Classical vs. Modern vs. Hyper-Modern: Chess Principles

In chess, there are three fundamental opening principles: it is either (1) classical, (2) hypermodern, or (3) modern.

There have been many arguments throughout the years whether a differentiation is valid, after all the history of their creation is vague.

There are some people that deny the existence of such opening principles, claiming that they are a fruit of a misunderstanding.

As far as I am concerned however, it is clear that there are fundamental differences between the three.

They can also be applied in different situations, with their own strengths and weaknesses. I think that these opening principles should be discussed, they are real.

I will be explaining the differences of these three chess opening principles in this article and which I think is the best. Without further ado, let’s begin. 

Introduction to the classical, modern, and hypermodern chess opening principles

When we are talking about classical, hypermodern, and modern principles, we are mainly talking about the ways a chess player will approach the opening.

The opening is a box full of mystery. Chess players have been trying to solve the riddle of the opening for centuries.

As people and technology become more advanced, several opening ideologies have been created. It culminated in the creation of these three principles, things that we have discovered throughout the years.

These ideologies are not applied in the middlegame and the endgame, they really only refer to the opening.

Their manner of creation goes in this order, first the classical, second the hypermodern, and third the modern.

Let’s talk about the classical first. 

What is the classical opening principle?

Classical is the traditional way of approaching the opening. In this opening approach, a chess player is taught to control the center using the pawns.

The idea of controlling the center stems from the idea of space. Space is important in chess, in order for your pawns and pieces to be useful, you will need a space for them to work with.

People have figured out that a pawn or a piece in the center of the board will become significantly more useful than a pawn or a piece in the corner.

This allowed people to believe that pawns should control the center. In the opening where the pieces can’t really develop all that well, it makes sense to control the center using the pawns.

It will free up space for the bishop and the queen to go out of their respective squares, and pave a room for castling.

In this principle, it is stated that those who control the center using the pawns will ultimately have the better opening position.

It doesn’t matter if one were to develop their pieces normally, they would automatically become worse if their pawns do not have control of the center.

This led many chess players to use the pawns to control the center more than anything.

If you watch the games of the old Paul Morphy you will see the trace of this belief. This is the old way of viewing the opening.

It is not like this is the wrong way to view it, it is just that there have been many other propositions made throughout the years.

The next to the line is the hypermodern approach. 

What is the hypermodern opening principle?

Founded by Aron Nimzowitsch, this is the new way of approaching the opening.

Hyper modern views the opening differently, urging chess players to control the center using the pieces instead of the pawns.

It is important to note that hypermodern does not completely reject the classical approach, but is just a new way of looking at things.

Several chess players have realized that games can be won by indirectly controlling the center.

Basically one can control the center without actually using their pawns, they can use their pieces instead.

The knight is usually the main factor in this approach. The knight can jump over pieces and can quickly control the center without having to move any of the pawns.

Then, as one’s opponent extends their pawns as a result of the lack of center control, the hypermodern player will slowly develop their other pieces.

In the hyper modern approach, the extended pawn structure is often treated as a weak point, a target for attacks.

This is why the knowledge of pawn structures is important for the one using this approach, you should be able to take advantage of this overextension.

The one that uses the hyper modern approach would usually undermine the extended pawns by challenging it. One can either use a pawn or multiple piece pressure in order to do this.

This will be the main focus of those who implement this opening principle.

Interestingly, there hasn’t been a chess player that is a proponent of this thinking that has become a world champion.

Although many of the chess players who support this have been at least a top five player at some point.

This is definitely an unorthodox way to look at things.

Openings like the king’s indian defense or reti opening implement this idea. They are the opposite of the classical opening principle.

The next in line is the modern opening principle. 

What is the modern opening principle?

Out of the three opening principles this is the one that is less defined. Some even say that this isn’t even an opening principle, rather it is a natural evolution of the way we look at the openings.

Regardless, I still see this as another opening principle that should be discussed.

The modern principle is different from the other two since it incorporates the use of chess computers.

In this way of thinking we will use the chess engine’s evaluation in order to form conclusions.

This line of thinking assumes that chess engines hold all of the answers to the questions of the opening, which has some value given that they are stronger than any human player.

In modern opening principle, chess engines are used to determine the best moves in the opening.

Chess engines have given the red flag to some openings that are used extensively in the past for example.

Openings like the Queen’s Indian defense and the French defense have slowly seen a decline in competitive play due to chess engines.

There are also other openings that have been treated as unplayable but the engines evaluated to be decent.

Chess computers are far from perfect, but they are better at chess than we are as far as we are concerned.

Even though different chess engines give different evaluations on the same position, the rankings (order) are usually the same.

In this approach we wouldn’t really think about controlling the center with either pawns or pieces, but we will just form our conclusions based on what the engine suggests.

Some openings that control the center with the pawns are seen to be better than the one that controls the center with the pieces.

There are also others where it is the opposite, where the engines evaluate that controlling the center with the pieces is better.

Regardless, the evaluations of the chess engines are treated as absolute in this approach, and we are seeing this in modern competitive chess games.

The use of chess computers are vital to any opening preparation, the two other opening principles are not as discussed anymore.

I think that this is fundamentally different from the other two and deserves its own category.

Now that I am done at explaining the difference between these three, we will now talk about which I think is the best approach among all of them. 

Which is the best chess opening principle?

Determining the best chess opening principle is far more complicated than you think.

At first glance, it seems that following the evaluations of the chess engines is the more logical way to do it, but is it really?

Most beginners in chess do not really know how to convert a win from a +0.1 centipawn advantage.

If the engine evaluated an opposite castling position to be advantageous for the white pieces, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should play it. Not unless you are a professional player.

At the average level (which most people would fall into), little advantages do not matter as much as visible advantages.

Even if you know that the French defense is a suboptimal opening, it does not mean that you cannot win from it if your rating is only around 1500.

So, how do we approach this?

What is the best chess opening principle if we are just not going to follow what the engine says?

Well, the answer is simple if we really think logically about it.

The best opening principle to take depends on your level as a player, basically what kind of positions you are likely to perform the best in.

If you are a beginner with a low to average rating, it is best if you follow the classical way of thinking about the openings.

If you use pawns to take control of the center, you will naturally have more space to work with.

Playing a cramped position is a nightmare for beginners, when there is a lot of space you would be able to calculate more freely.

It is also easier, I mean you just have to push the pawns in the center and develop your pieces. It is not as complicated.

If you are a strong player but are not necessarily a professional player, then you can use a mix of classical and hyper modern openings.

The hyper modern approach is a more advanced opening principle that needs a lot of consideration.

You would need to think about the pawn structures and how to take advantage of them, beginners will have a harder time doing this.

If you can play around the lack of space, you are now able to implement this approach.

I wouldn’t say that hyper modern should be your only approach, you should still control the center using the pawns (on some occasions) and see what works for you.

If you are a professional however, it makes sense to embrace the modern way of thinking.

Chess engines determine the most effective approach in the top level, this is the truth that you need to understand.

You won’t be able to keep up with the competition if you don’t study the openings using the engines.

This is why if you are playing against highly competitive players, then it will make sense to do it the modern way, the way of the chess engines. 

Conclusion

Classical, hypermodern, and modern are the three prominent ways of thinking about the openings.

Classical refers to the line of thinking that chess players should control the center using their pawns.

Hyper modern is the line of thinking that chess players can indirectly control the center using the pieces instead of their pawns.

The modern approach is the new line of thinking that places the chess engine’s evaluation over anything else.

The best approach to take depends on your level as a chess player.

Beginners should use the classical opening approach, semi advanced players can use a mix of classical and hyper modern approach, and advanced players should adhere to the modern opening approach.

Hope you have learned something today, thank you for reading. 

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