How to Learn an Opening in One Hour

  • GM thamizhan
  • | Sep 17, 2009

[Ed: This article was actually written by GM Serper]


Pretty frequently my students complain about how difficult it is to learn new openings.  Indeed, modern opening theory is more complicated than ever. You can spend weeks, even months of your life studying some ultra fashionable variation of the Gruenfeld Defense or the Najdorf Sicilian.  Some people even suggest to abandon our beloved game and completely switch to Fischer Random chess, which essentially eliminates opening theory.

  I think the situation isn't that bad yet. Today I want to share a simple and yet a very useful trick, which will allow you to learn practically any new opening in one hour or less. You don't need opening books, chess playing engines or the latest games played in the opening.  All you need is a desire to learn new stuff.  So, are you ready? Then get a very good game played in the variation in question by a very good chess player with very good annotations. Oh yeah, one more thing.  The game should be preferably old (just like a very expensive wine - 40-50 years or older) and the variation played in the game should be currently out of fashion. As everyone knows, diamonds are forever. Well, chess diamonds (that is, true classical games) are immortal too. And by playing an out of fashion variation you sidestep a possible novelty played in a tournament that finished last month.  So, you carefully study the game, analyze all the variations given in the annotations, understand the main ideas of the variation and... Ta-Da! you can play the new variation you have just learned.  No books, no memorization!   I sense that you are a bit skeptical. Well, lets try together to learn a new opening.  And to make things more challenging, we are going to learn one of the most complicated openings on Earth - The Najdorf Sicilian!

We've covered some longer variations in the Najdorf from recent games in past columns. Compare how prepared you were to play the Najdorf after reading those columns to how you feel after studying the one game we are presentin today very carefully.

So let's look at the starting position after 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6


Here if you play the main move 7.f4, you enter the Devil's Labyrinth. Black can choose the Poisoned Pawn variation, the Polugaevsky variation, the Goetheborg variation and many other complicated lines. Every single line there is a real minefield where one wrong move can easily spell the end of the game for you.
Now, lets analyse just one game which was played in 1954 by the famous Russian player Rashid Nezhmetdinov.  He was a unique person and deserves a separate discussion. I will just mention that despite being just an IM he had a personal score 3:0 against Tal at his prime! So, we follow the game Nezhmetdinov-Paoli, Bucharest, 1954. 
Instead of 7. f4 Nezhmetdinov chose 7. Qf3.  Let's try to understand the idea of the opening.  White moves the Queen to an active position (sometimes he can even play Qg3, especially if Black ever castles 0-0), clears the way for his King to castle to the Queen side and then prepares a typical Sicilian pawn storm on the King side by g2-g4-g5 etc.  Simple, huh? Lets see what happened in the game.
You have just learned a devilish trap that White has set up by his innocent looking moves.  In the game Black managed to avoid it, so the game continued... (after you solve the tactics at the end of the game, make sure to play through the whole game!)
You've just learned a brilliant game and a very tricky set up which is currently out of fashion and yet extremely poisonous. Now you know the main strategic idea of the opening (just to 'nuke' your opponent on the King's Side by pushing your pawns there). As an additional benefit, you discovered a powerful opening trap there.  Now, will it be easy for your opponent (who probably studied the latest games from Super Tournaments but not the games played 50 years ago) to pass the opening unscathed? It depends. If you are playing a 2700+ Grandmaster, then your little opening trick will probably just amuse him.  But for an average club player (meaning under ELO 2300), this is a very dangerous weapon to meet.
Try this method. You'll love it Laughing
Good luck!


  • 4 months ago


    So, where do you find games that have commentary &/or annotations on the opening? I've looked a few places and haven't found a reliable source. 

    Thanks for these articles on the openings. They are rare, helpful, and practical.

  • 2 years ago

    CM Iamwell

    Thanks! A good read.

  • 3 years ago


     GM Nezhmetdinov! was tals trainer for wc

  • 4 years ago


    Brought here from another article, very nice reading indeed. Thank you for posting! :)

  • 5 years ago


    I was brought here by your most recent article.  Really good study material  Thanks!

  • 5 years ago


    GREAT ARTICLE! It's nice to see that this information is archived and easy to retrieve. I've only been a member since Dec.2010

  • 5 years ago



    If you're a pawn down, with a queen and a rook on your 2nd rank and a totally wrecked pawn structure and playing Nezhmetdinov.. Trust me, it's a totally lost position :)

  • 5 years ago


    Pardon my ignorance, but I don't quite understand the first diagram. At the end, 13. Rxd7, black is down a pawn and it looks somewhat intimidating with the queen and rook on the seventh rank...but for the life of me, I can't find any mate or serious material gain after 13. ... Qc8. What makes it so winning for White?

    Thank you. 

  • 5 years ago


  • 5 years ago



  • 5 years ago


    like it 

  • 6 years ago


    Very valuable advice and amazing attacks by GM Nezhmetdinov!

  • 6 years ago


    very helpful. thanks.

  • 6 years ago


    Just read this after finding your more recent article.


    Nice read :)

  • 6 years ago


    ... finding another game and analyzing it took longer than an hour...

  • 6 years ago


    "If you are playing a 2700+ Grandmaster, then your little opening trick will probably just amuse him."

    I chuckled at that mental image.

  • 6 years ago


    My brain hurts after seeing the last puzzle! I hit restart to see how it all started and ended up using the "help" button a majority of the time!

  • 6 years ago


    instead of 21. b3, can white just move the knight to d5? that move blocks the f7 square anyhow.

  • 6 years ago


    Nice game and interesting suggestion. Smile

  • 6 years ago


    I would like to say that ChessBibliophile can hang his BiblioPhile somewhere else.  In his "critiques" on the article he attacks anything and everything except what the article is actually about, setting up strawmen and ad hominem and weaving it like so much putrid lace.

    GM Serber, I find your article to be very good, in that I cannot reccomend studying and memorizing lines and find myself trying to stay out of the latest bits of theory.  Playing the newest cutting edge keeps people from needing to think, but if you play something new every time, BOTH you and your opponent will find yourselves quickly on your own.  Then you can play some chess!!!

    To that end I find your advice to do as much of this as you can to be laudable.  When I get to 2700, perhaps I will think differently.


    -Zak Smith

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