Opening Deviations

Opening Deviations‎

WGM Natalia_Pogonina
29 | Opening Theory

When preparing for a game (if we know the pairings), it is useful to compile a complete dossier on your opponent: what types of positions he likes and understands, which ones he doesn’t enjoy. What openings he employs. His playing style. Typical reactions to this or that. Psychology. Physical shape. And so on. The more you know about him, the easier it is to pinpoint his weaknesses and win. Also, one should be aware of one's own weaknesses and strengths, as well as the public image of onself. Today we will talk only about choosing the opening correctly and leave the topic “preparing a dossier” for another column.

Some people stay loyal to a certain opening for years. You can hear them boasting: “I have never played anything but the King’s Gambit in my life”. The positive side of this approach is that such a person has lots of experience in the opening, knows the main ideas and tricks. The downside is that it’s hard to progress and study chess by playing the same type of position over and over again. Also, it makes one’s opponent’s preparation very easy. Nonetheless, some people are very conservative in trying out new positions (and not only in chess!). I can relate to the chess part of this statement since I have been playing the Dragon exclusively for a few years. After over 100 FIDE-rated games, people could simply open a database and find my reply to virtually any reasonable move. This allowed lower-rated players to opt for a variation which leads, let’s say, to a slightly better endgame where Black hardly has any winning chances. This is very irritating, you know. Of course, the opening is not to be blamed. The fact that people like Carlsen and Radjabov employ it means that the Dragon is alive and kicking. However, at some point I got tired of thinking about how to deviate and spice up the game, and decided to introduce the Ruy Lopez and some other openings into my repertoire.


If you have a chess database, it is very easy to see what lines your opponent plays, his statistics, and choose the opening variation you prefer (unless he has an opening surprise up his sleeve). Otherwise, you can always visit the FIDE website and check out some of your opponent’s games, including the most recent ones. It is very helpful in terms of predicting what you will have to face. Of course, in some events (e.g. blitz tournaments) you don’t know the pairings until the very last moment, but in most cases (open tournaments, round robins) you do and have all the chances to prepare well.

One should also keep in mind that knowing when to deviate is an art. You can analyze statistics, think something like “I have a back-up French which he doesn’t like, while he will be preparing for my Sicilian”…and still see 1.d4 instead of 1.e4 played against you. Or find out that he still knows that French better than you. But one thing is certain: opening surprises should be well-prepared. Otherwise there is a chance that you will perform even worse than in your traditional opening due to lack of experience in that position.


Having said that, let’s consider a few Dragon games played by Peter Zhdanov against titled players about two months ago. They should give you a taste of how to deviate efficiently and how to exploit someone’s conservativeness in choosing openings.

Avoiding home preparation:


Capitalizing on a player’s stubbornness:


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