Starting from Scratch - But How?

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #1


    Getting someone back into playing the game of chess has made me question myself as a player. After some consideration, I have decided to completely reconstruct my chess foundation, and that means coming up with a sleek new, updated opening repertoire, with all the bells and whistles. No extra shipping charges apply. 

    This topic has been picked up and tossed around over and over again for ages, but without a definitive answer. Exactly what is the best way to conjure one's own personal opening repertoire, all the way from finding a few openings with each color that suit you to a tee to crunching out the memorization of the move 20 variations of them? 

    Some simply answer that the best opening repertoire is to at least be familiar with every major opening, whether or not you would ever play it. They say to spend a few hours on each opening, going through some master games just to get the gist, move on, and hopefully if you ever encounter it, you'll know what to do.

    Others are just the opposite: they feel that the best way to tackle openings is to know just a very few, but know them well enough that you trust them more than your best friend. Say, for white, you should absolutely worship one opening, and be able to play out all its variations depending on what your opinion tries to throw at you in your sleep. On the other side of the board, you should have something against 1. e4, 1. d4, and 1. c4. 

    I believe the true answer lies somewhere in-between. Before I really get into developing my own repertoire, I want to know what you guys think. Thanks a lot for any feedback, please don't be afraid to share your opening repertoire, how you developed it, why you like it so much, and anything else that could possibly help me or other readers with our own attempted-mastery of the first part of the greatest game ever to be played by man. Thank you very much!

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #2


     Since I face the sicilian maybe 60% of the time when I play 1 e4, it made sense to study it in the greatest detail - and if I'm going to devote all that attention to it from white's point of view, I thought I might as well play it as black, as a lot of knowledge was already there. Besides, anything new I learned from the black point of view was going to help me when I played white vice-versa. So that was a huge chunk of my opening repertoire coming along nicely. I then learned the Dutch stonewall defence against d4, since it is similar in character to the sicilian, and as a bonus, can be played (with a little care) against c4, Nf3 and g3. I then concentrated on the advance variation of the French from black's point of view, since lots of anti- sicilian lines can end up a bit Frenchy. That left me with a response to 1 ...e5, which I filled with the Bishop's opening (avoids the Petroff), a line against the caro kann (fantasy variation), a line against the French (work in progress) and one against the pirc, Alekhine and Scandinavian. All in all, I've tried to keep all lines in my repertoire as similar as possible, which keeps me in relatively familiar territory no matter what I face. I've lost count of the times I've been able to borrow an idea from the Sicilian when I'm playing the Dutch, or from the Bishop's opening when playing against the Caro Kann.     

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #3


    I am a fairly low rated player, but I feel that the opening is a very strong stage for me(online play doesn't show that with databases and such). I have studied openings by learning one thing I want to play against all opponent options, but then I change when I become better at different areas of the game. Against e4 I can now play the sicilian sveznichov, the accelerated dragon, the pirc, or the caro kann. Against d4 I can play the KID or the Slav. Don't know if this helps, but there you go!

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #4


    If I were to recommend something to a young man just starting out, I would recommend this...

    Start by playing correspondence chess only.  Do this so you can choose openings without the bother of having to study them.  Play along with master games until your opponent deviates, then begin looking for tactics.  If none present, begin looking for strategic plans.

    With that in mind, choose the following openings.

    With white, open with either e4 or d4.  If e4, play the Ruy, the open Sicilian, the Nc3 French, and mainlines against all other black replies.  If d4, play the Queen's gambit, the classical KID, and other mainlines.

    With black, play either the open games or the Sicilian against e4.  If the open games, play the closed Lopez.  Play the KID against everything else.

    The reason I'd choose these is because they are the most played and studied openings in chess, and the HUGE body of chess literature you can spend a lifetime studying will be FAR more readily applicable to you if you are playing the same games/pawn structures that are being annotated.  I choose the KID over the d5 games only because it compresses the repertoire without compromising the coverage of master level games to a meaningful extent.

    Get a good book on strategy, plenty of books on tactics, and as many well-annotated games collections as you can get your hands on.  After, and ONLY after you have studied all that, and played the games over and over until they are like old friends, then seek out opening guides.

    Alternatively, play the BDG and the hippo all the time, drive everybody nuts, and take the shortcut to ELO 2000.  You'll never be 2300, but you'll be hell at blitz.

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #5


    You should learn as Black the double-KP and double QP  openings first.  It's impossible to truly understand either the semi-open games (Sicilian, French, Caro-Kann, Pirc, Alekhine) or the Indian defenses (Nimzoindian, Queen's Indian, King's Indian, Grunfeld, etc.) without having a grounding in the defenses they were designed to replace.

    As White, Oxbloom's advice to play main lines is sound.  You cannot possibly learn them completely at once, but by playing them you will learn by experience the typically successful and unsuccessful strategies.

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #6


    Its good to look deeply in one opening, and this will necessarily cross over into other openings. all the openings intersect at various points.

    You will usually quickly find that there are certain positions you feel comfortable in, and others your dont, in the same opening. Then you may find how a similar sort of position may occur from a different opening...transpositions are a very powerful and necessary tool...besides transpositions simply finding very similar character positions, with similar structural elements, is very helpful.  

    My openings for the most part have evolved into focusing on IQP positions (both having or fighting the IQP) and strong Qside majority endgames (But this option i almost never offer my opponent)...these are positions I feel i'm really my best in...and it really would suprise you how easily you can find these sorts of positions in ANY opening...I would say stick to one opening for a while until you really 'get it', but always be open to explore other openings...and if you feel your opening simply isnt working for you, dont be afraid to jsut dump it and pick up something else...the ideas and manouvers in totally different openings can actually end up being relevant suprisingly often... so its really not a waste that you studied an opening you never use anymore

    As a suggestion on what to start with...I would say look at the most direct and obvious openings first, where the breaks happen as quickly as possible, rather than the endless manouvering preparing for the break when its slightly mroe favorable...This is pretty dont knwo when a break is mroe favorable unless you have an idea about what tends to happen after it occurs...therefore I would say start out jsut learning the very old openings...since those guys didnt bother being terribly subtle...they started the fight from the start.

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #7


    "Alternatively, play the BDG and the hippo all the time, drive everybody nuts, and take the shortcut to ELO 2000.  You'll never be 2300, but you'll be hell at blitz." LOL is that why everyone's playing this annoying opening in quick games? People giving out advice...well I shoul'dve known lol. :-)

    As for the original question I believe it's best to know a couple openings in depth first, with only the simplest ideas of what to do against others until you reach a higher Class A player level. Obviously, I probably have no idea what i'm talking about and shouldnt be posting, but oh well. :-) gl crogers

    PS-Start with 1. e4 because it's the best. Trust me

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #8


    pick your openings based on your style of play (or if you don't know your style of play, pick a style you think you'll enjoy for now).

    i like open, tactical, attacking positions. therefore, i pick my openings that suit that type of game.

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #9


    I don't understand how people keep those openings in their heads and all the different lines. How does one go about studying an opening???

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #10


    Starting out fresh means you should be playing classical openings. Play 1. e4 as white, and double king pawn/double queen pawn as black. I started out learning the scotch opening as white whenever I could get it in. As black in the double king pawn, the very best book for this is "Beating the Open Games" by Mihail Marin. It is by far the best opening book ever written for chess, and arguably one of the best chess books period. For double queen pawn, I'm an advocate of Silman's QGD system.

    You will also want a general reference of the openings, and the four volume set: "Mastering the Chess Openings" by IM John Watson is bar-none the best introduction to all openings in chess (with cover art by yours truly :-). I just received my complimentary copy of the 4th volume and it's an excellent read, even taking a chapter to discuss exactly this thread's topic!

    Finally, get "Play Winning Chess" By Gm Yasser Seirawan. It is THE chess bible for beginners. It teaches you proper chess philosophy over the board.

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #11


    Thanx FirebrandX, I'm going to do what you suggest, but my problem is that I can't keep all that information in my head. What happens if they don't follow the opening? Then you're on your own I guess, which is where I seem to be most of the time I play. All the names, the sicillian, Ruy Lopez, kings opening decision comes down to. "Do I push the Queen or King pawn." My observations through playing, that pushing the Queen pawn leads to more open games...maybe your book suggestion will help.

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #12


    Well the opening books are just for reference and training. Really at your level, just develope classically and don't worry about trying to memorize lines. This where that "Play Winning Chess" book comes in real handy. It teaches you how to think and react in a game, rather than chuck lines down your throat. One of my favorite techniques I learned from that book is how to return extra material for a positional advantage. An example would be as I did below in this blitz game:


    When it got down to the endgame, I returned the rook for the knight so I could win another pawn and force a much easier to understand endgame I knew I could win. This is a concept I learned directly from Yasser's book.

    Below is the flipside, where I blundered a piece and then had to fight my way back into the game. My opponent made a series of improper returns of his material advantage until he had no advantage left! I could have technically played for a win, but I was happy to offer a draw in the final position to win the tournament:

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #13


    I prefer using sidelines in every opening, they save a lot of study time (I learned that after trying to play the Dragon- too much theory!). Wouldn't this saved time be better spent studying endgames or tactics?

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #14


    I agree with bobobbob on this one. Most of my openings come from sidelines to more well-known openings. I play 1.e4, which, if you're starting from scratch is the opening to use as White.

    My repertoire (and how it came to being such):


    1. e4

    1...e5 2. f4 - King's Gambit, I realized that after my first few hundred chess games, that I don't take enough chances to seize the initiative, so I decided to play an opening that would counterbalance this weakness (plus it helps me look for ways to gain the initiative and use tactics)

    1...c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. f4 - Grand Prix Attack of the Sicilian Defense. Why not play the Open Sicilian? Well, the main problem is that Black only needs to know which system he wants to play, while I would need to know ALL of them if I want to play the Open Sicilian as White. Nothing wrong with the Open Sicilian; it would take too much of my already limited time though. The Grand Prix Attack is more compact and less people can rattle off the first 20 moves straight off of opening theory.


    1. e4 Nf6 - Alekhine Defense - A fun opening that I first played to be funny, then realized that it was legit. Not your typical opening, but one of the main reasons it's still in my repertoire is because few people are experts on Alekhine Theory.

    1. d4 f5 - Dutch Defense - I started playing this at around the same time that I picked up the King's Gambit. Again, I'm trying to improve my attacking game. An added plus is that it's not an extremely popular defense.

    1. c4 f5 and 1. Nf3 f5 - Anglo-Dutch and Reti-Dutch - I'm not going to see 1.c4 and 1.Nf3 too much, so I might as well tie the openings into a system that I will be playing more often.

    That's it.

    My advice? Start with 1.e4 as White and start with the classical defenses as Black (1.e4 e5, 1.d4 d5, 1.c4 e5, 1.Nf3 d5). Fundamentals are more apparent in those openings (control the center, king safety, develop pieces, etc.). It's just my opinion though. Hope this helped.

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #15


    Generally speaking, sidelines are a bad idea when you're just starting out in chess. Those "less theory" openings also tend to stunt chess growth.  Lots of chess trainers agree on this too. An example would be those King's Indian Attack/Defense systems where you get to make so many opening moves for "free" without having to think. Having beginners use those system openings instead of playing classical chess will cause slower chess growth in the long run.

    I remember wasting my first couple of years in serious chess study with g3 as white and g6 as black. Didn't have a clue how to play the middlegames from those openings, yet I thought they were so great because I could castle and develope most of my pieces without losing to a tactic. Guess what? I eventually realized I was being foolish trying to play hypermodern chess as a rank beginner without a foundation of classical play. People who played starting off dealing with the Ruy Lopez and QGD/A were improving twice as fast as I was, and it was the exposure to those kinds of classical positions that gave them a better start.

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #16


    I'm not trying to avoid tactics, I'm trying to avoid theory. Most people that play the Ruy Lopez probably don't know what's going on. It takes like 20 moves just to get your pieces in the right spots. The Italian Game is much more straightforward and playing the Evans Gambit improves your attacking play a lot.

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #17


    The only real way to "avoid theory" is to avoid the best moves!  Most of the "off" stuff is perfectly playable, but that only means White gets through the opening with a decent position and chances for both sides.  White is supposed to have an edge, folks!  See how much emphasis the top GMs put on winning with White, while they will settle for a quick draw with Black far more easily.

    If you don't have a grounding in double-e-pawn and d-pawn openings, start there.  You should forget opening books and DVDs for now, you can sink a lot of money there for little benefit.  Choose the lines you wish to play and PLAY THEM - as often as you can, in casual games, blitz, turn-based or correspondence, OTB tournament games.  Nothing helps learn an opening like playing it.

    Next, play over master games in your chosen lines.  Any database will sort games by opening, and you can stay up-to-date for free with TWIC.  Don't spend a whole lot of time on each game, maybe 15-20 minutes tops unless it really interests you.  The concept is to play over many master games in the lines you are learning.  You will get to see the basic strategies and recurring tactics for both sides, those that work and those that don't, and why they do or don't right down to the endings.  Eventually, you will subconsciously (and also, hopefully, consciously) absorb the patterns and be able to avoid weak and inconsequent moves in your own games in those lines.

    This method also gives you a course in the various pawn structures which arise in your openings, and how to handle them, as well as typical middlegame plans and even endgames, so you learn some in areas other than the opening, too, and aren't left at the end of some book line with a "slight plus for White" and no clue what to do.

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #18


    As Estragon said above: If you want to aim for playing the best moves you're going to have to build your repetoire around main lines (and why wouldn't you want to play the best moves in the opening? After all you are trying to play the best moves in the middle game and in the endgame, so why not start from move one). Question is which ones? Since main lines also bring with them larger amounts of theory you should stick to a minimum of openings so you can cut down on the amount of theory to a reasonable level.


    I myself tried alot of openings, everything from e4 to d4 but I settled for 1.c4 as white. Why? The English is not too theory heavy but is perfectly viable by itself unlike other off beat systems in d4 or e4 games. It is a perfect opening to play against stronger but also weaker oppnents. Against stronger opponents you will have the solidity of the english but while playing against weaker opponents you will outplay them positionally. It is also good to play for a win because there are few minor piece trades in the english in the beginning phase of the game.


    Ok so the repetoire for white was easy. What to pick as black?

    I tried everything from super-sharp like dutch leningrad to sicilian najdorf to modern defenses with g6 and c6. I came to the conclusion that the najdorf is great and all but there is way too much theory to learn which can be avoided with the dussins of anti sicilians so it just felt like a waste of time to learn the najdorf. The leningrad dutch was way too hard to play and is not solid enough. The modern was difficult to play  because you got cramped.

    So the solution was: I want a pawn in the middle fighting for the center and I want a solid opening that is allround against weak responses aswell and work well as a pair vs 1d4 and 1e4.

    Answer: Slav defense + Caro-Kann.

    Solid, counter-attacking and sound.

    The classical slav with Nc3 dxc4 + Bf5 lines are great (no need for silly semi-slavs). Not too theory heavy and easy to play. Getting good positions is a cake.

    The main line caro-kanns are great aswell. More theory here, but this is the case for all sound e4 opening replies.

    Easy to get good positions if you opponents  plays off beat stuff in both openings without taking any risks at all.


    What books to read for these opening lines?


    GM repetoire: The English opening by Mihail Marin


    The Dynamic English by Tony Kosten



    Play the Slav by James Vigus



    Play the Caro-Kann by Jovanka Houska


    Gm repetoire: The Caro-Kann by Lars Schandorff


    Last note:

    If you dislike the english as white, because after all it is not like the slav nor the caro-kann because it is a hyper modern opening, there is nothing wrong with a 1.d4 2.c4 repetoire. A great book on a repetoire based on that is Starting out 1.d4 by John Cox.


    Good luck.

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #19


    Sometimes the opening is just out of favour but hasn't been refuted. Maybe playing the "best" move is .1 pawns better than the next move. So what? Is it worth the extra hours of study for a tiny advantage that you are likely to throw away anyways? Often you are just playing into your opponents preparation and will quickly be at a disadvantage unless you are ready to be a theory hound.

    My openings:


    1.e4 I always play this.

    If 1...e5 I go for Italian Game and Evans Gambit or Two Knights

    1...c5 Closed Sicilian edit: oops, I meant Grand Prix Attack

    1...e6 Standard French with Nc3

    1...c6 Exchange Caro-Kann


    1.e4 d5  Icelandic Gambit

    1.d4 I play Albin Counter Gambit or Dutch

    1.c4/1.Nf3 I go for a Dutch set up.

  • 6 years ago · Quote · #20


    bobobbob wrote:

    Is it worth the extra hours of study for a tiny advantage that you are likely to throw away anyways? Often you are just playing into your opponents preparation and will quickly be at a disadvantage unless you are ready to be a theory hound.

    My openings:


    1.e4 I always play this.

    If 1...e5 I go for Italian Game

    1...c5 Closed Sicilian

    1...e6 Standard French with Nc3

    1...c6 Exchange Caro-Kann


    1.e4 d5  Icelandic Gambit

    1.d4 I play Albin Counter Gambit or Dutch

    1.c4/1.Nf3 I go for a Dutch set up.

    I don't get that argument. How come everyones opponent are all these "booked up maniacs" that are impossible to win against in mainlines. Where do all these booked up people come from? Why is it always you that is "running into the other ones prep". If you just gave your openings a little more thought then the average person at your own level THEY would run into YOUR prep and not the other way around.

    Most of the people here are class players and just dedicating your time on a few but very known and viable lines won't take you unreasonable amounts of time. You will get an edge every single game against people (that don't study openings or play dubious lines) at your level if you do this. Why wouldn't you want to start every game with a 0.1 advantage if you can instead of risking beginning the game with -0.1 because your opponent knows the correct answer to your dubious gambit?



    Your white repetoire is perfectly viable really and does have fair amounts of theory. The lines are good choices though. What I don't understand is how you can have such a different black repetoire with all those off beat lines. You are playing all these solid lines as white but as black being a tempo down in the opening you are playing very risky openings. Are you generally doing well with black compared to white playing like that? Just curious. I mean if you are doing well with those gambits as black I don't understand why you do not play gambits as white. White gambits are in general much more viable then black gambits.

Back to Top

Post your reply: