Openings

One of the reasons there are so many different resources for learning chess (books, software, coaches, articles, blogs, videos, etc…) is because chess games can be broken down to 3 different phases. Each phase has its own principles and mysteries for players to learn and uncover. The next 3 articles will explain each phase and share resources to help you learn about the phases of the games.

The Opening
There is no specific definition to this phase of the game other than “The beginning of the game.” Often, people ask “How many moves is the opening?” but the answer to that question varies wildly depending on how the players play. It is quite possible that there are more books on different ways to begin the chess game (these ways are called “Openings”) than any other subject in chess. I believe there are a few reasons for this:

  1. No one likes to lose a game quickly; so, they learn openings so they may get out of the opening with a playable game;
  2. The opening begins with the maximum number of pieces on the board which also means the maximum number of possibilities (in the trillions); therefore, openings help trim that down a bit and give players direction;
  3. They are fun to learn for many people and each opening is like learning how to use a new weapon or tool;
  4. Openings also give flavor to a game and each has its own nuances, style, and culture behind it and I believe people enjoy that part of the game.

There are also many openings out there but they can all be classified within one of 500 different classifications. These classifications are called “ECO Codes” or “Encyclopedia of Chess Openings codes.” Each opening also has a designated name usually named after a person, place, type of attack or defense. But the numeric codes make for easy search terms if you wish to find resources for openings you like. The codes run from A00 – A99 to E00 – E99. Thus, depending on how the game begins, the opening is assigned a number based on the first few moves of the game. If you want a thorough review of these opening codes and their associated lines of play, the ECO Software can be purchased. That specific software is a truncated version of ECO to help the user speed up their searches. However, corresponding books, that are more thorough, do exist. Here are two examples: C00 – C99 and E00 – E99.

However, if you do not wish to be that thorough in exploring openings, there are faster ways. If you are unsure of what openings you want to get resources for then I recommend the following book:

Modern Chess Openings by Nick de Firmian

This book, generally used as a reference book, has a simple layout for looking at openings in print format. This book is a one stop shop to have all major openings and you can page through, play through different openings, and see what appeals to you before investing. People often make the mistake of buying tons of openings books but then never reading them. The goal should be to find things you do want to read and purchase those resources. This book is an example that can help you do that without spending hundreds of dollars on books.

If you already know what openings you like and need help learning, here are some tips on identifying good resources for yourself. The first thing I always recommend to everyone is determine if you are trying to learn how to play the opening phase better, if you are trying to learn a specific opening, or if you are trying to develop a full openings repertoire? For example, if you are trying to learn how to play the opening phase better then these books make the most sense:

Book Suggestions
How to Beat the Open Games by Sverre Johnson
125 Chess Opening Surprises by Graham Burgess
Key Concepts of Gambit Play by Yuri Razuvaev
Basic Chess Openings for Kids by Charles Hertan
Winning Chess Traps by Irving Chernev
Mastering Opening Strategy by Johan Hellsten (this is an eBook but there are also print versions)

Software Suggestions
Attack with 1.e4 by Daniel King
A Gambit Guide through the Open Game Vol. 1 by Erwin L’ami
ChessBase Tutorials – The Open Games Vol. 1 by ChessBase
However, if you are looking for openings on specific variations then books like the following make more sense:

Book Suggestions
The King’s Indian Defence: Move by Move by Sam Collins
The Complete French Advance by Evgeny Sveshnikov & Vladimir Sveshnikov
The Scotch Gambit: An Energetic and Aggressive System for White by Alex Fishbein
1.d4 King’s Indian & Grunfeld by Boris Avrukh
First Steps: The Scandinavian by Cyrus Lakdawala
The Modern Samisch: Combating the King’s Indian and Benoni with 6.Bg5! by Eric Montany
The Queen’s Gambit Declined: Move by Move by Nigel Davis
The Najdorf in Black and White by Bryan Smith

Software Suggestions
The Modern Scotch Opening by Parimarjan Negi
Trompowsky for the Attacking Player by Timur Gareyev
The 4…Nf6 Caro-Kann by Nigel Davies
Finally, if you are trying to build an entire opening repertoire then my suggestions would be like these suggestions below. Note that an openings repertoire is essentially trying to build a series of openings you know to combat whatever your opponent throws at you. Or more succinctly put, you want to have an answer for everything:

Book Suggestions
A Practical Black Repertoire with d5, c6 Vol 1. By Alexei Kornev
A Practical Black Repertoire with d5, c6 Vol. 2 by Alexei Kornev
Play 1…d6 Against Everything by Erik Zude & Jorg Hickl
My First Chess Opening Repertoire for White by Vincent Moret
My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black by Vincent Moret
Meeting 1.d4 & 1.e4 (2 books in one) by Jacob Aagaard & Esben Lund, Alexander Raetsky
A Simple Chess Opening Repertoire for White by Sam Collins

Software Suggestions
The Stonewall Dutch: A Fighting Repertoire against 1.d4 by Erwin L’ami
A World Champion’s Repertoire against the Queen’s Gambit Declined by Robert Ris
A Black Repertoire against Offbeat Openings by Nicholas Pert

These suggestions are only scratching the surface and certainly not every opening is listed here. But a big part of choosing which opening books to purchase has to do with what you’re trying to accomplish. If you know that, you will save money by buying the correct resources for your interests.