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Opening Theory Is Pointless For Most People That Will Ever Play. Why Bother?

penandpaper0089

Maybe you don't play something terrible and get one of those +/= positions the opening books like to rave about. I think that's pretty trivial information for most people to have. Seeing as U2000 most games are decided by tactics it seems to me that the opening evaluation is practically useless knowledge. As long as the worse side hasn't blundered anything it's fair game. Someone's going to screw up anyway. Let's look at a position:

 

 

The position evaluation is over 3.00. Some people will get the puzzle and some won't. That's not relevant. What is relevant is that if you don't find the move White has absolutely nothing. So you go from 3.00 to like 0.14 or something even though nothing was blundered. Not seeing the best move isn't losing or anything but it pretty much illustrates the point I want to make.

 

If you can't find strong moves in overwhelming positions then what does it matter what you ever manage to do in positions that are not overwhelming? If you can't hold 3.00 then you're just wasting your time searching for some +/= position because that's not going to last very long anyway. It makes the whole concept of learning anything more than basic opening principles wasted effort that could be spent elsewhere. And it even makes tactics puzzles seem more important than people say they are.

 

All this stuff about openings and middlegames and even endgames seems pointless. I rarely ever reach a basic king and pawn ending and when I do someone just loses on time. My opponent's and I play terrible moves in the opening all the time and yet the result is practically random. It's hard to see how anything but tactics is worth working on. Everything else just seems to require the most basic study while not blundering is everything else that matters.

kindaspongey

penandpaper0089 wrote: "... Seeing as U2000 most games are decided by tactics it seems to me that the opening evaluation is practically useless knowledge. As long as the worse side hasn't blundered anything it's fair game. Someone's going to screw up anyway. ... All this stuff about openings and middlegames and even endgames seems pointless. ... It's hard to see how anything but tactics is worth working on. Everything else just seems to require the most basic study while not blundering is everything else that matters."

 

"... A remark like 'games are rarely decided in the opening' does not really do justice to the issue. ... even if an initial opening advantage gets spoiled by subsequent mistakes, this doesn't render it meaningless. In the long run, having the advantage out of the opening will bring you better results. Maybe this warning against the study of openings especially focuses on 'merely learning moves'. But almost all opening books and DVD's give ample attention to general plans and developing schemes, typical tactics, whole games, and so on. ..." - IM Willy Hendriks (2012)

"... Overall, I would advise most players to stick to a fairly limited range of openings, and not to worry about learning too much by heart. ..." - FM Steve Giddins (2008)
"... Once you identify an opening you really like and wish to learn in more depth, then should you pick up a book on a particular opening or variation. Start with ones that explain the opening variations and are not just meant for advanced players. ..." - Dan Heisman (2001)
https://web.archive.org/web/20140626180930/http://www.chesscafe.com/text/heisman06.pdf
"... I feel that the main reasons to buy an opening book are to give a good overview of the opening, and to explain general plans and ideas. ..." - GM John Nunn (2006)
"... If the book contains illustrative games, it is worth playing these over first ..." - GM John Nunn (2006)
"... the average player only needs to know a limited amount about the openings he plays. Providing he understands the main aims of the opening, a few typical plans and a handful of basic variations, that is enough. ..." - FM Steve Giddins (2008)
"... Everyman Chess has started a new series aimed at those who want to understand the basics of an opening, i.e., the not-yet-so-strong players. ... I imagine [there] will be a long series based on the premise of bringing the basic ideas of an opening to the reader through plenty of introductory text, game annotations, hints, plans and much more. ..." - FM Carsten Hansen (2002)
https://web.archive.org/web/20140627055734/http://www.chesscafe.com/text/hansen38.pdf
"The way I suggest you study this book is to play through the main games once, relatively quickly, and then start playing the variation in actual games. Playing an opening in real games is of vital importance - without this kind of live practice it is impossible to get a 'feel' for the kind of game it leads to. There is time enough later for involvement with the details, after playing your games it is good to look up the line." - GM Nigel Davies (2005)

penandpaper0089

This is all great in a vacuum but not in real games.

1.) Typical plans are great. Except when you blunder. Then they don't matter anymore.

2.) Knowing what to do is super helpful. Not so much when someone changes the nature of the position to something unrecognizable and then you blunder.

 

Why are players U2000? Because they don't know the typical plans of the opening? Because they play too many openings? No. It's tactics. When players get over that I can see these things being relevant but not before.

kindaspongey

penandpaper0089 wrote: "... Typical plans are great. Except when you blunder. Then they don't matter anymore. ..."

 

"... A remark like 'games are rarely decided in the opening' does not really do justice to the issue. ... even if an initial opening advantage gets spoiled by subsequent mistakes, this doesn't render it meaningless. In the long run, having the advantage out of the opening will bring you better results. Maybe this warning against the study of openings especially focuses on 'merely learning moves'. But almost all opening books and DVD's give ample attention to general plans and developing schemes, typical tactics, whole games, and so on. ..." - IM Willy Hendriks (2012)

Aizen89

Point out to me a Grandmaster or International Master that doesn't know a significant amount of opening knowledge and I'll eat my shoe, laces and all.  If you want to become a strong chess player (I'd say 2200 or above), you must eventually learn it.  That said, you specified under 2000.  Let me tell you a story of three chess players.  One was rated 1900, one 2200 and the other 2300+.  The 1900 and 2300+ were very strong at tactics with the latter being good at some opening knowledge too.  The 2200 was an openings beast.  The 1900 and 2300 had pretty solid games.  Sometimes the 1900 would win (though rarely) in tournament play against the 2300.  Other times he drew.  He lost, naturally, more than anything, but the games were close and competitive.  The 2200 and 2300 had pretty competitive games as well, with the 2300 winning a bit more than the 2200.  The 1900 got eviscerated by the 2200 almost every time they played each other.  He only beat the 2200 once in a tournament game and only once or twice (I'd say once) got a draw.  Within the first 10 moves of most of the games, the 2200 had already outplayed the 1900 and most of their games didn't last more than 20 moves.  

 

I was the 1900 player.  It was humiliating to get crushed so easily when others couldn't do that to me and it's because I had very little opening knowledge.  The lesson here is that, while tactics are very important for players of all levels, understanding the opening is just as important.  At higher levels of play, it's probably the most important thing.  If tactics were, Nakamura would be world champion, not Carlsen.  In essence, even though you can get by without opening theory, you're limiting yourself and will never have a shot at being truly strong in chess without it.  It's like having a surgeon who knows all of the human anatomy but doesn't understand how to use a scalpel.  

kindaspongey
penandpaper0089 wrote:

... Knowing what to do is super helpful. Not so much when someone changes the nature of the position to something unrecognizable and then you blunder. ...

After such a game, isn't there the opportunity to examine the game and learn from it?

kindaspongey
penandpaper0089 wrote:

... Why are players U2000? Because they don't know the typical plans of the opening? Because they play too many openings? No. It's tactics. When players get over that I can see these things being relevant but not before.

"... This book is the first volume in a series of manuals designed for players who are building the foundations of their chess knowledge. The reader will receive the necessary basic knowledge in six areas of the game - tactcs, positional play, strategy, the calculation of variations, the opening and the endgame. ... To make the book entertaining and varied, I have mixed up these different areas, ..." - GM Artur Yusupov
"It is important for club players to build up a suitable opening repertoire." - GM Artur Yusupov (2010)

SeniorPatzer

 In your example I'm pretty happy to move Qg4+ followed by Ng3 fairly quickly.   I really like your post.   I think blunder checking before moving will get a player to 1500.   

Aizen89 then makes a good point.   

 

So do both.  With more time devoted to tactics.   

 

wayne_thomas

I think it's helpful to analyze your own games.  You should find your weak spot, and focus on improving in that area, whatever it might be - attack, calculation, combinational vision, defence, endings, openings, positional judgement, strategy, or time management.

chessletsplayer

Yeah I agree. The London System wins by force.

poodle_noodle
penandpaper0089 wrote:

Maybe you don't play something terrible and get one of those +/= positions the opening books like to rave about. I think that's pretty trivial information for most people to have.

 If all you know is the eval, then yes, that's 100% trivial. Correct opening study means you learn the common ideas and patterns for why one side has an advantage.



penandpaper0089 wrote:

U2000 most games are decided by tactics it seems to me that the opening evaluation is practically useless

 Tactics flow from a superior position, so it's never useless to have a superior position even if all you know how to do is tactics.



penandpaper0089 wrote:

As long as the worse side hasn't blundered anything it's fair game. Someone's going to screw up anyway.

 In spite of what I said above, I definitely agree with this. People shouldn't be afraid of openings that end in "bad" positions according to the engine because (if the opening is well established) the practical chances make up for any raw engine eval (also sometimes the engine is just wrong).

Again though it's all about knowing the common patterns and general strategic ideas in the position.



penandpaper0089 wrote:

If you can't hold 3.00 then you're just wasting your time searching for some +/= position because that's not going to last very long anyway.

 Sort of. But you have to remember the other player is human too. Give an engine a 0.1 position and you can't win, but for humans some 0.00 positions might as well be losing because of how easy it is for one side, and difficult for the other.

So again, as long as you understand the position (due to opening study lets say), you can afford to miss tactics here and there because your peers will do the same, and in the end, the person who understands the position is still more likely to win.



penandpaper0089 wrote:
 
It even makes tactics puzzles seem more important than people say they are.

 I don't know... basically everyone says you should make it a daily routine.



penandpaper0089 wrote:

 

All this stuff about openings and middlegames and even endgames seems pointless. I rarely ever reach a basic king and pawn ending and when I do someone just loses on time. My opponent's and I play terrible moves in the opening all the time and yet the result is practically random.

 Well, that's likely in large part due to you just playing blitz.

In long games, where you get to practice good technique (and you're rewarded for knowing technical endgames by heart) you really learn these things. Then when you go back to blitz, you can win these pawn endgames with nearly 100% premoves. I've had plenty of games like this, where I get a winning endgame, and play the last 40 moves in less than 30 seconds.



penandpaper0089 wrote:

Everything else just seems to require the most basic study while not blundering is everything else that matters.

 You might be surprised how much a good position counts. I was helping a much lower rated player at the club and set up a position that was really good for him, really bad for me, and said we should play it out. Even though I was, I don't know, 500 points better at least, I really struggled and in the end even lost.

So at the very least, you need to avoid positions with no play, you need to understand the basic middlegame concepts that are present in the opening lines you choose, because even a really bad player will be able to push you around if your position has nothing to do, and even a really bad player will find effective moves if they have all the play in the position.

poodle_noodle

As an example of not playing the best moves, the engine showing 0.00, but still having practical chances due to superior position requiring black to be more accurate than white:

 

MikeCrockett

According to the OP's hypothesis, random move generators should prove to be as good as humans. We know that isn't the case. Clearly some value is obtained through study and even the "general opening priciples" he mentions was developed from practical play, i.e. learning from experience.

I accept the point that rote memorization of specific opening move sequences is mostly mundane and unpractical. That misses the point of studying opening theory and master games in general. I want to find the ideas and reoccuring themes that can be gained from such study.

Case in point. I recently decided to start playing an obscure opening (Bird's Opening). Everytime I encountered it, from the black side, the ideas of how to play against it baffled me. Clearly there was a "supprise value" that white was counting on. I figured I'd start playing it myself just to learn it's weaknesses. I quickly found through my losses that I was mishandling the position as both White and Black. I began looking through old games and books, studying theory,  and I'm now beginning to pick up the patterns to play the opening correctly. My play is gradually improving.  I have picked up on the common themes of a two bishop sacrifice, exploiting f6 as a weakness, the long Knight manuevers, Nc3-e2-g3-h5 etc.  These ideas I would have missed had I not been willing to pick up a book and study.

kindaspongey

MikeCrockett wrote: "... I began looking through old games and books, studying theory, and I'm now beginning to pick up the patterns to play the opening correctly. My play is gradually improving. ... These ideas I would have missed had I not been willing to pick up a book and study."

 

"... In the middlegame and especially the endgame you can get a long way through relying on general principles and the calculation of variations; in the opening you can go very wrong very quickly if you don't know what ideas have worked and what haven't in the past. It has taken hundreds of years of trial and error by great minds like Alekhine and, in our day, Kasparov to reach our current knowledge of the openings. ..." - GM Neil McDonald (2001)

JamesAgadir
DeirdreSkye a écrit :
Aizen89 wrote:

Point out to me a Grandmaster or International Master that doesn't know a significant amount of opening knowledge and I'll eat my shoe, laces and all.  If you want to become a strong chess player (I'd say 2200 or above), you must eventually learn it.  That said, you specified under 2000.  Let me tell you a story of three chess players.  One was rated 1900, one 2200 and the other 2300+.  The 1900 and 2300+ were very strong at tactics with the latter being good at some opening knowledge too.  The 2200 was an openings beast.  The 1900 and 2300 had pretty solid games.  Sometimes the 1900 would win (though rarely) in tournament play against the 2300.  Other times he drew.  He lost, naturally, more than anything, but the games were close and competitive.  The 2200 and 2300 had pretty competitive games as well, with the 2300 winning a bit more than the 2200.  The 1900 got eviscerated by the 2200 almost every time they played each other.  He only beat the 2200 once in a tournament game and only once or twice (I'd say once) got a draw.  Within the first 10 moves of most of the games, the 2200 had already outplayed the 1900 and most of their games didn't last more than 20 moves.  

 

I was the 1900 player.  It was humiliating to get crushed so easily when others couldn't do that to me and it's because I had very little opening knowledge.  The lesson here is that, while tactics are very important for players of all levels, understanding the opening is just as important.  At higher levels of play, it's probably the most important thing.  If tactics were, Nakamura would be world champion, not Carlsen.  In essence, even though you can get by without opening theory, you're limiting yourself and will never have a shot at being truly strong in chess without it.  It's like having a surgeon who knows all of the human anatomy but doesn't understand how to use a scalpel.  

    Nice story that unfortunately means nothing. 

    Let me tell you one.My teacher got the IM  title without ever studying openings.He read his first opening book when he was already IM.From those that were in the same class , the opening geniuses that always won him when they were kids didn't manage to  to be even CMs.

     None says that opening is not important.I only say that for an ambitious chessplayer opening must be the least of his concerns and only after other VERY important skills have been developed.Those who emphasize the importance of the opening are those that already have developed these skills or those  that can't hope to ever develop them and opening is their only chance for one more win.     

Opening might decide one game if the opponent decides to go crazy and experiment(happens to all of us) or if they decide to challenge each other's engine preparation.Opening also decides the game among players that are equally ignorant in the middlegame and with none or close to none endgame understanding.Those with good and not superficial understanding of the middlegame and the endgame will always find ways to avoid opening preparation and still play a wonderful game.

 

     There are many examples.Larsen went all the way up to No 4 in the world with mainly off beat lines that had no theory(he was the first one that played regularly 1.b3 which become known as  Nimzowitch Larsen attack).Pavel Blatny's main opening against 1.e4 is Owen's defense(his highest rating 2608).Jobava has played his best games with the so called Jobava Rapport attack , an opening that has no theory at all.

     Studying opening when your middlegame understanding and your endgame technique is poor is good for players around 2200 and maybe 2300 but hardly the most important for the rest.Playing theoretical lines doesn't mean only that you will win from the opening , it also means you will lose from the opening.Anand lost twice in a tournament from prepared engine lines.Why? Because he doesn't know theory? MVL lost recently from Aronian in a  prepared line , Aronian have lost from Anand in a prepared line and Karjakin has lost from Nakamura because he forgot the line that draws.Kramnik has turned to non theoretical lines and openings and he is No 3 in the world.And Carlsen avoids theory lots of times.Why?He knows very well that opening theory today is double edged knife that can cut your opponent or your hand.And when you are the best , you have no reason to engage in long theoretical battles.

     All GMs indeed have study a lot of openings but none of them took the title because of the opening.They would take it anyway while others can't be  CM even if they memorise all the lines of opening theory.Why is that?Which is the piece that is missing here? 

      If you play against a GM , he can win in any opening.Why is that?

Play against him any line , even one that gives you an advantage.As long as the position is playable , you will lose.

Why?

Because you can't calculate like him , you can't evaluate like him , you can't understand chess like him and although these are the most important skills of a chessplayer all you want to do is play the opening like him.If that makes sense to you, it's fine by me.

     You only need the opening to get a playable position.If you need to study thousand of hours just to do that , then you do something seriously wrong and openings won't fix it.Amatuers study a lot of openings because they simply seriously lack in understanding.

Tell an amateur to play French defense.What will happen?

    In a month(if not sooner) he will come complaining :

"The exchange variation is drawish" "The bishop is bad" "Black is cramped" "the position is passive".Overall he understands nothing.And then starts the wonderful journey.From French to Caro Kan , from Caro Kan to Sicilian and here comes the big laugh.Which line?

  hmmmm......Dragon is refuted........Taimanov and Kan are drawish and boring.........Najdorf.........yes Najdorf..... Fischer played it , Kasparov played it.

And what about the anti-Sicilians?And he starts studying line after line after line , for hundreds of hours.Damn!Alapin is drawish , Rosolimo is boring , Closed is..........well , closed..........and all this hilarious "adventure" from a guy that can hardly calculate 5 correct moves in a row , has serious gaps in his understanding and  he has hardly ever study endgames past the basic pawn and rook endings.

    Will this guy be better with Najdorf.No , there is no chance he will.He will eventually hit a wall and do you know what  will say when that happen?

 "I need to study more openings"

There is a difference in between not studying openings and playing weird ones. Larsen probably knew a lot about b3 if not he would have been left in worse positions where on average he would have lost.

dannyhume
Not sure what people mean by "studying opening theory"... a lot of it is phraseology. If a respected coach or stronger player told you should study your games for weaknesses and errors, inevitably your first weak move would be in the opening (unless you subconsciously recreate several hundred years of modern opening theory OTB every time you play). You would probably compare your crap move to a good move, such as played by say, a GM, or recommended in a repertoire book, and turn on the engine if your resources didn't cover what you played.

If you play the same moves at the beginning of your games, then that consistency ought to theoretically help you learn because of the repetition and practice needed to learn from your mistakes and to learn themes, structures, and plans in the games you play.

Of course, if you try to memorize games, opening books, and analysis, hoping that your opponent will fall into a clearly advantageous line that only you have memorized, then that type of "study" of opening theory seems useless.
wayne_thomas

dannyhume wrote: " If a respected coach or stronger player told you should study your games for weaknesses and errors, inevitably your first weak move would be in the opening."

That's what I thought as well.  Is the OP suggesting that we should ignore mistakes we make in the opening, and only analyze mistakes that seem to be tactical in nature?  What about strategic mistakes?  Do we leave those be as well?

JamesAgadir
DeirdreSkye a écrit :
JamesAgadir wrote:
DeirdreSkye a écrit :
 

There is a difference in between not studying openings and playing weird ones. Larsen probably knew a lot about b3 if not he would have been left in worse positions where on average he would have lost.

     It was impossible back then to analyse an opening so open ended like Nimzowitch Larsen's attack.What to analyse?

1.b3 Nf6 ,1.b3 c5 , 1.b3 d5 or 1.b3 e5.

1.b3 e5 has some concrete lines , all the rest can lead to anything.Black can play any set up.I don't think any player who plays 1.b3 can prepare for everything.But he doesn't have to.That's the point.

The main advantage of a good player is his superior understanding.That prevents him from getting bad positions in an opening like 1.b3.

     

Opening theory helps you play against most moves not all of them, also it wasn't impossible to analyse openings those days, you just did with other humans.

wayne_thomas

I guess I was thrown off by his comment: "It's hard to see how anything but tactics is worth working on."

MickinMD

Do you mean learning openings themselves or learning Opening Theory - the theory behind the openings?

If you don't understand basic opening theory, you won't often get to positions where you can put tactics to work. If you don't fight for space, tempo, central control, and development with threats you wont win against good players.

An easy example is getting your Queen out too early, then wasting tempos while it is chased around and your opponent develops his pieces. Another is moving your White QB to d2, then to g5, then back to e3 - wasting two tempos since you could have played Be3 in one move.  You need to understand opening theory to avoid such things.

As far as individual openings go, I agree it's pointless for non-masters to memorize long lines. But having a repertoire of a small number of openings where you understand the goals of those openings gives you a framework for getting to the middlegame and a familiarity that lets you play faster because you know there aren't any traps in certain positions.