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?

  • 13
    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
    Commented Nov 12, 2016 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.
    – m4n0
    Commented Nov 12, 2016 at 17:39
  • 2
    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
    Commented Nov 12, 2016 at 22:24
  • 7
    "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." Therefore you haven't studied the opening properly
    – David
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 8:27

6 Answers 6


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.


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.

  • 1
    I'm not though. Been playing for years. It's bugged me for at least that long. ;-)
    – Raydot
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 19:19

Is it best for me to stop and eat clock time figuring out why the wrong move is wrong?

No, you should learn before the match what the responses to deviations are. If you don't know why deviations are "wrong" and how to punish them, then you don't really know the opening.

  • 7
    +1. There is a big difference between studying an opening and just memorizing its lines!
    – Annatar
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 7:57
  • 4
    +1 for "Then you don't really know the opening". lMO,earning responses to all variations is impossible. Instead, one should know ideas behind moves whether they are in main line or variation. Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 17:02

Just a side note. Because your opponent makes a non book move does not mean it can be punished. This was a big realization for me because I always wanted to punish non book moves.

Especially, if you are playing Black. White has a wide range of moves to choose from. Some may give him a .25 advantage while another is only .10. It is clear that you cannot punish the .10 advantage. He still has a small advantage from having the first move.

My experience is that most non book moves are not totally wrong. So treat them with respect and simply try to find your best plan and best move. Stop trying to punish these moves because that is largely a waste of time. If they totally blunder that is another matter and easily dealt with.


Because it is a game and a contest/struggle. The opponent makes moves that are good for him not the moves in the favorite line you memorized.

Stop figuring out why his move is 'wrong' and figure out what your best move and plan is and then do that. Chances are that his move is quite good even if not the theoretical best.

You do not keep making your same memorized moves. You do not waste time figuring out why his move is wrong. You spend some time to figure out what is a good move for you.

Using principles and checking tactics is more useful than obsessing about book lines you think are 'correct'.

You have beginners syndrome. When you improve and gain experience these sorts of moves will not bother you.


Nothing. You stick to chess principles, and while you are learning openings you need to study why openings are played in a way they are, whats the idea behind the opening.

  • I guess you mean the idea behind the moves YOU make. Idea behind the opening will be broad for sure. Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 17:04
  • openings are not everything in chess while you should be able to think quick and mend to situation. It depends on analysis and building strategies not byhearting openings. Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 15:23

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