Avoid Auto-Pilot in the Opening!

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autopilotThe opening is an important part of chess. If you are able to play a strong opening then you can expect to have a good position going into the middlegame. Sometimes though, players get in the habit of memorizing a lot of opening moves and do not learn the reason behind what they are doing. They do not realize that they may be missing chances that their opponents give them when their opponent makes a move that is different from those the player memorized. If we are on auto-pilot in the opening, we will miss out on these golden opportunities to get an even stronger position than we had originally hoped for!

Auto-pilot 1Let’s look at a basic game example: 1.f4 c5 2.Nf3 d5 3.b3 Nc6 4.Bb2 Nf6 5.e3 g6, and now we find ourselves in the position to the right. Here we are in the opening stage of the game and we are trying to get all of our pieces developed and castled.

In this position, we have a few different options for development: 6. Be2, Bb5 and Nc3. Each move develops a piece and seems reasonable on the surface and if we were on auto-pilot we would not really have a preference for any of them. But if we are not on auto-pilot, we will notice that our b2 bishop and f3 knight are working together to control a certain square. Do you see it? The e5 square is firmly under our control.

Which of these developing moves helps to work together with our other pieces? Well of course 6. Bb5 pins the opponent’s knight, which is fighting against our control of e5. By choosing the move 6. Bb5, we are avoiding the dangerous problem of auto-pilot and instead play a developing move that works together with our other pieces. The other moves are not bad per se, but they are not working together with the plan that our other pieces have.

Auto-pilot 2Here is another example of an opening that could be played on auto-pilot. After 1.c4 c5 2.b3 Nf6 3.Bb2 g6, we have the position to the right. Here, White could easily play many different moves, such as 4. e3, g3, Nc3 or Nf3, and have a fine position. But if we have auto-pilot turned off, then we may see the hidden possibility that we have in the present position:        4. Bxf6! This odd looking exchange actually creates a weak square on d5 after 4…exf6, and allows all of our pieces to work together to focus on that square. With Nc3, g3, Bg2, e3, Nge2-f4 our entire army will be working together with one goal in mind: dominate the d5 square! This would be a strong series of moves and Black would be hard-pressed to find a way to counter our plan. This would all be impossible to find though, if we were on auto-pilot during the opening phase.

So, always be sure to think about each of your moves, even in the opening! Do not blindly memorize moves and play them without looking for other options in the positions you see. Always be on the lookout for these possibilities and always avoid the dangerous trap of auto-pilot.

Read more about how to improve your thought process in chess by clicking here: “The 4-Step Thinking Process”.


I learned a lot about how to play better in the opening by watching this video!

Click here to access the “Winning Chess Games in the Opening” DVD