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  1. #1
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    Opening theory and the need to know...

    I've been out of tournament chess (bar sporadic reappearances in some interclub/team matches) for around 10 years now. I've been playing online pretty frequently in recent times and have noticed that almost every game I lose, I lose in the opening, or have attained an essentially lost positiion in the opening.

    It seems that it is necessary to have a pretty decent knowledge of theory to play at any reasonable level these days and it is more necessary to have such a knowledge now than it was when I was playing competitively (note that I reached the "giddy heights" of 1500 or so). Back in those days I had a rough and ready knowledge of most of the systems that I played but nothing that could be considered "in-depth".

    Looking back on my old games, I feel that my opening play was (objectively) fantastically naive and would be instantly and devastatingly punished if I were to wheel out my repertoire from back then now. As a result, I've been opening in a more or less ad hoc fashion after playing the first few moves of established theory and, if my opponent plays anything tricky then I'm in an enormous tangle rather quickly.

    Am I to resign myself to the fact that I will have to bone up on current opening theory or often not live to see the middlegame?

    Back then I had a good knowledge of quite a few opening traps and would often play systems deliberately geared towards having them pay off but nowadays I abhor such cheap shots that can so often backfire.

    Enough waffle...

    Can anyone recommend a course of action for me given that my tactical ability is fairly reasonable and my positional understanding is likewise? I understand that the question is enormously general but I am mostly interested in finding out just how much theory one has to know in order to play tournament chess to a reasonable level in this day and age.

  2. #2
    CC FIDE Master Phil Bourke's Avatar
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    It is a case of knowing as much as you need to know
    But you will find that in OTB play, the opening knowledge doesn't become too daunting until you get to around the 1800 level. There may be an occassional lower rated player who seems to know an opening surprisingly well, but it will often be only the one line or variation of an opening, so changing courses, into even suspect lines will put the game back on a 'man v man' basis.
    My suggestion is to learn the openings that you like, and the most common replies to them. Offbeat openings should allow you to play commonsense chess and get a satisfactory game.
    Of course, you may get a few nasty surprises along the way, but just as in internet play, look at the game afterwards and study what should have been played, those lessons seem to stay in the memory the longest
    My only tip would be, don't try to swat up on too many openings at the one time, that will only confuse you more. It will take time, but as you already know, you have the internet to try them out before trying them out in a tournament.
    Last edited by Phil Bourke; 05-04-2006 at 04:39 PM.
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  3. #3
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    a suggestion

    When the late Ortvin Sarapu was about to travel to Sousse to play in the Interzonal a Russian Grandmaster gave him the advice"

    "Find a GM whose style is similar to yours and play his repertoire." This is a good method if you have limited time.

    For correspondence the situation is much harder.

    I am currently playing a King's Gambit fixed Openings tournament. It is great fun but many games have improvements over book before move 10. Never have I played a tournament where so many players are playing so slowly.

  4. #4
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    Now that there are a couple of replies floating around, I guess that I can be a little more specific with a couple of examples...

    My weapon of choice with White is 1. e4. 1. ... e5 causes me no real difficulty - I'll reel out a King's Gambit and know enough of the theory to be reasonably confident of not making too many horrendous errors, even if my choice of lines leaves a little to be desired (by the way, can anyone come up with a convincing answer to 1. e4 e5 2. f4 d5 3. exd5 e4 4. d3 Bc5 ?).

    When faced with the Sicilian, I plump for a straight out open Sicilian, quite simply because nothing else that I've looked at seems to suit my style. This is one of the places where trouble starts. The sheer volume of theory is extremely daunting. Back in the day, I got by on my wits (which have probably since dulled with age) and the fact that my opponents' theory seemed to "run out" a few moves before mine did. Today, it is not so often the case. People seem to "know more stuff" and I come unstuck fairly quickly when my own meagre knowledge runs out. Am I doomed to learning the reams of theory here or can I realistically just muddle along?

    Slogging through NCO is all very well and it is relatively easy to spot what seem to be main lines but a mere evaluation without some actual words explaining the reasoning is not terribly helpful. In fact, there are some moves in main lines that are more or less inexplicable to me so I am extremely reticent to play them blindly as I wouldn't know why I was doing so.

    Should I consider acquiring a plethora of more specialised opening tomes covering the things that I need to know? Are there any good general overviews of families of openings that people can recommend?

  5. #5
    CC FIDE Master Phil Bourke's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mephistopheles
    Should I consider acquiring a plethora of more specialised opening tomes covering the things that I need to know? Are there any good general overviews of families of openings that people can recommend?
    I like Beating The Sicilian 3 by Nunn and Gallagher, it may not contain your favourite line, but it does have some good stuff to play against those variations of the Sicilian that you may not be so familiar with.
    As you are probably aware, some study of the Scandinavian won't go astray, it is reasonably popular at the moment. I don't know what books to recommend there.
    I use Fritz 8, and http://www.chesslab.com/PositionSearch.html to check out anything that I don't have books on, is a reasonable way to check through openings and the resultant positions.
    But whichever way you go, it will take work
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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil Bourke
    As you are probably aware, some study of the Scandinavian won't go astray, it is reasonably popular at the moment. I don't know what books to recommend there.
    And doesn't it suck? These Scandinavians are popping out of the woodwork left, right and centre. My usual recourses disappear and I am left with planless development which lands me in trouble right away. I am particularly galled by the ease with which Black can arrange Q-side castling and associated worries about my poor queen on d1. Perhaps I worry too much but it seems like a losing battle. The pin that is so easily applied on the h5-d1 diagonal compounds my problems and I end up with a passive setup with my bishop on e2 and my queen scurrying away to c2 or a4. This is even worse for me if my opponent manages to castle K-side and bring a rook to d8.

    The Scandinavian is well worth some study, I think. The position after 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 (Qd8 or Qa5) leaves me wondering what I should actually do. 4. d4 seems obvious but tends to land me with some long-term problems to nut out. To think that, in my days as a junior, Mr Reinfeld told us all that it was rubbish is almost incomprehensible to me now...

  7. #7
    Monster of the deep Kevin Bonham's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mephistopheles
    The position after 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 (Qd8 or Qa5) leaves me wondering what I should actually do.
    These days there is ...Qd6 to content with as well.
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  8. #8
    CC Grandmaster Denis_Jessop's Avatar
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    I think that with a reasonable knowledge of opening principles, not detailed lines of moves, you should be able to hold your own against a 1500-rated opponent who is not a rapidly improving junior. But if you play 1.e4 you can't avoid the Sicilian and, as you say, that is where the problems start. As an almost life-long (say 50 years or more) Sicilian devotee, I never cease to marvel at its qualities. The main problem for White is that Black has a whole range of different ways to play it from semi-closed to wildly complicated and technical. As a matter of interest, I see that you are mainly concerned with the opening as White. Playing with Black has its moments too, especially if you play the Sicilian

    DJ

    PS Of course if you play 1.e4 you lose anyway according to 1920s theory (Breyer)
    Last edited by Denis_Jessop; 05-04-2006 at 09:12 PM.
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Denis_Jessop
    As a matter of interest, I see that you are mainly concerned with the opening as White. Playing with Black has its moments too, especially if you play the Sicilian
    Black's side of the Sicilian is easy for me in most open lines. A Dragon-style setup is viable against just about anything. I have noticed, though, that I am struggling to find a decent plan against closed Sicilian ideas as well as (in particular, actually) against "naive" seeming moves like 2. Bc4. The ... d5 break is relatively easy to engineer but it doesn't seem to leave me with the easy equality promised to me by theory.

  10. #10
    CC International Master Watto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mephistopheles
    (by the way, can anyone come up with a convincing answer to 1. e4 e5 2. f4 d5 3. exd5 e4 4. d3 Bc5 ?).
    Hi Mephistopheles. I asked Guy about this - he says just take the pawn. Much better for white. If black takes on g1, he will get one pawn back at best by Qh4+ and is left with a lost position.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mephistopheles
    The Scandinavian is well worth some study, I think. The position after 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 (Qd8 or Qa5) leaves me wondering what I should actually do. 4. d4 seems obvious but tends to land me with some long-term problems to nut out. To think that, in my days as a junior, Mr Reinfeld told us all that it was rubbish is almost incomprehensible to me now...
    He agrees the Scandinavian 2 … Qxd5 is a tough nut to crack. Ian Rogers has played it extensively and it took Karpov to get the better of it! 4.d4 is probably best but does require learning a few variations to get it right.
    Last edited by Watto; 05-04-2006 at 10:34 PM.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Watto
    He agrees the Scandinavian 2 … Qxd5 is a tough nut to crack. Ian Rogers has played it extensively and it took Karpov to get the better of it!
    about twenty three years ago when Karpov was world champion and Ian wasn't even a grandmaster yet.

    Rogers himself couldn't get through Smerdon's Scandinavian in the last Aus champ (it was almost a title game when all other Aussies already fall behind them).

  12. #12
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    Does anyone know much on the Sveshnikov? I really would like some good games on it

  13. #13
    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonasMuller
    Does anyone know much on the Sveshnikov? I really would like some good games on it
    Talk to Sutek. In my experience he knows more about the Svesh than anyone.
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