Tuesday, March 31, 2020

On the Coffee Table: Winning Chess Openings

Title: Winning Chess Openings
Author: Yasser Seirawan

Winning Chess Openings: Yasser Seirawan: 9780735609150: Amazon.com ...
via Amazon

Back when I first discovered Seirawan's books in the late '90s, I started with Openings.  My problem at the time was straightforward: I didn't know how to begin a game.  I knew some general principles but lacked the tools to implement them, especially if my opponent should go off-script from the main line.  So, I needed a resource to properly dig into the subject and Seirawan's book was perfect.

And now, having read and re-read several of his other volumes, I feel confident saying it's the best one.  His introductory chapter provides a wonderful history of his own early journey in the game as well as a glimpse into what he projects as a charming, jocular and refreshingly self-deprecating personality.  With that first read, I liked him instantly, both as a writer and a person, the sort of patient teacher who would never shame you for your ignorance. 

Am I a better chess player now than I was 20 years ago?  Probably, though more practice over the years would have helped.  I do, however, understand more of what he's talking about now so even if I'm not a significantly better chess player, I am a better chess reader

Once Seirawan gets to the meat, he divides his openings study into seven chapters:  classical king pawn openings, classical queen pawn openings, modern king pawn defenses and modern queen pawn defenses, wrapping up with three chapters for his own recommendations in each relevant situation.  I understand his approach to each better than I did 20 years ago.  He builds the first three around the most studied main line: Ruy Lopez for the king pawn, Queen's Gambit Declined for the queen pawn and the Sicilian Defense for the modern king pawn.  The queen pawn defenses are more varied.  Through each, he digs into the significance of each individual move and also explores relevant variants.

His actual recommendations are decidedly unconventional: the Barcza Opening, the King's Indian Defense and the Pirc Defense.  For those of you who are not chess enthusiasts, each intends to protect the king before challenging for control of the middle of the board, the primary function of most opening sequences.  I have used all three in the years since and have been more or less happy with the results.  In the book, he also recommends the English Opening (1. c4 for the curious), though he doesn't analyze it.  No doubt an editor told him to stop already.

Fortunately, it looks I will get a chance to practice more soon.  A colleague is starting an online chess league at school in this new distance learning phase of our lives.  Teachers are playing, too.  Can't wait!


  1. I kind of wish I wanted to put the time into chess.
    But not enough to actually do it.

    1. It's hard work! I'm playing a lot of games these days and learning a lot about myself in the process, actually. Chess requires paying a lot of attention to what your opponent's doing. I'm not always so good at that! Self-absorbed...

  2. Had a great computer chess game a few years ago that made me interested in the game. Never could find anyone who enjoyed the game as well so the interest died.

    1. I love chess. I won't pretend I'm good at it but I love it.