Openings: When and What to Study


I've been here a few months now and decided it was time to write a blog. A common question I get from users is about opening preperation, and I've decided what better place to start. But rather than giving you random lines and variations, I wanted to empower you with the ability to learn openings all the way up the master level by giving you tools and tricks I've learned along my chess journey.

While learning new openings is clearly an important part of any players game, I want to emphasize that no player get too ahead of their playing level with opening preperation, nor too involved with simply memorizing lines and variations. Balance your opening knowledge with areas of other parts of the game, and never focus too hard on only one aspect of chess. I have based this blog on my belief that limited opening exposure at early levels is benificial to your chess growth and success.

I will break this blog down into 3 parts based on the users ratings: Beginner, Club Player, and Expert. The ratings I give are based primarily on USCF, although blitz rating can also loosely translate.

Beginner: Unrated-1000

As a beginner, you know all the rules of chess and are familiar with what tactics are. You know how to mate with a Rook vs a lone King in the endgame. If you are still learning any of these, I suggest you wait a little bit before learning opening preperation.

Opening knowledge at this level of play is very basic, and it will not take much to get you to Club Player level. My only real recomendation for you at this point is to read one of the beginner openings books, my favorite being Winning Chess Openings by Yasser Seirawan. It is a fairly short, very basic understanding of the most common types of openings such as the Ruy Lopez. Understand this book and it's teachings, and you know all the openings you need to know for now.

Club Player: 1000-1800

At this level you know and practice tactics, and don't often directly hang pieces. You are also beginning to understand middlegame and endgame play. I expect this catagory to contain by far the majority of readers here.

Opening knowledge at this level of play becomes a bit more complex. You may have a favorite opening or even a basic opening repertoire. For all of you in this category I would like to recommend the opening series Starting Out (This showcases only some of the opening books available). This series is written by a number of GM's, and is applicable to a wide range of players. Each book is on a specific opening, and variations go into the crucial depth for players of this rating.

A very important, yet very demanding, tool is now at your disposal. It is called Chess Position Trainer 4.1.1 and I must warn you it is not for the faint at heart. It is a program that will allow you to input any variations you choose (likely ones you read in books) and then recall or train you on those variations later. There is a free version on the link, and a paid variation for, I believe, $30. To be honest I'm not sure what is on the premium version, but for my purposes the free program has been enough.

Recommendation: If you do take the plunge and choose to get Chess Position Trainer, input variations and necessary comments from books as you read them. It will save time and energy immediately entering this data.

Expert: 1800+

At this level you know a decent amount about all phases of chess, and are confident in your play. You may have developed a playing style, and want to choose an opening repertoire to suit.

It becomes significantly more complicated to devise an opening repertoire at this level. You must often find individual books just for certain variations of openings, often jam packed with lines and little explanation. I want to emphasize the use of research at this stage. Google and search amazon for reviews of potential books, and ask other players you know if they have any information. Its up to you to find reputable and beneficial books in your lines.

One series I will recommend here is the Grandmaster Repertoire Series. So far I've read through 5 or 6 of these books, and they have all been excellent. You should also check out Chess Position Trainer 4.1.1 as meantioned in the "Club Player" level.


There is another big option out there for anyone who is interested called chessbase. Now, there is software which you can buy on their website, however if you are like me and find it difficult to stomach a $150-200 tool for opening prep, there are 2 other choices at your disposal.

A much simplified online version of the program can be found here. It contains a database of 6 million or so games played mostly by upper level chess players, as well as giving opening variations and scores for each side. Warning: Do not base too much of your repertoire searching around for variations here. Results are basic and can often be misleading, as this is simply a large collection of data, rather than an in depth analysis.

Another chessbase tool available is the android/iphone application. It costs a few bucks, but will give you access to the same database of millions of game, as well as the ability to search opponents.

Phew! All done

Ok that does it for my first blog post. I hope it wasn't too dry as I didnt go into any actual variations, but I hope it'll help answer any question you guys have! Any kind of feedback is appreciated, like what you'd like me to go over next, what you liked/disliked about my post, or if you think I should give up posting/chess altogether! C ya guys


  • 11 months ago


    I realize this is an old post (sorry if you're on the notification list), but I wanted to mention FREE software Lucas Chess for lower rated players like myself who might be visiting this thread looking for an openings repertoire for beginners.

    I've started studying chess again after a long hiatus, and I spent 2 weeks cataloging in Excel spreadsheets some sites and tools I found, and Lucas seems excellent (yes?). I like the way it allows me to save tactics and games to files on my PC. Then I can go over them multiple times without having to find them again all over the web. I've also used ChessOCR for Android at KGRothApps to digitize positions found in printed books.

    SCID also looks good (?), but I've only just found it and I need to learn more about how to use it. Using a database, it helps you find complete games based on a given position on the board.

  • 3 years ago


    @WorstPlyrEvr: I agree. It's all your fault JDefibaugh. You suck.

    Seriously though, thanks a lot. I've been looking for something like CPT for a while (not very actively, I must admit, but I always thought it would be useful).

  • 4 years ago


    Thank you for your post

  • 4 years ago


    Thanks for this blog post. I have taken immediate action for my level and purchased "Winning Chess Openings", downloaded Chess Position Trainer 4.1.1, and have bookmarked the chesslive database you showed us. I've watched you play and your strategy and knack for what's to come in the game is admirable. I can only hope I can get half as good as you someday! Keep on posting! :)

  • 4 years ago


    I just downloaded the Chess Position Trainer 4.1.1 and it is basically unusable. I have absolutely no clue where to begin or what any of this stuff does.

    And if it unusable, it is useless.

  • 4 years ago


  • 4 years ago

    NM Petrosianic

    for those considering getting chessbase, i will point out that the starter package or 2009 premium [i.e. cb light upgraded] is a better value than the full package for most people.  the point of the software is for db management - but it won't build the database for you.  opening surveys are useful starting pt. for dbs. 

    i subscribed to chesspub for a year - this was a good starting pt for my openings - surveys + put the annotated games into them then study!.

    the CPT software is nice, I have the 30 dollar full version, I did some beta testing for it and it really has become a nice product i don't use it enough, my opening knowledge is generally poor for my standard although this doesn't deter me from playing mostly main line stuff and making stuff up.  Innocent

    Chess Duels by Seirawan and Tal's Life and Games may be the only chess books I own and have read cover to cover, ironic I don't read chess much since i would be considered quite the bookworm. Sealed

  • 4 years ago


    Cool info & tips ,thanks!

  • 4 years ago


    oh and keep it up, i am looking forward to reading more of your blog posts :)

  • 4 years ago


    good information, alway enjoy listening to what the higher rated players have to say. Thanks defi

  • 4 years ago


    Thank you for your post. I think that this was very informative. I would fall in the "Club Player" section, but just barely. Just a while ago, I was really into openings, and got several books on them. After a couple of months, I realized I was becoming an "openings junky" and could play many different openings' book moves for a while. I quickly realized that I was not getting any better though, so I have moved on to trying to understand the middle and end games. I think that an article just like this one for the other parts of the game would be very beneficial. Thank you.

  • 4 years ago


    Nice blog you started Jared! Very effective to those who are in dying need of learning chess.

  • 4 years ago


    This is all so true. But still, everyone want's to start from the open; when if fact, they should be starting from the end.

    Thank you Master.

  • 4 years ago


    Thanks is all I have to say

  • 4 years ago

    NM defibaugh

    @SwingingLondonTown: When you start getting up to that range, it becomes really hard to get away with any dubious openings or odd gambit lines. Uncommon openings like Alehkine are definitely still playable, however 1...a6 I wouldn't be too quick to play. As long as you stick with sound lines, whatever youre most comfortable with becomes whatever's easiest.

    @JoshuafromMN: Thanks, I'll definitely take that into consideration.

    @angrybirds007: Thanks for pointing that out, fixed the link. And thanks for the support :)

  • 4 years ago


    Which openings are the easiest to reach 2300 FIDE if you are around 2100? Do you think uncommon openings like Alekhine or even 1...a6 are playable at this level?

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