Originally written by Eric Schiller
So, you’ve decided to pick out some items to freshen up your opening repertoire. You’ve looked over some possibilities and have visited websites promoting one opening brand or another. But before you go and take something off the rack, and you’ve got to stop for a moment and consider the expense. Much of the time a chess player makes a decision to take up a new opening without considering how much it’s going to cost him in time and effort.
When some of my younger students tell me they are considering taking up the Najdorf Sicilian or King’s Indian Defense, I just laugh. Such openings are way out of their price range. There are simply too many specific variations that have to be learned before the opening can be used effectively. On the other hand, I have plenty of students for whom even a decent understanding of the principal open games is too much work.
Openings vary greatly depending on how much they rely on theory. On the one hand we have the openings favored by players such as Kasparov and Fischer, who took great pleasure in taming the wild jungle of mainstream openings. On the other hand, there are many players though few grandmasters who stick to openings where memorizing variations is not important. Such openings can be played simply with an understanding of the basic formation and middle game ideas. These include various Colle Systems, Stonewall formations and flank openings.
When I wrote my big trilogy on the chess openings (Standard Chess Openings, Gambit Chess Openings, Unorthodox Chess Openings) I thought about including a price tag on each opening, something representing the amount of work necessary to learn the variation. I had to put that off for future work, because it is in and of itself an enormous research task, not easily automated.
But to give you an idea about how to go about evaluating the cost of an opening, I’ve developed a few ideas and share them with you here. The fundamental building blocks are a number of games played, the number of publications dedicated to the opening, the amount of web resources available, and the internal consistency of the opening with regard to where pieces are developed.
In chess jargon, we routinely talk about something called theory. Here he refers to a combination of games played in the opening, and writings about the opening. However, just because there is a lot of theory doesn’t mean that an opening absolutely demands enormous amounts of work. For example, some of my scholastic students play the Dragon Sicilian quite well without ever having studied a book about it. The students know that they should fianchetto and castle on the kingside, and use the c-file as the main attacking route, often sacrificing the exchange at c3. In scholastic competition this knowledge is usually sufficient. So despite the massive amount of theory I don’t consider this a very expensive opening.
The most expensive openings tend to be those played by current or recent world champions because the games of those players are under the most scrutiny. Other popular top layer is also have a great influence on the focus of the chess world’s attention in the openings. However, some openings that are almost never seen at a high level are very tactical in nature and therefore require a great deal of theory. Examples include the Latvian gambit and Blackmar-Diemer gambit. You wouldn’t want to use those openings in serious tournament play without a deep understanding of hundreds of specific variations.
The least expensive openings are not found, as you might expect, in the gains of amateur players as opposed to professionals. Instead, you can find them by looking at top players and looking for openings that they play regularly but not too often and not as their main tournament weapons. Among my favorite low maintenance openings are the Rubinstein Attack (Colle system with the queenside fianchetto) and the Reti Opening. Both of these are easy to play with minimal preparation and I have played them both on many occasions.
In future opening articles I will try to include a discussion of the “entry fee” for the opening. I’m not suggesting that one type is superior to the other, simply that when you pick up a new opening you must take into account the amount of time you’re going to have to put in before you can use it in serious competitive play. If you are willing to do the work, the most expensive openings also bring more interesting preparation because you will have many resources to examine. Just make sure you have the resources to examine them! _