Thursday, June 5, 2014

Developing A Chess Opening Repertoire

The importance of developing an opening repertoire is surprisingly many times overlooked. It is likely that a player of 1800 strength has developed some sense of an opening repertoire; however it is likely that it could benefit from some serious improvement. It’s nice to know a little about all openings, but in high level competition that’s just not good enough. It is important for a player to have advanced chess opening knowledge. Assuming we have no formal opening repertoire, how do we choose which openings to use? There are three main ways to do this:
  • Select your openings based on your personality. If you are an aggressive player then perhaps the Sicilian defense is yours all day long. If you’re much more of a positional player who likes to slowly take over your opponent, than maybe the French. If you are selecting openings based on your personality than a common strategy is to use similar structures. An example of this would be playing the Caro-Kann against e4, and the Slav against d4.
  • Another option is selecting openings based on how complex they are. Not all of us have 5 hours a day to study opening theory. If you play the open Sicilian, black could respond with the Najdorf, Dragon, Scheveningen, Kan, Sveshnikov, etc. However if you play the Closed Sicilian, than there is much less variation for you to be concerned with.
  • Finally, you could choose your openings based on the hard facts. Some openings have historically not performed as well. You can use a chess openings explorer to compare the statistics of each specific line. There are a few other sites with similar databases, but theirs is probably the best. Also you can compare chess opening statistics from a broader look, comparing major lines by name. Only take statistics so far. All players perform at different abilities. Maybe all the not so good Grandmasters used the poorly rated openings. You can compare the overall statistics with how a specific player performed using the system.
            After you have selected the proper opening repertoire to suit your needs how do you study? A very important aspect is that a player needs to understand the ideas behind their openings. In fact this is probably the largest factor separating basic and advanced chess opening understanding. What are the positional ideas behind those moves that you’re learning to regurgitate. Knowing this helps transition into the middlegame. There are many different ideas that people have tried and a lot could be said about this topic, however to keep it reasonably short let’s use some more bullets.
  • In my personal opinion, one of the most valuable programs in the chess world is “Chess Openings Wizard Professional.” If you want to learn opening theory fast and deep, than there is no substitute. (at least that I know of) They have opening files you can purchase, or you can create your own.
  • Reading books and watching videos over your openings is an excellent way to get in the minds of stronger players. is loaded with great videos over all kinds of stuff, but it does require a monthly subscription. There are many wonderful books out there written over chess openings, however in my experience the title hands down goes to the Grandmaster Repertoire Series. The only downfall is that they have only been written over a select few openings. The Sicilian, Caro-Kann, English and Gruenfeld are among those covered.
  • The method of chess opening study that I would recommend is to watch videos to get the feel for it. Then get ahold of a good book that goes into great detail over all of the main lines. Finally as your reading the book, import all of the moves into Chess Openings Wizard Professional. This allows you to have a board while working through the book; the whole time creating a phenomenal study guide. I personally don’t trust the calculation of others, so I always have the Fritz interface with Houdini as the engine running to go through variations. On the infinite analysis setting you can see previous calculations that others have done using various engines. This is an excellent tool if you are one who likes to create opening lines based on what the engine thinks. It is cloud based and always expanding, so in a way it’s almost like you are participating in expanding modern chess theory.

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