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Bishop's Opening: ECO C23 & C24

"I like to grasp the initiative and not give my opponent peace of mind."
    - Mikhail Tal (1936 - 1993)

Introduction

In simpler times, it was nearly a matter of honor in a game of chess for black to respond to 1. e4 with e5. Nowadays getting a double king's pawn game--as they're called--is an increasingly difficult task, since as an e4 player you constantly have to face such dull things as e6 for a French, c6 for a Caro-Kann, or sharper but very different lines like c5 for a Sicilian or g6 or d6 which typically lead to a Pirc or Modern game. This writeup is about what to play when you do get a double king's pawn game as white.

While not the most popular of the double king's pawn openings, The Bishop's Opening is among the oldest, having been played and advocated by Francois Philidor in the 18th century. Don't let that fool you into pondering its obsolescence though, since it's at least as relevant today as it was three-hundred years ago. It even gets play in the very highest levels of chess, as even former World Champion Kasparov has been known to play it from time to time.

The primary benefit of using the Bishop's Opening is that it's an incredibly versatile response to black's 1. ... e5 which is intuitive enough for beginners to use, but is fine at any level.

Definition

The Bishop's Opening is defined by the moves 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 (see Diagram 1).


                          Diagram 1: After 2. Bc4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BR |BN |BB |BQ |BK |BB |BN |BR | 8
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BP |BP |BP |BP |   |BP |BP |BP | 7
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 6
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |BP |   |   |   | 5
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |WB |   |WP |   |   |   | 4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 3
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WP |WP |WP |WP |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WR |WN |WB |WQ |WK |   |WN |WR | 1
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                        

Depending on black's reply, there are all sorts of possibilities from here, but you've got an active piece which is threatening the usual suspect pawn on f7. Entire books have been written (or nearly, anyway) about the classic bishop sacrifice on f7, but don't throw your bishop away yet.

The Bishop's Opening is also highly transpositional. For more information on these (and all lines, really), follow my suggestions on reading material at the end of the writeup. The most common continuations follow.

  • 2. ... Nf6

    Probably black's best second move, as it develops a piece, threatens an unprotected pawn, and asserts control over d5. It also serves as a prophylactic move against the highly amusing scholar's mate: 3. Qf3 4. Qxf7# (although almost any intelligent move does as well).

    From here, my usual reply is 3. d4! leading to an Urusov Gambit, which is an exciting gambit already covered in another node. Sane people, however, usually follow up with 3. d3, a solid--if boring looking--move, anchoring both the e-pawn and the bishop (see Diagram 2).

    
                              Diagram 2: After 3. d3
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BR |BN |BB |BQ |BK |BB |   |BR | 8
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BP |BP |BP |BP |   |BP |BP |BP | 7
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |   |   |BN |   |   | 6
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |   |BP |   |   |   | 5
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |WB |   |WP |   |   |   | 4
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |WP |   |   |   |   | 3
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WP |WP |WP |   |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WR |WN |WB |WQ |WK |   |WN |WR | 1
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                          A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                            
    

    From here there are many possibilities, but each carry with them the idea of dominating the center and eventually busting it open. I'll touch on a few of the major lines.

    • 3. ... Nc6

      A normal developing move, strengthening black's hold on the center, and increasing pressure on the important d4 square. Usually continues with white developing one of his or her knights (usually to f3, to cover d4) and then 4. ... Bc5 (yet more pressure on d4).

    • 3. ... c6

      This line (Paulsen's Defense) is a much more aggressive--and in my opinion, much more interesting--move for black, as the center is immediately contested. Not by positional means with controlling this square or that, but by straightforward attack. The idea behind 3. ... c6 is to shore up 4. ... d5 to directly challenge white's assertion into the center.

    • 3. ... Bc5

      I like to call this the "Me too" variation, as by move 5, all moves are nearly identical and there is a perfect (albeit peculiar) symmetry in the position. After 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. Nf3 d6 you have the symmetrical position (see Diagram 3). You end up with a closed center and the general plan is to play on the flanks to weaken your opponent's hold on the center and force a break.

    • 
                              Diagram 3: After 5. ... d6
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |BR |   |BB |BQ |BK |   |   |BR | 8
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |BP |BP |BP |   |   |BP |BP |BP | 7
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |   |   |BN |BP |   |BN |   |   | 6
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |   |   |BB |   |BP |   |   |   | 5
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |   |   |WB |   |WP |   |   |   | 4
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |   |   |WN |WP |   |WN |   |   | 3
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |WP |WP |WP |   |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |WR |   |WB |WQ |WK |   |   |WR | 1
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                            A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                              
      

  • 2. ... Nc6

    This line, commonly, transposes into a Guioco Piano (Italian for "quiet game") with 3. Nf3 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 (see Diagram 4) However, it can also transpose into some of the positions I've already covered, as well. The chief difference between the Guioco Piano line and the "Me too" variation, is the pawn on c3 shoring up an possible central advance and the knight on b1 waiting to develop and eventually--most likely--moving to d2. It is often followed by castling and then perhaps a short nap before the sleepy attempts from each side to crack open the center.

  • 
                              Diagram 4: After 5. d3
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BR |   |BB |BQ |BK |   |   |BR | 8
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BP |BP |BP |   |   |BP |BP |BP | 7
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |BN |BP |   |BN |   |   | 6
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |BB |   |BP |   |   |   | 5
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |WB |   |WP |   |   |   | 4
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |WP |WP |   |WN |   |   | 3
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WP |WP |   |   |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WR |WN |WB |WQ |WK |   |   |WR | 1
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                          A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                            
    

In Closing

In truth, the Bishop's Opening is highly transpositional, so in order to truly master it, you need to learn quite a number of double king's pawn openings (Namely: Guioco Piano, Vienna Game, Four Knights Game, Petroff Defense, and Two Knights Defense). However, the basic ideas are simple and intuitive, so it's easy to play without spending a lot of time studying theory.


Recommended Reading:

Winning with the Bishop's Opening - Gary Lane
The Bishop's Opening Explained - Gary Lane


Resources:

Chessbase 8.0 used to cull game statistics

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