A horribly pragmatic viewpoint on learning chess openings

Let’s say you make note in every game of the point where you are “out of book” – which move is it, how much time you have used, the Fritz evaluation of the position, and your familiarity with relevant positional and tactical themes.

Familiarity is more approximate than the other metrics, but imagine a scale from Totally Unfamiliar (no experience in the line, haven’t played through any GM games, generally no clue what you’re doing) to Very Familiar (you recall several approaches, know which one will be more appropriate depending on which tack your opponent chooses, and are aware of several tactics, trades to avoid, and/or favorable endgame structures that could arise).

So let’s imagine you average these measurements over 20 games with each color. You find that with White, your “out of book” average is

  • Move 9
  • 10 minutes elapsed
  • .02 Fritz in your favor
  • Somewhat unfamiliar

And with Black, because you spend more time on those openings:

  • Move 12
  • 9 minutes elapsed
  • .01 in opponents’ favor
  • Somewhat familiar

Opening study in this day and age can be rather overwhelming. (You’ve heard this song before.) From this POV, though, it’s maybe a little less so. You don’t have to rewrite your entire repertoire to improve your results. All you have to do is make incremental improvements.

If ON AVERAGE with the white pieces you can get two moves further, with two more minutes on your clock, and land in slightly (additional +.25) more favorable and/or more familiar positions, it stands to reason your results are going to improve.

That doesn’t sound so terribly daunting.


12 thoughts on “A horribly pragmatic viewpoint on learning chess openings

  1. If I’m not mistaken, this is basically Dan Heisman’s suggestion for studying the opening. It can even be applied to blitz games.

  2. Blunder,

    Very funny. I appreciate your humor; however, Derek’s first sentence is a perfectly fine sentence.

    Maybe I should start proofing your (otherwise great and entertaining) blog posts! :) In your one-sentence comment here, you made two errors: “run on” needs a hyphen, and you forgot a period. :)

    I’ll shut up now.

    Here’s an amusing side note: the first review at Amazon of Colin Crouch’s new book. It is really funny, and pertinent to our topic. Evidently, I’m not the only chess-playing punctuation freak.


    2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

    2.0 out of 5 stars

    Edit the book, then maybe 5 stars!, December 23, 2009

    By johnnyqb (United States) – See all my reviews

    Colin Crouch is a great chess writer, and these are great games to study. The problem is that the writing and the editing are just awful. There are typos and grammatical errors everywhere. It is truly hard to make it through a single page without a sentence that is just so butchered that you have to read it 2 or 3 times to figure out if there are typos or if it simply has not been edited. It is like Crouch dictated all the text of the book at a high speed and then someone just typed it up, and nobody proofread it. I returned the book for a full refund very quickly. If Everyman chooses to put out an edited version of this book that is in actual readable English, I will be first in line to buy it.

  3. So this is a good way to parse my chess thoughts on this blog. If they’re good, Dan Heisman will already have expressed them; if Dan hasn’t, they’re no good! (Darn that Dan. Maybe I should just go buy his books and save myself the think time.)

    As pertaining to my grammars, them are goodly; but unperfect.

    George – you shoulda kept reading because the second paragraph is twice as bad!

    Howard will be starting another blog called Dear Mr Crabby Old Grammarian.

    There are certain popular constructions that make me crazy (many having to do with apostrophes) but I have to watch out for a certain set of errors I commonly make as well. I have looked up the words independent and separate in the dictionary roughly 400,000 times and will continue to do so.

  4. Derek — Supposively, independent and separate are the same for all intensive purposes. But, if their are any differences: they allude me.

  5. My rationale for making comments about punctuation and grammar was left in a comment to the previous thread.

    But I do not think my intentions go over too well.

    One of my New Year’s resolutions is to stop making comments about bloggers’ punctuation errors. It’s a painful resolution, but it will help keep friends. :)

    When I start my own blog, I invite all readers to point out my grammar and punctuation errors. I am serious about this.

    1. Harvey, have you not self-refuted your comment in a wonderfully Ouroborosian way? Something like a government publication that contains a page with print that states “This page left intentionally blank”(?) Was it not an addition? Of course, had you not commented we would not know that you felt your addition was not necessary…

      A conundrum wrapped in an enigma, but with the saving grace of a smooth, creamy center.

  6. A conundrum wrapped in an enigma, but with the saving grace of a smooth, creamy center? <– Poetic in most modern sense – lyrical yet finishes with a tainted whiff of commercialism.

    Ouroborosian <– Show-off :)

  7. Greg,

    That’s a whole nother thing. Maybe the point is mute.


    I’m with you on the bad use’s of apostrophe’s.

    -Matt P.

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