My Opening Study
When I began studying chess at the end of 2013, I read many times something like "Don't waste your time studying openings until you are at least 1800(2000 sometimes).".
Usually, such statements are supported with comment such as "At your rating, your opponents don't know openings very well, so it is not necessary." or "Openings require too much theory for someone at your rating."
The second comment has some validity. A lot of the deep theory on openings requires a very good understanding of chess to fully appreciate.
However, the first comment is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because beginning chess students have been discouraged from opening study through comments like this, they generally don't have a lot of opening knowledge.
So I followed this advice, as the illogic of these statements did not occur to me.
After a couple of months I started to feel there was something missing from my game. It had no direction. Basically, I felt I like I was pushing a boat out into the sea and hoping it would, with a little luck, land upon the shores of some distant land.
After looking at everything, I realized the problem was that my game had no solid beginning to build on. It had no direction. It had no plan beyond outplaying my opponent through tactics.
This is when I began to look at ways to improve my openings in a way that was appropriate to my skill level.
The main problem was, as stated above, openings have lots of theory that can be over the heads of beginners. Lots of sources I found were just endless lists of lines and sub-lines and sub-sub-lines. It was quite dizzying.
Then, on top of that, you add the issue of so many openings and alternate openings. You're talking about thousands of lines and encyclopedias of theory.
A difficult task indeed.
So I set out trying to work out an effective way to learn openings as a beginner.
The first thing I did was look at my study plans so far. My study plans consisted of mainly tactic puzzles, reading a few basic chess books and playing Online Chess. Pretty basic really.
My first plan for learning openings was, during the post-mortem, going and looking-up the openings. This was difficult because, as I mentioned above, openings have many different lines and trying to remember these lines out of context is a struggle. By out of context, I mean reading about the openings AFTER the play. At this point, your only choice is to read and hope the information sticks with you until the next time you encounter the opening. This, of course, could be days or weeks later.
This went on for about 10 games. I would play a game, then go find the opening and read about it.
It was about this time that I realized that I was allowed to use static material during Online Games. I had known it was allowed, but it did not click until about this time that this may be an avenue for opening improvement.
So, I started going and Googling openings once I was far enough into a game to know what opening was being used. Right away, this was better than my previous technique. Now I was at least able to know some lines that could be played right away to get me to a better position in my games. However, I often found myself reading 2 - 3 hours about 1 single opening and all it's different variations and lines. That is a lot of time to spend when you have several games going on at one time. Plus, it was taking away from more important study such as tactics.
This lasted for a couple of weeks. And I can tell you, I was glad when I stopped this.
But, one thing I learned from this was that each opening or opening variation has certain plans that extend from it. For example, some openings lead to open games, some to closed games. Some openings favor king side attacks, others queen side attacks. Some openings favor tactics while others favor positional play.
This turned out to be the key to building an effective opening study plan that would allow me learn openings without getting bogged down with deep theory and endless lines that would probably hardly, if ever, be followed by my opponents.
The next change I made was to stop reading for hours about an opening and just work on finding sources for the basic ideas of the openings. The first stop was Wikipedia. This is a great source for this type of study.
Each opening on Wikipedia begins with the mainline moves, then has a section with a basic analysis of the opening. Then it has, if you are interested, all the popular variations for the opening.
But this wasn't enough. It was actually less than what I felt was needed to be effective. Luckily, last year I was learning guitar and found a perfect resource for learning; Youtube.
2 Minutes on Youtube and I knew it was the answer to the missing information I needed to extend my opening study to a place I would consider effective for my skill level.
So, now for 3 months, I have been using these 2 resources during every Online Chess game I play. And it has proven quite effective. As well as Online Chess, I often play 30/0 live games. And I have found a lot of the knowledge I have gained from this study has found its way into my live play.
Recently, I have added one more step in my study of openings. When confronted with a new opening, I go and find 5 games where white won with the opening and 5 games where black has won with the opening. I review these games by running through the movements quite quickly. By this, I mean I just click through the moves. I don't do an analysis of the moves. I only look for patterns in the games. I am finding this step is helping with long term planning as well as dealing with opponents when they make an 'out of book' move.
Now I have a solid plan that allows me to learn openings in a way that is appropriate for my level as well as builds a foundation for further study should I find openings I particularly like or need to study about. It is also an effective plan because instead of just trying to remember moves to a line, each move is made AFTER an understanding of the move is known. This makes the moves easier to remember and easier to adapt when your opponent moves 'out of the book'.
Today, I will share with you the steps I take.
When I first encounter an opening, I go to Wikipedia and read the analysis part of the article.
Then I go to Youtube and watch 1 or 2 videos. Usually videos by ChessOpenings.com and TheChessWebsite.com. Both of these sites have made introductory videos of the most popular openings. The videos from these sources are perfect as they don't go into deep lines of theory. They only address the most common lines and the intentions behind the moves.
After I have done this, I go and find 5 games where white won with the opening, and 5 games where black has won. For each set of games, I write on a piece of paper a column for white and a column for black. Then I make notes of patterns I see for both sides for both 0-1 and 1-0 games. (You can read more about this step here.)
Then, every few moves during my game opening, I re-visit Wikipedia and Youtube and read over my notes about the games.
Then each time I play a game with the same opening, I just go to Wikipedia and Youtube as well as read my notes.
Now, after a few months of doing this, I have a few openings that I am quite familiar with. For these openings, I will often find further information to build upon the basic knowledge I've gained.
I have also started writing blogs with the openings I have researched so far. These blogs posts have exactly what I outlined above; Wikipedia analysis, Youtube videos, some games and notes I have made from my research.
These blogs are not meant to be a definitive guide to the openings. But, rather, a starting point for those who want to quickly and effectively build a broad opening repertoire.
I will speculate and say, based on the progress I have made so far, that inside of a year, I will have an opening repertoire that will add 200 or more points to my Live Chess rating.
I would suggest this system to anyone who has learned the basic principles of the opening; center control, piece development and king safety.
Here is a great article from Dan Heisman about how to learn openings.