Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Smallest Repertoire

How small can a functional repertoire be?
Some of us are busy or lazy enough to look for opening repertoires that require as little learning and maintenance as possible. But how much (or little?) knowledge is the actual minimum? There probably is a correct answer somewhere but it's constantly changing as opening theory is developing. If you only consider the amount of available GM-praxis you can reach "a playable middlegame" with very little preparation. One solution could be this:

  • Black versus 1.d4: 1...c6 2.c4 b5 - a system occasionally employed by GM Rogers.
  • Black versus 1.e4: 1...c6 2.d4 Na6 (or 2...b5?!) - a system occasionally employed by GM Miles.
  • White: 1.e3, hoping for 1...e5 2.Nc3 d5 3.Qh5 - the Mexican Attack which has a certain surprise value.

The main problem with an approach like this is that you will rarely get an advantage with White and will have to struggle for some time with Black. It must also be said that you give your opponent so much freedom to choose his preferred set-up that you can hardly expect to be playing the game on your home ground. If you are looking for "+=" with White and "=" or "unclear" with Black you will have to devote slightly more time to your preparations.
So if you are looking for an easy solution, these are my recommendations:

Here we either are looking for an opening starting 1.d4 or 1.e4 but deviating on the second move (1.d4 d5 2.Bf4!? / 1...Nf6 2.Bf4 are my personal favorites) or an alternative first move which still restricts Black's choice - possibly the King's Indian Attack: 1.Nf3 followed by 2.g3, 3.Bg2 and 0-0. A move like 1.b3 or 1.g3 may take your opponent out of the book quite quickly but for yourself to be properly prepared you simply have too many options to consider - not only 1...d5 and 1...e5 followed by different development schemes - but also 1...c5, 1...f5, 1...Nf6 etc.

Black versus 1.d4:
My suggestion here is some variation of the Dutch (1.d4 f5). Possibly it's not a good way to fight for straight equality but chances are good to reach an unclear position. I am not yet decided about which sub-system yet but possibly the Classical is a good candidate.

Black versus 1.e4:
Here my favorite is the Scandinavian (1.e4 d5) . The theory is expanding and actually there now is quite a lot of theory. But the important thing is that Black makes most of the choices and to some extent can decide whether he wants a sharp or a solid game.

Any alternative suggestions?


Anonymous said...

I am due to play against a much stronger player in an on-line tournament soon,and wondered if you had a recommendation on how to approach it ?
I can see that he uses the French (I'm playing White ) which I could prepare against [ I'm an e4 player], but should I do something more psychological ? Assume that he feels confident against me and adopt an opening as white that he has to attack me to win ?
Is there such a thing as a reversed-Pirc,as I really enjoy that opening ?
Any ideas welcome....

Sverre Johnsen said...

Please see today's main entry 'Ask Dr. Johnsen' for a reply.

Tom Chivers said...

I used to play 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Ng8, which generally got my opponents out of theory pretty quick. It was rubbish though, although I did win one brilliancy with the system. I play mainlines mostly now though, & I have to say my results have improved.

Sverre Johnsen said...

Well, that's another line which will take you out of book relatively quickly but which doesn't really restrict your opponents options that much. One advantage is that White's pawn formation to some extent has been set. Therefore Black has a familiar task at hand: to neutralize White's space advantage (or even destroy his centre).

It's worth noting that the position after 3.d4 d6 (or 3...d5) 4.exd6 Qxd6!? 5.Nc3 is the same as the one arising from 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6!? 4.d4.

ejh said...

I think questions like this are very hard to address without knowledge of the player's strength, and perhaps their age and the sort of competition they're going top play in.

However, let's take, say, a nominal weak to average club player, perhaps 1700-1850. And let's say they're someone who played at school and is coming back to the game - or, perhaps, a school pupil, but one who's never going to be strong but might be a middling club player. And we want a repertoire that should suit them for years and years, perhaps for life.

I'd say your choices were quite good: but I'll give an alternative set.

Black: we play 1...c6. Caro-Kann (Classical) and Slav, and this way we've also got a solution against the Reti/English complex.

White: 1.c4 and 2.g3.

You'd still need to learn some things, of course, but that's going to be a sound and simple repertoire forever, isn't it?

Sverre Johnsen said...

Yes, that's another sound and relatively easy-to-learn repertoire. I would say that 1.Nf3, planning 2.c4 against most replies, is easier to learn than 1.c4 as it avoids the reversed Siclian after 1...e5.

Maybe I will later return to your suggestion of the Caro Kann in a main entry, comparing it with the Scandinavian, as these two openings in some regards are twin defences.

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest the a6 Slav would be a good fit for a repetoire including the London system & the Scandinavian. It shares the pawn triangle (PQB3,PQ4 & PK3) of the former & allows development of the Bishop on KB4 like the latter. It is the repetoire I play myself, & seems sufficient against opposition of similar (ELO 1900)strength. If this is a minimal playable repetoire ... it must be a perfect subject for a book ;-)

In fact a MINIMAL repetoire is much more useful to a middling club player than an OPTIMAL repetoire. I tried learning Kramniks 'minimal/optimal' 1. Nf3 repetoire once ... until I found it ran into FIVE(!) books.

P.S. I tried the Caro-Kann myself, but white so many choices - ranging from the IQP to the Kotronias system - that it was a lot of effort just to attain equality. As for the Dutch, I find that hacks like 2. Bg5 or the Staunton & Korchnoi gambits are frequently successful at club level.

P.P.S.There might some traction in Caro-Kanns & Slavs with a kingside fianchetto. They never seem to covered in any opening books. Caro & Slav authors always claim these are Modern & Grunfeld defeces respectively - so these positions slip under the radar!

Sverre Johnsen said...

Interesting thoughts.

Your considerations on the Caro Kann vs. the Scandinavian very much concur with mine. I also agree that the Slav, the London and the Caro Kann/Scandinavian is a natural combination of openings. But you probably have seen why I nevertheless decided on the Stonewall for Black against 1.d4.

The ...a6 Slav is an interesting subject but my instinct is to keep away from it with all the big guns still exploring it.

As for the 'minimal repertoire', it's an idea that still intrigues me. I would very much like my next book to offer a complete repertoire (Black and White) for the club player.

It's really difficult to pick the ideal parts for such a repertoire. I now feel I have a quite good option for White and also one for Black against 1.d4 (for now I prefer to keep these ideas secret as they actually are a major part of the book project). However, I have not yet found quite what I am looking for against 1.e4. I still consider the Scandinavian a very promising candidate but I haven't found exactly the variation I am looking for.

Anonymous said...

Well I´m a quite weak player (I´m about 1400 ELO) and I made my repertoire with the Stonewall against 1.d4 and the French FOrt Knox against 1.e4. I know it will not be very good for some, but I manage to get a game that I understand and didn´t study much.. By the way, for the stonewall I bought sverre´s book and it´s superb!:)

With white I´m still not sure.. I like the Colle-Koltanovsky, Purdy recomended it in his 24 hour opening repertoire... but I have to learn some sidelines because there are some black openings that gives you a bad game... I have Win with the London System, and it makes me wonder that it will better to play the London than the Colle... When is your repertoire book coming, Sverre?

Anonymous said...

I play 1 ..b6 as black but i´m not very happy. I also play 1.b4 as white, almost always.

I´d like to see that repertoire book too. When is it coming? Any ideas about the selected lines?

Please Sverre tell us something!