Double Bishops’ Gambit 1: Don’t Throw Your Opening Books Away

Your only task in the opening is to reach a playable middlegame. — L. Portisch

      Your goal in the opening is to arrive in a fair middlegame — roughly even in center control, piece mobility, and king safety — although books about openings want you to think it’s a life-or-death matter.

      One publisher wants you to believe that buying “Winning with the Fitzwiler Opening” will help you win as White. Meanwhile, the publisher of “Beating the Fitzwiler with the Hullygullyinsky Defense” has your opponents hoping they can pull ahead in the arms race.

      The truth about opening books is that they’re not written to help average players (except for the series named “First Steps in This Opening” or “Learn and Play That Defense”, which you can actually write yourself to save a few bucks).

      When strong players write opening books, they’re often doing so because: 1) They intend to play it (or against it) themselves; or 2) The publishers gave them contracts. So they survey current expert practice in that opening, jot a few assessments, perhaps offer improvements. The product is primarily reference material for other masters, while a club player’s interests don’t figure into it.

      Writing an openings book might help masters keep abreast of theoretical progress, but it doesn’t improve their results — or yours. Nonetheless, club players cling to their MCO ECO KCO NCO FCO like blankets, hoping an accurate recitation of the content will prevent lost games in the opening.

      No one loses a miniature for lack of openings knowledge; miniatures are lost for lack of tactical vision.

      Let your next opponent play with open books. Let him wheel up his entire library of openings literature, and consult it at any time. The open books offer no genuine aid — even when the book says he has a discernable advantage, the nature of the position might be stylistically unsuitable. Or perhaps you’ve stepped out of his book because you don’t have it in front of you like he does. Then he’s on his own.

      Players who study openings must eventually fend for themselves, whether at move 5 or move 15 or move 25. But they’re not allowed to put pieces back on the board to return to the comfort zone. They’re headed — inevitably — toward the endgame.

      With the endgame on the horizon, if a player doesn’t recognize it as favorable or unfavorable, how can he possibly know whether to simplify or complicate?

      A misspent move in the opening can cost a bit of time or material, but won’t kill you. A mistaken move at the end turns a win into a draw, and a draw into a loss.

      I used to suggest to players that they throw their openings literature away, because with tactical alertness and heed to the principles, it’s not hard to achieve a reasonable middlegame. Nowadays, I recommend selling openings books for 25 or 50 cents each — to obtain quarters for parking meters and washing machines.