Follow-Up: How Deep Does the Black Hole of Opening Study Go?

Follow-Up: How Deep Does the Black Hole of Opening Study Go?

Sep 10, 2017, 6:42 AM |

I don’t really know.  Of what I wished to accomplish over 3 weeks away, I did only about 8%, though I spent way more than 100 hours –and as much as 190 hours, but I really lost count with continuous minor distractions.


The questions become: what did I accomplish?  What did I not accomplish?  I accomplished a systematic study of 5 variations within 3 openings.  I also did cursory study of a few other piece setups in various openings, but this was more to get playable games.  Finally, I studied two additional variations so deeply that I don’t think too many Master level players will be able to follow me down the rabbit hole successfully.  What I didn’t accomplish was any real study in three of the major openings I play all the time, and I didn’t figure out how to get playable piece setups or playable variations on the prominent, though less-played openings I face.


What’s really shocked me in this process is how on top of things one can be with their opening study, and how much time it can eat.  I have a tremendous lack of respect for most American A-Class players because they are so booked up, and yet are so objectively bad at the rest of the game.  I think this experience has caused me to feel a deeper lack of respect for those players, because it effectively means that, especially in regard to the old-timers, they spend all or most of their chess time on openings.  I get very annoyed at the older players, rated 1990-ish, who want to talking to me about the Nimzo-whatever in the Blumen-yada-yada, and I couldn’t even tell you what the hell they are talking about.  They know all this stuff, and yet can’t play chess.  Well, it’s clear that I can’t muscle my way through their grandmaster moves all the time, so the effort to continue to book up will continue,; and I believe small improvements in the opening will yield big results.


So… I don’t know what is at the bottom of the black hole of openings, considering time seemed to be so warped at the event horizon that I hardly made it in, at all.  However, there are some major takeaways here.  The first is the biggest, and it is the piece of advice I will lend to all up-and-comers, and that is the answer to the question: should I bother with openings before I hit 2000?


Since I was told, back when I started playing how the pieces move (back in November of 2007), that I should not study openings until I hit 2000, I didn’t.  I had fine progress, regardless.  The problem with the advice is that I’m now pushing 2000, and it is a lot harder for me to catch up on all sorts of basic things I should know, let alone the deeper, more serious knowledge I need to acquire.  I don’t know where to put my pieces in many openings, let along learn some variations, have a feel for playing the types of games out of the tabiyas, and I’m oblivious to basic tactical motifs that appear and traps.  Let’s not even talk about theory, structures, and common endings.  Therefore, I think the advice is good for most adults starting to play at the sub-1000 to 1300 level.  However, if you are a brash fellow who will attempt to break the 2000 barrier, you need to do little bits of research as you go.  However, this should still be an underwhelming percentage of your training time.  Just don’t let it be zero, the way that I have over four years of training.  (For those who don’t know me, there’s a gap in my OTB play, because I suffered migraines for many years, any time I would stare or train my focus on fixed points for periods, forcing me to do no chess for some years, and making grad school very difficult.)


Another takeaway is that I’m not fixing all of my opening problems by running off to a cave and focusing, unless I’m going to do that for the better part of a year.  I’ll have to allow myself a steady diet of opening training.  That means working my way through the pages of opening books daily/weekly, research the database for common opening moves as I play OTB and online games, keeping up on top level play, and looking heavily at the classics for openings’ sake.  I’ve also been using a method shared with me by chess trainer Andre Uibos (chess dot com handle: IroZobel,, which is to look up the games from which tactics in ChessTempo originate, and then pay special attention to how the tactic arises if the opening is one in my repertoire.  I have a few other tricks to the trade of opening study, but that’s a really good one lent to me.


Finally, since there are so many minor openings or variations that I need to know and would like to have either somewhat more superficial knowledge of, or a deep ultra-specific study of one specific line, I’m hiring two strong players as seconds to help me with prep.  Both are FIDE 2000+ strength, and are good analysts who are themselves improving in the area of openings; so it is mutually beneficial to hire them as seconds, since I simply don’t have time to wander about collecting ideas and doing research on something other than my primary openings.  Time is horribly inelastic commodity.



How much do I expect all of this to help?  Well, with that 8%, I was able to get a crushing position out of the opening this last weekend, and the weekend before saw me use one of these “playable positions” (i.e., not deeply studied) to devastating effect.  At the club I play in, I’m convinced that my opponents took care to prep for me, because I went something like 2/11, plummeting from 1922 to 1792, mostly being lost in the opening.  I’ve already rebounded with a few of these quick kills, jumping back up to 1843; and I would probably be back up to 1890, were it not for rust in this last weekend’s shorter time control –a very minor problem.  Peaks in so many of my metrics, statistical correlations I see in many of those numbers with effects on OTB results, and projections of out comes in previous USCF statistics suggest that my rating should be between 2020 and 2080; and that the number I could be looking at before the year’s end is 2120-2180 if I fix my opening issues.  With the way that improvement works in these bizarre precipitous leaps, who knows what will actually happen.