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Build an Opening Repertoire (Part 1)
Here's how to avoid losing a chess game in the opening.

It's no secret that masters give contradictory advice on the opening. On the one hand, they advise novice players not to spend too much time working on openings, but to work on middlegames and endgames instead. On the other hand, they spend most of their own time working on the opening!

What's a non-master to make of this? While everyone certainly needs to work on tactics, positional concepts, and endgames, if you lose in the opening, what good does extensive knowledge about the rest of the game do? Surely detailed knowledge of the openings is the fastest way to success.

Unfortunately, it's not.

Improving at chess is like climbing a glass mountain. You make some progress, then you slip back. You recover the lost ground, make a little more progress, and then slip back again. You improve in one area, but you weaken in another area where previously you made progress.

Your objective at the beginning of the mountain climb to chess mastery should be to become familiar with as many different types of positions as possible. You'll only do this if you expose yourself to all sorts of positions in practical play.

That's why there's a difference between what masters do and what they say. Masters have approached the top of the mountain. They've encountered thousands of typical middlegame and endgame positions. They know more about different types of positions than most players know even exist. Factors like personal style and the element of surprise start to become more important.

What do grandmasters know that the masters don't? They calculate variations more rapidly, but that's not the subject of this article. They know even more about different types of positions. And they also spend a great deal of their time preparing the openings!

Grandmasters study the games of their opponents and prepare openings for specific opponents. They study the openings of their own published games looking for surprises that a well-prepared opponent might try to spring. In other words, they work on their opening repertoires and study the repertoires of their opponents.

An opening repertoire is one of the secret weapons that makes a grandmaster. The reasons that grandmasters play what they do are specific to their personal repertoires. Those repertoires are a result of their own preparation, and beyond the understanding of most of the rest of us. That's why you shouldn't pay much attention to the openings that grandmasters use.

Most of the published games that you'll encounter are games that have been played by the grandmasters. If it makes you feel good playing what Kasparov or Kramnik plays, that's very nice. You'd get more benefit by working on your own repertoire.

It goes without saying that you can't work on your opening repertoire until you have one. How do you build a repertoire? We'll cover that in a future spotlight.

We'll close this with how not to build a repertoire. Forget about learning openings where your main objective is to have a won game after 10 or 15 moves. This is playing for traps. While you may have the satisfaction of winning a few games quickly, your overall knowledge is not going to increase very much. Your objective in the opening should be to get a game where you feel comfortable. It should also be to get games where you are exposed to the largest number of possible types of positions. Then you'll be pointed the right way on the road to mastery.

 Related Resources
• Part 1 - Avoid losing in the opening
• Part 2 - Select one move per position
• Part 3 - Practical considerations
• Part 4 - Unusual First Moves
• Part 5 - Introduction to 1.e4
• Part 6 - Introduction to 1.d4
• Traps! - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3