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One thing I like to do (as an intermediate player, 1550-ish) is to deliberately play unusual openings against bots and experiment with such openings.

One such opening, when I play with the black pieces, is

[fen ""]
[Startply "6"]

1. e4 d6 2. d4 c5 3. dxc5 dxc5 4. Qxd8 Kxd8 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Be3 e6 7. O-O-O+ Bd7 8. Nf3 Ke8.

When I put this in Stockfish, the evaluation of 4. Qxd8 is already +2.

The computer line is something like 4. ...Kxd8 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Be3 e6 7. O-O-O+ Bd7 8. Nf3 Ke8.

Can someone explain why this opening is so poor (not just a bit worse) for Black? I could come up with a few vague reasons (e.g. king moves' tempi, and open d-file for white's rooks), but if somebody with more experience could give a better explanation it would be nice.

By the way, the intermediate bots I play against don't play optimally and probably don't make good use of this opening mistake.

3 Answers 3

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The answer is simply that White has a strong lead in development. With only three more moves, Be2/Bc4, Rd2 and Rhd1, development will be finished, the king safe, the center under control, and the open file claimed.

Meanwhile, Black will need at least 5 moves to develop the knight, bishop and two rooks, and more to put the king in a safe spot unless they manage to exchange enough pieces that a centralised king is fine. White has plenty of time to obstruct these plans and create threats. I'd say White used the opportunity you gave them very well and did not play suboptimally.

Additionally, and this is not reflected in Stockfish's evaluation, the position is easy to play for White. The pieces develop naturally, and common plans work fine.

I would not call this unplayable at 1550 Elo, especially not in a blitz. A few positional mistake from White would be enough to let Black back into the game or into a drawish position. (But why handicap yourself with this opening?)

0
3

It's bad but not unplayable, certainly at 1550 level and the continuation you give exacerbates black's problems. I think in the absence of an opening book the computer struggles to find the best moves in the opening.

There are a number of problems:

  1. Black has pretty much ceded the center
  2. Lost castling rights leaving the king stranded on an open file, although the queens coming off makes this much less of a problem.
  3. Awkward development
  4. The c5 pawn would be much better on c6 controlling both d5 and b5
  5. The fundamental idea of playing c5 against white's e4 opening is to fight for the h8-a1 diagonal. This means putting a bishop on g7 and maybe a pawn on d6. That just isn't going to happen in this kind of setup.

After 3... dxc5 my Stockfish running on my computer gives about +1.35 after letting it run for a while, coming down from higher levels. It much prefers, what is a standard idea in these kinds of positions, 3... Qa5+ followed by Qxc5 which it evaluates at about +0.75.

Compare this with "Yawn" variation of the Black Lion:

[Title "Black Lion - 'Yawn' variation"]
[fen ""]
[Startply "8"]

1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 e5 4. dxe5 dxe5 5. Qxd8 Kxd8

Black has again given up castling rights and the king is again on an open file but development is much easier and the e5 pawn gives a firm grip of the center. For black it is going to be important to control both b5 and d5 to prevent the white knight going to either of those two squares from c3. In the Black Lion position that can be achieved by one move, c6. In your position with the pawn already on c5 it takes two moves, a6 and e6.

With the queens off my Stockfish evaluates this as about +0.45.

Incidentally, my Stockfish prefers a more flexible arrangement for black delaying commitment of the b8 knight and instead safeguarding against white knight infiltration by playing e6 and a6 immediately:

[fen ""]
[Startply "12"]

1. e4 d6 2. d4 c5 3. dxc5 dxc5 4. Qxd8 Kxd8 5. Nc3 e6 6. Be3 a6

which it evaluates at +1.15

1
  • My immediate thoughts too, "At least the king should go to c7 or c6". (I.e., f6 is also necessary to prevent Ne5 and possibly block Bf4+ with e5.) Apr 16, 2023 at 9:12
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Adding to Anna's answer, I'd say that Black's bishops are not only placed poorly right now (thus the point the lack of development), but also have no good prospects for the future. The c5 pawn is really getting in the way and you may have no choice other than waste yet another tempo with ...b6 so you can then play ...g6 and ...Bg7.

The light-squared bishop is also in big trouble unless he can make it to c6 (which is unfortunately also the ideal square for the knight). If Black tries to free the bishop with an ...e5 push in the center, then the d5 square becomes permanently weak and White will occupy with the c3 knight. In case you traded it, White can either recapture with a piece or with one of the pawns and make it a protected passed one.

Now imagine a similar position but with the pawns on c6 and e5 rather than on c5 and e6. For instance, 1.e4 d6 2.d4 e5 3.dxe5 dxe5 4.Qxd8+ Kxd8. 5.Bc4 f6 6.Nc3 c6 7.Be3 Nd7 8.0-0-0 b5 9.Bb3 Kc7. Now the position is much closer to equal even though the lead in development is still there .

In this line, Stockfish doesn't even suggest to go for the queen trade and would rather play 3.Nf3 instead (which is also the most popular move among masters).

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