My six ICCF postal games have started and yesterday I paid for entry into yet another ICCF match of six postal games – this is as many as I plan to take on. They are classed as World Individual Open games and are designed for people who are either unrated or have ratings below 1900. I look forward to receiving mail about my next opponents. The opening white move by my Finnish opponent was 1.c4 ‘The English’. I have rarely played this, typically I play 1. e4 and steer towards a Ruy Lopez or for variety I try 1.b4 ‘Polish/ Sokolsky/ Orangutang’ opening. I am also reasonably familiar with 1.d4 since it is played against me often enough.
So I am faced with the English, never a pleasant prospect in chess or otherwise. My first step is always to think about what would be the best move but at this stage of the game it is hard to decipher what a moves impact would be. Openings have developed by trial and error into complex well studied systems and it seems that at this stage my best plan would be to familiarise myself with the opening. Here is a bit of background to the English Opening from Wikipedia.
The English Opening is a chess opening that begins with the move:
A flank opening, it is the fourth most popular and, according to various databases, anywhere from one of the two most successful to the fourth most successful of White’s twenty possible first moves. White begins the fight for the centre by staking a claim to the d5 square from the wing, in hypermodern style. Although many lines of the English have a distinct character, the opening is often used as a transpositional device in much the same way as 1.Nf3 – to avoid such highly regarded responses to 1.d4 as the Nimzo Indian and Grunfeld defences, and is considered reliable and flexible.
The English derives its name from the unofficial English world champion, Howard Staunton, who played it during his 1843 match with Saint Amant and London 1851, the first international tournament. It did not inspire Staunton’s contemporaries, and only caught on in the twentieth century. It is now recognised as a solid opening that may be used to reach both classical and hypermodern positions. Mikhail Botvinnik, Tigran Petrosian, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen employed it during their world championship matches. Bobby Fischer created a stir when he switched to it from his customary 1.e4 late in his career, employing it against Lev Polugaevski and Oscar Panno at the Palma de Mallorca Interzonal in 1970 and in his 1972 world championship match against Boris Spassky.
Ideally I should, at this stage, buy books called ‘The English Opening… ‘, this would be in keeping with my luddite philosophy but I was never taught chess and have never really been comfortable with algebraic notation. When I read a series of moves it is a foreign language that I have to painstakingly translate on the board into a visual medium. Videos, databases, and book openings are much easier for me to use and they are what I can find on computers. An example would be https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVMWeenxN6M by a GM called Dereque Kelley.
In my game we have moved 1.c4 Nf6 (being the Anglo Indian Defense, Mikenas Carls Variation of the English Opening – phew – and, according to the database I’m using it is the most popular reply to 1.c4) 2. Nc3 (the third most popular move and a tenth as popular as the number one choice of 1. d4) g6 (second most popular behind e5). This position is shown at the top of the page. I chose g6 because I have been enjoying playing as black against the Grunfeld and I hope that by choosing this I can persuade my opponent to transpose into the Grunfeld though the stats of him doing this are against me. We will see.