Should you memorize chess openings? (The truth!)

A player shouldn’t memorize lines until they reach 2000 Elo rating since the concepts will be hardly applied. It will also impede any learning from mistakes since it puts dependence on memorization over hard-earned experience.

Openings are wonderful early moves in chess that seek to gain an advantage with the color. The thing is extremely theorized, so beginners may wonder if it’s a good idea to memorize this.

But should you really have to memorize openings? It seems like a boring task. It sounds far-fetched that you cannot master chess without memorizing anything. Chess is a game of analysis and creativity after all.

I will discuss the roundabouts of this question from different angles in order to give a reasonable conclusion. The answer is not what you might expect, the existence of chess engines really changed how chess is played today.

I find this topic really interesting since I have asked this myself, I will try to give a full answer here. Let’s get started.

Should beginners memorize chess openings?

Beginners should not prioritize memorization of chess openings since they have yet to acquire the necessary skills to understand the ideas.

You see when a player begins to understand chess concepts, they try to integrate from things they already know. They are making use of previous knowledge in order to make sense of the new information being presented.

It’s really hard to accommodate complicated ideas for a total beginner. After all there is no such thing as previous knowledge you can fall into to relate with an opening for example.

You combat this by playing over and over again until the pattern gets embedded in the brain. Memorization during these beginner days will just crush your progress by having ideas you are not able to digest.

If you try to memorize your way during these early stages you are very likely to be puzzled. The concepts will be too many and too overwhelming that it will not be useful.

The point is, you are more likely to be confused with memorization since you don’t have a grasp of the basics yet. This will lead you to form assumptions that are not accurate to the reasoning behind a line. 

Memorizing opening is definitely an approach, but not an approach you should do when just starting.

Do memorization of openings win chess games?

Even if a player can apply their memorized lines, they would still have to play the middlegame and endgame. Even opening traps can be avoided with decent play, therefore memorizing lines in itself does not win the game.

People don’t seem to realize this but the opening is not the only stage of the game you have to play (there are more). Even if you memorize the openings you will still have to play the middlegame and endgame.

A good position that has been created by a decent opening will be for naught if not converted into winning middlegame/endgame. A bad opening position is usually tenable while a bad middlegame/endgame is much harder to recover from.

Openings accomplish very little in the general sight of things since the game is very early. There is still a wide variety of opportunities to equalize unlike the endgame for example (where there are fewer chances).

This is especially true if you choose to memorize openings that are considered inferior.

It is still important don’t get me wrong, especially when the matches between players of equal strength. But memorization of it is not “the thing” that will give enough to convert a winning game.

It’s better to understand the ideas instead of memorizing them, that’s when you’ll actually learn. You will never improve if you only focus on memorizing lines, which is the ultimate goal.

Not only that it’s just harder to win in chess only with memorization than just by using your own wits. Winning with this (memory) means that you need to end the game very early otherwise the memorized line won’t be used.

A decent player can usually hold on to equality without that much effort. If you only have your memorized knowledge not the wits you’ll eventually get outplayed.

Will you get to use memorized opening lines every time?

The usage of opening lines will be greatly limited by the mental capacity of the player, the sheer number of available openings, and the stress induced in competitive settings.

The amount of memory you have will determine the usefulness of memorizing openings. After all, you will not be able to maximize all the things that can be learned without a good memory.

There’s just the possibility of forgetting a memorized line even if you studied extensively. The reason might perhaps be situational like the pressure, environment, the opponent, etc. there will always be that tendency.

What if you forgot that memorize line (which can happen) what then?

The number of openings are just too broad, this limits your chances of using things that you’ve memorized. Trust me when I say that the human memory is just not enough to cover the entirety of opening theory.

We can recall some sure, but there will always be those that we avoid since we already know too much. In fact even professionals themselves only have specialized opening lines, if they can’t do it it’s likely that you can’t too.

This means that there will always be a chance that any line you memorize will not even be of use. This will all be fine if the entire chess game only consists of the opening phase, which it is not.

Most chess games last for a very long time, you’ll only get to apply a portion of the memorized lines. After the opening what then? if you only memorize there is nothing to consider beyond the horizon.

Is memorizing chess openings actually counter-productive?

Memorizing lines can be harmful in the way that it distracts the player from the useful study, puts heavy dependence on the memorized lines, and encourages surface-level rote learning.

Memorizing can be a form of distraction that will move you away from important things. When you are locked on focus on this very specific mindset it’s hard to notice the bigger picture.

As I briefly mentioned before there will be a time where you have to play instead of solely relying on the memory. If you use memorizing as the weapon not a tool, what happens when you gotta play a position you’ve never studied beforehand?

And even if you win anyway by memorizing lines, you didn’t learn that much which should be the point. Concepts are just easier to absorb when we have experienced some form of mistake in them.

And let’s say you’re still cool with all of that, too much memorization can lead to a psychological phenomenon known as paralysis by analysis. This is a condition in the brain where there are too many options that it can’t make a decision. 

When you memorize, it’s likely that you are thinking too far ahead that the mind can get confused by the diversity of options. The human brain has a capacity too, you should learn to recognize it as you’re within its boundaries.

If you are planning to use this as a secret weapon in a tournament I suggest you should just try being a better player instead. In long exhaustive tournaments where the pressure is on, you are likely to forget memorized lines (unless you’re a professional).

If you want to learn more details why I say that much this article (will open in a new tab) will enlighten you.

When does memorizing (chess) openings become useful?

Memorizing various openings is only useful for people above 2000 elo rating, since only then they would get to play against opponents with extensive knowledge themselves.

The only reason why professionals put so much emphasis on this (openings) is that they need every advantage they can have. Beginners are at a stage where their opponents regularly make mistakes (that gives some opportunities).

For this reason, memorization in the opening is only really useful for people who have 2000 ratings and above. If you’re not within this level then memorization wouldn’t be that helpful to you.

The point of openings in the first place is to give you an advantage not a decisive victory. I think this is the reason why beginners are attracted to do this in the first place (for quick wins).

What they don’t know if you don’t even need to memorize in order to make use of the openings. Some openings are really quiet where you don’t even need any memorization to do well.

What I mean by quiet is there aren’t any game-changing moves that can be applied immediately. These kinds of lines don’t need a lot of pregame notions to properly thrive with.

On the other hand some openings are really complicated that memorization won’t even help that much. Unless you are a professional who has a lot of seconds to help, memorizing aggressive lines is doubtful in usefulness.

For most people who are reading this, it’s just much beneficial to focus on learning ideas than rote understanding

Will you memorize opening lines in chess?

Again, I want to clarify that I do not mean to say that memorization is not helpful at all. I’m just saying that it will be destructive for at least 90% of people who play chess.

You are more likely to see progress if there is a focus on understanding than anything else. There are so many openings that can be memorized, that you don’t even know if you have the opportunity to use them.

I suggest assessing your current level and trying to see first how useful is this, sleep well and play chess.