Picking an Opening that's right for you

Mar 19, 2009, 12:00 AM |
17 | For Beginners

First off, let me say that I am by no means an expert. I am just an improving beginner myself, who only recently waded ignorantly into the murky world of chess openings. So take what I have to say with that in mind. I am writing this article in an attempt to make things simpler for those even newer to this wonderful game than myself.

It won't take very long for the question "What opening should I play?" to enter your mind. You can find devotees as well as detractors of every opening under the sun. . You will be told that tactics, not position, is what will make you a better chess player faster. This is quite true, and I do not mean to minimize the importance of tactical practice. But that still doesn't answer the question, "What do I do first?"

Now I know that most "beginner's books" and advice collums will tell you to simpy push the e pawn to e4, and go from there. I suppose there is some merit to this argument. But I, being a contrarian, decided instead to dabble in various openings, and try to find those I like the best. But what does "liking" an opening entail?

Well, first and foremost, the opening needs to be "sound." This means that you don't want an opening for which there is a dead cold way to defeat. This is less of a concern for we beginners, as most of our oppnents wouldn't know how to refute it anyway. But as I saw it, why put forth the effort to learn an opening, with all its lines and variations, only to find that it is unsuitable down the road?

Secondly, your "style" comes into play. Now I have read that "beginners don't have a style, they just have weaknesses." There may be some truth to that, I don't know. But still, every person is different, and have different personallity traits. Some are more comfortable hiding behind a strong wall of pawns, and waiting for their opponent to overextend himself. Others perfer to go for the jugular with swashbuckling gambits and exchanges. What is the point of learning an opening you don't enjoy playing? After all, this is first and foremost a game, and is supposed to be fun.

I personally began with more "closed" games. The first opening I attempted to learn was the French Defense. I quickly found myself embroiled in many games where I was hampered by a long pawn chain, with some of my pieces (most notably the Queen's Bishop) trapped. These games were frustrating, and not particularly enjoyable. So I discarded the French.

Next, I wandered over to the opposite end of the opening spectrum, and tried some daring gambits, the Vienna (for white) and the Scandinavian or Smith-Morra (for black) to be exact. These games were much more enjoyable, but I found that I was losing a lot, generally due to poor king protection due to a weak pawn structure.

So now, I am attempting a more hypermodern approach, using the English (1.c4) for white, and the Sicilian (which is just the English reversed) for black, with the Kings Indian Defense against 1.d4 and 1.c4. So far, I am quite happy with this selection, and am attempting to learn these openings in more depth.

So how should you, an even ranker beginner than I, go about building your repitoire? Well, I would offer the following pieces of advice.

First, don't neglect your tactics and endgame study to focus on openings. I have been told, and I agree, that a beginner should focus 60% on tactics, 30% on endgame, and 10% on opening. So keep that in mind.

Secondly, I would encourage you to experiment and try a variety of different things. I personally found my chess club very helpful, as I got to see a variety of openings, and was able to ask questions and recieve rudimentary instruction.

Third, I think you want to keep it as simple as possible. It makes no sense, in my opinion, to attempt to master a hypermodern flank attack for white, and a classical system for black. I tried to choose openings that were similiar, where the strategic concepts and theory would overlap to some degree.

Now, you will need an opening as white, and a response as black to e4 and d4, as well as probably c4.

I chose the English as white, and therefore thought it made sense to choose the Sicilian as my e4 response, as the two opening are simply mirror images of one another. I chose the KID as my d4 and c4 response, because it relies on the same flanking, counterattacking strategy as the other two.

So hopefully, I can learn these three openings somewhat in concert, and they will work well together. Furthermore, I am satisfied that all three openings are very sound, and will grow with me as a chess player. Now the real fun begins... mastering them.

Good luck to you as you explore and grow in this great game. I hope to see you OTB!

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