How To Build A Chess Opening Repertoire - Part II: Your Style

How To Build A Chess Opening Repertoire - Part II: Your Style

Jun 11, 2009, 3:01 PM |

A little while ago I started discussing the subject of building a chess opening repertoire in How To Build A Chess Opening Repertoire - Part I: Getting The Lay Of The Land. I discussed which considerations play a role in building your chess opening repertoire and gave some advice. If you have not yet read it, I strongly suggest you do that first. In this second part, I want to discuss the issue of your style, your experiences with certain openings and how your style relates to certain openings. Next I will do some suggestions.

Your Experience Sofar

If you are reading this it could be that you have no opening repertoire at all or you have "some sort" of an opening repertoire. In either case you would like to improve the situation and start making that "set of agreements with yourself" that I spoke of in How To Build A Chess Opening Repertoire - Part I: Getting The Lay Of The Land. Your previous experience with certain openings can be a useful indicator for building your repertoire. If you have taken notes of your games and created a history of them in a database for instance, I suggest you go through them and analyze your overall results with all the different openings you have played so far. This exercise should provide you with some statistics as to what openings you played the most and which ones you had success with or not. Try to figure out if you liked playing certain openings or not and why that was. This is a big indicator for your preferred playing style! Also try to figure out in what measure the opening played an important role in the outcome of the game.

Different Styles

The previous exercise has probably given you some pointers as to what positions you like to play or not. If the exercise does not suggest differently, then it makes sense to build on the openings you already play (if they are decent that is), start calling them "My repertoire" and try to deepen you knowledge and understanding of them. If for some reason the exercise does not provide you with a clear picture, or if you would like some pointers for your playing style, then it makes sense to start looking for style indicators. Below I will list a number of different style indicators. Your preferences most likely refer to one or more of the terms below:

1.    visionary
2.    detailed
3.    positional
4.    tactical
5.    calculation
6.    feeling
7.    concrete
8.    intuition
9.    defensive
10.    attacking
11.    counter-attacking
12.    waiting
13.    initiative
14.    open
15.    closed
16.    contact
17.    maneuvering
18.    (big) center
19.    guerilla
20.    dynamics
21.    statics
22.    single plan
23.    multi plan

These terms refer to one of two:
1.    the way in you which you like to approach chess
2.    the specifics of a chess position

It makes sense now to place them in a table and describe them in more detail while simultaneously matching them to certain example openings.

Style Indicator Description Example Openings
Visionary You   like to play with a plan in mind, have a good feeling for the position and   keep the future (possible endings) in mind. You normally have trouble with   realizing your plans and or reaping tactical fruits from your strategies. n.a.
Detailed You   are good in dealing with any ad hoc and tactical situations. You have trouble   playing with a plan in mind and find it therefore difficult to create   situations with chances. n.a.
Positional You   have a good feeling for the position and like to play for small advantages.   You tend to have a good feel for the endgame and prefer clear positions. You   tend to be somewhat weak at calculation and analysis. 1.d4
Tactical You   have good analytical abilities and can calculate well. You have good board   awareness and a good eye for the direct and indirect interaction of pieces   (attack and defense). You tend to be somewhat weak at planning and strategy. 1.e4
Intuitive You   like to trust to your intuition like little voices or pieces that are   "talking to you" and play moves that come to your mind. n.a.
Concrete You   like to dive in and have a more result oriented approach to the position. You   look for candidate moves, try to analyze them to the best of your ability,   compare the outcomes and play the move you think is best, while at the same   time not putting to much value in well known bits of chess wisdom or dogma’s. n.a.
Defensive You   like to dig in, be strategically solid and sit and wait. Steinitz   defense, French defense, Caro-Kann defense, Queen’s gambit and Slav defenses,   Queen’s Indian, Hedgehog positions, Dutch Stonewall
Attacking You   like to optimize the activity of your pieces, go for your opponents king, often at the cost of a positional concession. In   the 1.e4 complex normally all the mainstream theory variations, several   gambits
Counterattacking You   allow for strong imbalances giving your opponent ample chances for the attack   while simultaneously laying the foundations for yours. The   Sicilian, Pirc, Dutch defense, King’s Indian, Benoni
Waiting You   don’t mind handing over the initiative to your opponent and defending against   threats. You like to occasionally grab the extra pawn, poisonous or not... Closed   Ruy Lopez, Poisoned pawn Variation from the Sicilian Najdorf.
Initiative You   like to create threats, experience the initiative and occasionally sacrifice   material to get it. Most   main lines for White and several gambits
Open The   type of position in which the armies are very much in contact with each other   and where so-called "range pieces" (rook, bishop and queen) have considerable   activity. Normally bishops are stronger than knights. Concrete calculation   and tactics are more important than intuition, planning and strategy. Most   1.e4 e5 openings except Closed Ruy Lopez
Closed The   type of position in which the armies are not very much in contact with each   other and where so-called "range pieces" (rook, bishop and queen) have less   activity. Normally knights are stronger than bishops. Intuition, planning and   strategy are more important than concrete calculation and tactics. If there   are tactics they tend to be more hidden and based on (psuedo) sacrifices   breaking the pawn chains. Most   1.d4 d5 openings
Contact Play   is fast and direct. This refers to an open type of position (viz. above). Most   1.e4 e5 openings except Closed Ruy Lopez
Maneuvering Play   is slower and less direct. This refers to a closed type of position (viz.   above) Maneuvering often involves longer term planning, f.i. the transfer of   a knight to a strong square, the transfer of the king to a safe zone or the   buildup of pieces in a certain area of the board before opening up attacking   lines. Closed   positions such as the closed Ruy Lopez, main line King’s Indian or the Czech   Benoni. Also the advance variations of the Caro-Kann and the French.
(Big)   center A   position in which a player is occupying the center with two, three or four   pawns. White is playing:
- the four pawns against the King’s Indian
- against the Grunfeld,
- against the Pirc
- against the Hedgehog or has a Maroczy bind
Guerilla A   position in which a player is not occupying the center with pawns but prefers   to control it with pieces and attack it. Black is playing:
- The Nimzo-Indian
- The Grunfeld
- The Pirc
- The Accelerated Dragon   White is playing:
- The English
Dynamics The   type of position where pawn structures are not rigid and where the option of   different pawn pushes or captures can lead to different structures. These   positions often involve unsolved tensions. White   has a pawn duo on e4 and f4 versus black pawns on d6 and e6 in Sicilian type   positions or such tensions with pawns blocks on c4 and d4 versus c5 and d5   etc.
Statics The   type of position where pawn structures are rigid and where there are few or   no reasonable pawn pushes. These positions have no unsolved tensions and tend   to be clear. Normally it is easier to come up with a plan for these   positions. Karlsbader   structure from the Queen’s Gambit suggesting a minority attack.   In   the double pawn duo position from the Sicilian White has played   e4-e5 d6xe5 and f4xe5 etc. The position has become much more static.
Multi   plan Positions   where several reasonable plans are available. Again   the aforementioned Sicilian type positions and other positions with several   pawn tensions.
Single   plan Positions   where there is normally one clear cut plan. Majority   versus majority positions as in the Benoni f.i. Black normally creates a free   pawn on the queen side.

Ok, so we have done that! The table is not meant to be exhaustive by the way. You can probably think of more style indicators pointers and matching openings. Also some of the pointers are closely related such as visionary, positional and intuitive on the one hand and detailed, tactical and concrete on the other.

What’s important to note here is that ideally you strive for a mixture of these styles, because we all need them from time to time to handle different chess positions. Positional games hopefully lead to a build up where you have to use tactics to reap the fruits of your earlier play. And likewise if you are good at tactics you need some strategical skills to bring about favorable positions. This brings us at a funny point however.

All the big guns have plenty of both strategical and tactical skills, right? Yes, I suppose they do! And yet, we can still clearly point out any differences in style. Kasparov is (was) the great attacker, calculator and proponent of concrete play. His great nemesis Anatoly is (was) pretty much the opposite namely the visionary, positional and intuitive player.

So there seems to be a point where standard and basic chess skill cross a border and shift into style. And beyond this point you can really try and incorporate your style into your own chess games. This is the area where preference and avoidance emerge. It is after all possible to prefer or avoid certain moves and lines without doing harm to the basic objective value of your position. I suppose that’s what makes our game also so enjoyable!

For instance Kasparov might choose to play 6.Bg5 in a Najdorf, Karpov may prefer 6.Be2 etc. without doing any objective harm to their position. It is just that they prefer the positions that arise from these respective moves. Bg5 normally leads to sharp and concrete play, whereas 6.Be2 tends to lead to a quieter game. What both players were trying to do, was getting into positions where they could optimize their chances to make use of their strong points and diminish those of the opponent.

And why do you think Anand beat Kramnik in Bonn 2008? Because Anand managed to bring about dynamic, imbalanced and tactical positions, and Kramnik wasn’t up to the task at some moments. Do you remember the 5th game for instance? Kramnik was relying on the better endgame, but the position was more concrete than that and all of a sudden he was surprised by Anand’s tactical 34…Pe3!, which immediately won the game. He simply had not treated the position with enough concreteness whereas Anand had  calculated this trick several moves earlier.

Now you might argue that it was an ordinary blunder to go for the trade-off into the endgame and that normally Kramnik would have seen in coming - basic chess skill, right? – but that’s also my point. The earlier play had forced Kramnik to solve concrete problems. He could not use any of his dogma’s or strive for a small and clear advantage. It is very conceivable that that cost him considerable time, effort and psychological energy. From that point of view it seems understandable that he would crack up and allow the trade-down resulting in 34…Ne3! Let me say one more thing about this match. Go try and figure out in what style Kramnik won their 10th game! Need I say more?

Ok, it is nice to look at the great players, but the idea is that you try this with your own repertoire. What style oriented decisions can you make? Well, preferably those that bring about positions in which you can put your strong points to work! Let me be your gimmy pig.

My Style And Repertoire

You have probably noticed that the style indicators come in pairs. Let me describe my style by indicating in which direction the scale of the balance tips for each pair. I will indicate my preferences in bold:

visionary - detailed
positional - tactical
calculation - feeling
concrete - intuition
defensive - attacking - counterattacking
waiting - initiative
open - closed
contact - maneuvering
(big) center - guerilla
dynamics - statics
single plan - multi plan

My (global) repertoire is as follows:
I play 1.d4 to try and reach strategical positions in which I can be guided by my intuition. I tend to choose clearer lines over complicated ones.
Against 1.e4 my defense of choice is the counterattacking Sicilian. I don’t like to be passive and always want to have some plans of my own… I often play the Accelerated Dragon, because I know it quite well and have build up some experience with it. It also has some nice ambush-like features to it and fits in with my style.
Against 1.d4 I like to play the King’s Indian. It normally leads to clear cut chain pawn plans and closed maneuvering positions or otherwise static positions (f.i. the exchange variations with d4xe5) that I know pretty well and have a lot of experience with. It also fits in with the notion of counter attack.

Suggested Steps

Well, we have come to end of part II of this article. I hope you bring the following elements together:
1.    Do the "Previous Experience" exercise
2.    Match the style indicators with the result of that exercise to figure out your playing style or let the style indicators suggest your playing style by reading through the descriptions and asking yourself: "Is this me?"
3.    Compose or adjust your opening repertoire by choosing openings that match your style indicators. I have given some example openings in the overview. If you have questions on how to classify a certain opening feel free to contact me.

In the third and last part of this article I will discuss the issue of how to relate to your opening repertoire. In the mean while, leave your comments if you like.