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I looked around and could not find an answer for this.

I've studied a pretty good amount of opening theory and so I know the "correct" moves for some basic lines. Most e4 openings and a fair amount of Nimzo-Indian, Pirc, and QGD for D4.

The thing of it is, I often play opponents who have not studied these lines. So they play the "wrong" moves and I'm not sure how to proceed.

Is it best for me to stop and eat clock time figuring out why the wrong move is wrong? Or should I keep playing my same opening even though I might be putting myself deeper into a hole?

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    It's not worth an answer, but when your opponent plays weird/unorthodox moves, it's a sure bet you can punish him. There's a reason professionals don't play those moves. This is why understanding an opening is more important than memorizing the moves. – Tony Ennis Nov 12 '16 at 17:01
  • Openings are overrated. Anyone can surprise you if you follow a similar pattern. Just play the game for fun without much structured thoughts. – Manoj Kumar Nov 12 '16 at 17:39
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    Ideally you can identify the blunder. You may just switch to tactical play from the stronger position that their deviation left you. Or it may be a gambit and you may be punished. But they're called "gambits" because you should assume that if the opponent plays strongly they are more likely to fail than not. – djechlin Nov 12 '16 at 22:24
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Nothing is ever certain, but when you are in position that was played in thousand of high class games, any deviation is virtually always dubious move. On the other hand in position which was played in lets say just 10 high class games, novelty is still more probably to be dubious, but it is nowhere close to be certain. Also there can be more equally strong moves in later stages of a game then in very beginning when you run to fight for centre. Taking time with first new position is good thing to do. Compare move with your knowledge of other moves and try to build good plan. No reason to play autopilot in position you don't know. No two positions are really similar, today chess is pretty concrete.

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It sounds like you're a beginner. As such, you should be focusing more on tactics than openings.

First, just because they play a move that's not in your book, doesn't mean it's "wrong". It may be an older line that's not in modern opening books, or just not in the books you have.

That being said, to answer your question, it depends on the opening. In a slow, closed or positional openings, it's not likely to matter too much, when your opponent deviates from your book, just adjust your plans as necessary. If it's a gambit, or tactical opening, you should take some time to check to see if it's a blunder.

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    I'm not though. Been playing for years. It's bugged me for at least that long. ;-) – Dave Kanter Nov 14 '16 at 19:19

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