“If it was so, it might be, and if were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.” — Lewis Carroll
The math professor Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known in literature as Lewis Carroll) wrote the book The Game of Logic in 1886 to introduce to young folk — in a playful way — syllogisms, or patterns of logical thinking.
Dodgson might have asked: What can you deduce from these premises?.
The book you have picked up will be read by chessplayers.
Chessplayers like logic puzzles.
You can deduce that you like logic puzzles. If you’re reading this book, you must be a chessplayer, and chessplayers like logic puzzles.
Chessplayers like logic problems so much that mathematician Robert Smullyan wrote books — The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, and The Chess Mysteries of the Arabian Knights — of chess problems that can be solved through a logical process called retrograde analysis.
I think a game of chess is just a series of logic problems. Chess is hard because the player has to determine its syllogisms in a dense forest. The chessplayer must judge the features of each position in order to state its premises and truths. (Teacher Jeremy Silman built a career with advice to players in other words: Evaluation of the positional imbalances.) Only then can the best move be deduced logically.
The fewer the number of pieces on the board, the easier to deduce its premises. For example, White to play and win:
White knows that he must promote the f-pawn to create enough force to checkmate. Promoting to a knight or bishop makes a draw because White doesn’t conjure enough power, while 1. f8=Q?? is just as bad for effecting a stalemate. 1. f8=R! Kh6 2. Rh8# is the answer.
The greater the number of pieces on the board, the more difficult it can be to see its truth. This one is harder than the first because there are 20 units on the board rather than three. White had just played 24. Rb4 in Mikenas-Bronstein, 1965 USSR championship, then it’s Black to play and win:
Black is thinking wishfully, not logically, on 24…Qe1+?, because White won’t play the useless interposition 25. Rxe1?? Rxe1+ 26. Qf1 Rxf1#, but instead the useful interposition 25. Qf1!.
In positions like this, chessplayers learn to think: “I could deliver checkmate if…”. Black sees that 24…Qe1+? doesn’t work because White has two defenders for the back rank. Black thinks: “I could deliver checkmate if… I can lure the white rook off the back rank, or distract the white queen from her sight of the back rank”.
In the bigger picture, Black thinks: “All combinations are based on a double attack” (as grandmaster Fine said in Chess the Easy Way) and “The chessplayer’s desire is to cause the opponent to want to make two moves in a row” (said correspondence world champion Purdy).
Grandmaster Bronstein uncorked 24…Rxa3!!.
24…Rxa3!! is a double attack, forking the white queen and rook. The queen mustn’t capture because she loses sight of the back rank: 25. Qxa3 (White would like to make two moves, capturing on a3, plus h2-h3 to make a flight square) Qe1+ 26. Rxe1 Rxe1#. The rook musn’t capture because the queen interposition beomes useless: 25. Rxa3 Qe1+ 26. Qf1 Qxf1#. The b2-pawn is pinned: 25.bxa3 Qxa1+ 26.Rb1 Re1+ 27.Qf1 Rxf1+ 28.Rxf1 Qxf1#.
The first example position had three units, and was easiest to grasp. The second example used 20 units, hard enough to demand clever thinking. Which position is hardest of all?
The initial position is the most trying of all, and the opening in general the most difficult phase. The unparalleled chess teacher Purdy said it’s impossible to play the opening perfectly, though it’s easy to play reasonably if you stick to the principles and keep alert to tactics.
Club players try to emulate the opening play of top-flight players, but as soon as their memory fails (or does not apply), they’re on their own. That’s when they must rely on their knowledge of the principles, and when their tactical ability takes the wheel. Club players have a hard time learning that no one loses games in the opening because they’re bad at opening play; they lose games in the opening because they’re bad at tactics.
My chess teacher says you don’t have to know anything about masterly openings play, as long as you’re better at tactics than your opponent, and especially when you’re willing to take some risk to bring about opening positions where tactics prevail.
This book is about an openings novelty I hatched while:
- Following my teacher’s advice that we should not try to play “good openings” like masters, but to play “bad openings well” like tacticians;
- Tracing the positional logic of each step of the ancient King’s Gambit, and letting that logic lead to a variation that doesn’t exist in modern openings theory. It doesn’t exist because modern openings theory is written by top-flight players, whereas my opponents are at the club level; and
- While practicing this non-existent opening, being inspired by a Paul Morphy blindfold exhibition game to work around a positional defect that’s always troubled Bishop’s Gambit players.
I’ve had great fun while demonstrating my novelty, and an unexpected win rate, but this is not “an openings book”.
Opening books promise on the cover: If you do this opening like I say, you will win (books like ‘Winning with the Hullygully Attack’ and ‘The Foobarblasm Opening as Black’), which is hogwash. All I want to say with this book is opening theory doesn’t apply to players like us, and theory doesn’t solve our problems (books of opening theory are nothing but roadmaps to the middlegame). But thinking on our own can answer questions that our openings libraries have never even asked.
I also want to say with this book that my chess teacher is right about how students should handle the opening, and other chess teachers are wrong. His students understand the difference between “good chess” and “bad chess played well”, take hold, and run with it. When students grow into masters, then they can play “good openings”. Until then, practice tactics in “bad (in theory, bad for unnecessary risk; in practice, golden) openings played well”.
My teacher would recommend that students avoid the Double Bishop’s Gambit; he’d say it’s too complicated. (I tell my students ‘this is what I do, but I do not want you to do this!’.) But he might also say ‘look at how the writer used his Paul Morphy lessons to solve an old problem’.