How to BURST the Worst (Openings) !
By Pete Tamburro   
September 27, 2008
In past CL4K articles, we have talked about early mistakes players can make in the opening. For example, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6? 3.Nxe5! Sometimes these openings actually show up in grandmaster play. One of our U.S. champions, GM Hikaru Nakamura, startled the chess world by playing 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5?! In both these cases, you can’t take it for granted you’re going to win if your opponent plays these bad moves. You still have to play a whole chess game!

This time around we picked some of the worst openings. What do you do if your opponent is really bad?

Let’s take a look at the first eight moves of a truly bad opening for black. When my sons and I were at the U.S. Open in Chicago in 1994, we ran into one of our chess friends, Mike Wojcio, at the airport. Mike came by and played, just for the fun of it, an opening for black that mystified my oldest son. He knew it was bad, but didn’t know quite how to deal with it.

The first eight moves were actually played by Black, and our recommendation on how White should have reacted is pictured on the other side of the board. Here are the moves: 1.d4 h6 2.e4 g6 3.Bd3 f6 4.c4 e6 5.Ne2 d6 6.Nbc3 c6 7.Be3 b6 8.0-0 a6 and here is the diagram:
There are a couple of things you should notice here. Black hasn’t developed one piece! There is no safe place for Black to castle; however, we’ve actually seen people play the rooks to h7 and a7 and then slide both over to guard the king.

Other than these problems, what is Black’s weakest square? What pawn is not protected? What would White’s best move here be? Right! The pawn on g6 is weakest and White could play either 9.e5 or 9.Nf4 to start an attack on Black’s weakest point.

Look at what we have White doing: putting some center pawns on the fourth rank to gain space; placing the minor pieces on good squares in the center (notice how the bishop on d3 is ready to attack g6); castling quickly.

You should have a question or two right now: why do you put the knight on e2 rather than f3? Why did you move the c-pawn rather than the f-pawn?

We put the knight on e2 to prepare for castling and the move f4 with the rook directly behind it. We want the c-pawn out there to help the other pawns attack the black front line. Players who play these “hedgehog” positions will try to avoid pawn exchanges, so every chance you get you want to swap pawns to open lines. The knight on e2 also allows you to play Ng3 to aid the move f5 and to open a diagonal for your king. This is called strategy. You put pieces on certain squares to cooperate with some later action with your other pawns and pieces. That’s planning and teamwork!

There are other funny pawn move defenses that we’ve seen that are related to this. This could be called the “checkers defense.”

This line goes 1.e4 e6 2.d4 g6 3.c3 c6 4.Bd3 a6 and we have the following diagram:


Black looks like his pawns are ready to play checkers. Really strong players avoid this kind of defense because it leaves Black with weak dark squares. In other words, no pawns defend a single dark square, and White can use these dark squares to travel on without worrying about the black pawns.

Black will play Bg7 and probably d5 at some point, followed by a Nh6 and maybe a Nf5 later if you move your e-pawn.

Although bad, this defense is playable. How should you meet it? There’s something different in the second diagram. The pawn is on c3 instead of c4. Why?

The reason is the black bishop going to g7. White can defend with a pawn instead of a piece, which we want to use in the attack. White will play Ne2 and Ng3 to support f5 as a move. The other bishop will head to e3 and the queen to d2. The white queen knight will head to a3 only because d2 and c3 are occupied.

The trick is that Na3, normally a bad idea, is good here because you will then go to c4 or c2 and then to e3 to aid in the attack in the center or the kingside because Black will probably castle there. Because Black is not challenging you in the center, you have time for this knight maneuver.

If and when Black plays d5, should you take the pawn, advance your e-pawn or defend your e-pawn? If Black plays d5 early, then you can go another way with your knight: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 g6 3.c3 c6 4.Bd3 a6 5.Ne2 d5 6.Nd2 Bg7 7.Ng3 Nh6 8.0-0 0-0 9.Nf3 and you arrive at this position:
White’s position is better than Black’s. Except for the queen rook, all of White’s pieces are ready to go over to attack the king. Let’s say the game continued this way:

Black plays 9…Nd7 to support 10…e5 Now, to prevent that, White has to play 10.e5, so Black gets his 10…Nf5 but White has someone waiting for him! 11.Nxf5 exf5. He shouldn’t play gxf5 which would open up his castled position. 12.Re1 If Black tries to open up with f6, this rook will be on the right file—an open one! 12…c5 13.h4 You don’t always need a rook to push the h-pawn. Plus, the threat of h5, tearing up Black’s pawns again is a real threat to Black. 13…c4 14.Bc2 h5 White has kept his bishop on the right diagonal and Black tries to prevent h5, but an even weaker dark square is created for the knight: 15.Ng5 b5
Look at this diagram and compare it with the original diagram of this game. See how much has changed? White is ready for anything and on the attack. Black is cramped and has weakened his pawns around the king. His pawn storm on the queenside has not bothered White, who now has a winning combination: 16.Bxf5! gxf5 (all because the black knight is blocking the bishop) 17.Qxh5 Re8 18.Qxf7+ Kh8 19.Qxd5 and White has four pawns for his piece, is threatening a knight fork on f7 and can take the rook on a8 next move. It happens that quickly!

Remember what White did here. White developed with a plan, was aware of what Black was up to, and gathered his pieces on the kingside for a teamwork attack.

There is a formation you will see a fair number of times on the Internet with five-minute games. It’s called the Hippopotamus. It can go a number of ways. Here’s a couple of possibilities: 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Nf3 e6 5.Bf4 Ne7 6.Qd2 Nd7 7.0-0-0 0-0 8.Bh6 Nf6 9.Bxg7 Kxg7 10.h4 Bd7 11.h5 and if Nxh5?? 12.g4! wins the knight or the h-file for a queen check on h6.

Let’s look at this position after White’s 11th move and the earlier positions we looked at. You’ll notice things that are similar and different.

The center pawns are still there on d4 and e4. White is castled, but on the queenside! The knights are both at their usual posts at f3 and c3. White has swapped dark-squared bishops to weaken the squares around the enemy king position. White has played h4 and h5 with the rook behind it. If Black tries to attack on the queenside with 11...a5, White will develop his bishop to d3 after he exchanges on g6: 12.hxg6 fxg6 13.Qh6+ Kg8 14.Bd3 Rf7 15.e5 Ng4 16.Qh4 h5 17.Ne4 and White’s position is overwhelming.

We showed you queenside castling because it is important for you to know that there is more than one way to go against these kinds of openings. Castling queenside and pushing the h-pawn is a time-honored way to attack a fianchettoed position.

This last game could have gone many other ways. They are all fine as long as you remember the basic principles. Here was one other possibility for us to look at. Black plays more actively by trying to get his bishop out:

1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Nf3 Bg4 5.Be3 Nc6 6.h3 Bxf3 7.gxf3 Nf6 8.Qd2 0-0 9.0-0-0 a6 10.d5 Ne5 11.Be2
White has much in common with our last diagram. The big thing to notice is that since White knew he was going to castle queenside, he took with the g-pawn on the bishop for knight exchange. He developed a plan: “I’ll open the g-file to put my queen rook on g1 and then I’ll have both rooks and the queen and bishop team, along with the pawns to launch a dangerous attack.” White wouldn’t know how it would end or what exact moves would be played, but the set-up could be seen. He will next play f4 to chase the knight and get his rook over to g1 and push h4-h5, keeping in mind f5 as well. He might try to exchange bishops by keeping the pawn on f3 and playing Bh6.

If you take these examples to heart, you’ll be ready for anything because you’ll have enough ideas taken from these set-ups to create your own plan. The important thing is to stay calm. Have reasons why you make a move. Don’t just develop your pieces without considering how they’re going to be a team to attack the black (or white) king.

Next time out, we’ll have the Black pieces, and we’ll look at all the funny and sometimes dangerous openings that White can throw at you as Black. And we’ll start with the Grob Attack!