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I premise that I have an Elo score of 800. I'm reading a 7-book series by Garry Kasparov that seems quite comprehensive: it initially covers the general principles of an opening, then goes on to study the various endings, and then moves on to all the tactics, pawn structures, etc. In short, it is a complete series.

So far I have only read the first chapters on: general principles to follow in openings, checkmate with various pieces remaining. I already know most of the tactics and other scattered concepts, so it's just a matter of getting deeper as I continue reading.

However, having the feeling that I play openings randomly (while still following the basic principles) it occurred to me to start learning a couple of openings for white and a couple for black and understand them thoroughly by playing them. The problem is that I am totally stuck: both the series of books I have and many other books I have checked out merely describe variations of an opening by reporting what the best moves are. Taken individually, these moves make sense; the problem is that I can't find anywhere what the basic strategic plan of the variant is in order to understand it thoroughly. Let me explain. I started to see something about the Italian opening and main lines and some variants. Let's say the basic plan of the Italian game is clear to me, that is, piece development to castling quickly and targeting black's weak pawn f7. At this point, suppose we get into the gioco piano and, in particular, the variant of the gioco pianissimo (Just an example): after reaching this structure (After pushing the d pawn on d3) what are the strategic plans of black and white to continue playing? Where will white go to attack and where will black attack? What weak points should be attacked?

I can't find any book/video/site that explains the variants in this way; they all just come up with the best moves, but without indicating what is the strategic plan of black and white in making those moves, that is, what is the plan to follow once a particular variant is set up on the board. It seems pointless to me to study openings in this way, without understanding what is the plan to follow when entering a given variant and memorizing the best moves.

That said, are there any sources to draw from for studying openings/variants in this way? Or is this simply something that I need to leave alone for now because I am not yet able to understand it and first I need to deal well with all the tactical aspects and pawn structures and other things, continuing in the reading of the book series I have?

The fact is that I would like to learn at least one variant in a decent way, since I have the feeling that I play the openings in a casual way, simply respecting the general principles, but, precisely, I cannot grasp (or I do not find described explicitly) what precisely the strategic plan of that particular variant is, regardless of the best moves that then need to be made: if one understands the strategic plan, I think the best moves come accordingly. Do you have any advice for me?

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A number of books focus on the "ideas" of the opening, so this answer is by no means exhaustive. For example, at the most basic level GM Yasser Seirwan's "Winning Chess" series starts with Play Winning Chess which focuses on his four principles and includes the main opening principles, though he has a separate book dedicated to explaining opening ideas in Winning Chess Openings.

Though some call it dated, Chernev's Logical Chess: Move by Move literally explains every move made in the annotated games and includes the strategic ideas for the openings it covers. Most chess players are significantly beneath the level of these former masters, so the book is still highly instructive for all but the upper echelons of the chess ratings.

FM Sunil Weeramantry's book with Eusebi, Best Lessons of a Chess Coach also covers strategic ideas in openings, including the strategic idea behind moves to punish some mistakes (one example in the Grand Prix: after 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. f4 g6 4. Nf3, if Black plays 4...e6?, the book explains the strategic reason for White's 5. d4!).

Image showing book covers for the 4 chess books mentioned above

For more advanced players, a popular option is Chess Structures by GM Mauricio Flores Rios that covers various common pawn structures, the openings they arise out of, and the long-term plans for both White and Black in those structures. You can hear the author discuss the book as well as hear IM John Bartholomew's book review.

Book cover for Chess Structures by GM Mauricio Flores Rios

Other potentially useful references:

  • Understanding Your Openings, YouTube series by IM Andras Toth
  • Hanging Pawns: YouTube channel with multiple playlists on various openings and their ideas
  • Understanding Chess Move by Move by GM John Nunn

I'm sure other resources are out there with similar content.

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  • Hi, first of all, thank you for your reply. I have already consulted several of the books you suggested, especially Seirawan's two books, Nunn's and Chernev's move by move, as well as some videos (Hanging Pawns), but I run into the usual problem: they explain well the meaning of each move (or almost), but I have the feeling that they don't clarify the long-term strategic plan.
    – Luckenberg
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 14:48
  • For example, Winning Chess Openings states that the Evans gambit gains time by forcing the opponent's bishop to move, and contextually this allows White to occupy the center. So far it makes perfect sense, but then what? After reaching the position of the accepted Evans gambit what strategic plans should be followed based on the position reached? How to figure out whether to attack from the queen's or king's side on the basis of the structure or to attack particular weaknesses that result from the structure reached?
    – Luckenberg
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 14:49
  • Maybe the books expand on other lines that originate from the accepted Evans gambit, explaining what the best moves are, but I always feel that a long-term strategic plan is missing: that series of moves is implemented to achieve what purpose? Maybe these are aspects that are impossible to cover in a book and that you acquire with experience, but I don't know how to approach the study of an opening for this very reason: so many lines and variations, but I can't find the long-term strategic explanation behind it.
    – Luckenberg
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 14:49
  • @Luckenberg Thanks for providing your perspective. I will try to find some time to do more research and update my answer accordingly. Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 18:57
  • Sure! However, i've just given a look at 'Chess Structures' and It seems the closest to what i need.
    – Luckenberg
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 19:24

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