Another method to reach 2000 USCF, Part 2: Openings for White
Let's get into more detail about my method.
Know your openings thoroughly!
Surprise! Openings are important at all levels. Well, unless you happen to be more talented than your opponent. But I’m assuming that some of my readers are not talented.
Highly recommended: ChessBase (with MegaBase database). It’s $200+, but the very best product for your chess studies you could ever buy, and probably worth its weight in gold for a chess player. If you’re on a budget, online databases like chessgames.com can be a passable substitute.
Openings for White
In my opinion, choosing a white repertoire is much more difficult than choosing one for black. This is because with Black you can prepare a few lines to play against anything if you really want to. With White, you need to be ready for all kinds of stuff, no matter what you open with.
We’re going to aim at simple play, but that doesn’t necessarily mean choosing “simple” openings. For example, I would hesitate to recommend a Queen Pawn Game-only repertoire (Colle, London, Torre, Stonewall, etc.) because you may encounter enough resistance at the higher levels of your goal (say, 1800+) to make it difficult to win. However, if you are very patient and willing to grind, go for it.
Something like the King’s Indian Attack would be a better way to go, if you want to play a “system” opening. That’s because there are a greater variety of pawn structures (and therefore, plans and methods of play). Learn the KIA well, and I would imagine there are lots of points to be had by simply waiting for mistakes. Oh yeah, and don’t be one of those players that adopt the same KIA kingside attacking plan in every game! Diversify and profit!
Now let’s discuss main lines.
(A) If you have a lot of time on your hands, are willing to study hard, and have a good memory, just play the mainlines against everything: Ruy Lopez (or Scotch); Open Sicilians; 3.Nc3 vs. the French; the Advance, Panov, or Main Line against the Caro-Kann; and against the Pirc/Modern/Scandinavian/Alekhine just go for a space advantage or a kingside attack. Find and play over plenty of games in your chosen lines and just copy the methods of players rated 2400+.
(B) Here’s an approach I don’t see advocated very often: you can try playing an IQP repertoire. For those not familiar with this, IQP stands for Isolated Queen Pawn, a type of position where one player has a d-pawn (the queen pawn, because it starts the game in front of the queen), but no c- or e-pawn.
I don’t see a good way to get this against 1.e4 e5, but you can get it against the Sicilian [1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4, when Black usually will play …cxd4 at some point, which you answer with cxd4; or 2…Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.d4 cxd4 5.cxd4 and eventually exd6 when Black plays …d6], French [1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.c4], and Caro-Kann [1.e4 c6 2.c4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.cxd5, etc.].
It’s a very practical repertoire. Just buy and devour Winning Pawn Structures by GM Alex Baburin, and again, play through lots and lots of games in a database.
(C) “Trade something” repertoire.
Exchange Ruy Lopez, 3.Bb5 vs. Sicilian, Exchange French, Exchange Caro-Kann. Strong players will frown upon this, but such a repertoire reduces your chances of messing up really badly if you happen to be thick-headed like me. I’ll just call it what it is. The “2” in front of your four-digit rating doesn’t carry an asterisk.
(D) Learn a repertoire from a book.
Pick an opening repertoire that appeals to you from a book (or DVD, etc.) and learn it. Learn = play through lots of games (to see typical methods of play to emulate) and memorize main variations. How to identify a “main” variation? It’s usually in boldface and/or big letters.
(A) Main lines against everything.
This mirrors the approach with 1.e4. Play the Queen’s Gambit (Exchange, Bf4 or Bg5 lines) against 1…d5 2.c4 e6; pick a mainline against the Slav or Semi-Slav (there are tons of them); pick strong lines against the King’s Indian (Classical, Saemisch, Fianchetto) and Grunfeld (one of the many varieties of the Exchange, Russian 4.Nf3/5.Qb3, Fianchetto); 3.Nc3 or 3.Nf3 against 1…Nf6 2.c4 e6, etc.
(B) Queen Pawn Games
I mentioned this above. Basically, choose one or a combination of the London, Colle, Stonewall, Torre, etc. I would be skeptical of the Colle or Stonewall once you get closer to 2000 if you play opponents who know it’s coming, but that’s just me.
(C) Kingside Fianchetto
Catalan against the Queen’s Gambit/Nimzo-Indian; Fianchetto Variation against the King’s Indian and Grunfeld; some kind of fianchetto against other lines like Slavs and Benonis.
This is a really sophisticated way to play, but if you take to it, you will be richly rewarded, as such a repertoire is bulletproof, and your opponents will labor to equalize even if they know it’s coming.
(D) “Trade something,” 1.d4 version
Exchange Queen’s Gambit Declined, Exchange Slav, Exchange King’s Indian, Exchange Grunfeld (but you better know your stuff to play this one!), straightforward lines against the Nimzo or Queen’s Indian/Bogo-Indian. Definitely for those who play chess solely to win, and not for fun or excitement.
(E) Learn a repertoire from a book
This is most often used to get various forms of 1.d4 openings that a player likes without allowing others. I won’t go into detail here, except to say that your transpositions need to be well thought-out. A worthy approach, if you have broad knowledge about the closed games.
Like 1.Nf3, 1.c4 can be used to enter certain closed openings and avoid others. However, it seems to me that there is much more scope for independent play--aiming for pure English setups, like the English Four Knights, or the Symmetrical Variation, or the Hedgehog, among others).
My stance on this is that if you take to playing “English” systems (how to find out: experiment in online blitz to see if you have some feel for the positions), you can REALLY do very well with it, because players rated 2000 and below (your main opponents) rarely have spent serious time developing a repertoire against the English.
I also advise, if you are like me and not talented…stay away! Many of the worst losses of my career came from trying to play the English and having a resignable position by move 20 (or move 15). The less talented a player is, the less scope for “cuteness”: keep it simple (and well-prepared).
In Part 3 I will discuss choosing an opening repertoire for Black.
Thoughts? Questions? Please comment below!