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What is the Main Line?

Just a passing thought sparked by reading a comment on another chess site: how do you define what is the main line of an opening?

Is it the sharpest line? The most popular line over a number of years? The line currently favoured by the elite?

My approach seems to be a mixture of all three of the above, with added weight for the last point. Take, for example, the Queen’s Gambit Declined.  Avrukh recommends the Catalan, Schandorff prefers the Exchange Variation. Both main lines, I think, but some disagree.

John Shaw

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  1. Abramov Anjuhin
    July 24th, 2009 at 19:06 | #1

    Previously I liked to play gambit and sharp dangerous play. But today I like more solid play based on bullet proof lines where the names of World Champions are carved in stone.

    I don’t like lines where I have to know 25-30 moves ahead by heart otherwise I can easily lose. That’s the memory test and not chess.

    On the other hand some theory must be present. I think that the best way is to present lines where everybody can contribute in some way and one can choose various set-ups.

    I remembered that once one author stated that a sound test for every opening is to try to refute it by normal and non-committing moves, and this especially applies for dubious gambit play and odd lines.

    So as a conclusion I expect that you guide me safely on main road, and when we get to first main crossroad you should give me best advice how to choose the most prosperous path.

    That’s the whole point 🙂

  2. July 26th, 2009 at 11:40 | #2


    “principal line of a railway,” 1841; meaning “affluent area of residence” is 1930s, originally that of Philadelphia, from the “main line” of the Pennsylvania Railroad which added local stops to a string of backwater towns west of the city late 19c. that helped turn them into fashionable suburbs. Meaning “principal vein into which drugs can be injected” is 1933, Amer.Eng. slang; the verb in this sense is from 1934.”

  3. January 1st, 2010 at 02:56 | #3

    I don’t know, funny thing is neither does anyone else who plays chess. I certainly have not seen this question answered in all the chess books I have read, some 100 or more. Yet most of them make rererence to the “main line” WTF is it? No one knows! So with that in mind and given the amount of crap written about chess anyway, I hope you will not mind if I add to the mystery. My theory is it has something to do with how openings are classified in Opening Encyclopaedias A, B, C, D & E there are only 5 Encyclopaedias, each one dealing with variations from 00 to 99. It is how the openings are referenced in these useless books -(I have A and C and found they only confuse rather than help me, to many variations:)- this is what decides the main line. Shorter lines become the variations once a conclusion is reached, the longer lines adding more variations with the longest being given the title “main line”.

    A tree if you like as described by Kotov in his highly confusing book “Think Like A GM”, if only. Anyway I will use the tree idea to give you a mental image of what I mean, the trunk is the “main line” and the branches being that bit shorter are the variations. HTH 🙂

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