A few years before retiring, the legendary world chess champion Garry Kasparov played a simultaneous exhibition match in the historic city of Partras in western Greece.
He played white in the above position against an amateur player, who was about to be defeated in a few moves. Although it would have been Herculean for the Greek Amateur to beat a 2800 world champion, his 26-move defeat highlights the fact that he probably screwed up something in the opening phase of the game.
Tip #1) Avoid Lazy Pieces
A quick glance at the above position will show you that Black’s h8 Rook is still idle. Let’s call it a “Lazy Piece.”
The first purpose of the opening phase is to get all our sleeping pieces out of their initial squares and give them some meaningful work – a purpose for their existence.
Here’s another Champ Vs Amateur encounter where our upstart fails to develop his pieces properly and gets duly demolished.
The current world champion Magnus Carlsen played a simultaneous exhibition in Madrid, Spain in the year 2008. The above game was his quickest victory – a mere 15 moves!
Of these 15 moves, black, the amateur player, invested in 7 of them just to move his knight around the board.
Magnus on the other hand was busy engaging as many of his pieces, preparing for an all out assault on the black king. The world champion, not surprisingly, succeeded in his attack!
Here’s what you should remember the next time you start with a fresh game: Despise the lazy pieces and put them to work. Remember, just because you have a lazy cow, it does not mean you should push him into a river. It’s not development for the sake of development, but developing your pieces to better squares that really matter.
Tip #2) Keep Your King Safe
The second most important principle is to keep your king safe. In both these games, it is clear that the stronger players tend to keep their kings safe, while the amateurs have a more exposed and dangerous king prone to attack.
Castle your king to safety early in the game and avoid creating weaknesses on the king side. This not only saves you from tactical threats but also helps bring the rooks into the game, thereby completing development.
Below is another game to illustrate the importance of King Safety.
Kasparov,Garry (2812) – Harnois,Clementine [C63]
Besancon sim2 Besancon, 23.08.1999
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 f5 4.Nc3 fxe4 5.Nxe4 d6 6.d4 Bd7 7.dxe5 Nxe5 8.Nxe5 dxe5 9.Qh5+ Ke7 10.Qxe5+ Kf7 11.Bc4+ Kg6 12.Qg3+ Kf5 13.Qf3+ Ke5 14.Bf4+
Tip #3) Develop Pieces Towards The Center
The center or central squares as highlighted above are an important theater of battle on the chess board. If chess boards could get haunted, dead pawns and ghosts of other pieces would collect around the center because of all the killings that happen there.
Take a look at the piece probability visualization below taken from the games of former world chess champion Bobby Fischer. It shows the tendency of Fischer to develop his pieces towards the center.
Why is there such a craze to develop the pieces towards the centre?
This is because, the player who has a grip over the central squares will have an additional space to develop his pieces and will be able to place his pieces on commanding squares. Meanwhile, his opponent might struggle to find strong squares for his pieces. This space and development leads to attack elsewhere.
Here’s the full aforementioned game between Magnus Carlsen and Cabrera, from Madrid. Notice how Carlsen’s pieces are fighting to control the center. That’s the starting point of his attack.
Magnus Carlsen (2765) – Enrique Cabrera [E01]
Madrid sim Madrid, 24.05.2008
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3 b6 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bg2 Bb7 7.0–0 Nc6 8.e4 Nf6 9.Nc3 Be7 10.d5 exd5 11.exd5 Nb4 12.Nd4 Nbxd5 13.Nf5 Bf8 14.Re1+ Ne7 15.Bxb7
Tip #4) Stick to a Plan
Suppose you’ve been planning a vacation to China for months. You’ve bought the flight, arranged hotels, but then you randomly decide you’d rather go to India. While you’re changing your flight you think about how much you’re craving spicy Afgan food, so you decide to go to Pakistan instead. Because you couldn’t stick to a plan, your arrangements are scattered and unorganized, which is going to lead to a bad trip.
It’s the same in chess. If you keep changing your plan on every move, you don’t really have a plan. Make sure your moves fit into a plan. Know the basic principles of your openings by understanding Grandmaster games. Take careful note of general plans from others’ games, and try to find new and innovative ideas!
Tip #5) Don’t Create Weaknesses In Your Position
What makes great players so deadly ? They have been trained to exploit even a minute weakness in great precision. All these games were taken from simultaneous exhibition games where strong players often play with a large group of amateur players. And the games highlighted here were the shortest ones where the GMs exploited early opening weaknesses. If you look closely, you’ll notice the pawn structure weakness – doubled pawns in the first position and how Carlsen has placed his pieces to use the strong squares provided by these weak pawns.
In the Kasparov – Harnois game, the black player played a slightly passive side-line and also further weakened his position by failing to back up the defenses. By opening up lines of attack against his own King, the amateur player allowed Kasparov to brilliantly exploit the weakness. Keeping safe moves and avoiding such weaknesses in your position will make you not only survive in the opening, but also thrive and ultimately win your game!
A chess simultaneous exhibition in progress by GM Susan Polgar.
(“Chess grandmaster Susan Polgar” by dsb nola on Flickr under CC BY-SA)
Here’s a quick recap of the 5 tips for surviving the opening phase of chess:
- Remember to fight for, and control the center
- Keep your king safe
- Develop your pieces purposefully to better squares
- Avoid creating weaknesses in your camp
- Follow a plan of action consistently. To develop your sense of planning and opening ideas, study the general ideas in good games and try to improve on it.
Do you want to become a stronger chess player?
Why not improve your instincts and skill with lessons from Chess World Champion Garry Kasparov?