Chess Heroes: Openings (Part 1)

Chess Heroes: Openings is now available on Amazon here.

Just to remind you: this is part of a series of books (other titles cover Checkmates, Tactics and Endings) designed for players rated 500+ who would like to progress towards competitive chess, and for those who teach at that level.

It’s a book of novice, rather than expert tuition, looking mostly at general principles.

A lot of novices seek a quick fix. They want to get instant results, so they memorise some dodgy openings and hope some of their opponents will fall into the traps, allowing them to play a brilliancy. Alternatively, they learn a system which will enable them to play the first 10 moves or so with their eyes closed and emerge with a playable position.

These approaches might give you good short-term results, but when your rating goes up you’ll meet opponents who won’t fall for your traps and are well prepared for your systems. You know the fable of the tortoise and the hare: it’s the same thing. As I learnt from my old school motto, Paulatim Ergo Certe: slow but sure. You might have read Chess for Tigers or Chess for Zebras. You might see my approach as Chess for Tortoises. At this level I prefer to teach the openings horizontally rather than vertically.

The assumption is that the student might know very little beyond how the pieces move, so I start with basic principles: develop your minor pieces, control the centre, castle quickly, don’t miss simple tactics (like Scholar’s Mate).

At this point I introduce some basic tactical ideas: The Fatal Diagonal (h4-e1 or h5-e8, as in Fool’s Mate), Queen Forks, which happen over and over again across a wide range of openings, Tactics on the e-file, particularly important in games starting 1. e4 e5, and Attacks on f7/f2 (as in Scholar’s Mate). Here, and throughout the book, the coaching materials are reinforced by quizzes, taken from games played at Richmond Junior Club.

Then, I demonstrate this game, in which White follows these principles perfectly.

Although apparently doing nothing seriously wrong, at least from a novice perspective, White still managed to get mated in only 11 moves.

So we need to do a lot more than just following basic principles to play the opening well.

I now introduce some important strategical ideas, starting with what I call the Pin Attack, which is the idea Black used so successfully in the above game. You need to know when it works, when it doesn’t work and how to prevent it. Then we have the Fork Trick (as in 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Nc3 Nxe4!), which, if your opponent doesn’t know how to meet it, can easily give you a positional advantage. On the other hand, if you play it at the wrong time you’ll just lose a piece: you need to recognise this. Another important aspect of 1. e4 e5 openings is that White will often get the chance to use a bishop and knight to launch a quick attack on f7. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5) it’s interesting. You have to know which is which. Finally, in this section, we introduce a new word: GAMBIT, and, along with it, the idea of COMPENSATION. You can give up a pawn (or more than a pawn) and get a better position in return. Is it worth it? Do you have enough compensation, more than enough or not enough.

Once these tactical ideas and strategic concepts have been understood the student is ready to look at some specific openings in more detail.

I’ll explain how my book does that next week.

If you’re interested in the book, sales and positive reviews on Amazon are always much appreciated.

Richard James

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Richard James

Author: Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy ( or and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon. Richard is currently promoting minichess (games and puzzles using subsets of chess) for younger children through his website, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through View all posts by Richard James

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