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Am a new player (had played before hadn't picked up a board for 3 years having never taken the game that seriously) and am going to try and commit to at least 1 rapid (10+5) game per day.

Have made it to 950ish on Lichess (and was disappointed to find that puts me in the bottom 2%). In my approx. 15 games I've found on analysis I've opened up at least a couple of times (unintentionally 25 or 30%) with the Kings Pawn: Leonardis variation or the French Defence: Classical variation as black. I've just tried to play what I thought was a sensible move and this is what the analysis classed it as.

Is there any value to learning openings as a new player? My only comparison is Poker where it's advised not to use game optimal theory on new players as they don't know what the correct play is a lot of the time. Conversely I'm thinking in Chess the chance of getting a new player to not make a mistake or blunder in the first 10 moves is very low (& if someone goes off of a line I'm figuring it lowers the value of an opening). I'm figuring also if you get a completely different move to what you anticipated back (e.g. e4, d5) it would also lower the value of it? (so hence lowering the value of welding yourself to one opening).

Is there more value at this stage to be looking at pattern recognition and positional awareness and then specialising on an opening at a later stage?

Thanks in advance for any advice or suggestions.

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    I never got to be much good at chess, USCF rating peaked around 2050. I know that the French Defence is 1.e4 e6 but what in the world is the Leonardis variation?? – bof Jun 29 at 2:28
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    The problem with learning openings as a new player is that the opponents whom you have any chance against are not going to know any openings, so your games will be out of the book by move 3 or 4 at the latest. – bof Jun 29 at 2:31
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    @bof Learning openings should precisely be about understanding how to profit from the opponent's inaccuracies, not about studying deep into the mainline – David Jun 29 at 6:43
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    Poker is about bluffing. Chess is not. To stay with the cards analogy: all cards are open on the table. – Mast Jun 29 at 8:06
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    @David It's not 100% bluffing, but part of it really is. You know what you have, you suspect what the rest of the table has. They know what they have, they suspect what you have. A lot of statistics, and in the end it's a gamble. And that's the part that matters for the flawed analogy of OP. In Poker, you don't know what your enemy has. Only what they can have. In Chess, it's all in plain view and the challenge is somewhere else. Source: I've been playing for years. – Mast Jun 29 at 11:14

10 Answers 10

17

The opening in those games depends on your opponent just as much as you, so with the sample size being so small, don't take the statistic too much into account.

The analogy with poker doesn't really work out too well. You definitely want to play "optimally" in chess against beginners! While in poker you can choose between different strategies that will lead to different expected amounts of cash/chips gained on a hand, in chess there are only three results: win, draw and loss. If you play "GTO-like", you'll win 100% of the time.

The problem is that, when you're still a beginner, studying openings won't make you much closer to being an "optimal player". We should distinguish two things here: you should definitely learn how to play the opening well (as in: develop your pieces, control the center, put your king into safety, prevent your opponent from doing these three things and similar strategic ideas). Don't just stick to the "slogans". Take a look at a variety of examples. However, this is not the same as learning a lot of moves deep into opening theory. Learn mainly by reviewing your own games (by yourself, not with a computer) and by watching how more skilled players treat the positions you reach.

The main reason why deep study of "opening theory" is not so profitable for beginners is that the difference between play "perfectly" and making a small opening mistake is much smaller than when those mistakes happen later in the game. The other main point I'd make is that it is much easier to remember opening theory when you are a skilled player that understands the underlying tactics/strategy and only has to rely on memory for a few critical situations. One of the opening mistakes I commonly see among beginners is making the "right move" in the wrong position (as in, thinking you are in a given theoretical position where the right move is X but it turned out it wasn't the same position)

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    I'd add to this: you have to know why that opening line is optimal. In the Queen's Gambit Accepted you might know that leaving the black pawn on c4 for a few turns is optimal. But if the opponent fortifies that pawn and you don't know how to exploit the weaknesses that creates you're just down a pawn. – Omegastick Jun 29 at 10:36
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    @Omegastick that's a good point! Linking it to the last paragraph of my answer, if you are skilled enough to understand why Black shouldn't stick to the pawn, then you don't need to care about how to reply to lines with ...Be6, ....b5 and other inferior moves, making the study of the opening much easier. – David Jun 29 at 10:41
  • @Omegastick yes. 100%. This is one of my main concerns. I could potentially play an opening perfectly but not realise the consequences of why it is wrong and if I'm ahead. – user8812 Jun 29 at 15:25
  • Thanks and whilst I thought all of the answers were good this was my preferred one. Also want to stress that I thought that the GTO point didn't hold up (because of the differences between Poker and Chess) but don't understand the approach well enough yet to fully appreciate that. Where I play Poker as well (reasonably) it was the only example I could think of. – user8812 Jun 29 at 15:31
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Is there any value to learning openings as a new player?

Yes. The main reason is to get a feel for the kind of patterns of the way the pieces develop in different situations.

There are also good reasons to start with highly tactical openings since most of your improvement will come from improving your tactics, most of your wins will come from your tactics (and most of your losses from tactics you missed) and the quickest way to get a tactical game is to play a tactical opening.

If you play a lot of stuff like this then you will become very comfortable in wild positions which scare the life out of higher rated but more staid opponents who suffer outside of their comfort zones of the English Defence or similar.

These tactical thoughts are not mine. We have a guy in our chess club in his 80's who has been teaching beginners for about 60 years! and he always starts with teaching his kids the King's Gambit with exactly these ideas in mind. He tries to get his kids to develop fast and attack and pay more attention to the initiative than pawns. As a result a surprising number of our regions strong players were taught by him.

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This is a very difficult question, and there are several sides to it.

1: This is the most important advice you will ever hear: Chess is 99% tactics. It is all about tricks, forking and pinning your opponents. I can not count how many times I have played a wonderful opening, gotten some advantage on the long term to lose on some simple blunder. If Bill Clinton could rephrase it, he would say: It's the tactics stupid.

2: Having said that, I believe the best way to actually learn openings is by studying their specific tactics. Especially if you are just starting out, it makes a lot of sense to study miniature games (short games under 20 moves). Those are always won or lost by some specific trick (tactic is basically a synonym for trick). Repeat those games several times until you understand what is going on. Afterwards you can try to copy those tricks for yourself and voila you have an opening!

3: To get you started you can find a lot of books with the term miniatures. You could also search on youtube for traps, although my personal preference is to play through the game and not wait for it listening to 20 minutes of blabla on youtube.

So that's it for the recommendation. If you are going to study openings instead of tactics, you should study opening tactics to make the most progress.

Cheers!

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You should focus on understanding the openings principles- center, development, king safety. If you understand those ideas you'll usually be able to find good moves even if you don't know the theory.

Play openings that lead to open and tactical positions because those are the ones that will help you improve the fastest. 1.e4 with white. 1.e4, e5 with black.

Avoid heavily theoretical openings like the Sicilian Dragon or Najdorf. Those openings can take decades to learn and it's not really going to benefit you until you get up into the 2300 range.

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    I wouldn't necessarely stick to one opening in the beginning, I'd try to play different things and see what works for me – David Jun 29 at 6:43
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    @David Studying miniature games is a great way to avoid early disaster. After that, 99% of the time, the decisive blow is tactical, but strategy is what gets you to the position where tactics are possible. Given two players who are equally strong strategically, the better tactician will win almost every time. However, if one player is a much better strategist, tactics wont ever be needed. – Philip Roe Jun 29 at 15:22
  • If you play sound solid chess you'll never have an early disaster (unless you are playing a much, much stronger oopponent). Studying miniature games will only prepare you for iterations of the same opening. – David Jun 30 at 10:36
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When you're new to the game, rote memorisation of a bunch of lines in an opening:

  • puts you in a reasonable position in the midgame if your opponent plays the moves you learnt;
  • takes a huge amount of your time; and
  • is incredibly boring.

It's a fantastic way to kill any enthusiasm you might otherwise have in the game, unless you are a very specific type of person, one whom likely wouldn't ask the question in the way you did, or at all.

No, what's much more important is understanding the moves in an opening, or any moves at all in fact. It's all very well knowing that 1. d4 is a good starting move, but without knowing why, you'll be unable to capitalise on the advantage it affords you if your opponent also doesn't know why, fails to respect the advantage, or forgets about it later on.

To this end, I'd recommend checking out Jerry's videos in the youtube series Beginner to Chess Master, which builds up very good game sense from not knowing much about the strategy or tactics of chess at all.

Personally, I found that the shorter time controls were much more fun, too, and the "fail fast" nature of them allowed me to more quickly iterate upon my understandings. I mention this because you say you want to "commit" to a certain amount of games, but I think you should be compelled to play them by the fun and interest they provide, rather than some arbitrary goal you may have set yourself. It's a game, after all.

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  • Thanks. 100% get your point re: commitment. Want a decent length of time in a game so that I can try and understand something rather than just being irrational. Re: commitment as well. Have taken to busting out Chess Tempo puzzles during my tea break and if I'm not quite in the right frame of mind for a game doing more puzzles instead. Need to figure out how to use their opening trainer now 🤣 – user8812 Jul 1 at 14:11
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    If you enjoy them puzzles are a fantastic way to indirectly improve your opening skills - seeing the "flavours" of the shapes the pieces and their interactions make on the board will give you a more visceral understanding behind the opening principles. – Adam Barnes Jul 1 at 21:05
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I like Magnus Carlsen's philosophy: You can play any reasonable opening and still outplay your opponent. Here's a great post on Quora:

https://www.quora.com/How-strong-is-Magnus-Carlsen-in-the-openings

TL;DR: Rather than spending a ton of time on deep opening prep, Magnus will play slightly offbeat lines that might allow an opponent to have a slightly better position when Magnus plays Black, or an equal position when Magnus plays White. But there will be sufficient complexity in the position that he can exert his superior skill over the long haul.

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True: When playing against (other) beginners games will rarely follow the text book openings for long. So yes, you have a point that learning deep openings as a beginner is a waste of time from a utilitarian point of view.

But the logical conclusion from this realization is clear:

You should focus on understanding each opening, as deep as you choose to look into it, which doesn't have to be very deep at all. The discussion of the opening is at least as important as learning the moves.

What exactly makes the canonical continuation better than the alternatives? What are the typical ways beginners deviate from that, and how do I exploit these mistakes?

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  • Thanks and good answer and yes this was what I was broadly getting at. I feel no as you say from a time perspective to do a deep study but with a competent knowledge of several it will allow to further my Elo ranking against new players by putting me in better positions to exploit. Re: the comment higher up; yes happy to play if you are on Lichess (don't even know how I find others on there) - just not for cash (yet). – user8812 Jul 1 at 10:38
  • @user8812 Glad you like this answer.-- The comment was tongue-in-cheek because I think it goes without saying that without studying openings you won't improve, so yes, you need to study them. (And if you don't improve you will stay a weak opponent, hence the "hey, let's play money" remark ;-) ). The question is only what to focus on when you study them. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Jul 1 at 11:20
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Yes there is an advantage, but not the one that is expected. I recommend studying a couple of basic openings not for the oepning itself, but rather for patern recognittion. Many chess games, will have similar positions and pattern recognition allows you to play the right move to gain an advantage, additionally the main aspects of openings, center control, development, is critical for any beginner to learn if they want to play well. Many people on low ladder do not play the exact moves in a main line or the play weird openings, for example, I play the Sicilian a lot, especially the dragon, but most people do not follow the main lines, instead opting for 'the Bowdler attack ' which is really bad, but because the basic principles of an opening never change, you can usually play and turn out well, i can usually force a hyper-accelerated dragon, and still turn out okay, because the basic principles, like center control, and piece development and optimal positioning stay relatively the same from opening to opening

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A lot of useful and excellent advice has been provided.

Chess is a war game whose object is to destroy (checkmate) the enemy King!

So, mobilise your army and/or demobilise your opponent's army.

Try to seize the centre of the board, centralised pieces are more powerful!

Start with just one or two basic openings like e4:e5, d4:d5 until you get a feel for the type of positions you enjoy.

With a real board and pieces play through as many master games as you can, preferably annotated.

(Like a musician who develops skill by practice, practice, practice..... your brain and fingers will absorb moves and patterns and soon almost instinctively will know what to do.)

You may not at first have much of a clue what is going on but gradually you will learn a lot about pawn structure and piece play in attack and defence.

Above all, enjoy the game!

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Is there any value to learning openings as a new player?

Very little - you'll be wasting your time for the most part. The best way to learn a new complex subject is a top-down approach. While there is "some" value in learning openings at this stage, your time will be much better spent on learning general theory, ideas behind openings (without focusing on any particular one), middlegame, endgame, and, of course, tactics. Opening preparation becomes somewhat important at about 2000, critical at about 2500, and crucial at the super-GM level.

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