Game Spotlight: The ECO Must Die
One of the greatest aspects of chess is its history. It’s the rare game where players regularly study games played over 100 years ago. But with all this reverence of what’s past, there’s one relic that needs to be left by the wayside.
The Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (ECO) was first compiled in the 1960s by some of the top chess players at the time. To their credit, they tried to provide the best theoretical lines at the time. The problem is that the organizational system, particularly the ECO codes, are a complete mess. The writers created exactly 500 codes in a way that would allow for no changes and no new codes, and then decided to fill them all. Which may have been fine at the time, but chess openings have developed in the intervening decades. This has resulted in a system of codes that has less relevance than it should to what’s being played today. For example, using the database at ChessTempo.com for numbers:
Alekhine’s Defence, Exchange Variation (e4 Nf6, e5 Nd5, d4 d6, c4 Nb6, exd6): 6735 games in database, no individual ECO code
Alekhine’s Defence, Modern Variation 4…Bg4 (e4 Nf6, e5 Nd5, d4 d6, Nf3 Bg4): 5454 games in database, ECO code B05
Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation (e4 c6, d4 d5, e5): 28120 games in database, no individual ECO code
Caro-Kann Defence, Classical, Bronstein-Larsen Variation (e4 c6, d4 d5, Nc3 dxe4, Nxe4 Nf6, Nxf6 gxf6): 3788 games in database, ECO code B16
French Defence, Burn Variation: (e4 e6, d4 d5, Nc3 Nf6, Bg5 dxe4, Nxe4): 6951 games in database, no individual ECO code
French Defence, Tarrasch, Guimard Variation (e4 e6, d4 d5, Nd2 Nc6, Ngf3 Nf6): 3998 games in database, ECO code C04
And on it goes, through numerous openings and variations. We now have sophisticated databases which let us easily search millions of games easily for any set of opening moves you could want, and still insist on appending to each game a code from over 50 years ago that’s increasingly meaningless. We don’t use punch cards from that era, so why are we using this? Let it go, and design a new classification system that can evolve as chess does. The game deserves better.
Let’s look at one of those overlooked opening systems. Here’s what Black is trying to accomplish in the Burn Variation of the French: