The one thing that no one can miss as they pass through the check out line at any grocery store in America (and Europe, and probably everywhere else) is the profusion of "women's" magazines that practically block the aisles. Running a store and marketing a magazine are both highly developed sciences, so you know that women are buying these things, People and Cosmo and Us and Soap Opera Digest and Self and Health &tc. by the millions--if not, they wouldn't be there.
Now, I'm the kind of person that likes to observe things like this and notice the little details, the ones that most of my fellow citizens, wandering in a half-daze through their lives and the check out line while chattering on their cell phones or staring at the Cosmo cover cheese cake, don't.
Things like moves.
The check out line mags are just full of moves. "Six moves to flatten your tummy," four moves to tighten your, err, buttocks as "bikini season" approaches and, most emphatically, three-four-seven-eleven moves that will, variously, leave your man panting for more/keep your man close to home/make your guy adultery proof/have your guy wrapped around your little finger for life. Cosmo seems to be the ultimate guide to these "moves," with each and every issue promising some variation on the ultimate sex moves your guy will worship you for.
This has gone on for years, and it occurred to me one day to ask just how many separate and distinct "moves" are anatomically possible that don't result in grievous bodily harm? Are women actually shelling out four or five dollars monthly for 300 pages of glossy non-biodegradable advertising and reading about the same limited set of sexual acts over and over? On the available evidence, I would have to conclude...sadly, yes.
Which brings us to the chess portion of today's post: Are you, Dear Reader, shelling out your chess playing/study time for the same limited set of opening moves, over and over? Do you consider yourself a "d4 player" or an "e4 player" who is somewhat uncomfortable outside his/her repertoire? If you answered "yes," here are four moves that, for the amateur, are well worth pulling out from time to time to give your games the spice of variety and perhaps even throw the opponent off psychologically, resulting in a gain of clock time and more importantly an open battle and a lot of fun playing chess!
1. f4 and 1. g3. These moves are pretty rare in tournament play, at least in my experience, especially 1. g3. Internet blitz games will bring out the occasional opponent who opens this way, but that's when you're Black. All the "authorities" say that 1. f4 "weakens the king's position" on move 1 or some such schlock, but it also tells the opponent you're an aggressive player who will try and blow him off the board if given the chance. A lot of Blacks will respond 1. ...d5 and now we have a Reversed Dutch Defense. I'm not going to analyze lines here, but in general I don't go for the Stonewall formation (f4-e3-d4), I like 1. f4 d5 2. g3, the Reversed Leningrad Dutch! Now Nf3, 0-0 and pretend like you've got a kind of super-King's Indian! An attack on the kingside is almost always called for! Also, if 1. f4 c5 2. e4 and you've got an aggressive system against the Sicilian Defense on the board. Against other moves like 1. f4 Nf6 you're almost guaranteed to be in a position that's out of both players' "books" within a few moves, which is the whole idea.
1. g3 is a move that has almost never been played against me in nearly 30 years of chess. Lots of people play 1. Nf3 and follow up with g3 as a way into the King's Indian Attack, but just very, very few people seem to want to allow 1. g3 e5, which is the move that really gives the opening independent significance. I think a lot of Blacks are actually a little afraid to be this "independent" and go in for 1. g3 d5 or 1. g3 Nf6 after which White can go for the Reti-English-Chameleon or 1. g3, 2. f4! (see above). 1. g3 is very flexible and kind of says to Black, "Go ahead, try and knock it off!"
(UPDATE 07/30/08: Taking my own advice, I played1. g3 in a few blitz games on FICS last night and blew the opposition off the board in two of them with a raging kingside attack!)
1. c4 b6 and 1. Nf3 c5. These moves are perfectly respectable "main lines" in many ways but against below-master opposition I think both can be good surprise weapons. 1. c4 b6 tempts White to follow up with 2. d4 and 3. e4, something that most "English" (1. c4) players are not all that comfortable with. If White doesn't seize the opportunity to get aggressive and just develops quietly, Black will also develop comfortably and just aim a lot of force at the e4 square. If White does seize space Black must play to undermine and destroy the big center, again with emphasis on controlling e4. A Bb4 pin will be effected if allowed. All in all, Black has to have the right attitude--excessive timidity can see Black's Bb7 buried and the rest of his position uncomfortably cramped. Not for the faint of heart, perhaps, but a nice change of pace for those who are looking for adventure.
1. Nf3 c5 as (again) mentioned here, is only suitable if Black is comfortable in the Open Sicilian, but how many 1. Nf3 players are aiming for the Sicilian? Answer, none. The first good feature of this sequence for Black is that 2. d4 is already neutralized, and that's where a lot of 1. Nf3 players would like to head, a Queen's Gambit or other form of Queen's Pawn Game without allowing the Budapest, Albin or other counter gambits or opening adventures. Black must be prepared for the Symmetrical English after 1. Nf3 c5 2. c4 but that is hardly likely to make one quake in one's boots; also in that case, one can try to reach a Tarrasch Defense formation for Black with e6, d5 and Nf6 in some order, even if White holds back on d4.
None of this is offered as a panacea of any kind, but I recommend you try some of this stuff in blitz games to start out; psychologically, these moves will give you some edge in many games; against the less prepared you'll often gain some time on the clock, and if you run up against a speed specialist who knows all the "right" lines the worst you should come out with is equality, since none of these ideas are that really far out.
As always, any reader's thoughts and, especially, critiques are appreciated.