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Build an Opening Repertoire (Part 3)
Some practical considerations.

In the first article (see the linkbox at the bottom) on the opening repertoire, I explained what it is and why it's important. In the second article, I explained how to develop it. In this last article I'll discuss some practical matters and offer a few tips.

Remember the process? Starting with the initial position you choose one move that will be your move. For each possible response by your opponent, you again choose one move that will be added to your repertoire. You repeat this until... Until when? When do you stop?

The short answer is that you stop when you run out of time. Former world champion Garry Kasparov is said to have 3000 novelties in his repertoire. A novelty is a move that hasn't been played before and that changes the evaluation of a position. Kasparov is a professional player with a phenomenal memory and a team of grandmasters helping him with opening research. He earns his living by beating the best players in the world and every successful novelty means a fatter paycheck at the end of a tournament.

The casual player with limited time needs to be practical. There are only so many hours in a day, only so many minutes which can be used for chess, and so many interesting things in chess competing for this limited time.

The best way to use your time is to keep your repertoire balanced. Don't go to move 18 in one variation, while the others all stop at move 4. Some variations will naturally be longer than others. There are certain popular lines with a long sequence of forced moves where your work will start at the end of these moves. These should be the exception.

How do you choose which move becomes part of your repertoire? You should have a reference or two that gives the known moves in your favorite lines. Caution! Developing a repertoire does not mean memorizing these references. Along with chess publications, there is a lot of material available on the Web. Check the 'Game downloads' link on the left sidebar for some useful sites.

Consider your own strengths and weaknesses:-
1) your ability to calculate complicated variations, and
2) your knowledge of the endgame.
If you want to improve these areas, then steer into those lines where you'll be challenged. That means choosing tactical variations (for #1) and piece exchanges (for #2), especially major pieces. If you feel that you'll never be able to calculate more than two moves ahead or you're bored by endgames, then steer clear of those same lines.

What about novelties? What do you do if you come across a move that isn't in any of your references and looks like it's never been played before? Be suspicious. There are thousands of excellent players who have studied the same lines that you are learning. Does the move lose by force? Does it lead to a game where you'll have a chronic positional weakness and will suffer a long time to achieve a draw? If, after doing your own analysis, you don't see anything wrong with the move, play it against your computer before you risk it in a serious game.

What do you do after deciding on your move? Write it down. Keep a notebook with the moves you've chosen, the moves you've rejected, and the reasons why you decided on a certain move. Even better, keep track of your repertoire using your computer. Use your favorite chess database software to manage the tangle of variations that will arise from your work. This will let you incorporate any key reference games that you have collected in digital format.

When you reach a position and you don't know what to do next, practice that position against your computer. It won't complain if you always play White or always play Black, and you always play the same move. If you have a friend who's interested in the same openings that you are, then work with your friend. You won't need a nondisclosure agreement until you win your first title!

Play the same variations for both White and Black if you can. It will lighten your workload. Play the openings that you're afraid of meeting. Let's say, for example, that you like to play 1.e4, but you always have a tough time against 1...c5. Play 1...c5 yourself whenever you meet 1.e4 as Black. You'll soon learn what you're overlooking when you play against the Sicilian as White. Ditto for, say, the King's Indian against 1.d4.

Have you reached the point where one response to a certain move of your opponent is a handicap? This can happen if you repeatedly play against the same opposition. In that case, add a second move. It will keep an element of surprise. The earlier in the game that you add a second move, the more work you will have to do to maintain your repertoire. That's why I recommend against two first moves when you play White.

One last word of advice. If you play tournament games, keep track of your win and lost percentages with your repertoire lines. You might be surprised to find out that you play above your strength in some lines and below your strength in others. That will give you a clue where you need to work to improve your overall results.

Good luck and remember -- have fun!

 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