Openings are part of every chess player’s life that we cannot absolutely forget. It is a sort of tie-breaker that decides the fate of both sides when having equal strength.
As useful as this may be, there is an appropriate time and place for mastering such theoretical knowledge. And we will discuss how exactly are chess openings essential and their conjunction with our level.
As someone who had studied chess openings here is what I know:
Chess openings are important since it ensures a clear plan early in the game and prevents players from falling for traps. However, it is not as important as the middlegame or endgame where 70% of the games usually end. Openings only become a necessity on 2000+ Elo levels.
Just from all of those you can see how this knowledge plays a role in our success. This does not paint the entire picture though, and I hope to provide a clear description of this glorified science.
What are we waiting for? let’s dig in.
Do chess openings reduce your chances of losing early?
Chess openings reside in the early phase of the game where it is obviously more crucial than any other. But in what way does it actually bring value (early in the game)?
A proper chess repertoire gives a player a clear understanding of general ideas that work, makes them avoid traps (early losses), and prevents even a slight inaccuracy.
Of course pure opening knowledge is not the only answer to our problem in the early phase, unexpected lines can still branch out even if we are prepared. But just by having a good repertoire, we will have enough concepts to work with even so early in the match.
You see, openings give you a clear plan and possible ideas to implement, you don’t even need to create something on your own. What makes it tricky is how your opponent will respond to your opening antics.
And even if your opponent pulls something unexpected, it will be less likely to cause severe damage since you know what to do.
Especially the traps, those temptations that will definitely cost you the game very early. If you’re not familiar with that specific idea it is likely that you can fall for it (although experience might be a factor).
Having a good opening repertoire makes you avoid these traps completely even if not completely memorized. Since you will get an idea of things that are not sound when played, and when applied will naturally divert you in the right path.
It is just hard to give some sort of an advantage to the opponent when applying proven and tested methods. You are unlikely to make even the small mistakes (early) if you are good at the openings.
Though always remember that memorization is not the true form of chess, but rather understanding the reasoning behind the moves. Losing early will never be a problem if you have a solid opening repertoire since it is usually thoroughly analyzed and discussed continuously.
Does expertise in chess openings translate to the middlegame?
Chess openings are generally played in the fresh phase of the game which may lead some to conclude that it is only useful there. This is of course not true, what you do in the opening can transfer in middlegame play.
The effect of openings can translate to middlegame by having a playable position for the player, creates winning opportunities, and saves time and energy long term.
Certain positions as early in the game can appear to be “non-holdable” even using the best moves. This seems really unlikely but is actually true, your setup in the first initial moves will determine how the middlegame will be played.
By having a good opening disposition, it ensures you can have a playable position early in the game. It wouldn’t be fun to play if there are no optimal moves to be found right?
Openings grant advantages, it guarantees the best position for your particular color. If you are playing white it’s likely that you’ll gain tremendous space and attacking chances with a proper opening.
If you are playing black, then it will ensure that white wouldn’t gain as many initiatives to be converted into a winning position early. Those little details can incrementally be impactful later down the road.
Having an inferior position naturally makes the game harder to play, which is true in any part of the match. A good opening will ensure that you will not be in such a situation during the middlegame (since you will have good coordinates).
You don’t have to delve into uncharted territories when having a good opening repertoire and turn the game into a battle of skill rather than luck. Preparation is one of the best ways to express the potential a player can bring.
Not only that, you will have better control of the time since one, you don’t need to think much of the ideas to implement, and two, the position is likely to be structured in a way where plans flow naturally.
The player’s energy (calculating power) will be saved on moments that actually matter. Chess matches after all are exhausting and played in very stressful conditions, where the vitality of the player should be conserved in some way.
Does knowledge of chess openings make a player comfortable?
So far we have limitedly discussed the technical aspects of the opening not the psychological. But opening skills really does bring some positive implications on the mind of a player.
A good opening preparation makes a player able to shake intimidation from opponents, gives an idea of the problems that can emerge, and grants a bit of confidence before games.
No one talks about this but preparing an opening will give you some insight on potential issues that can occur. The opening analysis will allow you to formulate plans to counter these concepts.
It makes you prepared enough to not deal with the worse, which is the point of planning. You can avoid the technicality that you don’t want to surface, making the game easier to play.
This of course also helps in giving you confidence that is not from things that you can’t measure, but because you got something in store. It’s hard to motivate yourself if you don’t have a clue of what can happen, openings will help your faith since you know how things will pan out.
It makes you a little bit confident at any match, even from opponents that you have not faced before. The rules of chess (fundamentally) haven’t changed much over the course of history, you will be playing the same game even if the opponent is different.
You are less likely to be intimidated by your opponents even if they are occasionally stronger. You just know what to do and how to do it, there will be fewer uncertainties in the way which will help your focus on the long run.
When do chess openings become important?
If you’ve stuck long enough in this blog, you know I am not an advocate of mastering openings (early). There are just better things to accomplish in the seedlings of a player’s chess understanding.
But there definitely is a time where it needs to developed, especially when you’ve hit a plateau.
Chess openings become essential when a player has already gained significant experience, learned basic concepts, or around the rating of 1800-2000.
Theoretical knowledge is incredibly important, but you don’t understand the details without the vision first. It’s like reading a book, you can’t understand the writings without learning the language.
Beginners shouldn’t focus on the opening at first, but there is a time where they should. Especially when they’ve got middlegame and endgames nailed to toe.
Once you’ve learned a lot of the basics, it’s time to get into the openings. You can’t just focus on the endgame and middlegame over and over again and expect to be good.
The openings will help with the middle game anyway, so treat it as supplemental at that point. This is when you can naturally identify good from bad moves independent of the opening.
This will allow you to judge the moves to what they are worth, you will learn by sharing your thoughts. Do not memorize openings, just understand the general ideas (especially if you’re not planning to compete professionally).
You are likely to lose things that you already know if you’re not exposing yourself continuously to chess (which applies to most people). So it is much more important to keep those than memorize long moves that you would not get to use.
It is mostly useful when you’re engaged in competitive chess where everyone wants to have an edge against another. It definitely is an extra asset if you’re not taking chess seriously, but is not necessary if you’re doing it for fun.
Do chess openings make a player complete?
Again, if you are not serious about winning the games then there are better alternatives where you should focus. But for a player to be said as someone “complete” opening knowledge is a must.
Expertise in particular openings is the signature of a player, it gives individuals an edge even against someone of equal or superior strength.
You will never gain expertise without chess openings, it is the thing that can bring people to the elites. It’s just hard to win novelty after novelty on every individual game, proven lines convert better.
In the game of uncertainty that chess is, opening knowledge serves as a mediator that ensures “skill” to be of the utmost importance. It would be boring if the game turned into gambling (luck) right?
Pet lines are relevant, it gives you better chances against stronger opponents. In fact, even the top players in the world consult weaker players than their own just for their opening expertise.
That in itself shows you how much sought after this mastery is, it’s valued arguably even higher than middlegame and endgame at elite levels. It will make you a complete player, a package that is strong in every individual part of the game.
“Nothing excites jaded Grandmasters more than a theoretical novelty”(Dominic Lawson)
Is it time for you to study chess openings?
Even though I occasionally discourage people from focusing on the opening, I definitely don’t think that it is useless. Anyone who thinks like this doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
You should properly identify when is the right time for you to delve into this. Too early is premature, and too late is toasty.
It is up to you to decide when is the time to explore the next level. I hope you get there, sleep well and play chess.