In chess as in everything else, humans are fickle.

Some players are mad for speed chess or blitz chess while others consider themselves chess purists: only conventional games will satisfy. Some particularly enjoy the middlegame while, for others, the endgame is what really counts. And, at any time, a player may change their preferences.

It's been that way throughout (chess) history.

Chess masters of bygone days loathed this gambit and despised that opening and, through their words, caused those tactics to fall out of favour - forever consigned to chess theory. Or, before chess theory became a thing (in the early 20th Century), they were relegated to a few lines of notation in some manuscript.

Maybe the master making the comment might have his name included if he's particularly renowned.

None of this is evidence that chess players are any more irresolute than the average person who does not play chess. After all, it's perfectly alright if you love ice cream but detest sorbet and can't imagine how anyone would eat something so disgusting, right?

One trait unites chess players - grandmasters and novices alike: the desire to... maybe not win, exactly, but to improve their Elo rating. That means getting good at playing chess.

Studying chess openings and defences is the right place to start. Your Superprof gets you on your way.

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The Ruy Lopez Opening

There are chess games and there are Open Games, which are also chess games but they are all identified by a specific pair of opening moves: 1. e4 e5

If you are unfamiliar with algebraic notation, that translates to White moving their king's pawn two squares to e4 and Black mirroring that move, ending up on square e5. There are dozens of games that open with those moves; among them are:

  • Four Knights Game
  • Centre Game
  • Bishop's Opening
  • the Latvian Gambit
  • the Elephant Gambit

and, of course, the Ruy Lopez.

Just because these and all of the other Open Games feature that move pair, it doesn't mean that they all play the same way. What makes them unique is what happens after the kings' pawns face off.

For the Ruy Lopez, here's what the notation looks like: 1. e4 e5     2. Nf3 Nc6    3. Bb5

Of all the possible openings, currently, the Ruy Lopez is one of the most oft-played.

To understand why you have to know just how versatile this opening can be. You don't know yet? Luckily, we have a full-length article that will tell you all about it.

Correspondence chess used cards like these
Before computer chess, there was correspondence chess played by mailing these cards back and forth. Source: Wikipedia Credit: Schach Niggeman

The Scotch Game

This game is also on the list of Open Games. It got its name from a correspondence chess match between a player in Edinburgh and one in London.

That long-distance method of chess playing was common before instant communication made playing remotely so much faster. Can you imagine how long it must have taken to play one game to a draw?

The game is characterised by two mirror moves: the king's pawn confrontation (the Open Game move-pair) followed by White's kingside and Black's queenside knight development. The notation looks like so: 1. e4 e5     2. Nf3 Nc6

As is typical with chess, several games open with those two answer-response moves; as seen in the Ruy Lopez notation. What sets the Scotch Game apart is White's third move: advancing the queen's pawn up one square to take firm control of the board's centre.

For a long time, chess masters disdained this Game because it was thought Black could equalise too easily, and, besides, they didn't like the focus off of the centre so soon in the game. even if those knights were defending the centre pawns.

For a couple of centuries, it languished in disfavour until some of today's top names in chess, grandmaster Garry Kasparov among them, restored the Scotch Game to good standing.

The Italian Game

A bit of confusion surrounds this game because that name is often used interchangeably with Giuoco Piano - the so-called quiet game.

Just as 'Open Game' (note the capitalization) designates a family of games that open with 1. e4 e5, the Italian game encompasses all games that start with this specific notation: 1. e4 e5     2. Nf3 Nc6     3. Bc4

Make the distinction: open games (lowercase) are games wherein the board is 'open', meaning that lines (diagonals and files) have been opened through exchanges. They are the opposite of closed games, which are characterised by cramped positioning and interlocked pawn structures. 

Did the kingside bishop's one-square-further advance catch your eye? Good job! That single square marks the difference between The Italian Games and the Ruy Lopez. As it is called, that Italian bishop threatens Black's f7 pawn; the most vulnerable and tactically crucial piece in Black's army.

Now, what about that quiet game that the Italian game is so often - and so confusingly swapped for?

Giuoco Piano is identified by 3. ... Bc5. Black's response to White's Italian Bishop maintains tension in the centre while opening a slew of intriguing and provocative defences and variations.

You didn't think the Italian Game would keep them all for itself, did you?

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The Sicilian Defence

The Ruy Lopez, the Italian Game, the Sicilian Defence, and, next, the French Defence... It seems we have a theme going, doesn't it?

All of these openings were immortalised during chess's Romantic era, generally considered to have lasted from the start of the 18th Century until almost 1840 - although some maintain that it ended with the 1873 Vienna Tournament.

Kings' pawns facing off signals an Open Game
The king's pawn face-off is the Open Game signature. Photo credit: jotamjr on VisualHunt.com

That these openings/defences all have names that invoke Romance languages is pure coincidence. Chess's Romantic timeline roughly matches the literary, musical, and intellectual movement that swept across Europe, born out of the Age of Enlightenment.

At best, the two Romantic eras are linked through their passion for intellectual pursuit; attribute chess can comfortably hang its hat on. Particularly the Sicilian Defence.

Ironically, during that era of chess when the favoured style of playing was tactical and decisive, renowned players decried this defense because it gives Black a fairer shot at equality - unlike so many openings/defences that see the second player at a disadvantage from the outset.

The Sicilian is not a member of the Open Game family; its initial move-pair shuns Open's typical symmetry.

Discover its notation and many variations in our companion article.

The French Defence

At first glance, the French Defence appears insulting; rather like answering a passionate declaration with 'Sure, whatever'.

Here's why. White authoritatively advances their king's pawn to e4. Black responds with a lukewarm move to e6. Could there be anything more 'meh'?

As always, appearances can be deceiving. Far from being milquetoast, the French is known as a solid and resilient defense against White's early game aggression. There is a trade-off for that steadiness, though. With Black building elaborate pawn structures, they're left with little room to manoeuvre in.

Indeed, those who critique this defense cite cramped conditions and the related lack of piece development as its two main drawbacks.

Analysis of thousands of games' stats reveals that Black has difficulty pulling ahead using this defense. Black is more likely to draw a French Defense game than win outright but, if you master the ins and outs and all of the variations, you could be in the slim majority that makes the French Defence work well for you when you play Black.

The King's Gambit

Chess is known as the game of kings and kings were traditionally thought to have ruled by divine right... which beg the question: why would kings, imbued with heavenly authority need to sacrifice anything for a later, greater gain?

That, incidentally, is the definition of a gambit and that is exactly what happens when this chess opening is played. As for the kingly reference, there's nothing more to that than all of the initial action taking place kingside. In notation, it looks like this: 1. e4 e5     2. f4

Good on you if you happened to notice that this, too, is of the Open Game family.

Should Black accept it, the gambit is the sacrifice of the f4 pawn but, as that name suggests, the loss will soon be recouped when White advances their queenside bishop to capture Black's f4 pawn. That sequence will also ensure White's control over the centre.

You might rightly wonder why Black would accept such a deal. They don't have to; there are plenty of responses to give, from accepting or declining the gambit to invoking countergambits, variations, and defences.

As one of the oldest documented chess openings, there's far more to be said about the King's Gambit than we could include in this little snippet.

Enthusiastic chess players will play anywhere
The Queen's Gambit series has birthed a legion of new chess players. Photo credit: ROSS HONG KONG on Visualhunt

The Queen's Gambit

This is the gambit that started a modern-day chess craze, the likes of which haven't been seen since Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky to claim the World Chess Championship title.

Aided in part by the Netflix series of the same name (on which chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov consulted) and the coronavirus pandemic, the Queen's Gambit phenomenon has inspired legions of new chess enthusiasts.

You may be familiar with the gambit from the series. It opens with a queenside pawn advance, meaning that it's not an Open Game (1. d4 d5     2. c4).

It's also not technically a gambit. White merely appears to offer a sacrificial pawn but it's an empty sacrifice because Black cannot hold onto it.

Like the King's Gambit, Black has the option of accepting or declining the gambit and there are plenty of variations and countergambits to choose from.

Also like the King's Gambit, the Queen's is one of the oldest in recorded chess history.

This is one of those 'love it/ hate it' gambits. For a while, it enjoyed tremendous popularity but then, as players gained a greater understanding of the game through chess theory, they found more interesting - more asymmetrical openings to explore.

But, just like fashion, this gambit has recycled itself into something new and appealing. If you too are hooked on chess - whether thanks to the series or because you crave an intellectual pastime, you should learn all of the ins and outs of the Queen's Gambit.

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Krishna

Writer with an enthusiasm to learn more about SEO.