Go back to frontpage

A Move for Equality

Does White's advantage of moving first have a long-term impact on the way we think?

Over the years, Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri have played many hard-fought games at the chessboard. Their friendly rivalry has resulted in numerous sarcastic tweets, and it's almost like they continue their piece play off the board.

When they met in a friendly setting at The Good Knight chess pub in Oslo, the rivalry was put aside. Together, they stood up for equality by starting the game with the Black pieces.

The way I see it, one of the main points behind the campaign is to challenge people to see the world from a different angle. Of course, it's important to take a step back once in a while to get a different perspective, and as chess professional for many years, I believe it's worth dwelling a bit on this topic. I have a feeling that White's advantage of starting the game has a more significant impact on the game than you might think.

The opening

By playing the first move, White has the advantage in chess. Or to be more precise, White has a slight initiative that might develop into something bigger.

In the opening phase, Black’s concern is usually to neutralize this initiative, while White wants to develop it into something more tangible. This means that players have a different attitude towards playing White than Black.

With the Black pieces, players tend to be more defensively oriented, and might even be happy with a draw, while those who play White are there to attack, and they are striking to obtain an advantage out of the opening.

Perhaps you wonder if it really is such a big deal that White is moving first. Well, White wins approximately 54% of games.

With Black, you are supposed to defend and neutralize White’s initiative. When Magnus made the first move against Giri, they quickly reached this position.

Equality-1

This is the position after Black's second move, and the position is identical to the first game of the World Championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Kajakin in 2016, with the only difference being that the colors are reversed.

Even if the position is the same, the difference of colors made the players look at the position in a new way. Who is playing to equalize now? Giri played Nf3-e5, and I would guess that you, just for a second, had a feeling White could push for an advantage. I doubt the same would happen if we had switched the colors back to normal.

When the opening is over

A few years ago, I had a coach who said he a feeling I played better when I was playing Black. He claimed I was overly aggressive when playing White, even far past the opening. He said he found my style to be more patient when playing Black.

As a matter of fact, I think he was polite and put it mildly. I think what he really meant was that with the white pieces I was overly aggressive and tried to play above my level. While with Black, I was playing decent chess. Never before had I given this any thought.

Suddenly I asked myself many questions about how the color of my pieces affected my middlegame play, or even the endgame:

• Am I more impatient with the white pieces?
• Am I more willing to attack with White and to take more risks?
• Am I more prepared to defend, and even suffer, with the Black pieces?

The mental board and calculation

When you calculate variations, you visualize the pieces moving in your head, right? Sometimes I get questions on what my mental chess board looks like. Frankly, it's hard to say, but I have a feeling it's more similar to a board on a computer screen or a chess diagram from a book, rather than something similar to a physical board. However, all of this is hard to say, and I'm not even sure if I am telling the truth.

Anyway, my point is that in all of these sources, whether it’s a book or an online article or a video, you usually see the board from White’s perspective, meaning that the white pieces are on the bottom side of the board. If it's true that my mental board looks like a chess diagram, the hours spent reading books or in front of the screen, I wonder if this has helped me calculate variations from White's perspective.

Just for a while, let's try to start the game with the black pieces. Perhaps it will change your play? Instead of being overly aggressive with White and over-patient and peaceful with Black, maybe there is a more balanced view that offers the best play.

And of course, all my thoughts above can easily be translated into much more significant questions. Yes, I'm talking about how everything around us in life is perceived. How does it affect the way we play the game and behave on our way to the chess club? Let's find out by starting with Black!

Today all serious chess games start with White making the first move, but it hasn’t always been like this. In the 19th century, Black often made the first move. Even some of the most well-known games from the past were played like this. You can read more about this in the Magnus Trainer app, in the lesson called Move For Equality.

Take a look at the following game. Like always, Mikhail Tal finished a game with a blistering attack. Do you think Tal would have found the same combination if we switched colors?

Mikhail Tal - Duncan Suttles
Sukhumi 1972

More info about the campaign at https://www.moveforequality.com/!

By GM Torbjørn Ringdal Hansen