Opening Training and The Opening Repertoire

The game of chess starts with the opening. Obviously enough you must have at least some knowledge about this phase. Of course, for ultimate success in chess it is impossible to be without a knowledge of endgame principles and middlegame strategy and tactics. Still, first things should come first and it is clearly advantageous to start off the game on the right foot. Everyone should establish a sound and appropriate opening repertoire. There are two parts to this. The first is the selection of the particular openings and variations/subvariations. The second and exceedingly important also is the establishment of the most exact move order for achieving your desired variation.

In an interview in early 1989, Karpov was queried as to whether he prefers open or closed positions. He replied: "I like 1.e4 very much, but my results are better with 1.d4." This makes abundant sense since deep strategy has always been Karpov's special strength

At this point let us take a look at a very important practical question. It deals with how many defenses, variations, and openings a player should have for both White and Black. Usually it is phrased something like "For Black, or for White, how well should I know one opening before I start learning another?" This sounds like, "Should I know one variation well or two variations poorly?" The answer should be to seek quality over quantity. It is much more important to know one opening well than two or more poorly.

Still it is not enough for the aspiring player to play just one variation. There are two reasons for this.
1. This makes it much too easy for the opponent to prepare for you. One of the major objectives of successful opening play is to try to surprise your opponent. Conversely, you don't want to be put in the position where it is you who is always unpleasantly surprised.
2. Periodically a variation runs into a theoretical problem and this then leaves you without a reliable opening.

Therefore once you know your present opening well enough, it is time to expand your repertoire. There are three approaches for doing this.

1. Learn a New Opening System
If for instance your response to 1.e4 is the French Defense, 1.....e6, you now may choose to also play 1....e5. Or if you respond to 1.d4 with 1....d5, you may now decide to also play the Grunenfeld Defense, 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5. The advantage of such an approach is that by learning something new you are considerably increasing your overall chess knowledge. We can perhaps call this a "mind stretching" approach. Of course, the disadvantage is very obvious: a tremendous amount of time and effort is required since none of your previous knowledge is directly applicable. But even here three are ways to save studying time. For instance currently there is much less to be known about the Caro-Kann Defense 1.e4 c6, than about the 1.e4 e5 complex and thus those who select the Caro-Kann have much less studying to do than those who select 1....e5.

2. Learn a Sister Opening
An Important example of this approach is for those who play the King's Indian Defense against 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 followed by ....Bg7 and ....d6 to select the Pirc Defense against 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 or of course vice versa.

The actual learning of the variations will be quite different, but there are two clear advantages: 1. It will be easier to do because you already understand the general idea behind the opening., and 2. Because you understand the basic approach of the opening system,. Your early practical play will likely be more successful.

An even closer sister opening pair is the Pirc and the Modern 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7. There even are a number of transpositional possibilities that turn the Modern into the Pirc.

3. Learn An Adjunct Variation
Let us assume that you play the Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian. 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 as your defense to 1.e4 This means that of necessity you have to know how to handle all of the Move 2 variants for White, including the Closed Variation, how to play against 3.Bb5+, how to cope with 4. Qxd4 instead of 4.Nxd4 etc.

If you decide to also play the Dragon Variation 5....g6, you don't even have to learn anything else up to here.

All that you have to do is to learn the specifics of the Dragon. This is a tremendous time saver because you are already utilizing perhaps up to a third of your Sicilian knowledge.

This kind of approach is probably not sufficient for the young hotshot who wants to become a super GM with a 2600 ELO rating. But it is very appropriate for the average person whose time is rather limited.

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