Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Thoughts about Openings

Since I came back from Hastings I haven't done much chess because of some health problems, but I'm now nearly back to normal. Over the weekend I played two games in the British team league 4NCL and got 1.5 points. I was happy with a quick draw against a stronger opponent on Saturday and managed to win against a weaker opponent on Sunday despite feeling very unwell, so it was a good result. My team lost one match and won one. The next 4NCL weekend is in a month's time and my team needs to try winning both matches because later in the year the two pools in our top division get re-arranged into different two pools according to teams' performance. Last year we were the winners of the bottom pool, so this year we need to do better and get into the top pool instead.

I've had some interesting e-mails from readers of my blog, thank you very much for those. I do enjoy reading your own stories about chess and happy to answer your questions. So please keep e-mailing me at and let me know if there are any particular chess topics you'd like me to cover in my blog.

I was recently asked how I develop my openings repertoire. Some of it evolved over the years and some of it was more intentional. For example, against 1.e4 my dad taught me the Taimanov Sicilian many years ago and I still play and love it as an opening. Against 1.d4 my dad taught me the Benko Gambit. Even though I still like that opening I decided to learn something more solid once I re-started playing chess after the university, so I chose to learn the Slav towards the end of the nineties. In hindsight, it was a very good decision as this opening suits me very well. Besides, my coach IM Simon Ansell plays it too and I can learn a lot from him! Another advantage of the Slav is that against 1.c4 I can play 1...c6 and after that white often chooses to transpose into the Slav anyway. I've also recently learned the Dutch Stonewall which is a handy alternative to the Slav not requiring a lot of theory knowledge. Besides, I can also apply it with reversed colours as white. At some point soon I'd also like to learn an alternative opening against 1.e4. I already decided what it should be but will keep it a secret for now.

Strangely enough I had a lot more problems with my white openings. I used to play 1.e4 as a junior, but after several years absence from chess my dad suggested that I play something that doesn't require a lot of theory knowledge - The Torre Attack. And that's what I played since I finished the university. I got really fed up playing it for so long (about 10 years!) since it's not as varied as main lines and I wasn't happy with my white results either. Now I have started playing main lines 1.d4 and very happy with the variety of interesting positions that I get out of it. Playing the Torre Attack earlier helped me with understanding some of the main line 1.d4 structures, so it's not all totally new to me. I've also found a new coach who can specifically help me with 1.d4 main lines for white and if all goes well the training will start next week.

Of course, I consider other things when choosing opening lines. For example, even main line 1.d4 has many options for white to choose from. I tend to choose those lines that are most suitable to my style, so that I feel comfortable with resulting positions. And if I'm preparing for a specific opponent I sometimes learn something totally new either to surprise or to avoid something. If my memory was a bit better I would happily play a large variety of openings because I would enjoy new types of positions and plans. I may do that sometime in the future anyway, just for fun. But for now I have a specific aim to get my rating up as soon as possible and for that I think I need to learn a limited number of openings very well. The basic idea behind a limited openings repertoire is to get a familiar position with a familiar plan to preserve the time early on, so that there is time available for complicated decisions and calculations in a critical moment later in the middlegame.

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