Old Opening Assessments

Edward Winter


W.H.Cozens (Ilminster, England) reports J.H. Blackburne’s comments on the Nimzo-Indian Defence (page 134 of P. Anderson Graham’s book). Englisch-Blackburne, London, 1883: 1 d4 e6 2 c4 Nf6 3 Nc3 Bb4. ‘Not much good comes of this. The best place for the bishop is at e7.’ (The game was drawn.)


The Complete Chess Course by Fred Reinfeld (Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1983) is a compendium of six separate books pasted together to offer a single volume that is good value, if confusing reading.

At a time when 1...a6 is being accorded serious theoretical consideration and Kasparov’s famous remark ‘Chess is not skittles’ is being unfavourably received in the context of 1 c4 g5, it is quaint to read some of Reinfeld’s flat statements on the openings:

Surely even beginners should not be deceived to this extent. And talking of deception, the publisher’s blurb tries hard to make out that Reinfeld is still alive, while darkly calling him ‘a former chess master’.


Annotating a game Judd-Ware in the Philadelphia, 1876 tournament book (reprinted by Olms), B.M. Neill writes of 1 e4 d5: ‘Inferior, and containing the seeds of defeat’ (page 99).


Ed Tassinari (Scarsdale, NY, USA) points out that many assessments of the kind quoted in C.N. 1131 are to be found in the Hastings, 1895 tournament book, edited by H. Cheshire:


Another over-vigorous bashing of the Centre Counter Game is by Burn (BCM, September 1914, page 335). He gives 1...d5 a question mark and writes: ‘Not a good move, as Black, on re-taking the pawn after the capture, has to lose time in retreating his queen.’


Ed Tassinari provides two more outmoded opening assessments, from Capablanca’s Havana, 1913 tournament book:


From Jerome Bibuld (Port Chester, NY, USA):

‘In C.N. 1131 you quote B.M. Neill in opposition to the Centre Counter. C.N. 1210 contains another disparagement, by Burn. I now offer the peak of the nineteenth century, Wilhelm Steinitz, who wrote in the International Chess Magazine (April 1885, page 116):

“The centre-counter gambit is unfavorable to the second player, being contrary to the principles of development, for it brings the Q too early into play in the centre and allows the opponent to gain time by attacking her with minor pieces.”


Some more outmoded opening assessments:

In each of the above cases the player of the ‘weak’ move lost the game.


On page 296 of The Art of Chess (London, 1895) James Mason wrote:

‘Fairly tried and found wanting, the Sicilian has now scarcely any standing as a first-class defence.’

Ed Tassinari quotes a few comments by Max Euwe on page 32 of the November 1951 CHESS:

‘Bizarre - and Bad - Lines against the Nimzo-Indian Defence’


Staunton’s opening note, after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5, in the first game in his match against Horwitz (London, 2 February 1846), on page 89 of the Chess Player’s Chronicle, 1846:

‘Habituated to the giving odds in every game for the last two or three years, White labours under a temporary disadvantage in playing “even” games with a player thoroughly versed in, and daily practising, the “book” openings; he very prudently, therefore, begins in a way to throw each party on his own resources as much as possible.’

A reaction appeared on pages 125-126 of the March 1846 issue of Le Palamède (edited by Saint-Amant):

‘Ceci est un mauvais début, généralement condamné, et sur lequel nous avons eu déjà occasion de nous prononcer toujours dans le même sens, bien que l’ayant employé nous-même. M. Staunton cherche à expliquer ce vice de tacticien en se rejetant sur ce que contre un joueur aussi expert que M. Horwitz, qui débute d’après les livres, il fallait se jeter dans l’inconnu pour retomber chacun dans ses propres ressources. C’est modestement dire que, dans ce cas, l’avantage serait pour lui. Nous lui ferons fort poliment observer que le début qu’il a adopté n’est rien moins que du nouveau: c’est du vieux, et ce n’est pas du meilleur, voilà tout.’


Latest update: 2 April 2016.

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