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Regarding "Opening Theory"

Regarding "Opening Theory"

Apr 25, 2017, 7:25 AM 1
Strong players and coaches are often telling beginners and novices to avoid studying opening theory and concentrate on learning tactics, basic checkmates, and basic endgames. Beginners and novices complain because they often lose quickly against stronger players and therefore think they need to know more opening theory.
Both the coaches and the players are correct! They are both correct because they are using the same word yet they have different conceptions of what that word means! The word in dispute is "theory."
In common use, the word theory means a system of ideas, so beginners and novices think that "opening theory" means the ideas behind opening moves. In truth, the word "theory" as used in chess openings means a series of moves and the prevailing assumption regarding the evaluation of the position reached at the end of that sequence. Standardized symbols are used to represent those evaluations. Those symbols represent things like, White is winning, White is much better, White has an advantage, the position is equal, the position is unclear, Black has an advantage, Black is much better, Black is winning, etc.
The coaches are correct. Beginners and novices do not need to memorize a lot of "opening theory" because they would likely have no idea how to continue from the end of those series of moves.  What they really need is a firm foundation in sound opening principles, a good pre-move thinking process (which keeps them from losing pieces for nothing or to elementary tactical shots), and a basic understanding of the *ideas* behind the most popular opening systems.
At the very least a beginner or novice should understand the fundamental *ideas* behind such popular opening systems as...
  1. The Open Game (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6)
  2. The Queen's Gambit (1.d4 d5 2.c4)
Now, there are a lot of sub-categories within each of those main categories above. In #1 the most popular sub-categories are the Spanish (or Ruy Lopez), the Italian Game and the Two Knights Defense. In #2 there is the Queens Gambit Accepted (QGA) and various ways of declining the gambit... which falls under the QGD and Slav type setups. Of course, there are others, but these are the main lines that all players should have a basic understanding about. I especially think it is important to understand the ideas behind the classical openings like the Closed Spanish (lots of maneuvering), the Marshall Gambit in the Spanish (lots of tactics!) and understanding how to play (and defend against) the "minority attack" in the Queens Gambit Declined Exchange variation -- a formation known as the Carlsbad Formation.
Understanding the ideas behind *those* openings will help you understand how to approach *other* opening systems.
There are many youtube videos available teaching basic opening principles and the *ideas* behind various popular openings. For those who absolutely, positively *must* have a book I recommend the "Chess Opening Essentials" series. This series has a lot of commentary about the aims, goals, hows and whys of the openings covered.
Good luck!

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