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As a sort of intermediate player I find it hard to find an effective way of study openings. Reading books I quickly stumble into long lines that definetly require a chess board aside while studying (which really is time consuming, setting up and all). So I tend to like looking at videos and DVDs. The problem is often that I look at it for some time and at the end of it I really dont remember much, I actually learned almost nothing. There is just too many different lines. So I guess in some way I need to minimize the number of new lines each time. Another problem is to able to test one self and practice it. I try to test on blitz games, but then I get the wrong colour and the wrong answers from the opponent... Maybe its an idea to play against the computer? Set up positions and then take back moves when I play wrong moves?
How do you study openings? What is the most effective? What techniques makes the moves stick to your mind?
Pull out 20 or so games from a database in the line of the opening you are interested in (set the exact position up after move x and do a position search to avoid games that don't go down the line you want). Make sure they last at least 25 moves so you don't get any grandmaster draws and that there are variable results (some White wins, some Black wins and some draws).
Play over the games quickly without making notes or analysing too deep just to see the development patterns and any tactical shots that repeat. Then study them more deeply making notes about any moves or strategic ideas that interest you.
Try and play that opening against human opponents in non serious games but if thats not practical just play against Fritz or whatever over and over until the line gets burnt into your memory, don't worry about wins and losses. If you are comfortable playing the opening and want to take it further you should do some research on what are regarded as good books for that opening and study those.
If you find you aren't comfortable with the opening find something else and start from the beginning. This is the way that worked for me but everybody has a different method, good luck..
As much as you may hate it, best is to pull out a board and pieces, and study it there. Staring at a 2D screen doesn't have the same effect of educating the brain. I do many problems on 2D diagrams, but when you study, have a board handy. It will help you visualize.
Secondly, a lot depends on what you are studying. If you are studying a common opening, like say, the Sicilian Defense, Najdorf Variation, along with the various Anti-Sicilians, you'll get one of your lines every time you play Black and White plays 1.e4. If you are trying to play some unsound, off the wall garbage like the Blackburne-Hartlub Gambit, or if you are studying a line that's very specific and you won't face frequently in general, like the Kasparov Gambit, which requires White to play the Anti-Benoni lines of the English, then playing games online isn't going to help you here.
I will say this. I do find trying to play games online to be more successful when working on a Defense than I do when working on my White game.
Also, a mistake people make is they try to follow a narrow repertoire, and say to hell with the rest of the opening. They pigeon-hole themselves into "If White plays this, then I play this, but if White plays that, then I play that". I think one should understand different variations of what they play. For example, a Nimzo-Indian player shouldn't pigeon-hole themselves into 4...c5 after 4.e3. There are some lines, like 4.Nf3, that could transpose to certain lines of the 4.e3 variations and you end up in a line you don't normally play. Therefore, while 4...c5 may be your favorite, you should at least understand 4...O-O and 4...b6 against 4.e3.
Understanding the differences in variations, the pros and cons of each, will give you a broader understanding of the opening you are playing, and not just trying to train you to be a Nimzo-Indian Robot.
Also, nothing is better than applying it over the board. Don't be afraid to take a few losses. Play in a smaller tournament, where entry fees are low and winnings aren't great, play up if you can (so as not to completely destroy your rating), and play the opening or defense you are studying. If you used to be a King's Indian player, and now want to learn the Nimzo-Indian, play the Nimzo if you face 1.d4 (you have to have a plan against 3.Nf3 and 3.g3), and whatever you always have been playing against 1.e4, keep that. Don't try to revamp multiple parts of your game at the same time. To me, there are 4 areas to master in Openings. Black vs e4, Black vs d4, Black vs Flank Openings, and White.
Don't go for "Systems". These are lines where it's like "No matter what Black does, I will do this". A common one is where you see amateurs playing 1.c4, 2.g3, 3.Bg2, and 4.Nc3 against everything. Playing the English as an "opening", which means understanding move orders, knowing when a transposition to a Queen Pawn Opening is necessary, etc, is perfectly fine and respectable. But playing it systematically, or "robotically", is a huge mistake. Don't try to modify more than 1 of the 4 areas at the same time. Right now, I'm repairing my defense to 1.d4, so I'm sticking with 1.d4 as White and 1...e5 or 1...g6 against 1.e4 as Black, and won't even consider toying with a Sicilian Dragon right now.
Also, if you choose mainstream openings, you can expand your knowledge and have additional weapons by staying in the same opening. For example, if you play the Nimzo-Indian, and are getting tired of 4.e3 O-O, no need to jump ship to the Grunfeld, try 4...c5 or 4...b6.
Also, 1 hour of studying with a 3-D Board and book is considered as effective as 12 hours of internet blitz.
Do what the winners do. Pick an opening you like - then buy a book on just that opening .
Or- find a chess-buddy and explain to them what you what to study and have them play against you.
I'm with ThrillerFan here. If you find that setting up a board to study an opening is too tedious then you really shouldn't worry about learning any openings at all. Just play to have fun.
If you want to study to improve then setting up a board and pieces is mandatory.
I think that DVD's have their place as well, but to me they don't take the place of anything else necessarily, but rather they just add to the overall mix. For example, I used to play the Alapin against the Sicilian every time (1. e4 c5 2. c3). So I studied the Alapin quite a bit. Part of that Study was Tiviakov's excellent Chessbase DVD on the Alapin.
But I would never dream that watching the DVD would be a real substitue for study. Instead I would watch some of the games from the DVD to reinforce the studying I was already doing, which in this case included reading Sveshnikov's excellent book The Complete c3 Sicilian.
In addition to both of those items I would also look up games in TWIC and Informant in the Alapin variation.
Which is to say that studying an opening can be hard work. But it's work that pays off. Let's face it, at the club level you generally don't follow 20+ moves of opening theory. Typically someone deviates by move 10 if not earlier. But knowing what moves GM's play and why they play them will help you not only not be the person that deviates from normal GM lines, but also to take advantage of the inaccuracies made by your opponent when they do stray from the correct moves.
You will learn FAR more about openings by simply playing over the games masters play in them, more or less as Vease suggests above.
Filter your database for the opening you wish to learn, you can be as specific as you wish - with popular openings you will want to also filter for recent years and higher ratings, you don't want thousands of results. Then play over the games - slow enough to see what is going on, but not trying to analyze so deeply, perhaps 15 minutes each. (Don't worry, you can mark or separate particularly good or interesting games to come back to later).
Play over wins, losses and draws, don't just pick the wins for "your" side of the opening, and play each game out to the end. This way you get to see all the plans for both sides, those that work and don't work, from the opening to the middlegame and even into the typical types of endgames that result.
In this fashion, you will learn about the positions and plans associated with an opening, not just a web of variations that tax your memory and leave you clueless when you get to the end with the cheerful evaluation "White is slightly better" and no explanation why or how to proceed.
I believe Estragon et al are correct. That is one reason I wrote http://www.chess.com/download/view/guessthemove----training-program, which makes it easy to play over games. I do an extract from my SCID database into a pgn file, load that into GTM and play over the games.
First learn the 1st moves and basic ideas of the opening
Then, go through annotated games, ask yourself some questions ("what if...?"), and pay attention to the positions of the pieces according to the central pawn structure...
Then play rapid games, with a friend, a computer or online, and do some database check after every game.
Accept to make progress slowly but steadily
If you want a pre-selection of games with comments adapted to your level, please check on my coaching page for repertoire services.
"Reykjavik Open, Round 8 | Commentary by FM Ingvar Johannesson & Fiona Steil-Antoni"
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