In the past, I’ve spent too much time studying the opening to the detriment of my chess understanding. And I’m afraid I’m not the only one suffering from an addiction to openings. I’m not going to dwell on the reasons why so many players seem to be obsessed by the opening phase of the game. I don’t feel qualified to write about psychology here. But I’ve learned first-hand how spending most of your time studying openings is actually counterproductive.
In my view a club player should focus on learning a few openings that are both ‘simple‘ and ‘evolutive‘.
I’d like to start with a sensible recommendation made by GM Lajos Portisch:
It is illogical for one who has not earned his master title to ape the complicated variations played, by, say, a world champion. After all, while the opening is indeed important in chess, it is still only one part of the game; victory can be found as well in the middlegame or endgame.
In order to improve, club players need to fill numerous gaps in their chess knowledge and understanding. Spending a disproportionate amount of time studying opening theory will only distract you from more important stuff (positional play, tactics, endgames, etc.). So it makes sense to design a simple opening repertoire that you know like the back of your hand. After weighing up the pros and cons of several options, I came up with the following repertoire:
White: 1.d4 followed by 2.Bf4 (a.k.a. the London System)
Black: 1…e6 against 1.d4/1.e4/1.c4. My repertoire will be based on the French Defence against 1.e4 and the Queen’s Gambit Declined against 1.d4/c4/Nf3.
Having a narrow and solid repertoire is a huge advantage for club players. In most of your games against fellow club players you’ll definitely have a head start. Because your opening repertoire is narrow, you’ll be familiar with most strategic and tactical ideas.
In my view, it’s important to chose openings that can evolve as you improve. Imagine you decide to adopt a ‘simple’ repertoire based on the move 1.b3. Nothing wrong with this move! The problem is that if you decided to switch to the main lines at some point and play 1.d4 you’ll have to learn everyting again from scratch. With an opening like the London System you can chose to include new variations in your repertoire without throwing all your openings in the bin. You could decide to learn the main line against the King’s Indian and continue to play the London System against other defences.
I’m planning to write a series of posts in which I discuss my opening choices in more detail. Stay tuned!