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Modern Ideas in Chess by Richard Rèti

30. A Complicated Position


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Under the above title Breyer some years ago published an article in which he tried to prove that 1. d4 was better than 1. e4.

Among the moves with which the old masters were in the habit of imitating each other were the opening moves. They began the game with 1. e4, e5; not after individual mature reflection, but simply because so many hundreds before them had without considering made the same moves following in the footsteps of hundreds of others.

It was that which endangered mistrust in the younger generation of masters and they criticised accordingly.

Formerly, the opening was defined as that part of the game in which the pieces were brought into play. After establishing that in the opening with every move a plan should be furthered, that definition of the opening came to lose its significance.

What we now seek to do in every position is to play on a plan, founded on positional positional considerations. It has been known for a long time that the centre is the most important part of the board because, from it, there is the prospect of moving pieces quickly in all directions, whenever necessary.

White therefore plays according to the plan, whereby advancing a centre pawn two squares as his first move, he endeavours to seize as much space as possible in the centre. As this volume is not intended to be a book of instruction, I do not propose to compare, according to their respective values, the moves 1. e4 and 1. d4. On the other hand I propose now to give a short critical disquisition on the usual counter moves: 1...e5 and 1...d5, and in the course of it to be as general as possible.

We start with the proposition that White, in the nature of things the attacker in the opening, endeavours to seize an advantage; whilst Black at that stage is contented if he secures an equal game. Seeing that the definition of the opening as being a struggle for the centre goes beyond the usual conceptions of average chess, let us for the purpose of comparison consider a familiar instance of the struggle, arising from an attack on a castled position. We will assume that White wants to attack Black’s King’s position, the latter having castled on the King’s side. White as a rule tries to march against the castled position - exactly in the same way as in the opening position he commences an attack against the centre of the board by pushing forward with his centre pawns. Let us see how Black acts on defence of his castled position. He will do his utmost to prevent the opening of files: therefore he will not move pawns on to squares from which they cannot well depart, or where, to use a phrase adapted to the game and used by Dr. Tarrasch, they offer marks or targets for the attack. Black, therefore, will do all he can to avoid h6 because he fears g4-g5 and the opening of the Knight’s file. Just as little will he play g6 on account of White’s h4-h5.

A similar mark for an attack in the centre after 1. e4, e5; or 1. d4, d5; is found in the Black pawn at e5 or d5 respectively. White, who before that move can conceive but a vague plan to seize in the centre the largest possible amount of terrain, is, after 1. d4, d5; immediately in a position to conceive a plan in greater detail and is afforded thereby a much easier attacking game. He can, for example, take advantage of the point of attack at d5 so as to open the Bishop’s file for himself with 2. c4. And, as in the opening of the game (see § 5), the advantage lies with the better developed side, so in this case it is in favour of White who has the first move and who has from the start one move or, to be more mathematically accurate, half a move to the good. The most recent conception of openings in the case of the second player, in conformity with the ideas just set out, is that Black, by strengthening his position in the centre, will aim at preventing White’s furthering his plan of attack. We find, therefore, in the daily bulletin of the latest tournaments the following opening of Bogoljubow’s


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or in the event of 1...d5 being played


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The reader will now still better appreciate why it is not surprising that the most modern masters are styled “hyper-modern” on account of their views having the effect of bringing into discredit the moves handed down from olden times, viz., 1...e5; and 1...d5; upon which no serious doubt had ever before been cast.

The above brief explanations should suffice to bring home to the reader how difficult the correct handling of the openings is, if one is not content with playing the first moves according to the book, which as a rule sets out, without any critical observations, what other people have played. Chess lovers craving for knowledge and always anxious to hear about play at tournaments, have often said to me “The opening moves of the game were presumably played very quickly, because at that time nothing is really going on,” and I have had to answer them by saying, “The opening is the hardest part of the game: for it is very difficult at that point to get to know what is really going on.”