How to Learn a Chess Opening

Learning a new opening is not the easiest thing to master. Given your relative inexperience in the new opening, it is not unusual to lose a few quick games when you are first starting out. It is important not to be phased out by these early defeats. American International Master Jeremy Silman suggested sticking with a new opening for at least a year.

Here are some basic tips adapted from suggestions by English Grandmaster Nigel Davies:

(Recall that you can refer to opening books in correspondence games, so these tips only really apply to over-the-board players.)

1. Search an updated database (e.g. a compilation of TWICs) for recent games involving strong players (2500+) in your chosen opening. Playing through the games quickly will give you a basic familiarity with the pawn structures and typical plans.

2. Using your opening, play a few games with the computer (this may require a ‘position setup’), at the local chess club or against players on the internet.

3. Look up the lines that occurred in your games in an opening manual such as Nunn’s Chess Openings (NCO) or, for stronger players, a specialist book on the opening, e.g. Play the Sicilian Dragon by Edward Dearing if you have chosen to study the Dragon variation of the Sicilian Defence.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you obtain a ‘feel’ for the opening.

5. Start playing the opening in selected tournament games. Whenever you play a game in your chosen opening, look up where you deviated.

Additional advice for dedicated players

For the majority of players, the above advice will be adequate to obtain a decent knowledge of any opening. Those with more time on their hands and a yearning to learn more their pet openings can consider entering information into their computer. Using database software such as ChessBase, Fritz or Aquarium, players can save the analysis from NCO or a specialist book on their hard drive. With specialist books, typing in the author’s comments may be helpful too. This will aid players in memorising the variations and plans, and will also allow them to access the information quickly compared to physically looking up a book.

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