GW-KW, Point Count Chess Raw Discussion, File #9:
Part of the Advanced Beginner's Chess Guide (Section 2)

KW Replies to GW's Query about Learning Opening Repertoires,
for Control of the Center
[July 14th 2011]

(KW, July 14th) In an email here GW asked:

  • (GW, July 14th) "How much of chess is just learning set Opening sequences 'off by heart', such as practicing all the known lines of the Reti, over and over again, until they're ingrained in the memory? My only apprehension with this is forever being stuck inside a book and not developing mental flexibility once "out of the book".

    Or, am I looking at it wrong? Should I see learning Opening repertoires like driving a car on different routes - you have to drive them often enough, so they become familiar, then if one road is blocked/closed, you can drive a different road and still get to your destination?"

Those are great questions, and I would like to answer them here rather than as a reply to an email, because I think a lot of players may benefit from the answer.

There are a couple of schools of thought on how to teach beginning chess players how to develop towards mastery of this game.

  • One group says that every beginner should start 1. e4 or 1.d4, and stay away from 1. Nf3.

  • The other group says for a new player, there is no better way to get started than learn something like the Barcza or KIA, with the Reti shortly behind.

Even within this first group there are subgroups.

  • One says it should be 1. e4, because every player should have a period of time in the Open Games (1. e4 e5), and against the Sicilian (about 40% of 1. e4 games start out with the Sicilian). The rest of the openings (1...e6, 1...c6, 1...Nf6, etc.) should be learned as you go along.

    The rationale here is that by playing the open games like the Ruy Lopez, Scotch, Guioco Piano, etc., you will learn tactics (which is the weakest area for a new person because he/she is only just learning the moves of the Pieces and how squares interact) and strategy, more or less the way that the game of chess developed over the years since the start.

    It can also be a lot of fun when you play the gambits. Doing this will fill your arsenal with weapons that can be used in any other opening. Then when you feel comfortable here, you can move on.

    What a beginning player finds, though, is that 1. e4 has been so analyzed that you may need 3 lines against the Sicilian (one each for 2...d6, 2...Nc6, 2...e6), two or three lines against the French (3. Nbd2 or 3. Nc3 or 3. d5), at least one line against the Caro Kann, Alekhine, a couple of lines against the Modern, Pirc, etc. etc.

    Finding good, up to date lines in each of these openings is a lot of work, and the lines are not similar enough to have a unified repertoire.

    I play 1. e4, but I have come up with my own repertoire that is more or less sound, but not played as often, so I can learn just a few lines instead of hundreds if not thousands. It is a lot of work, but in 1. e4, you do learn a lot. The swashbuckling attacks are generally here.

  • The second subgroup plays 1.d4. The reasoning here is that this move is automatically protected by the Queen, and opens a line for the QB. It tends to be a more strategical game, although there are a lot of fireworks ready to pop out.

    The problem with this is you have the Queen's Gambit Accepted and
    -Declined, the Slav, Semi-Slav, Catalan, Colle, Nimzo-Indian, Kings Indian, Queens Indian, Gruenfeld, Benoni, Benko, etc.

    It's no better than 1. e4 in the amount of learning required (in fact, it may even be more). You do learn a lot playing these lines (like how to play Isolated Pawns and Queenside Majorities), but this kind of play isn't everybody's cup of tea.

Generally, proponents of these two subgroups winch and pooh pooh when they see a beginning or intermediate player starting out with the Barcza or KIA, sniffling that they feeling that it will limit their growth, and the feel for many positions derived from 1. e4 or 1. d4.

While there may be some truth in that, until we are close to expert, we aren't winning much money in tournaments, and do not have the leisure of putting more time into learning these many lines.

  • The third group says, the Barcza or KIA or Reti is the way to go, and you will learn strategical themes (as these tend to be based more on strategy), and you will have your share of tactics and combinations.

    At the sub-Grandmaster level, it isn't seen quite as much either.

    The nice thing about these three openings is that the positions which arise are similar enough that ideas learned in one can transfer to another.

    Then when you feel ready, move on to either 1. e4 or 1. d4.

That seems like a long way around to begin answering your questions, but this preamble is necessary for the answer.

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