Opening breakdown: how to learn chess openings better

I’ll be honest, every single day – at least one of my students complains about not being able to remember opening moves and messing up. My response to that is usually the same, I dive into it in a bit more detail here

Disclaimer: This is obviously for Players who are less than 1500 FIDE/2100~ Lichess – After that, you need to get your opening moves right usually – but most of it applies then too

  1. Memorization is not the key, understanding is. Cliche, right? Well, it is true. Look, while I do agree that you are smart – I respectfully think that due to certain limitations we average/normal humans have (I am guessing, I am not talking to someone as genius as Magnus ) – It is clearly not possible to remember all the moves and variations of every single variation.

You need to mark down the critical moves and try to remember those, but mainly – you need to understand the General Principles/Ideas of the openings first to get an idea of why you are moving a piece to wherever. Once you’re aware of this, you will find memorization is much easier since you’ll know what to do most of the time and will have to remember exceptions only. (I.e: in the Sicilian, you usually try to play d5 – but only in few variations are you supposed to not do that. – This is quite basic, just trying to relate on a level where everyone can understand my point)

2) Look for Annotated Games played in your variation.

Being a Coach and a Player both, I use the commercial popular database called ChessPublishing where Grandmaster annotates games – I find that most of the lines have been covered there. This, however, is not essential for lower-rated players, I see that even googling for example “Caro-Kann Annotated Games” will show you many good games that you can look at – especially through ChessGames;

Try to understand the General Ideas these grandmasters go through – see how they win/lose and why.

3) When studying an opening, try to also understand the plans of your opponent. I see many people skipping top player’s annotated/normal games in which the result didn’t favor the side of the board you are preparing the opening from. This is wrong, expect your next opponent to also have read this article and be prepared. It is better to understand your opposite color’s ideas and plans so you will know what to be prepared against

4) Unless playing at the titled level, most of the time – unless a very blundering move, the bad opening move does not mean game over.

Do you have a bad position right after the opening? It’s okay. Calm down and try to get things right. Opening itself in normal/usual cases is nothing but a framework to your middlegame position

5) Out of book? Try to play according to the general principles.

6) Look at the typical player of that opening, and study his games.

For example, for Dragon Players – Gawain Jones is god himself. Najdorf Players might call Kasparov/MVL as one of ’em

7) No popular main-line is a bad opening.

I have seriously heard people over on the Internet say that French is bad, Caro is bad or even Taimanov is bad. Not it is not, please shut up. I am serious, I have had conversations with people where they stopped playing a line they liked because x or y said that it is bad.

This is wrong. Unless the opening is straight-up refuted, you can play it and be fine especially at the lower level. Usually, the guy who says that this line is _ bad – is stating an opinion, don’t take it as a fact. It maybe does not suit their style, but does to yours – don’t just stop just because it did not work out for your friend.

8) You will lose. Don’t expect to win 100 games in a row after you start with a new opening.

Look, don’t be disappointed – just go back, analyze, look at your mistake – remember why and what, put it on a database, and move on. You will lose once you start out, it’s just important that this does not remain like this for more than 20-25 Games.

Now, I have generally found that there are two types of player (again, some obvious exceptions here and there)

#1 – Who plays multiple side-variations, but has enough knowledge of it that their opponent cannot prepare.

#2 – Who plays one main variation, but has enough sidelines and knowledge that their opponent is usually the one scared when getting into it.

Me? I am personally the #1 type. While people have told me in the starting days that I should only Focus on Main Lines (Najdorf, etc) -> For me, #1 worked out the better, obviously it is different for everyone. I only had to learn the mainline now, when I am looking to finish my IM Norms since People really punish me if I play a relatively worse opening line according to the engine. I played openings like Benko, Grand Prix, etc till I was 2200. Both are fine. Any other type of player is probably also ok.

PS: I love to watch videos of Eric Rosen over on London as white, not because I enjoy London (in fact, I am not a huge fan, especially because of the d5 c5 Nc6 Qb6 Lines) – but because he shows the ideas and rich concepts there instead of just blabbing some moves as many people do.

I just wrote down this quickly over when I was eating breakfast, I am 100% sure I missed some points. Please share your own advice/comments *if you think it is in fact the right advice* and I’ll Edit and add ’em. Appreciate that!

EDIT: Huge Shoutout to Everyman’s Getting Started books series. If you are a beginner or Intermediate Player, I think they are very good. even though they are very old – They have beautifully laid down the Ideas and Concepts of specific openings. Focus on that instead of the moves! Look for one in your opening

Cheers, stay safe and have a good one :))

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