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Repertoire suggestions

by GM Nigel Davies

by IM Andrew Martin


IM Andrew Martin

Many of you have been asking how to make the most of the massive amount of information on this site. You would like to know how best to break it down to your own advantage. In particular, could come up with some repertoire suggestions from which a player could hope to form a base- some way of negotiating this labyrinth.

I will mention four possible repertoires here, based on my coaching experience with different types of player:

A Strategic Repertoire for White and Black

A repertoire for those with limited time available to study (White/Black)

An Unorthodox Repertoire (soundly based)

A Gambit Repertoire for the maniac!

But before we enter the domain of theory, it's worth mentioning some important points which will be valuable to anyone wishing to improve:

a) Whatever choices you make, study COMPLETE GAMES. Many players who know their theory play their openings quickly and correctly but as soon as they reach the middle-game, don't know what to do and lose their way. It's crucial to study typical middlegames and even the endgames that arise from your favourite opening lines. Among many good books on these subjects are Pachman's Complete Chess Strategy and Shereshevsky's 'Analysing the Endgame' Vols 1+2. Naturally, the masters here at Chess pay great attention to this problem as they compile their notes.

b) Have back-up openings to all your main lines. I remember Botvinnik suggested that the average master should have 2-3 lines, well prepared, against each first move and a couple of different approaches with White . That's obviously going to be difficult for the average player to keep up with, but I would say some reserve options are imperative.

c) Make sure you imprint something of yourself on each game that you play. Chess is a game of self-expression so don't slavishly follow the latest theory if it doesn't suit you. Be prepared to experiment to find out what you like and what you don't like and don't be afraid to lose in order to solve this problem.

d) And when you are defeated- KEEP CALM. I have known even very strong players completely lose their objectivity and self-belief during a bad patch. Some even give up the game. That cannot be the way! So resolve to learn the maximum amount possible from ALL your games, work as hard as you can within your own limitations and chess will open up its secrets to you, providing a lifetime's entertainment.

I have also compiled a selection of key games to accompany this repertoire. These games are sorted by opening for downloading- just click on the download icon beside any opening that interests you.

Strategic Repertoire

for White: 1 e4

Well, the $64000 dollar question is how one defines strategic. I'm going to base my White repertoire around the move 1 e4.

vs 1...e5- 2 Bc4, Bishop's Opening

I remember when I played 1...e5 that I really didn't like to see this move. White has considerable choice within the Bishop's Opening complex to vary his approach, ie gambit play, positional with a view to Kingside attack a la Ruy Lopez, endgame exploitation etc and Black's winning chances are limited. This opening also has practical value because it's not often played- why, I don't know.

vs Sicilian: 2 c3

I think I'd be fighting for the World Championship if I could answer the question of how to beat the Sicilian! There's no easy solution but I think 2 c3! is definitely the move to have your opponents wriggling in their seats. Study the games of GM Sveshnikov who has invested a lifetime's hard work into the research of this variation and Gary Lane will keep you posted with all the latest news.

vs French: Tarrasch

Another combative opening from Black but this time I'd really like to squeeze all the life out of him with 3 Nd2!, the Tarrasch Variation. Against 3...Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4! goes for the maximum and the lines have to be learned, but I really do believe in White's position there.

3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5! is obviously topical- but Neil McDonald shows you how to tackle that and all the other lines on his comprehensive site.

vs Caro-Kann: Exchange

What can you do when Black plays like the Rock Of Gibralter? Not a lot but 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 cxd5 4 Bd3! is a bit of a passion killer. Often White gets a steady edge with this much underestimated line as he avoids many sharp Black possibilities and plays with the draw in hand. A good starting point would be to look at Bobby Fischer's games in this line, circa 1970 and then go straight to check out what Alex Volzhin has to say.

vs Scandinavian: Refraining from d2-d4

This is very much the Opening of the moment and is increasing in popularity. Against 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Nf6 I recommend 3 Be2!, a line denying Black all his Gambit possibilities. White develops sensibly with Nf3 and 0-0 and follows up with d4 and c4 later. Give it a try!

1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 is a very solid line. Possibly it's best to withhold d2-d4 for a while, eg 3 Nc3 Qa5 4 Nf3! The advantage of this move order is that if Black wishes to go...Bc8-f5, the modern way, he will find it difficult to time this move correctly. While White can wait further with Bc4, h3 and 0-0, Black doesn't have the same number of useful moves and if he plays ...Bf5 too early, d2-d3! puts the blot on the Bishop.

vs Pirc/Modern: Classical Variation

An opening of tricky move orders where more often than not, Black is trying to entice White into over-extension. Against this background there is nothing wrong at all with the Classical Variation ie Nc3, Nf3 and maybe Be2 and 0-0. It's a solid, sound, sensible method where the onus is on Black to prove equality and I'm not sure if White knows his stuff that Black can achieve the desired result. Geller's games are a good place to start, thereafter we will keep you well informed.

vs The Alekhine 1...Nf6: the critical 4 Nf3

Let's say that today's Grandmaster distrusts 1...Nf6. It seems that White is getting the edge in ALL lines after 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 Nf3! so I'm going to go with the flow on this one. Naturally the lines have to be learned although play is relatively straightforward.

vs the Nimzowitsch, 1...Nc6: 2 d4!

Tony Miles made this his own little baby recently and having played the move myself on and off for quite a while I can safely say that 1...Nc6 is not so bad. Definitely 2 d4! is the stiffest test with a) 2...d5 3 Nc3! and b) 2...e5 3 dxe5 Nxe5 4 Nc3! Bc5 5 Nf3! critical lines. Anything by Hugh Myers on the subject is worth great respect and careful consideration- he is the WORLD'S leading expert on 1...Nc6. I think this covers most of the main lines-if your opponent plays something else laugh at him!

Black vs 1 e4: 1...e5

Yes, well, I recommend 1...e5! It's the move we all start with and maybe the move we come back to after a lifetime of dabbling with other things. Frankly ,I think that 1...e5! is the best reply to 1 e4. There are plenty of heroes who have taken Black's side- all the World Champions, but if pushed I would say Keres is the man to learn from. You'll find plenty of scope here to do your own thing but let me recommend the Marshall Gambit against the Ruy Lopez. That wonderful invention is still going mighty strong!

Vs 1 d4 ,1 c4, 1 Nf3 etc: King's Indian Defence

The strategic content of the King's Indian Defence remains undiminished. It's the perfect opening for the player who is prepared to steadily outplay his opponent. The positions reached in all main lines are rich, diverse and interesting. It is the ultimate opening of IDEAS. Mastery of the King's Indian doesn't come easily- you will have to work at it, but the investment of time will be very worthwhile. And you can use this defence against all White first moves apart from 1 e4!

A Strategic Repertoire for White and Black

A repertoire for those with limited time available to study (White/Black)

An Unorthodox Repertoire (soundly based)

A Gambit Repertoire for the maniac!

Repertoire for those with limited time available

I think what we need here are 'sister' openings, positions with similar pawn structures, so that one can feel comfortable and insured against surprises. I suggest the following lines:

For White: Trompowski and Pseudo-Trompowski

1 d4 Nf6 2 Bg5! And 1 d4 d5 2 Bg5! A must here will be to get hold of as many Julian Hodgson games as possible- he has been carving up Patzer and Grandmaster alike for many, many years. At the heart of this repertoire is the limitation of Black's choices- you are conducting the game on your terms. The positions can be different too- White can opt for Pawn structure play or outright attack depending on how he is feeling.

For Black: Scandinavian and Slav set-ups

Rock solid. As Black vs 1 e4 play the main line BANKER with 1...d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qd8! or 3...Qa5, in both cases following with ...Nf6, ...c6 and ...Bf5! And vs d4 and Flank Openings go for the solid Slav set up with ...c6 and ..d5, aiming for a similar structure. Truly an opening which can be learned in a minimum of time .

A Strategic Repertoire for White and Black

A repertoire for those with limited time available to study (White/Black)

An Unorthodox Repertoire (soundly based)

A Gambit Repertoire for the maniac!

An Unorthodox Repertoire (soundly based)

The very thought of playing in an unorthodox style makes some players shudder. They love their little security blanket following all the latest Grandmaster moves. Yes, well, that's not for me although you probably gathered that already. On a personal level, the main reason for playing all types of position is simple; I want to enjoy the enormous variety available in chess. If something doesn't work out, I go on to the next experiment. A word of caution now, because playing in an unorthodox style does not mean freaking out, turning up at the board ready to blast out a series of random moves. The repertoire that I am going to suggest is perfectly sound but you must carefully think it through at home and REALLY learn it before embarking on the adventure. Remember to master the rules before trying to bend or break them!

White: Bird's Opening, 1 f4

The positions arising out of Bird's Opening are among the most interesting and little explored in Chess. Objectively White can't hope for very much if Black plays precisely but that is hardly the issue. You will always obtain an interesting game with White and plenty of opportunity to outplay the opponent. In other words, after 1 f4, the game is up for grabs. I recommend accepting the From gambit , with 1 f4 e5 2 fxe5 d6 3 exd6 or 2...Nc6!? 3 Nf3 g5!? the critical lines which have to be learned. The approaches with g2-g3 are the best. Usually the hustler with Black will be bluffing- only pretending to know the theory. If you know the lines well you have every chance of scoring a very quick point.

Against 1...d5 just Nf3, e3 is sufficient. Angle to get a good Dutch with an extra tempo. Some books recommend 2 b3,but although b2-b3 is desirable, I believe that move to be best delayed. Among modern Grandmasters, innovator Lars Karlsson from Sweden has a tilt at the Bird now and then. Usually after a few Schnapps.

Black vs 1 e4: Nimzowitsch Defense

This was tough, as painful experience has taught me how difficult it is to be unorthodox after 1 e4. If it gets too freaky, the opponent settles for putting his pieces on good squares and then sounds the charge-he doesn't even have to think! So I've settled for the Nimzovich Defence, 1...Nc6, as my first choice, robust, creative and different. Essential reading is 'The Nimzovich Defence' by Hugh Myers and the accompanying CD is very useful too. Check out GM Videos 'The Nimzovich Defence' by yours truly for more detail and Tim Harding wrote a good book for Batsford some time back which could also prove useful. 1...Nc6! is underrated and will score many points for you.

Vs 1 d4...

OK, I take a deep breath and recommend 1..Nc6!? here too, the opening without a name. Let us call it the 'Messy Defence'. As far as I'm concerned this move is unrefuted and very playable. A possible repertoire might map out as follows: 1 d4 Nc6

a) 2 d5 Ne5 3 e4 e6

b) 2 c4 e5!

c) 2 Nf3 d5! Transposing to Chigorin's Defence to the Queen's Gambit having sidestepped the dangerous line 1 d4 d5 2 c4 Nc6 3 Nc3! You could do worse than to consult A Complete Defence for Black by Keene and Jacobs (Batsford 1996 ).

Vs 1 c4 ,1 Nf3 ,1 b3 ,1 f4...

No prizes for guessing that 1..Nc6! is the move here too! Yes, it really does work against every single White first move and is not at all bad. I have known many jaded players experience a new lease of life after taking up 1..Nc6! Could one of them be you ?

A Strategic Repertoire for White and Black

A repertoire for those with limited time available to study (White/Black)

An Unorthodox Repertoire (soundly based)

A Gambit Repertoire for the maniac!

A Gambit Repertoire for the Maniac

Good grief, you mean there are actually people out there who ENJOY playing chess?? I actually thought it was coming down to the shoddy business of winning and losing and that was all there was to it. The 'result robots' at the top of World Chess were slowly getting to me. What a revelation! Well then we have to start at the very pinnacle of gambit play- where else?

White: The Blackmar-Diemer Gambit

1 d4 d5 2 e4!! And 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nc3 d5 3 e4!! Pretty much required reading is Tim Sawyer's Blackmar-Diemer Keybook (Pickard and Sons 1999). Sawyer makes light of Julian Hodgson's assertion that this is not the opening to try to pay the mortgage with and, having tried the opening extensively in blitz play on the ICC, I share his enthusiasm. The verdict on this opening must be that it is a very powerful tool for learning tactical play. White is applying maximum pressure as early as move two. Whether the Gambit is objectively sound is irrelevant- White seems to win most of the games ! Watch out for the propaganda on this one- the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit has a worldwide following of immense size who would carry you away on a tide of euphoria if they had the chance. Check the lines carefully before you try them guarantees.

Black vs 1 e4: the Scandinavian

A tough call but it has to be 1...d5! with the idea 2 exd5 Nf6 and the following breakdown:

a) 3 d4 Bg4!

b) 3 c4 e6 ( Icelandic Gambit )

c) 3 Be2 Nxd5 and take your chances

d) 3 Nf3 ( pity about that ) 3...Nxd5

Once again I have to emphasise the danger facing Black after 1 e4- he really cannot lash out and hope to be successful. At least the repertoire above has some semblance of normality to it and has attracted the attention of Grandmasters.

vs 1 d4; Tarrasch set-ups, the Von Hennig-Schara Gambit!

That is to say 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c5 4 cxd5 cxd4!?, and if White deviates, then learn the Tarrasch set-up which can be applied to all Flank Openings as well. There are limits! Coming back to the Von Hennig for a moment, when you get into the theory, take note of the games where Black castles SHORT- they are very interesting.

Vs 1 c4 ,1 Nf3, 1 b3, 1 f4 etc

You can go 1...d5, 2...e6, 3...c5 ,4...Nc6, 5...Nf6 and thank God you don't have to play a Gambit!

A Strategic Repertoire for White and Black

A repertoire for those with limited time available to study (White/Black)

An Unorthodox Repertoire (soundly based)

A Gambit Repertoire for the maniac!

We've come to the end of our foray into possible repertoires for White and Black. If even only some of these suggestions have been useful to you and they help you to improve your results and play better chess, then I'll be very pleased. The choice is yours!

Thank you for using

IM Andrew Martin

December 1999