10 October 2010

Fine's 'General Principles' of Opening Theory

In my previous post, Yusupov's 'General Principles of Opening Play', I repeated some chess guidelines given by GM Yusupov, who was a World Champion candidate two decades ago. A set of similar guidelines from a World Champion candidate of the more distant past can be found in 'Ideas Behind the Chess Opening' by Reuben Fine. His first chapter on 'General Principles' includes the following, which are important enough to be called Fundamental Principles. Fine said,
It is perhaps not generally realized that opening theory in chess proceeds on certain definite assumptions. They are simple enough and once learned will never be forgotten. They are:
  • In the initial position White, because of the extra move, has a slight advantage. Consequently:
  • White's problem in the opening is to secure the better position, while
  • Black's problem is to secure equality.

The elaboration of these questions in each individual case is what is meant by 'the theory of the openings'.

Although we don't know for sure, it is highly likely that those three 'definite assumptions' apply to the other 959 chess960 start positions. A few paragraphs later Fine continues,

There are two fundamental concepts in the opening : development and the center. Development is getting the pieces out. The center consists of the four squares in the geometrical center of the board. The basic principle is that it is essential in the opening to develop all the pieces harmoniously and in such a way as to secure the most favorable position possible in the center.

More elaborately, there are ten practical rules which are usually worth sticking to, though the expert player will be aware of the many exceptions. These rules are:
  • Open with either the e- or the d-Pawn.
  • Wherever possible, make a good developing move which threatens something.
  • Develop Knights before Bishops.
  • Pick the most suitable square for a piece and develop it there once and for all.
  • Make one or two Pawn moves in the opening, not more.
  • Do not bring your Queen out too early.
  • Castle as soon as possible, preferably on the King's side.
  • Play to get control of the center.
  • Always try to maintain at least one Pawn in the center.
  • Do not sacrifice without a clear and adequate reason.

[Followed by four reasons for a Pawn sacrifice]

Note the mention of harmonious development in the first paragraph of the quote. A frequent criticism of chess960 is that many of the start positions lack the harmony found in the traditional position (SP518 RNBQKBNR). While this is certainly true, it is also true that an unskilled player will often ruin the natural harmony of SP518 by developing the pieces unharmoniously, thereby turning gold into rubbish. In contrast, the skilled chess960 player is often faced with the challenge of turning rubbish (speaking figuratively; I've never met a chess960 start position I didn't like) into gold. Since both players are faced with the same start position, the skilled player will achieve harmony of the pieces faster than the unskilled opponent.

As for the 'ten practical rules', there is some overlap with Yusupov's principles plus many new ones. Again there are guidelines particular to the RNBQKBNR setup mixed with more general guidelines. Specifically, the cautions on the minor pieces and on the Queen sortie apply to SP518; the cautions on the center Pawns and on castling Kingside probably apply to many start positions, although not all; while the other cautions undoubtedly apply to all chess960 start positions.

I'm starting to assemble a good collection of opening principles and, in future posts, will look at what other GM-level writers have to say on the subject. Then I'll return to the distinction between general chess960 principles and those that apply to SP518.


HarryO said...

Hi there
Just to complement this discussion, you could also check out a similar discussion about development tempo verses "initiative" over here at Chess.com:



GeneM said...

Also worth noting is that R.Fine's nine opening principles of chess make *no* mention of rooks.
But in a chess960 game where a rook starts on one of the four center-most columns, the rook might play an active role far sooner than is typical in the traditional setup (SP518); at least regarding the non-castling rook in traditional chess.

Thanks. GeneM. 2014/May/18

Mark Weeks said...

GeneM - Re 'Fine's [ten] opening principles of chess make *no* mention of Rooks', no.7 was 'Castle as soon as possible, preferably on the King's side.' Castling involves both King and Rook.

Castling is favorable to the Rook for two reasons: 1) It brings the Rook closer to the center, where it can take advantage of any open or semiopen file. 2) It connects the Rooks, facilitating the creation of a Rook battery.

Re 'preferably on the King's side', this is another principle (like 'Knights before Bishops') which applies to the traditional start position, but not necessarily to other start positions. - Mark