Games, analysis and discussion

Chess opening preparation (Part 2 of 2)

Rate this Entry
After you are satisfied with the repertoire you have selected, and are studying it in an ongoing way (and practicing/testing it in blitz and/or offhand games, perhaps), as much as your time and inclination allows, it's time to think about:

3. Your form as a player (and person):

Even before you enter a tournament, any number of factors may work against your having good chess form. Examples:
[1]- poor diet
[2]- sleep poorly during tournaments, or in general
[3]- lousy memory for details
[4]- overly optimistic/pessimistic

The solution to [1] is obvious; in case of [2], in recent years it's been less of a problem for myself since taking medication (for an unrelated problem) that makes me drowsy at night faster - plus I try to refuse to think about any of my game(s) played during the day, thinking pleasant thoughts instead (if that won't do, try camomile tea or warm milk). In any case, don't be foolish and stay up all night playing poker, or watching the Leafs lose in triple overtime.

In case of [3] my powers of memory (as I have perceived them) have waxed and waned over the years. Normally I choose easy-to-play/remember lines if I can, yet those having hopefully plenty of room for the opponent to go wrong first instead of me. That's where my opening research is often directed, rather than always trying to get the maximum edge at all costs (through fashionably approved openings). I understand some things that are available, say at a pharmacy, can actually improve memory, besides better physical fitness, and besides memory training methods that aren't necessarily dependent on chess skills.

As for [4], a lot of people aren't objective enough in chess, let alone in life. If you're generally too optimistic, try to sit on your hands longer before making what looks like a critical decision. If you're generally too pessimistic, try to keep looking for a way out of any difficulties you think your position is suffering from. You may experience either optimism or pessimism throughout your life. Fwiw, I seem to recall Lasker was described somewhere as being a cheerful pessimist.

When it comes to playing in an event, if your results are sagging (i.e. you're in bad form) and the event is not yet over, I'd recommend that in your remaining games you use extra caution in choosing and checking your moves (though not to the point of inviting time trouble).

Now that you're entered in an event, it's time to think about preparing for an individual game, or opponent, if you haven't done so before the event:

4. Familiarity with your oppenent:

Is your opponent at all known to you? If not, you might have time to look him up in a database (e.g. CANBase). If nothing else, if he is younger or older then you might guess that he may play more tactically or positionally accordingly. If you know that your opponent is a tactical player (or not) you may be able to avoid his strength by steering the game away from such play (although you should not go against your own style - trying to stick to that is your first priority). If you have no clue as to your opponent's style, you might be able to select an opening that gives him time to reveal information about his style, before you commit yourself to steering into a given type of position (long ago Canadian [B.C.] NM Dan Scoones suggested the Pirc or Nimzo-Indian for such a purpose, if you're Black and either of these is in your repertoire).

[edit: below is a link to another blog entry of mine that features a four dimensional model to classify chess styles.]

Next, before you finalize the opening(s) or variation(s) you hope to steer for, it's time to think about:

5. Your playing strength relative to the opponent:

Besides any knowlege you may have of your opponent's style or repertoire, there is his form (if you have time, you may check the crosstables if available; a player who lost in the previous round may be especially demoralized). Then there is your past record against him, if any, in one or more given openings. Above all, there are your relative ratings, which are normally the best indicator of relative strength. Another significant factor may be who has White (U.S. IM Larry Kaufman assesses this as worth 35 extra rating points); sometimes players underperform with Black, especially.

If you are clearly the stronger player, you can try to beat your opponent with better technique. If you are clearly the weaker player, you may above all want to highly complicate the game if this is at all in your style, or else play in solid or dull fashion. Against an opponent of similar strength you may want to play in your normal way. In any case, you may also wish to know (or guess) whether the opponent wishes to win or draw at all costs - like yourself, possibly, he may think a win is nice, but a draw isn't too bad a result.

By now you are about as ready to decide what opening(s) or variation(s) you hope to play as you're going to be:

6. Decide what result and opening(s) or variation(s) you hope for:

Do you want a win or a draw at all costs? Or do you think that a win would be nice, but a draw isn't too bad. If you want a win at all costs, you may not need to take big risks if you know that the opponent also wants to win at all costs. Otherwise, select your opening weapon(s) accordingly.

If you have an opening novelty up your sleeve (prepared before or perhaps even during an event), you may not want to use it against a weaker player, or when the result of the game is not terribly important. However, in these days of strong chess engines, if a novelty can be found with ease by a popular engine then you may as well not waste the chance to use it, even against a somewhat weaker player. Speaking of novelties, there are different types. The most potent (decisive opening innovations) can decide a game at once, at least between strong players. Then there are novelties found by recalling moves in positions that are similar (i.e. by analogy). If you are not playing a weaker player that you can beat without a special surprise, here are some other types of surprises if you do not wish to play normally: you can play an unexpected opening/variation (an 'opening switch', perhaps a one-time departure from your repertoire), or you can play something special that you evaluate differently than the books (an engine can be useful for this nowadays) - known as having 'theory of your own' (in any case, any sort of variations that you ever hope to play ideally will have one or more tactical/positional 'traps' for the other side to possibly be caught by, with fewer traps that [ideally later on] can go against your side [in case you just might have trouble recalling them]). Finally, you might be able to spring an unexpected transposition on your opponent.

Once the game is under way, bear in mind that you yourself may fall into some sort of surprise prepared by the opponent. It's best to anticipate this as or before the game unfolds, but otherwise try to take the psychological and chessboard initiative away from the opponent with any chance for an unexpected move that you can take. This may very much upset the opponent, who was hoping for an easy battle. Similarly, if you surprise him first instead, as planned, do not let down your guard.

Here's a short list of books, with useful advice related to the above (Parts 1 & 2), that I know I still have in my library:

Opening Preparation by Dvoretsky and Yusupov (Batsford, 1994)
Secrets of Practical Chess by Nunn (Gambit, 1998)
Winning with Chess Psychology by Benko and Hochberg (McKay, 1991)

Below is a link to Part 1:

Updated 02-11-2021 at 02:05 PM by Kevin Pacey

Tags: None Add / Edit Tags
Chess opening repertoire discussion