Tag Archives: Openings

Choosing An Opening – Style


In my previous post I was surprised to find that statistically I play better as 1.d4 despite preferring more open games. The upshot of that post was that I should start playing more 1.d4 openings so that I get a better feel for them and find an opening that gives me the best chance of wining as white.

But wining isn’t everything. The two reasons I play chess are 1. for fun and 2. to get better. For the fun part of this equation I need to play games that I find exciting and beautiful, for me beauty is about dynamic, tactical, sacrificial and combinative play. For other people beauty and excitement may come from brilliant calculation, delicate positional play, endgames and complexity. Unfortunately there seems to be very little online concensus about what openings result in what type of game. I went to this website where you complete a quiz about yourself and it suggests openings. It suggested the French 90% (which I’m not that keen on), the English 88% (Meh), the Sicilian Najdorf 82% and much further down the Sicilian Dragon 53% (Ruy at 18%). Elsewhere people explain that one opening can quickly change in style so categorising openings is pointless – a view I understand but I also know that the King’s Gambit will be wilder than King’s Indian. So I am trying find ‘ballpark’ guide to opening style and I would love any input.

My impressions of openings that I sometimes based on; tactics, complexity, calculation, dynamics and positional play (out of 10) are:

Ruy Lopez: Tactics (6). Complexity (8). Calculation (7). Dynamics (5). Positional (8).

Scots Gambit: Tactics (7). Complexity (7). Calculation (6). Dynamics (6). Positional (6).

Danish: Tactics (7). Complexity (4). Calculation (5). Dynamics (7). Positional (5).

Kings Gambit: Tactics (7). Complexity (5). Calculation (5). Dynamics (9). Positional (5).

Queens Gambit: Tactics (6). Complexity (7). Calculation (7). Dynamics (4). Positional (8).

Sicilian Dragon: Tactics (7). Complexity (7). Calculation (7). Dynamics (6). Positional (8).

Sicilian Najdorf: Tactics (7). Complexity (7). Calculation (8). Dynamics (7). Positional (7).

King’s Indian Defense: Tactics (6). Complexity (8). Calculation (7). Dynamics (5). Positional (8).

French Defense: Tactics (5). Complexity (6). Calculation (7). Dynamics (5). Positional (8).

English Defense: Tactics (7). Complexity (5). Calculation (6). Dynamics (7). Positional (8).

Dutch Defense: Tactics (7). Complexity (5). Calculation (7). Dynamics (6). Positional (6).

Scandinavian: Tactics (6). Complexity (4). Calculation (5). Dynamics (8). Positional (5).


Choosing An Opening – Statistics

lab door

I have posted about beauty in chess and my view is that this comes from strong combinative attacks involving great tactics and which usually include bold sacrifices – against a skilled opponent. These kinds of games seem to typically favour a 1.e4 opening. Given my preference for this type of game I believed that I was a 1.e4 player. It therefore came as a shock to find out that I am 6% more likely to win if I play 1.d4 according to chess.com’s games explorer.

This is a problem, it seems that the kinds of games I like playing as white are the kinds of games I am more likely to lose. But this data may not tell the whole story. When I played as white I very often played the Ruy Lopez. So perhaps playing the Ruy Lopez has been letting me down. This seems to be the case, I only win 47% of my games as opposed to 50% if I play the Scots Gambit. If I compare the  two openings I would argue that the Scots Gambit is slightly more tactical, less positional, less complex and often unbalanced. The other part of this equation is that if I play as Black my best chance of winning against 1.d4 is if I play 1. …e6 leading to the English Defense or the Dutch Defense, both of which are tactical ways of responding. If I play against 1.e4 my best results are if I play the Scandinavian which is also tactical and uncomplicated rather than positional.

But it could still be the case that the games I enjoy aren’t the games I am more likely to win. When I play 1.d4 I win 52% of my games which is better than my scores using the Scots Gambit, Scandinavian, Dutch or English. So what can I do?

Firstly, if I am to look at this statistically, I need to play many more types of openings so that I can have more data. At this point I am overwhelmingly a 1.e4 player and even within the 1.e4 range I predominantly play the Ruy or the Scots. With more data I should get a better picture of what types of games work best for me. So more 1.d4’s for me.


King’s Indian

King's Indian

My son is taught by a great local chess teacher and I am lucky to be able to sit in on the classes. We finished a recent competition and before the competition the focus of the classes was on calculation. Now we are looking at openings and yesterday we went through the King’s Indian Defense. This is not an opening I enjoy because I have always felt cramped and defensive – I’ve been doing it all wrong, it can be fierce. I have always been scared of pushing any of my pawns forward in front of my King, it makes me feel exposed and weak but that attitude is changing. Recently I have been playing and posting about the Dutch Defense and the English Defense and my games as black have been much more dynamic. In both of these defenses I castle short and then throw my f pawn forward to f5 (if it is safe to do so). This ends up giving me opportunities for attack and the games are fun. This same concept works for the King’s Indian, here is a typical opening setup.

And here you need to do two things; you must prevent a Queenside attack and you must start a King’s side attack. My son played another kid and both had to start by playing this setup and then pushing their strategic ideas. What was interesting was that typically, where there was a choice of defending or attacking, attacking was the correct response.

And Kasparov repopularised it with games like this.

(See my ‘The Brahmin’ post for some King’s Indian history)

Learning An Opening

Scots Gambit clip copy

This is a follow on from my previous post and but Instead of posting about the moves of pieces I thought I’d focus on my process of learning an opening. The Scots Gambit is a fairly uncommon opening and I don’t have a books about it so I have started my research through watching videos. While watching the videos I have been noting moves and lines which I have then put into an opening tree. I have tabulated this into a spreadsheet that shows all the posible lines I could play in response to good moves from my opponent. Often my opponent has a number of good, or likely, moves (shown in green above) and the spreadsheet is fairly complicated. I have called this spreadsheet ‘Scots Gambit’. This is step 1 – ‘Research’.

My next step is to limit my responses to one move rather than a number of possible continuations. I have chosen the move that most reduces the responses of my opponents. By this I mean that on move 6, for example, I could chose 6.Nc3 or 6.e5 – if I chose 6.Nc3 then the clear and best response from my opponent is 6. …Bd7 and following that there is a limited sequence of good moves but if I chose 6.e5 my opponent could respond well with 6. …dxe5 6. …Qe7 or 6. …Nd7 some of these then branch out further. I have therefore chosen 6.Nc3 to prune the branches of my opening tree. I have made an updated spreadsheet called ‘Scots Gambit Condensed’. End of step 2 – ‘Guidelines’.

The next step I took was to play quick unrated games on chess.com, games that are 5 minutes per side, in which I play as much as I can from memory then refer to my spreadsheet when I can’t remember the moves. By doing this I am memorising the moves as best as I can. Ongoing step 3 – ‘Practice’.

But isn’t this all rote learning? Yes it has been but I am now going back to the videos and instead of recording the moves I am listening to the reasons behind the moves. The reasons given in videos are normally tactical but some videos talk about aims and strategies. In the Scots Gambit one aim seems to be to blockade the Queenside and attack on the Kingside. Step 4 – ‘Substance’.

Finally I am going back to step 3 with greater knowledge and playing better until I feel confident and start to see common middlegame themes.

Many good players will say that a person at my level doesn’t need such a focus on openings but I would disagree. It has been interesting learning undertaking this process and it has given me an insight into how grandmasters would prepare (it must be a massive undertaking to learn all the main openings and all the most probable continuations for those openings). By starting to learn openings in depth now I can hope to have a number of openings learnt in time. Also after 5 or 6 moves the positions in most openings become varied and complex and this is teaching me about middlegames, pawn structure, themes and positional play .

Scots Gambit


As a Scot I make no apology for renaming the Scotch Gambit the Scots Gambit and I hope readers of this blog will follow accordingly. The word ‘scotch’ is never heard in Scotland – it is an English or American word that sounds cheeselike to Scottish people. Why did I choose this as an opening to learn for my up-comming competition? Well I am Scottish and I do like gambits so we’re already on a winner. Secondly I like postal chess and this was played in that early correspondence game between Scotland and England in 1824 where Scotland won despite English attempts to change their moves post postage. Finally it is GM Roman Dzindzichashvili‘s opinion that this is an underated opening that is particularly useful if you want to improve your chess. He doesn’t say it’s a winner but he does believe it offers a rich mixture of tactics, positional play and dynamic play.

So how am I learning it? Unfortunately I don’t have any books on the opening and as far as I can see there is only one book that looks into this opening in any depth. That book is Lev Alburt and Roman Dzindzichavilli’s book Chess Openings for White, Explained. This gambit also transposes to  the Giucco Piano and Two Knights Defense and books deal with those openings but at this stage I don’t have the time to order books and wait. (My Fundamental Chess Openings book is a bit light on this). Instead I have been watching videos and reading forum posts then making notes that I am turning into an opening tree as per the picture above. My hope is to get a pretty good understanding of how this opening can pan out – not rote learning.

Unfortunately it seems quite complex and just when I find that I am comming to grips with it I find that lines transpose to other openings with their own complexities. At this stage I have looked at all likely responses other than the main line or transposed lines. I will have to go over these lines many times before the ideas are locked in – I will then look at the main lines and transposed positions, I hope I have enough time. I will also have to play many games before I really come to grips with the opening and that won’t happen before my competition.

Here is a video of the opening

Openings Through Time

While I was writing my ‘Brahmin’ post I found these great infographics. The first shows whites first move over time…


Then blacks responce…


and whites next move…


Beyond this point it gets too complicated with more than 120 million choices.

Note the explosion of the Indian defense in orange and the rise of the queens pawn opening.