Study Plan For Advanced Players: The Opening!

Study Plan For Advanced Players: The Opening!‎

15 | Opening Theory

Target Skill Range: Advanced (Rated 1800-1999)

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


  1. Expand your Knowledge of Common Structures and Plans
  2. Learn About Creating an Opening Repertoire
  3. Start a Black Repertoire versus 1.e4
  4. Start a Black Repertoire versus 1.d4
  5. Start a White Repertoire with 1.e4 or 1.d4
  6. Test your Opening Understanding
  7. Gain Practical Experience with your Openings
  8. Analyze Your Games

Advanced players should begin to see the strategic link between the opening and middlegame and learn how top players always choose their openings. You should intend to reach a specific "type" of middlegame.

Advanced players should also begin to take a systematic approach to learning openings, choosing and studying the different variations possible in their chosen opening. 

 1. Expand your Knowledge of Common Structures and Plans

As was introduced in the Intermediate Study Plan in task four, opening understanding is not just "memorizing lines" but having knowledge of typical middlegame motifs, both strategic and tactical. 

Read the following articles and notice the authors' focus on the common plans and thematic ideas in each opening:

Next, watch IM Danny Rensch's comprehensive series on the most important themes in the following structures. If you watched any of these videos as part of the Intermediate Strategy Plan, feel free to skip them here

2. Learn About Creating An Opening Repertoire

In the Intermediate Study Plan task two, you were introduced to the idea of consistency, meaning choosing between 1.e4 or 1.d4 and sticking to it in all of your games. Now it is time for you to learn about developing a fully fledged opening repertoire, where you have your base openings down and know how you're going to respond to all of your opponent's possible opening choices.



3. Start a Black Repertoire versus 1.e4

Now that you've learned about creating an opening repertoire, it's time to start developing one that suits your own style/taste as a chess player. Against 1.e4, there are a number of good main-line defenses to respond with. It is now up to you to pick one and utilize it consistently in your practice.

Watch one of the following series:

The French Defense by WGM Tatev Abrahamyan

The Sicilian Defense, Najdorf Variation by GM Sam Shankland

The Caro-Kann Defense by GM Sam Shankland

4. Start a black repertoire versus 1.d4.

You'll also need a main line defense against 1.d4. Here we'd suggest choosing between the King's Indian Defense and the Nimzo-Indian Defense.

Watch one of the following sets of videos:

The King's Indian Defense by GM Rashad Babaev and GM Eugene Perelshteyn

First, watch Babaev's coverage of the main strategic and tactical elements in the different variations of the King's Indian Defense.

Next, learn the critical opening theory move-by-move from GM Eugene Perelshteyn, who also focuses his coverage around the thematic ideas and plans of this opening:

The Nimzo-Indian Defense by GM Roman Dzindzichashvili

Next, check out this in-depth coverage of the Classical Variation (4.Qc2) by IM Mark Ginsburg:

And, since the Nimzo-Indian occurs after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4, you'll need a second option in case White plays 3.Nf3 or 3.g3. First, watch GM Dzindzichashvili's coverage of the Bogo-Indian Defense:

Plus, as a second option, learn about the Blumenfeld Gambit from GM Mackenzie Molner:

You should now have a solid option with Black against both 1.e4 and 1.d4!

5. Start a White Repertoire with 1.e4 or 1.d4

Now that you've got your black repertoire laid out, it's time to focus on your white repertoire. As White, we'd recommend you stick to either 1.e4 or 1.d4 as your main choice. You can learn the Reti (1.Nf3) or English (1.c4) later on, but it is better to start with a foundation of 1.e4/d4 before switching to a different opening choice with White.

Choose between one of the following repertoires:

1.e4 Repertoire

After 1.e4, you'll need to learn at least one variation to play against each of Black's major defenses, including the Double King Pawn, Sicilian, French, and Caro-Kann. You'll also need a weapon to face Black's secondary options: the Scandinavian, Pirc, and Alekhine's defenses. For each opening, we've provided a number of different videos/articles covering different options. Choose the one that you feel best suits your own style.

Double King Pawn: Here we'd recommend you learn all about the tried and true classic, the Ruy Lopez!


You should also learn about Black's other options after 1.e4 e5, the Philidor and Petroff defenses:


Sicilian Defense

Against the Sicilian, White's most ambitious choice is the Open Sicilian. Or, for a simpler option, check out the Alapin Variation (2.c3) below:

Open Sicilian: Watch:


Or, for the Alapin Variation (aka 2.c3 Sicilian), watch:


French Defense 



Caro-Kann Defense



Secondary Options: The Scandinavian, Pirc, Alekhine, and Modern Defenses:



1.d4 Repertoire

If you choose 1.d4 you'll need to learn one line against each major response to 1.d4. This includes the Queen's Gambit Declined, Queen's Gambit Accepted, Slav, Semi-Slav, Nimzo-Indian, King's Indian, Grunfeld, and Benoni defenses, as well as Black's secondary options.

Queen's Gambit



Slav Defense



Typical Positions Part 3 by WIM Iryna Zenyuk
The Slav by GM Magesh Panchanathan and GM Arun Prasad

Nimzo-Indian Defense



Typical Positions Part 5 by WIM Iryna Zenyuk

King’s Indian Defense



Karpov vs. Kasparov: King's Indian Defense by GM Bryan Smith

Grünfeld Defense



Benoni Defense



Secondary Options



6. Test Your Opening Understanding.

Now that you've learned the theory and main ideas behind each of your openings, you'll need practice finding the right plan once you reach the middlegame. Work through the following course by IM Jeremy Silman, as he tests you on a number of different thematic middlegames, asking you to find the best and most natural plan in each one. Complete each lesson and if you can score at least 70%, you will have made great progress.
Now What?
 by IM Jeremy Silman

7. Gain Practical Experience With Your Openings.

As soon as your repertoire starts to take shape, you should try out your new opening knowledge in real games.

Play two games (alternating colors) with a time control of G/15 or longer at least four days per week (total eight games per week).

After each game, ask the following questions and keep written track of your answers (this will help you with Task #8):

  • On what move was I "out of book"? (meaning after which move were you no longer aware of specific opening theory and started to think on your own).
  • With Black, was I able to complete my development and create counterplay?
  • With White, could I lay claim to having some kind of advantage from the opening (piece development, space, pawn structure, etc.)?
  • After the opening was over, did I feel comfortable with my position and have a general idea of what to do in the middlegame?
  • For each mistake that you made in the opening, was it a tactical mistake or a strategic one? (i.e. blundering a pawn vs developing a piece to a bad square)

Keeping written track of all your answers, this will make the following task much easier:

8. Analyze Your Games

Review the opening of each game you played to see where you could have improved. There are several different methods for doing this, we'd recommend trying all of the following:

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