Openings: When and What to Study

Openings: When and What to Study

NM defibaugh
Nov 20, 2012, 1:55 PM |


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