I said in my last weekly progress report that I’d say something about the general opening work I’m doing at the moment. I’m trying to decide on an opening repertoire which will serve me all the way up to 2500, and there are a number of decisions I’m having difficulty with. If you’re an opponent looking to see what I play, then by all means read on – you won’t find too much information that won’t soon be in databases anyway. 🙂
Let’s start with my white repertoire. 1. e4 is ‘best by test’ and I’ve played it all my life, so I see no reason to change that. My first dilemma comes on move 3, after the common moves 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6. I’ve almost always played 3. Bc4, the Giuoco Piano, in the past, but I’m considering switching to the Ruy Lopez with 3. Bb5. A friend recently offered the opinion that learning all the extra theory associated with this move really isn’t worth it at my level, as the positions I get are unlikely to be significantly better than after 3. Bc4. I think he’s absolutely right, but what I’m not sure about is whether or not a switch to 3. Bb5 will be desirable/necessary at some point in the future, when I’m higher-rated. If so, then it would seem to make sense to take it up now, and start getting experience in the positions. A quick search in MegaBase showed that 3. Bb5 is played almost ten times as often as 3. Bc4 at GM level, presumably for a reason! Furthermore, I’m not aware of any Grandmasters who play 3. Bc4 exclusively or nearly so. Rodriguez Vila, Movsesian, Tiviakov, Bologan, and plenty more play it frequently, but all have the Ruy Lopez as either their main or a major secondary weapon. Thoughts?
A second area of indecision comes as black after 1. e4. Taking up some sort of Sicilian is a serious possibility, but for now let’s assume I stick with 1…e5, which is of course a perfectly good option all the way up to the highest level. For the last few years I’ve been meeting the Ruy Lopez with the Arkhangelsk Variation (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O b5 6. Bb3 Bb7), but this has been played so little at high levels that I’m not sure if it’s a ‘serious’ enough approach to use all the way to GM. I’m also not a huge fan of the positions after 7. d3, which have become popular and seem to be causing difficulties. For these reasons I’m thinking about taking up a different defence to the Ruy Lopez; the Marshall appeals in some ways, but it’s very theoretical and I’d probably have to face an anti-Marshall about as often, so the main lines of the Closed Defence (Chigorin, Breyer, Zaitsev, Smyslov etc.) come into consideration.
Finally, my approaches as white against the French and Caro-Kann Defences may be due a rethink. Against the French I play the Tarrasch variation, with 3. Nd2, and whilst I’m happy enough with the resulting positions it’s not as ambitious as the main lines after 3. Nc3. Against the Caro-Kann I play the rather rare (though recently quite fashionable) Fantasy Variation with 3. f3; again I’m not really dissatisfied with it, but it is very much a sideline and I feel I should be playing mostly main lines.
I’d be very interested to hear your opinions on the questions raised in this post, but I may not share my conclusions or decisions here in order to keep some things secret from future opponents!