My System vs. Anti-His-System: A change in the attitude towards opening preparation

Aug 31, 2009, 12:50 AM |

Should I build myself an Opening Repertoire?

The answer, until now, seemed to be Yes!!! I have desperately wanted to have an Opening Repertoire for the past 5 years. I have been working on and off towards it. I would pick up books, understand the lines, understand the deviations, do all the right things - and get a chance to show off my understanding less than 10% of the games Over The Board.

Most of the time, my opponents would play moves that were outside of my repertoire.

Whenever this event occured, I would blame my lack of understanding of opening, and rush back again to books and start preparing even more aggressively - yet with the same result ... I would succeed against one opponent, but fail against many.

The problem is simply this: There are too many variations in chess!

Yesterday, something very profound happenned, that changed my attitude towards Chess Openings. I had looked up a game that my would-be-opponent had lost to someone else, and even though the line was something I did not play normally, I played it against my opponent - and came out of opening fairly OK!

I play in the Los Angeles Chess Club regularly, in the weekly tournament titled: LA Masters. The players are fairly regular, so you can play the same 10 opponents 52 times in a year. Every year, a yearbook is produced annotating some selected best games of LA Masters. I own a copy of 2007 LA Masters Yearbook, and I had looked up a game between NM Takashi Kurosaki and FM Garush Manukyan.

This game has been annotated by IM Timothy Taylor (Author of many fine books including Bird's Opening, Pawn Sacrifices and Beating King's Indian and Grunfeld). I am reproducing the annotation here:

My own game was identical for 12 moves! Then, White deviated. I, of course, had no idea what Black should be doing. Within 10-15 moves, I quickly Blundered, and White won. However, the key point is, Black came out of the opening OK. Here is my game:

In the end, I lost the game to one single missed tactic on Move 25! Considering that I had less than 15 minutes remaining on the Clock, I would declare the opening preparation to be a success and the game result to be typical - the lower rated player makes the first blunder.

I spent less than half an hour on my opening research to play a line as Black against one player, who, I will be playing at least 52 times a year (Serious games ... Blitz, maybe 250 games). This is quite an achievement practically.

This method of preparing for specific opponents has the benefit that the rewards are immediate. You spend half an hour looking up the position the first time. While playing the game, you are thinking about the position for an hour. After you lose the game, you spend another hour analyzing your game. After two and a half hours of preparation, you are now armed with a weapon for the rest of your life - and more importantly, a weapon that can be refined continuously over the next year!

To conclude the matter succinctly, I would note that There are far fewer chess players that you will be playing against regularly than there are critical variations in your favorite repertoire.

So, first figure out if you are going to play an opponent very frequently. Then, figure out what line was played to beat him - it is not very complex - just ask him what is the line that he has most difficulty facing and he will tell you! Remember that good chess players are continuously looking to improve and if you can help them improve by playing their problematic lines, then they will appreciate the help - at least, that is the culture in my local chess club at LACC.