Road to Master: Assembling the Repertoire
Road to Master: Creating an Opening Repertoire
As with many amateur players, I have always aspired to become a master, at least at the national level. As a child, I had some talent for the game but got dragged away from chess by other interests like sports, school, etc. I came back to chess during my university years and quickly climbed up to around an average tournament rating (hovering around 1500 USCF) using a variety of openings and systems I had used as a child. Recently I was watching John Bartholomew's (IM Fins) channel on YouTube and he had a series where he was climbing through the rating ladder on Chess.com and addressing the problems each rating had. I thought the idea was interesting and stole it (sorry John don't sue me). Except unlike John I'll be climbing in OTB games and updating my progress here. Now that I'm done with my bachelor's degree, I am going to attempt to climb the rating ladder and get the NM title. It may not be the GM or World Championship but it's a start.
Now a lot of people on chess.com and other sites, particularly higher rated players say that you can play pretty much anything to reach expert level status and even masters have been known to play openings considered poor by theory. You hear a lot of "practice on your tactics and endgames" advice. Don't get me wrong, this is one of the most important aspects of chess and will help everyone improve. However, I personally believe that understanding openings and the middlegames that arise from a set repertoire can help you improve on those tactics/endgames which commonly appear. Thus, I believe the study of openings to be of critical importance to anyone making the attempt to reach expert or master status.
One of the suggestions from an expert friend of mine was to assemble a cohesive repertoire and stick with it. To be honest, I have been known by many of the members of my local club as being a bit of a theory nerd and for knowing a lot of variations and ideas within the mainlines. I have played 1. e4 1. c4 1. Nf3 and 1. d4 as white and the French, Sicilian, King Pawn, QGD, Semi-Slav, Slav, KID, Benko, Symmetrical English and King's English as black during my past couple years of tournament play. To be honest, it's fun being able to play a lot of variations but I decided to seriously focus on one opening move as white and a couple of variations as black. So, here I am assembling my repertoire for critiques from anyone and maybe to help people out who, like me, have trouble sticking to a line.
White Repertoire; 1. e4
I decided to focus on 1. e4 as my white repertoire. Why? Simply put, I don't want to have to deal with the vast amount of transpositions in the Closed Games (1. d4, 1.c4 and 1. Nf3) where both black and white can choose from may tricky move orders in order to try to get their opponent out of preparation. So let's look at the responses from black and the resources I will be using for my repertoire.
King Pawn: Ruy Lopez
Notable Players: Any professional player that plays King Pawn but I personally enjoy the games of Geller, Karpov and Carlsen
Resources: Opening Acc. to Anand, Easy Guide to Ruy Lopez
Sicilian: Open, 6. Be2 Lines
Notable Players: Karpov, Geller, Pogonia, Carlsen (on occasion)
Resources: Slay the Sicilian! (Everyman)
French: Classical (Winawer 5. Bd2, Alekhine-Chatard, McCutcheon
Resources: Dzindi's Video on the 5. Bd2 Winawer, Melik's Alekhine-Chatard Video
Caro-Kann: Advance, 4. h4
Notable Players: Shirov, Short
Resources: Mastering Chess Openings Vol. 1, Chess Opening Essentials, the Kenilworth Chess Club has a blog on this line and IM Fins has played it a lot of the ICC lately.
Pirc-Modern: 150 Attack
Notable Players: Short, Adams
Resources: Starting Out 1. e4, Mastering Chess Openings Vol 1., Chess Opening Essentials
Black Repertoire: King Pawn and French
Why do I play the king pawn as black? Simply put, I love the Ruy Lopez for both colors and think black has a quite solid position and the person with the better understanding of the positions will generally have an better time. Although theory is important, understanding key themes is often more important and it includes both complex strategic and positional play. Many masters and even Carlsen has noted that playing the Spanish is important to improving all aspects of your chess game. As for the French, it's been in my repertoire since I was a child and it often creates interesting and imbalanced positions. The French is very fun and quite solid. The lines I choose in the French are designed to create an imbalanced and interesting middlegame if I feel my opponent is lower rated and might just want a draw.
Italian Game: 3...Bc5
Scotch Game: 3...Bb4+
Spanish (Ruy Lopez): Breyer or Chigorin
Notable Players: Rubenstein, Geller, Botvinnik, Adams
Resources: Bologan's Black Weapons, Bologan's Ruy Lopez, IM ChessExplained YouTube Repertoire, Marin's Spanish Repertoire
Advance: Early Bd7 Line
Tarrasch: Guimard (an interesting sideline)
Notable Players: Botvinnik, Korchnoi, Barsov, Williams
Resources: Numerous Video Series on Chess.com, The Flexible French, The Wonderful Winawer
So that left a few options for consideration. The Nimzo/Bogo/QID complex - the problem with this is of course 1. c4 in which black has trouble unless you are comfortable in dealing with the Mikenas Attack. The second is the Slav but once again 1. c4 requires knowledge of the Caro-Kann. Finally, I settled on a complex based around the QGD and Semi-Slav. Move orders are shown below.