How to choose a chess opening repertoire (Be The Nex You Part 2 chapter 2)

Disclaimer: OK kids if this thing is too monstrous just leave a comment and I’ll slice it in half and have it as two seperate posts.  Be warned it weighs in at over 2500 words!


Ok seeing as it’s been a short 8 months since my last post in this series, I figured it was finally time to get this thing over with.  After this there will be one more post and then I will do some serious editing and put it all together and it will have it’s own page on my blog.

Ok so when we last spoke about being the next you (or me being the next me) I spoke of how to learn (or rather how I learn) a new opening.  But I never quite got into how to choose your repertoire.

This is one of the most interesting subjects for “improving” players.  Note that improving is in quotation marks because in years past improvers were called average club yutz’s.  Everyone wants a repertoire that will guide them forever and trying to choose one is pretty damn hard.

For example, there are currently 6 books in my active library pertaining to openings.  Now I say active because these are lines I currently use in my repertoire.  I have an Alekhine book, a Dutch book, a Scotch book and a two other books that I use for responses to 1.e4 that do not involve 1…e5; in other words Sicilians and everything else.  I also have a copy of MCO-14 for when one of the books doesn’t cover something.  MCO-14 is referenced perhaps once or twice a year, so it was a waste of cash for me.

Now in the rest of my library I have countless other books, some of them were bargain basement finds, books from the early 90’s that obviously come from a different, pre-computer era.  The analysis seems quaint compared to today’s standards.  Other books are more recent works and well, I shouldn’t have bought them at all.

So what you may say?  Well if I have these books that means that they are out there waiting for me, you to purchase them.  With all that said, I can only name you two books that address how to choose a repertoire.  The first one is Discovering Chess Openings by John Emms, the other is How to Build Your Chess Opening Repertoire, by Steve Giddins.

I owned the book by Giddins, but ultimately found it to be unhelpful.  I just didn’t derive that much from it.  I believe Tomg reviewed the Emms title, but I don’t remember.  I know it was reviewed by a newer addition to my blogroll, but I can’t find it and Tommy has deleted his blog so…

The truth is nobody, and I mean nobody will pretend to give you advice on what repertoire to adopt.  Unless you have a coach that has worked with you for awhile, and is pretty familiar with your strengths and weaknesses no one is really eager to tell you, “Yeah play this it rocks!”

Why?  Because alot of factors need to be considered when choosing a repertoire, and it’s hard to tell someone what to do when there are so many variables.  So that’s where I come in.  I won’t tell you what to play, but I’ll give you a basic formula of how to choose an opening repertoire that’ s suited for you.

Yep, for free right here in the Patzer’s Corner.  What’s the catch you might ask?  Well I’m currently rated 14ooish and I may suck more than you do at chess.  But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been able to break down the situation of opening prep to a science.

Rowson says that (paraphrasing here) that people invest alot of their chess personalities inot their openings, and for me that is true.  I love, love, love the Alekhine’s defence and will defend it’s honor from all comers.  I simply will not play anything else against 1.e4.  Being an Alekhinist is me.

This is the one opening I ever truly got.  I just dig it, and love the ability to play a little more creatively from the get go.  But is it a practical choice?  I propose a checklist that will help us both find out.

A few years ago my company changed the way it did business on the logistics side.  My folks would come to me and complain about the extra hours, the hassle, etc..My moto to them was first and foremost let us control what we can control.  In other words, the company had committed to certain projects and a new way to do things.  This was out of our hands, we couldn’t control it, but we could control our break times, our efficiency of work and our attitudes.  In that spirit le’ts deal with the static factors first, namely those things that are difficult, at best to change and may even be impossible to affect any change on.

Before we begin, let me preface this with two assumptions.  First is that you have sufficient money to lay down on a few books, or at least one enclyclopedic opening book (MCO) and a database program (ex. Chessbase).   You are going to have to get your information from somewhere.  Second is that you actually use a database and review your own games.


1. Your Situation:

All this means is what kind of chess is available to you?  Can you get to a tournament a month?  Once every two months?  Are there only G30’s in your area?  This is important to come to grips with.  You may envision your self playing a 5 hour grueling match, but if you only have G45’s in your area, this simply ai’nt goint to happen.   Are you relegated to playing Internet Chess?  If so then by definition you will probably be stuck with shorter time controls, and will probably have to face more radical opening choices from opponents, more offbeat lines and sacrifices.

How it affects your choices: 

Well for starters, if you are dealing with shorter time controls you will want to know your openings cold.  Some good time management advice is that you want to be be at 20 moves byt he half-way mark.   This assumes that you are going to play a 40 move game.  So with G30 you would want to have played 20 moves in 15 minutes. Getting into a familiar position right away would be high on the agenda.  Polly is a good example of this, she plays in what she refers to a Cracktion chess, G30 – G45.  

On the other hand if you are in a situation like Robert was where he was playing longer time control games, then maybe you can take some time to try and figure some stuff  OTB.  This may give you an opportunity to play more theoretical lines.   If you get stuck, you may have sufficient time to work things out at the board, something that is unlikely to happen in a shorter time control.

If you end up playing on the net, then you will see odd stuff thrown at you far more freuently than you will over the board.  In two years of steday tournament play I haven’t seen 2…f5 as a response to 1.e4,  2.Nf3, in any game, not only my games,  but in my section.  However, I see it once every 16 or so slow time control (G15+) games on ICC.  No one has yet to use the Staunton Gambit against my Dutch OTB, but I get it 1 out of 5 online.  IF you are playing predominately online chess realize you will see funky stuff far more often than OTB.


2.  Your Time:

This refers to how much time you can devote to study.  I was torn between making this #1 or not.  In the final analysis, you have almost no control as to what chess is played in your area, you have at least a modicum of cotrol over your own study time.

Unfortunately you are probably like me and many of the others on my blogroll and time is the ultimate commodity.  There could be 28 hours in a day and it wouldn’t be enough for you.  On the other hand, there might be a handful of people who will stumble upon this post and have 20+ hours a week to devote to chess, if so good for you!  If not well then…

How it affects your choices:

Well if you are strapped for time you will want something that is easy to pick up, or something that will be in your arsenal for some time to come.  I’ve already gone over here how I learn a new opening and it is time consuming, before you undertake any new opening prep, be as sure as possible that you aren’t going to want to jump ship anytime soon.

If however, you have plenty of time to devote to chess then this opens you up to further possibilities.  More theoretical lines, possibly more lines period.


3.  What you play well:

This is going to require you to go back an look at your old games.  Look at what positions you did well with and which didn’t work out so well for you.  Remember I said that you need to keep a database of your games?  Well this is one of the reasons, what you play well does not mean what you enjoy playing.  At least not neccessarily. 

For example, I hate facing the French Defense as white.  It really bugs the hell out of me.  I don’t understand how to play against it and I always seem to drop a pawn.  I considered changing my response to 1…e6.  But I looked at my games and found to my surprise that I am scoring 60% against the French!  This is from folks that are between 50 -125 rating points  higher than me.  Now this is from a small selection of games, but  it highlights an important point.

Although I may not enjoy playing against the French, I shouldn’t abandon my answer against it just because I don’t “think” I am any good with it.  Deal with tangibles, what you know, what you can prove, not what you feel or think.

I know from looking at my games I tend to do best with a semi-fixed pawn structure, and I like to have the initiative.  Not neccessarily wild attacking chess, I just really like having a tempo in hand.

How it affects your choices:

This one is pretty easy.  If you play locked up pawn structures well, then you should avoid playing  the Danish Gambit as white, or into it as black.  If you like Kingside attacks, learn those openings that will give you the best chance of launching one.


4.  What you enjoy Playing:

This is similar to number 3 above, with it coming in a bit behind in importance.   Bottom line if you win with a certain set up that you might not be madly in love with, you will find that success can compensate for not being in love with a particular line.  if you are constantly getting throttled in a line you “like” chances are you won’t like it for long.

I enjoy playing the Reti.  I experimented with it over the summer.  All in all I played 9 serious games with it.  And a cursory look at my results show that I was +5 -3 =1 with it.  However upon furhter investigation the 5 wins all came from opponents rated 125 points or more lower than me.  The one draw was from a player +150 higher than me and my 3 losses came against a player 400pts higher than me and another 2 players 75-100 points lower than me. 

All in all it’s too soon to tell with this one.  I like it, but I’m not sure it’s for me at this time, so I’ll probably continue on with 1.e4 for the time being.  Although I enjoyed just being able to play chess without having to worry too much about the opening, I often didn’t understand the complex middle games, and as a result everyone within my rating scored pretty well on me with this opening.

How it affects your choices:

Well for my case it means that I’m probably better off with open games as I know what I’m getting.  I don’t have the time to learn all of the subtle positional nuances of the Reti right now.


5?.  Why are you playing?

This one has a question mark because it may override all of the other choices , but it definitely affects the relationship between 3 & 4.  If you are just out to have a good time and results don’t much matter to you.  Well then you probably aren’t reading this post so nevermind…If you would like to win but don’t want to get freaky about it and end up like one of these tools, then you would probably switch 3 & 4 around.  If you really want to improve and win as many games as possible and winning is priority number 1 then leave 3 & 4 alone, they are in the right order for you.

How it affects your choices:

Well if you fall into the last category, then you will live by the old saying, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.  If you win with the Trompowsky, then leave it alone.  If you “like” the Dutch but always get hammered with it, then you will be looking for another answer to 1.d4.

Conversely if you are in the second category, you would probably work a little more on your udnerstanding of the Dutch in order to make it work for you.

If you are in the first group, well nevermind…


6.  Any Unusual Resources?

All this means is, if you have a really strong player in da club who is an expert on the Rossolimo Sicilian, and they are willing to teach you, then this may become your weapon of choice vs. 1…c5.  If someone is willing to teach you then you should take advantage of it.  Unless of course you already have an answer for the Sicilian.  By the way if you do, drop me a line…


7.  Other Items of Note:

A few odds and ends here…

Beware of opening shortcuts!  One of the things that attracted me to the Dutch was that I could play it against everything except 1.e4, 1.f4 and 1.g4.  I have seen 1.f4 once in my life and 1.g4 once as well.  I already have and answer to 1.e4 so the Dutch is perfect no?

Well no, because you should be familiar with all three complexes (Stonewall, Leningrad, Classical) before you start playing it.  So having to learn 3 lines is not really a shortcut in my book. 

Know the difference between black and white.  In some respects with Black you have a small advantage.  If white opens 1.e4 he could be hoping for a Scotch or King’s Gambit, but if you play 1…Nf6, or 1…c6 or 1…b6 well then he’s not going to get exactly what he wants.  The thing to realize is, that you play anything other than 1…e5 or 1…c5 you should be more familiar with the positions than the white player.

So if you need a comfortable position quickly (aka short time controls) then pay close attention to your black repertoire, as it’s you best shot of getting a reliable position with regularity.

With white you are actually not so lucky.  If you really want to minimize your opponents responses then a d-pawn attack, the English and possibly the Reti and KIA are your best choices.  Although the Reti just might be too flexible…

What is popular where you live?  In Hawaii there were 4 local coaches that taught their kids the Fench.  This probably explains some of my visceral reaction to the thing. 

Also is there a really small community of players where you live?  If so , but you will probably face the same lines from the same people for a few times.  This allows you to go deep into a line and study it and look for an optimal continuation.  If you are in a chess town like NY, Philly, or Chicago, then you will have to be ready for almost anything, and won’t have the luxury of doing a deep study of one particular line.

You probably will not find a repertoire that will fit you forever.  You undoubtly will change things up.  Hopefully for the right reasons, such as wanting to improve your understanding of chess, or of getting new weapons, and not, “My repertoire sucks, maybe I should learn the x opening.”  Well it probably isn’t your opening buddy, you are probably doing something else wrong and just need to figure it out before you go off an fire one of your penings!


Next time up, Using the list on my repertoire, and talking a bit about game analysis.


Have a good week folks.

6 thoughts on “How to choose a chess opening repertoire (Be The Nex You Part 2 chapter 2)

  1. So you hate facing the French, and you always seem to drop a pawn… Welcome to the club:) .

    Since we have similar feelings vs the French i’m gonna advice you to try and play what i play against it and see if you like it. And if you like it, you can even turn it into a habbit:) .

    Since you seem to drop a pawn anyway, why not do it deliberately and play the Wing Gambit (as Nigel Davies suggests in his Gambiteer book, or play Korchnoi Gambit. The latter even has a seal of approval from Kasparov! If it makes a difference… Books that cover the mentioned gambits; Gambiteer I (Wing Gambit) and Starting Out: 1 e4! (Korchnoi Gambit. Note: you should not expect your games to go like the ones i refered to in this comment. In time maybe. But not right away. Ofcourse, you could be a natural:) .

  2. Btw, since you’re an Alekhine fan, did you ever consider playing 1. b3 as White? This guy did. And he was also a devoted Alekhinist! One thing’s for sure; playing 1. b3 will definitely save you time where opening theory is concerned… Oh, and whenever i play 1. e4 and face 1… c5 i play 2. c3.

  3. CMoB:
    I was thinking about the wing gambit. Only problem is, it is a pain to learn a new opening, so I will have to button up my black repertoire before I undertake any new stuff with the white pieces.

    I thouhgt it was you that reviewed the Emms book. Oh by the way, start your blog up again.

    Thanks, I’m in rarefied blog company now. Biggest thing is I wanted to spit this one out before school started, hope it’s useful.

  4. You know what; forget about those gambits i mentioned. After some long and hard thinking about with what to face the french once again and since these gambits (well atleast the wing gambit) don’t offer a life long solution to the french problem i’ve decided to switch to the Advance French. And i quote; The Advance French is not particularly theoretical. There are lines where White gambits the d-pawn where some theoretical knowledge is necessary but on the whole White can get by with a good feel for the ideas rather than knowledge of specific moves. ~ Byron Jacobs Mastering The Opening.

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