The element of surprise – Part 2
Following on from last week’s post, I have a few observations.
Obviously not many of us will be privileged enough to play for the World Championship; in a match or in the Candidates tournament. But we will play games against players who know us well and who will prepare against our standard defences.
Basically there are two strategies for designing an opening repertoire.
Principled: Take for example Alexei Dreev or Sergei Tiviakov. They play the same lines again and again and improve their repertoires incrementally. They are very difficult to throw off balance and quite often have nice small surprises ready. What is characteristic for the openings they play is that they are generally not too sharp. If they are surprised and react poorly, it does not mean an immediate loss. The advantage of this method is that you will get a game every time and you will be familiar with the structures. The disadvantage is that you very rarely win in the opening.
Opportunistic: Other people like Peter Heine Nielsen or myself, move around. We try to outsmart the opponent and be one or two hours ahead of him in opening preparation by analysing a new idea; either against his favourite defence, or maybe just in a side line. The advantage is that you might be better out of the opening and get ahead on the clock; the disadvantage is that you can quite easily be outsmarted and end up in a territory you are quite unfamiliar with, which means the decisions are harder to make; an expensive scenario on the clock.
The combined strategy: It has always been my opinion that a combination of the two is the best strategy. You will see a lot of grandmasters do this; half the time they will play their standard repertoire and the other half they will try something new, just for the sake of it. In this way, you are a moving target. The opponent never knows if you are going to go for familiar ground or try something new.
If you are able to do this, develop a main repertoire, but be ready to deviate often enough to keep the element of surprise.
Some players learn an opening for a tournament and then move on to a new one for the next one. I have quite a lot of personal affection for this strategy, as it can be very difficult to make real progress against something you are not even sure your opponent will play, without the help of a second. But the downside can be that you do not keep up with your core repertoire and become an entirely opportunistic player.
If I were to give any advice (which obviously will not fit everybody) it would be to start by building a core repertoire and after some time – say six months – spend half your time looking at openings in your core repertoire and half the time on whatever takes your fancy. In this way you will get the best of both worlds.