How To Learn Chess Openings | DojoTalks

In this episode of dojotalks, Jesse, Kostya and David Discuss how to effectively learn chess openings!

0:00 Intro
1:16 How Jesse Studies The Opening
2:40 How David Studies The Opening
5:20 How Kostya Studies The Opening
8:30 Kostya’s Grievances
18:00 The Million Dollar Question
29:00 Jesse on The Dojo’s Agreement of Opening Study For Students
32:10 On Sparring Positions
35:00 On using The Computer
43:20 When Players Should Start Using The Engine
55:00 Principles

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  1. Little bit of scientific misunderstanding of the Million Dollar result. It's an AVERAGE response. Most people are risk averse more than is strictly rational. Not everyone all the time, but there is no arguing with the fact that it is a broad generalization of the population. There's probably an element of truth to what Jesse is saying about the possibility (or bad memories) of getting blown away in the opening causing disproportionate focus on it during training. I think there is more than one thing at work there, but it probably has a grain of truth to it. Part of it I think is also that heavy focus on opening prep is normalized within the culture of chess, and players feel that if they do not spend similar amounts of time to their peers on it, they are falling behind. A second thing is that I think people (especially at lower levels) tend to feel as though the opening is when they have the most control of their fate. They think of chess as a thing that can be solved, and if they can extend their knowledge of the game move by move, they feel more powerful. They want that engine/database stamp of approval that how they are playing is "good".

  2. Usually I agree with Sensei Kraai but we recently created a study group at my local chess club and only one dude clearly overvalues the opening(1 out of 5)

  3. using the engine properly is a skill. u can use Leela and if 2 moves are 0.00 but one is 40% white wins, 20% draw, and 40% black wins and the other is 20% white, 60% draw, 20%black. That extra info is extremely useful if u want something double edged or stale. Matthew Sadler is known for his use of engines. He runs training games with a variety of engines that vary in strength, he studies them pretty deeply(as deeply as a 2700 player can study) to extract the important human understandable themes, of which there is a bunch (just like you would with human games). It's ok if there are themes/parts of those games that you don't understand. Knowing how to use the engine is so important, especially if u dont have a coach to feed u analysis. You basically have a chess god at ur disposal u should be asking it questions and learning from its games. But you have to be honest with urself and ur ability's to see if u are able to reasonably follow the lead of the engine or not. Magnus attributed a lot of his success in early 2019 to Leela and the variety/feeling it gave his openings on a podcast.I think for lower rated players if they enjoy doing it and opening study is fun to them, then go ahead. But it obviously isn't going to be as important (in terms of max elo gains) as it is at a 2300+ level. If ur ~2400 and either u or ur coach isn't properly using different engines, u have a big lemon and ur barely squeezing it. That being said, the engine is 1 component of many other important ones in opening study, u cant let ur own brain get reliant on using the engine for answers and then caring very little to understand them deeply. Thats a recipe to what Jan Gustaffson said he experienced as a theoretician, a severe regression in ur chess analysis skills. I think it is a delicate balance, but not really that delicate and its worse to be scared of the engine poisoning ur chess than to just be smart in how u use it and not just avoid a tool.

  4. Very interesting video. Now here's a crazy idea, nobody does it and I am baffled as to why: make a video how to open "properly" (play only the principled way) for 1400 and below.inb4: "But vlad, just go for the center, develop, don't play piece twice and develop knights before bishops"NO. Clearly that's now the reality entirely. That's exactly why junior players keep begging for better opening tutorials for DECADES. No one seems to be capable of teaching how to open properly (especially if the opponent deviates).

  5. I agree with Jesse! I’ve quit using computer and my mind feels chess now.
    The computer just added layers and my chess went down so 100% no engine for me

  6. Yes the openings are important but Kostya comparing with Shirov, Sam, and the world championship is a bit far fetched, IMO. Also, their sort of prep may be very different. If you look at the Indian kids like Nihal, Gukesh, Arjun, Pragg, etc, I don't think they spent any time on Chessable at all when they were 2400 FIDE. You could ask Sagar to get more info, I could be wrong but based on many interviews I've watched, this was my impression. They were probably spending 70% of their solving studies and playing chess and analyzing their errors with a coach. If you take that as a model for how to get to GM in the current era, then Jesse's words probably hold some wisdom for Kostya, just my $0.02.

  7. It seems to me that an IM will study an opening book or course but will pick and choose what they want to follow and quite often will come up with their own ideas on how they want to play the opening.

  8. Could some one make it to 2300 without a computer? If Mir Sultan Kan were playing today; how would he fare?

  9. Jesse’s ‘stick to your openings’ mantra seems to have a results driven ethos at its heart, whereas a mantra like David’s ‘play em all’ could very well make someone a ‘stronger player’ while simultaneously harming results. @jesse – how would you respond to this distinction and how do you see chess strength relating to chess results?

  10. Just started the video, Jesse is looking much younger than normal, and David has aged significantly

  11. ah “the airing of grievances” stage; ‘tis the season of a “festivus for the rest of us”; cant wait to tune in for “the feats of strength”

  12. Great talk guys, I'm a 2200 and definitely need to use the engine less in analysis, because checking what idea the engine had and then thinking "oh yeah I'll remember that for next time I'm in a similar position" is basically never helpful, I'm not and never will be a Super GM who plays like a machine, I need to be finding human analysis on my (and my opponent's) human moves.

  13. I am with Jesse, I have so many other things to work on, as long as I take my time and look at what the opponent is trying todo with his opening moves and stick to principles I should be able to get to the middle game without a huge disadvantage. Although I will say, Gambits are like crack…need to stop doing it!

  14. This was a great conversation. I'm starting to teach openings to my students and this was very illuminating. Thanks, Dojo!

    For future reference, here's a list of "principles" as discussed towards the end of the podcast (by no means an abstract of the conversation):

    -"Don't hang your shit (i.e., lose pieces), and take their stuff if they hang it" (David)
    -"Don't give out tempi" (Jesse)

    -Time and development: Develop both sides of the board quickly and fight for the initiative.

    -Pay attention to material, time, and the quality of your position. Basically, "Bring out your dudes."

    -Bring out your dudes.
    -Fight for the center.
    -Create a POSITIONAL advantage for yourself IF possible.

    JESSE'S COUP DE GRACE: "Nobody knows what to do against anything, boss!"

    Happy chessing, everybody!

  15. All Openings lead to a Pawn Structure, and thematic Middle Game Plans.

    We need to invest more time into understanding the middle game plans we are continuously reaching.

    For example: many openings lead to an IQP position. You’re better off studying how to play IQP positions than the multiple opening variations that lead you there.

    The ability to evaluate a position, it’s weak squares, weak pawns, static and dynamic strengths/weaknesses for both sides and then MAKE A PLAN, or CALCULATE TACTICS, is far more important than opening theory.

  16. I’m not anywhere near the level of you guys but I have done a large amount of reading on how we master skills. I think Jesse undervalues the priming opening study does for the strategic elements of the middle game. Clicking through Chessable without much thought just memorizing moves is 100% bad. But deep study of openings and how they influence middlegames is definitely of value. However the lower rates you are the less value you get due to lack of middlegame understanding I also think that the top guys are so insanely good at strategy endgames and tactics that the only way that they can find winning chances is by using a computer to find interesting moves in the opening. But they paid their dues with mastery of other aspects of chess before they got there.

  17. Perfect for someone picking up the petroff. Thanks!

  18. How do you guys recommend learning an opening with Chessable? Is it necessary to drill the lines (which is painfully slow)? Or should we just use the "read mode" and go through it like a book? What do you think is the best way to learn from chess videos?

  19. You guys discussing (almost fighting!) made this very content-heavy and easily one of the best dojo videos ever.

  20. Have you guys thought about making a list of questions that you have to answer as you annotate your games? I have huge difficulty knowing what to look through when analyzing and it makes me less likely to actually do the analysis. something like what I saw i think it was Ramesh where he had a list of questions on a spreadsheet to help guide the analysis.

  21. The way Jesse told that million dollars story was wrong, or the delivery was misleading. The same psychology stuff was in another video just day ago.

  22. As always , I vehemently disagree with Jesse. I agree with Kostya . I kind of agree and disagree with David.

    I’m a 1600 player. I absolutely love openings. It is the key reason I even play chess. I’ve blown a million winning positions after being winning in 15 moves.

    But the reason I even keep playing chess is because I want to study openings. Hikaru once said “do whatever makes you happy to keep playing chess”. Hikaru talks a lot of waffle (given that he’s insanely talented , you have to take whatever he says carefully) but in this case he was right.

    I once beat a former Minnesota state chess champion because I had a great opening advantage and he burned his clock. Most of my games which I win are because of openings.

    Without opening knowledge , I wouldn’t last 5-10 moves against anyone above 2000.

    Also, no. The 1 in 10000 analogy doesn’t hold. I watched one game which inspired me a lot: Anand v Carlsen, game 3 world ch : 1-0 with Bf4 QGD and I’ve used that idea of playing c5 with the bishop on f4 and trying to get a pawn to c7 many many times successfully to the point that a 2100 player had 3 mins on the clock and agreed a draw offer on move 22 with me having an hour left.

  23. Jesse’s distaste for openings is very subjective to his own experiences.

    Here David is being very open minded to both sides of the story.

    As Kostya says , if we never read what is correct , how will we ever get better?

    I was NEVER a Caro Kann player. My Russian coach at the time suggested that I start playing Caro Kann and all she told me was a few pointers like : you love the light squared bishop: try to make it a French with the bishop outside the pawn chain. Play c5 at the right moment etc etc

    Openings doesn’t have to be absolutely memorized or it doesn’t even have to be engine like. Like Kotsya said , all I look for is the themes I need to know so that I look for those ideas given how dumb and uncreative I am.

  24. What is the Dojo opinion on a move like 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 a6?

    It’s the O Kelly variation of the Sicilian. My coach HATES it if I play an unprincipled opening like this. But literally no one at my level knows that c3 is the correct way to negate it and just try to get a Najdorf with 3. d4 which results in instant equality for black

    So at the 1600 level, I have a good understanding of what is clearly a subpar opening at anything above 2000. Do I continue playing it because it wins me games or do I ditch it because if my rating increases , I will reach a rating and not have enough experience with Najdorf and O Kelly would be crushed ?

  25. Tyvm for such an interesting video!🙏

    Question about opening principles for beginners (around 54:0059:40 or so). My current understanding is…
    GM Jesse states 700 level players can make GM-level opening moves and only states one opening principle – get your pieces out.
    IM David adds don’t hang anything, take what your opponent hangs, and at a lower priority create a positional advantage (seems pretty abstract for beginner me☺️).
    IM Kostya didn’t state any opening principles.
    Question: several other popular websites and channels have many more opening principles than these (like castle early, etc.). What’s the story?

    FYI – I’m an old beginner on a very low budget working on my own chess notebook before I start learning. I tested out around 1000 by playing against a few chess engines before I started writing my notebook.

    Appreciate any replies.

  26. Could Jesse give any insight on why the Steinitz is playable for black? It seems like it is just slightly better for white

  27. I'm really struggling not to hear Jesse say, essentially, 'play random moves because opening theory is just a trap.'

  28. I just follow principles and don’t stress about white openings but I put a lot more effort into black at least up to the point I have achieved some major central break.

    It feels terrible to have your central breaks prevented in the opening and try to play a middlegame with no space.

  29. I think another reason some players (including me lol) are obsessed with openings is because it gives a sense of identity. Young people try many different things while searching for their place in the world just how new chess players switch up openings constantly until they find one they feel at home in.

  30. Maybe I look at it differently, but I agree with David; my want of studying the opening actually has more to do with not being worse than trying to be better. or in the analogy, I rather put a dollar into a bank account everyday than buy a dollar scratch off every day in hopes of winning the "big prize". Great conversation as always, gentlemen.

  31. Really surprised you big dawgs are forgetting your Sun Tzu: "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

    I think you have to know what type of player you are FIRST, and go from there. I like Lars Bo Hansen's system (taken from business) and expanded on by Karsten Mueller:

    The activist (Aronian, Kasparov, Polgar, Tal)
    The reflector (Carlsen, Capablanca, Karpov, Keymer)
    The pragmatic (Caruana, Fischer, Euwe, Korchnoi)
    The theorist (Giri, Steinitz, Botvinnik, Kramnik)

    Even the most theoretically peaceful openings can explode into tactical complications. I love Pruess's idea of "play everything" – I would just add, play everything, and take note of what positions you do best in. I have found Aimchess has given objective feedback to my games – where I'm strongest, the openings I do best in (based on DATA not feelings), and my biggest weaknesses.

    Whether you use Aimchess or a coach, getting that objective feedback is crucial. Also, just how comfortable are you in the most common types of positions you're getting in an opening, and, maybe most importantly: how EXCITED are you about the opening you've chosen? What is the point if you aren't passionate about the lines, even if they're not the best?

    Ben Finegold has stated openings below GM don't matter, and they barely matter below 2700 level. Carlsen can play 1. h4 every game and probably gain rating points. So Jesse's perspective aligns with this. But why do the GMs just spend all day on their openings? I've read that they aren't looking for the objective answer in a line, but a way to mess up their opponent psychologically with a FRESH idea, that is used once, and then they have to move on because someone will figure it out with a computer. So to get any kind of an advantage at that level, against GMs 2600-2800 – you find a real tricky computer situation to throw them off balance, but you can only use it once. I think that's what they're doing – not really studying to get a deeper knowledge, but to find positions that break the norm and can only be solved by a computer, to throw off their opponent.

    I'm guessing that below master level, find out what type of player you are, pick a hero, and steal his or her repertoire. Focus on the concepts and themes. Memorize tricky lines that if you don't know, you could get wiped off the board.

  32. I use engines briefly after doing my own analysis. Typically, I'm shocked by some idea I didn't think of, and I'm motivated to do more analysis. I learn more from this than I would otherwise. To me, using an engine this way is a bit of a substitute for having a coach.

  33. What if you just find the opening interesting? There's a lot of history and some moves are straight up losing, so why not learn how to punish them 🤷‍♂️

  34. 1:02:26 "Did you learn this from Simon Williams videos?" LOL. I've been wathing Ginger GM for 4 years, and I would never pick any of his openings, besides the English maybe. He plays that only because every englishman must. But he did popularize the Jobava London.

  35. Over half of psychology studies fail reproducibility test
    "Don’t trust everything you read in the psychology literature. In fact, two thirds of it should probably be distrusted."
    Nature, 2015

  36. David had a valid point about the "million dollar" question that Jesse was talking about. Of course the research deals with averages, and there will be a range of attitudes (risk averse etc). The point of the research is to enlighten us about cognitive biases that we hold and how we will behave in "irrational" ways (such as valuing the prize in terms other than the strict mathematical assessment of the dollar value multiplied by the probability of winning).

    And as to how they collect the data, it's typically not just asking and answering questions, as revealed preferences (aka what people actually do) are more important than what people say they will do. This kind of research would be done by testing how people value the bet by having them actually do it, not by asking how they think they would do it.

  37. Hi, can you elaborate on the subject of finding good model games for a specific opening ?

  38. Anyone who says "openings are not that important" take for granted they know the first moves of 10+ openings, or generally how to approach them. If you don't know this, openings are very important.

    Another thing I agree with Kostya about understanding the overall idea of the opening you are playing – like, what is the overall plan and what are you trying to achieve, this is very important for new players.

  39. Jesse Kraii's example was missing one element: "the endowment effect". You're supposed to ALREADY HAVE the odds of getting/losing the million. It's this endowment effect that drives you to overvalue the position. He's correct, although I can't comment on how it may apply to opening theory, his explanation makes total sense to me. I think it's an epiphany, in fact. Perhaps that's why it's hard to digest. Definitely recommend reading Kahnemann's book.

  40. Engines should be banned when it comes to professional Chess players.

  41. Any advice for people who keep switching/can't stick to one opening? I really envy people who have found "their" favorite defense to e4 or d4. I find a lot of openings beautiful/intuitive, but don't want to waste time learning more than a couple.

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