles, playing 1.e4 with White and meeting 1.e4 with 1…e5 and 1.d4 with 1…d5. Yet having witnessed the level of ‘preparation’ at under 10 level (the Fried Liver Attack with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5 6.Nxf7 is a big thing there) I wonder if principles are really being taught.
At various seminars I’ve come across kids who’ve been primed with variations such as 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Nxe4, which after 5 seconds thought I rendered horrific for Black via 5.Bxf7+ Ke7 6.d3. Another lad demonstrated the so-called Shilling Gambit 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nd4 hoping for 4.Nxe5 Qg5, which I promptly rendered unpleasant for Black via 5.Bxf7+ Ke7 (5…Kd8 is probably better) 6.0-0 Qxe5 7.Bxg8 Rxg8 8.c3 followed by 9.d4, with good compensation for the piece. Meanwhile I’ve heard on the grapevine that 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Bg4 6.f3 Na5 is the next big thing at junior level (unfortunately it can be destroyed via 6.Nxf7!).
To me this stuff looks like tricks, not principles. Principles are things like develop your pieces, castle early and control the centre, and these are things that can be applied in all positions. So could there be a better way in which the principles are taught whilst sidestepping the tricks? Maybe there is, and here’s my suggestion.
What about playing 1…e6, 2…d5 and 3…c5 as Black and 1.e3, 2.d4 and 3.c4 as White? The knights will come out, the king’s bishop will move one square and then you get to castle. Isn’t this fast development (which is a principle) whilst keeping the f2 and f7 squares well covered?
The more I think about this approach the more I like it, though as someone who coaches children with great reluctance it will be difficult to demonstrate its worth. No doubt people will disagree, for example the line 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 c5 does not command great theoretical respect. But for the level of player I’m talking about any lack of soundness is completely unimportant.
Frank Marshall liked to play this way and it was how he opened in one of his most famous games. The move 23…Qg3!! was literally greeted with a shower of gold coins. And it remains one of the most spectacular moves in chess history.