This topic is one I seem to get asked the most about! The truth is there are a lot of chess players out there that are willing to work hard, but they don’t know what to work on. That is what I want to talk about today, and in my next few blogs, some practical suggestions and resources for working on different parts of chess focusing on four main parts. For each of these I want to focus on how I would work on them right here on chess.com (some of the resources may be available for Diamond members only), but at the end, I will mention some resources outside of chess.com that I use. Originally I thought I may just make this one massive blog, but decided because of the length after just writing this one that I should break them up into individual blogs.
The four topics I will be talking about are:
Starting right here with openings!
There are two big things when it comes to openings that I believe need to be emphasized because they can easily get overlooked. First, your focus should be on understanding the ideas of an opening and not as much on memorizing. Nowadays chess engines are so strong that people can rely so much on what theory is and what a chess engine tells them. There definitely is a place for memorizing, especially to avoid common opening traps, but more often than not your opponent will play something other than what you memorized. At that point understanding the ideas will help so much more than a memorized response. Secondly, make sure you find an opening that suits your style and that you enjoy. The best way I have found to check that out is to play the opening a few times and see how you like it. Okay! Now with those in mind let’s get into it.
How I would study openings on chess.com:
Choosing an opening. If you have no idea what opening you want to play then don’t despair, there are a couple of ways to go about it! The most obvious is going to the openings section right here on chess.com (under the learn tab). But if you feel overwhelmed by where to start looking at all the options then I have a few other suggestions of what you can do! One of the simplest things you can do is watch other people play. If you go to live chess there always seems to be at least a few titled players playing and many times there are more than just a few. Even if you don’t watch games by titled players there are still plenty of other amazing players that don’t have titles that you surely can watch play to get different opening ideas. If you see a particular one you like then you can click on it as you are watching to immediately start checking it out more! This is an example of a game I was watching and the arrow I included is pointing to where it shows the opening as well as where you can click to check it out more:
Another couple of ways to get ideas for an opening is to go to the forum (under the Connect tab). There you can find plenty of people that have asked about openings and many that have shared ideas or you can create your own forum for others to suggest ideas. And lastly, for Diamond members, you can go to lessons (under the Learn tab) and there find plenty of videos not only on different openings to get ideas but also videos on some good tips for general openings principles. That leads to the next part of openings. The actual studying part, which ya know is kind of important.
Studying an opening. Once you have an opening picked then the real work begins! With the opening you want to learn, my suggestion is to first go to videos (under the Learn tab) and search the opening you want to learn. If you can find a video from a strong player talking about that opening then that is a great start! Not only should it have some of the most important lines, but they talk about some of the ideas which are a good start to understanding the opening. One thing I do want to emphasize with this is that a video should be something to help you learn the opening not be the sole source of your study. What I really like to do is, as I am watching a video, I will put the lines they suggest into an analysis board-like the one you can find by clicking on analysis (under the Learn tab)-and that way I can see what is most commonly played and the win percentage of each move, like this:
This allows me to follow along and see how commonly played each suggested move is and how effective it is in actual games. Also, I can see what other moves may get played against me that aren’t included in what the video covers. This particular line I picked in the Grunfeld shows some of what I personally look for in an opening, overall it seems like a decent option for white, it isn’t played too much (so people may not be aware of it), white tends to win a decent amount more than black, and the computer evaluates it as good for white. This allows me to really get into studying the opening past just what the video mentioned and will be more effective over time. Also, one note on that, you can actually see in the image above “204 games” if you click on that you can see specific games.
These are the games from the opening line I was showing. If you organize it to see the highest-rated players that have played it you can go directly to those games and see some of the ideas the top players are playing. Learn from the ideas they are using that work, and try to understand why it works. This is definitely something you want to do rather than just looking at what people are playing the most.
Lastly, when using a chess engine there are some lines that by nature have to be more memorized, but since you can only memorize so much and your opponent will likely veer from what you prepared it is good to do the same with the computer. Play some of the moves you think your opponent may play against you and see what are some of the ideas the computer is using. Your goal should be to get to a position you feel comfortable playing and that you have a plan moving forward.
If you can get good at analyzing an opening like this where you can use ideas from other people, use what the computer is suggesting, and use your own brain then you can learn any opening you want. With practice you can really come to understand what kind of things you are looking for and get better at building a strong opening from what was no knowledge previously.
Playing and reviewing. As I mentioned in the introduction, playing it will help you see if an opening clicks well with you so it should be a part of working on an opening from the beginning all the way through to when you have actually studied it well. I don’t think this is something you can replace in any way or form. I know the idea of having an opening all the way figured out before playing it sounds good. But you will never be able to fully figure out an opening without playing it. As you play it you will likely encounter lines and positions you don’t know what to do. The point of trying to understand the opening is to help you in those times because even if you don’t know exactly what to do hopefully you can adapt some of the ideas you learned. But either way, after the game make sure you take some time to study it. Going through the process as before. Seeing other games played, learning from the ideas, and checking what the computer has to say about it all. That continual learning and progress will help take you from a novice to a professional in an opening.
I fully realize, and you should too, that all of this is easy to talk about, but of course harder to put into practice. That is why the last thing I want to say is that you have to be persistent. Learning openings takes practice. You can’t expect to know it all right away. But over time you will become more and more proficient in studying openings and all of it will become easier and easier.
Thank you for reading. Keep an eye out for the next ones to come! As a bonus you will find some of the other resources I have found to be useful below and please feel free to comment on some of the resources that have helped you in studying openings.
A program I am sure many of you are familiar with is Chessbase. This is one I have used for many years. It, combined with Mega Database, is great for studying openings and can really fill the need for an analysis board and collection of games. The added ability to easily save databases and analysis is very useful.
Another good resource is chessable.com. It is a chess website, but its goal is basically to provide electronic books and videos to complement them. It isn’t just your typical book, so go check it out! It can be a really good resource if they have a book of an opening you are curious about. The added benefit of it being electronic is that they can update it if they believe there is a need to do so. Something that can be bad about paper books is that theory is constantly being updated with new ideas, so a paper book can get outdated, but chessable.com is able to overcome that.
Lastly, there are many strong players out there with opening specialties. For some of the more complicated openings, I learned I actually worked with a specific Grandmaster to understand them better. So the last resource can be other people. Whether friends or a professional if you can find someone to work with on an opening that can help a lot. Share ideas and see another person’s perspective. It is great!