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  How to choose an opening (book)

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Nokarookoff

Chess rating: 2106



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Sun Oct 31 2010 1:03PM | edited: 4:28:09 | MsgID: 13694213


My advice would be not to tell anybody else what you are doing or what conclusions you reach (as your conclusions may be rough on your ego and may also be parts of your preparation that ought to remain secret) but to make a list of the opening books you already have (or have taken out from the library and put some work into) and use them to measure your limitations.

What's the longest opening book you ever got through twice, or if once is enough for you, once?

What's the "heaviest" book you were able to finish and get something more than a few memorized variations out of?

What's the furthest you've gone from your usual playing preferences and finished a book? In what direction? I have actually finished a book on Flank Openings, twice, and gotten something out of it, so that direction is not a dead end for me, but there are areas of opening theory that I've learned make my eyes glaze over, and I have to live with that.

What do your opponents actually play, how often, and what thematic tournaments are you going to enter or create? If you rarely play in thematic tournaments, and everybody you know answers 1. e4 with the Sicilian Defense except one freak who always plays the French, maybe that Book of the Year Special on The Closed Spanish in 21st Century Grandmaster Practice will not profit you.

How current is current enough for you?

Does style count, and if so what style helps you keep going on a book? I like a personal touch. Others prefer their information to be dispassionate and objective. Either way you should know your preference. It takes a long time to absorb a chess book, and being annoyed all the way through by what to you is an author's overly chatty style will not make things easy.

Are there any other factors that limit what books are useful for you? Does the print really need to be big? Or the diagrams? Do you wind up ignoring books that are not physically well made, with rough, yellowing paper, or spines that break, or that are too small, thick, blocky and hard to keep open? Mastering the Nimzo-Indian: With the Read and Play Method by Tony Kosten, a very good writer, has a bad reputation for one reason only: the binding is bad. For me that would be a deal-breaker even if I was avid to take up that opening.

Those factors give you a box. Don't go outside the box. It doesn't matter how great the reviews are, or whether the book is on half price, or by a player you admire, or how cool it would be to be the kind of player you definitely are not, the kind that would benefit from specializing in Obscure Opening X. Going outside the box is not likely to profit you.

On the other hand, if an opening book does fit in your box, consider buying it even if it seems pricey. I can't recall any books on any phase of the game that I wound up regretting buying because of the price, even though both the content and the physical format worked out for me. (Maybe that's because I was cheap in the first place though. Buyers of all Gary Kasparov's books and videos may have a different experience to report.)

About copying the favorite openings of players you like ... I don't know. I've certainly wasted time and money trying to do that. On the other hand, sometimes it's worked for me, and you have to start somewhere and play something. Currently, I'm thinking of playing 1. d4 a lot more often than I have, just because two players I like a lot were / are 1. d4 fanatics, and I'd like to try and apply lessons from their games to similar positions. A theory on which opening books to buy that was so "severe" that it barred experiments like that would probably get in the way of learning, which defeats the main purpose of reading chess books in the first place.



Nokarookoff

Chess rating: 2106



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Sat Oct 30 2010 7:51PM | edited: 7:58:31 | MsgID: 13691861


1. We spend too much time studying openings.

Right. But it's not a big deal if the book consists of annotated complete games by a writer you like. I'm thinking of buying New Ideas in the Nimzo-Indian Defence (1994), by Tony Kosten. I've no interest in taking up the Nimzo-Indian, and these "new" ideas would be most of two decades old now ... but I like Tony Kosten as an annotator, so where's the harm? We are playing this game for fun, right?

2. We change openings every few months or so as a new "can't beat" opening emerges.

Not really for me, except as a consequence of 3.

3. We take on openings that are not relevant to our level or style of play.

Yes! This is the second biggest reason I don't gain from opening books. I should not have bought that book in the first place because the opening doesn't appeal to me.

It is easy to put together a "logical" repertoire that doesn't suit you, buy a book or two in order to have the knowledge needed to play this repertoire, study a while ... and drop the whole project because you'd rather play the Evans Gambit and never mind whether it's "efficient" or not.

Which leads me to the number one reason why I don't benefit from opening books, which I'll add as item number four on your list.

4. We don't finish the books! (Or I don't, anyway.)

I find there's a break point if the reward for studying an opening book. If I finish the book and go through it all again at least once but preferably twice, I gain, even if the book is barely more than a pamphlet. If I don't finish the book, all the effort I put into it benefits me nothing, even if it was a big fat volume and getting to half-way was more of an effort than finishing a slim book twice.

I've found that the kind of book John Watson will go into raptures about because it's hundreds of pages of deep, subtle, un-browsable variations in a Very Important Opening (that's of no appeal to me) is a book guaranteed to waste my money and my time. I'm not going to finish it, no way, nor will I wind up with an overall image of the opening in my head.

That's what I want: the overall picture, easy to maintain and expand with later reading, and available to be employed with either color. (That is, if I decide an opening is useless, at least I'll have firm, supported opinions on why, and I'll know what to do if the opponent plays it.) I've gotten that on occasion from old Chess Digest stapled-together pamphlet-books. Mind you, by the time I finished that booklet for the third time there were handwritten comments on about every page, but the volume of work absorbed from the booklet itself was manageable. Single column layout (or I wouldn't have room to add my ideas), big diagrams, preferably under a hundred pages, and on an opening I actually played regularly for the fun of it: bliss. Oh yeah, and if I want a clean copy of that booklet I'll need two copies, one to write in and one not, so cheap is good.

This doesn't mean I want garbage, full of typos, bad diagrams, disorganization, lazy and faulty analysis etc.. (Guess which author I'm thinking of.) Nor do I want a book that simply leaves key lines out, perhaps because they conflict with the story of "Black to play and win every time with 1. ... b5" or whatever fantasy is being sold.

But if someone wants to write an honest pamphlet on, say, the Compromised Defense to the Evans Gambit, I'm likely to finish that two or three times and get something out of it.

Whereas the 600 page tome "Drawing Variations in the Open Catalan, Vol. 3," praised to the skies by serious reviewers as calling for dedicated effort from all students of the game with any pretense of being sincere in their desire to improve .... will need to find other buyers. If I had the money and the time, which I don't, I still wouldn't have shelf space for that kind of masterpiece.



Moosester

Chess rating: 2396



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Tue Jun 26 2007 6:10PM | MsgID: 7086423


Thanks, quite helpful! So many books out there, it is hard to keep up with all of them.



rich1chess

Chess rating: 2031
LCF 176 Fide approx. 2130




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Sat Jun 2 2007 5:39PM | MsgID: 6929566


Originally posted by: "Moosester"
I would assume that the Gruenfeld Defence, while not trendy, is rather dynamic and requires quite a bit of up-to-date knowledge. How do you find Rowson's book?




Rowson's book is absolutely first rate. At my level (150ECF/2000FIDE) it's not so important to be up-to-date but rather to have a repetoire that you can understand well enough to handle when the opponent leaves theory - Rowson does a very good job of equipping the reader to do just that.

The Gruenfeld is indeed dynamic in nature, but is underlaid by deep positional goals - this allows understanding to win out over rote memorisation.



Moahunter

Chess rating: 1435
LCF 1701




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Fri Jun 1 2007 2:23AM | edited: 2:39:43 | MsgID: 6919447


[Quote from: "rich1chess"]
[Quote from: "kirkkabaine"]
Time spent on studying openings is important for otb competitive players. I am 160 ecf about 2050 fide and probably going up 10 points so probaly 2150ish next season and openings have had a massive consequence on my games. To start off with I dont know any theory and havent put any real effort into studying and developing a rep so I find myself conceeding an iniative against players even lower rated than me, after a while if I win its normally tactically.

This season out of 20 slow play games I have equalised in 2, counting White! and my rating is still expected to go up.

The solution for me to improve would be to build and work on my own opening rep because that is the weakest part of my game.

Its not the same for everybody. Many people my rating have different weaknesses.



I too have been let down OTB by my openings this season, and they will form a major part of my training over the summer. I have neglected to study them in anger for several seasons, concentrating on the middlegames and endgames instead. I agree with Moosester that players need to study middlegames and endgames first before getting too carried away with opening knowledge, but there does come a time when the rest of your game has improved to the point that it's time to get down to some serious study.

I don't play trendy stuff, so I don't need to be bang up to date and I do keep track of which of my openings are earning their keep - hence the QGD got pushed out of my rep and replaced with the Gruenfeld (thanks to Rowson's excellent Understanding the Gruenfeld book). With black I'm generally okay(ish) out of necessity, but have been lazy about what to play with white.

I'm been using Kosten's Dynamic English book which is good as far as it goes, but it is definitely a white rep book and too partisan in its evaluations - I will be reading Zenon Franco's book to get a more broad grounding in the 2.Nc3 lines.



I agree that Kosten's Dynamic English is good, especially for intermediates like me, as it is more ideas based, and avoids traditional lines (although I guess Kosten's lines are known at higher levels). I recently switched to it from D4, as I got tired of looking up my Palliser book ever time something odd (like the Vulture) occured. I feel too old for all this theory. I figure learning positions is better for me at the moment. Kosten's book can also be built on over time - for example, adding the Catalan, Anti Benoni, etc.

A book I find similar to Kosten's, but I think better in terms of ideas, writing syle and production, is Tiger's Modern, the lines of which are doing very well at the highest levels. The a6 Modern is perhaps statistically as succesful as the Sicilian, but less prepared for by white. Tiger's Modern is not for everyone, but is a lot of fun to read, and can support almost a full black repertoire (especially for Kings Indian players). Tiger himself laughs that there is often no theory in many of the positions to play for. Most importantly though, I just find this openning fun (even when I am hammered because I am messing it up).



Moosester

Chess rating: 2396



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Wed May 30 2007 7:19PM | MsgID: 6910019


I would assume that the Gruenfeld Defence, while not trendy, is rather dynamic and requires quite a bit of up-to-date knowledge. How do you find Rowson's book?



rich1chess

Chess rating: 2031
LCF 176 Fide approx. 2130




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Wed May 30 2007 12:33PM | MsgID: 6907528


Originally posted by: "kirkkabaine"

Time spent on studying openings is important for otb competitive players. I am 160 ecf about 2050 fide and probably going up 10 points so probaly 2150ish next season and openings have had a massive consequence on my games. To start off with I dont know any theory and havent put any real effort into studying and developing a rep so I find myself conceeding an iniative against players even lower rated than me, after a while if I win its normally tactically.

This season out of 20 slow play games I have equalised in 2, counting White! and my rating is still expected to go up.

The solution for me to improve would be to build and work on my own opening rep because that is the weakest part of my game.

Its not the same for everybody. Many people my rating have different weaknesses.




I too have been let down OTB by my openings this season, and they will form a major part of my training over the summer. I have neglected to study them in anger for several seasons, concentrating on the middlegames and endgames instead. I agree with Moosester that players need to study middlegames and endgames first before getting too carried away with opening knowledge, but there does come a time when the rest of your game has improved to the point that it's time to get down to some serious study.

I don't play trendy stuff, so I don't need to be bang up to date and I do keep track of which of my openings are earning their keep - hence the QGD got pushed out of my rep and replaced with the Gruenfeld (thanks to Rowson's excellent Understanding the Gruenfeld book). With black I'm generally okay(ish) out of necessity, but have been lazy about what to play with white.

I'm been using Kosten's Dynamic English book which is good as far as it goes, but it is definitely a white rep book and too partisan in its evaluations - I will be reading Zenon Franco's book to get a more broad grounding in the 2.Nc3 lines.



kirkkabaine

Chess rating: 2102



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Tue May 29 2007 10:57PM | MsgID: 6904537


Originally posted by: "Moosester"
This has been bouncing around in my mind when I think of the amount of money we all spend on CDs and books on chess openings. Not to mention the amount of time which could be spent elsewhere. Please feel free to comment and even correct me if you feel like doing so. These thoughts have been percolating at the back of my mind for sometime now and I want to set them out for others to kick around.
FYI, "otb" ratings relate to ""over-the board" ratings (similar to those published by the CFC, USCF and FIDE), not those found on this site which are relatively inflated.

1. We spend too much time studying openings.

2. We change openings every few months or so as a new "can't beat" opening emerges.

3. We take on openings that are not relevant to our level or style of play.


1. We spend too much time studying openings.

Many variations we learn we never meet over the board. I had a friend who studied a tricky line of the Najdorf Sicilian 20+ moves deep. Although he played some 25-35 games a year, he would meet it only once every two or three years, hardly an intelligent use of his time. Another friend learned a trap against the caro-kann that allowed White to force mate out of the opening. He was rated 2000 otb, yet if his opponent saw the mate coming (a one-mover) my friend was left with an equal position with White. The odd time, about twice in his life, he pulled it off, usually against 1300 players. Do you really need to learn and play a commiting opening trap that is easy to see and refute to beat a player rated 700 points beneath you? Understand the opening, learn to avoid some opening blunders, play over middle game positions that arise out of the opening.


2. We change openings every few months or so as a new "can't beat" opening emerges.

I have played the same opening line against the Sicilian Defence since 1967, and the same opening lines against 1. e4 since 1973. Neither is considered "current" which does not mean they are weak openings, just out of fashion (which probably means your booked up opponent won't really be studying them or know them in any depth). I know and understand them and will usually gain an advantage out of those openings against most players under 2300 otb.


3. We take on openings that are not relevant to our level or style of play.

Like attacking? Play the King's Gambit? Check your statistics; if you have a poor overall score drop it. If you are, let's say 1600 otb, and you win most of your KG games against under 1400 opponents, and score poorly against players 1550 and up, then you should perhaps be playing a different opening. Look over your games, which type of openings do you score the most with? Ones that involve fianchettoing, positional openings, sacrifices? Then find openings that match your strength! Win often when you fianchetto? Perhaps the Gruenfeld or King's Indian as Black and the Reti as White should be your opening of choice. Like the Alekhine's Defence? Check out the Gruenfeld, the middlegame positions are not that dissimilar!

These thoughts are related to my thoughts on the Kaufman book covered on the previous thread.

Some general observations:

Knowledge of the opening is necessary only to guide you to a playable middle game.

Understanding an opening is more important than memorizing an opening, and more practical too!

Like to learn an opening? Find a GM who plays that opening and play over his games to see how he conducts his strategy, places his pieces, etc.

As a paradox to the above statement, if you will not be playing GMs or IMs, then do not feel you must learn openings at the Master level (ie memorize a line of the Marshall 23 moves deep). Simply not necessary if your opponents will be under a rating of 2000 otb.

Little time to study? Find an opening that has little new in the way of theory, openings that rarely change (i.e. forget learning the Sicilian Defence); the Reti as White, Vienna, Cole Opening, Bird's, etc.

The less time spent on openings the more time to study GM games, study the endgame, etc and really improve!




Time spent on studying openings is important for otb competitive players. I am 160 ecf about 2050 fide and probably going up 10 points so probaly 2150ish next season and openings have had a massive consequence on my games. To start off with I dont know any theory and havent put any real effort into studying and developing a rep so I find myself conceeding an iniative against players even lower rated than me, after a while if I win its normally tactically.

This season out of 20 slow play games I have equalised in 2, counting White! and my rating is still expected to go up.

The solution for me to improve would be to build and work on my own opening rep because that is the weakest part of my game.

Its not the same for everybody. Many people my rating have different weaknesses.



Moosester

Chess rating: 2396



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Tue May 29 2007 9:09PM | MsgID: 6903711


Originally posted by: "Tartajubow"

I'm a fan of anything Purdy writes. I gave a copy of the section on a "method of thinking" and a "system to reduce errors" (found in "Search for Chess Perfection") to a mid-1600 friend and his rating almost immediately went to the 1800's!

His idea is to get you to a playable middlegame without any major errors or learning a lot of theory. I have the time to study openings, but I’m lazy as a hound dog so tend to play “systems.” It may not be the best approach at the higher levels, but it works at mine.




I find that studying a variety of thinking methodologies can help any player. Recommended books that teach thinking are to be found written by among others Tisdall, Silman and Dvoretsky.

As I get older, I am playing more systems, principally because I hate memorizing lines!



Tartajubow

Chess rating: 2354

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Tue May 29 2007 2:03AM | MsgID: 6898112


Originally posted by: "Moosester"
I have heard that Purdy is an excellent teacher and writer, let me know your impressions as you go along with his book.




I'm a fan of anything Purdy writes. I gave a copy of the section on a "method of thinking" and a "system to reduce errors" (found in "Search for Chess Perfection") to a mid-1600 friend and his rating almost immediately went to the 1800's!

"Action Chess" concentrates on Black's side. He recommends ...d5, ...e6, ...Nf6, ...Be7, ...O-O, …b6 and …Bb7 (in appropriate order) against everything except 1.e4. Against 1.e4 he recommends the French Rubinstein and the Sicilian "Old Dragon", whatever that is. The openings are mainly recommended to help <1900, but that's OK because I'm not too sophisticated when it comes to openings anyway. His idea is to get you to a playable middlegame without any major errors or learning a lot of theory. I have the time to study openings, but I’m lazy as a hound dog so tend to play “systems.” It may not be the best approach at the higher levels, but it works at mine.




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