Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Act of Learning

Star Chess Blogger Greg posted a tweet with a version of the Immortal Chess Question:

"I keep wishing someone would write a book for club players on the process of learning openings." (follow @bumpaguv)

The question is remotely related to the Magic Pill question tweeted by Dan Heisman.Does it really help (in a time efficient way) the chess development of improving players to learn openings?

Well, maybe we need a clearer picture of the meaning of "learning openings".

GM Nigel Davies is hinting at a new approach to learning openings in a recent blog post. I hope to be able to learn a little about the "secret sauce" invented by Nigel. The backbone of the idea appears to be to "Guess-the-Move" instructive games.

Another interesting claim by Dan Heisman is that improving players should stick to basic principles when playing chess. I don't remember the exact numbers but Dan suggested that a 1700-player would be wrong in about 50% of the cases when deciding to go against basic principles.

Factoids: Playing fellow chess improvers will lead to games that is out of book theory in no time.

Improving players should stick to well established guiding principles.

Ergo: The typical chess lover will never be able to learn enough theory and only the sound application of basic opening principles will save our bacon and help us to a playable middlegame.

Is that to ask for too little? I guess the difference in evaluation between different candidate moves which all can be justified by basic opening principles is somewhere on the centipawn scale. The typical side effects of moves driven by the blunder gland is on the "snatch-one-of-my-pieces scale".

Suggested antidote for Openingphobia (version 12.37):

Replay mastergames using the opening of your choice and figure out how the basic opening  principles of your chess hero is justifying all the moves in the opening phase (say until the rooks are connected).

If you decide to familiarize yourself with gambit play, then I assume that you just have to bite the bullet and accept the gambit move for the fun of it!


  1. Excellent post, Farbror! Your question about the meaning of "learning openings" is indeed a salient one. Thanks for mentioning Nigel's blog and for the link - I haven't had time to read it recently, and I would like to read what he has to say.

  2. Nigel is a little secret about his idea and I respect that. He is working as a chess mentor after all. My best guess is that he is suggesting that carefully replaying "good" games will lead to a better understanding of how to play the openings studied.

    The problem for non-masters is to identify the good games. Here is an important task for our chess mentors.

    I am unsure about how many moves should be studied. My gut feel is on the lower side. Both players in games I play will tend to do outlandish moves quite early.

  3. Going over annotated games that starts with our openings is all about getting to know the middlegame plans which most of the time aren't explained (or very poorly) in the openings manuals.

    With other words, one gets to know (learn) the reason behind the opening moves which can become very valuable if your opponent goes out of theory.

  4. Openings should have some "sharpness index", say, the difference in evaluation at, say, move 10 between the main line and the line playing the second best move for every move.

    Such a sharpness index could guide us if we like to opening set-ups where book knowledge is of lesser importance.

  5. I have yet to get beyond move 10 in my "opening book" in a tournament game. I play Catalan/Fianchetto variations as white and KID and Pirc as black. Often it is I who forget my book move.

    Best advice ever is to go over well annotated master games in the openings you play.

    I have some advice about learning openings in some blog posts