Road to Master: Assembling the Repertoire

Road to Master: Assembling the Repertoire

Jul 8, 2016, 6:11 PM |

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 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 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. 


King Pawn

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) 

Classical: Winawer

Notable Players: Botvinnik, Korchnoi, Barsov, Williams 

Resources: Numerous Video Series on, The Flexible French, The Wonderful Winawer


The Closed Games (1. d4, 1. Nf3, 1. c4) 
Among the Closed Variations I strongly believe in finding a system that is internally consistent. To me it makes little sense to play the Nimzo against d4 and the KID against the English. You are vastly increasing your theoretical workload in and will most likely transpose between lines. In the closed games transpositions are critical to understand and I tried desperately to come up with a repertoire that stuck with the same system against 1.c4, 1.d4 and 1.Nf3. I first considered the systems you can play almost regardless of move order such as the KID, Dutch and Tarrasch but personally I find them not to fit me stylistically and I have a hard time believing black is equalizing in many of the lines. 


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. 


To be honest, the Semi-Slav is theory heavy and many lines in it are complex and the Cambridge Springs, while solid, is certainly not the best way to play the QGD in my opinion (I believe the Ragozin or Westphalia/Manhattan lines are the most testing). However, both have similar pawn structures and the transpositions are useful in some situations. 
So I assembled this repertoire and am currently playing in a non-rated round robin tournament in my local area with an hour for the first forty moves and thirty minutes added after move forty with a 30 second increment. We just finished the first round yesterday. 
The first game I was white in a Sicilian Dragon against a young 1400 player.  
The next game will be next Thursday so I will have an update on the status of the repertoire then. 
In conclusion, I'm starting the journey to hopefully reach master status. This post was just about assembling a basic repertoire for white and black and how I reached the variations chosen. My plan is to make this a continuing series in which I update my progress with all it's ups and downs all the way up the rating ladder. If anyone wants me to elucidate further on any of the openings please let me know in the comments.
Below are some of the resources I found helpful and might prove interesting to those looking to make the climb or create an opening repertoire. 
ChessExplained, John Bartholomew YouTube Channels
G. Shahade's Article on Building an Opening Repertoire: Databases 
ChessBase 13
Recommended Opening Books:
How to Build an Opening Repertoire (Giddins) --> Highly suggested if you don't know where to start.
Bologan's Ruy Lopez (Bologan)
Bologan's Black Weapons (Bologan)
A Spanish Repertoire for Black (Marin)
The Wonderful Winawer (Moskalenko) 
The Flexible French (Moskalenko)
The Semi-Slav (Sadler) 
The QGD (Sadler)
The Cambridge Springs (Panczyk and Ilkzuc)
Recommended Endgame/Strategy/Tactics/Improvement Books:
Amateur to IM (Hawkins)
How to Reassess Your Chess Fourth Ed. (Silman)
The Amateur's Mind (Silman)
Forcing Chess Moves (Herstan)
Understanding Chess Middlegames (Nunn)
Silman's Fundamental Chess Endings (Silman)
Fundamental Chess Endings (Muller and Lamprecht)
100 Endings You Must Know (de la Villa)
Game Collections/History
Zurich 1953 (Bronstein)
My Great Predecessors (Kasparov)
My 60 Memorable Games (Fischer)
My 60 Memorable Draws (Giri - coming soon happy.png)
P.S. I like chess books.