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First of all, I'm sorry if it looks like I didn't really research before asking the question, but I really did put in some effort and couldn't find a satisfying answer.

My problem is, I don't want to spend a lot of time studying openings. I don't really like the early game that much, I really just prefer to get it over with. I don't want to waste time learning a lot of theory by heart, as I'm relatively new, and I believe the biggest improvment will come from actually playing the game and not memorizing moves. Another problem is, when I'm trying to "just play", react to what the enemy does without going by any theory, I usually end up wasting tons of time against someone who knows what they're doing in their opening.

So, the question is - what are some easy, "quick-start" openings which don't require you to learn 12 different variations, which are relatively safe and prevent some early game cheese tactics that would confuse a begginer? Is there such a thing? I'm interested in both white and black openings.

Currently I am spamming the King's Indian Defense in 99% of my games, and I do enjoy it, however I'd just like to try something different, maybe something that fights for the centre a little bit more in the beggining?

They don't necesarily have to be setup openings (as in, an opening that's almost independent of what the oponent does), maybe a theory based opening that's pretty "universal" or, well, "easy" to learn?

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  • KIA with White is an easy setup opening where the middlegame ideas and themes are straightforward to understand. Feb 19, 2021 at 15:54

3 Answers 3

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You are right that memorizing tons of variations will be neither very helpful nor very entertaining. However, proper "study" of chess openings is much more than just blind memorization!

The key is to learn the general principles and common patterns (strategical as well as tactical). This is what will actually enable you to "just play" in any successful way - if you totally neglect the opening phase, then it will be rather easy for your opponents to gain an advantage early on without a lot of memorization just by being more skilled with these patterns.

I would actually advise you to play main line openings like the Ruy Lopez or the Sicilian. Don't worry about their reputation as "theoretical", unless you have reached at least 2000 FIDE Elo. Below that level, the overwhelming majority of players will have as many blind spots in their opening knowledge as you do. Ironically, for everyone who has memorized the Poisoned Pawn Variation to move 25 or something, you will find dozens of others who play the London System because they "want to avoid theory" - without noticing that the one with the Black pieces is likely to have a similar mindset and won't have played a Sicilian anyways!

Playing sound and active openings (instead of systems) will be much more helpful in the long run to develop your skills.

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The path to mastering the openings isn't memorising moves and variations, it's understanding why certain moves are played in specific positions, why certain moves are favoured over others.

Memorisation is a shortcut to understanding, not a replacement. There are sharp offshoots of most opening systems that mean you have to be aware of certain traps and tactics, whether that be through understanding the position, memorising the move that avoids the trap, or calculating the tactics of each position.

System-based openings are less memory intensive, for example, the King's Indian Attack as White. There are certain theory lines that require some blend of memorisation/understanding/calculation, but most of the times the opening plays itself into a fairly standard set of middle-game positions.

The basics of openings is to occupy the centre, develop pieces towards that end. The next step of openings is to control the centre (not occupy), and develop pieces to either control the centre, or reduce your opponent's control of the centre (e.g. pins, exchanges, forced retreats). The King's Indian Defence is one of the latter sets of openings, of controlling the centre, not of occupying it, it is designed to let White dictate what centre he wants, and then for Black to undermine it. You want something more immediate, so you're looking for openings based on the classical view of the centre.

If you're looking for openings that more directly occupy the centre, then the Queen's Gambit Declined (or it's Slav relatives) is the most classical of openings to occupy the centre.

Basically meeting 1.e4 with 1... e5, and 1. d4 with 1... d5 will give you Black's best approach to occupy the centre directly, and directly contest White's attempt to occupy the centre.

I'd advise sticking to mainlines of major opening systems. They are mainline because they've been tested many times at highest levels and retain their soundness.

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List of openings that you can quickly pick up (TL;DR)

  1. The Russian (Petroff) defense (much better choice for keeping it simple than 2. ..Nc6 due to tons of theory and especially great because it directly follows the classical opening principles and gives Black a very healthy position. It is far not as boring/drawish as people think on amateur level.)
  2. System openings (London system, Colle system, King's Indian attack, Hippopotamus, ...) [Note: easy to pick up, but I don't recommend them]
  3. The Caro-Kann defense
  4. The Chebanenko-Slav
  5. The Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD)
  6. The Accelerated Queen's Indian defense (hypermodern, has some similarities to the QGD and the Nimzo-Indian. Objectively problematic in lines where White plays f3!!)
  7. Anything that IM Sielecki recommends in his Keep it Simple series (Rossolimo / Moscow against the Sicilian, QGD,...) [Note: He also recommends some openings that can become theory-heavy, so you should follow his analysis to cut theory, e.g. play the Ruy Lopez with d3]
  8. Sidelines (e.g. Grand Prix attack against the Sicilian, Vienna opening/gambit, (Hyper-)Accelerated Dragon if you desperately want to play the Sicilian, etc.) There is also a Chessable series on the Sidelines approach for White by IM Banzea [Note: I would always prefer less popular variations within mainlines to sidelines when trying to reduce theory]
  9. The Scotch Game (according to Chessmood, but in my personal experience it's a little "computerish" if you really want to squeeze out an opening advantage)

Detailed answer

First of all, before concerning yourself with concrete opening theory, you should have a very firm understanding of opening principles (and follow them). This already brings you very far. Theory moves are often moves that satisfy the most (opening) principles at once. Before memorizing lines of an opening, it is also important to understand the fundamental ideas of that opening first. For this, you'll need to find instruction, e.g. from a book or video course, where a strong player explains the purpose of the moves you do. This also helps tremendously in memorizing them.

Now, to keep the workload of learning concrete theory of an opening low, you're looking for openings that satisfy these requirements:

  1. not too many choices for the opponent
  2. not too many forcing and long sharp variations (i.e. a move-order mistake shouldn't knock you out immediately, cutting the need for heavy memorization)
  3. overarching themes / structures / ideas across different variations (so that you get a feeling for and understanding of the opening and related structures with clear plans, ideas, pawn breaks etc.)
  4. Little diffusion, i.e. small changes in the position shouldn't have a large impact on what you need to play.
  5. objectively good (e.g. doesn't give Black more than -0.3)

Naturally, more strategic openings with fewer forcing options lend themselves to these criteria. That means that mainline Sicilians are out of the question, as well as most hypermodern openings because the opponent has a lot of challenging options and you need to know a lot of concrete lines in order to survive.

I wouldn't sacrifice too much objective value, but you may want to look into sidelines / sidelines within mainlines because they have less theory. For example, instead of playing 1. d4 and following up with the absolute mainline 2. c4, you may play the London system. However, 1. e4 openings have a lot of advantages over 1. d4 openings for beginners (move orders, transpositions, changing of lines against Black replies), so I'd rather recommend this, even though you may need to learn a little more: it will help you to become a better chess player and have more fun.

I would generally not recommend Hypermodern openings, such as the King's Indian defense that you play. White has a huge variety of dangerous options (1), Black needs a lot of chess understanding and feeling for how to play closed positions (where even GMs say it's difficult and that you need years of experience to do it well). There is an incredible amount of theory to the King's Indian defense and many GM's stop playing it after some time. The king's Indian was also the first opening that I studied, and while I grasped some fundamental ideas quickly (e.g. e5, f5, c5 pawn breaks and pawn storms, a5 to develop the knight via a6 etc.) and my results weren't even too bad, I soon realized that it isn't a good opening to start out with and started to play something much better:

The Chebanenko Slav

It follows the classical opening principles but is a fairly rare continuation within the Slav defense, which is one of the most frequent replies to 1. d4. GM Colovic explained all the ideas and plans very clearly, and you are aiming for a very simple setup (basically a "reversed London system"). The Chebanenko is the "purest" Slav in the sense that you'll almost always achieve that setup. And you can play that setup against nearly everything that White can throw at you except 1. e4.

Chessable Quickstarter chapters

I can recommend Chessable very much for your situation because you get

  1. Grandmaster explanations and therefore a better understanding of the opening
  2. A Quickstarter chapter, where only the most important lines are selected that you need to know before you can start playing that opening. There are some openings, where you only really need as little as 13 lines to start playing them!
  3. a move trainer with spaced repetition technology, so that your time and memory retention are maximized

Especially, I recommend you strongly to look at IM Sielecki's Keep it Simple series (e.g. Keep it simple for Black, Keep it Simple 1.e4 v2, etc.) where he provides you with complete opening repertoires that satisfy the requirements I outlined above. Each of these courses comes with a Quickstarter chapter, and his choices for example the Caro-Kann defense mean, that you only need to know ~13 variations to play it! This is probably one of the best and quickest openings to pick up! You can also consider IM Andras Toth's Beginner's repertoire series.

Before you buy any course, you can check CHessable's free Short&Sweet version to see whether you like the variations and to try them out in some online games.

[I am not affiliated with Chessable in any way other than being a customer.]

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