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For someone interested in long-term chess development, how does one learn openings?
Here are the answers I have come across over the past several months followed by some of practical concerns/questions I have had in attempting to minimally include opening study to my tactics/endgames drilling...
1. Learn opening "principles": Principles are meaningless at my level since they are harder to learn for a lower-level player than specific lines. Is that not why concrete concepts such as tactics/mates are generally studied before strategy/positional play?
2. Learn "why" the opening move was made: At my level, this also means nothing...the "why" is because the commentator said so. If I truly knew and understood "why", I'd be at least a "weak" GM. And being able to parrot 11 opening principles does not mean one understands openings or knows enough to get to a decent middlegame position.
3. Do not memorize lines/variations/repertoires: But I will have to do so anyway eventually, so why not drill a GM-book repertoire starting now and use it for the next several years (likely won't be refuted by Expert or below players, right?).
4. Don't memorize traps since they are just tactics: Traps can be memorized by a weaker player and used against a tactically stronger player. Also, I wonder if learning traps/miniatures can be akin to studying master games, in that they help demonstrate the ideas of certain openings and tactical consequences that can arise from them.
5. Study open games first: Why not get a balanced early exposure to semi-open and closed game concepts also, especially since it must be done eventually anyway?
6. Study games of masters in your "style": How would a low-level player/beginner know what their style is? I like Tal's crazy attacks, but would also love an impenetrable fortess a la Petrosian/Karpov. How do I know my style until I have gained the necessary skill and experience to truly understand what style I truly mesh with?
7. Play one particular opening and stick to it for at least a year in order to learn it fairly well: Does this pigeon-hole me into a particular opening or style, requiring me to re-learn everything if I switch to an unrelated opening? Am I better off drilling the first 4-5 moves of dozens of openings to see the variety of positions that can arise (which may therefore help with my "general" chess development)?
Finally, even the great Bobby Fischer said something to someone about going through ECO twice as their "first lesson" and I wonder if it is not just about memorization but rather about the variety of opening structures/positions/ideas that one can absorb subconsiously just through seeing/playing through these various lines repetitively (drilling them either OTB or using chess positions trainer or chess openings wizard, for instance).
I appreciate any hear advice on the best balanced way of including openings in my chess training (which is primarily tactics and endgames, but I want it all), so I can stop obsessing about it. Sorry for the length. Thanks.
Everything is good => just two good pieces of advice that I could add:
1. Get firmly cemented into the mindset that the opening study is MERELY a means to get to the middle game with an equal position at the very least, no matter who your opposition is (Garry or the guy down the street)
Anything else that an opening (or an author) promises is fake advertising. You will not "crush" your opponents with it nor will it hide the rest of the defects in your chess against a stronger player. They will surgically dismantle you no matter how booked up you are.
So whenever you feel you're going overboard with opening preparation,keep this in mind.
2. If you have long term goals and have a lot of time, try learning one new move for every game you played. That might ease the amount of information you are pumping into your brain. I've seen people claim that they can go over 4-5 opening tabiyas in 30 minutes and assimilate all the ideas, not sure how they do that or if they are rote-memorizing ... but it is much more realistic to play the game naturally, then during the post-mortem, look up where you or your opponent deviated from the lines and "learn" the one new move that keeps you in theory. The next time you play this line, you'd be able to confidently play one more "best move" in the opening. This also allows you to "gently" adjust the thinking that picked the earlier move and nudge it towards picking the "better" move. If you're not convinced that the book move was better, get with a stronger player and ask him.
Regarding your style => People at our level really shouldn't ever claim to have a style ... I'd re-word it to "type of game/system I have fun/feel comfortable with". :)
So look at a game where you had a lot of fun playing. Not one where you won or crushed somebody ... it could be a game you lost, but enjoyed playing,.
For me it is usually one where all the "natural" moves that I could come up ended up being good, where I intuitively understood the ideas and every aspect of the opening made near-perfect sense to me. For some, this could be a sharp line in a wild opening or for others, it could be a patient + safe positional improvement of pieces.
Figure out what's comfortable and "natural-looking" for you. Shop around with different types of games and you'll soon start leaning towards a flavor you like.
I do not agree with some of these statements, and I would like to share my understanding, and experience regarding the openings.
1: Learning openings doesn't mean following some lines blindly, nor is it extremely difficult to learn the concept behind them. Nobody needs to learn all the variations of each opening in couple weeks. I pick an opening and study the main line, and learn what is it's aim. Then I go and play it. If my opponent makes random moves against it, he usually finds himself in an disadvantage. But if he gives me good responses, which I do not know how to deal with yet, I go back to study after the game, and compare those responses with the openings known variations. I try and see how different responses works. Then I go play more, and go back to study, repeating this cycle. By doing that I remember the lines naturally without trying to memorize them.
2. It doesn't require anybody to be a weak GM for understanding the why an opening move was made, nor understanding it will increase your level to GM. I think the person who makes "parroting opening principles" statement would have a difficulty in learning anything. Studying something, learning its principles is far from parroting what others says. Its more about observing, understanding, and making your own conclusion.
3. I do not memorize the lines, but by studying the openings, and playing them in my games, I find myself remembering them.
4. I find tactics workouts very useful. I don't think they need to be studied exclusively. They all are part of my study program, and I don't see any reason for others to exclude one or the other either.
5. I think a chess coach or a master can talk more on this. I don't know what is the reason of such an advice. Maybe some people find open games more exciting, or easier to play. I enjoy both open and closed games.
6. I don't know which master fits my style either. I explore master's games with the openings or strategies I focus on. Database programs are useful for finding these kind of games. I also explore famous games in general.
7. I don't think one needs to re-learn everything when they start studying a different opening. Everything we learn about chess adds up. Learning one thing does not exclude the other things we learn. I believe the person who makes this statement doesn't understand the essence of studying the openings. Once it is understood, the reason of behind this advice will become more clear.
GM Dzindzichashvili said something on openings I find very important. He said " I am not good at openings, but I am a great middle game player is a meaningless thing to say, because without a good opening, one can never have an advantage in the middle game".
Perhaps just by playing with players weaker than ourselves, we do not understand how true what he said is. But it is true, and if anybody is going to spend their time on studying chess it is better to spend it on the methods that are proven to be useful for not wasting any time.
2) it doesn't mean nothing, and no it wouldn't make you a weak GM. Plenty of moves in any opening will just be normal developing moves, but if you see a move that's a little unusual, or something's done in a particular order, why not have a go at understanding the point of it?
3) you will have to do so eventually, but there are better uses of your time for now. Namely tactics.
4) I don't see the harm at looking at a few traps. As long as they're not all you're aiming for.
5) study open games first because that's where tactical play is foremost. If you can't get any proficiency at tactics, then when closed and semi-closed finally become open (as in the very large majority of cases they always will eventually) you will lose horribly. Open games rarely become closed.
6) Too early for this imo. You need to improve before you think about this.
7) Play limited numbers of openings so that you feel comfortable in what you're playing. I'm a lot better than you (not meaning to be arrogant) and I have a fairly narrow repertoire. You don't need lots of openings, your time can be spent better elsewhere - tactics!
Generally speaking, until you're about 1800 turn-based here, you can play pretty average or even bad openings as long as they don't simply lose you material. Because there *will* be tactical opportunities for both sides. This is, above all, what will make the difference.
Here is my take on your concerns.
To summarize: Understanding, understanding and UNDERSTANDING!
Understanding is really key. As for the basic opening principles, they are not that difficult to understand, are they ?
...and of course (but this is not specific to the opening phase) - look for your opponent's threats and try to twart his plans
If you have any specific question, send me a message, and I'd be glad to help
Good points about tactics being the absolute prerequisite to openings ( or playing any serious chess, for that matter).
Tactics is to chess what weight training is to a prize-fighter. There's no point being a master strategist who's booked up all of your opponent's moves if you step into a ring and can't throw or take a punch.
Tactics take up 80-90% of my chess study time (endgames and playing make up the rest), but according to chess.com computer-analysis my "inaccuracies" are exponentially(!) higher than my "mistakes" and "blunders" relative to similar-rated opponents, so I feel the need to start addressing this weakness and incorporate openings into my routine, even if for just 15 minutes daily. I will still focus primarily on tactics and endgames.
Any more specific practical insight would be much appreciated. And if you can convince me that openings are not necessary below 1900, I am willing to listen in spite of my stubbornness and game stats (I want to believe it even though I am not entirely convinced, so please plant that seed).
If most upcoming players spent as much time on basic endings, especially pawn and Rook endings, which comprise the vast majority of positions reached in practice, as they spend on useless opening variations (unless you are playing with the GMs, your up-to-the-minute theoretical memorization will be out the window early), they would find their results improved much faster.
If you must include openings, learning the open games first is only logical. They are the most basic and illustrate most simply the principles of development, mobility, initiative, space, attack and defense, and pawn breaks. With a firm grounding in these ideas, proceed to learn the semi-open and closed positions, then the Indian defenses to 1 d4, and lastly the flank openings. This is just the easiest way to learn as the knowledge gained of each can be applied to the next.
A great way to learn about openings is figuring out the "why" on moves that make no immediate sense to you in the opening. Often, decades and even centuries of experience has lead to certain opening sequences which seem odd to the beginner. One good method with a database is to check out games played with other moves than the one you don't "get." Quickly going through some of these may illustrate the problems one side faces which led to the unusual-looking move now accepted by theory.
Play over master games in the opening lines you wish to learn. Play through the whole games, not just the openings, so you can see the typical middlegame positions and the strategies which work and don't for each side. You "know" an opening when you are comfortable and confident playing the typical positions which arise from it, not because you've memorized variations.
I like the logical sequence of studying openings you have described, Estragon. Going through master games is alway fun, but I am often at a loss with "typical" middlegame positions, especially when even material gets shuffled for 20+ moves without an easily-perceivable advantage that my limited chess-vision will recognize (except for some lame analysis such as "oh yeah, the rook moved to a semi-open file like it wants"). But I guess that kind of learning is in the manner Silman/others describe: going through lots of GM games fairly quickly and, with time and repetition, subconsciously absorbing patterns of master play.
It seems that most advice centers on learning the "logic" portion of chess first (tactics/calculation, strategic/positional thinking, opening principles, and some endgame techniques) which makes perfect sense, but it is never clear how or when to start incorporating the "memorization" portion (like simple opening lines, which can be memorized by a weaker player and immediately improve tournament performance), whether to "save" memorization for later or to start doing it now alongside the "logic" stuff. This is further complicated by advice which says to have a rote-memorized (simple) opening repertoire if one ever want to compete in tournaments, even at a low class level.
Memorizing opening moves is certainly NOT as important in all forms of chess and at all levels. I have often faced situations in which I didnt know the next "book move" at say move 10 and would manage to find a reasonable response, though I might take ten minutes of my thinking time to find it. If its a G/30 game and I have use a third of my allowed time on one move I may be in serious time trouble, ofcourse, if my opponent is 1200 I will probably be ok, but if he is 2500 I am likely doomed........ in the playing environment here spending only 10 minutes on a critical move is playing blitz !
blimey reb, I don't s'pose I has spent 10 mins thinkin' about a move more than thrice whole time I bin on this site
I was (and still am) a very poor player in the opening. Yes, I am a rated player (approximatelly equal to the border between Class A and Expert levels in the USCF system) but I have difficulties learning by memorizations so this is what I did:
First, back in the days, I started with one of the most basic opening - the Italian Game. This opening follows all the theoretical principles and provides an exciting and tactically rich game. Back then (the mid 90s) we had no databases, rarely anybody had Internet and the only person I know who had Fritz was my second trainer. So our only source were books and the game we analyzed and played.
Here is what I'm a bit worried now: beginning chess players rely too much on computers and databases. Those sources, however, do not explain why a move is good or bad - they just give you a percentage or a numerical evaluation. You should try to first to analyze your games on your board without using computer.
Get a game you lost, think why you and your opponent played every single move. Write your analysis down on a piece of paper and then and only then check with the computer. This has 3 major benefits:
1) You get to learn new tactics and principles.
2) Your analyzational skills improve.
3) You understand better the opening of your choice, as well as the typical middlegame position that comes out of it.
None of this happens when you rely primarily on a computer for the analysis. The computer feeds you quick data but does not teach you anything.
So, what happens after that? I ditched the Italian game and felt in love with the Scotch game. I'm still playing the Scotch and it is my favorite weapon against 1. ... e5. I don't want to go into the 1.d4 openings with white simply because there are rims and rims of theory: the QGs, Slav, Semi-Slav, Gruenfeld, all the Indians, etc. And because those openings lead to a very positional game and you just have to know loads of positional principles to find your way. I would not recommend 1.d4 for anybody under 1800 OTB rating and sound understanding of positional play.
Gradually, through playing, I learned anti-Sicilians methods and how to play against the French and the Caro-Kann. Even if my opponents lead me into a dark forest of theory I know what to use to find my way out.
At that point people started playing 1.d4 against me. This is when I started learning theory. Note that before that point you learn by playing, memorization is not needed. However, at this point I was assisted by some knowledge of positional play and tactics so getting to know new openings was easy.
I agree that engine analysis and the data bases are becoming a "crutch" for many new players, especially those who do not play much , or any, otb chess. Their weakness will be exposed when they sit down at the board with players who don't do this and actually understand the positions/openings they play, an understanding that only comes through experience and not through engine analysis. Databases and engines certainly have their place in trying to become stronger players but I think they can also hinder a players development if they are misused or relied upon too heavily.
couldn't agree more, Reb, it's like when you use power-tools; you don't learn to use your hands an' ur hand-tools - people forget how to learn in a practical fashion, an' then they doesn't trust to rely on their own gifts
blimey reb, I don't s'pose I has spent 10 mins thinkin' about a move more than thrice whole time I bin on this site
I used to do it that way too and couldnt break 2200 here until I quit playing like that....
An NM! Now this thread seems legit...thanks Reb. I appreciate your input, especially when you refer to "all levels", as it helps ease my pressure of trying to memorize an opening repertoire and attempt to memorize a large database.
Ninevah, smileative, and Reb, I agree that large databases that just show the moves without commentary is less helpful for the learning player, but they do provide quick exposure to multiple patterns/games/styles of play, which is essentially a weaker form of experience (but which can be done at any hour of the night when the alternative is nothing)...learning through pattern recognition. Of course, a deeply annotated database accessible to all levels of players would be ideal, but that would require many many positions to be commented upon.
As far as analyzing my own games, do I (at my current level) really need a computer or stronger player to tell me that I hung my rook on move 18, or that I lost my bishop to a 2-3 move combo? Perhaps the time spent playing/analyzing a blunder-ridden beginner-level game is best spent drilling tactics and learning positional play.
But I am beginning to understand the comments, namely that innumerable games will have innumerable novel positions that need to be analyzed OTB/post-mortem and therefore logical tactical/positional analysis skills require more attention than opening memorization at my level (all levels as per Reb), and will be applicable to learning any opening/opponent.
No new or earth-shattering ideas in these comments, but it helps to hear other people respond specifically to the way I opened the thread since I don't hear the same trite repetitive advice that I am expected to take "on faith", when the specific application and reasoning of that advice to the beginner is somewhat unclear.
Depends on the strength of the player and of course the conditions of the lost game at a hand. If I'm constantly struggling against an offbeat line by my opponent, I'll use the computer to determine as best I can why it isn't part of mainline theory. Then I'll formulate an antidote repertoire against it.
For example when I first started learning the Qd6 Scandinavian, I struggled against the early d4 by white instead of the usual Nc3 to attack the queen. After studying this extensively with the computer, I was able to pick up on and learn an easy developing series of moves that gave me excellent results and confidence in the opening. This kind of information usually isn't in books, and since I don't have access to a personal coach, I found the computer to be invaluable help.
This all is not to say computers can't be used poorly by beginners. Indeed they often are, but the point is it can be quite useful especially if you want quick feedback on your games.
I recently started wondering the same thing, and made a quick reference to this on my blog in Chess.com. I made a post questioning the learning of opening theory, since most of my games at my level are usually out of book by move 3. At my level, it's always about opening traps, kamikaze queen expeditions, over-extend to try to mate on f7 and such moves.
When I started learning openings I would memorize move sequences, and often keep playing the sequence after my opponent had already deviated from the line. Then I stopped memorizing and went to simply play, not trying to get into any particular line.
Then I found a better way to train my openings, I looked for opening books with explanations rather than just variations. Then I loaded the positions (including dubious lines and blunders, not just the main line I prefer) into a database program that allows me to play against the database. The program plays a random move from the saved positions and you have to play the correct response, when you don't it tells you. There are so many positions that most of the time, I don't really remember the response, I need to deduce it. And since I am doing this within the same complex of openings (the Ruy Lopez), I started seeing things repeating in different lines, started to understand the objective of many of the moves. And when I'm really stuck, I go back to the book and read the explanation to the continuation.
Still, I think been surprised in the opening will always happen, like one of my games here, where my opponent played the St. George's Defense.
What software do you use to train openings? I own COW Professional (never used Chess Positions Trainer, though it seems the rave). I like it but most of the opening e-books are from the mid-1990's, still good enough for my level, but I'd rather just have more updated material if available.
Also, COW considers you "trained" for a position as long as you pick any of the candidate moves, so if you only remember 1 of 5 good candidate moves, you may still be considered "trained" in that position even though you totally forgot the other 4 possible responses, yet the benefit of an opening repertoire ought to be flexibility/versatility/comfort in knowing various alternate lines.
I'd much rather prefer a software that allows me to input the opening book and then feeds me random positions from that opening, helping me train potential alternate good moves, and feeding me positions that give me the most trouble and positions that I rarely encounter because I forget to consider them.
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