Picking a Reptertoire

IM Silman
Jun 29, 2009, 12:00 AM |
32 | Opening Theory

ML asked:

I've been having problems deciding on an opening repertoire for Black. I've been trying all sorts of stuff – Sicilian Dragon, Pirc, French, 1…e5, Alekhine, and even 1...b6.
I’m searching for a repertoire which I feel very safe and comfortable with. I'm playing a very important tournament in June-July which I really want to win and I have good chances. My national rating is about 1750-1900 and I’m a 12 year-old junior.
I’m searching for an opening against 1.e4 which is not too common, aggressive so that White really must know some theory and most important at all, even if White plays very good in the opening and survives my attack, I will be fine. The Dragon is a good option right know but I’m having difficulties remembering my repertoire against boring Anti-Sicilians.

Do you know any opening that fits this description?

Dear ML:

So you want an opening as Black that gives you a huge attack right off, and if your opponent somehow survives the onslaught, you’ll still be safe with a good game? Don’t we all want such an opening? Of course, this would mean that Black has the better game right from move one while White has to defend and hope to equalize. In other words, you’re dreaming – there isn’t such an opening!

Now let’s go back to planet reality and look into repertoire philosophy. First off, you need to find something that suits your personal temperament. It doesn’t matter if the books show the lines in this opening to be equal or even a bit better for White, if you like the resulting position and feel comfortable with it, then it’s for you!

The Sicilian Dragon is a very aggressive, do or die theoretical landmine kind of opening that has always appealed to young players who are willing to put a lot of time into opening study. You need to know reams of analysis if you wish to play it properly. If you have a fantastic memory, and if you are a skilled attacking player that understands the value of a well-timed Exchange sacrifice, and if you understand that you’ll be mated as often as you mate, then this might well be for you! Keep in mind that white players who open 1.e4 fear the Dragon and thus seriously prepare for it.

How memory intensive is the Dragon?  Let’s take a look at the following line (don't forget to click on MOVE LIST to see all the text and moves):


You also mentioned 1.e4 b6. This is playable, and is also not very theoretical. However, I find black's position a bit drab after 2.d4 Bb7 3.Nd2. Here's an example:





The Alekhine Defense (1.e4 Nf6) is interesting, and most don’t really prepare for it. You let White build up a huge pawn center and then you have to find a way to smack it down (1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.c4 Nb6 4.d4 d6 5.f4).

The Pirc (1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6) is also playable, but presupposes that you enjoy positions with a bit less space but chances at counterattacking your opponent’s big pawn center. If that excites you, then the Pirc has your name all over it.

Double king-pawn systems are very sound, but usually offer White a small edge vs. your solid, very correct setup. Of course, after 1.e4 e5 you not only have to worry about the Ruy Lopez (2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5), but also the King’s Gambit (2.f4), the Vienna Game (2.Nc3), and various other tries.

The French Defense is a solid and very combative opening. In fact, some players stick with it for life, and swear by its complicated lines and it’s basic center-bashing plan (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 followed by bringing everyone to bear against d4 via …Qb6, …Nc6, and even …Ng8-e7-f5).

Truth to tell, all these openings are fine. However, picking one is a very personal choice that can’t be done by a stranger. You have to do it, or a teacher that’s intimately familiar with your style, games, and strengths can also help you make the choice.

PS: A gentleman from Hong Kong mentioned the Caro-Kann, and he's wise to do so. I often recommend the Caro-Kann to my students since the ideas are fairly simple to learn and most players don't have anything worthwhile prepared against it. After 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Black can play the solid and logical 4...Bf5 (a move I successfully took up at the end of my career) or the more dynamic (and riskier) 4...Nf6 5.Nxf6+ gxf6 (I played this in a couple dozen tournament games with fantastic results). The highly theoretical 4...Nd7 should be avoided by amateurs.

When you consider that top players like Karpov, Anand, Kasparov, and lately Topalov made/make the Caro-Kann an important part of their repertoires, it's hard not to view this opening with tremendous respect.

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