Few topics intrigue and intimidate newcomers to chess like the study of so-called “Opening theory.” We hear stories of Masters who can play 15, 20, or 30 moves from pure memorization – despite the number of possible 20-move sequences to begin a game of chess being in the billions!
The complexity of the study of chess openings has led many a chess player to hold numerous misconceptions about this important phase of the game:
- Some have grown frustrated with chess, saying “I didn’t realize it was just a memorization contest” (this, of course, isn’t true!)
- Some have claimed to have met chess players who “memorized EXACTLY what move to play against ANY sequence of moves I could come up with – all the way to the end of the game!” (Magnus Carlsen better watch out if such a player ever arises.)
- Some take things to the other extreme, saying “Learning chess openings is only for Masters. It’s not applicable to amateur chess when most games are decided by tactics.”
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between. Chess is not a “memorization contest,” and it is true that one can get by, at least to a certain point, on only a rudimentary understanding of chess opening principles. Yet no one can deny that a deep understanding of chess openings – and the plans associated with each one – is a huge advantage at ANY level of chess.
So…what is the purpose of learning chess openings? And how do we go about learning them?
In chess, it’s good to have a plan.
Everyone knows this. But in some positions, coming up with a plan can be rather difficult – even for Masters of the game. The endless complexity of the game of chess has kept it relevant for centuries, captivating the minds of young and old alike – but there’s nothing worse than the frustration of staring blankly at the board in front of you, not having a clue what to do!
The GOOD news is that the following position occurs in every chess game you will ever play: