# Creating an Opening Graph

• IM Silman
• | Jun 21, 2010
• | 13493 views

I am having trouble learning the Queens Gambit. Recently my opponents have gotten stronger and I am not sure how to handle the different positions which arise from the Queens Gambit. I am also having trouble learning the different plans and moves in all the variations of the Queens Gambit, because in one variation, after I start to study it, I find that there are 5-10 subvariations. And also in those 5-10 subvarations, I discover that there are 10-15 different moves you have to know/memorize and every other move in those 10-15 moves has at least 1 more variation which branching out from it. Can you help me find a way to remember the moves as well as the different ideas in different positions?

Dear Gambiteeer:

I think a very poetic handle would be Gambit-Tear. On the one hand, it leaves an image of a lover of gambits shedding a lonely tear of joy over a perfectly executed attack, or shedding a tear of pain over his favorite gambit opening being refuted. On the other hand, if we use “tear” as something being ripped apart or shredded up, then we can come up with all sorts of interesting imagery too (I love the fact that one interpretation of Gambit-Tear makes you an artist, while the other makes you a killer).

Hmmm … where was I? I think I was supposed to answer a question. Oh yes, I remember! Subvariations!

You say your opponents have gotten stronger and, as a result, they drag you into variations that feature one tier (I couldn’t resist) of endless variations after another. You have two options:

1) Play weaker opponents.

2) Switch to gambit openings where play is forcing, violent, and more straightforward.

3) Create an opening graph, and then whittle that graph down until it’s within your memory’s grasp.

Come to think of it, why is a guy named Gambiteeer (care to tell us why you tossed in an extra “e” or two?) playing the Queen’s Gambit?

The sad truth about real openings is that their analysis goes on forever. For example, one could easily write a 2,000-page book on the Caro-Kann. Does that mean a player has to memorize all 2,000 pages? Hell no! Instead, you need to isolate all the main lines, then pick one or two replies that suit you vs. each one.

Here’s an example of a possible repertoire for a guy that plays the Caro-Kann:

1.e4 c6

ALL LINES WITH 2.d4

2.d4 d5 Classical Main lines – 3.Nc3 or 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6+ exf6

2.d4 d5 Advance Variation – 3.e5

2.d4 d5 Panov-Botvinnik Attack – 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4

2.d4 d5 Fantasy Variation – 3.f3

LINES WITHOUT 2.d4

2.c4 d5 2.cxd5 cxd5 3.exd5 Nf6

2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 e5

Two Knights – 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6

When you list things like this, it takes the mystery (and fear) out of a seemingly nightmarish opening grind. Note how Black has tried to simplify a couple of things. First off, he avoided a lot of main lines and instead is meeting 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 with 4…Nf6 5.Nxf6+ exf6 (5…gxf6, which is more dynamic, is also a good choice). Other than 6.Bc4 Qe7+! 7.Qe2 (7.Be3?? Qb4+ wins a piece) 7…Be6 (=) and 6.c3 Bd6 7.Bd3 (the most threatening line), there isn’t a lot of memorization to deal with here.

Also note that Black has further curtailed his memory obligations by avoiding main line Two Knights theory via steering play back into the aforementioned mainline (2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6+ exf6).

Of course, you do have to learn some lines in every opening, and the same goes here. One repertoire might have:

Advance Variation: 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5!? – Black refuses to enter main lines and instead strives to call the shots himself. This will call for a bit of work on your part.

Panov-Botvinnik Attack: 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nf3 Bb4 (once you learn how to play against the isolated d-pawn, which White usually ends up with, then you’ll be able to handle most lines in an intelligent manner)

Fantasy Variation: 2.d4 d5 3.f3 e5!? when BLACK is the one trying to attack! Not much theory here – just look at a few games and then swing for the fences!

Putting together a repertoire like this (works for every opening, Black or White, including the Queen’s Gambit) really eases one’s pain. Then play your lines in online blitz and make sure you go over every game to see where you misplayed the opening. After a while, you’ll have honed (through practice and agony and more practice) some serious opening skills.

Finally, some players will find one “every opening that exists under one cover” opening book enough for their purposes. MCO comes to mind. Others will want tomes that offer the detailed plans of all the openings -- a book like FCO (Fundamental Chess Openings by van der Sterren) is a great choice for those under 2000, while Watson's wonderful MASTERING THE CHESS OPENINGS series (in 4 volumes) is ideal for players 1800 on up. Keep in mind that even the most exhaustive, complex opening book can (and should!) be made manageable by the use of the personal opening graph.

I’ve enjoyed your Complete Endgame Course. The public library here in Midland, MI bought a copy on my recommendation.

I’ve also enjoyed Bruce Pandolfini’s column in Chess Life and his book Solitaire Chess. I’m sure you are familiar with them. The library here bought that as well when I recommended they do so.

My question for you is if you know whether anyone has begun working to prepare a Solitaire Chess book that would feature endgames. It seems that in your Complete Endgame Course you already have at least 20 games that would serve the purpose.

Dear Mr. Christ:

I’ve never seen a solitaire-type book that features endgames. Perhaps one exists since it’s clearly a good idea. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Pandolfini is working on one right now.

Happy to hear that you’re getting the local library to pick up some chess books! Libraries actually appreciate their customer’s input, so hopefully chess.com readers will give their local library a list of must-read chess books.

I used the Caro-Kann for simplicity. The idea was to show how to cut down your opening workload, and I felt the Caro-Kann painted a simple picture. However, the idea should be used for every opening.

One guy said: "To be fair, Silman DID NOT give any tips for memorizing ideas for different positions.  He's kind of flaky though."

I'm flaky? As in a fine pastry? Are cannibals reading this column? Anyway, I DID give a tip for memorizing stuff by helping you NOT have to memorize too much stuff. The point is that it's impossible (for most people) to memorize all lines in an opening. By creating this kind of graph (with or without software), you hone things down to key lines and all key ideas, thus avoiding the need for an eidetic memory (and the brain transplant that it would take to obtain one).

Mr. Karapiperis said, "The Caro-Kann sucks!"

OMG! I didn't know that! I must write to Mr. Topalov and Mr. Anand and tell them both to stop playing the Caro-Kann immediately! Thank you Mr. Karapiperios for setting us straight!

• 3 years ago

Great article and responses.

• 4 years ago

• 5 years ago

Regarding the text below...

Sorry, but you didn't give any advice on memorizing "ideas".  Of course, volumes upon volumes could be written about opening ideas.  Not really fitting for a web article.

The "flaky" part was just a joke, and I knew you could take a joke.  I'm a Silman fan.  I buy the books and I drank the Kool-Aid!

One guy said: "To be fair, Silman DID NOT give any tips for memorizing ideas for different positions.  He's kind of flaky though."

I'm flaky? As in a fine pastry? Are cannibals reading this column? Anyway, I DID give a tip for memorizing stuff by helping you NOT have to memorize too much stuff. The point is that it's impossible (for most people) to memorize all lines in an opening. By creating this kind of graph (with or without software), you hone things down to key lines and all key ideas, thus avoiding the need for an eidetic memory (and the brain transplant that it would take to obtain one).

• 5 years ago

Thanks, Jeremy, for the entertaining and instructive article. You should do this for a living!

• 5 years ago

I am working my way through the course "Endings, Openings, a Taste of the Middle." These courses are nothing but outstanding. What I am saying below is not meant to detract from this.

Back in the 60's and early 70's I used to play competition Chess and was on the West point Chess Team. But on graduation, I did not play another full game of Chess until about two months ago. I found that I was woefully poor and had forgotten most everything that I had known previously.

As I work through the courses here, things are coming back very fast! When I started here about a month ago, my standard ELO rating was in the 600's. Now it is 1100. I have been playing players ELO 1200-1600 and haven't lost a game in the last 10 that I have played. I haven't played much blitz though as i still have to analyze patterns that I should know. The courses here have been most helpful.

In thinking about your article above, is it better to concentrate on one opening pattern and learn its major variations or is it better to learn the major patterns (ala the lessons in your course)?

While I have seen most of the openings of your course previously, back in my competition days, every lesson brings a new opening with only one variation. At times, I attemted to play a different variation that I could remember and the scorer for the lesson would cut me if it was not one of your alternate moves. For example in

 EOT023 The positional English Opening

The reply that I remember to 1 c4 c5 was Nf3 which was played more frequently than your move of Nc3. But Nf3 is scored as an error. Not having played the game for quite a period, I am having difficulty trying to determine which variation you want in your course. The variation that you present is fine but is it your intent that new players taking your course learn one variations of a lot of different openings or a few major openings with several variations? Which is more efficient in becoming a better player?

• 5 years ago

As always, good article from a great author...

Can't thank you enough for writing the book "How to reassess your chess" it helped me set my foot on right track to become a better player.

I've been following your articles though it is focus on novice players, I find the humors on it to have a good taste.

Please just keep answering those not-so-smart post from your critics, as it makes my day.... lolz for sure they are feeling smart because of their silicon friend.

• 5 years ago

Nice work....

• 5 years ago

You just made me feel extremely old Dextrous! Awesome. :)

Boog~

• 5 years ago

• 5 years ago

to digress nirvana and smashing pumpkins are both terrible bands

• 5 years ago

With all do respect to karapiperis, he lists his favorite bands as being nirvana, smashing pumpkins, and soundgarden, so perhaps he takes a retroactive approach to chess as well. For all we know, his favorite lines in the caro-kann were refuted over one hundred years ago!

• 5 years ago

I still rate IM Silman near the top along with GM Lev Alburt and several other chess
authors.  However, teaching styles are a matter of taste and what melds well
with one's style of learning.

• 5 years ago

IM Silman is good but there are always better authors.  It doesn't remove the fact that he is good.

• 5 years ago

This mechanism works very well, especially for amateur players!! But caro-kann SUCKS!!!  LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

• 5 years ago

Silman is giving you a plan for learning any opening.  With a map like this you will know how to handle the opening you chose.  However, as I've mentioned in some of my blog posts, I use Chess Openings Wizard, which essentially does this mapping for you automatically.  It is a great piece of software that I highly recommend.

• 5 years ago

The opening "graph" is more like an outline in algebraic form then-- or like a flow chart or a set of instructions, or am I missing something?  I don't really see any graph nor anything "graphic" about the process.

• 5 years ago

To Mimchi:

The question was:

"Can you help me find a way to remember the moves as well as the different ideas in different positions?"

He asked for a way to remember moves.  Silman just didn't used the QG in his example.  He couldn't exactly dump every opening line for the QG on this page anyway.  The point was a method for learning opening lines.

To be fair, Silman DID NOT give any tips for memorizing ideas for different positions.  He's kind of flaky though.

• 5 years ago

Gambiteeer asked how to deal with the Queen's Gambit, and you give him dozens of lines in the Caro-Kann ... Am I missing something here?

• 5 years ago

Caro-Kann, ok. But ... and the Queens Gambit?

• 5 years ago

thx, Silman!