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I was watching the following video on the Ruy Lopez (Spanish Game) - Variations with 3...a6. The video is almost 1.5 hours and it pretty much goes through all variations with 3...a6. As I was going through the video, I got lost and frustrated because it seemed to much to take in and I was trying to plug in all the possibilities into Chess Position Trainer. So this got me thinking, is it necessary to learn all these variations that go beyond the opening and by beyond the opening I mean once you get past Bb5 in this particular case?

For example, in the video, they went over the deferred Steinitz defense: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 O-O d6 which was enough for me, but then they continued with white's most popular replies on move 6 and continued with black and I didn't know where to stop.

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    Could use some more words here. I can't answer your question without watching the video to see how deep Bb5 is. – Tony Ennis Mar 7 '13 at 2:28
  • I just used the Ruy Lopez as an example. I will update with an example. – xaisoft Mar 7 '13 at 4:04
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    What's your USCF rating? It can make a difference with respect to advice you get. – Tony Ennis Mar 7 '13 at 4:10
  • @TonyEnnis - Don't have one, but I am probably a beginner level. – xaisoft Mar 7 '13 at 17:36
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    Another approach would be to play the opening, and then go back and review the part of the video which covered the moves you actually encountered to see where you went wrong. – Travis J Mar 9 '13 at 10:38
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is it necessary to learn all these variations that go beyond the opening?

I would say no it is not necessary to focus on the opening that much until you are playing chess at a very high level. If you are a beginner the best advice would be to dedicate most of your study time to middlegame tactics and strategy, as well as some basic endgames. Here is a quote of Capablanca on the matter

I have very often met players who know the openings by heart; that is to say, they have learned from some book or other and they think they know them very well. And indeed they do know them very well by heart, but nothing more. They do not understand the objectives behind the openings and therefore do not know what advantage has to be taken of them, and it often thus happens that they lose. And they lose because they have studied the openings badly without learning them or because they have not studied them in depth. It is clear that this can happen to anyone, but it is more likely to happen to someone who studies only the openings than to someone who dedicates himself to study of the two other phases.

The quote is from a lecture you can read online

ps. You will probably also benefit by studying the games of the masters... for example, by using a book as Irving Chernev's Logical Chess... Good luck!

  • I have the Chernev book, so maybe I will revisit it. Thanks for the advice. – xaisoft Mar 8 '13 at 12:40
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is it necessary to learn all these variations that go beyond the opening and by beyond the opening I mean once you get past Bb5 in this particular case?

Only you decide what is necessary, you learn what you want to learn. But we can give some general advice.

First, don't spend too much time on openings. Knowing a lot about them makes you feel like a grandmaster during the start of the game, but hardly improves your results. As a guideline, spend less than 10% of your studying time on openings.

I assume that the position after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 is one you see regularly, and that you have decided you want to play the Ruy Lopez (3.Bb5) in that position. The first goal of your study should be -- why? What's so great about that move? You should be able to put into words what White is trying to achieve, and also have some idea of how Black is trying to react to those ideas with his various replies.

Then, you start playing it. The usual advice applies: play slow, serious games against opponents of your own strength or somewhat stronger. In the opening, keep the goals of the Ruy Lopez as you understand in mind, but definitely also the main principles of any opening: try to get all your pieces into play, to get your king to safety and to prevent him doing the same.

After the game, you look at it and see what happened. Let's say that black decided to strengthen e5 by playing the delayed Steinitz, 3...a6 4.Ba4 d6. You thought hard and played a game of chess. Now is the time to look up what theory says. Does the book/DVD/whatever recommend the same move you played? If not, can you figure out why theirs is better? Again, try to understand the whys behind the moves, tactical points, et cetera. Next time you play this line, you'll understand it a bit better!

If you played something that the book didn't mention, but it still seems good to you, I recommend that you keep playing it. Maybe ask a stronger player about it some time to get his opinion.

And so on, for the rest of your chess playing :-)

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An "easy" answer is to study the opening until it starts to "branch." In your Ruy Lopez example, the moves up to 5. O-O are pretty standard. The "branching" begins with Black's fifth move. Some of the main lines for Black include 5... d6 (your Steinitz defenese), 5... Nxe4, an aggressive variation, and 5... Be7, which is more conservative, because the B blocks the e file and allows castling.

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I'd say that you need to know the basics of the various openings and their general purpose as well as the general opening principles, but in-depth memorization is not a good idea. If your opponent varies at some point, which is most likely, and you don't really know the opening's purpose, you'll be lost. I'm from an older generation when Fine's "Ideas Behind The Chess Openings" would have been the source for this understanding, although I assume this has been updated by other sources now. Even some of the strongest players now, like Carlsen, don't rely on learning variations in depth but just try to reach a playable position out of the opening and then rely on other skills such as tactics and endgame knowledge to succeed.

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