Andrew Martin: First Steps in Opening Play

by Diana Mihajlova
12/7/2015 – There's one question every chess player has to answer: what to play in the opening position? Experienced players and grandmasters might know what to do but if you are less experienced or do not have time to study the opening you might find it difficult to find an answer. Andrew Martin helps you to take the "First Steps in Opening Play". Review...

First Steps in Opening Play First Steps in Opening Play

A good game of chess is made up of three phases; the opening, the middlegame and then the endgame. However, if you do not play the opening well, you will not get to see the other phases! ‘First Steps in Opening Play’ attempts to equip the viewer will all the information he or she needs to tackle this tricky area and to emerge into the middlegame with a good, playable position. Players below 1500 will benefit from this basic advice. Players above 1500 will enjoy the detailed examination of many current master games. This is an enjoyable tour of opening play from which everyone can learn.


Andrew Martin: First Steps in Opening Play

A Review

I am sure opening theory is a weakness in the play of many novices and improving players. We may admire daredevils like the Hungarian GM Richard Rapport, who seem to turn their back to all established rules of opening theory and get away with it, but trying to do the same would be foolish. We can simply not afford to venture into competitive chess without an attempt to master the opening. Rest assured that Rapport did the same before he tried to do what he does today. Andrew Martin’s DVD 'First Steps in Opening Play' shows you how to study the opening and is ideal for improving players.

In the introduction the author reminds us of a well known fact: to improve you need a correct combination of hard work, study and practice. But the knack is to know how, what, and when to study, and how and when to practice. Here a coach helps. He can guide you with advice, helping you to make the right decisions, which can spare you an enormous amount of time and energy.

DVDs by chess experts offer you some affordable coaching and Andrew Martin is a renowned and experienced trainer, coach and chess writer. No wonder, he presents his material in a clear and straightforward manner – and with a very clear English pronunciation and amusing jargon (mind you, Martin is born and bred British).

IM Andrew Martin in the ChessBase recording studios

As Martin points out opening, middlegame and endgame are linked to each other. But if you mishandle the opening you might not have a chance to play the middle- or the endgame. On the other hand, there are players who fall to the other extreme that is also dangerous: they only study the opening and as soon as theory ends, they are, as Martin puts it ’at sea’. In chess, as in other areas of life, it is good to be an ’all-rounder’.

As the title ’First Steps in Opening Play’ indicates Martin explains the basics of the opening theory. Thus, the DVD is aimed at improving players, and – being one myself – I can say with certainty that it is an indispensable tool for everyone who wants to start studying the opening in an efficient, time-saving manner.

But before he turns to the question of what to study Martin dedicates a whole chapter (titled Study Method) to the question of how to study. He emphasizes that you need a ROUTINE to study chess and recommends dedicating a certain amount of time each day to the study of chess. In this time you can and should study with full concentration and no disctractions!

After the Introduction and the Study Method eighteen practical games follow in which Martin shows you the most important aspects of the opening to help you to reach promising middlegame positions. Particularly important is the quick development of your pieces because, as Martin puts it,’otherwise, you just get murdered in your bed’. Accordingly, all chosen games show the benefits of quick development and why controlling the centre and piece play is of utmost importance.

An encounter between S. Rabinovich and S. Flohr (Moscow 1939) illustrates how easily you can get ’smashed up’ when you neglect your development.

S. Rabinovich – S. Flohr, Moscow 1939, position after 17.g4

The pawn-push g4 is not an unusual move in the Ruy Lopez — White wants to follow up with Ng3-f5 — but in this particular position, it is a bit too optimistic because with seven pieces on the back rank White is lagging seriously behind in development. Can he really afford to weaken his King in this manner?!

Black counters White’s ambitious play with 17…h5 and ’hits hard at White’s weakness’ by opening the game before White can get his pieces out — a well-known strategy.

Position after 17...h5

Here’s the complete game:


A separate database allows you to play through the games Martin shows in your own tempo, without listening to the comments by your coach. I find this very useful. When listening to Martin’s comments, one ’method of study’ would be to take notes, to learn the material diligently and then look at the ’dry’ game again to see what you learned.

Of course, there are many manuals on the opening but I find that Martin’s concise, carefully chosen examples can add a refreshing, additional knowledge to other texts and DVDs.

Studied carefully, Andrew Martin’s DVD ’First Steps in Opening Play’ helps you to master the opening and to play the game with increased knowledge and confidence.

Sample video

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First Steps in Opening Play

Andrew Martin:
First Steps in Opening Play

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A former university lecturer in Romance philology, she is currently a painter as well as a chess journalist, and reports regularly from the international tournament scene.


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