by GM Nigel Davies
In deciding upon an opening repertoire there is one very big question that must be answered: What kind of player am I? A lot of us may imagine that we are Tal-like attacking players without this really being the case. I've seen many otherwise excellent players handicap themselves with totally unsuitable openings because they so admire a player like Mikhail Tal, Bobby Fischer or Gary Kasparov.
After searching your soul let's assume that you know yourself pretty well and are ready to launch into some new and sexier openings. Well not so fast! I feel that it's my duty to recommend changing one thing at a time - getting to know a bit about your new pet before playing it in anger. And probably it's better to try it in some friendly games before using it in a tournament.
Let's get down to business. If you're still unsure about the kind of temperament
you have, try answering the following questions.
1. Do you have a car that gets you from A to B or from A to Z?
2. Do you prefer astute and careful saving or living for the moment?
The way you answered these questions should help to indicate the next step.
If you're a reasonably aggressive player go to "Controlled Aggression".
If you're a real maniac go to "Gambit Play!"
If, on the other hand, you smoke a pipe go to "Endgame Openings".
The solid majority should read on below
Sane and Solid Openings
If you want a sane and solid opening repertoire with White I strongly suggest
checking out Aaron Summerscale's site and playing 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3.
After 2 e6 you go 3 e3 followed by 4 Bd3 and 5 b3;
after 2 g6 you go 3 Nc3!? with which Mark Hebden has been scoring well;
after 2 c5 the move is 3 d5 meeting 3 e6 with 4 Nc3 or 3 b5 with 4 Bg5. And that just about wraps up 1 Nf6!
In a sense it is harder to play against 1 d5. The problem is that in many lines of the Slav (1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6) and Semi-Slav (1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 c6) Black wants to take your c4 pawn and hang on to it. These lines are complex, messy and require a lot of theoretical knowledge.
One way round it is to play Qd1-b3 the moment you think Black wants to take your c4 pawn. So the two lines you need to look at are 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 c6 3 c4 Nf6 4 Qb3 and 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 c4 e6 4 Nc3 c6 5 Qb3. Of course he might play the Queen's Gambit Accepted (1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 dxc4) but then 4.Qa4+ gets the pawn back safely and may lead to some light positional pressure for White.
Against the Dutch Defence (1 d4 f5) White has an interesting possibility in 2 Bg5. There's not much theory and some problems for Black.
One of the best defences against 1.d4 is the Nimzo-Indian (1 .Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4) which has to be the first port of call for any player looking for a sound yet active option that can be played for life. It's pedigree is unrivalled- in fact since Aaron Nimzovitsch invented this opening every single World Champion has included it in his opening repertoire. For players who want something easier to learn the Modern Stonewall (1 d4 f5 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 g3 d5 5 Bg2 Bd6!) is well worth considering.
Against 1.e4 there is a large choice of possible defences. If you're still looking for that one special defence I suggest going to Neil McDonald's site and keeping your eyes peeled for Alexander Morozevich's games. Against 3.Nd2 he has been notching up the points with 3 Be7 whilst after 3.Nc3 he goes 3 Nf6 (4.Bg5 dxe4).
I believe that 1 e4 is the most suitable move for players who like to attack; by its very nature 1 e4 pursues the initiative. It immediately opens diagonals for White's queen and king's bishop and aims for fast development and piece activity.
At club level it is advisable to play less well-known lines offer greater scope for creativity and have an element of surprise. After 1 e5 the modern lines of the Scotch (2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 exd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nxc6 bxc6 6 e5) offer an interesting and creative game.
If your opponent plays the French with 1 e6 I suggest avoiding the Closed Structures which French players relish by playing 2 d4 d5 3 exd5, the Exchange Variation. I know what you're thinking but it isn't as drawish as its reputation would have us believe. Kasparov himself flirted with the Exchange a few years back and the Russian GM Ulibin still wields it with effect. After 3 exd5 you go 4.Nf3 and will often create an unbalanced position by playing a subsequent c2-c4.
Against the Caro-Kann Defence you can adopt a similar method by specialising in the Panov-Botvinnik Attack (1 c6 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 cxd5 4 c4).
The Sicilian is probably the most popular reply to 1 e4 and playing the sharpest lines involves a huge amount of work. Yet there are a number of players who do well on a diet of 6 Be2 lines against almost everything, whether it's the Najdorf (1 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6), Scheveningen (5 e6), the Dragon (5 g6) or the so called Classical Sicilian (5 Nc6). You can't do this against absolutely everything and I suggest meeting the Kalashnikov (1 .c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 e5 5 Nb5 d6) with 6 g3(!) and the Sveshnikov (1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e5) with 6 Ndb5 d6 7 Bg5 a6 8 Na3 b5 9 Nd5 Be7 10 Bxf6 as Kasparov has done in a number of key games.
The way to get into these lines is to look out for complete games on the chesspublishing.com sites keeping an eye out for names such as Viktor Kupreichik and Ilya Smirin. These guys are both highly effective Be2 specialists.
Against other defences go for 4 Bg5 against the Pirc and Modern Defences, meet the Alekhine's with 4 Nf3 and against the Scandinavian (1 d5) remember not to block your c-pawn with 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3?!. The world is coming to understand that White should probably go 3 Nf3 and follow up with 4 d4, 5 Be2, 6 0-0 and then hit Black's queen with 7 c4. This gives White much better central control (that d5 square) than traditional Scandinavian lines.
Due to the fact that normal openings tend to give White a slight initiative, players who like the initiative tend to have most of their problems when they are Black. One line which makes a structural concession for the initiative is the Sveshnikov Sicilian (1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cd 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e5!?) and the Dragon (1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 g6) is also a firm favourite with attacking players. If you balk at the amount of work involved with these lines consider the Accelerated Dragon (1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 g6) which has a very sound reputation but still offers Black active play.
Against 1 d4 there are many counterattacking lines including the King's Indian (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 followed by 3...Bg7, 4...0-0 and 5...d6) and Gruenfeld (1.d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5) Defences. The Leningrad Dutch (1 d4 f5 followed by 2....Nf6 and 3....g6) has been less well mapped out and offers original play and excellent chances to gain the initiative against anything but the most accurate play by White.
This section carries a chesspublishing.com health warning. Are you really not worried about those little guys? Do you really believe that it's only mate that counts?
If this is the case you've just got to go 1 e4 with White. Most of the traditional gambits occur after 1 e4 e5 and both the King's Gambit (2 f4) and the Danish Gambit (2 d4 exd4 3 c3) offer White good value. Against the Sicilian I don't recommend the popular Smith-Morra Gambit (1 e4 c5 2 d4 cxd4 3 c3) due mainly to the fact that White is giving away a centre pawn without having pressure on the a2-f7 diagonal. A much better try in my opinion is a delayed Wing Gambit (1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 followed by 3 b4!?) which gives the traditional gambiteer's compensation of a strong centre and quick development.
Against the French (1 e6) you should try 2 Nf3 d5 3 e5 c5 4 b4!? after which 4 cxb4 5 d4 followed by 6 Bd3 and 7 h4 gives White dangerous attacking chances on the kingside without that irritating pressure against d4. If Black castles queenside you go a2-a3 and swing left. Against the Pirc and Modern play 4 Bg5 (console yourself with the thought that you might get to give up a pawn after the opening) and meet Alekhine's Defence (1 Nf6) with Vitolins' little-known 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 f4!?. Against the Scandanavian (1.e4 d5) you can have some fun with Milner-Barry's 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qa5 4 b4!?.
After 1.e4 a gambiteer should play 1...e5 and against the Spanish Opening (2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5) can choose between Gambits such as the Schliemann (3...f5) or Marshall (3...a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 0-0 Be7 6 Re1 b5 7 Bb3 0-0 8 c3 d5). The Marshall in particular is highly respected at GM level and lists players such as Nigel Short, Michael Adams and John Nunn amongst its exponents. One of the problems at club level is that it is very difficult to actually get to play the Marshall, your opponents will probably vary as early as move two!
If you face 1 d4 there is the Benko Gambit (1 d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5!?) which still enjoys an excellent reputation even at the highest levels. The Schara-Henning Gambit (1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c5 4 cxd5 cxd4) is also worth a try.
Against flank openings there are precious few gambits for Black though the Bellon Gambit (1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 e4!? 4 Ng5 b5!) is worth bearing in mind. White must know that he should play 5 d3 in this position and after 5...bc 6.de h6 has to go in for a temporary piece sacrifice with 7.Nxf7. From a purely practical point of view it is unlikely that more than 0.1% of club level English Opening exponents know about this.
I put this bit at the end because only the pipe smokers will have the patience to get here. I hope you're safely tucked up in that armchair and have the pipe lit up.
You'll be relieved to know that the move 1 e4 doesn't always lead to violent bloodbaths, it can also be played in quiet positional style and many lines involve an early queen exchange. The Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Bxc6 dxc6) often leads to the exchange of queens after White plays a subsequent d2-d4. Far from being a drawing line this was used with great effect by fighting players such as Emanual Lasker and Bobby Fischer who showed that White's kingside pawn majority can often decide the game. Black can also try to reach an early endgame in the Ruy Lopez with 3...Nf6 4 0-0 Nxe4 5 d4 Nd6 6 Bxc6 dxc6 7 de Nf5 8 Qxd8+ Kxd8 in which theory prefers White but many players (notably Alexei Alexandrov) continue to play Black with great success.
Boris Spassky has also shown a preference for such quiet lines in the latter part of his career and one of his favourites is the Morphy-Lasker Variation of the Petroff Defence (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nxe5 d6 4 Nf3 Nxe4 5 Qe2 Qe7 6 d3 Nf6). Spassky has usually played the standard 7 Bg5 but I think that the lesser-known 7 Nc3(!) gives White more chances of a plus. I have played this line on several occasions my most notable win being against the Indian GM Barua.
In the Tarrasch Variation of the French Defence (1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nd2) an endgame can come about very quickly after 3...c5 4.ed ed 5.Bb5+ Bd7 6.Qe2+ Qe7 which is probably better for White because of Black's isolated d-Pawn.
In the Caro-Kann one of the main lines of the Panov-Botvinnik Attack (1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 cxd5 4 c4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 Nf3 Bg4 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 Qb3 Bxf3 9 gxf3 e6 10 Qxb7 Nxd4 11 Bb5+ Nxb5 12 Qc6+ Ke7 13 Qxb5 Nxc3 14 bxc3 Qd7 15 Rb1!) gives rise to an endgame in which Black is still struggling to demonstrate full equality.
Reaching an endgame with White against the Sicilian Defence is a more difficult matter but many lines of the Alapin Variation (2 c3) do exactly that. White has a definite pull in the line (2 c3) d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nf6 5 Nf3 e6 6 Be2 Nc6 7 0-0 Be7 8 c4 Qd8 9 dxc5 in which the queens will probably be exchanged over the next couple of moves.
Against the Pirc Defence the line 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 Be2 0-0 6 0-0 Bg4 7 Be3 Nc6 8 Qd2 e5 9 dxe5 dxe5 10 Rad1 is still giving Black some problems with how he should try and equalise.