Here is IM Anna Rudolf sharing her wisdom about what to do when you find yourself in an unknown position.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Follow these 4 simple steps and get your chess openings right now:
1) Pawn Structure
Before you invest time in memorizing the moves, play through top games in your opening. One of the basics of chess openings is the pawn structure. With this in mind, while playing through games, see what common pawn structures occur in the games.
Look at the different middlegame positions and see if they suit your style before you start learning chess openings.
Playing the Benko Gambit does not make sense if you dislike playing a middlegame a pawn down. Dislike doubled-pawns? Then play the Catalan Opening instead of the Nimzo-Indian Defense.
Focus on the mainlines and test them online in blitz games. Concentrate on how you feel playing the opening and middlegame positions more than on the results.
When you are losing games and feeling uncomfortable, then look for another opening.
If you are like most of us, you have limited time to devote to your chess training. In light of this, spending time memorizing moves only to switch openings a week or two later is a waste of your precious time.
2) Decide On Your Opening Goals
Although a gambit might not be well-regarded in theory, if you enjoy open positions and the open files you get, then play it. Feeling confident about the position is more than enough compensation for a pawn.
However, other chess players might want an equal position with Black regarding material and no pawn weaknesses. Obviously, it’s best for them to avoid gambits when learning chess openings.
Do not discount the importance of obtaining an equal position with Black. Remember the advice of Tigran Petrosian, who said, “It is easier to play for a win from an equal position than from a bad position.”
Even with the White pieces, you might find yourself enjoying a position that theory says is equal or only gives a slight advantage to White. In these times of easy access to information about chess, it is essential to realize almost every chess opening is playable for Black.
Instead of forcing an advantage out of the opening, focus on obtaining a middlegame position you enjoy playing.
3) Keep Your Chess Openings Simple
Learning simple chess openings is challenging enough. There will be time later to add complexity to your opening repertoire if needed.
British GM Jonathan Hawkins believes players below 2000 Elo can get by with devoting as little as 10% of their training time to openings. Chess tactics, endgames, and analyzing games will make up the rest of your training time.
Let’s be honest and acknowledge if you are going to spend around 10% of your training time working on your openings, you will need to exclude openings with lots of “must-know” theory and tactics.
Openings like the Sicilian Defense Najdorf Variation and the Grunfeld Defense require more than knowing only the basics of chess openings.
For example, you might choose the Caro-Kann Defense (1.e4 c6) against 1.e4 and Slav Defense (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6) against 1.d4. Both are sound openings that share a similar pawn structure.
These are two openings you can play for many years, even when you come up against stronger players.
Avoid openings that rely on tricking your opponent or hoping he will make a mistake. These openings won’t work against stronger players and will cost you more time learning new openings.
4) Budget Your Chess Opening Training Time Wisely
The key to getting the most out of your chess training is to make use of game analysis. When you analyze your games, you will cover all phases of the game and expand your knowledge of chess opening basics.
Study the games of top chess players who play the same openings as you and use those games for middlegame training, tactics, and endgame training as they will directly relate to your opening repertoire.
When you analyze your games, you will naturally expand your chess opening repertoire.
Your main goal out of the opening is to reach a good position in the middlegame that you know how to play well. A point often overlooked is that middlegame study impacts your opening study.
A good starting point is to learn two or three of the crucial variations approximately 10 moves deep. This, coupled with an understanding of chess opening basic principles, will be enough more often than not.
There are many online databases to help you identify the mainlines of your chosen opening.
Obviously, the importance of the basics of chess openings must not be discounted. A sound chess opening is required to reach a playable middlegame position,
There have been enough games lost early to serve as a timely reminder not to overlook the basics of chess openings. However, it is essential not to go to the other extreme and overemphasize them.
Similarly, the impact the middlegame and even the endgame can have upon your opening repertoire must be kept in mind. Improving your tactical and endgame skills can significantly affect your results, even if you choose to play the most straightforward chess openings.
In fact, you could consider taking on the challenge to see how simple you can make your openings while winning games.
Once you have mastered the basics of chess openings then it’s time to master the middlegame and endgame. IM Anna Rudolf has put together a complete chess course for the improving player.
Don’t hesitate to take your game to the next level. Get your hands on 15 hours of chess training guaranteed to help you improve all areas of your game now.