Winning with Black - do you need more than one opening?

This may not be an issue for all players - if your main opening is already something combative (like a Modern, Alekhine or Sicilian Najdorf) then you can probably play it against everyone. You may even have the opposite problem - that of needing a more solid opening against higher rated opposition!

I, on the other hand, play the French - and a lot of the time I play quite solid lines. This is great against players my own strength or stronger but I have been drawing too many games lately as Black vs lower-rated players.

A few weeks ago I played in the Hastings Masters and I failed to win a single game as Black, despite mostly playing players 200 points or so lower rated than myself. I came close to winning one game before blundering but even there I'd been a little worse from the end of the opening.

Against 1.d4 I don't find this to be so much of a problem - I already play the Leningrad Dutch and this seems to work reasonably well - in fact I may need something more solid against stronger players! Laughing

The problem with the French is that there are a lot of 'boring lines' - especially the exchange and variations thereof. Take this recent game for example, played in a local league. My opponent is about 2000 strength but he comes very, very close to getting the draw - probably the only thing that gets me a win in the end is his lack of time...

An interesting endgame at the end but I hope you understand the point I'm making.

With this problem in mind I've been looking a little at the Sicilian recently. I'm experimenting with a few different lines but mostly with the aim to get more interesting and unclear middlegames. I've tried it out a couple of times and here is my most recent game, from just a couple of days ago. My opponent is somewhat stronger than in the previous game (over 2200) but I get the kind of position I'm after.

Obviously with only two games this tells a very one-sided story but I think most people would agree that the Sicilian is somewhat more attacking than the French. Of course there are still some "boring" sidelines, like the Alapin (2.c3) but there are still ways of reaching an interesting middlegame (perhaps trying 2...g6).

Anyway, I'm playing a weekend congress in a few days time and at the time of writing I'm top seed so I'm guaranteed at least a couple of games as Black vs lower rated opposition. Of course it will depend a little what they play vs the French and Sicilian so I can't guarantee I won't stick to the French.

Still, there are lots of good reasons to at least learn a 2nd opening: it makes you harder to prepare against, it leads to different middlegames than the ones you're used to (which helps improve your overall understanding) and also it can help keep you interested in chess rather than just playing the same thing over and over!

I'll let you know how I get on. Let me know in the comments if you also play different openings against players of different strengths!


  • 21 months ago



  • 4 years ago


    I didn't read the whole thing (too close to midnight here), but I read the beginning, and I have to ask:  Aren't you supposed to play more combatively against higher-rated opponents?  My experience, both in chess and in other competitive games such as tennis, that when you're playing weaker opposition, you want to play it safe and wait for them to make mistakes, while if you're playing against stronger opposition, you need to go all out to avoid losing.  Perhaps it's different in master-level chess, however, since there are so many draws (at my level, every draw is a "combative draw", i.e. a stalemate or forced repetition by the losing player, or an insufficient-material draw).

  • 4 years ago


    @seth-arthur: that's the en passant move, try googling it.

  • 4 years ago


    on the second game he killed a pawn on move 21. exf6 and the pawn wasn't even there????

  • 4 years ago


    Tks 4 your advice IM. After 6 months of research I decided yesterday to attach to the Symetrical English. Have similar patterns than the Sicilian and I also play the Benko so I would rather have my pawn on c5 than e5 or f5, in your own words, the "type of position I like" and I'm more familiar with. 

    My OTB opponents are usually in the 1700-2000 range. When I try to prepare something I go to the DB and what I find normally is games they played against higher rated players (1st. rounds of swiss format) and I analyze some of them. The trend is almost always the same:

    - The lower holds the opening until move 15/20

    - Then he plays some dubious positional move and gets squeezed

    - Finally he dies tactified

    The sicilian is a good option IMHO

  • 4 years ago


    Well,I am a French Defense person,but I can understand that you need a sharper defense against lower rated players!

  • 4 years ago

    IM Trendle

    @Michael - I think when you're learning the game and improving it is good to stick to one opening and really learn that. At the moment you're having great results with the French so keep at it!

    @diogens - hmm, tough one - perhaps 1...f5 and a Dutch - you've avoid a lot of the annoying sidelines that occur after 1.d4 f5 (like 2.e4, Nc3 or Bg5)

    @hoynck Ok, I didn't mean that the Alapin was boring but that White can sometimes use it to try and play for a draw. Obviously it can be used in an interesting way as well. Even the exchange french can be interesting!!

    @Petrosianic lol, you're right. I might keep playing the French vs Gawain, who knows ;) It's certainly good to have options against both 1.e4 and 1.d4

  • 4 years ago

    NM Petrosianic

    very boring stuff. Wink  of course after 2.c3 e6, you're headed back to that dreadful opening. Innocent

    well, u want to know something against that...

    then just have gawain jones beat you over and over in anti-sicilians until you are convinced by the soundness of the french. Innocent or if the sicilian is still agreeable, then learn main lines of anything (except dragon well b/c the yugoslav attack is at least a force draw and too easy) with some of your own ideas.

    at 2100 level,  having a backup against 1. d4 is a good thing b/c everybody can find something tricky to play against the KID nowadays [this opening probably costs me 100 ELO to play] so almost every other opening i try to play is better for me anyway.  i can understand your desire to play something that's slightly asymmetrical though.  the top players all say to play everything to be them, but we're not them.

  • 4 years ago


    Yes, I play the Sicilian and the Benko but is hard to find something sharp vs. the English. Any ideas?

  • 4 years ago


    I play the french almost exclusively now, but depending on my goals for the game I have some different things I try. When looking for the win I have had good sucess with pushing my queen side pawns and creating a passed pawn, while controling the long diagnals from my queen side towards their kingside. Perhaps it is because I play at a lower level, but I have been told that I play a unique, and aggressive french at times. That being said I have debated looking into the sicilian also, but because I have had great sucess with the french in tournament play lately, it is hard to switch. Mind you I am only 1530 USCF, moving up quick, but still well below your level

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