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Build an Opening Repertoire (Part 2)
Select one move for each critical position.

In the first article in this series (see the linkbox at the bottom) we discussed the importance of an opening repertoire. Now we're going to build one.

The first step is to decide what to open with White. You'll make things a lot easier if you restrict yourself to the choice between 1.e4 and 1.d4.

The other acceptable first moves for White (of which the best are 1.c4 and 1.Nf3) lead to a tangle of opening transpositions which will complicate the development of your repertoire. Transpositions are another weapon of masters, so wait until you approach that level before you spend too much time on them.

Openings like 1.b4 and 1.Nc3 have their place, but they lead to specific kinds of positions that are relatively limited in the richness of ideas. You'll certainly learn how to cope very well with the kinds of positions that arise, and you may score a few points off opponents who are less familiar with them, but you'll miss out on developing the adaptability that you need to cope with new situations.

If anyone tells you that either 1.e4 or 1.d4 is better than the other, don't listen to any more advice from that person. I'm serious. Either that person knows something that 99.99% of the rest of the chess world doesn't know, or that person is talking nonsense. Chess is not so simple that already on the first move we can make definitive judgements.

Of course, you can play both 1.e4 and 1.d4, but you'll have to learn so many variations that your head will be swimming. Save that for later.

In general, 1.e4 leads to more tactical games and 1.d4 to more positional games, so choose accordingly. That's a big 'IN GENERAL'. The exceptions may be more numerous than the rule, at least after 10-12 moves have been played.

Don't pick 1.e4 just because you think you're a tactical wizard. If you feel uncomfortable when maneuvering, you might want to pick 1.d4 to give yourself more experience in positional play.

After you've decided on move one or the other, consider each good response to your choice. What distinguishes a good response from a bad one? A good response is one that doesn't have an immediate tactical refutation and that doesn't violate any of the fundamental principles of the game.

For example, after 1.e4, don't spend any time studying 1...h6. Black has wasted a tempo by ignoring development, ignoring the center, and weakening the kingside without knowing how play will evolve there. If you play on general principles, you'll get a very good game.

After 1.e4, the responses should include at least 1...e5, 1...e6, 1...c5, 1...c6, 1...d5, 1...d6, 1...Nf6, and 1...g6. There are a few more moves that might be playable, but eight responses is already a lot.

For each of these moves, choose ONE move that you want to learn more deeply. For example, after 1.e4 e5, you could choose ONE of 2.Nf3, 2.f4, 2.Bc4, or 2.Nc3.

After 1.d4, the responses would be 1...d5, 1...Nf6, 1...f5, 1...c5, 1...g6, 1...e6, and 1...Nc6. Again, choose one move to learn in depth. Against 1..d5 you should choose one of 2.c4, 2.Nf3, 2.e3, or 2.Bf4.

Since transpositions are more important to 1.d4 openings than to 1.e4 openings, you should choose the most popular responses. For example, choose 1.d4 d5 2.c4 over 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 until you start to recognize how the different responses affect transpositions.

That discussion was for White. The second step is to decide how you want to respond with Black.

Consider the possible opening moves for White -- 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.c4, 1.Nf3, 1.g3, 1.b3, 1.f4, 1.b4, and 1.Nc3. For each of these moves, you follow the same procedure as you did for White, and choose one response to learn in depth. The choices for 1.e4 and 1.d4 are the same that I listed when considering White.

I won't labor this explanation any more, because I'm sure that you already get the point. For each good possible move of the opponent, you're going to choose one response. Your goal is to build a tree (or network) of variations where you will be comfortable at any point.

That's what we mean by an opening repertoire. In the next article, we'll discuss some of the practical issues in developing a repertoire.

 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