I would like to be a very flexible chess player as in never in a uncomfortable position unless I did something to deserve it such as a blunder. I've concluded that the only way to do this is to avoid as much theory as possible? I feel like I might rely too much on theory these days (is there a way to tell if I really do rely on theory too much?) and would like to make a change but I'm not sure how to go about it.

  • 2
    Depends on what you mean by good. You can't reach GM without theories, but you can be a good club player without knowing much.
    – SmallChess
    May 2, 2016 at 11:35
  • 3
    If you mean 'memorizing theory', well, that's a waste of time. However, undertstanding theory will only help.
    – Tony Ennis
    May 2, 2016 at 11:40

3 Answers 3


Well, depends on your definition of theory and good. If you mean, never really studying specific things then you will be lacking in a few areas. Notably:

  1. Openings. You will struggle at a high level without theory unless you are Magnus Carlsen. Most top level Grandmasters have memorised thousands of opening lines, and understand them extremely well. If they did not know these, they might be able to work out the correct answers, but they would use a lot more time to do so (which would be a very significant handicap). The computer age was leading towards theory being critical for most games, but Carlsen plays many novelties, showing that opening theory is not completely necessary.
  2. Endgames. You might be able to work it out for yourself, but again, you'd have to be a super genius to naturally get this at a top level. Endgames have many specific things that would be much easier to learn if you just studied the theory. Without theory, it will take you much longer to learn the same thing.

There are probably more things. However, there are things that you can gain without theory:

  1. Tactical Sense. Tactics don't technically have much theory behind them, as there isn't a HUGE amount of concepts to learn (pins, skewers, etc). It just requires you to improve efficiency in your brain, and calculating power. This is easier said than done, without a good position, you'll find that you don't have many tactical opportunities available to you.
  2. General game sense. If you don't use much theory, and alternate your openings, you will probably be more versatile. Also, until a high level (>2000), you will trip up your opponents because you'll be playing off-book.

If you're looking to avoid theory (which I do), just alternate your openings! Have a cycle between your openings. Each game as black, alternate between c5, d5, e6, c6, etc. Don't choose too many, just pick ones that suit you. If you want to play quiet games against e4, play d5 or c6. If you want more intense games, e6 or c5. It mixes it up, and you learn the different plans for different openings.

  • 4
    I am pretty sure Carlsen can play novelties because he knows the opening theory very well, not because it's not necessary.
    – Sejanus
    May 3, 2016 at 13:00
  • Carlsen avoids top level opening theory relative to the other super GMs. He aims to get "playable" positions out of the opening, that will catch his opponent in an unusual position. He will then continue to outplay them in the middlegame and endgame. Just look at his wikipedia page (and other sources too ;)) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnus_Carlsen
    – mojo1mojo2
    May 3, 2016 at 13:43

I would argue that theory very important for the middle game in the sense of strategic knowledge. Things like open files, opposite side castling and of course an understanding of pawn structures are crucial to get past the beginner levels. Up to about 2000 or so I think you don't need a huge amount of opening theory and would argue that you learn more by varying your openings, as mentioned by mojo1mojo2.


It is possible at a certain extent. First of all you at least need to know the characteristic of each warrior. The game is all about this much in the initial stage for beginners.Then being familiar to it you automatically start thinking in a different manner about the functions of each.And thus your game evolves. Any kind of theory isn't required. Experience in playing and proves more helpful. Observing minutely the techniques and tricks while playing with senior players will help proceed yourself.

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