Monday, May 11, 2009

Alekhine's and Centre-Countre: Black in Charge

The excellent Wang writes about his (good) play in a recent tournament in a post with the delightful title Drunkn Monkey Kung-Fu Patzer Chess, and touches on his use of Alekhine's Defense (1. e4 Nf6). He plays it exclusively.

This set me to thinking about openings from the "amateur's" point of view. There are a million (okay, hyperbole) thousands of chess books and columns aimed at amateurs by professional masters that advise us not to spend much study time on openings until we reach 2000 or 2200 or 2299 or whatever on the ratings list. We should be spending almost all of our limited study time on tactics, say most, or on a mix of tactics studies and instructive annotated master games.

Long-time readers here (all one of them) may remember that the late, great Dr. Kenneth Mark Colby (Secrets of a Grandpatzer Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), recommended the opposite, indeed, recommended memorizing (horrors) main, main lines as a way to save clock time and mental energy in tournament play. As a borderline Grandpatzer who will likely never crack 2000, and thus supposedly never study openings for the rest of my days, I'll go with the Professor; there are real, tangible, practical benefits to doing an efficient amount of opening study, as long as you don't make openings your primary subject in chess.

Now, the Good Dr. Colby recommended the Dragon Sicilian and King's Indian Defense (KID) as the main part of the "Grandpatzer plays Black" repertoire, and as a King's Indian fanatic I (of course) heartily concur with the second half of the prescription. When it comes to meeting 1. e4 though, I think that Wang's Alekhine and my own favorite of the past few years, the Centre Countre (Scandinavian) 1. e4 d5 have some things going for them that you might want to consider.

One of the qualities these two have in common is that they are about the only openings out there that are forcing from move 1. Think about that. No matter your first move as White, Black has five or six decent replies, e.g. 1. d4 d5-Nf6-c6-e6-f5-g6. And if Black against 1. d4, White has five or six sytems against, for example, the King's Indian: the Be2 "Main Line," Four Pawns, Saemisch, Fianchetto, h3 variations...etc. We KID people have to think about all of these, and the same with the Nimzo-Indian, Slav, and so on.

But in the Scandinavian, and even more so, the Alekhine, it seems that White has only one really good reply, 1. e4 d5 2. exd5, and 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5, respectively. Most other second moves for White are considered to allow Black instant equality, for example 1. e4 Nf6 2. d3?!. After 1. e4 d5 2. d4 White goes into the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit, but I don't remember getting this played against me more than once in scores of tournament and blitz encounters, and it's nothing to be afraid of, anyway. The Alekhine has the defensive 1. e4 Nf6 2. Nc3, and again Black has no problems equalizing.

For any deeper insight beyond move 2 you're going to have to go to another source, as I don't intend to analyse these openings here, just point out their unique utility for the enthusiastic amateur chess player. Use of either of these openings will usually allow you to meet 1. e4 pretty quickly and efficiently, without too much time or mental energy spent on the first few moves. You'll need all of that you can summon for the middlegame.

It's interesting to note that the reason these two are so forcing is the basic fact that after 1. e4 the e-pawn is unprotected, unlike the d-pawn after 1. d4. So is d4 "theoretically" a stronger move? In a sense, after e4 Black is "in charge" of determining the course of the game. Various chess writers have put it in these terms for over 100 years.

But Robert J. Fischer, a pretty fair player and theoretician, apparently disagreed...


wang said...

Great post Robert, and not just because you linked to me either :D

But this has been my reason for embracing Alekhine's defense. I might post some patzer variations of when people try to duck out of the defense on my site later on.

If I could just find something I lvoed as much against 1.d4!

wang said...

Oh and by the way I belive I "borrowed" the title of that post from chessloser. I doubt that I came up with anything that original on my own.

chesstiger said...

I am of the category that studying opening theory is for when one can play chess, so lets say 2000+ rating. Offcourse knowing some theory isn't bad but keep it simple by one opening for white and one for black.

Derek Slater said...

Wang - A modest recommendation for the Classical Dutch. Fun.

As an Alekhine enthusiast I dig the cheerleading but there are nearly as many major systems for White in this opening as elsewhere. 4 Pawns, Exchange (where White has numerous setups), Chase, Nf3, plus the Nc3 systems are not without venom. With White I played a master who's been playing the Alekhine for 30 years; I played 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Be2 and won in 20 moves. He said nobody had ever played 4.Be2 against him OTB. (One advantage of playing an opening as Black is that you should have some REALLY irritating lines ready to play against it as White.)

Wahrheit said...

@Wang: Yeah, I remember the chessloser post. He would be proud to see it recycled, no doubt. Since I seem to recall you don't want to go King's Indian, perhaps the Tarrasch Defense against 1. d4? Just a thought. Or Derek's Dutch. A Super-GM might lick his chops, but luckily we don't have to worry about that.

@chesstiger: I have some thoughts on the "one for White, one for Black" that will be in a near-future post. Thanks for the inspiration!

@Derek: True, I hope I didn't give the wrong impression; I've actually played the Alekhine only a few times in my life, and 2. Nc3 probably does not lead to easy equality as I implied, unless Black really knows the lines. An older book I have by Lev Alburt implied that by playing the Alekhine you'll get the same position after move 8 about 75% of the time (Exchange Main Line), but that's at the top levels, of course.

Quote from one of my favorite books applies; When playing Black, "Nobody ever said it was gonna be semi-tough."

wang said...


There are a few differences with Alekhines from most other black defenses.

1) There is only one defense that scores better for black and that is the Sicilian. For the sake of a percentage point or two, you cut your study time by at least a third. And unlike the Sicilian, there are not Anti-Alekhine systems to worry about.

2) Yes I agree there are several ways for white to respond, but all of them are Alekhine's. Even 2.Nc3 give black the opportunity to play something s/he would be more famiiar with. Besides, I'm not afraid of the Viena Game.

3) Since it is seen so infrequently, white players are far less prepared to face it than other defenses.

4) It's different, not everybody plays it!

Of course most of these reasons pertain to the patzer crowd, but that's where I play so it's all good.

BTW your move of 4. Be2 John Cox has this to say, "This move is not fashionable and never has been, but it is quite dangerous and, statistically, has scored very well."

This move makes alot of sense to me, it makes it difficult for black to develop his Q-Bishop.

Tommyg said...

I LOVE the King's Indian against 1.d4!!! I wrote on Wang's site that I have accidentally played a few Alehkines and thought it was pretty fun. Right now though I am hanging with the French against 1. e4 because I like all the funny pawn formations. :)

ChargingKing said...

Hey Robert! I'm back. New blog, can be accessed through Reno Chess Club site.

Derek Slater said...

Wang - I understand where you're coming from, and again I play it partly for some of the reasons you mention here, but the idea that 1.e4 c5 2.f4 is somehow "not a Sicilian" but 1.e4 Nf6 2.Nc3 is "still an Alekhine" is quite silly. I could arbitrarily call 2.Nc3 systems "anti-Alekhines" from now on...

Re: Cox - yes, where do you think I got the idea to play it in the first place? :)