One of the first questions beginner players ask is about how many chess openings they should know. Openings are appealing in general to new players because they are fun to learn. The more openings you learn, the better right? Not necessarily.
In Chess, it is often said, “Middlegame is the phase where players play the real Chess”. What they mean by this is that during the opening phase, both the players are deploying their theoretical preparation. It is only during the middlegame that they actually play to their own personal strengths without Chess engine analysis backing them.
However, think about this – how can players play to their fullest strength if they get a bad position right out of the opening? One must have a level playing field so that they can build their position from that point. Hence, knowing good openings and having a strong repertoire is a must for every modern Chess player.
There are many questions that you may face in this journey. Such as, how many chess openings should I know? And which Chess opening is right for me?
Worry not, because I got your sorted. Read this article to know more.
How Many Openings To Learn By Rating Bracket
The simplest way to approach this question is by assessing your chess Elo. Let us divide players in roughly four categories, similar to how you would decide on which chess books to read.
Following are some tips that can guide you as you prepare your opening repertoire .
Beginner – Up To 1300 Elo
If you are a beginner, then your focus should mainly be on strengthening your fundamental knowledge of the game. Rote learning Chess openings will not be useful if you don’t know the intricacies of the game properly.
As a beginner in chess, knowing one opening for White and two openings for Black (one against 1.e4 and one against 1.d4) will be sufficient. The depth of your preparation need not be more than 10-12 moves. Your focus should mainly be on developing your pieces properly and maintaining a good control on the centre.
For White, the Giuoco Piano, also known as the Italian opening, is a great choice for beginners. It is simple to understand and doesn’t have too many variations to learn.
For Black, against 1. e4, you can learn the French defense. It is solid in nature and tough to crack. Against 1. d4, you can prepare the Slav defense as it is very concrete in nature.
Intermediate – 1300 to 1800 Elo
When you are in this phase of your Chess journey, it is very likely that you are looking to improve your game and advance to the next level. Having strong openings in your bag can give you an extra push.
Learning two openings for White and two openings for Black (one against 1. e4 and one against 1. d4) is a great way to proceed as an intermediate player. The two options from White will make you unpredictable. From Black, even though the number of openings is the same as a beginner, your depth of preparation should increase up to at least 15 moves.
For White, you can prepare the Ruy Lopez with 1.e4 and the London system with 1.d4. Playing openings with both 1. e4 and 1. d4 will benefit you a lot in the future as you will be comfortable in both open and dynamic positions (mostly after 1. e4) and in slow and strategic positions (mostly after 1. d4). The London system is one of the best openings for white and can be played agains most of black’s responses.
For Black, continuing with French defense against 1.e4 and Slav defense against 1.d4 is a good idea. The French is one of the best openings for black and has been played regularly by Super Grandmasters like Hikaru Nakamura. However, make sure that you prepare additional variations within the opening and prepare in depth. Opening surprises need not always be by playing a completely new one – it can also be by playing a different variation in the same opening.
Advanced – 1800 to 2200 Elo
If you are in this phase of your Chess career, it is highly likely that you aim to be a professional very soon. In such cases, you need strong yet solid openings in your repertoire that will help you win or draw depending on the situation.
As White, you should know at least one opening against each of the major options for Black (if you play 1.e4, then you must be prepared against 1..e5/e6/c5/c6, etc). For example, you can prepare openings like Ruy Lopez against e5, Advanced variation against Caro-Kann, English Attack against the Sicilian defense, 3. Nc3 variation against French.
You don’t need to be a master of all of them but you should learn some basic ideas in each one of them. However, there should be at least one opening that you are excellent at and know thoroughly.
As Black, you need to be prepared in a similar way – have one opening prepared against the major options available for White and have a firm grasp over one opening against 1.e4 and one against 1.d4.
As your level in Chess increases, you must be unpredictable when it comes to your opening choice. If you are really good at just one or two openings then it is easier for your opponent to prepare against you. However, when you have multiple options at hand, you can keep your opponent guessing!
Master – 2200 Elo and Above
By now, you are a professional and are focused on scoring norms, gaining rating and earning titles. Chess is a serious sport for you and your opponents are going to be as strong or stronger than you henceforth.
Every master approaches this phase in their own way or according to the guidance of their coach. However, the general plan is to have two openings prepared thoroughly against each of the options that the opponent has. Be it White or Black, your opening preparation matters a lot when you enter the masters bracket.
Not only should you increase the number of openings you know, their depth too should be significant. With the advance in Chess engine analysis, having a thorough knowledge of your repertoire is a must.
Sometimes during a tournament, when you spot that your opponent is particularly weak against an opening that you usually don’t play, you may even have to prepare such an option overnight! Such is the life of a Chess professional.
Do Chess Grandmasters know all the openings?
Grandmasters are a step above the masters category we discussed above. They have plenty of experience and confidence in playing a variety of positions. They have developed the capacity to handle whatever comes their way.
Most of the Chess grandmasters have a knowledge of almost all openings. They might not be an expert in them but they definitely know their way around. And even if they aren’t able to recollect their preparation at times, they have enough belief in their skill that they can find out the right moves on board easily!
As you can see, the answer to how many openings you should know really depends on the level you are at in Chess. As you make progress and improve skills in chess like how to calculate , you will surely need more resources at hand.
My final tip would be this – In the process of learning new openings, don’t lose focus on practicing your middlegames and endgames. Remember that your opening preparation will only take you so far, especially after learning the opening principles. From that point onwards, your Chess knowledge will carry you forward during the middle and endgame.