Becoming a Chess Master: Learning Chess Opening Systems

Is it necessary to Study the Openings?

            The opening moves of a game of chess are of course important if not critical, and as is generally the case with chess, mirror one of the realities of life:  In chess as in life it is important to be off to a good start right from the outset. In fact many chess teachers choose to teach their younger students the openings for that very reason:  So that they may enjoy the benefits that come with an advantageous starting position even if they do not fully understand why they have played the Opening moves or what the advantages are.  Would it be useful to obtain an advantage in the chess opening? Without a doubt, as this is the fundamental objective of the Opening.  But if we do not know what to do with it we will watch it, as many of us have personally experienced, crumble and fade away. So the question remains: Do I need to learn chess openings?

Chess Master


A typical scenario in a chess tournament: We sit confidently at the chess board and our opponent starts our chess clock, we make our opening moves that we have prepared and memorized and what happens? The opponent doesn’t know the opening system, or smells a rat and decides to play an opening  that we weren’t expecting and suddenly the confidence that we had flees, leaving us with a sinking feeling of panic. We feel lost.  This is quite often the problem with studying the opening. We do not study it properly or understand it but rather have it simply memorized and therefore rather than playing and thinking creatively from the very first move we are lured into a false sense of security, a false sense of reality, and when the game suddenly doesn’t go according to our preconceived memorized plan of opening moves, rather than being off to a good start, we are immediately floundering. The fact is that is possible to attain the title of Chess Master without committing too much time to the study of the opening and I personally believe it would be wiser to study the Endings and the tactics of the Middle Game of Chess instead of investing time in the memorization of Openings but if you do decide to learn them the following advice may be helpful:

                        1. Read, read, read. Chess is a language and as with any language one of the best ways to learn it is to read. Buy Chess Base or another large database of chess games if you can and play through the Openings of your choice. In today’s world of Chess and Chess openings, the ability to read a large quantity of games and openings quickly has changed the study of the game of chess dramatically.

2. Learn the ideas rather than memorizing the opening moves. Look at the moves as you read the games and try to understand the why.

3. Study short Chess games where you can see the mistake early on. You must be able to recognize when the opponent’s move in the Opening was a mistake AND be able to take advantage of it.

And finally, learning chess, as in all learning, is at the heart a task of self study and of knowing oneself. You must choose a chess opening system that fits who you are as a person.  Do I enjoy attacking or would I prefer to defend? Do I feel secure with a lot of space or do I prefer a cramped solid position? Am I good with pawns, bishops, or knights? Do I like to go directly to the End Game or do I prefer the Middle Game?  As a person I do not mind being attacked and therefore as a chess player I enjoy giving up space and huddling down in a cramped position and letting the opponent attack me and then eventually opening up the game when I feel ready to counterattack. 

This sort of self knowledge and proper approach to study will help you choose the Opening system that is right for you should you decide to invest time in learning them as well as set you upon the road to Chess Master. But most important of all is to play, play, and play!