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Dr. Ron Plays the Bird!

Play 1.f4 as White? But I've been a 1.e4 player my whole life, since I learned chess from my Father at age three. Double King pawn openings with 1.e4 e5 were the only games we played. During the 70s, I studied for six years under an old Master, Don Brooks (many times Indiana State Champion). His rule for me was "1.e4 - if it's good enough for Bobby Fischer, it's good enough for you." The Ruy Lopez was his opening of choice for me. After my first year with him, I studied the games of Fischer, Bronstein, Tal, Keres, and Alekhine. 

Refining my games as an attacking player, choosing sacrifices and creativity over incremental positional games, I fell in love with the King's Gambit and the Vienna Gambit (both with an early f2-f4 for White). I understood that, for an attacking player, certain openings are designed to get attacking positions. That is, certain openings are designed with a view to set up a clear plan of attack against the enemy King in the middle game. To sacrifice, you must have a position demonstrating activity of pieces and a preponderance of pieces where the enemy King is located. These positional attributes must be prepared in the opening. Silman, in his book, How to Reassess Your Chess, states, "The true purpose of the opening is to create imbalances and develop your army in such a way that your pieces, working together, can take advantage of them."

During the last decade, I found that perhaps 80% of my games as White with 1.e4 featured Black playing the Sicilian against me. I settled on the Grand Prix Attack, again with an early f2-f4 plan. I hated playing against the Sicilian (and if not the Sicilian, then the French), almost never getting a chance to play my Vienna Gambit.

While buying chess books and software from ChessCentral, I noticed a CD about Bird's Opening, and I realized that it was like the Dutch Defense reversed - but with an extra tempo. If the Dutch Defense was a pretty good defense for Black, then with an extra tempo for White how could one fail to get a winning advantage?

I promptly got the Big Bird PowerBase CD, studied all the annotated games in the database and browsed the Openings Key and soaked up inspiration. Shortly I discovered that in Bird's Opening I had found...love at first sight! Bird's Opening is fun to play even when defending a gambit, as shown in the following game.

From's Gambit

[Event "HCL-M554"] [Site "www.playchess.de"] [Date "2004.06.21"] [Round "13"] [White "drron"] [Black "mpreuss"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A02"] [Annotator "Goldstein, R."] [PlyCount "47"] [EventDate "2004.??.??"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "20"] [Source "Pickard & Son"] [SourceDate "2009.01.01"] 1. f4 e5 {[Matthias always plays the Bird as White, so I'm surprised that he plays From's Gambit against me. I think the From is a loser for Black, if White plays correctly. In any event, the game is a wild one!]} 2. fxe5 d6 3. exd6 Bxd6 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. g3 Nc6 6. Bg2 Bg4 7. d3 Qe7 8. Bg5 O-O-O 9. Nc3 $146 ({ White is behind in development, but this natural move has not been played until now. Another try is} 9. Nbd2 h6 ({Or} 9... Qe6 10. e4 h6 11. Be3 Nd5 12. Bf2 $14 {as in Hanegby-Owens, Chessforum 1996: 1-0/43.}) 10. Bxf6 Qxf6 11. c3 Rhe8 12. Qa4 $13 {seen in the game Pelikan-Preusse, German Democratic Republic 1982: 1-0/38.}) 9... h6 10. Bxf6 Qxf6 11. O-O Bc5+ 12. Kh1 Be3 13. Nd2 Qe6 14. Nc4 Bg5 15. Qe1 Nd4 {[%csl Re2] [Increasing the pressure on White's backward pawn.]} 16. Qf2 Rhe8 17. Ne4 Bxe2 ({If} 17... b5 {there follows} 18. c3 bxc4 19. cxd4 f5 20. Nxg5 hxg5 21. dxc4 $16 {and White has a clear advantage.}) 18. Nc5 Qe7 19. Bxb7+ Kb8 20. b4 Bxf1 21. Na5 Rd6 22. Rxf1 Be3 ({No better is} 22... Qe2 23. Qxe2 Rxe2 ({Or} 23... Nxe2 $2 24. Rxf7 Nd4 25. c3 Re1+ 26. Kg2 $18 {winning}) 24. Rxf7 a6 $18 {and White wins.}) 23. Qg2 Rb6 ({The only chance to get some counterplay is} 23... a6 24. Bxa6 c6 $18 {but it's hopeless. }) 24. c3 ({After the text} 24. c3 {if Black plays} Qd6 {then} 25. cxd4 $18 { wins.}) 1-0

Why love at first sight? Let me simply list the great plusses of this opening:

1) As stated above, a good opening leads you out of the opening with a clear plan for the middle game and active piece play. With the Bird, 1.f4, the middle game plan already begins. One plans to attack on the flank (or center) where one has a space advantage. After 1.f4, the space advantage is on the Kingside. With the pawn at f4, Knight at f3, and the Bishop at b2, one might think that plan is to fight for control of the key central square e5. In the Bird, this positional objective is actually a secondary one. The main plan of the Bird from the opening move, 1.f4, is the checkmate of the Black King. 

2) Some Grandmaster (whose name I can't remember) said something to the tune of, "What's all this nonsense about positional objectives? Has everyone forgotten that the aim of chess is to checkmate the enemy King?" Well, that's exactly the focus of Bird's Opening.

3) The Bird is a fertile garden for the growth of combinations, sacrifices and tactics. Sub-goals include occupation of e5 or g5 and/or attack on f6, f7, g7, and h7.

4) The King's Knight has sometimes a great outpost on e5 or g5, and many times sacs itself for the good of his King on g5, f7, and h7.

5) Rooks get into the foray through either the f-file or h-file and a double Rook sac on the h-file is not unheard of.

6) Bird's Opening avoids the Sicilian, French, etc., and usually surprises the defender who is expecting 1.e4 or 1.d4 or 1.c4. If Black responds with the From Gambit, 1…e5, then one can accept the From Gambit with all kinds of spectacular tactics - and which, I think, should be a win for White. Otherwise, one can shock the defender (who might be prepared for the From) by playing 2.e4, throwing the defender into the King's Gambit or the Vienna Gambit with a clear plus in surprise value for White.

7) I have not come across a defense yet which wrests the initiative from White.

8) The light-squared Bishop, sitting at either e2, d3, c4, or b5, in conjunction with the dark-squared Bishop at b2, points ominously at Black's Kingside.

9) Black usually obeys one of the primary mandates about "King safety", castling short quickly - right into the jaws of White's mandated Kingside attack. This Kingside attack includes active piece play along with a potential pawn storm on the King's flank.

10) People speak about weakening White's Kingside castled position with an early f2-f4, but I see no weakness in practice with the Rook at f1, the Knight at f3, and the solid pawn chain d2 (or d3), e3, and f4. In fact, sometimes one closes the center with d4, e3, and f4, presaging a Kingside pawn storm.

11) Clear advantages or wins happen within the first twenty moves (while other openings are still in the opening!), although the game itself may go on a while longer.

12) Frankly, I can't see the fascination of many players with the other flank opening, the English opening 1.c4, with its middle game plan of controlling squares on the Queenside as opposed to the Bird with its plan of checkmate.

13) The Bird is not as well analyzed as, for example, the English, and as a consequence one doesn't have an opening book to memorize of twenty moves deep.

14) The opening is great because its inherent combinations, sacs, and tactics are difficult to rebut in the practical world of time pressure.

What do I feel are the negatives of the opening? The only negative I can think of is the possibility of the onset of boredom - with winning over and over again! I see no real deficiencies in Bird's Opening, contrary to what some GMs will say. It will stay fresh and unique until that day when all the pundits will wake up, anoint the Bird as the new "king of openings" - when its new found popularity might nullify any surprise value.

To recap, the Bird is an opening which brings you into the middle game with active piece play, the initiative and a clear plan of attack. What more could a chess player want?