Grownup Openings

In my last post, titled “Who Are You?”, I suggested it was appropriate now and then to ask yourself not only what type of chessplayer you were, but also how you saw yourself fitting into the chess world.

I took my own advice and asked myself those questions. I decided I wanted to move beyond the “old me,” who played only attacking openings, especially antiquated attacking openings such as the Max Lange Attack. It’s not that I don’t enjoy playing attacking openings—I do. And I’m sure I’ll still play the Bishop’s Opening and its ilk now and then in the future. Those old openings are just too much fun to ignore!

I don’t agree with those who, like John Nunn, believe there is no place in serious chess for second-best openings. I think second-best openings such as the Giuoco Piano and Center-Counter Defense (and even third-best openings such as the Boden-Kieseritzky Gambit and Blackmar-Diemer Gambit) do have their place—you just have to pick your spots carefully. In the 1960s, Danish GM Bent Larsen was renowned for playing the Bishop’s Opening and other offbeat openings in major international tournaments, often successfully. He finally got his comeuppance when he played his namesake Larsen’s Opening (1 b3) against Boris Spassky, who beat him in 19 moves—with the black pieces!—if memory serves. Which just goes to prove my point: you do have to pick your spots.

Anyway, I decided I would like to learn some mainstream openings that can be played against any opponent, from club-level patzer (which I am myself) to international grandmaster (I have played one in my life so far). I want to learn some solid, well-respected, positionally sound openings that will travel well between rating classes.

Mind you, it’s far from clear, on the recent evidence, that I myself am capable of traveling between rating classes. My current USCF rating is 1902 (down from a lifetime peak of 2174, achieved in my thirties). My USCF rating floor is 1900, so I can’t go down, and my recent play shows no sign that I am poised to move higher.

Nevertheless, I do believe positive thinking is helpful. When I ask myself, “Who are you?” my answer is, “Ratings don’t lie; I am what I am. But I see myself as a better player in the future than I am today.” You have to think that way, if you want to be a Chess Improver.

Tim Hanke


Author: Tim Hanke

Tim Hanke is a U.S. amateur who still believes, despite much evidence to the contrary, that he can become a decent chessplayer.