Mr. Schell said: "Last
weekend I played in the 40th Annual Queen of Hearts tournament in
Montgomery, Alabama. I found the atmosphere overwhelmingly friendly and
competitive. In the interests of full disclosure, I withdrew after the
third round because I felt some of my schoolwork required more attention
than I had given it. I heartily endorse the 41st annual Queen of Hearts
tournament! I am including for your review my second round loss."
Inman (2145) - Schell (1848), C10, Alabama 2012 (TC: 90/30 sudden death, 5 second delay) 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7
Schell said: “I have employed this system in the past with hopes to draw stronger opponents.”
Nowadays fans of the French Defense have all sorts of strange ways to
drag opponents into strange vistas: 1.e4 e6 2.d5 d5 3.Nc3 h6 (I don’t
understand this move, but quite a few strong players have given it a
shot); 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 h6 (I still don’t understand it); 1.e4 e6
2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Ng8 (this I DO understand!); 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5
3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 Bf8 (really strange, but it reaches the exact same
position as 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Ng8!).
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 is hardly strange. In fact, it’s a popular
way to keep complications down while striving for a solid, very sound
position. One cool thing about it is that black’s preparation time is
cut in half since 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 and 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5
3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 leads to the same position! No more agony trying to
figure out how to deal with 3.Nd2!
What’s the point of 4…Bd7? Black intends to place his light-squared
Bishop on the very active c6-square, followed by …Nbd7, …Ngf6, …Be7, and
…0-0. Sounds simple! Here’s the first game I could find with this
J. Corzo – J.R. Capablanca [C10], Havana 1902
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7 5.Nf3 Bc6 6.Bd3 Nd7 7.0-0 Ngf6
8.Bg5 Be7 9.Nxf6+ Bxf6 10.Be3 0-0 11.c3 b6 12.Qc2 Kh8 13.Nd2 Re8 14.Bxh7
g6 15.Bxg6 fxg6 16.Qxg6 Qe7 17.f4 Qh7 18.Qxh7+ Kxh7 19.Nf3 Rg8 20.Rae1
Rg6 21.Bd2 Bd5 22.b3 Rf8 23.Kh1 c5 24.dxc5 Nxc5 25.c4 Ba8 26.Bb4 Rfg8
27.Bxc5 Rxg2 28.Be3 Bh4 29.Rd1 Bf2 30.Rd7+ Kh6 31.Rd5 Bxe3 32.Ng5 R2xg5
33.fxg5+ Rxg5 34.Rf6+ Kh5 35.Rxe6 Bxd5+ 36.cxd5 Rg1 mate. The
14-year-old Capablanca made it look easy. Is this system really that
good? Read on!
Schell said: “8...Bxe4 9.Bxe4 Nxe4
10.Qxe4 c6 would have been more consistent with my drawing hope. It
would have resulted in a position where White is slightly better as in
the actual game but Black would have one less piece to worry about
10.Qxf3 c6 11.b3 O-O 12.Bb2 Re8
Schell said: “Overprotecting the
dark square bishop and freeing the f8-square for either a knight, in
defense of h7, or bishop, in defense of g7.”
All that sounds very impressive (and all that stuff is useful), but
what is your plan? What gains do you hope to make? How are you going to
create weaknesses in the enemy camp? What’s your agenda, and how do you
intend to pursue it? The problem is that White has many ways to improve
his position (gain more space, try to create a position where the two
Bishops rule, etc), but what does Black have? Since you have the black
pieces, it’s your job to ask these questions and then solve them.
Otherwise you’re not doing anything but waiting around to die.
Looking at the position after 12…Re8 in my database, White won the
overwhelming majority of games. Yes, your move defends various things,
but it’s a somewhat passive move in a passive position. Of course it’s
not fatal or even bad! But if you continue to play in the same vein, it
Now take a look at the following game (Black played 12…Qc7 instead of
12…Re8), and you can see how Black is doing everything possible to
generate his own play:
A. Simutowe (2457) – V. Burmakin (2611) [C10], Cappelle La Grande 2008
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7 5.Nf3 Bc6 6.Bd3 Nd7 7.Qe2 Ngf6
8.Ng3 Be7 9.0-0 Bxf3 10.Qxf3 c6 11.b3 0-0 12.Bb2 Qc7 13.c4 Rfd8 14.Rad1
Nf8 15.Ne2 Qa5 16.a3 Qh5 17.Qg3 Bd6 18.f4 Ng6 19.h3 b5 20.Qe1 bxc4
21.bxc4 Rab8 22.Bc1 Ne7 23.Rf3 Bc7 24.Bd2 Nf5 25.Qf2 Qh4 26.Qf1 Ne8
27.Bc3 Qe7 28.Bb4 Bd6 29.c5 Bc7 30.Qf2 Qh4 31.Qf1 Qe7 32.Qf2 Qh4 33.Qf1
Qf6 34.Bc3 Qe7 35.Bc2 Nf6 36.Qf2 Nd5 37.Ba1 Qh4 38.Ba4 Qxf2+ 39.Kxf2
Nfe7 40.g3 Ba5 41.Rb3 Rxb3 42.Bxb3 h5 43.Bc2 Nc7 44.Rb1 Ncd5 45.Rb7 Ra8
46.Bb2 Kf8 47.g4 hxg4 48.hxg4 Ke8 49.Be4 Bc7 50.Bc1 Kd7 51.Bd2 g6 52.g5
Kc8 53.Rb1 Kd7 54.Rb7 Rh8 55.Rxa7 Rh2+ 56.Bg2 Kc8 57.Ra8+ Bb8 58.Kg3 Rh8
59.Ra4 Rh5 60.Kf2 Rh4 61.Bxd5 Nxd5 62.Kg3 Rh5 63.Kg2 Kb7 64.Rc4 Rh4
65.Kg3 Rh5 66.Kg2 Rh4 67.Kg3 Rh5 68.Kg2 Rh4 69.Rc1, 1/2-1/2.
There’s nothing wrong with your 4…Bd7 line in the French. But if you
want to play it, you need to look over tons of games like the one above
so you can get a feel for the right setups, plans, and dynamics. It’s
not a matter of memorization. It’s a matter of understanding the
positions and being able to make use of that understanding no matter
what White might try.
This is how ALL openings need to be studied. It’s easy, it’s fun, and
it leads to great results. Finally, I need to add one last critical
point: losing this game can be considered a blessing. It’s how you’ll
master your opening. By using every loss as a lesson, you are able to
gain experience and eventually master the systems you play. 13.Rfe1 Qc7
Schell said: “I had no clue what to do here.”
Allow me to go a little further in the “how to study openings”
department. The following game features this position, with the
exception that white’s a whole move up (he didn’t play Qe2 and thus
didn’t move his Queen twice). Though it’s not the exact same position,
there’s still lots of gold to be mined, and you should study anything
that’s even in the same zip code as your system:
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7 5.Nf3 Bc6 6.Bd3 Nd7 7.0-0 Ngf6
8.Ng3 Bxf3 9.Qxf3 c6 10.b3 Be7 11.Bb2 0-0 12.c4 Re8 13.Rfe1 Qc7 14.Rad1
Rad8 15.a3 Nf8 16.h4 Rd7 17.h5 h6 18.Bb1 Red8 19.Ne4 Nxe4 20.Rxe4 Nh7
21.Rg4 f5 22.Rg6 Bf6 23.Re1 Bxd4 24.Bxd4 Rxd4 25.Rgxe6 Ng5 26.Qxf5 Nxe6
27.Qh7+ Kf8 28.Bg6 Qf4 29.Qh8+ Ke7 30.Qxg7+ Kd6 31.Qxb7 Rd2 32.c5+ Kxc5
33.Qxa7+ Kd6 34.Bf7 Nc7 35.b4 Qd4, 0-1, I. Salgado (2366) – A.
Hoffman,Alejandro (2461) [C10], Malaga 2006.
The lesson from this game was basic but very important: Black can tie
his opponent down if he manages to build serious pressure against
Now I’ll go completely crazy in my quest to explain opening study.
We’re going to start with 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bf5 5.Nc3. I
hear everyone screaming, “Silman’s an idiot, he’s forgotten that we’re
studying the French, not the Slav!”
Fair enough, but let’s play a few more moves: 5…e6 6.Bd3 Bxd3 7.Qxd3
Nbd7 8.0-0 Be7 9.e4 dxe4 10.Nxe4 Nxe4 11.Qxe4 and we pretty much have
the same position that we explored in the note to black’s 8th move (the recommendation of 8…Bxe4), except this time black’s a move ahead!
Though it’s almost the same position (of course, the extra tempo
helps Black), the ideas ARE interchangeable, and studying the Slav
position, even though you are playing the …Bd7-c6 line in the French, is
a good idea!
Here’s an example of black’s play in that almost identical Slav position:
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bf5 5.Nc3 e6 6.Bd3 Bxd3 7.Qxd3 Nbd7
8.0-0 Be7 9.e4 dxe4 10.Nxe4 Nxe4 11.Qxe4 0-0 12.b3 a5 13.Bb2 a4 14.Qc2
b5 15.Rad1 axb3 16.axb3 bxc4 17.bxc4 Qa5 18.Ra1 Qc7 19.Ne5 Nxe5 20.dxe5
Bc5 21.Rxa8, 1/2-1/2, M. Gagunashvili (2574) – I. Rausis (2512) [D12],
For the vast majority of players who don’t want to put that kind of
intensity into opening study, don’t panic! The main message is simple,
painless, and important: learn the basic plans, ideas, pawn structures,
and tactics of your openings (it’s far easier than you might think!) and
you’ll discover that your opening play (and the middlegame play that
follows) reaches a whole new level with minimum work and minimum
memorization. 14.Rad1 a5
Schell said: “Trying to weaken White’s structure with 15...a4 and then exchange some pieces.”
Starting in the position after 14.Rad1, let’s look at one suggestion,
and one game. In both instances, you’ll see Black fighting hard to
change the nature of the position so that it gives him something to crow
In the end, it doesn’t matter if either 14…Qa5 15.a3 Bxa3 or 14…b5
equalize. What does matter is the attitude behind each one! In both
cases, black’s building something and striving to make a positive change
in the position. 15.a3 Qb6?
Schell said: “My reasoning for this
move was bad – I had hoped to prevent 16.c4, which is possible anyway.
16.c4 Qxb3 17.Bxh7+ and the queen is removed from play. My opponent had
something more ambitious in mind.”
The problem with your reasoning isn’t that you missed the tactical
refutation of 16.c4 Qxb3 (17.Bxh7+), but in your desire to defend.
You’re still not building anything. Instead, you’re merely reacting to
your opponent’s ideas. 16.Nf1 Rad8 17.Ne3 c5?
This is a serious mistake. You were already worse, but now you rip
open the position for white’s Bishops. Never forget the minor piece
battle. If you have Knights and he has Bishops, you usually don’t want
to open things up! 18.dxc5?
18.d5! exd5 19.Nxd5 Nxd5 20.Qxd5 Nf6 21.Qc4 (21.Qf5!?) 21…Qc6 22.a4
is very nice for White since his Bishop pair rule the board and assure
White a serious plus in the middlegame and the endgame.
Schell said: “18...Nxc5 is more accurate. I was afraid of 19.Nc4 Qc7 20.Be5 picking up tempos, but black is hanging around.”
Once again your move was based on a reaction to what your opponent
might do to you. If you liked the look of 18…Nxc5, but weren’t enthused
about 19.Nc4 Qc7 20.Be5, you should have looked for a different Queen
retreat. In other words, don’t give up on a line at the first sign of
trouble. Thus, after 19.Nc4 you could play 19…Qa7! and though you’re
worse, you’re still very much in the game. 19.Nc4
19.Qg3!? 19…Qc7 20.Ne5 Nf8
Schell said: “20...Bxa3 ideas fail to an eventual pin on the h2-b8 diagonal from White's queen.”
Mr. Schell is referring to 20…Bxa3 21.Bxa3 Nxe5 22.Qg3 Nfg4 23.h3.
However, instead of the passive 20…Nf8, I would have preferred
20…Nxe5 21.Bxe5 Qe7 22.Bxf6 Qxf6 23.Bxh7+ Kxh7 24.Qh5+ Kg8 25.Qxc5 Rc8
26.Qxa5 Rxc2 and though white’s a pawn up, the active c2-Rook will make
it very difficult for White to cash in on his small material plus.
Schell said: “Black is quite tied up; lashing out as I did in the game was grossly ineffective.”
You probably had to try 21…Ng6 22.h5 Nh4 (22…Nxe5 23.Bxe5 Qe7 24.h6
is winning for White) 23.Qf4 Nf5 24.Bxf5 exf5 25.Rxd8 Qxd8 26.Qxf5
(26.h6? Ng4) 26…Qd5 when we get an interesting position: black’s a pawn
down, but white’s powerful light-squared Bishop is gone, white’s Knight
is pinned along the e-file, and black’s pieces are suddenly active.
Since 27.h6 Qd2 28.Rf1 Qxh6 29.Nxf7 Bxf2+ 30.Qxf2 Kxf7 isn’t as bad for
Black as a first glance might make you believe, White should try
something less forcing on his 27th move: 27.a4 h6 and one problem White has is that the h5-pawn will be loose if the Queen ever takes its eyes off of it.
This looks aggressive, but it doesn’t have any real point. In fact,
its absence from f6 weakens black’s kingside defense. Instead, 22…Rd5!?
is possible, while 22…Ng6 23.h5 Nh4 24.Qh3 Nf5 25.Bxf5 exf5 26.Rxe7
Rxd1+ 27.Kh2 Bxe7 might be worth a try since 28.Qxf5? is met by 28…Rd5.
However, 28.Bxf6 Bxf6 29.Qxf5 is clearly better for White, but perhaps
this is the best line of a bad lot.
Even stronger is 23.h5 h6 24.Be4 when it’s hard to find a good move
for Black since most lines have Black dropping pawns on a5 or b7. 23…g6
Opening up the a1-h8 diagonal looks pretty scary! 24.Be4
Black’s now lost. The rest of the game didn’t last long: 24…b5 25.Nxa5 Bd6 26.Qf3 Qxh4 27.g3 Qe7 28.Bxd5 Bxa3 29.Nc6 Qc5 30.Bxa3 Qxa3 31.Nxd8, 1-0.
Schell said: “The soft clink of
knight takes rook followed by the removal of the piece from the board
was enough for me to finally bow my king to his. I think this game is an
excellent example of how to convert a ‘slightly better’ position into a
win through almost no effort at all!”
The reason White didn’t seem to make much of an effort is because
Black never challenged his opponent with a plan of his own. Better to
die while attempting to build something than to sit around and do
nothing, knowing that death is rushing to meet you.
* If you don’t try and push a plan/agenda of your own, you will find that you lose most of your games without a fight.
* What is your plan? What gains do you hope to make? How are you
going to create weaknesses in the enemy camp? What’s your agenda, and
how do you intend to pursue it? In every game you play, it’s your job to
ask these questions and then solve them.
* If you want to be really good at an opening, you need to look over
tons of games so you can get a feel for the right setups, plans, and
dynamics. It’s not a matter of memorization. It’s a matter of
understanding the positions and being able to make use of that
understanding no matter what the opponent might try.
* For the vast majority of players who don’t want to put too much
time into opening study, don’t panic! The main message is simple,
painless, and important: slowly but surely learn the basic plans, ideas,
pawn structures, and tactics of your openings (it’s far easier than you
might think!) and you’ll discover that your opening play (and the
middlegame play that follows) reaches a whole new level with minimum
work and minimum memorization.
* Never forget the minor piece battle. If you have Knights and he has Bishops, you usually don’t want to open things up!