How many openings does a typical (national/international level) tournament player usually know and play?

For instance: in a tournament, can I expect that a player will either open 1.d4 or 1.e4 consistently when they have white? And, if black plays (for instance) 1...e6, can I expect their move 2 to be always the same? How long of an opening line will they typically follow without changes (given the opportunity)?

Or maybe they have a single opening that they play 80% of the time, for instance, and then they change completely when they feel like doing something different?

I am not speaking about top-level matches such as a world champion match, where many matches between the same two players are played with a lot of preparation, and I can expect them to vary a bit more.

  • 4
    about what type of players you ask? there are players(even GM's) who play only one maximum two openings all their life, they now those till perfection; there are players of different type like Vasily Ivanchuk - every GM know there is no reason to prepare against him - he can play anything. This really depends on a players character and dedication to chess and will to explore it, not on the level of player.
    – Drako
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 13:35
  • @Drako Thanks, that sounds like an answer! It doesn't surprise me that there are extremes in both directions, but what is the most common approach that is encountered here? Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 13:47
  • 3
    I really think its very individually - there are no rules definitely, depending on personality you can be successful with any approach and they all will have their pros and cons; so if you play 1 opening all your life at some point your risk to seriously fail in the opening is close to 0, but at same time on serious level your "risk" to get some serious opening advantage is also close to 0, because all opponents are perfectly prepared. But if you try to learn many - even genius like Ivanchuk sometimes fails in opening miserably; because you can't know everything in all of them.
    – Drako
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 14:26
  • 2
    I believe most players consistently open either with 1.d4 or 1.e4, also because both lead to very different play and normally only one of both styles suits you. The same goes for Black’s first move.
    – Tommiie
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 14:26
  • 1
    @thb - I'm typically Ivanchuck type player - you don't prepare against me because I quite often decide what to play sitting at the board while my clock already ticking and I can play anything I have played even a4 and h4 as first moves in serious championships :D
    – Drako
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 7:10

2 Answers 2


It depends.

Myself I play at a 1900 FIDE level and I have practically never studied openings!

Take as an example two players of my club rated 2250 FIDE:

  • Player A: theory enthusiastic: This player not only have a repertory close to an IM, but he went to a pub before each game to study possible development of the games taking in consider what openings his rival played.
  • Player B: tactics enthusiastic: This player do not study more theory and just played for fun at the club. He of course know some basis because to reach that level you need to survive against every +2000 the first ten moves, but he never prepared any game and uses to fall in second non book lines at the first moves.

Anyhow at a titled level everybody has a repertory. But also at this level there are some masters that know very deep lines of a huge repertory: more than fifty openings with more than ten lines on each one, to make a rude calculation, and others that just do not fall in ambushes, but as player B of my club can fall in non book lines to make think their opponents.

  • Since you mention ratings, it would help me to interpret the ratings if you mentioned the scale. 1900 Lichess does not equal 1900 FIDE, for example.
    – thb
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 19:37
  • @thb I am talking about FIDE rating. I thought it was clear because I mention titled players, but I add it to the subject.
    – user18196
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 9:22
  • Some casual users mention ratings without qualifying that they speak of online ratings such as Lichess. (Credible estimates vary but have suggested that Lichess ratings might be inflated 350 points or more in comparison to FIDE. Convention on this site is only slowly standardizing on FIDE ratings. One cannot assume. This is why I have asked.)
    – thb
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 14:20
  • The site is unbusy enough that almost anyone can offer advice here, which is pleasant, but what if you have a player like me whose Lichess classical rating is about 1550 (1605 at the moment, but it varies), who has never had a proper OTB rating? Twenty-five years ago, I seemed to play FIDE 1350 players about evenly OTB, whereas my Lichess rating today suggests a strength about FIDE 1200; so when I answer questions here (as I occasionally do), how credible are my answers, really? Not very. To rank answers here by OTB ratings would be nice. Probably impractical, but nice.
    – thb
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 14:36
  • But, anyway, there is boasting on the Internet. It's hard to be sure how strong online commenters really are.
    – thb
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 14:37

It's really less about the lines, and more about the ideas. To become strong, you have to know the typical middle game plans that arise from an opening. Knowing exact sequences of moves is less important, unless a certain sequence confers a concrete benefit (like saving a tempo or preventing counter play).

I wouldn't say that a player's "opening book" is important... it's their knowledge of positions and what plans and ideas to use in these positions that's important. Essentially these are patterns. If you know that a certain position is good for white or black, and what white or black should do in that position, that's a big advantage.

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