Which defenses against 1. e4 and 1. d4 should a 2250-2300 FIDE player use to become an International Master, if he is:

  • Aggressive-minded
  • Tactically proficient
  • Keen on dynamics
  • Original/imaginative/offbeat but still positionally prudent

I mean, there are so many allegedly "playable" openings but many of them have minus positional sides (Benoni, Benko, Budapest, Tarrasch etc). What does Kasparov mean when he says that all reasonable (sound?) openings are playable?

What does his "reasonable" really mean? All over the internet, you find advice for all players except for players above 2200 FIDE ELO. It is assumed these players all know what they should do, but this is not the case I think.

There are books on opening selection (Giddins, Yermolinsky, Hans Bo Larsen, Dvoretsky, for instance), but they are too general.

So, to summarize, which openings are sound with black against 1.e4 and 1.d4, taking into account my stylistic preferences?

  • 2
    I think your question is too broad. There are a huge number of good openings which are playable at all levels. By playable, I mean they do not lose instantly (being mated, losing material) and lead to dynamic equality. – user1108 Apr 18 '16 at 13:03
  • The Giddins book is too general for a reason. The purpose of the book isn't to give you an opening repertoire; the purpose is to get you thinking about the right questions so that you can make your own informed decision about your repertoire. – Larry Coleman Apr 18 '16 at 17:39
  • Of course you are right. Anyway such a book could be written if it makes sense. There is probably no such thing as a clearly categorizable style. – JohnHawking Apr 18 '16 at 19:44
  • Bad Bishop, what do you mean with saying my question is too broad? Are you serious? I just asked which openings to play against d4 and against e4, taking into account the details I give. At a given level, mine here, there are not so many options, if we take style into account (from there the details provided). My question is not too broad but well-argumented. By playable I quite obviously do not mean "not being immediately punished by mate or losing material". – JohnHawking Apr 20 '16 at 11:44
  • Hi @JohnHawking. Thanks for taking the time to reformulate your question. I have edited the formatting slightly, and have voted to re-open. – user1108 Apr 20 '16 at 13:11

Opening advantages are fine things. Maybe you can even find an opening that lends itself to your 'style' of play. But what value does any of this have? Really?

Firstly, to become a master you must be able to play all sorts of positions well. Playing a limited set of openings directly contradicts the goal of practicing a wide variety of positions. Or does it? Really? You see, we're not masters yet, so our games are likely to be unpredictable and messy.

What this means is that until your middlegame and endgame skill is at the master level your opening choices matter very little. Think of it the other way; if you're playing a master and you've somehow managed an opening advantage the master will just dig in and outplay you in the middlegame or endgame. To become a master, you will also need to acquire these skills - so you'd better find ways to get opening-disadvantages as much as possible!

I guest the real point is that even heavily unbalanced positions often have excellent drawing chances for the disadvantaged player. A master will be able to make use of these to greatly reduce the chances of a loss. The difference in opening choices in this sense comes down to the master's goals for a particular game. Would they be happy with a draw? How much do they want to risk pushing for a win if complications might also favour their opponent? Perhaps they check a database and find that their opponent only wins 2% of games that feature a Queen-side attack when the dark-square Bishop is exchanged - interesting, maybe it's worth trying a Trompovsky as White and pushing c4 early?

This line of reasoning is just beyond being useful for non-master players.

So now we see what Kasparov means when he says that all openings are playable. In almost all cases openings are simply irrelevant. Masters might try to expose each other's weaknesses with them but even at the highest level, it is middlegame and endgame skills that decide games.

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I have a very simple criterium to decide whether an opening is playable:

Every opening that is currently regularly played by at least one grandmaster against other grandmasters, is playable.

The idea is obviously that if there is a clear cut refutation GMs will find it and they will play it.

Edit: This answer is written from my perspective (Elo 2150) and still applies for players up to FM. Once you are a GM yourself it makes sense to look at what very strong GMs are playing, Elo 2650+. The point is to look at what is still being played regularly by players significantly stronger than you against players significantly stronger than you. That way you should be on the safe side, while still having quite a lot of choices.

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  • Thanks for answering! Your idea of observing grandmasters is obvious and correct, but, for instance, when Topalov plays a Benoni against Kramnik only occasionnally, it does not entail it is fully playable (and in any move order). A one-game surprise weapon cannot be repeated. At my modest level (+- 2250 Fide), i have been doing this time and time again, one shot openings (but not completely incorrect, just offbeat), with some success. My wish is now to deepen my knowledge by choosing a good opening against d4 and e4 and fathoming its middlegame and typical endings. – JohnHawking Apr 19 '16 at 10:41
  • That's why I wrote "regularly played". – BlindKungFuMaster Apr 19 '16 at 10:57
  • You are right. Apologies for my distraction. Interesting would be to define "regularly". I don't know if it is a good example, but Bauer used to play b6 and it is no longer the case (refutation or difficulty to obtain correct positions or too much analysed). So, he played b6 regularly against gms, and yet... I mean, if you play mainline openings less probabilities of being refuted exist. In the top, for instance, who is playing "regularly" the Benoni? What does Kasparov really mean? Did you read Lars Bo Hansen's comments on opening choices? I'd like to know what you think about his books. – JohnHawking Apr 19 '16 at 13:54
  • I didn't read Hansen's books, though they have been on my radar. I intentionally said "GMs" not top players, the point is players that are significantly stronger than you, and my guess is you'll find GMs playing the Benoni regularly. "Playable" is not the same as "great" or "super solid". – BlindKungFuMaster Apr 19 '16 at 14:26
  • You should read gm Hansen who is significantly stronger than you and see what his opinion on benoni is. Read also Dreev and his book on benoni. By the way, no need to be aggressive. Top players are all gms also and they know better than other gms. – JohnHawking Apr 19 '16 at 15:18

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