Master Path Study Plan: The Opening!

Master Path Study Plan: The Opening!

| 12 | Opening Theory

Target Skill Range: Master Path (Rated 2000-2199)

Acquire the knowledge you need to approach the opening with confidence and achieve success!


  1. Learn About Advanced Opening Preparation
  2. Expand Your Knowledge of Thematic Middlegames
  3. Learn From Past Champions
  4. Learn A New Opening Against 1.e4
  5. Learn A New Opening Against 1.d4
  6. Expand Your White Repertoire
  7. Test Your Opening Ability
  8. Analyze your Recent Games

Master players are ready to reach a serious level of chess, and their openings will need to reflect that. In the following plan, you'll continue building upon your knowledge of thematic middlegame plans, as well as expanding your knowledge of opening theory.

1. Learn About Advanced Opening Preparation:



2. Expand Your Knowledge on Common Structures with these videos by IM Daniel Rensch:

Check out several advantageous pawn structures with GM Aman Hambleton.

3. Learn from Past Champions

Every world champion in history had a signature opening, one that they used at the highest level with success, as well as an opening where they personally contributed to the theory and our current understanding of the variation. Let GM Bryan Smith take you on a tour of past chess champions and their favorite opening, and become inspired to fine-tune your own pet line: 

4. Learn a New Opening Against 1.e4

If you went through the Advanced Study Plan, then you should already have one solid response to both 1.e4 and 1.d4. Now, it is time to expand your horizons by adding new openings to your repertoire! Many players at the Master level or above often choose one solid opening as their main defense and also learn one aggressive option to use against lower-rated players or in "must-win" situations. In order to complete this section, study one of the openings below, but you are encouraged to return to this page and learn the other openings too!

The Sicilian Dragon by IM Keaton Kiewra:


The Pirc Defense by GM Mackenzie Molner

The Accelerated Dragon by GM Melik Khachiyan

The Scandinavian Defense by GM Eugene Perelshteyn

Learn a New Opening Against 1.d4

Just like against 1.e4, most strong players have at least two options against 1.d4. Watch the following series on "Dealing with Passive Queen Pawn Openings" first, then choose one of the following openings to learn as a second option for your Black repertoire against 1.d4:

Semi-Slav Defense by GM Sam Shankland

(PRO-TIP - Watching opening videos from Black's perspective can give you a better understanding overall and introduce new ideas to use as White! )

Queen's Gambit Declined by GM Gregory Kaidanov

Also check out GM Shankland's coverage of the QGD:

Queen's Gambit Declined by GM Sam Shankland

5. Find Some New Options For Your White Repertoire

Now we're really kicking it into high gear! If you are a tournament player, you'll know that other players will often try to keep track of your repertoire and use it to prepare against you in key games. This is why many Master level players expand their repertoire with White, so that they aren't playing the same lines over and over again. Here are additional options to add to your repertoire, whether you play 1.e4 or 1.d4 (below):

1.e4 Repertoire

Double King-Pawn Openings: the Ruy Lopez by GM Ivan Sokolov


For those seeking more depth, review this series on the Giuoco Piano by GM Roman Dzindzihachvili:

Alternatively, those seeking to attack should review the Evans Gambit by GM Jacek Stopa:


If you really, really, really can't avoid attacking play, study the King's Gambit by GM Simon Williams:

also read:

For an attacking sideline against the Sicilian Defense, read these articles by GM Bryan Smith:

Finally, another attacking sideline is offered by GM Roman Dzindzichashvili:

The French Defense

The Caro-Kann Defense

1. d4 Repertoire

Here are some extra options if you're a 1.d4 player:

Queen's Gambit Declined

Slav Defense

Nimzo-Indian Defense

King's Indian Defense

Grunfeld Defense

Benoni Defense

7. Test Your Opening Ability

One of the great skills of a strong player is sensing weak play and pouncing on it. In no area is this more important than openings. That's because in openings you know exactly when your opponent has stepped off the beaten path (assuming you are better prepared). Was that move a misstep? Test your ability to sense and exploit opening mistakes with this lesson.

Exploiting Opening Errors 3 by GM Sam Shankland

8. Analyze Your Recent Games

At the master level, you should absolutely be analyzing all of your games in depth. Here, we want you to pay special attention to the opening. Try to identify these things in every game. You can use's Analysis Board and Opening Explorer to review.

  • Identify when you left your opening knowledge. What did theory recommend instead and why?
  • Did you spend an appropriate amount of time after you left the opening? Neither becoming short on time or moving too hastily?
  • Did you find the correct plan emerging from the opening? If not, what was the correct plan? How have strong GMs approached the position?
  • In the ensuing middlegame and/or endgame, did you accurately judge the exchanges that are common to the opening?
  • In all cases where you erred, be certain you can explain in both concrete variations and verbal ideas why your play was wrong and why another line was better.

Here are some final tips on studying the opening:

  • New videos and articles are added to every day, make sure to check frequently for opening videos/articles that may be relevant to your repertoire.
  • While it's generally inadvisable to bounce around between openings, learning a new option here and there can be good for your overall growth and development as a chess player.
  • If you need help with a very specific variation or line or feel you're unable to crack a certain opening, consider working with a professional coach.
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