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Hi and thanks in advance for any help.

Basically, I've been playing chess on and off for a long time, but only casually. Im not a beginner as such, but I only play against friends and occasional online games and never really studied chess seriously. According to Shredder im around 1200-1300 rating so nothing special.

I've never really studied openings seriously, and I've got to the stage where I'd like to try and learn a little more seriously to improve my game. The problem I have is, whilst I can play reasonably against the very common openings, I've really no idea how to play against more unusual openings.

As a rough idea of my play at the moment, I generally play Giuoco Piano, Evans Gambit, Scotch etc type games as white, almost always 1 e4 games. As black I play the same against 1 e4 or I try and play a KID type game against 1 d4 but again when my opponent plays other types of openings I'm pretty much guessing how to respond.

Can anyone suggest how I might go about getting better at openings. Should I choose a handful of particular openings and try to find out more, or should I try and learn more about opening theory in general? Any recommended books or websites you can recommend? Any tips from when you were in my position and wanted to become better with openings?

Thanks! :)

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It's important to know the main openings and their ideas, but there are some don'ts here.

  • Don't study obscure or excessive lines under the impression that not knowing these rare lines will result in poor play (it doesn't).

  • Don't study opening moves without understanding the ideas behind the moves.

  • Don't fall into the trap of learning hundreds of opening lines in order to gain an advantage of 0.2 pawns, only to drop a piece to a simple tactic in the middlegame. One of the best coaches in the world for beginners, National Master Dan Heisman, said:

It does not matter who gets the advantage out of the opening if one of the players is likely to lose a piece to a simple tactic in the middlegame. Losing a piece from an advantageous position will almost always result in a lost position. So study tactics, not openings, until you almost never lose pieces to simple tactical motifs.

  • Rubin Fine has book. The Ideas behind the openings. – ToddM Feb 22 '17 at 1:15
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The real question is not "which" openings you should study, but "how" you should study the openings. As such, there are several options available to you.

  1. You can try and view the Openings Explorer that comes built in, in all reputable chess engines (chessmaster, fritz etc). This will help you cram up the lines, but I don't think you will get the idea of "why" these lines are declared as standard by the masters.

  2. You can set up a board with the opening you want to learn playing against. Now instead of sitting on your side, rotate the board and see things from your opponent's point of view. See what you can do if you had this position. What would be your strategy? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Only after you get the first hand experience of an opening, you would be able to counter it properly.

In my opinion, if you have never faced a Ponziani (also known as English Knights Game 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 ) as black, it can quickly turn into your worst nightmare. Grandmasters rarely (if ever) play that opening as it puts white's piece activity at a slow speed, but it's one of the most dreadful weapons in white's hands, if it's black's first time facing it. It comes with a whole plethora of surprise attacks, poisoned pawns and tactical opportunities. I suggest you learn this opening (as white). I have devastated many better rated players within the first 15 moves with this opening. Very strongly recommended. However if black has an in-depth understanding of all Ponziani lines, then you will end up either one pawn down or lacking development by move 10. So it's sort of a gamble. Keep that in mind.

  • Thanks that's really helpful. I will go and look at the Ponziani as its not one I've heard before – Drew Jun 14 '15 at 20:01
  • If two beginners play a Ponziani, will the game be decided by the 0.5 pawn advantage derived from book knowledge? Not likely, as most games between beginners are decided by tactics. At this level, whoever drops less material to tactical motifs will win. Also, there are 100+ openings with the same obscurity an the Ponziani. It's not worth studying these lines. – limits Jun 14 '15 at 20:18
  • As I said in my answer, following book move upto depth 5 for each player will only bring a -0.57 disadvantage to white. And as I stated, Ponziani is a weapon FOR THE UNPREPARED black player due to its huge potential of tactics – Youstay Igo Jun 16 '15 at 7:09
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Hah! When I was at a lower level, I used to play 1. Nf3 2. b3 just so my opponent's memorized opening would be useless. When I started to get better, my opening study would basically consist of making moves that made sense to me, and then looking into books or playing against the computer to find out what I missed. These days, I do tend to know a bit more about my Black openings against 1.e4 because they are the most tactical, and I do have some books on them, but I didn't learn the opening from the book, I learned it from trying it myself, and then bought books that talked about common themes in the opening (moves that work, traps to watch out for, games that demonstrate good ideas), and less about memorization of some wierd move order.

Middlegame positional books will probably help a lot more than a dictionary of opening moves.

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