Why do we play chess? Ultimately, it’s to have fun, right? Sure, winning is nice and seldom gets boring, but given the choice, you’d rather win and have fun than win while being bored out of your mind, right?
This is where I am struggling, and it chiefly relates to my opening choices. I have a very correct opening repertoire. I play the Queen’s Gambit and Ruy Lopez as White, considered the two best openings after 1.e4 and 1.d4 respectively. Against 1.d4 I chiefly play the Nimzo, perhaps the most sound yet ambitious opening Black can try, and against 1.e4 I have played a little bit of everything but mostly the Kan / Taimonov Sicilian and the Open Spanish, which are again two of the oldest and most respected openings around.
All of this is great and all, and it would compare to any GM anywhere … and yet I don’t think I like any of these positions.
Let me clarify, as I’m sure someone will point out, “Hey, Smithy, don’t you always say the opening doesn’t matter?” And in specific cases, this is correct. I am not worried about the theory of these lines. I don’t care about the latest book or Aronian’s newest 16th move novelty at the Sinquefield Cup. My theory knowledge of most of these openings is fairly low, relative to my rating, and that’s fine by me.
My problem is more general. The positions I get out of my openings are sound and correct and GM approved … and yet they seem ugly to me. Do you want to know a secret? I hate the Ruy Lopez. I’d rather play virtually any other opening. The Closed Spanish, the Open, the Berlin, the six-thousand sidelines … I don’t like any of them, for either colour.
I get it, GMs love it because there are strategical niceties with every single move … but I’m not a GM. I have a decent positional grasp, but these positions seem dull and lifeless. I don’t understand them, and even if I did, I don’t like them. I have a decent record, so I’m not losing, but I’m not really enjoying myself either.
My goal, then, is to transform my opening repertoire so I get positions I actually like. Again, this isn’t a question of buying six new books and memorizing eight-thousand variations. I don’t need that. I want something more general. I need openings that create positions I like playing, so that way chess is more fun and less of a slog.
This has been inspired by Simon Williams, the English Grandmaster and popular YouTuber. (Yes, I do listen to people besides GM Smirnov.) He mentions that aspiring chess improvers should stick with one opening until approximately master strength. Spend years on one opening, learn it so deeply that you can play it in your sleep, so that you know the middlegame and endgame plans as well as anyone. If you do this, you will become gradually stronger and stronger in all facets of the game… but in order to do this, you need to like the positions you get out of the opening.
My first step, then, is to figure out what type of positions I like, which I dislike, and then to craft opening choices that lead more to one than the other. I already have an idea, but I need to do some research before I make any snap decisions. Yes, someday I will need to address my weaknesses and tackle those positions I dislike, but that doesn’t need to be today. Today I have fun.
This has a few real-time consequences. First, I’m still working on Calculate Till Mate, so I need to finish that before deeply jumping into an opening survey. That’s at least a month away, probably more. This does mean, though, that I don’t want to play any more games until I finalize this. I’ve had several blog readers and YouTube viewers challenge me to games, and though I’m happy to do so, I won’t begin any new games until after the summer, and likely closer to October. The less games I have, the less time I need to spend on them, meaning I can finish CTM and start my opening survey and start playing again faster.
Why do we play chess? It’s to have fun, and I want to make sure chess remains fun and is not work. That’s what this next journey will strive to do.