What goes through the mind of a chess player in the opening? In particular, what helps you choose the right opening?

After learning how to move the pieces, after understanding how the game is divided into stages, and after finding that openings can provide a wide range of theoretical exercises, I come to ask myself some questions.

This question is part of a series of questions asked by players who have begun their study of chess, and have previously learned chess terms, and now seek knowledge of how great players think and how they make decisions on each move.

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1 Answer 1


What helps you choose the right opening?

This splits up naturally in various ways. The first way is general versus specific:

  1. What is the right opening for a specific opponent?
  2. In general, what are the right openings for me?

If I am going to be playing an opponent who has games online then I will try and look at those openings to see what they play and, if I can, prepare for them appropriately.

For instance, 3 years ago I was going to have white against an opponent who didn't have many games online and the black games he did have were mainly against 1. e4, to which he always replied with the Sicilian, whereas I almost always open with 1. d4. As a lazy player, I like whenever possible to limit my opponent's choices to make my life easier. Many years ago when I was an e4 player I played the Grand Prix Attack against the Sicilian. This was very fashionable in the 80's but is unfashionable now. It is possible, even likely, that my opponent had never seen it before. On the morning before the game I spent a couple of hours updating myself with the latest theory and had a comfortable victory as, indeed, my opponent had no clue what the ideas are behind the opening.

What are the right openings for me depends on my time of life, my energy, my ambition, my available time.

Strangely in my youth I tried to play quiet, positional chess and to play classically (whatever that means), building up small advantages, fighting off my opponent's tactical ideas and then grind them down in the endgame. The Queen's Gambit was the ideal opening, I thought, to achieve what I wanted as white. With black I played the French against e4 and was happy to play the black side of a QGD against d4.

Then about 20 years ago I decided that I needed to improve my tactical play and that I should therefore switch to more tactical, double-edged openings. I started opening with e4. Against e5 I aimed for something like a Max Lange. I never had the guts to play the King's Gambit. Against the Sicilian either the Morra Gambit, if I just wanted to blow them away, or the Grand Prix Attack. Against the French I played a Winawer with an early Qg4, caveman stuff, etc. A lot of fun and certainly good for my tactics but the downside of this approach is that there is a lot of work involved.

Nowadays I am not prepared to9 spend so much time so I have changed my repertoire again to minimize the work needed. To that end I try and play openings which limit the opponent's choices and make my life easy. That means opening with d4 as white and playing some kind of London, either traditional or Jobava. As black against e4 I still like the French but also like the Black Lion. Against d4 or c4 I like the Dutch (from my period where I liked to play tactical openings) but with e6 on the first move to avoid gambit lines. If my opponent plays e4 on the second move I'm comfortable switching to a French.

An important concept is that of related openings. This can make it easy to transpose from one opening to another (Dutch to French) or to switch openings to ones with similar ideas. For instance as a Black Lion player I'm also learning the Modern as there can be move orders (early f4 from white) or opponents against which the Modern is more comfortable for me. Similarly as a London player I like to sometimes switch to the Trompowski.

Whatever openings you choose to learn the most important thing is to be comfortable with the kinds of positions that typically arise from those openings. If you like fast action and tactics then play openings which get the center open quickly with the pieces flying into action. If you like slow, maneuvering games then keep the center closed with a French, Modern, KID, Dutch.


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