Introduction on how to Play Chess Well

Many lower rated players and even many not so lower rated players are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the road to success and winning games quickly is to become obsessed with and spend all of ones time in the study of a variety of openings and memorize their opening moves and no amount of persuasion is going to convince them otherwise.

They feel this way because they see GM's winning games with a lot of hype on an opening that they choused to overwhelm their opponent with. They feel that if GM's place so much importance on the openings to win games then this is the correct and obvious way to study on how to win chess games with a minimum amount of work.

They may also feel that memorizing a few opening moves is a lot simper and a lot less work then it would be to engage in a long and tedious study program to go into the depths of endgame theory, strategy and practicing hundreds of tactical problems.

What these types of obsessive opening zealot players may not have considered is that those GM's did not start out playing chess as GM's of course, they had to learn the same areas of basic chess principles as do all would be masters who want to rise up to the top.

Do you think that they started out by spending all of their time in the study of openings?

Do a little research and you will quickly find out what all Master rated players recommend how to start out studying to learn how to play chess well. If you don't already know, I will tell you that it is Endgame theory, not memorizing opening moves.

The biggest problem with the memorization of opening variations is that when your opponent does not follow the moves of your memorized opening variation, then you have to start playing chess and then you may not have a clue of how to proceed towards the middle game because now you no longer have the crutch of following moves that were worked out by highly skilled chess players who over time may have spent many hours developing this variation.

Players who memorize opening moves have the problem that after their memorized moves have been used up they are at a loss of what to do next, so they just try to rely on their tactical skills, which usually are not enough to win a game against a player that did have the sense not to learn how to play chess that way.

GM's may follow certain opening variations to the letter because they may know all the nuances of a variation opening that an amateur does not and so are aware of the pitfalls of making deviations. But at normal average rating levels at most internet chess servers it is not important and probably makes little difference at all if they are followed or not. In fact most probably after only the first 4 to 7 moves there is little point in memorizing any further because most players are going to deviate from accepted lines anyway.

Another problem is that if you spend most of all your time in just studying and memorizing opening variations then when your memorized opening moves play out you then may be at a loss of how to proceed towards the middle game and more importantly how to win in the endgame.

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.

The biggest mistake that most amateur players make is devoting the majority of their study time to study the openings. There's a term for players who do this: they're called "Perpetual Novices." They know tons of opening lines but don't have a clue about the underlying ideas of the lines and why they were developed they way that they were. They don't even have a cue as to what the basic difference is between good opening and bad openings and why bad openings are considered bad. They don't know how to play an opening so as to enter into a playable middlegame. They are tactically opening ignorant.

First of all you need a logical plan of study. And what could be more logical than to start at the beginning of basic chess learning. Do what the Russians do and start with basic endgame study with the intentions of knowing it well. Then do the same with basic tactics, go on to strategy and then go to opening principles. You then will have studied all of the most important basics of chess.

It is a common mistake of the beginner to embark on aggressive excursions with one piece (usually his Queen) or another before he has completed the development of his forces. The beginner usually thinks that since the Queen is so powerful, that bringing it out early in the opening will simply overwhelm his opponent with such a superior force of power. The novice does not realize that the seasoned player knows from bitter experience, that the result of a premature attack is almost always an irremediable delay in his development and a disarray of the line-up of his men, enough to give his adversary an opportunity for launching a successful counter-attack.

Let's say your playing a game against a patzer who likes to develop his queen early to try to quickly win the game. As a much better player, you know that it is usually a mistake to develop the queen early in the game, and if you were rated 400 points or more higher than him you may set out to not only punish this opponent for this mistake but there is a good chance you will not only take his Queen but win that game as well in not to many moves forcing him to quickly resign.

However if you are at close to his level of play you may make the mistake of doing everything possible to threaten his queen with out being successful to take it, including developing your pieces to awkward weak squares to attack the queen instead of the key squares that they should be on, pushing pawns to attack his queen and therefore you not only create structural pawn weaknesses, weak squares and outposts but you create imbalances that he may take advantage of.

The result, more often than not, is that you end up incurring more mistakes and weaknesses than your opponent has! So when this sort of thing happens to you, rather than immediately trying to punish your opponent for his mistakes, you should instead calmly play chess and adhere to the solid basic opening principles of chess that you learnt and develop your pieces to good squares, castle to safety, create an environment to continue on to a solid yet active middlegame position, and only THEN set out to punish your opponent and threaten his Queen who by then will very likely have a significantly poorer position than you. You have outsmarted your opponent by sticking to the prudent and more logical approach to playing chess by adhering to the basics of solid chess fundamentals.

How often do you hear someone pronounce that they have this great unorthodox opening like it is a secret weapon to instant success against any opponent. They are using these openings because they are too lazy to put in the time to study conventional openings, and their hope is that by using such openings that they will catch you unprepared to deal with it and you will lose your way and fail early in the game. This will never happen with those that study the basics of chess and the basics of opening play. The through study and understanding of sound basics will protect you from any such unsound unorthodox openings.

How many openings have they studied for a short time and then moved on to others because they don't get instant results. How many unorthodox openings have they tried to learn because of their surprise value thinking they can win game quickly using these unsound openings.

Of course just spending a lot of time in trying to play very well in opening play is not going to be nearly as productive as is to devoting most of your time in tactics, at least 50% of your time is going to be required. That is going to be the fastest and best way to improve, because it is in tactics that you and your opponents make the most mistakes and will suffer the most from these mistakes. If your much better in tactics than is your opponent then when ever he makes a tactical mistake it will give you the opportunity to immediately take advantage of it. In fact in the majority of your games you are going to find that the greatest opportunities lie in capitalizing on your opponents tactical mistakes. Well over 95% of the games that you play you will find tactical mistakes that your opponents make that you can take advantage of, which is typical of most amateur games in Internet play.

So if your not spending the time to study tactics your just wasting golden opportunities to win lots of game. You can easily and quickly confirm these facts by just running past games you played through any chess program and let it pick out all of those tactical errors.

You can roughly figure this way of spending 50% of your time in tactics, 10% openings, 10% strategy, 20% endings, 10% in solitaire games to guess the next move. But here you would be wise to test your self to see where you are weak and then increase your time in that area, and thus closing the gap in your overall knowledge. If you do it this way until your are at least in the Advanced A class of 1700 - 1899 ELO, you can be assured that you will progress faster than using any other method of study because you are now going to be using a solid logical plan that just can't miss.

The overall idea for the best way to improve is simple. First of all, stop your bad practice of not concentrating on just one subject and trying to master it. This may be hard to do if you don't have the patience to stick with something to completion. Jumping around from subject to subject and book to book leaves you with a very fragmented understanding of the game.

Every one wants to know how to learn the openings, but few have any ideas on how to do so quickly and without spending a inordinate, extraordinary amount of their time doing so. Amateurs of course exaggerate the importance of knowing the openings and go to the extremes with extravagant unconscionable, excessive amounts of time trying to memorize an opening and it's variations. Going beyond a normal or acceptable limit of time can be a problem in that the study of other important areas of chess becomes deficient.

If your Master rated or even near Master rated then you may justify building a specific opening repertoire for your favorite openings in that you will be playing against other high rated players who will have done the same, and if you make one tiny mistake in the opening he will immediately take advantage of it and it may even cost you the game later on. For masters frequently build opening repertoires to favor them in the endgame, something that few armatures would ever consider when studying an opening.

For example a master may have spent months working out an opening that would give him a distinct advantage for a minority attack but needs to protect his king in the process because he is planning on moving out his castled pawns for the attack. There is always a disadvantage and great risk in leaving your king unprotected in any attack.

A king may become more vulnerable to a back rank mate with out the protection of his castled pawns. So the master intends on placing pieces nearby to shore up the protection of his king in case of any harassment to him. All of this planning depends on the success of his planning before hand in that opening that he spent so much time in developing and working out and planning for all the things that could go wrong. This is the kind of opening planning that separates the armatures from the masters.

Yes you do indeed have to be familiar with the important main openings that you will encounter or you will be at a complete loss of how to begin your games and avoid important opening mistakes and blunders. But what is more important than trying to memorize variations is instead to try to find out the important ideas behind an opening and what it is trying to accomplish. Like quickly taking control of the center, or quickly developing all of your pieces or planning an attack from the wings.

For example the Sicilian is for those that like sharp tactics, a fighting attacking game and spending a lot of time in the study of the variations. On the other hand the Caro-Kann is known more for its solidarity and positional play.

But that is why I say that even if you are not familiar with many of the most common openings and their variations, you may still gain a good advantage in the openings if you follow the advice in our very important training page entitled The Opening Principles. This page has been upgraded four times now to make sure beyond a doubt that the most important Basic Opening Principles are clearly pointed out and proctored to stress that if you violate or ignored any one of them with indifference, you surely will pay the penalty for doing so by your opponents who do know them well and uses them to their advantage.

A player may have memorized a few opening lines and a few variations and know some basic principles of the opening, but his simple development may be lacking. Also a rote method of memorizing important variations never works. Such a rote method never works, because as the memorized line ends, the player is at a loss regarding what to do next. What is important is to first obtain an understanding of what an opening is all about. Your strongest weapon against the superior player is ideas, a purpose or plan, imagined in your mind. It's the ideas that can be used as effective weapons in all areas of chess.. A mastery of a little theory which conveys the real understanding of the game is infinitely more valuable than a carefully memorized compilation of endless moves.

Paradoxically, a thorough grasp of the ideas behind the openings, which are relatively few in number, is a royal road of knowledge which eliminates much of the drudgery associated with remembering a long series of variation. The better way is to have studied the theory and be able to adapt to changes in different circumstances, that is what will give you the edge in the openings.

To spring a surprise opening may not be a bad idea, but it is not a good idea to be playing a variation that you are not familiar with just for the sake of making your opponent feel uncomfortable. You may wind up being more uncomfortable than him and you may have more difficulty with it than in one of your prepared variations. Bluffing like this is extremely dangerous, especially against a seasoned opponent.

If your own arsenal of openings is limited, even the most exact appraisal of your opponent's chess personality will not enable you to exploit his weak points. In that case you have practically no choice. Play what you know well and understand, play so to speak, not against a specific opponent but against his pieces. GM Svetozar Gligoric a book about his best games and the title was "I play Against the Pieces"

What is more important than trying to memorize many variations of openings is instead to learn the ideas behind the openings.

It you want to know how to plan a program of study to learn how to play chess well, then consider these guidelines of study.

1. solving tactical combinations.
2. solving studies (endgame-like positions with tactical content.
3. solving strategic problems. 
4. studying typical Middlegame positions and  problems.
5. studying typical schemes of attack and mates against the adversary's king.
6. studying typical methods of play in the opening.
7. elaborating on an opening repertoire and developing 
   plans for the transposition into the Middlegame.
8. Study the classic games of past masters.

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