I realize that you get rather a lot of questions from lower-rated players who ask, should I try this? should I play that? how can I improve? Many of you have been extraordinarily patient with these questions over the years; but, still, I have never myself thought of such a question worth asking you until today.

Consider a student of chess who plays in the ELO 1400-to-1700 range. Might it be wiser for such a student to study old opening lines from old books, printed during the precomputer era, than to study the new, computer-analyzed lines?


The question occurred to me while reading Chessbase's recent report of Aronian's entertaining attack against Caruana during the Candidates tournament. The attack failed; the game was drawn; but, of course, when a titan like Caruana plays black, one does not assume that the draw proved Aronian's strategy bad! On the contrary, both players played this game in a most interesting way, beginning to end; so I am now wondering if Aronian's approach does not conceal an important lesson for a player like me, a lesson I have heretofore overlooked.

The question regards which kinds of opening lines are profitable, or edifying, to study. And by kinds, I do not mean open game, closed game, tactical, positional, symmetric, asymmetric, gambit, with rooks, without rooks, hypermodern, classical, etc. (I like almost all those kinds). I mean what Aronian meant during his recent Candidates game.

Now, if you rate around ELO 1500 as I do, you never really begin to understand a Candidates game without the benefit of master commentary. I should never have discovered any lesson in Aronian's play on my own! Fortunately, Sagar Shah of ChessBase gives us the commentary; and, after Aronian's 8. Be2, this is what Shah writes:

Aronian chooses the classical setup of the good olden days with Be2, Nd2, Qc2 etc. Much more modern and aggressive is Bd3 followed by h3. But once you play something modern, it becomes theoretical, while with Be2 there quite some scope for creativity.

Does this mean that, by trying to play something modern, the ELO 1400-to-1700 player denies himself the crucial opportunity to develop needed creativity?

If so, I had never thought of this before. Do today's computer-analyzed lines impose a sterile, insightless, unprincipled quality upon the player who studies them? Maybe I should instead dust off some hearty old books?


So, suppose that it were indeed preferable to study mainly old, precomputer-era opening lines. What would be a good, available source from which to learn those?

Admittedly, aged in my late forties, I have no pretensions to master chess. I just like playing chess occasionally, but if I could boost my play from 1500 to, say, 1600 or 1700, without turning chess from an occasional hobby to a serious avocation, I should like to do so. This is why, if Aronian has a lesson to teach, I should like to learn it.

  • My initial posting misidentified Aronian as "Levonian," which tells you what you need to know regarding how (not) great a student of chess I am. Corrected.
    – thb
    Mar 18, 2016 at 16:52
  • I remembered a really nice FritzTrainer about this topic, added into my answer.
    – ferit
    Mar 20, 2016 at 14:20

1 Answer 1


I never played Sicilian Defense as Black for this reason.

A quote from Larsen:

Had I not played the Sicilian with Black I could have saved myself the trouble of studying for more than 20 years all the more popular lines of this opening, which comprise probably more than 25 percent of all published opening theory!

Constantly following updates and remembering a modern, popular line has no benefit for a non-professional player (if you are professional, that's different). Instead, a chess player who wants to improve himself/herself should focus on understanding openings (not remembering them).

What improves your chess is to understand an opening, ideas behind, advantages, disadvantages etc. Remembering openings are like remembering opening traps, they can help you win the game without much effort, but they don't improve your chess.

A quote from Fischer, about memorizing opening theory:

I don't know when, but I think we are approaching that [the end of chess] very rapidly. I think we need a change in the rules of chess. For example, I think it would be a good idea to shuffle the first row of the pieces by computer ... and this way you will get rid of all the theory. One reason that computers are strong in chess is that they have access to enormous theory [...] I think if you can turn off the computer's book, which I've done when I've played the computer, they are still rather weak, at least at the opening part of the game, so I think this would be a good improvement, and also just for humans. It is much better, I think, because chess is becoming more and more simply memorization, because the power of memorization is so tremendous in chess now. Theory is so advanced, it used to be theory to maybe 10 or 15 moves, 18 moves; now, theory is going to 30 moves, 40 moves. I think I saw one game in Informator, the Yugoslav chess publication, where they give an N [theoretical novelty] to a new move, and I recall this new move was around move 50. [...] I think it is true, we are coming to the end of the history of chess with the present rules, but I don't say we have to do away with the present rules. I mean, people can still play, but I think it's time for those who want to start playing on new rules that I think are better.

He propose random starting position chess which is widely know as Chess960, because chess is becoming more and more a memory game.

My experience tells me, if I play an opening, which is playable but not the best, and out of the book I get better results comparing to a popular line. Because I know the ideas behind, while my opponents often only memorize the best continuations. This is similar to what Aronian did in his game.

So, what sources are there? Actually, every good opening book covers the ideas behind, you don't need special sources. Just focus on the ideas next time when you read them, instead of variations.


I remembered that this FritzTrainer with topic of creativity in e4 was really good: https://shop.chessbase.com/en/products/e4_for_the_creative

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