First of several thoughts on chess openings.
I played in seven tournaments this year. Let’s say I averaged four rounds per (though I typically miss at least one game in weeknight tourneys) for 28 rated games. 14 whites and 14 blacks. And let’s further imagine that with black, I faced 1.e4 seven times and 2.d4 seven times. (Not exactly true, but most Nf3 and c4 stuff transposes into 1.d4 lines in my games.)
About three years ago I finally decided to learn an opening repertoire. For black, I bought two basic books. One of the two doesn’t really rely on theory so much as themes, so while I did study the book, I didn’t memorize a lot. The other black opening is the Alekhine, requiring that I be fairly familiar with about seven major variations, two or three of them requiring quite a lot of very specific memory of correct move sequences. The payoff has been tremendous. Lots of great results on that side of the board. I did get thrashed by Greg Kaden in a common Alekhine line (thanks Greg), but I took that line back to the book and subsequently beat an expert in the same line, with my book knowledge in that game running all the way out to an exchange sacrifice around move 19. Results this year suggest I can play these openings at 2200 level or so, and now I’ve branched out and I am studying a couple of more classical openings as black to broaden my understanding and vary my games. (And not be reliant on such an unstable opening as the Alekhine.)
Now here’s the problem: white.
There are two players in the top section at my club who play (or have played) the French defense. I very rarely see the French. And if I do run into a random French player, what line will he play – Winawer? Rubenstein? McCutcheon, Classical? Should I choose an early deviation to avoid that complexity (the hated Exchange, the dull Advance, the nutty Alapin)?
When I’ve studied up for the French, I’m more likely to run into a Sicilian. But which Sicilian? Najdorf, Dragon, Sveshnikov? Maybe I learn the 3.Bb5 lines to avoid all that – but then I suddenly everyone’s playing the Kan and Taimanov with 2…e6. So now I need a whole book on the …e6 Sicilians to prepare for the two …e6 Sicilians I’ll face next year? And a Caro book and a Vienna book and a Modern book?
For decades I chose completely offbeat lines and gambits to help avoid this problem. That approach took me as far as it could, and I really believe main lines – i.e. an attempt at learning “the best” move in every position – are the way forward from here.
But I must tell you, it’s a thundering nuisance.
I think I’ll just request black from now on.