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mbeaver 56 ( +1 | -1 )
should i study openings? I'm rated around 1400-1500, being playing for over a year now. I've been mainly studying tactics and checkmate patterns, with about 20% study time devoted to endgames/strategy.
The problem i have is with openings. i've bough a few books on well known openings such as the evans gambit and ruy lopez but the massive list of variations for each move is an absolute chore to play through and i'm not sure how much benefit i am gaining from reading through them.
should i persevere or is this pointless at my level?
dysfl 117 ( +1 | -1 )
Just follow your heart I'm on the same boat. Just follow what you feel like, after listening all the opnions. I think the question is how to study the opening, not whether or not to study opening at all.

Below is what I'm doing :

For example, I have lost several Evans Gambit games as black, and they were very interesting ones. I looked up the opening book for the mistake I made, and maybe one or two variations I've considered to play. That's it. So I would not make excatly the same mistake again (sigh, I hope), however, I'm still weak in that opening. If I lost against English, I don't even bother to look the book. I don't like to use it myself yet. If I've made a mistake in London system as white, I'll try to look up the DB for the similar positions and run some test variations on the computer to understand that postions. That's because London system is one of my main lines as white for these days.

In summary, I go over to the games I played, and review them. I don't try to go through an opening book. I found that most opening books are too high-level for my strength. I want to see the common mistakes either me or my opponents would make, and those books are games by masters.
thumper 99 ( +1 | -1 )
mbeaver I have the same problem with the seemingly endless variations of the different openings. I have neither the time or inclination to try and memorize specific moves deep into the game. I'm realizing that by just playing a game on my own I'm playing out a variation that's been played before. I just don't know the name of it. :)
Just pick a couple main lines that fit you and your own variations will flow from there. After the game you could do a search to find out if what you have created has been done before. The first 3-5 moves are to untie your attacking pieces and prepair yourself for an attack. After this point you should be in good shape to contend with most players. Ultimately, having a good grasp of the basics (pins, traps, forks, etc.) will go a lot farther to improve your game. Reading the board is better than trying to memorize endless opening variations.
Just my opinion.
achillesheel 87 ( +1 | -1 )
Repeat Your Openings I'm with thumper on memorization of openings. One bit of advice I got from a top GK players is to play literally hundreds of games with one opening. Patterns will emerge, and you can toy with variations on those patterns whether you know the name of the given variation or not. I started playing Queen's Gambit a few months ago. I read the d4 games in Chernev's _Logical Chess_ to explore development of the position (rather than intensely studying books on openings, which I've no time for). I am very comfortable with it now. I may, after another hundred games or so, explore variations on d4 beyond the gambit. For now, though, I have chosen an opening and it is getting more solid by the day. I can spend what little chess time I have studying tactics and strategy instead of openings.

Just two cents from a two cent player.
anaxagoras 189 ( +1 | -1 )
What do you mean by "study?"

The best piece of advice I've read here is to pick one or two openings (and defences) and play them rabidly until you can positionally navigate into the middlegame. Learn them inside out and learn them again; only then does it make sense to broaden the scope of your opening study.

At the same time, after you focus on a certain opening or defence, the analysis of variations is not so daunting because you have much less to learn (and can therefore learn it well). The learning of opening variations is wrongly thought of as "memorization," and this pejorative even distortes the real activity or learning openings, which is to understand the positional ideas behind the selected variations: memorization is not sufficient for practical employment of the opening. Thumper seems to understand this, but the learning of text variations does not have to be incompatible with real learning and mastery of them. An amateur looking for his first opening to master should not choose a highly theoretical opening with encyclopedic masses of variations, e.g. the Sicilian (or perhaps the Ruy Lopez). Rather he should look for openings with little theory that are based on clear positional ideas, and then the learning of an opening and its variations is not so daunting a task for the player with little study time.

Another important consequence of focussed opening study is the ability to refute the mistakes of your opponent. Players may go "out of book" early in the opening, but if you saturate your study with only one or two openings, out of book moves based on false positional ideas turn into neon targets (this is not to say that all out of book moves are based on false positional ideas).

So yes, by all means, pick a White opening and two Black defences (one for e4 and the other for d4) and learn them pat. Myself, I am a d4 devotee and play 1...c6 to 1 e4 and 1...Nf6 to 1...d4 (which usually leads to a Nimzo or QI).

coyotefan 96 ( +1 | -1 )
achillesheel I agree totally. I have made this recommendation a few times before. As white decide whether to play 1.e4 or 1.d4, and stick to it. As black decide what one answer you will play against 1.e4 and 1.d4, and stick to it. Play as many games as possible, and when finished, run them through an analysis engine such as Fritz to help find errors. YOU SHOULD RUN ALL GAMES, EVEN WINS! You can best learn from your own mistakes, rather than a book.

If you have played a friendly and curtious game, and resigned properly, you could also ask your opponent for his impression of the game. As long as you showed class throughout the game, most opponents will be glad to at least give you some general impressions. They may have seen something that Fritz did not pick up.

The most important thing NOT to worry about when learning the game is your rating. It is a meaningless number. Play for fun, and to learn!!
divine_sun_cat 24 ( +1 | -1 )
nah Play a whole variety of openings. Try and make some bad moves and put yourself into trouble. See if you can get out of them. You learn most from your mistakes. This one opening idea sucks. Your opponent won't play ball.
anaxagoras 19 ( +1 | -1 )
divine_sun_cat Please explain your comment about how my opponent won't "play ball" when I play 1 d4? Can he force me to take it back and play 1 e4? Will he shake his head and walk away?

coyotefan 72 ( +1 | -1 )
divine_sun_cat If I always start with 1.d4, I can be forced to play a variety of 1.d4 games, but I will bot have to play Ruy Lopez or Sicilian. If I play 1.e4, I will not have to play QG or any Indian defenses.

If I always answer 1.e4 with e5, I will not need to learn any Sicilian. If I answer 1.d4 with 1...d5 I will not need to learn any Indian.

How can I be forced to play any thing I do not want to learn? You cannot limit your openings to 2 or three, but you sure can limit yourself out of much. Once you start mastering the basic openings, then you can expand a little at a time, but how much can you learn by spreading yourself thin at the beginning.

I learned many years ago that playing a variety of first moves is the best way to doom yourself to mediocrity.
caldazar 38 ( +1 | -1 )
mbeaver... Do you feel as though you're improving? Are you happy with the rate of progress you've been making thus far? If so, just keep on with what you're doing since the study plan you outlined should be plenty for us typical amateurs. You don't need to have a strong grasp of openings at the amateur level; you can get by simply by applying basic strategic knowledge to reach playable middlegames.
spurtus 87 ( +1 | -1 )
I like the idea of limiting openings by refusing to play say the likes of e4.

This is a choice I myself have made already, so by refusing to play e4 I can concentrate on a much smaller but still big chunk of opening theory.

I'm sure you get a lot of IMs and GMs that do this too. As they have to study, and at least improve their chances of making their opponent play the opening they are more familiar with. The same idea applies at amateur level.

Instead of simply hearing about what openings players currently play, and aside from player style which is a big determining factor, there must be an example of somebodies opening repertoir growth over the years? and something like this that has solid reasoning to dropping lines, openings, defenses and commiting to others etc. would be very interesting to me.

peppe_l 223 ( +1 | -1 )
IMHO This "one opening" approach is good for GMS, not for us. By playing different openings at least in casual games one learns much more about chess. It is not like 1.d4 player cannot learn anything by playing 1.e4 sometimes :-)

One of the reasons why I tend to lose games in certain type of positions is because too often - even in casual games - I try to steer the opening and game towards positions I like. For example I like to play against IQP, and so I often play openings that give my _opponent_ IQP but never openings that give _me_ IQP. However no matter what openings you choose, sometimes you end up to a position where you have IQP, and then the casual games where you played QGD Tarrasch instead of your "usual" Slav will will become handy. Also I have found out knowing how to play certain positions with both colours helps a lot, dont you agree even if you play 1.e4 e6 as black but never 1.e4 as white, playing AGAINST your "own" defense will give you valuable experience?

"I'm sure you get a lot of IMs and GMs that do this too. As they have to study, and at least improve their chances of making their opponent play the opening they are more familiar with. The same idea applies at amateur level."

I disagree. The point is GMs learned basics of all main line openings BEFORE, not after "specializing" to 1.e4, Ruy Lopez, KID etc.

"I learned many years ago that playing a variety of first moves is the best way to doom yourself to mediocrity."

Strange, since so many GMs, IMs and FMs have learned it is the best (long-term) way to improve at chess.

I am a weak chess player and quite frankly do not really study chess at the moment. But if there is something I have learned by observing other players, it can be summarized in following way:

Players who concentrate on tactics, endings, strategy AND try lots of different openings to gain broader chess understanding are the ones who improve.

I have learned via countless losses that at chess one cannot become "specialist" before learning ALL the basics. In my case I have learned one cannot play like Karpov and Capa before learning to play like Morphy and Anderssen :-)

Merry Christmas to everyone,


achillesheel 93 ( +1 | -1 )
Jack of All Trades . . . Peppe, I think your advice is sound, but it depends upon time limitations and where you are at in your game. As a practical matter, I would rather have a couple of solid openings as white and a couple as black. I have the rest of my life to explore other openings, but for now I'd like to have a couple down pat. I figure I could be very bad with lots of openings or decent with a couple, exploring others at my leisure. Maybe, like everything, it's just a matter of preference. I have found that sticking to a couple of openings has improved both my rating and the depth of my enjoyment of the game. Still, I look forward to learning more with new openings when the time is right.

I do NOT understand divine_sun_cat's "won't play ball" comment, however. The opponent has no choice but to "play ball" because ANY response to my opening moves holds the potential to help me strengthen that opening.
ctrl-reset 64 ( +1 | -1 )
Thank you peppe_l I shall take your advise and learn the basics or ideas behind the other openings.

I always play the 1.e4 opening. A good player on FICS advised me to play this opening all the time and learn from all the variations that could come from it. I guess that helped me improve from 1200 to a steady 1450~1500 player.

But now I need some ideas to push my play higher into the 1800's. And I guess I need to make some changes to the way I play or else I wil stay in the 1500's forever. And maybe new openings would be a way for me to expand my thinking about the game.

peppe_l 52 ( +1 | -1 )
Oh BTW Obviously there is very little point in listening what a patzer like me has to say :-) If you can, ask some really strong player like GM or IM the following question:

"Hi GM N.N, I am --- rated player, I am wondering (at my level) is it better to a) specialize, construct a limited opening repertoire and play ONLY the openings & lines in my repertoire, or b) forget in depth opening studies for now, concentrate on tactics, endings and strategy and try lots of different openings (at least in casual games) to gain broader chess understanding?"

Hmm, will GM N.N choose option a or b...?

achillesheel 137 ( +1 | -1 )
Peppe I suspect the answer would be:

What are your immediate and long-term goals as a chess player?


How much time do you have to devote to chess analysis?

The GM's answer may vary depending on our responses to the above.

I would also point out that your question assumes your preferred conclusion, i.e., option (b) is a loaded question. Broadening one's understanding of chess was your justification for playing lots of openings to begin with, so it should not be included in the question. Really the question to the GM should WHETHER playing lots of openings broadens your understanding of chess (and how the limited question of openings fits in with your goals, the time you have to spend studying, etc.).

I personally think that playing a given opening in 100 consecutive games would more effectively broaden MY understanding of the game than would playing 100 different openings in 100 consecutive games. That may not be true for others. By way of (a probably weak, but entertaining) analogy ... if I want to most deeply appreciate the beauty of Marquez or Feuntes in the original Spanish, should I spend my limited time thoroughly translating a single short-story or amateurishly translating 15 short stories? I think that by focusing on one story I would have a deeper appreciation of the writing, even if I didn't know as many of the stories. But there is time yet for them!
divine_sun_cat 66 ( +1 | -1 )
Won't play ball Pretty clear what i mean. Coyotefan explained it. If you play e4, your opponent has 10 commonly played responses, plus some rare ones. Yet Anaxagoros said

"The best piece of advice I've read here is to pick one or two openings (and defences) and play them rabidly until you can positionally navigate into the middlegame"

Not really possible is it?

Say as white OTB one ends up in the Latvian - 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 f5 - against someone who knows it well. One will get trounced because they didn't bother to look at the Latvian as it is unsound. But how can they avoid it?

One way to avoid it is to play an opening with a much smaller repertoire. Say 1.f4 or 1. b4. Both solid enough for amateur play.
achillesheel 110 ( +1 | -1 )
But Divine How is it that our opponent knows the Latvian Gambit so well? S/he has studied it. I would be trounced whether I know it's the Latvian or not (though I do know the Latvian because I love to play it on the side!). I would be a fool to suggest that thoroughly learning 10 openings is no better than thoroughly learning 2 openings. But, alas, I have a job and kids and avocations other than chess, including reading books that have nothing to do with chess. My point was that someone in my situation (no time to intensely study opening theory writ large), might benefit as I have from focusing on a single white opening and responses to d4 and e4 (though I am not as inflexible when playing as black). If I spent my time playing 10 or 15 or 20 different openings/variations, I would fare no better against my hypothetical Latvian Gambit master, and I would suffer in my other games (and let's remember that the *vast* majority of responses to 1.d4 2.c4 fall within a narrow and predictable range, i.e., my opponent "plays ball.")

BTW: You never clarified that Greek message. What was that all about??
anaxagoras 143 ( +1 | -1 )
Well, I'm glad I asked you to explain it because there's been a misunderstanding. When I said "The best piece of advice I've read here is to pick one or two openings (and defences) and play them rabidly until you can positionally navigate into the middlegame" it meant that a player should indeed learn to play the White side against various defences to 1 d4 if he selects that as his primary opening move, and that he learn a defence to 1 e4, 1 d4, 1 Nf3 and so on. A player only requires a single first-move opening as White, eg. 1 e4, d4, c4, Nf3 etc., but requires many defences in his repertoire as Black. I hope that clarifies the point.

My own repertoire is an example of the strategy spelled out above:
1 d4 as White
1...c6 to 1 e4, 1...Nf6 to 1 d4 and 1 c4 as Black.

One can complain that there are many, many defences to an "orthodox" opening like 1 d4, and that the numerous variations cannot be practically learned. On the other hand, it must be granted that every opening can quickly lead a player into unknown territory and he will then have to rely on his wits no matter how much opening theory he knows. The advantage of playing a strong central opening like 1 e4 or 1 d4 is that their combination with experience and some focussed study should lead to greater winning chances than advanced knowledge of less aggressive openings like 1 b4 and 1 f4 (which should both promise equality for Black with correct play).
peppe_l 132 ( +1 | -1 )
Achullesheel "I personally think that playing a given opening in 100 consecutive games would more effectively broaden MY understanding of the game than would playing 100 different openings in 100 consecutive games. That may not be true for others. By way of (a probably weak, but entertaining) analogy ... if I want to most deeply appreciate the beauty of Marquez or Feuntes in the original Spanish, should I spend my limited time thoroughly translating a single short-story or amateurishly translating 15 short stories? I think that by focusing on one story I would have a deeper appreciation of the writing, even if I didn't know as many of the stories. But there is time yet for them!"

Yes your analogy is entertaining :-) But it does not apply to situation where you have to choose between playing trough 100 games or 100 games (!) and translating 1 story or 15 stories :-)

Perhaps better analogy is if you want to study classical music, will you learn 100 pieces by Bach or 100 pieces from several composers like Bach, Mozart, Rachmaninov...

But even this analogy is badly flawed - unless you play in classical orchestra - since you can choose to only play Bach. At chess sometimes your opponent will force you to play Mozart or Rachmaninov, no matter what kind of opening fanfare you choose :-)

spurtus 14 ( +1 | -1 )
On openings...

Is there any tool that shows a weighted hierarchy of a particular line?... something I can print out would be cool.

achillesheel 8 ( +1 | -1 )
Come Now, Peppe The stories are the openings, not the games. But I like your analogy, too. Merry Christmas.
peppe_l 136 ( +1 | -1 )
Oh, in that case I misunderstood what you meant, sorry! :-)

I have to clarify my point a little - I do agree your approach is logical when you actually _study_ the openings, learning main theory lines etc.

I simply suggest it is better to study different types of games where different types of openings are played, and try out different openings in casual games. There is no need to _study_ the openings that do not belong to your repertoire, at our level knowing general principles is usually enough. For example if you try out French defense in casual games, it is enough to know after, say, 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 what the general plan is (c5/f6 etc) and WHY.

After I learnt chess notation etc and played trough some games from a book I borrowed from local library, I played games using Guioco Piano, Ruy Lopez, QGD, KID, you name it! But eventually I began to almost always play the positional & quiet openings I happened to like the most, and as a result I became really weak player in positions that require attacking, dynamic play.

Of course you are correct approach to chess depends on time one is willing to invest, goals one has and perhaps even personal character? And last but not least, playing strength.

I have to say it has been great discussing with you, your posts are intelligent, well thought and witty :-)

Merry Christmas to you too!

Yours, Peppe
mitchst 266 ( +1 | -1 )
Definitely Play 1. d4 first When I first started playing openings, a local teacher (who gives free instruction to kids on my high school chess team), recommended that I (and everyone else) start with 1. d4 and 2. c4 as it will teach you about how to control the center, gain space, and exploit positional advantages. It will also teach you about your own playing style. I gave up 1. d4 after about 4 months because I didn't like the "boring" positions that arose. Also, my affinity for studying openings made it more beneficial to play an opening where opening theory matters more. GM Khalifman, in his introduction to "Opening for White According to Anand: 1. e4" explains that the 1. e4 series requires more work from both him and the reader because unlike 1. d4 (or even c4 or Nf3) openings where the critical battles come in the middle game and both sides can improve their positions there, with 1. e4 openings failure to know the theory can straddle one player with a permanent disadvantage, or even lead to an immediate loss. Though I may not have as much time as other players, I have always had a good memory (love history, especially remembering dates) and I also enjoy sharp, tactical chess so I started playing 1. e4, the Sicilian Dragon, and the Leningrad Dutch. All very sharp, theory-based openings.

Also, if you start with 1. d4 and like it, it is important to try 1. e4 in casual games (or even in tournament chess if you feel comfortable) because: (1) you may find that you like it more than 1. d4; and (2), it is amazing the number of 1. d4 players who tactical prowess is, shall we say, somewhat lacking and playing 1. e4 almost all lines are based on attacking the enemy king so you will learn how to play and calculate tactically when you play openings with 1. d4 that give way to sharp, tacitcal positions (such as the Dutch, Benoni, and KID). While it is important to try different openings, once you find one that you like, play it constantly because it not only increases you understanding of the types of positions that arise from that opening, but playing it over and over will make it is easier for you to remember the theory and you will find that if you play 50 games with a particular variation, you will remember the lines of that variation the next time it comes up. This is largely how I learned Dragon theory. When I started I would often lose games because my opponents would play both bad moves and main line moves and I wouldn't know either. So bit by bit I tweaked my opening play so that finally everything fell into place.
irish-pete 58 ( +1 | -1 )
For what it is worth . . . I have always tended to stick with just a few openings. I am a notorious French Defense player. You open with king pawn as white, and you are almost certainly going to get it. With white, I prefer to play the ruy on king pawn.
Does that mean I will always see the French or Ruy? Of course not. It does mean that I have a heck of an experience with both openings, as well as a few other openings that I gravitate toward. Am I better off? I think so. It allows me to experience game positions, which can be repeated in many other defenses.
peppe_l 49 ( +1 | -1 )
Irish-pete But you are a VERY strong player. I bet you already know something (perhaps a lot?) about Sicilian or Caro-Kann as well, so you no longer have need to learn "basic thematic plans" of openings you do not play. In other words you are already past the phase where one is trying to gain broad chess understanding, and so you have an option to "specialize" :-) IMO it is completely different for, say, C or D (or B) "class" players, who instead of passing one important phase try to skip it completely by "specializing" too soon...

IMHO, of course.

irish-pete 148 ( +1 | -1 )
It is true . . . that when I was young, I tried everything -- and sometimes, perhaps frequently, didn't know what I was doing. But there came a point, after many years, where a few things started to snap into place. It wasn't until after that I started specializing, but I believe that I learned much of a general nature through specializiation. I was able to build faster, I believe, on my knowledge gained through specialization because I was able to see recurring patterns.
Do I have a knowledge of openings. Yes. Do I have and have I read many specialized books on openings. Yes. I have quite a few, including several books on the sicilian and a single book on the CK.
Speaking generally, I am of the opinion more is gained overall through specialization.
We do have a GM who plays here at GK; why not ask his advice. He is certainly more competant than me to give a solid answer.


Here's an Irish saying that I like:

********An Irishman's Philosophy **********
In life, there are only two things to worry aboutó
Either you are well or you are sick.
If you are well, there is nothing to worry about,
But if you are sick, there are only two things to worry aboutó
Either you will get well or you will die.
If you get well, there is nothing to worry about,

But if you die, there are only two things to worry aboutó
Either you will go to heaven or hell.
If you go to heaven, there is nothing to worry about.

And if you go to hell, youíll be so busy shaking hands with all your friends
You wonít have time to worry!
dysfl 102 ( +1 | -1 )
spurtus - weighted hierarchy of a particular line spurtus,

At my strength (1400+ in GK), it is still rush, but I don't care about the weight that much as long as my move was a book move.

Most chess softwares has the opening book with the weights. I think the weights are more or less how often it was played at higher level. I tried, Chessmaster 8000/9000, Fritz and Crafty. Chessmaster gives you more simplied weight distribution and all the variation names with some brief idea behind the line if available. Fritz shows the frequency of a specific line and also have a very useful opening exercise tool. Somehow, Crafty opening book recognizes more moves as 'book move' than the above two. I refer to Crafty opening book more often than the others to decide if my move was in the book.

I doubt if you can print a tree with weights, because the tree grow out of the pages too soon. Chessmaster has the tree and moving the cursor will reveal the weight on the screen as you go.
ccmcacollister 2 ( +1 | -1 )
GM at GK... ...and he's rated 1200 I bet, huh?!! :)
buddy2 88 ( +1 | -1 )
Bookup there's a handy program you might explore called Bookup. I bought it and downloaded it over the net. For months i didn't do anything with it, because i'm basically a computer idiot. Then I read a book called How to Use Computers to Improve your chess (Christian Kongsted--Gambit Press), which recommended Bookup to learn openings. the trouble was i was having a lot of trouble with off the wall variations of familiar openings and tricky gambits in blitz. So I started collecting responses to these lines. Basically, you enter the moves of the refutation and the program plays it against you. When you make a move that's not part of the line, it says "Not a candidate!" Then you look for the correct one. It's not good to just memorize openings, you should know ideas behind them; but when you know both,then you're that much harder to beat. Check it out at
brobishkin 38 ( +1 | -1 )
Studies... The only way to master the game is to study it... But don't get stuck in the magical search for the ultimate always win opening... But study every aspect of the game (opening, endgame, mid-game) with the strategies, tactical combinations that arise in certain variations, and most important of all, reading the board...

But it's never wrong to study on the game... It is an incorrect way if you study only one aspect of the game...

zer0axis 10 ( +1 | -1 )
openings? chess is 99% tactics!!!is simple as that so y play too much openings?master the tactics first!
anaxagoras 49 ( +1 | -1 )
Come on zer0axis. Maybe tone down your exaggeration a little bit? Of course tactics is most important for those who have not yet mastered it, but a holistic approach to learning chess is also indespensable. Witness Silman's respected didactic urgings that even amateurs develop a plan before they look for tactical opportunities. All tactical maneuverings must be directed towards positional imbalances and their exploitation, lest they be without a point!