A quick way to learn chess openings


Openings are often given too much attention by chess players to the detriment of their middlegame and endgame skills. Frequently, complicated openings require a lot of memorisation, which can turn out to be a waste of time in the long run compared to improving other aspects of your game. As a solution, I’m going to discuss a quick way of learning openings while still coming out of the starting phase with reasonable positions that you can outplay your opponents in.

The main strategy here is to take advantage of the wealth of chess information that is now in a digital form. In my opinion, ChessBase publishes the best chess DVDs. Other DVD publishers include Ginger GM (which recently came out with some very well received openings DVDs), Foxy Openings and Roman’s Lab.

In addition to regular DVDs on openings (among other areas), ChessBase has also introduced a “60 Minutes” series, which makes learning openings ever more time efficient. I really like this idea of covering an opening in 60 minutes.

With ever improving computer analysis, many lines of opening theory can become out-of-date/refuted very quickly. This is even true in some openings which are traditionally more plan-based rather than memorisation-based. In this sense, being introduced to the main ideas of an opening in 60 minutes is very time-efficient because you can just grab another 60 Minutes product if a line becomes refuted.


Outline of the learning method:

Step 1

The first step is to purchase and watch a chess openings DVD. Personally I think strategic plan-based openings are easier to grasp and will go out of date much more slowly than the main lines.

You should try and save the analysis presented to a database. This is done easily if you are using Fritz or ChessBase and are watching a ChessBase video product.

But aren’t all your competitors watching openings videos too?


Step 2

Next, find a large generic openings reference book such as Nunn’s Chess Openings (NCO) by Nunn and others, Fundamental Chess Openings (FCO) by Van Der Sterren or Modern Chess Openings (MCO) by De Firmian. I only have experience doing this with NCO, but these days it is a bit dated as it was published in 1999. I like about NCO’s format as it only gives the bare bones variations. The plans and strategies should have been learned from the videos, so NCO is just a way to see the typical variations – to turn the abstract into the concrete.

Now, you should open a new ChessBase file (on your favourite chess database software, such as Fritz, SCID or Aquarium), and manually enter in all the variations from NCO that were relevant to the openings videos you watched.

You may wish to merge this with the game files you saved previously. (That’s a lot easier said than done!)

NCO acts like a backbone to the plans and ideas you learned as it is full of concrete variations. Of course, the suggestions of the videos from step 1 should take precedence over NCO in critical lines. If there is any conflict, the videos should contain more up-to-date analysis.

In some cases, very new lines are not even considered in NCO. In that case, just ignore this step and use the video analysis as the backbone to your opening.

Step 3

Add to the game files you created as you play tournament or internet games in the opening you studied. For example, after a game, find out where you went wrong and add this to the game file for future reference. Over time, this will make your game file a thorough overview of the chosen opening.

This step (and step 2) can also be attempted using specialised opening software such as Chess Openings Wizard, but I would only recommend that to players with a FIDE rating above 1800. Below that level, your time would be better spent trying to improve other areas of your game.


Side note: The ‘traditional’ method

I used a very similar method as above with openings books before chess openings DVDs became popular. Basically, the idea is very similar (and still applicable). The main difference is that steps 1 and 2 are swapped. Of course, reading an opening book takes much longer than watching a DVD.

1. Enter the lines of your chosen opening into a game file according to a large opening manual.

This will give a quick and efficient overview of your new opening.

2. Obtain a specialised book on your opening and enter in the lines from your specialised book, using the game file created from step 1 as a backbone. You should strongly consider adding in the worded annotations given by the author of the specialised book.

3. Add to your game file as you practice with the new opening.


The advantage of this method is that you have everything in one game file.

As a much stronger player, this method is more thorough and may become necessary in order to remain competitive in the opening. But for the vast majority of players, this method will not be necessary.

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