How To Build A Chess Opening Repertoire - Part III: How To Live With It

How To Build A Chess Opening Repertoire - Part III: How To Live With It

Jul 1, 2009, 2:07 PM |

In the previous articles How To Build A Chess Opening Repertoire - Part I: Getting The Lay Of The Land and How To Build A Chess Opening Repertoire - Part II: Your Style, I discussed the importance of having a chess opening repertoire and the issue of playing style. This should give you enough information to compose your own chess opening repertoire. In this article I want to give some tips and pointers on how to relate to your chess opening repertoire. They involve mastering a certain mindset and the avoidance of some dangers.

Tip 1: Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan!

Having a chess opening repertoire involves a lot of discipline. You have to make important decisions about the different systems you want to play and once you have done that, you have to elaborate on them. This elaboration is a life time thing, so don't bother getting it right the first time. Grandmasters are constantly adjusting and expanding their repertoire. The main thing here is that you actually start playing and maintaining your repertoire.

Tip 2: You Will Get The Best Results By Sticking To Your Repertoire. So, STICK TO IT!

What's the use of a chess opening repertoire if you don't play it? Or if you play it briefly and then make a switch? If you don't play your repertoire, you will never learn to properly understand an opening or get some useful practical experience with it. Also you will not benefit from the fact that you know it.

My suggestion is that you play a certain repertoire for at least a year. Then, if you simply have become too curious or feel drawn to other openings, make a switch. But at least you will be carrying something worthwhile with you throughout the rest of your chess career.

Of course, you can also overdo it. This (over)identification with your opening(lines) may lead to bad results, especially if you don't try to learn from earlier opening mishaps and fix your repertoire. Don't lose this kind of reflective flexibility!

On my local chess club we have several players playing the same repertoire over and over again. I suppose that's fine, because the Benoni f.i. is a decent enough opening, also when you play it for the 384th time. But if you keep repeating the same dodgy sidelines in which you got some serious beatings, then you have to fix it and look for different paths.

Another very important note here: Don't blame losses on the opening! Your loss is normally caused by you mishandling the tactics or strategy of a position. Be mature about this. So, don't go switching to another opening repertoire just because you had some bad results in a certain system. Rather, analyze the game and try to find out what the relation is between your loss and the opening (if there is any at all) and then improve on your opening play.

When fixing your opening repertoire, don't make any unnecessary concessions. The fear of sharp lines f.i. could make you lose the objective edge, just learn these sharp lines, practice them and play them!

If you somehow don't feel at ease in the positions that arise from the opening from a more general point of view, that is a different matter, it is more style related. For that I refer you back to How To Build A Chess Opening Repertoire - Part II: Your Style.

Tip 3: Focus First On Understanding The Openings, Not On Memorizing The Moves

Understanding an opening is a goal that is much more realistically achieved than the memorization of its lines. Understanding is a better help when you find yourself on unknown territory because you can base your choice of move on basic principles of play, and those of the opening. Don't forget: You may be able to out-memorize your opponent, but it's impossible to out-memorize a chess game! There will always be a moment when you are on your own!

Another point: In chess it's about the understanding of positions, not the remembrance of opening names. It does not help you to know that this or that opening is called such and so. It makes it easier to talk about it and discuss with other players as it's all part of the jargon, but this kind of knowledge will not help you to play better chess! So even though it may look impressive if someone knows all the names of the chess openings and their side lines, it does not reveal anything about his playing strength!

Tip 4: Try Bouwmeesters Method

Speaking of memorization I would suggest that you try out Bouwmeesters method of studying an opening. But you have to promise me that you will give precedence to understanding the opening ;-)

In his book "Chess as a profession" Bouwmeester suggests a regime for memorizing your opening. Considering f.i. that your program consists of 16 parts, you can study and repeat it using the following schedule (1,5 - 2 hrs per day):

1         1st day
2 1       2nd day
3 2       3rd day
4 3 1     4th day
5 4 2     5th day
6 5 3     6th day
7 6 4     7th day
8 7 5 1   8th day
9 8 6 2   9th day
10 9 7 3   10th day
11 10 8 4   11th day
12 11 9 5   12th day
13 12 10 6   13th day
14 13 11 7   14th day
15 14 12 8   15th day
16 15 13 9 1 16th day
1 16 14 10 2 17th day
2 1 15 11 3 18th day
3 2 16 12 4 19th day
4 3 1 13 5 20th day
5 4 2 14 6 21st day
6 5 3 15 7 22nd day
7 6 4 1 8 23rd day

He writes his book for professionals, so keep in mind that you may want to adjust this to fit your possibilities.

Tip 5: Create And Keep Organized Collections Of Games Played With Your Chess Opening Repertoire

Creating a collection of games played with your chess opening repertoire, builds your referential materials and eases your task to maintain your repertoire. It is nice and useful to see how strong players handle the opening and how you are handling the opening over time! Of course you have analyzed each and every game before they find there way to the collection ;-)

Tip 6: Pick Model Players!

Model players can be your opening coaches and can be of great inspirational value! If you are playing the 6.Be3 line against the Najdorf f.i., then it makes sense to pick Anand as your model player for this particular line! Look up his games, analyze them and add them to your collections.

Tip 7: Practice Openings In Blitz Or Rapid And Then Analyze Immediately

I'm not a big favorite of blitz chess, certainly not when it comes to improving our chess. But if used with care and diligence blitz does have it's merits. You can use games with shorter time controls (for this I prefer rapid) as practice sessions for your openings. Just try them out, gather some practical experience and analyze what has been going on. This method can quite quickly show you want you don't know or understand yet. Be moderate with your play rate! Don't play 100 blitz games first. No, just play 4 or so and then analyze!

Tip 8: Never Lose Track Of The Relative Importance Of Openings

One of the dangers of "being in love" with chess opening and your repertoire is a lack of general chess understanding. Keep improving your general chess understanding also! Openings are important, but they are not everything.

What's Next?

Well, we have come to the end of a three part article series. I have enjoyed doing this one and have received lots and lots of feedback on them so far!

Good luck with your chess opening repertoire!

Waldemar Moes
Your Voice In Chess