Saturday, December 11, 2010

What if I were a Beginner: Openings

I just finished How to Build Your Chess Opening Repertoire by Steve Giddins. I had learned the hard way most of the lessons in this book. It would be a great 2nd book on openings. The first book on openings should be Seirawan's  Winning Chess Openings or Fine's The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings. I favor Seirawan's book, because I think his advice on what openings to start playing to be excellent, though I think Fine's explanations of e4 and d4 openings is better.

Though I did not learn much from Giddins' book, it did get me to thinking what a student's path through the openings should be. A caveat is important here. Most of one's chess study time should be taken up with playing over well annotated master games and reviewing one's own games (50%), then endings (20%), tactics problems(20%), and only a little on openings alone(10%). ( Although, I do suggest focusing on master games that are in the openings one plays.)  An argument against the following advice is that you will often be at a disadvantage to a person who has studied an opening more deeply, but that will happen anyway. Even grandmasters regularly run into another player who is more prepared in a line than they are, and they continue to do well. And this is learning advice, not winning advice. To become a better player and thus win more often one must learn, and one learns from one's losses more than one's wins. OTOH, lots of players at the class level will play moves that are not in the opening books, which makes the time one spent studying opening lines wasted, but not time spent learning the ideas behind the openings, nor the common plans and tactics.

Each of the following steps should be done, until you are bored with them, or think you need to get a book on them to advance. Each step should be phased into by changing what you play in blitz games, club games and/or casual against the computer first. Then changing what you play in tournament games, and lastly only change what you play in team games when you think you would do better with the new opening. (You might skip a phase altogether for team games). This trip through the openings should take place over several years. Do not move on to the next step when you lose games, you are supposed to lose games and learn from them. Play each game hard. Defend strongly. Learn to win or draw against your usual opponents from a position of disadvantage!

  1. Start with following Seirawan's advice: King's Indian Attack (KIA), King's Indian Defense(KID), and Pirc.
  2. Then reread the Scandinavian part of Seirawan or Fine and start playing that.
  3. Next is the big shift. Instead of starting with Nf3 for the King's Indian attack, start with e4. Transpose into the KIA if you opponent does anything but e5 or d5. For 1.e4 d5 (the Scandinavian), you already have been playing this as black, and can try the white side now. For 1. e4 e5 2.Nf3 and aim for the Scots game (2...Nf6 3.d4) , dealing with the Russian or Phildor as they arise. This will expand your chess knowledge and will give you experience in open positions. 
  4. After that is the Guioco Piano and Two Knights (aka Italian Game)
  5. The Ruy Lopez (aka Spanish game)
  6. Another big shift: Reti opening, which is like the KIA. The key break is c4 and the secondary one is e4 (the opposite of the KIA), which changes the flavor of the game a great deal
  7. Now time to let go of the KID, and start playing the Queen's gambit declined (QGD) especially the Slav varieties. Learn about the minority attack, isolated queen pawn games, and the glories of the Bxh7+ sacrifice, often on the receiving end  :(
  8. White next, now you are going to look for opportunities to transpose into QGD positions, especially the Catalan.
  9. Actually start opening 1.d4 or 1.Nf3 2.d4.
  10. Start going through other non-Sicilian black defenses to 1.e4 (1...e5, French, Caro-Kann, Alekhine)
  11. The Najdorf, you know you want to!
Now you are informed enough to choose a repertoire and buy opening books to support it. You will be prepared for transpositions, and comfortable with a broad range of middle game issues.

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