Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Opening Study: Some Diverse Opinions, Part I

I'm just fascinated by all the cool and (usually) thoughtful debate that goes on in the chess blogs these days; since I got into the chess blogosphere back on January 30, 2006 there has been a major increase in both the number of chess bloggers and the quality of posts and comments.

Blue Devil Knight's brief post here set off a lively debate with this quote from Dan Heisman's new book:

It does not matter who gets the advantage out of the opening, if one of the players is likely to lose a piece to a simple tactic in the middlegame. Losing a piece from an advantageous position will almost always result in a lost position. So study tactics, not openings, until you almost never lose pieces to simple tactical motifs.

Fair enough, though of course the commenters are an independent lot who are not afraid to disagree with anyone, even a Master and leading author and teacher. Good for them! Independent thinking is how ideas get debated, honed and improved.

Meanwhile, Grandpatzer has put up some excellent posts on developing your opening repertoire (Prelude, Part One, Part Two) that focus on his specific lines, but contain principles that we could all benefit from considering.

The previous Grandpatzer, the late Dr. Kenneth Mark Colby, advised in his book to memorize the first 8-10 moves of main line, aggressive tactical openings like the Sicilian Dragon and King's Indian as Black, saving time and energy, getting clear plans to play for and mastering some key traps that can lead to quick wins against lower-rated players. While there is a lot of merit in his approach, it makes one pause when considering that John Nunn wrote a 320-page book that didn't begin until White's ninth move in the line that Colby recommended--then notes (in the earlier edition that I own) that he only reached this position in about a third of his own King's Indian games! Joe Gallagher wrote an excellent 192-page book on what to do when White avoids the King's Indian as early as move 2!

Looking at this from the perspective of someone who has a few hours per week to study chess it's obvious that I'm never going to master all the variations in these books; the best I can do is memorize the main, main lines and understand what I'm trying to accomplish. That's they key to then dealing with the first move that is 'out of (my) book,' because if it's not the main line I know and love then it's not necessarily bad, but it's either going to allow me to go ahead with my plans in that opening (dominate the dark squares, kingside pawn push, whatever) or it's going to give me a new opportunity elsewhere to do something else. Every move controls new squares and weakens others.

'They' always say that understanding the opening is more important than memorization and that's what they mean. I think both have their place, and that this topic deserves a Part II.

More anon.


transformation said...

lovely, meat and potatoes post robert.

when i got back into chess seven years ago

after a twenty-five year absense

(i was a 1671 USCF 15 year old in 1974 before ratings were inflated, but HAD to stop the game, to get serious for college),

early on i had the good fortune to meet an zealously impassioned man from Bahrian stepped in the culture of chess training (he had been a 2000 elo fide), and he told me early on to study tactics, endings, and GM games, and

NOT to study openings. at the same time, i was very familiar with all the mainstream openings from way back when, so when i came back, took his suggested, and still do, only playing the Caro or at times the French as black ( so that I am on my territory),

and 1.NF3 and 1.c4 as white, and at times returning to my old 1d4 which i am broadly and annectdotally familiar with.

the day is comming when i must build a complete repatore to move up, but that day is not here yet.

openings, as Blaise Pascal in his 'Pences' aplty identified one of lifes cheaf features (after of course love, birth, sickness, old age, death, and sorrow), that being the peristencey of


and, i for mine, feel that openings are that unless we are 1800 or 1900 elo,

otherwise it is tactics, endings, and analysis and rigorous scrutiny of our own games (im doing this daily now, again).

warmest, david

chessloser said...

my thoughts on openings have changed over the last few months. i used to go with the "25% opening study" theory, as long as you knew the basic concepts, but i find that my serious lack of opening knowledge, even though i know the basic rules of controlling the center etc etc, hurts me repeatedly. i have the first two moves down, but by move 4, i am out of book and usually in a bad position. i have been managing to lose games in the first 7 moves of late, and i owe that all to crappy openings...also, i just, suck, but i'm trying to stay on topic here...

sciurus said...

I would agree with the common advice to put tactics before opening study BUT there are many people memorizing traps and it is sometimes not easy to avoid them even if you are good at tactics (which I am not, so you may want to correct me there). If you are playing "sharp" lines, you are probably forced to become familiar with these traps by memorizing them the same way as one does with tactical circles training.

Personally, I am "memory challenged" and therefore don't even attempt to memorize anything. I spend time on looking at games in my preferred opening to learn common concepts and plans, though. So far it helps me to make plans but often my tactical skill is too small to convert my attack into a win.

wang said...

Double edged sword here.

I totally understand where chessloser is coming from. What I do to study openings is play 10-15 minute games on ICC. No shorter because you'll want to rush through the opening. I just play these games to get some repetition with a line.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) experience is the best teacher and you can get alot of experience relatively painlessly with quick online games. Save them to a database and analyze how you played the line. The database and analyzation part I stole from Grandpatzer (actually he was nice enough to share it with all of us) But it seems to be working for me so far.

transformation said...

robert, can you tell us, at a seperate post,

about you,

what your chess is like, what challenges you face in chess, what you overcame, or must overcome, what you long for, what you avoid, what, in short, what


as distinct from theory, or blogging, or openings, or endings, etc.

everyone is interesting, and everything is interesting!

wang, scurius et. al. :

thank you. of course, i review openings, always, but just not anything to focus on. doesnt mean ignore, of course. ignore =IGNORANCE. :)

warmest, david