Another method to reach 2000 USCF, Part 3: Openings for Black
In this part, I will discuss choosing openings for Black. This is much more straightforward than figuring out what to do as White.
There are "many roads to Rome," as it were. The main question you need to ask yourself is: are you more interested in winning as many games as possible, or in losing as few games as possible?
Many of my colleagues think asking this question is somewhat heretical, i.e. the whole "You need to lose 10,000 games to get good" (Karpov) thing. In an absolute sense, yeah, if you want to aim for 2700 level, I would imagine you just need to take your lumps and experience the good, the bad, and the ugly. I don't know for sure, because I don't train aspiring super GMs. I DO work with players from 0 to 2000, however, and I can tell you that quite a lot of people get demoralized by tons of losses.
This consideration is very real, and should not be ignored.
(A) You don't mind getting your head bitten off on occasion, and want to play for the win always (or nearly always).
In this case, you should choose from the following:
1. Very combative lines of the Sicilian (duh) like the Najdorf, Dragon [the real Dragon, not the stupid Accelerated Dragon], Sveshnikov, or possibly the Scheveningen.
2. Defending with 1...e5 (which implies the Ruy Lopez). Here I would recommend the Marshall Attack, the Open Variation, or the Tkachiev Variation (Archangel). Also possible is the Jaenisch Gambit (Schliemann Attack) with 3...f5.
3. Violent lines of the French Defense: the Winawer against 3.Nc3 (or the Classical against 3.Nc3, which I played up to ~1900, as it can be very dynamic), the Burn Variation (3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 dxe4). Against the Tarrasch (3.Nd2) you have a variety of choices. By the way, the Exchange Variation doesn't have to be nearly as drawish as people would have you believe...
4. The Pirc/Modern. Slithery as hell! I've been playing chess for about 20 years, and this opening still bewilders me... The main problem is that White has A LOT of valid approaches against this. I wouldn't advise this as your full-time defense unless you are very talented (and I know a few players who fit this description, and they carve people up with 1...d6).
5. Scandinavian Defense with 2...Nf6. Risky! But playable at 2000 level. You can play either the Scandinavian Gambit (3.c4 c6) or Icelandic Gambit (3.c4 e6), and the Portuguese Variation (3.d4 Bg4!?). The latter is supposed to be unsound, but we're not facing GMs or playing ICCF...
(B) Losing sucks. Moreover, it hurts!
1. The Sicilian is still an option here! I cannot recommend the Dragon for such players, but believe it or not the Najdorf is an option if you know your stuff (because there is such a wide range of lines to choose). If your prep is airtight, you can also play the Sveshnikov. I'd also add the Classical Sicilian. I've always believed that e6-Sicilians like the Kan/Paulsen/Taimanov should be employed by 2200+, but a lot of people disagree with me.
2. The Caro-Kann. Memorize all the lines and you will virtually never lose if you don't want to--an approach many GMs employ by the way.
3. The French. Here I would primarily recommend the Rubinstein (3.Nc3/3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7) and/or Fort Knox (3...dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7) Variations. It's boring and passive, but I reached 1800 with the Fort Knox as my main weapon against 1.e4 (I also used the Classical Variation sometimes). I have memories of lots of dour defending at the Manhattan Chess Club in the late 1990s...
4. The Scandinavian with 2...Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5. This isn't very popular, because most chessplayers don't like to sit back and wait, but lots of points can be harvested with patience.
5. The Petroff. Very solid.
(A) Play for the win repertoire
1. King's Indian Defense. Virtually transposition proof: it can be played against all the closed openings. Knowledge is definitely power here, although I believe a good store of talent is also required to play it well. Keep that in mind.
2. Grunfeld Defense. Study hard! Knowledge is even more important here than in the KID, I think.
3. Dutch Defense. If you must...
4. Semi-Slav Defense. Tons of study required, but it will be rewarded.
5. Modern Benoni. Risky! For the talented only.
(B) Play to not lose repertoire.
1. Queen's Gambit Declined. Ol' reliable. just be sure you're prepared to face the Exchange Variation, which seems to be ubiquitous these days.
2. Slav Defense. Very solid.
3. Nimzo-Indian Defense. Arguably the most sound defense to 1.d4, and with good reason. Alongside this you will need to add something else when White avoids the Nimzo (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 instead of 3.Nc3), for example the Queen's Indian, Bogo-Indian, or 3...d5.
4. Benko Gambit. A phenomenal opening for reaching 2000, but I'd be wary of trying to go too much further than that with it. This "gambit" is mostly positional and annoying to play against.
I'm sure there are others I have left out. Have thoughts? Post them in the comments below!