I had an idea: build two opening repertoires, one good against much stronger opponents, and one good against much weaker opponents.

So two questions:

  • Which kinds of openings are good against much stronger opponents?
  • Which kinds of openings are good against much weaker opponents?


  • Mainlines or sidelines?
  • Open or closed?
  • Tactical or positional?
  • Sharp or slow?
  • Chaotic or quiet?
  • Theory-heavy or theory-light?

When playing against much weaker opponents, an opening can be good either because it maximizes your winning probability (or more precisely the winning probability plus half of the drawing probability) or because it allows you to relax and play on autopilot without needing to focus intensely.

Against much weaker opponents, Black should probably not play the French and the Slav, because this would allow White to play the drawish Exchange variations, and a draw would be a bad result for the much stronger player (though of course still not as bad as a loss).

What about the London + Caro-Kann + Slav with ...Bf5, a system which I currently play, is this system good against stronger or weaker opponents?

I did some research on ChessBase, and the conclusion is that surprisingly a very large rating gap does not alter the usual frequencies at which openings are played. Which proves that when they face much stronger or much weaker opponents, almost no one tries to exploit the gap in strength by choosing specific openings. E.g. When White is much stronger than Black, White doesn't play 1.e4 2.Qh5 at a much higher frequency than usual.

  • 2
    Doesn't really answer your question, but three factors that are good to consider at any level: objective strength of an opening, how comfortable you are with it, and how well-versed you anticipate your opponent will be with the theory. Commented May 22, 2023 at 16:13
  • 1
    My goal in the opening is to get to a structure I prefer and know the plans and timing well. Commented May 22, 2023 at 19:13
  • 1
    Probably almost anything will work against much weaker opponents -- and therefore, almost nothing will against much stronger opponents. They're much weaker / stronger, you'll win / lose almost all the time. Openings don't influence that much. Commented May 22, 2023 at 21:39
  • @RemcoGerlich: True, regardless of what opening you play, against a much stronger (resp. weaker) player you will almost always lose (resp. win). But having two repertoires would increase your winning probability against much stronger players from 1% to 2% and decrease your losing probability against much weaker players from 2% to 1%. A 1% change would usually be completely insignificant, but here it is not. Whether your winning probability is 50% or 51% makes a difference of only 7 Elo. But whether your winning probability is 1% or 2% makes a huge difference, a 120 Elo difference.
    – Fate
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 21:49
  • Let's say those numbers are true. I just don't see why it would be a good use of your time to learn two entire repertoires to change the result of 1% of the games the 10% of the time you play against a much weaker or much stronger opponent. Commented May 22, 2023 at 21:53

2 Answers 2


Which kinds of openings are good against much stronger opponents?

Openings where you know them the best and are most familiar with the plans arising from the openings.

Which kinds of openings are good against much weaker opponents?

Openings where you know them the best and are most familiar with the plans arising from the openings.

Look, in any situation the best openings are dependent completely on the individual playing them.

If you deviate from playing the openings you know best (including the plans arising from them) then you are deliberately choosing to play openings which are inferior for you, where you will have a smaller advantage against a weaker player and bigger disadvantage against a stronger player.

Of course, if you are trying to learn a new opening then you have to go through a period where you are deliberately handicapping yourself until you get to know the opening and its plans really well, but that's the price for extending your repertoire.

  • If I played openings that I don't know very well, I wouldn't score very well. Yes, that's obviously true. But my idea is to have two opening repertoires, and I would learn and know very well all the openings in my two repertoires.
    – Fate
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 17:59
  • @Fate You are missing the point. All your opponents, weak or strong, are unique individuals. They play lots of different openings irrespective of their strength. What works against one weak opponent, because they don't know it, will fail badly against another weak opponent because they play it all the time. Your idea of avoiding openings which could be drawish is also wrong. A few years ago I played the black side of a Slav against a player 350 FIDE rating points higher than me. He played the "drawish" exchange variation and lost.
    – Brian Towers
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 18:47
  • Of course all opponents are unique individuals, but what matters here are statistical averages, not individual cases. "Opening X is particularly good against much stronger players" means that, if I pick opening X in my repertoire against much stronger players, statistically, on average, my expected average playing strength against much stronger opponents will be say for example 50 Elo more than usual.
    – Fate
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 19:32
  • If we look at individual cases: Against a much stronger player who studied opening X extremely deeply, my expected playing strength will be 50 Elo less than usual. Against a much stronger player who never studied opening X, my expected playing strength will be 150 Elo more than usual. But ON AVERAGE, my expected playing strength will be 50 Elo more than usual, which is why opening X is particularly good against much stronger players.
    – Fate
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 19:33

My answer is going to be a bit vague, because I know nothing about your skills and knowledge. It’s basically a riff on the way Aleksander Wojtkiewicz approached playing in open tournaments.

First, you’ll want to be playing towards middlegame positions you are comfortable with playing, regardless of opponent. Which ones those are will be unique to you.

Against weaker players, choose variations that limit your risk, and rely on your own better understanding of chess to carry you to victory. By selecting less double-edged lines you both limit the likelihood you will destroy your own game with a mistake, and increase the likelihood your opponent will self-destruct. (After all, the simple reason they’re lower rated is because they’re more likely to blunder than you are. Wear them down and wait for the gift.)

Against stronger players, choose more enterprising lines. In a long, slow game against a higher rated player, the “blunder ratio” will be tilted against you, so you want instead a tense battle where it’s difficult to come back from a mistake. The odds you can win a grind-it-out game against a player with better technique are lower than the odds they’ll make a mistake against you in a knife-edged position, giving you an opening for a win.

These variations can coexist within the same opening, or be from completely different openings. Depends on what you like, what positions you play well.

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