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Below is the beginning of a game I played against the 8 year old Magnus Carlsen (yes, I'm a beginner). I'm white.

My opening moves are similar to that of a Spanish opening (but not quite), but I don't understand black's moves here. As far as I can see, there are only negatives (except the queen is threatening b2 if the white bishop is moved). Does this opening have any pros? The reason why I'm asking is that I've noticed that "Magnus" often plays moves that are good if played against a worse player, but rarely moves that are just plain bad (except some major blunders). I win probably 75% of the time against 8 year old Magnus, thus we're almost at the same level.

As far as I know, the most important principle during the first phase of the game is:

  • Control the center
  • Activate the pieces
  • Perform a castling move

My question is: Does black's opening here have any advantages against a beginner or is it simply bad? Is black just "hoping" white will forget about the queen and move the bishop (or some other blunder I'm not seeing)? Am I doing something bad in this opening? What would a be a good next move for white?

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e6 2. Bc4 c5 3. d3 Nh6 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Nf3 Qb6 6. O-O a5
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Well, to be honest, it's not a very good opening by either of the players.
While you haven't made any real mistakes, there were chances for black to seize the initiative.

In The French defence, you hardly see black taking the initiative. Black always hopes to sit tightly and looks for counter attack, usually on the queenside. i am not a huge fan of your move (2.Bc4)(Better was 2.d4). The bishop has no future on c4. Well, yes it controls the d5 square but Black could simply have moved (3..d5) instead of that horrible (3..Nh6) and your bishop would have moved twice in the opening 5 moves. Not a good sign. Black's opening here is almost terrible. White gains a substantial advantage and with logical play should win this game without much trouble.

A good move at this stage would be 7.Bxh6 which doubles up black's pawn on the h file and a future Qc1 would mean that the pawn would always be upon attack by enemy forces.

  • I wouldn't be so drastic on either sides: it looks like any of the Sicilian defenses with the Poisoned pawn variation 5...Qb6. White light squares bishop will eventually be placed in a2 and had it been 3...Nf6 rather than 3...Nh6 it would have been almost standard lines (I guess the way for the machine to simulate not-to-strong players - Magnus age 8 - is to play one wrong move from time to time; FRITZ used to do that as well and I agree it sucks because you cannot just blunder to equalise the position). – gented Dec 12 '16 at 13:42
  • But in the open Sicilians you refer to white would not block the bishop with a pawn on d3 and black would usually not be able to play d7-d5 in one go. – user1583209 Dec 12 '16 at 16:09
  • The idea, as said, is to play the bishop in a2, not to mention that d3-d4 will eventually be played (but obviously one could go into any other set of moves too). – gented Dec 12 '16 at 16:34
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"Magnus" often plays moves that are good if played against a worse player... Does black's opening here have any advantages against a beginner or is it simply bad? Is black just "hoping" white will forget about the queen and move the bishop (or some other blunder I'm not seeing)?

I would not think in terms of: moves that are good against beginners, etc Either a move is good or it is not, the opponent does not matter. OK, if you play against a very beginner it is enough to attack something and it will likely not be noticed.

Other than that for players that are rated much below you, a good strategy is to keep the positions complicated with many pieces on the board. And make (universally) good moves.

Am I doing something bad in this opening?

Nothing serious. You develop your pieces naturally, but it seems to me that you basically ignore what black is doing.

For instance black's 1.... e6 normally indicates that he wants to follow it up with d5 attacking the center this way (French defense). Putting a bishop on c4 is not a good idea as it will have to move after d5 and also if black does not play d5 it, the bishop does not attack much on the a2-g8 diagonal.

Second point you should have paid attention is when Magnus played Nh6. Capturing, Bxh6 should at least be considered as it weakens black's kingside pawn structure.

What would a be a good next move for white?

Not a single move, but a few plans:

  • give the white bishop on c4 some escape square on a2 in case it gets attacked by pawns; i.e. play either a3 or a4.
  • free the dark squared bishop by protecting the pawn on b2 with Rb1
  • capture, Bxh6 to weaken the kingside (this would be even stronger after black castles kingside)
  • kingside pawn attack playing f4 (after the knight made space), h3, g4 ... (this also makes best sense after black castles kingside)
  • play on the light squares on the queenside which black has weakened; can think of later putting a knight or two at b5, etc (but watch out, immediate Nb5 loses a piece after d5)

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