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Memorizing opening variations - part two

by Dereque

In the previous article, we talked about some of the big benefits of memorizing opening variations. We made a case that opening memorization, done correctly, can actually help you to accumulate strategic and tactical ideas as well as deepen your understanding of chess positions. Now I want to develop these ideas.

 To begin with, most openings have what can be called “critical lines”. This typically refers to those lines which are thought to give your side the most headaches, the ones which are theoretically “best” for our opponent as far as theory is concerned.

Let’s say I am playing the King’s Gambit as White (something I wouldn’t recommend – but to each his own!).

A cursory look through some books and database statistics shows that one of the lines that has been causing the most problems is 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d5! 4.exd5 Nf6 when White has had serious problems proving anything – and Black seems to have strong chances at the initiative.

It just doesn’t make much sense to get caught in this position without having a few concrete variations in mind. In this case you might choose to commit to memory the line:

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d5 4.exd5 Nf6 5.Bc4 Nxd5 6.0–0 Be7 7.d4 0–0 8.Bxd5 Qxd5 9.Bxf4 when play is unclear with chances for both sides. Of course, you may choose to commit to memory different lines to prepare for alternatives Black has along the way – but the simple point here is that you’ve covered one of the key lines where White experiences some “theoretical” difficulties. In other words, you’ve prepared for a critical line.


No matter what opening you are playing you are bound to find such lines which demands that you determine an approach ahead of time and commit it to memory.


Perhaps as Black you plan on playing the French which begins 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 Now the main line is 3.Nc3 and for this you will need to have some concrete ideas in mind – you don’t need to memorize every possible line – just limit yourself to the truly crucial lines – the lines you wouldn’t want to be caught unaware of if you faced this in a tournament game.


This is the very first set of lines which you want to be “stocked up” on – and it really doesn’t have to be that many lines. Next time we’ll discuss other kinds of variations you will also want to memorize.


2 October 2009
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