Ideas on how to prepare a good opening repertoire

  • GM GMRafaelLeitao
  • | Jan 23, 2014

Greetings everyone! I am grandmaster Rafael Leitão, from Brazil. My FIDE rating is 2645. I am going to write a series of articles about chess preparation. Many ambitious chessplayers do not know how to work in order to achieve a master and grandmaster level. I hope to show you the correct path to improvement.

In this first article I am going to touch on a very important topic: opening preparation. Chessplayers of all levels have many doubts about opening work. So, how to choose, prepare and update your repertoire? Here are my tips and I think they work for nearly every level of play. These are the advices I give to my pupils :

1- Choose a repertoire according to your playing style and tastes;

2- Create an opening database on ChessBase, where you will store all your opening analysis;

3- Use the "openings books" from softwares like Fritz, Rybka or Houdini in order to create your general opening guide;

4- Select, in a separate database, model games from your opening variations.

As this work takes a lot of time, I suggest choosing a model player, concentrating your initial work on the analysis of his games. For instance, if you want to play 1.e4 e5 start by looking at Aronian´s games; if you want to play the Najdorf, start with Kasparov´s or mine .

These four steps will be enough for most players. But if you need a high level preparation, you have to go further.

5-The next step is to select some critical positions in the lines you play. This selection can be made in many ways:

  • Some fashionable position,

  • a problematic one,

  • some position you want to find a new move and so on.

6- Make independent analysis of these critical positions.

If you have a training partner or a coach, it gets easier. If, like me, you work alone, use this engine work formula, which can be used whenever you want to analyse with the computer:

I-Setup the position on the board and on your computer;

II- Turn on the analysis engine, minimize the ChessBase screen (so you can't see what it suggests) and analyse the position for some time (15 minutes is a good start). You can work moving the pieces;

III- After this initial time, verify your computer´s suggestions and compare with your own conclusions. Minimize the screen again and repeat the individual work, analysing the machines’ ideas;

IV- Repeat the process until you reach trustable conclusions.

This is the secret for a sucessful repertoire. As you see, it is necessary to work hard.

Let me show you an important game of mine where this approach gave me a valuable point.


One of my games against Inarkiev (l)

Leitão,Rafael (2632) - Inarkiev,Ernesto (2693) [D45]
FIDE World Cup 2013 Tromso NOR (1.3), 13.08.2013

In the first round of the World Cup 2013 in Tromso, I was paired against a tough opponent: russian super gm Ernesto Inarkiev. After two draws in the normal time control we had to meet again in the rapids. Having achieved almost no advantage in my white game I was forced to do some work the night before the games. My aim was to find a new idea in my opponent's Chebanenko Slav setup. I am no early win seeker - I just wanted a playable and fresh position. That suits me just fine. I managed to find a small idea to put some problems for black.

 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 a6 5.Bd2!? 

A rare move and - I must admit it - quite a strange one. However, it has some cunning ideas against black's typical counterplay with ...b5 or ...c5.


I also analysed the typical 5...g6 , concluding that I could fight for an advantage after 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Be2 0-0 8.0-0 b5 9.cxd5 cxd5 10.b4! That was actually played in the third tie-break game. I think white can exert some pressure here, although I failed to demonstrate it.]

 6.Qc2 Nbd7 7.Nc3 dxc4 8.Bxc4 b5 9.Be2 Bb7 

This is the fashionable move order, scoring well for black.


 The most dangerous move. Here we are already in the "Critical Position Realm", since all the requirements are present: a) a fashionable line; b) very few games played; c) a lot of room for fresh ideas. It is time for some serious independent work.

 10...Nxe4 11.Qxe4 Qb6

 I found a few GM games in this position and believed it could happen in one of my rapid games. Of course when you make this kind of preparation it is impossible to guess exactly what is going to happen and so you have to prepare a lot of lines,sometimes superficially. Even so, it is always good to have a new idea. Together with my Houdini friend, I analysed a promising novelty here. [11...Qb8 I also analysed this move.] 


 Immediately posing problems for black.


 12...Nxe5 is the natural continuation and I spent most of my analysis time here. 13.Qxe5 White's idea is to make it hard for black to complete his development. 13...c5 14.0-0 Qd6! The critical position. In the end I decided white could fight for the advantage in the endgame after 15.a4 Qxe5 16.dxe5 b4 17.Rac1+/= 


This position is already unpleasant for black. In practice it is even worse, since the natural moves are not enough. 


This natural looking move is a fatal mistake. However, it is not easy to find a good move for black, for instance: [13...Bd6 14.Qg3! (14.Nc4 bxc4 15.Qxd6 Qxb2 is not clear) 14...0-0 15.Nd7 Nxd7 16.Qxd6+/=; 13...Be7 14.b4!+/=; 13...Qc7! It looks like this was the best defense. White is still slightly better but a big fight still lies ahead. 14.Nd3!? (14.a4+/=) 14...Qxf4 (14...Bd6 15.Qh4+/=) 15.exf4+/=]


Actually I had not prepared the move 13...c5 and this was a typical preparation mistake. Unfortunately, during the tournaments it is often not possible to analyse the position in big detail, so we have to work vey fast, sometimes not giving proper attention to some natural "human moves". Remember what I suggest in this article: analyse the position yourself and only then check it with the computer. Using this system I would certainly have noticed the 14...c5 move which, of course, isn't considered by the machine.Fortunately in this case I was able to find the solution in the board. I should add that the text move is quite a beautiful one. We usually don't see such a brutal attack on the 14th move of a GM game.

14...Bd6 15.Bxf7+ Ke7 16.Qg5!


16...Bxe5 17.Qxg7?!

 17.Bh5! There was some discussion on the internet about whether it was possible to find such a calm move in over the board play. The fact is that white is easily winning after it. 17...Kf8 18.Qxe5 Nxh5 19.Qxh5+-

17...Ne8! 18.Qxe5 Kxf7 19.dxc5

 19.Qxh8? Nf6

19...Qc7 20.Qh5+ Kf8 21.Bc3+/-

 Black's position is practically lost. I have three pawns and a strong attack on his king. The presence of opposite coloured bishops also helps me. In the end I was able to win the game. 

21...Ng7 22.Qh6 Rd8 23.0-0 Rg8 24.Rad1 Kf7 25.Qf6+ Ke8 26.f3 Rd7 27.Qg5 Kf7 28.e4 Ne8 29.Qh5+ Rg6 30.Qxh7+ Ng7 31.Rxd7+ Qxd7 32.Qh4 Kg8 33.Qf4 Nh5 34.Qe5 Nf6 35.h4 Qf7 36.Rd1 Kh7 37.Rd8 Qg7 38.Rd2 Qh6? 39.Rd7+! Rg7 40.Rxg7+ Kxg7 41.Qg5+ 1-


Building a good opening repertoire is extremely important to every tournament player. Adapt my advices according to your playing level and you will be ready to meet any opponent!

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  • 5 months ago

    WGM CamillaB

    No matter if it sounds like an ad or not, it's hard to avoid Chess Base if you're going for master level. By nature, chess is not politically correct... you'll do what it takes :)

  • 3 years ago


    tysm sir....

  • 3 years ago


    Muito bom!

  • 3 years ago


    Thank you for the advice!

  • 3 years ago


    Quem sabe sabe...quem não sabe bate palma!

  • 3 years ago


    Very nice!

  • 3 years ago


    Thank you Gm for this wonderful article. Hoping for your next series on computer preparation.

  • 3 years ago


    Nice but don't like the advert for chessbase. Maybe promote a free alternative like scid vs pc or a generic term like chess datavbase.

  • 3 years ago


    very helpful advice. I will certainly take heed of your article.

  • 3 years ago


    Ótimo artigo! Parabéns! Vou seguir o seu conselho! 

  • 3 years ago


    Thank you!

    All we lower level players ask from GMs is specific advice on how to get better, and you gave it to us.

    Definitely sharing with my team. Excellent article.

  • 3 years ago

    GM GMRafaelLeitao

    Thanks everybody for the kind words! On my next article I will expand on how to work with the computer, including some concrete examples from my games.

  • 3 years ago


    Thank you Gm Leitao.i really wanted to study openings...thanks Tactical Twinkie for setting the game on the diagram

  • 3 years ago


    Very interesting article, thank you


  • 3 years ago


    Great article for FIDE expert or master players who want to become title players like IM or GM but for any player lower than mention not helpful. Spending too much time in the opening is a guarantee for player to being a low-rated for life; some opening studyings , a lot tactics studies, a lot middlegames studies and a lot of endgame studies and a player lower than expert will become very strong.

     I still like your article a lot and very organize and something for me to adopt when I become master. I look forward to next article.

  • 3 years ago


    Very helpful for those not having people to play with or not having a coach :)

  • 3 years ago


    Muy buen artículo. Interesante conocer el método de trabajo de un GM. Gracias por compartir!

  • 3 years ago


    Here's the game with the annotations. I hope it helps!

  • 3 years ago


    Obrigado GM Rafael Leitão, você prestigia o xadrez brasileiro

  • 3 years ago


    The aim of this piece is exactly what I want to read. How to prepare to get better. 

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