Mastering A New Opening

Building A Opening Repertoire

See Basic Ideas In The Opening

See Progressive Training Openings

See How to Develop a Opening Repertoire

Introduction on how to learn an opening

A well-designed opening repertoire funnels play through related channels so that cumulative experience deepens you're understanding of critical positions.

But that doesn't translate into easy answers. Easy answers for you mean easy answers for your opponent. What you're really after are easier answers for you than your opponent. That generally means positions in which you have more experience than he does.

So take a look at your current opening repertoire. Make a list of the lines you're honestly comfortable with. How far back down the tree do you have to climb before your feet feel secure on the limbs?

Some will recommend the King's Gambit as a sound and exciting second move that forces black's hand right away. Whether black likes it or not, this game is going to feed into white's growing experience with these lines. Every time black answers 1.e4 with 1...e5, white will increase the gap between his experience and his opponents in the King's Gambit. The longer and more consistently white plays these lines, the deeper and richer his understanding of the positions will become.

But this is going to be true for any Opening you choose. The secret in choosing and learning a new opening is that you must consistently stay with it to thoroughly learn it so that you have more experience in different positions than your opponent does.

The goal in learning a opening is to accrue experience in critical positions, not through random trial and error, but through systematic exploration of related lines and variations. Unfortunately opponents seldom cooperate. Most players, especially when they first start out, are easily discouraged. Every loss sends them skittering to a new opening. Their opening knowledge remains fragmented and superficial. Don't let this happen to you.

To learn a opening you must stay focused and stay on track. Don't let failures discourage you, expect them to happen and think of them as a learning experience to deepen your understanding and give you more experience in these lines. Soon you will be making less and less mistakes and see your strength in this opening improve over your opponents. Remember that most of your opponents will not be doing this and so their understanding and experience in these lines will be lacking. Just try to not make snap decisions and try to keep focused on remembering what you have learned to guide you through the lines. If you follow just this one suggestion and nothing else you will have the edge over your opponents in the opening.

Selection of an opening

Your defense against 1.d4 has always been the Orthodox Defense of the Queen's Gambit Declined. 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 Be7. Overall it has been a satisfactory opening, but you have had lots of difficulties in beating stronger opponents. Therefore you have decided that you need to add something "sharper." By using the principles in our article How to select a Opening Repertoire, you have decided to learn the "Nimzo-Indian Queen's Indian Complex." 1. D4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4. Of course, a number of move orders are often employed to reach a particular position. For instance the Nimzo-Indian is frequently reached via 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 3.d4 Bb4; the Queen's Indian also results after 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.c4 b6.

Following are the key steps in mastering an opening. It is an Eight Step operation.

Step 1. Obtain a clear and complete verbal description of the main characteristics of the opening.

The worst way to start learning an opening is to immediately begin memorizing "important" variations. Such a rote method never works, because as soon as the memorized line ends, the player is at a loss regarding what to do next. It is imperative to first obtain an understanding of what an opening is about. One excellent source of reference is the old standby book by Reuben Fine, Ideas Behind The Chess Openings. First copyright was May 5, 1943. List Price is $14.00 but can be had for less at other book sources. In 1964 when the book was reprinted it sold for only $1.65. Talk about inflation. You might try E bay and 2nd hand book stores too. Or Thousand of copies have been sold through out the world over the years. It has now been reset in modern algebraic notation.

Step 2. As much as possible, obtain for each variation a clear verbal description of the main characteristics.

Of course, if you have no idea what you want to play against a White variation, e.g. Rubinatein's 4.e3 or against the Nimzo-Indian, then learn about all highly rated Black options. In the Nimzo-Indian against 4.e3 consider 4....b6, 4.....c5 and 4.....0-0 with systems having follow-ups of only ....c5 only ....d5, and both ....c5 and 4....0-0 with systems having follow-ups of only ....c5, only ....d5, and both ....c5 and ....d5. If you already "know" that you want to play Nimzovich's 4...b6, then it is enough just to obtain a clear verbal description of that.

Many of these sources can be found on the net now, but more important is to grasp as deeply and in as sophisticated a way as possible the essence of a variation. Whenever possible, go to the "source." If that is not possible, only trust genuine experts of that variation.

GM Lev Polugaevsky emphasizes the importance of "understanding" his variation of the Najdorf Sicilian in the following way.. "First and foremost it is essential to understand the essence, the over-all idea of any fashionable variation and only then include it in one's opening repertoire. Otherwise the tactical trees will conceal from the player the strategic picture of the woods, in which his orientation will most likely be lost" Eloquently said, and equally true for all variations.

Step 3. Select the specific variation you will play.

After you have become familiar with the "essence" of the system, select the variation which best agrees with your chess interests, playing style and work habits. When learning a new opining, prepare one variation to counter each of your opponents's lines. Learn one but learn it well. It is much better to learn one variation well than two variations not so well

Current opening theory in both the Nimzo-Indian and Queen's Indian defenses is broad and well developed. This means that reliable information is available to enable you to make your specific selections with a high degree of confidence. Moreover, you must make selections. For instance, in the Queen's Indian a very important variation for White is the King Bishop fianchetto with 4.g3. Two replies are currently popular in grandmaster practice: 4.....Ba6 and 4....Bb7. Which should you choose? The variations after each are quite different. The choice is strictly up to you. However at present the theory 4.....Ba6 is developing considerably faster than for 4...Ba7 and therefore there is much more to keep up with.

A more difficult question to answer is what should Black choose in the Nimzo-Indian if White plays 4. Qc2. After the tested 4....c5 5.dx5 0-0, which had been considered an equalizing line for well over thirty years. White is achieving a clear and pleasant advantage with 6.a3 Bxc5 7.Nf3.

Therefore players of the Black pieces have been returning to the old 4....d5 as well as exploring the newer 4....0-0. At the moment 4....0-0 may be a better move. Yet it is too early to say what will be the situation in the future.

Step 4. Learn the key lines thoroughly.

The preparations for learning have been completed and now it is time for the work of learning itself. Your basic text should be a recent opening monograph of only a reliable authority.

At this stage, you should be learning key lines, not blindly memorizing. In particular, when the openings are inherently strategic ones such as the Nimzo-Indian and Queen's Indian, the amount of rote memorization should be relatively small. The student should learn the first 10-16 moves of key lines sufficiently well to recall them as needed during tournament games. Don't worry about recalling everything during a 5 minute blitz game.

It is not enough to learn the key lines. You must also become knowledgeable regarding the thematic developments in the middlegame and if applicable, the endgame. Therefore study complete games, at least as far as the course is thematic from the opening variation.

Step 5. Check your lines against their current theoretical stand.

Because the science of opening theory is advancing so rapidly, books on openings can be considered "obsolete: the instant they are published. You should check your lines for three possible problems.

(a) Typographical errors.

Most typos are inconsequential or sufficiently grotesque as to be immediately noticeable. Yet some can cause harm. A particular problem is the use in notation of "c" in place of "e" or vice versa. A typical example is from a issue of The Chess player. In annotating the game Timman S. Gareia, Orense. Timman gave a variation with a slight edge for Black. He then continued with 14.dxe6? Bxe6. You should ask your self, however, what Black could have done after 15.Qxb7 when three of his pieces are enprise. The answer is that Timman never suggested 14.....Bxe6? That is simply a typo. in place of the correct and winning 14....Bc6.

(b) Tactical errors in analysis.

The chances are excellent that an obvious tactical shot in the game course has not been overlooked by the analyst, however, the odds are much higher in complex variations that it does contain such errors in these complicated lines. Be vigilant as you check over the tactics.

(c) Strategic Misjudgments.

You want to make sure that evaluations and suggestions make sense based on your understanding of the strategic "essence" of the variation.

Step 6. Test your new opening before playing it in tournaments.

Book knowledge is fine of course, but the practical player wants this knowledge to help him score points in games. Therefore you should get in some practice with your new opening. Blitz games are just to fast to "learn openings" except perhaps for those with exceptional discipline and work habits. A practice clock game with a tournament time limit is nice if you have a friend of approximately equal strength who is unselfish enough to act as your "trainer" over a number of games.

The best approach is to try out your new opening in 30 minute games. If you don't want to risk your rating while "practicing" play in unrated games. Thirty minutes does allow time for thinking. And be sure to analyze the game carefully after it is over, at least the opening phase.

Step 7. Play your new opening with confidence in tournaments: go over the games carefully afterwards.

Since you are now well prepared for playing your new opening, start playing it in other games. Nothing is gained by delaying the acid tests until you are "Better Prepared" Playing in tournaments is the single best way of enhancing your mastery of an opening. On the firing line, you will likely grasp possibilities and concepts that would have passed you by in the comfort of your studies of the opening.

But playing with out a critical review of the game is insufficient . The major problem is a tendency to be influenced by the result of the game. For instance, you do not like your position after the opening phase and go on to lose the game. Your conclusion can become; "The Nimzo-Indian Defense is no good; lets switch to learn the King's Indian." What you want to do is review the game carefully within about a week, to find out where the actual problem arose, so that you can do some repair work before the next game. If you get a good opening and go on to win the game, this too should be reviewed. Maybe your opponent just played a horrible move when the correct one would have caused you trouble. It is also valuable to learn that both sides played well , for this may give you confidence for your future games.

Step 8. Keep up with the latest developments in your opening.

Unfortunately, "Once learned, always learned" does not apply to opening theory. There are too many discoveries being made, because there are so many players and so many tournaments. Therefore, you must keep up with the latest developments. But how?

If you are a USCF member you can take advantage of their Chess Life magazine to look for the latest games employing the opening of interest. Other sources are the Chess Informant, New In Chess and the New In Chess Yearbook Other sources of interest may be found on the Internet. You should try to keep up with developments at six month intervals.