Building a Chess Repertoire

It is often written that having a good repertoire is essential to be successful at chess, but what is a repertoire? Put simply a repertoire is a collection of openings & defences that a player will use regularly, something that they rely on to give them an edge. My own repertoire is pretty loose, I would suggest that I play 1.e4 as White and then as Black play c6 against e4, Nf6 against d4 and against anything else I sit and think.

I have however often turned to 1.d4 for a change, no particular reason I just go tend to go through phases of both main choices as my first move with White, whereas I am more consistent with Black and use the Caro-Kann (1.e4 c6) and the Nimzo Indian (1.d4 Nf6, 2. c4 e6, 3. Nc3 Bb4) or if Nf3 then the Queens Indian 3…b6.

Having said that I would not say I have a definite repertoire, by that I mean I play a few basic starter moves but anything deeper is much less defined. A repertoire would tend to form the basis for in-depth study and I would expect anyone having one to know the lines much better than I do.

The best way to start a repertoire is to understand which styles of play you enjoy most, are you a fighter or a lover when it comes to chess, do you prefer to attack or are you content to defend and then strike when the chance arises?¬†Understanding your ‘style’ is important as learning the chosen lines will be much easier if you enjoy what you study.

One method is to find a player that you like to watch, do you have someone that you always look for to see what they have been playing? If so then why not build a similar repertoire to that player, for example if you enjoyed the Najdorf when Kasparov was playing then surely following his games would have kept you up to date with the Najdorf.

Having written the above it has made me think that I must sort my own repertoire out. My first step will be to go through my own games and see what I enjoy playing, not necessarily what gives my best results as the reason for losing may not be the opening or defence used, it is just as likely to have been poor play.

I wrote very similar stuff on the 8th August this year. Clearly this blog has gotten me to think more about my games, now I need to put some of it into action and quickly!

Sicilian Najdorf 6.Be3

As I sat looking at a game of mine this morning I found myself with yet another White side to the Sicilian Najdorf. The Najdorf starts with 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6. Recently I have been favouring 6. Be3 but am not 100% happy with this line.

Looking at my database I see that I have 5 ongoing games in this line but my file shows 34 older games scoring just 44% as White. Be3 played 22 times for 47.7%, Bg5 played 5 times for 20%!, Be2 (4) and f3 (3) scored 50%}

Having played 6. Be3 so many times perhaps that suits my style, there must be a reason for my favouring it, my main reference for this line is a book by Milos Pavlovic titled¬†The Cutting Edge 2: Sicilian Najdorf 6.Be3. It was published by the reputable ‘Qulaity Chess’ publishing team as part of a series tackling current trends in chess. As it is currently on offer for ¬£4 I guess it may be a little out of date.

Armed with my volumes of New in Chess Yearbooks and Magazines I must be able to find a way to tackle the Najdorf, in fact today I thought I need to be more serious about my repertoire so will be taking a major look at that in the next few weeks and working out how best to maintain it, perhaps via software or some other method. Currently I just keep the games in a database and work things out form there but that’s not going to work for me going forwards towards that IM goal.

I left the game with no decision on what to play, I have the same position in two of my games in the new Veterans World Cup 10 tournament, a tough event and the first in my new phase of looking for that 2300 ELO rating in correspondence chess so that I may get into a Master Norm tournament.

Chess Repertoire

Looking ahead to my next tournament I am reviewing my repertoire of openings and defences. A repertoire is your choice of how to open a game, how to respond to your opponents initial moves and generally which type of positions you are aiming for. The general advice is usually to pick an move such s 1.e4, 1.d4 etc. and then to have a choice against each of the main first moves, e.g. 1…c5 against e4 and perhaps d5 against d4.

In correspondence play it may be appropriate to have the same sort of repertoire, or it may be okay to have a broader repertoire due to the availability of chess databases. However, a third option may be useful for some players and that would be to study your opponent and prepare something for each single game.

In my case I have flirted with 1.e4 and 1.d4, as Black I have recently been using the Caro Kan defence against e4 and the Slav defences against d4. I have previously used the French defence and the Nimzo Indian defence with some decent results. I never really felt comfortable with the French so switched to the Ca oKan after purchasing a great book by Jovanka Houska which recommends the following against the popular Advance Variation, 1.e4 c6. 2.d4 d5, 3.e5 c5

The basic idea behind a repertoire is that you narrow your deep learning so as to give you a better chance of remembering theory, hopefully this translates into better results.

Looking ahead I will go through my games and see what is working and what is not. In truth I should know but I don’t. I prefer to play 1.e4 but think 1.d4 does slightly better, I also prefer to play the Ruy Lopez / Spanish as White whilst as Black I like to play the Nimzo Indian against 1.d4 and the Caro kan against 1.e4.

The big questions for me:

  1. How does my White repertoire score?
  2. How does my Black repertoire score?
  3. How does my repertoire compare against higher rated players?

I ask the third question of myself as perhaps better opening choices may help me improve my results. I know that a lot of high players use the Sicilian Defence as Black which is not something I am often seen playing, perhaps some analysis of repertoires will help me decide how to approach the next few tournaments.

Against all this it is necessary to remain aware that a decent database will allow any opponent to effectively combat any opening surprises you may choose, hence it is probably best to stick to what suits your style, not choose something hoping to catch an opponent out.