I am approximately 1500 OTB (Lichess Classical 1750, chess.com 1540, internal rating in my club ~1500), and of course I would like to improve. Work and family are demanding, so naturally I would like to make the most of my limited study time.

I do not think that I gain a lot by spending time on studying openings. On the other hand, I want to and like to play tactical lines in order to improve my tactical vision.

Currently I play 1.e4 as white (Evans Gambit, Fried Liver, Open Sicilian, Korchnoi Gambit, improvise on everything else), and as black I play the Qd8 Scandinavian against 1e4 and QGA against 1d4.

I wonder whether I should switch to more tactical lines as black, for example the Portugese Gambit against 1e4 as presented by Smerdon ("Smerdon's Scandinavian) or recently Vincent Moret in "My first chess opening repertoire for black". Moret also suggests the Albin Countergambit against 1d4.

I do feel however, that these openings are far from trivial. For example in the Evans Gambit, a lot of good moves come quite naturally, whereas in the Portugese Gambit there are a lot of nuances and move orders to remember (should I put the queen on f5 or on h5?) etc., and if you make one bad move you are very quickly on the losing side. And there are lots of chances to make bad moves.

So in summary: To improve my tactical vision and my game in general, should an amateur like myself invest time in studying these sharp and aggressive offbeat opening lines, or rather play more solid lines and spend the time on studying the endgame and middlegame?

I'd be especially interested in stronger players experience, i.e. how they improved.

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    You don't have to use offbeat openings to surprise beginning players at all. You will generally play without theory very soon anyway. Play what you like and I think Scandinavian isn't choice for you. Go for Sicilian, maybe Sveshnikov or Najdorf. QGA as well as white openings sounds reasonable. – hoacin Nov 30 '17 at 21:43
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    If you're a ~1500 rated player, you won't have to spend a huge amount of time on your openings. Generally a short intro presenting the main ideas and motifs in the opening should be enough for you to try the opening out and see how it feels for you. Even if you try some tactical and sharp stuff out, it by no means implies that you have to prioritize studying opening theory. Focus on endgames and the middle game if you want the most out of your study time, since that will help you improve more in general than studying opening theory will. – Scounged Dec 1 '17 at 1:22
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    Are you me from an alternate universe? ~1500 USCF, ~1850 lichess classical, 1.e4 (though I prefer the Scotch), Qd8 Scandi... although I use the Nimzo instead of the QGA against 1.d4. Very, VERY interested in this question... – Ghotir Dec 1 '17 at 15:00

In general, independently of playstyle, I'd advise every beginner who seriously wants to improve in the long run to favor "popular" openings over "offbeat" ones.

Offbeat openings are (usually) considered offbeat for a reason. That is, usually there is some way for the opponent to "defuse" them. Of course, that doesn't mean they are unplayable, and at a ~1500 level, most opponents won't know about that way anyways. They will at most have learned some variations of the main openings and have no real clue about playing against the Evans, Albin, etc. gambits. If you are properly prepared, you can exploit that, and these offbeat openings will often net you more wins compared to the popular ones in the beginning. However, in the long run, you will run into more and more opponents who DO know them, and some years down the line you may face the dilemma that these openings slow down your progress.

Popular openings on the other hand will usually be less impressive in the beginning, point wise. However, if you find one that you like, you will essentially have found a buddy for the rest of your life. Similar to the offbeat openings, they are (usually) popular for good reason. Having already lived under the microscope of thousands of master for decades, it's unlikely that they will suddenly be "refuted" (that risk is much higher in offbeat openings). Yes, the amount of theory may be frighteningly big, but so is the potential reward. After all, while many different lines mean that you have to have much more to learn, they also mean that you have much more to learn: You get a much broader scope of middle game positions you can potentially reach, and learning how to handle them is very beneficial for your overall chess skill. You don't have to know all little lines from the beginning (your opponents won't either), just start small and build up the tree move by move over time. Honed over the years, a popular opening is guaranteed to at some point surpass the results of offbeat openings.

My personal approach is to play popular openings, but slightly offbeat lines within these openings. That way, I still retain some surprise factor (and decrease the risk that an opponent "out-prepares" me), while still having the safety to play a very sound opening that I can fall back on. It's much easier to just switch to a different line at move 5 (that most likely uses at least some of the motives that I already know from my previous choice of line - not to mention that all side lines before move 5 stay the same) than to switch my entire opening at move 1 (that I will for the most part be completely unfamiliar with).

In your case, I agree with the other answers. Sicilian (Najdorf/Sveshnikov), Slav and Caro-Kann are all fine choices. I mean, you can play stuff like the Portuguese gambit every now and then to have a little fun, that certainly doesn't hurt ... but I wouldn't devote a lot of time into it.

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Here's my answer as an FM:

Scandinavian with Qd8 is a great choice if you want to avoid trappy theory while achieving normal positions.

Negative to Qd8 Scandinavian is that white gets a very free game i.e. you are going to be defending as black for a while. When you have time to study consider adding mainline Qa5. Disclaimer: I do not play Scandinavian as black but know IMs who do.

Avoid Portuguese Gambit unless you have the time to learn the lines. It leads to nonstandard positions which will not help you otherwise.

Keep Evans Gambit but for the times when you want quieter game play the Italian Opening. If you have an inclination for endgames consider Ruy Lopez Exchange variation.

Consider Kings Indian Attack versus French and Sicilian. You can also play it against g6/b6/d6. Again this is practical advice for someone pressed for time.

That leaves a problem on what to do as black vs Nf3/c4/d4 .

Personally, I am partial to Benoni-type of structures but they can be limiting.

Consider playing regular Kings Indian Defense! Sure there is a TON of theory but study only the ideas and structures(ie f5 break, defense of d6, Rook lift, how to attack on kingside) not the long lines. It will complement KIA as white as there are many ideas that transfer over.

If KID does not suit you, consider playing e6/d5/c6 type of structures.

So learn ideas/structures first over concrete move orders

Ideally, you want to have both sharp and quiet openings in your toolkit but that can take time to build which you do not have.

My assumption from your question is that you are an adult who has little time but wants to improve.

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To improve your tactics it's important to do tactical puzzles consistently, openings have little to do with tactical ability. If you want positional experience in open, closed, or semi-closed positions then switching openings might make some sense. Just be aware whatever you switch to, you will not know it as well so you will have worse results for awhile.

Looking at your openings, they are completely fine although they can lead to somewhat dry positions. If I had to suggest changing your play to get more exciting positions, I'd recommend something like the Slav defense, or the triangle system against d4, and the Caro-Kann against e4. This way you'll have somewhat more combative openings with better chances to create dynamic play, but you will still have positions similar to what you usually play.

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Definitely go with the sharp lines! If you forget what to do or can't figure it out over-the-board then that is a learning opportunity -- you can go see what you missed after the game. Tactical vision and calculating ability is what sets players apart.
I got to 2300+ mostly on tactics with a strong endgame. The game should be learned backwards (ending first, opening last)!

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An opening repertoire for someone who has no time to study should not aim at getting an advantage, but aim instead to create situations in which you feel at home and in which your opponent will have difficulty taking you out of that "comfort zone" As White the combination of d4 and Bf4 has been called the businessman's opening for just that reason. As Black the Center Counter is a reasonable choice against 1.e4 Although White can often get an advantage by precise play, your present opponents are unlikely to be able to do that. But do avoid being purely passive. Against 1.d4, there is a lot to be said for the Dutch. You will almost certainly get the structure that you like (Stonewall or Leningrad).

Do not worry that this repertoire is unlikely to take you to the highest levels. You are not going there anyway unless your life takes a turn giving you more time to study, so worry about it then.

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At that rating level, you’re better served by playing simple openings and concentrating on getting better at chess in general, so any opening, offbeat or mainline, that requires weeks or months of study is sub-optimal.

Spend your chess study time learning chess tactics and endgames, spend enough time on the opening to understand what you should have played last game instead of preparing for a line that may never end up on your board.

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At 1500 openings are not your problem. Trying to play tactical slash and burn is a problem and a poor strategy for improving. You may like them but they are not the best approach. And when you play someone better they will skin your cat quickly.

Go for solid openings off the main lines that everybody plays. Use principles to guide your moves not trying for gambits and tactics.

If all you want to do is stay at 1500 and have fun without improving then ignore this advice and keep playing like you do.

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  • and yet another coward downvotes a correct answer without saying why they did it. – edwina oliver Jan 27 at 3:44
  • I assume the downvotes are for your tone, perhaps more than the advice itself, which adds little not already present in other answers. – Grade 'Eh' Bacon Jan 30 at 16:54
  • tone is not a proper criteria. any answer that adds something is useful. not every answer is going to be an encyclopedia tome which is why folks get to vote on answers so as to help choose the best answers. – edwina oliver Jan 30 at 17:29

Take the Fischer games collection and play twice through it. Then try to remember what openings he has played and reproduce them on the board. There is no better openings guide than Fischer games.

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