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What is a good way to practice openings?

  • #1

    I'm a mid 1500 5-min player and around 1800ish standard player.  My game revolves around tactics and strategies as I haven't took any time to really study chess.

    I don't have a good memory or at least I'm not as good as many of you but I know that I lose alot of games cause I'm doing blunders early in my openings.

    So... my questions to you.  How do you guys practice openings and try to remember them? 

    Thanks ;)

  • #2

    A few popular ideas ... try 'em out and see if anything fits for you.

    - Create and manage a repertoire database in paid/freeware database programs. Note that you will grow this the way you would grow a delicate potted plant. Each game you play will force you to update this plant with a new leaf based on a new main line that you just encountered (but were not sure how to play).  To practice, some of these DB applications have some sort of practice mode to drill you across these opening trees. This approach is based on the "learn one new move at a time" way of thinking as opposed to learning 10-20 moves of an opening like drinking from a garden hose.  Of course, it is VITAL to inspect + review your potted plant from leaf to leaf weekly until you've transitioned this knowledge from your short-term memory to your long term memory.

    - Use some industrial strength software for drilling your above repertoire  such as the free Chess Position Trainer or the paid bookup (now called C.O.W)

    - Before some naysayers to the mere idea of practicing openings come out yelling, let me just say that there's always  the practical + pre-digital age approach => grab a bunch of instructively ANNNOTATED games featuring the opening lines you play and learn the ideas behind this opening and how different players (preferably Master level or above) tackle them.  Spend enough time doing it and you'll absorb the "what's the right move here" knowledge by osmosis.

    General Caveat: Before increasing your personal study time on opening practice, ask yourself if it is really necessary or if what you are playing is getting you by.  If you can confidently say that you are aware of all the good opening principles, then can you coast on that along without deep-diving into the mainlines?

    For instance: If I'm an 1800 player trying to scalp experts and masters in OTB (live) tournaments, then yes, you definitely need to practice your openings  .. to atleast know the mainlines well and how to tackle some of the common themes and complications in your favorite opening.

    One more reason to practice/drill openings would be very short time controls ... that require you to get past the opening phase REALLY quick. For example, in our city's premier club, the regular tourney time control for weekend tournaments is G/30. So in that case => Yes, you totally need to be sharp and quick on your opening theory recall.

     But if you're just happy playing players who are clearly non-experts and non-masters  your chess future,  you're probably not getting outplayed just because of your skill in the opening phase (reason being: club players are just not that good to regularly punish you for playing something unsound)

    You really could be investing more time in other things with a higher ROI, like endgames or just positional/strategy-based studying or practice rather than openings.

     Hope this helps.

  • #3

    Play over a lot of games with the opening you are trying to learn, guessing the moves before you see them. Give a try to http://www.chess.com/download/view/guess-the-move---chess-training-system.  That's my method (but, then, I wrote GTM program :-)).

  • #4

    There are several ways of learning openings. A method that I use is:

    • study annotated games, preferably from a opening book dedicated to the opening/line you want to learn
    • make a selection in a database of >2500 rated players that have recently (>1995) played that opening/line
    • annotate and memorize key games for every line in the opening yourself
    • compare frequently occuring endgame themes (arising from the master games) and add these to your analysis
    • always study your own games and compare them with the database, master annotated games and your own analysis.
    With the games annotated by master chess players you will learn what to look for, which plans to follow. The database selection will provide you with top level games that you can study yourself. Annotating the games yourself helps you memorizing lines and understanding what you play. This is also very helpful for out-of-book variations.
    This might not be the fastest way of studying openings, but the upside is that you learn more than just the opening, you also improve your chess skills (mainly strategy / positional play and some end game skills)
  • #5

    that's some really sick tips guys :P


  • #6
    1. Get a database with a few thousand games of the opening you want to learn.
    2. click through the games, spending just a few seconds per position, play all games right through to the end, to get an dea of pawn structures, etc
    3. after a dozen or so games, see how many moves yo can predict
    4. an hour a day of this, and by the end of the week you have a workng knowledge of your new opening, end of a month you'll be pretty good
  • #7

    First off - DO NOT MEMORIZE!

    Step 1 - Explore various openings, and see which ones you can identify the ideas in naturally yourself.  For example, take the Black side of the French Advance (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5).  What is Black's primary idea.  Where is White's primary weakness?  If you can answer these questions naturally, the French may be for you.  If not, you don't think this way, and it's not meant for you.  (Answer at bottom of the message)

    Step 2 - Once you have found a first move for White, 2 defenses to 1.e4, 2 defenses to 1.d4, and 1 defense to everything else, study those openings more in depth.  Again, DO NOT MEMORIZE!  Actually try to understand what is going on.  The "Move by Move" series from Everyman is good for this.

    Step 3 - Once you understand the basics of the openings you play, make sure you play these openings in STANDARD TIME CONTROLS in OVER THE BOARD chess tournaments.  This internet 5-minute blitz won't do you any good.  1 hour of serious studying is worth more than 12 hours of internet blitz.

    Step 4 - Invest in more theoretical works on the openings you play.  Once again, work to understand what is going on.  Don't just push wood.

    Here's another good example:

    Classical King's Indian with 10.Nd3.  After 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.O-O Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Ne1 Ne8 (9...Nd7 is the main line) 10.Nd3 f5, should White play 11.f3?  Why or why not?

    Answer:  ABSOLUTELY NOT!  If Black plays 11...fxe4, White is extremely happy to take back with the Knight with complete control of the game.  By playing 11.f3, you encourage 11...f4.  Notice that the center is closes.  Black's pawns point towards the Kingside.  White's toward the Queenside.  Since Black goes for a Kingside attack, he's getting ready to play moves like ...Qh4, ...Rf6, ...Bd8 (to cover d6 after c5 and cxd6 cxd6), etc.  Note that if the e8-Knight were on f6 instead of e8, it would impede the Black Queen, and he has to move the knight out of the way again, or else move the Black Queen around it, which takes multiple moves.  In the King's Indian, Black's Light-Squared Bishop is a critical piece.  Black will storm the Kingside pawns, and then typically sacrifice the Light-Squared Bishop to rip open the White Kingside (usually via ...Bh3 or ...Bxh3 if white pushed h3 at some point, which is horrible!).  If White makes a waiting move, like 11.Bd2 (The main move here), then if Black plays 11...f4, White gets in 12.Bg4!! and White has a significant advantage.  So therefore, White is waiting for Black to play ...Nf6, waiting for the Knight to come to pressure e4 a second time before moving his own pawn to f3 and allowing ...f4.  Truly understanding this is far more important than simply memorizing that White plays Bd2 on move 11.  WHY does he play this?

    As for the French Advance above, Black should undermine the White center, especially d4 via ...c5, but also from the front of the pawn chain via ...f6 at some point.  After an eventual trade on d4, and a recapture by White with his c-pawn, that d4-pawn will sit there weak.  d4 is Black's primary target in at least 80% of all French lines, if not more than that!

  • #8
    ThrillerFan wrote:

    First off - DO NOT MEMORIZE!


    I dare to disagree. How does one learn a language? First study grammar or first start memorizing words? 

    I do agree that you shouldn't simply memorize lines without understanding, but you still need to know which moves to play when, at least for the main variations. Memorizing an annotated game (preferably a game you annotated yourself (active studying)) for main lines is even better in my opinion, as the plans / tactics are already explained.

  • #9

    Good luck Cool

  • #10

    Memorizing and understanding are not mutually exclusive.  Knowing something by heart is vastly superior to trying to figure it out anew every game.


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