Monday, July 09, 2007

Why deep opening study is crucial for beginners

From Heisman's new tactics book:
It does not matter who gets the advantage out of the opening, if one of the players is likely to lose a piece to a simple tactic in the middlegame. Losing a piece from an advantageous position will almost always result in a lost position. So study tactics, not openings, until you almost never lose pieces to simple tactical motifs.


Blogger Luke said...

do you mean, "why deep opening study is NOT crucial for beginners?"

7/09/2007 11:23:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

They always told me that that sarcasm doesn't translate well in cyberspace...

7/09/2007 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger funkyfantom said...

You want to have fun and get better in chess? Study zillions of tactical opening traps. Best of all possible worlds. You get openings, tactics and maximum fun. And very practical- I win games through knowing opening traps all the time. (You will never see a CT-Art position over the board, though I am not claiming that CT-Art doesn't help ones' tactical ability)
Plus the tactical practice will be useful in midgames
And nothing is worse than losing in the opening due to not spotting a tactical theme ( except perhaps blundering to lose a won endgame on move 145).

7/09/2007 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger Luke said...

I've won many an ICC game by winning a piece or more in the opening because my opponent was unaware of common traps.

I'd think that basic knowledge of an opening system and it's traps is a good investment of the beginning chess player's time.

7/09/2007 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Notice in my title I said 'Deep' opening study precisely because of Nancy Ninnies like Funky F.

Besides, opening traps are just tactical shots.

7/09/2007 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger Nancy Ninnie said...

Hey! I resent that!

7/09/2007 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger funkyfantom said...


It's OK- he meant no offense. He just got a burst of manly energy from looking at his muscular calves in the mirror after his triathlon.

7/09/2007 02:17:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Funky: what opening traps books do you recommend? It sounds fun.

Nancy: why you good fer nothin' scoundrel, I thought I told you to get outta' here!

7/09/2007 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger Dinomike said...

Let me tell you something that I have been finding out more and more and what I think will help me personally get to the next level.

When they say that the opening doesn't matter below 2000 (or so), it does NOT mean that it doesn't matter who gets the advantage out of the opening. This is what I have thought until recently, also. This mainly just means that you don't want to go to in depth on an opening unless you are learning a known trap in the opening.

Personally, I think that studying a tricky/trappy opening is one way to play and this can get you to improve. However, I don't do this because I find there are usually ways for the opponent to force other lines or deviate by playing other moves and in this case I have to know how to improvise.

I would recommend trying very hard as soon as the game goes out of book (which may be pretty early) to try to figure out which squares you are trying to control and how do develop your pieces to control those squares. This is opposed to just randomly developing pieces in order to get them all out. I think that if you get a superior position out of the opening, this tends to make the middle game easier for you.

If you win material in the opening, this will probably force your opponent to play more aggressively, which may make them take risks or lose more material. If you get a better position, you can use this to put pressure on your opponent and it increases the chance of them making a mistake in the middle game.

So I would say that it's great to practice endgame up to a point where you are competent, but after a while you will probably also find (like me) that you want to really keep your wits about you as much as possible to in the opening. This being said, it is important to understand the types of maneuvers/ideas occuring in your opening rather than memorizing a lot. You also get to practice tactics in the opening.

7/09/2007 03:17:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

dinomike: I think you have very interesting advice. It is something I don't do, but should, when coming out of book!

Heisman's advice is geared toward people who still lose pieces due to the simple tactics (beginners, nancy ninnie). I just recently started NOT consistently lose games that way.

7/09/2007 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger funkyfantom said...

Chernev's 1000 Best Short Games of Chess.

7/09/2007 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger Brad S said...

I like Steve Eddin's advice via Heissman, to memorize the next move everytime you get out booked by your opponent. I generally know the giuco and king's gambit much more deeply than my opponents so I don't have to learn the next move, so it rearely happens. I also know what plan's those two openings lead to, so I have a plan starting out (control f7 or the half open f file, or as black, avoid castling into the attack and try to trade knights for bishops as the game will open up quickly). Other than that I do simply develop my pieces quickly.

All my pawn moves are geared to opening files I like, as opposed to my opponents, and chasing knights off troublesome squares (and also making sure not to chase them off off crappy squares).

Occasionally I will try to do some bad bishop exchanges, but I can usually just move pawns to make the bishop okay as white. As black, I usually complain about the closed position and offer a draw. :\

7/09/2007 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

i wonder what, if anything, that book has that the other tactics books i own don't. i want to buy the book, but, i can only assume it will have the same info as the books i have....

7/09/2007 06:03:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

chessloser: Steve wrote a review of it here. I actually don't have it: I just like the quote.

brad: I agree that the add one more move approach is useful, though I prefer to learn enough about an opening to get a sense for the main line, the main plans for each side, etc., not just what the next book move is. But once I've got the core skeleton, I then use the Heisman approach.

Note this post is really uncontroversial, as I mention beginners and depth of opening study, two things that shouldn't mix.

We have broached the more general question of opening study for novices before here, here, and here.

Funky, when are you going to start a blog that we can troll?

7/09/2007 08:39:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

From a post I wrote:

So, why study openings, why not just analyze the concrete position in front of you in the opening, using the rules as mere useful suggestions? I can think of lots of reasons. The following are in order of importance:
1) I simply enjoy studying the openings. Why deprive myself of that? Rule-independent doesn't mean I can't study them on my own time, that I need to figure everything out for myself OTB.
2) To save time in games.
3) Avoid annoying traps. While such situations are really just tactical, that doesn't mean I'll see them before they are sprung on me!
4) I have improved at chess, and I am starting to see more varied and hard-to-handle openings. I want to know about them.
5) The opening is the only position that occurs in every game.

7/09/2007 08:41:00 PM  
Blogger Loomis said...

There are two common bits of advice for those starting out learning chess. One is that most beginners spend too much time studying the opening in a way that won't help them, and the other is that learning how to win endgames is one of the most practical ways to improve your results.

So why can't we reword Heisman's advice to debunk the idea of studying endings? E.g:
It does not matter if you know how to win complex endings, if one of the players is likely to lose a piece to a simple tactic in the middle game. If a whole piece is lost well before the endgame, the whole game is likely lost before any ending is reached.

7/09/2007 08:51:00 PM  
Blogger Dinomike said...

I think the problem with the statement that openings don't matter if you want to get good is that it gives one the false impression that you can always recover if you lose in the opening. If you and your opponent have about the same skill level (or he is better), then you want any edge you can get. So that means you should actively try to get an advantage (or at least hold your own) in the opening to make things easier in the middle game. So whereas making a deep study of openings is probably unnecessary, it is important to try to play as well as possible tactically in the opening and not rush unless you know you are in book.

7/10/2007 01:05:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Loomis: an interesting question. There is an asymmetry, though, in that the endgame inherits the tactical blunders of the middlegame (if the game makes it to the end) while the opening does not. Hence it would be strange to argue that the endgame shouldn't be studied using a similar argument.

dinomike: a good point, but perhaps you haven't seen a truly beginner game in a while? The tactical errors flying all over the place, drastically swamping any little opening advantages or disadvantages. OTOH, if the beginner is serious, they want to play a sound opening that they can grow into once they get past the blunderfest stage. But the thing is, what counts as sound really depends on the final goal. If my goal is to maintain a rating of 1600, I can play the blackmar diemer gambit my entire life. If I want to be a GM, at some point I will need to give up the gambit, as that extra pawn I gave up will lose me way too many games.

7/10/2007 01:31:00 AM  
Blogger Dinomike said...

I am around 1800 on FICS, so that should probably be around 1650 to 1700 in real rating points. I kept getting my butt kicked in the opening by 1900 FICS players and I found this is helping.

Yea, probably the best way is tactics and then when you don't lose pieces then endgame, and then when you can convert advantages reasonably well, then openings.

7/10/2007 01:46:00 AM  
Blogger Nobis said...

Yeah! Tactics Tactics Tactics!
Until you are 2000 you must only practice tactics, then other things such as openings that you will need only after the Candidate Master title. That's my personal opinion.
Visit my blog at

7/16/2007 06:51:00 PM  

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