Sunday, April 20, 2008

Opening Minefield

Have you ever tried committing to memory a new opening repertoire?

I have been trying to learn one for the last 4 days and it has so far been a frustrating experience.

The opening theory is quite memory intensive with lots of sharp lines to say the least. But no matter how hard I try, I am finding it very difficult to remember certain theoretical lines and I messed up the move order.

This opening minefield I have to tiptoe through to learn it is incredible. Twenty years ago, the amount of theory I have to learn would have been considerably less and these days, I can't believe how much knowledge one has to acquire just to know the ins and outs of a particular chess opening and to not get caught out by opening traps.

I am also starting to show a bit of rustiness. Tonight, I logged on to FICS and promptly got my ass whipped in less than 10 moves ie. after 10 moves, my position was so dire that if this was an OTB game, I would've resigned!

I don't get it. Is my motivation lacking? Am I watching too many chess videos from the couch, eating Twisties and getting lazy?

Last week, my opponent didn't turn up and I got a bye - which was an absolute downer since I was all prepared to play chess. This week, I'm playing Black and I've not checked my schedule to see who I'm playing next. I've decided not to look because no matter what happens, I plan to go out with guns blazing.

Which brings me back to my choice of opening. That's the problem with playing sharp lines, you need to wade through the theory minefield because one misstep is instant disaster for either side.


  1. Studying openings suck. How much is memorization adn how much is udnerstanding at our level depends on the opening you go for. If you try to use one of the "trendy" new openings, chances are you won't understand it and try to force it into a memorization process.

    Target openings you can understand. I am studying the classic games of over 150 years ago to rebuild my chess understanding ( and blogging about it lately)

    Go over entire games to see what teh general theme is. Stick with the mainlines as they are the best lines only deviate once you understand why the deviation exists and what its avoiding.

    Use software tools like Chessbase or Bookup and practice with them.

    My 2 cents.

    Best wishes

  2. Well, FOUR DAYS is a bit fast to learn a repertoire, isn't it?? If you're goofing up move orders you may find "Chess Opening Wizard" a useful tool to train them. Even the Express version can do that. There's also a Chess Position Trainer which is not so slick but it's free and does the same.

    I once memorized ~650 positions in a week of intense study. The problem was I didn't know why the positions were good or what to do when my opponent deviated. ;)

    I now know much fewer positions but I have a deeper feel for them since I've played over many master games stemming from my repertoire. Of course, this study method takes more time. I've been revamping my Black repertoire since February and I still have a ways to go!

  3. It depends on the type of opening. The grand prix attack took me one evening to play it with confidence while the KG took several weeks.

    Memorize 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Qf3 (d4 4.Bc4!) and you are ready to meet the Caro Kan.

    Graham Burgess wrote a quite good little book "101 chess openings surprises". I adopted 5 different systems from it. All with one or two pages theory and quite sound below 2200. The CK-line above stems from the booklet.

  4. "Memorize 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Qf3 (d4 4.Bc4!) and you are ready to meet the Caro Kan."

    That's an interesting line. I suppose 3...dxe4 4.Nxe4 would be the most in the spirit of the Caro-Kann, and now it's up to Black to prove that White's queen on f3 is more of a liability than an asset.

  5. take chessBase or some similar tool, and select 200 high level games in that opening, and review them to get a feel for how the lines go.

    you can flick through those fairly fast, then go back and revisit particular games as you go along.

    this is another way, as suggested by Jacob Aagaard in his well regarded Excelling at Chess (i am NOT suggeting that you run and go out and buy all his books. no.).

    secondly, the effort itself, however conducted, has great value in and of itself appart from the particular results or specific opening discoveries.

  6. Wow, wish I had something concrete to tell you. I don't play anything that sharp. Actually I do enjoy the Semi-Slav as black and I like seeing the Moscow or Anti-Moscow variation. Although I've seen both only once in the last year. One was a loss to an opponent +300 points above me, the other a win over an opponent that was +200 points over me.

    For some reason that opening just fits with me. I'm curious how did you come to choose this new opening? Is it something you feel inherently comfortable with, or is it something you had to convince yourself to play?

  7. LF,
    quite true. (temporary) control of e5 is essential to prevent harassment of the white queen. In the booklet are a few gambits (sac of d4) to assist with that. Sharp lines where both white and black are left on their own after only a few moves.

  8. four days???

    it took me a few months to get a hold on just the open sicilian. don't get discouraged just understand that these things take time. changing repertoires is always risky because there will be a period where you will be uncomfortable in the new openings but you will get there if you commit to studying them. just don't change too often.

  9. First off, I would like to thanks everyone for the input and advice. much of the advice given here is very good and i will definitely take them into consideration.

    blunderprone: the problem with the opening i'm studying is that it also involves understanding the strategies/plans and everything is not down to memorisation.

    i have chessbase light and will work through it to learn and practise.

    likesforests: 4 days is plenty time for me and i just need to press harder and work on solid understanding. after 2 nights, i'm already able to play the first 6 main moves of either side now and am currently investing time to investigate one particular deviation because the play is not just tactical but it's hair-raising and requires nerves of steel to play it (think: ignoring the pawn storm on one end to attack with everything but the kitchen sink on the other end) - i think you've an idea which defense i'm learning. i can't say much more - i know of at least 2 players at my club who reads my blog. :)

    drunknknite: i know 4 days seems like a short time esp. to learn sharp lines (i'm not learning the open sicilian at the moment but will get around to it once i'm done playing this one). of course, i don't change repertoires often.

    Temposchlucker: i would be happy if it's the Grand Prix attack of the Sicilian. no thinking involve - at the opportune moment, shuffle that Queen to e1! :)

    hmmmm... that is a very interesting line against the Caro-Kann! i've never gone for Qf3. I usually aim for one of the critical lines like the Panov when I face the Caro-Kann as White. thank u for this tip!

    transformation: i've got some chess materials online that has already shaped my repertoire. i'm looking to subscribe to soon as well but i heard that the current GM for this defence in that forum is heavily biased towards White. however, i recently saw a new line played on a regular basis by a super GM and i intend to look through his games+annotation to understand his concepts+ideas.

    wang: the reason i chose this opening was because it's sharp and can lead to incredible tactical play (if you've got nerves of steel). the players at my club tend to opt for safe lines and try to grind you down. i dislike this.

    my play is suited more towards counter-attacking and dynamic play. i have no problem getting pieces off the board if it means i get to mate the enemy king first.