I'm a ~1750 Elo player and I've been thinking of switching my opening repertoire for White. ... And I don't want to get into solid, strategic and quiet positions because I suck at tactics (it's not the case, I played the Sicilian for 3 years, and did more than 5000 tactical puzzles). ... Maybe you still think that playing wild games full of tactics everywhere will make me improve faster ...
First of all, it is exactly the quiet positions that help improve a player, not the tactical ones. Everybody learn tactics, anyone can find mate in five when playing their own game so the only thing you should do is just keep solving puzzles and that's it. Your tactical skill will always be high, but never at the level of a GM. Why? Because some sacrifices are positional and are made with the intent of getting long-term compensation instead of mating in five or returning the sacrifices material. In order to master these, you need a strong understanding of middlegame positions that may arise from the openings you play.
Furthermore, with "quiet" play, you actually play chess instead of doing mindless checking for tactics, which will greatly help you improve. In quiet positions, you must still calculate and check for tactics, but you also must frequently decide which pieces are good to exchange and which are not ( this is very helpful when transitioning into endgame -> you would be surprised how often "tactical players" of high skill make banal mistakes in this area! ), you must take into account endgames that may arise and above all, you always have to evaluate pawn structure that may arise after every move played. To master "quiet" games you will need a lot of work on endgames, pawn structures and middlegame plans, but you will get so much in return -> you will be able to effortlessly grind down lesser players, outplay "tactical players" of equal rating, and offer very strong resistance against stronger players. So I understand exactly where you appeal for closed games comes from and will try to help you as best as I can. And for the record, playing "quiet" games will make you become GM faster than playing tactical games. GMs/IMs do not make mistakes in pure tactical positions, those are just well explored and every master knows them by heart. Tell me when was the last time you saw Sicilian Najdorf in World Championship match?? You will always see
1.d4 because of reasons that are too broad to be posted here...
So my question is: between 1.d4 and 1.Nf3, what is the White first move that generally leads to the most solid, positional, slow, closed, strategic and quiet positions?
These two overlap, technically you can find all the
1.Nf3 openings transpose into certain opening lines that start with
The only sharp opening that is dangerous for your style of play is King's Indian Defense, since it requires a lot of learning, is sharp and some lines are extremely theoretical. Other nonsense, like BenOni or Chigorin defense are just rubbish and should not phase you ( BenOni is nearly refuted with Taimanov attack and you can bypass the Chigorin defense by simply playing
Nf3 before you hit with
c4 ) since most of the time White has an advantage or can simply dodge them altogether.
The problem with
1.Nf3 approach is that you can not battle Queen's Gambit Declined with favorable version of the Exchange variation and there are other openings where early
Nf3 reduces your chances for obtaining an advantage. Still, this move offers you big practical chances to outplay your opponent with transpositional tricks. I haven't played active chess for quite some time ( 10+ years to be precise ) but let me show you on a small example what I am talking about:
[Title "Black wants to play with full center, but is tricked into passive position"]
1.Nf3 Nc6 2.d4!
and Black has blocked his
c-pawn thus condemning himself to passive play if he enters pawn structures with
d5+e6, so he should aim for
e5+d6 pawn structure with
2...d6 but White may play
e5 square in his control. The tactical shot
3...Nxd4 fails due to
4.Qxd4! e5 5.Nxe5 dxe5 6.Qxe5+ +-. He could try to go for
2..Bg4 but then simple
e3 will force him to exchange the bishop for a knight in order to enforce
...e5. Although you allowed
...e5 you got bishop pair in return. This is known as trading one advantage for another and is important concept in positional play. With
1.Nf3 most of your games will be of this type, but you will have to cover a lot of theory so you can take the maximum transpositional tricks can offer you. Furthermore, you you have a chance to dodge the sharp lines:
[Title "White dodges King's Indian Defense"]
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.O-O O-O 5.d3!? d6
And now you could play
e4 or even
c3 going for
b4 and action on the queenside. The position is stable for both sides so the player with broader knowledge and higher creativity will prevail. The point of
1.Nf3 is that you must have a vast opening knowledge and strong grasp of typical middlegame positions like Isolated or Hanging pawns, various exchange lines ( like in QGD, Slav, French defense and so on...) and even main lines, so you can successfully decide in which direction to steer the game.
1.d4, things are different. This move reduces the amount of work you must invest in learning the pawn structures/middlegame plans and variations, but offers Black great chances to sharpen the game. Various gambits, King's Indian defense and so on are now a real option. You would have to accept that sometimes you will have to play mind-blowing, wild tactical games, you initially wished to dodge. Your biggest problem will be Nimzo-Indian defense since it scores very well against
1.d4, but you can dodge it by playing
Nf3 instead of
Nc3. Although the subtle move order can take away best response for Black, you too must pay the price. Black may play Queen's Indian defense, which gives White a small advantage but is considered drawish, or he can trick you and choose to play Queen's Gambit since the most dangerous reply -> the Exchange variation after
cxd5, is harmless for him since you have
Nf3 instead of
In my opinion,
1.Nf3 will offer you solid and strategic positions you seek, but you will have to work harder and be ready to make more draws than wins since most of the time the best options for White can be bypassed by Black.
1.Nf3 further would be too broad, so I will ask you to leave a comment if you need further help. In the end, here are some books I would recommend:
- B.Avrukh-Grandmaster repertoire 1;
- B.Avrukh-Grandmaster repertoire 2;
- B.Avrukh-Grandmaster repertoire 8;
- B.Avrukh-Grandmaster repertoire 9;
- B.Avrukh-Grandmaster repertoire 10;
- B.Avruhk-Grandmaster repertoire 11;
- L.Shandorff-Playing the Queens Gambit ( second edition! );
- A.Khalifman-Opening for White according to Kramnik ( all of the books in the series! );
Good luck and best regards.