As you keep improving in chess, there comes the point where you have to learn a chess opening to better fight for the advantage. However, learning a chess opening can be a huge task for beginners and even intermediate players. There are so many openings, having different ideas and concepts, variations, and subtleties.
How can you learn a chess opening fast and effectively? Here are seven steps that you can follow to learn any chess opening in no time.
Step 1. Choose the Chess Opening
Want to learn a new opening? The first step to learning a chess opening is to select one that goes according to your needs and preferences. There are two main factors to consider when choosing an opening: the amount of theory and the playing style.
What is the easiest chess opening to learn? (hint: low theory openings)
The openings that require a lot of memorization and knowledge of specific lines and moves are called high theory openings, and they are usually preferred by advanced players.
However, if you are just starting or an intermediate player, it is a good idea to avoid high-theory openings and opt for low-theory openings instead.
Low theory openings are those that rely more on general principles and ideas than on concrete variations. Also, the best chess openings for club players are practical. They are easier to learn and play with.
Here are some examples of low theory openings:
Make sure the opening fits your playing style
Another factor to consider is your playing style. Your playing style is your personal preference for how you like to play:
- Do you prefer quiet or sharp positions?
- Do you like to attack or defend?
- Do you like open or closed games?
- Or, do you like to take risks or play it safe?
Depending on your answers to these questions, it is better to choose an opening that matches your playing style.
However, with that being said, getting to know your style is not as easy as it seems. If you have never had your games analyzed by a stronger player or an experienced coach, you might have some sort of illusion about your playing style. Therefore, one has to be very careful when considering one’s style of play.
The first thing you should do is analyze your past games. Also analyzing your losses will tell you far more about your strengths and weaknesses than your wins.
Next, if it’s possible, get a coach to have a look at your games and listen to their opinions about your style. This is because the more objective views you get about your playstyle the better-informed decision you can make about your opening choice.
Step 2. Learn the Ideas Behind the Opening
The second step to learning a chess opening is to understand the ideas behind it.
Each opening has different ideas that it trying to employ. You should learn what are the goals of the specific opening. After opening moves what are some typical plans and strategies? What are some dangerous ideas you should look out for? By doing so you will get a good feel for the position.
How long does it take to learn the chess opening?
There is no definitive answer for this, as different openings have different levels of theory, key tabiyas, and rate of development.
Some general factors that can affect this are:
Let’s say you’re trying to learn a complex opening like the Gruenfeld defense, which is actively played by the top grandmasters. Learning it involves studying complex middlegame game positions and also trying to actively keep up with the latest developments.
On the other hand, If you learn something like the King’s Indian Attack. This opening doesn’t fight for advantage straight from the opening stage but shifts the fight to the middle game. Hence in this case your study load and time to learn would be different.
Learning the chess opening can be easier or harder depending on one’s talent, and exposure. Some players may have a better memory, and intuition than others, which can help them learn the opening faster.
Step 3. Understand the Key Moves
The third step to learning a chess opening is to understand the key moves. Key moves are essential for the opening, they define its character and structure. You should know why these moves are played, what they accomplish, and what they prevent.
For example, the key move for black in many Queen’s Gambit positions is the c5 break. If you can achieve it then black is closer to equality.
Focus on understanding rather than memorization
Memorizing moves without understanding them will only lead to confusion and mistakes. Before you start memorizing specific variations and lines, you need to understand the main goals and plans of the opening for both sides. What are the typical pawn structures, piece placements, and targets in the opening?
What are the common themes and motifs, such as pins, forks, sacrifices, or checkmates? Or, what are the advantages and disadvantages of each move?
Step 4. Play through Grandmaster’s Games
The fourth step to learning a chess opening is to play through the grandmaster’s games. This is a great way to see how the opening works in practice, how grandmasters handle different situations and challenges, and how they exploit their opponent’s mistakes. You can learn a lot from their moves, their annotations, and their comments.
Try to find games that are relevant to the opening you are studying, that feature different variations and styles of play, and that are instructive and entertaining.
When playing through Grandmaster games it is important that you understand the typical positions. This also includes learning to play the middlegames and endgames which arise from the opening you have chosen. Arguably this is the factor where club players fall short of masters.
This is because it is relatively easy to understand the main ideas of an opening and learn all the move orders and key lines. But it is far more difficult to develop a really good understanding of the typical middlegame and endgame positions.
A game example:
Let’s take a look at the position below:
Kramnik – Timman Belgrade 1995
This is a typical Carlsbad Structure that arose from the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Here one of the most principled plans is the minority attack, where you advance a pawn to b4 and then b5, capture on c6, and create a weakness at that point. But is it the correct approach for the position?
Let’s see how Kramnik continued
16. bxa5! Kramnik doesn’t follow the standard plan. So what is his idea?
The point is that after 16 b5 c5 White can isolate the black d-pawn by 17 dxc5. However, it is a subtle point that the IQP positions are not good for white when the b pawn has advanced to b5. This is because it weakens the c3 and c4 squares. Another point is that White is also weak on the dark squares on the Queenside as he has no dark squares bishop and the black a5 pawn controls b4. Therefore for all these reasons, Kramnik switched plans.
Of course, Kramnik knew the plan of a minority attack. But his deeper understanding of the position that arose from the opening helped him make a better choice. This is what we should be striving to learn from grandmaster games
Step 5. Practice Playing the New Opening
The fifth step to learning a chess opening is to practice playing the new opening. This is where you test your knowledge and understanding. Playing games will help you reinforce what you have learned, discover new ideas and possibilities, and identify your strengths and weaknesses in that particular opening.
Step 6. Analyze Your Games
The sixth step to learning a chess opening is to analyze your games.
Playing games alone won’t help you get better at the opening. Reviewing your games helps you understand where you went wrong and how to play correctly. Let’s say you deviated at move 6. Look at your database and try to find out what is the correct move at that point. Try to understand why the database move is better than your move.
An additional step you can do is to also look for improvements and alternatives, both for yourself and your opponent. Analyzing your games will help you improve your understanding of the opening, your calculation skills, and your overall chess performance.
Step 7. Revise and Repeat
The seventh step to learning a chess opening is to revise and repeat. This is where you go over what you have learned and consolidate your knowledge. As the number of lines you know keeps increasing it is important that you go back once in a while and reinforce whatever you have learned in the past. By doing so you will retain information better.
You should review the main ideas and key moves of the opening regularly. Also, you should do this with the games you have played and analyzed.