Punishing Passive Play in the Opening: Part 1

Active PassiveThe opening phase of chess sets the tone for the game. This is when you gain space, develop your pieces to active squares, gain control of the center, get castled and prepare for the middlegame phase. We all know the basic principles of the opening, but what if our opponent breaks those principles? How can we punish him? In this three-part series of articles we’re going to see just how we can do that: How we can punish passive play in the opening.

Let’s look at our first example game, where we’ll see a big difference between the play of White and Black in regards to activity vs. passivity: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.c3 Nf6

White played 3.c3 with the idea of quickly playing d4 and creating an e4/d4 pawn center. Black challenges this idea immediately.

4.d3 Now, this is very passive play from White. If he was planning on playing d4 at some point, he’s just wasting a move with d3. Plus, this move also blocks in his light square bishop. A better series of moves would have been 4.e5 Nd5 5.d4 cxd4 6. xd4 when White’s control of the center is off-set by Black’s nice knight on d5 that cannot be attacked by a white pawn.

I learned a lot about playing active in the opening by watching the “Winning Chess Games in the Opening” DVD by GM Rafael Leitao and would highly recommend it if you want to learn more about the topic!

4…Nc6 5. Nbd2 More passive play. Now the dark square bishop is also blocked in. 5…Qc7 A tricky move, stopping White from playing 6.d4 because of 6…cxd4 7.cxd4 Nb4 8.Bc4 Nxe4!

6. Be2 d5 Because of White’s passive play in the opening so far, Black jumps on the opportunity to take over more space and control of the center. Notice how White’s pieces are all stepping on each others toes while Black has a bit more freedom.

7. 0-0 Bd6 Placing the bishop on the more active d6 square compared to e7

8. h3 Another passive move, not doing anything active 8…0-0

9. Re1 Rd8 10. Qc2 b5 Because White is not doing anything active, this gives Black a free hand to grab even more space!

Passive Opening Play 111. Nf1 Going backwards again 11…h6

12. Bd2 Bb7 13. exd5 Nxd5

Now look at the position to the right. Compare the White pieces with the Black pieces. Whose pieces would you say are better placed? Who do you think has won the opening battle? Of course it is Black! White’s passive play has put him in a tough position where he has nothing active to pursue. On the other hand, Black’s pieces are aiming towards the white king, the knight can jump to the f4 square and White’s position is feeling a lot of pressure right now.

In the next part we will see exactly how Black turned this better position into a winning position within a few moves!

“The Secrets to Mastering the Chess Opening” – GM Damian Lemos
“Winning Chess Games in the Opening” – GM Rafael Leitao

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