Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How to study an opening?

Studying opening theory came shortly after I learnt the game. I discovered with amazement that you could get "a decisive advantage" right out of the opening if you know the "right moves". Wow! pretty interesting and intriguing stuff!

So I started studying openings...which probably sidetracked my true Chess development for many years.
I am not saying that studying opening Chess theory is wrong in itself but it has to be approached the right way.

Opening theory and GMs

Nowadays, being up-to-date on the latest theory development (as well as coming up with new, fresh and unexpected ideas) is definitively a pre-requisite for very strong players (GMI and above).

The trend was probably set by Garry Kasparov over 3 decades ago or so (even though, before him, Lev Poulougaieski was also known to have very deep opening preparation, see his famous and excellent book Grandmaster Achievement) where games can be won...without playing!

This is still true (to some extent) at the highest level; As an example, you can watch the following game Kariakin Mamedyarov 2013 (nicely commented by GM Daniel King) where a strong theoretical novelty, in a rather well-known position, basically wins the game.

Chess Opening theory for mere mortals

But I would definitively not recommend this approach for players below 2200 FIDE and for many reasons:
  • It divert the player's efforts, energy and time from more important topics mainly:
    • Practical play
    • Tactical training
    • Practical Endgame theory and Endgame studies :-)
    • Game Analysis
    • and the list goes on and on...
  • It can be viewed as somewhat the "miracle" recipe to climb the ELO ladder but the truth is that opening preparation, at lower levels, backfires more often than succeed

But we still need to have some opening knowledge, don't we!?

Right, but instead a theoretical one, it should be a practical one, based on experience and also, but not only, opening theory.

As far theory is concerned, a minimum opening theoretical knowledge is sufficient.

Ok, but what is minimum opening theoretical knowledge?

Well, the goal, when entering the middle game, is to have a good (or at least a descent) position where we know what to do next!

So knowing the various possible standard plans for an opening is extremely valuable.

You still can come up with something on your own of course but there is a great probability for a given position that a proven strategic plan already exist for it.

That being said, you should use your common sense and judgement as much as possible: this might not work well with certain openings though, like the Sicilian Dragon and Poisoned Pawn lines, so try to avoid them!

Opening study: the process

Depending on the scope of your study, a whole opening(!) or a very specific variation, the process remains more or less the same:
  • Study Few GMs or important games for that opening and/or system. This allows you to:
    • get a general feeling of the opening/variation
    • identify tactical and strategical ideas
    • build some reference points
      It is important to stay away from opening manuals!....at first.
      The number one thing to avoid is memorizing lines; You will eventually know the moves because of the practice and games! The objective is to rely on ideas, not variations!
  • Practice, Practice and Practice!
    • Try some 5-minutes blitz games first, a few dozens of blitz games to get a feel of the opening
    • Then switch to longer time controls (15/20/30 minutes games), obviously the more the better; practice make perfect!
  • The Oracle...that must be challenged!
    • Finally take a look at some opening manuals:
      • a comprehensive yet general manual like Batsford Chess Opening is usually more than enough
      • Compare your thoughts / analysis with the assessments and lines given in the book:
      • no needs to be shy about having your own opinion; quite often analysis/assessments presented in this kind of book are just wrong!
      • The key thing is to develop one's own opinion: Be an explorer and challenge every analysis!
  • Start playing your opening in tournaments/serious games!
  • "Rinse and repeat" to refine your repertoire

Good luck with your opening explorations!

No comments:

Post a Comment