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A New Approach To Your Openings (Used By Gukesh)
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A New Approach To Your Openings (Used By Gukesh)

Illingworth
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Introduction

Like many of you, I was once a 'theory hound', delving into all the opening books and theories with fervour...

However, after my tournament days, I discovered a different path that significantly impacted my results...

So I always feel sad when someone excitedly talks to me about drilling all 1200 variations of their Chessable course or finally getting through their opening book after a month of intense reading.


 

That's not because of the resources themselves (which can be great for improving our understanding) but because I used to be that person, not knowing any better what would make the greatest difference to my results.

My Big Shift

My journey took a turn when I transitioned from a chess theoretician to a practician, and the results were remarkable...

I remember very little opening theory nowadays, but I still find good moves afterwards because I played through the model games in the positions.


 

I can't play through the model games for you - the post would quickly turn into a book - but I can show you the 'minimum' knowledge to get you started with the White pieces.

Introducing The King's Indian Attack

Our example for this post will be the King's Indian Attack, with 1.Nf3 followed by 2.g3. This is the opening Gukesh mostly played until he became a Grandmaster, which I picked for its more systematic and flexible nature. (Bonus benefit: You can apply several of these ideas with Black if you play the King's Indian - I added a few moves in the board below, in case you need the explicit connection).


 

And here's how to deal with the main Black setups...

Reversed Torre

1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 c6 4.0-0 Bg4 is the main line, but we can flick in 5.h3 Bh5 before 6.c4 e6 7.d4 to reach a slightly improved g3 Slav, as we'll be able to win the bishop pair with Nc3, Ne5 and g4. (There are also subtleties with cxd5 and Qb3-e3+, in case Black tries to stop this with 7...Nbd7).

I go a little deeper in the game below: 


 Reversed London

1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 c6 4.0-0 Bf5 is less effective, as we can play 5.c4 e6 6.cxd5 exd5 7.d3 followed by Nc3, Nd4 and e4 to leverage our central majority.

See the board below for more details. 


 QGD/French style

1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 e6 4.0-0 Be7 gives us a few options. My recent preference is a creative 5.d3 0-0 6.Bf4!? with ideas of e4 and meeting ...c5/...Nc6 with Ne5 for hypermodern play.

Here's a few more details in the game below:



Catalan players can transpose to their pet opening (while avoiding the ...Bb4 and ...dxc4 lines) with 5.c4 0-0 6.d4, while the Double Fianchetto with 6.b3 leads to interesting strategic play (with an early cxd5 being the recent trend, to avoid a Reversed Benoni with ...d4).

I added a few more details in the game below:


Reversed Grunfeld

1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 c5 3.Bg2 Nc6 is a typical response at the club level, trying to take the centre with ...e5. But we play a Grunfeld with an extra tempo: 4.d4! After 4...Nf6 5.0-0 e6 6.c4 dxc4, we transpose to the 5...c5 Open Catalan. (If they keep the tension, we play cxd5 and transpose to a good Tarrasch or Semi-Tarrasch, where Black's best options were avoided).

You can find a few more details in the game below:


 The Modern Main Line

1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 g6 is the most popular system at the 2600+ level, with the point that 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.0-0 e5 5.d3 Ne7 (or 5...Nc6) gives Black a decent reversed Fianchetto Pirc.

I go a little deeper in the game below: 


We can either play into this or avoid it with 4.d4 Nf6, transposing to the Fianchetto Grunfeld. However, this requires our opponent to have a 1.d4 d5 system (in case of 1.Nf3 d5 2.d4) and the Fianchetto Grunfeld in their Black repertoire.

I share the main options (and a couple of creative ones) in the game below: 

King's Indian/Grunfeld Setup

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 g6 can be met in various ways (including transposing to the Fianchetto KID with a later d4), but the best-scoring one in practice is 3.b3 Bg7 4.Bb2, the Double Fianchetto.

After 4...0-0 5.Bg2, we meet 5...d6 with 6.d4 (stopping ...e5), 5...d5 with 6.c4, and 5...c5 with 6.c4, not allowing Black to get the dynamic positions he desires when playing the KID or Grunfeld.

I added a few more details in the game below: 

Queen's Indian

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 b6 is a likely choice of Queen's Indian players. (2...b5 is a more ambitious version of the Queenside fianchetto, but mostly seen at Master play). After 3.Bg2 Bb7 4.0-0 e6 5.c4 Be7, we can already transpose to the g3 QID with 6.d4, having avoided the various alternatives like 5...Bb4, 4...Ba6 and 4...Bb4.

I put these move order points in the game below: 


 
But we can also play independently with 6.Nc3 0-0 7.Re1, preparing e4 and avoiding some more Black alternatives in the process. (Note that 4...g6 is also possible, but we can claim a slight edge with d4-d5, for instance).

More details in the game below: 


 Symmetrical English

Symmetrical English: 1.Nf3 c5 is annoying if you play KIA as a system opening since 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.0-0 Nc6 5.d3 and e4 transposes to a lame Sicilian.

Therefore, I suggest playing 2.c4 and learning how to play the Symmetrical English as White. We can still play g3 setups, but with the advantage of dodging ...g6 setups, as 2... Nc6 3. Nc3 g6 4. e3 (followed by d4) and 2... g6 3. e4 Bg7 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 (Maroczy Bind) both give White a small edge.

I added some of the key points below: 


Offshoots

Against most alternatives, we'll transpose to more mainstream openings that favour White. 1.Nf3 g6 can be met with 2.e4 Bg7 3.d4 d6 4.Bc4 followed by Qe2 and 0-0/e5, a favourite system of Carlsen and Nakamura that I've also played successfully.

Here are a few more details:


The Dutch with 1.Nf3 f5 can be met with 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2, when 3...g6 4.b4 is a very effective double fianchetto for White, but 3...e6 4.0-0 d5 is an inferior Stonewall, due to 5.c4 and ideas of d3/Nc3/e4 (or even simply cxd5 with a much improved Carlsbad, as our pawn on d3 kills ...Ne4).

Here are some ideas that have worked well for me: 



1...d6 2.d4 avoids their ...e5 plans, and 1...Nc6 2.d4 d5 3.c4 forces them into the Chigorin, another inferior opening.

I added a few other details for more advanced players wondering about tricky Black move orders: 


This was a long post, so well done for getting to the end!

What do you think about this 'MVP' approach to openings?

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