The quest for building an opening repertoire 1: white

The quest for building an opening repertoire 1: white

Nov 5, 2016, 3:09 AM |

I will dedicate this second blog post to the path it took to build my white pieces opening repertoire. A little background: i played 1.e4 (and very aggressively, i played the King's gambit and the open sicilian, for example) when i played competitive chess at a chess club (back when i was 17-19). Later, i tried some c4 stuff to cut down study time.

When i decided to start playing again, mainly on the internet, and more importantly just for fun, i chose to try out what i never thought about playing: 1.d4 and 2.c4. This is both to "start again" my chess education with something different, and to try to play positions which would probably suit better the (positional) style i think will be the best for me (for my "personal skills", stealing an expression from Moskalenko "How to revolutionize your chess"). I think a repertoire like Watson's "A strategic opening repertoire for white" would be ideal, when i will have fully developed a positionally-oriented style, with the needed knowledge in all game phases to be able to support it. But right now, Watson's repertoire has a couple of flaws for my taste:

  1. It doesen't offer many opportunities to punish week opponents for their mistakes in the opening phase. Just obtaining a small but stable positional advantage out of the opening is basically useless at my current strength (which i think is around 1400-1500 elo points, just as my old OTB rating of 1473).
  2. It doesn't allow me to try also some different styles of kinds of positions. This has the problems of making chess playing a little boring and, more importantly, limiting my learning opportunities and not allowing me to find my best playing style (which i can only guess what could be, but before playing many games again i won't ever know).
  3. It doesn't offer the opportunity to study in depth some main line. I won't lie, i like a lot to study openings, i know that it is not the most efficient way to get better at chess, but since i play chess for having fun and i enjoy a lot studying openings, it is a great way to reach my main chess-related goal.

I, therefore, started from Watson's recomendations, but changed a lot of them, mainly using Korneev last books on "A practical white repertoire with 1.d4 and 2.c4". I find those books not practical at all, and a bit too high level for me, but in some cases i wanted to try some main or close to main lines and they are a very good resource for that.


  • Queen's gambit declined: exchange variation with Nge2:
    [1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nc6 (3..Be7 4.cxd4 exd4 5.Bf4) 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e3 c6 6.Nge2]
    Sources: Cox "Starting out 1.d4", Williams DVD "Exchange on d5 in the Slav and Queen's gambit.
    This is the opening that made me both love a positional playing style and 1.d4. I like the planning involved, i think that there are many clear plans for white (f3-e4, minority attack, even 0-0-0 sometimes) and is less clear how to play with black. I think that, at my level, this is far more important than having any real theoretical advantage. I've based most of my opening choices, in particular with black, on this concept, which can't be measured by a computer, but i think will become more and more important in chess in the next years. I don't follow both Watson's and Korneev Nf3 line because i prefer to have also the opportunity to play directly in the center. I had really difficulties to grasp why the central control is so important and what i can do to progress once i win that, and playing this opening is helping me understanding more those issues in practice.

  • Queen's gambit accepted: 3.Nf3 and 7.Bd3:
    [1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 (4..Bg4) 5.Bxc4 c5 6.0-0 a6 7.Bd3]
    Source: Watson "A strategic chess opening repertoire for white".
    I choose 3.Nf3 to avoid the most tactical lines (3.e4 and 3.e3 e5), like i try to do in most openings. This allows 4..Bg4 lines, which, however, are just normal, playable, strategic positions which i like. In the main line i'll play 7.Bd3, as suggested by Watson. It is not a main line (7.Bb3 and 7.a4 are more pupular), and it allows me to play typical IQP positions, which i don't understant very well right now, therefore i think it will be important for my chess education to try them out sometimes. Initially i wanted to play 7.dxc5, going for an endgame (as played ofted by Carlsen and Kramnik, so not exactly a bad line), like suggested in Korneev's book. But i think that the resulting positions are too subtle for my current technical understanding (close to none), and it's better right now for me to play a strategically interesting middlegame, with simpler positions. Plus, black can always avoid it if he wants, getting positions similar to the Watson's main line with simple move-order tricks.

  • Slav: exchange variation with 5.f3!?
    [1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.f3]
    Source: Williams DVD
    All the lines against the Slav and Semi-Slav looked too theoretical to me. I'd love to be able sometimes in the future to study them appropriately, but right now i have neither the time nor the chess understanding to do so. The exchange variations sounded like a good alternative. I took Williams' DVD, and i found the little gem 4.f3. Sure, with good play black can equalize easily, but it is exactly the kind of opening i needed to try to "score some quick win against weeker opponents" and to practice some tactical-attacking play in a quite open position. Once i'll get better this will be probably the first line i'll change, at least for the regular Slav exchange.

  • Nimzo indian: 4.e3 with 5.Nge2 in most cases:
    [1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 * 5.Nge2 ]
    Sources: both Korneev volume 3 and Watson, plus Dunnington's slightly older "The Nimzo-Indian Rubinstein: The Ever Popular Main Lines with 4 E3".

    Playing the QGD exchange with Nge2 forces you to allow also the Nimzo. Probably one of the best of all balck openings, theoretically. I looked a bit at 4.Qc2, but it seemed too theoretical, and the resulting positions evaluation to change too quickly from time to time. I also wanted to avoid as much as possible having doubled paws, because i think they lead to positions too unbalanced and complicated for me (and i don't like them esthetically!). This made me exclude some interesting minor lines such as 4.f3. So, at the end, i decided to follow the advice of most "repertoire" books, choosing the Nge2 Rubinstein. I like the fact that it allows to play a wide range of important pawn structures (like playing with and against an IQP), it's relatively not much theoretical, and leads to strategic positions. This is one of the variations i am less sure about, but i must really try it out a lot in practice, before thinking about changing my mind on it.

  • King's indian: four pawns attack 5.f4
    (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d6 4.e4 Bg7 5.f4)
    Moskalenko's "How to revolutionize your chess", Semkov's "Kill K.I.D."
    This is the last line I added to my repertoire, and i know relatively little about it. What to play against the King's indian is a very important choice at my level, because it is probably the most frequent answer to 1.d4. My goal was to coordinate this line with the variation i'll play against the Benoni and/or the Grunfeld. Watson does a great job about it (5.h3 with Be3 or Bg5 against the KID, exchange with Bg5 against the grunfeld, the modern main line with 7.h3 followed by Bd3 and Bg5 against the Benoni), but i found this choice a perfect example of "not allowing me to obtain a big advantage against opponents who are week in the opening phase". I could probably try out his repertoire when i'll be stronger. The four pawns attack will allow me to play also some uncompromising chess, and to appreciate and learn to use the space advantage. I choose first to adopt it against the Benoni, where it is the "old main line" (Taimanov), and then this choice against the KID became natural. Another interesting variation i wanted to try is 3.f3, which "prevents" the usual grunfeld, and allows for a better Saemisch, being able to play Nge2-c3, like done by Anand against Gelfand in their World Championship match, but i couldn't find any source with easy but extended explanations on it (only a video by Akobian in the Saint Louis Chess Club Youtube channel).

  • Benoni: four pawns attack (Taimanov variation) with 9.Nf3
    (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.f4 Bg7 8.Bb5+ Nfd7 9.Nf3)
    Sources: Korneev volume 3 and Moskalenko
    This was a very theoretical main line in Kasparov's days. Now is a bit out of fashion, which is of course a good thing for me. It allows to get an easy advantage if the opponent doesn't know some theory (8..Bd7 or 8..Nbd7 for example), even if it requires also me knowing quite a bit. 9.Nf3 is proposed by Korneev as an alternative way to avoid the main line 9.a4 which has a huge ammont of theory and high level games played in it.

  • Benko gambit: accepted with 7.e4 and 12.a4 (if we get there)
    (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6 g6 6.Nc5 Bxa6 7.e4)
    Source: Koreev vol. 3
    Not accepting a gambit is out of my filosofy. Both Benko lines with g3 or with e4 looked nice to me, but the former looked a bit too compliceted, while the latter, with a4 at some point, seems to pose problems for black to solve, before anything else can happen. This is exactly what i want from an opening. Obviously, it is a quite theoretical line, and its evaluation could potentially change in the next years, but its something you have to accepts when accepting a gambit and trying to play the best line against it.

  • Grunfeld: exchange variation with 7.Bg5
    (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg6 7.Bg5)
    Source: Watson
    In high level chess, the Grunfeld is probably the main problem of players opening with 1.d4. On the other hand, i've never encoutered it a single time in my rapid games on chess websites. I chose a variation which is not a main line, but leads to positions which are similar to the popular 7.Be3 (or 7.Nf3 and 8.Be3), while not allowing black for many sidelines and deviations in the first moves. In this way i can have a feel of the main Grunfeld positions, and eventually be able to switch to a main line easily, when i will start to meed this opening a lot more (which i think will be in a long time from now, when my rating will come close to 2000, if it ever will).

  • Dutch defence: main lines with g3, looking for move-order tricks
    This is more of a general plan than a precise repertoire. I play the dutch with black. So i'll try to use my general knowledge of main line positions to play it also with white, without wasting time on studying some anti-dutch system, as proposed in most repertoire books. In the Dutch there are many move-order subtelties, for example for avoiding lines with h4-h5 in the leningrad, or having a better version of lines with Nh3 in the Stonewall. I will try to use them to my advantage with white, when i'll get the opportunity.

I have not looked yet at less popular lines (like the Chigorin, or various gambits like the Budapest). I will play sensible moves and then look at the relevant theory, if i get them in a game, in the post-mortem. 

 Finally, the most important thing: i have promised to myself to play at least 20 standard games in each of these variations, before thinking about changing it. I will stick to my choices, even if the first games in them will go badly, and keep track of my results in each line. Only after 20 games in the line, i will review them, and decide if go on with it or change. It is very important to get a feeling for the positions in the variations i choose, and to know them better than my opponent, for having played in them more times. Therefore, i put this rule to myself, in order to slow down my love for studying openings and trying out new things every time.