Chess Opening Repertoire Suggestions

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Welcome! You have stumbled upon a chess opening repertoire guide.
I would like to list some opening repertoire suggestions aimed at beginners up to regular club players.

Starting Note

Obviously players who want to dedicate their lives to the game or have infinity time should play all the main lines. This means playing 1.e4 and 1.d4 as White and entering the main line in any opening whether it be the English Attack in the Najdorf, the Main Line Classical Caro-Kann, the Bayonet Attack in the King’s Indian and the Capablanca System vs the Nimzo-Indian. As Black, such a player would play a highly theoretical Open Sicilian, like the Najdorf or Dragon Variations, and would employ the Nimzo-Indian and Queen’s Indian against 1.d4. Against 1.c4 and 1.Nf3, 1…c5 would fit in well with such a repertoire.

For the rest of us ‘mere mortals’, I recommend time-efficient repertoires. Of course, the more corners we cut, the lower quality the repertoire will be (although this won’t necessarily effect your results). The balance between efficiency and ambitious opening moves depends on the level of commitment one has to chess. I will list two suggested repertoires. Beginners can start off with the first repertoire, seeing how they progress before adopting some of the responses in the second repertoire. Players should also buy books related to their favourite opening systems that explain the basic plans and ideas to do with the opening.

A repertoire for those with limited study time

I recommend you follow International Master Andrew Martin’s ‘A repertoire for those with limited time available to study’. Martin’s suggestions are from 1999, so here are some updates and my personal opinions:

For White

The Trompowsky is still going strong, although I am a bit sceptical of the Pseudo-Trompowsky (1.d4 d5 2.Bg5) nowadays. Instead, I advocate playing the aggressive and easy-to-learn Colle System (1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3) – either the traditional setup championed by Koltanowski with c2-c3 or the trendy Colle-Zukertort System with b2-b3 followed by fianchettoing the bishop on the long diagonal. Take a look at German GM Artur Yusupov’s games in the Colle for a good introduction to the opening.

For Black

Martin’s suggestions of the Scandinavian coupled with the Slav are still going strong. Although, the Banker Variation (1...d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd8) has been experiencing difficulties due to 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 c6 6.Bc4! followed by Nf3-Ne5. Scandinavian players should stick with the main line 3…Qa5, which is very solid. The games of GMs Christian Bauer and Ioannis Papaioannou are worth studying.

A strategic opening repertoire

I recommend you follow International Master Andrew Martin’s ‘A Strategic Repertoire for White and Black’. Here are some updates and my personal opinions:

For White

Martin’s proposed repertoire is rock-solid. The Caro-Kann Exchange Variation is a good way for aggressive players to avoid the staid positions of the main lines. White can also consider 1.e4 c6 2.c4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.cxd5, trying to reach an improved version of the main line of the Exchange Variation.

Against the Alekhine’s Defence, the main line 4.Nf3 is advocated, although Black has recently been getting very solid positions after 4…dxe5 followed by …c6. Instead, the Exchange Variation 4.c4 Nb6 5.exd6 is a popular way to avoid the main lines, whilst carrying some theoretical bite.

2.Nf3 is a very good response against the Nimzowitsch (1…Nc6), but annoyingly, Black has 2…e5! which evades Martin’s proposed repertoire. Hence, White must stick with 2.d4. Note that White must be ready for a trendy French Defence variation after 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 e6. White can hope for a slight advantage after the simple developing move 4.Nf3. English GM Anthony “Tony” Miles, as mentioned by Martin, was a 1…Nc6 expert who sadly passed away late 2001.

For Black

Of course there is no risk of refutation when you play 1.e4 e5! The Marshall Gambit is still travelling well and Black is not doing badly in the Chigorin main line either. The Berlin Defence (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 followed by …Nxe4 if White allows it) is a very solid way to avoid the annoyances of the Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation. All three lines – Marshall, Chigorin, Berlin – are well respected by top GMs.

The King’s Indian Defence is a good choice against everything else. You can’t look past the games of Azerbaijani GM Teimour Radjabov in this opening and the world’s number one ranked player (at the time of writing, FIDE rating 2826) Norwegian GM Magnus Carlsen has also dabbled in the KID a few times. Of course, there are also many classic games from World Champions Garry Kasparov and Robert James “Bobby” Fischer.

Conclusion

I hope I have provided you with some useful insights and interesting options to consider. Good luck!

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For chess opening training and repertoire maintenance, I highly recommend the software that I personally use, Chess Openings Wizard. This software was approved by Grandmaster Peter Svidler (FIDE rating 2730 as of January 2011) many years ago.

See Also

Building a Chess Repertoire
Dealing with Surprises in the Opening
How to Learn a Chess Opening

Article originally written: Friday, April 24, 2009

Article edited (slightly): Saturday, February 5, 2011