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Choosing an Opening Repertoire for Beginners

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Picking openings can be tricky business for new players. After all, there are hundreds of different openings, defenses, gambits and systems to choose from - what's right for you? Here are a few tips you can use to pick openings that should allow you to play the kind of chess games you enjoy.

Keep It Simple

First, don't overload yourself with new opening systems. For beginners and club players, it's usually only necessary to learn three key segments to develop an opening repertoire: an opening system for White, a Black response to 1. e4, and a Black response to 1. d4. That's still a lot to work on, but breaking it down into those three key areas will help keep things manageable. Yes, opponents may surprise you with different openings, but you can usually get a reasonable game against these systems just by following basic opening principles. In addition, some openings transpose -- in particular, learning a defense against 1. d4 will often prepare you to play against most 1. c4 and 1. Nf3 lines, too.

Emulate Your Heroes

If you have some idea of what style of play you enjoy or excel in, try copying the opening repertoire of a famous grandmaster who succeeds in that style. Chances are that they've chosen openings that help get them to the kinds of positions they play best in, and that might be true for you, too. Of course, this doesn't mean you have to play the exact opening lines your hero does: but it should give you a good jumping off point. This will also make following their future games a little easier, as you'll have a much better understanding of the plans they'll be using in their clashes with other top players.

Start with the Basics

Opening theory has become really, really complex, and it's impractical (or even harmful) for club players and below to try to memorize every single line in a given opening system. Instead, start with the basics: the main lines and plans for both sides. You'll also want to pay careful attention to any tricks, traps, or common mistakes made in the opening, as these can lead to quick wins (or losses, if you're not aware of them).

Organic Growth

Once you've started playing with your new openings, you'll quickly find that you reach points in a game where you're not sure what the best move is. If you're recording your games, you can then go back to a resource reference (such as an openings book or database) and look up the opening line. This will allow you to find out where you went "out of book," and learn the appropriate move (or moves) for that situation. Over time, you'll be surprised at just how wide and deep your opening knowledge can become simply by using this method. Plus, it will focus your time on the lines you're seeing more often, rather than obscure variations that you may never encounter among your group of regular opponents.

Don't Be Afraid of the Weird Stuff

One advantage that club players and beginners have over grandmasters when choosing openings is that we don't have to be worried about our opponents being deeply prepared or making few errors during a game. This allows most players to play openings that aren't entirely sound and still show good results, provided they understand those positions better than their opponents do. In fact, grandmasters such as Alexander Morozevich and Hikaru Nakamura have shown that this can sometimes be true even at the most elite levels of chess!

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