How to choose Chess Openings based on your Rating

How to choose an opening repertoire based on your ELO? That’s a question I’ve been asked hunderds of times over the years. I tried to answer it based on my personal knowledge and experience.

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Choosing a chess opening is, I feel, a very personal process:) Having someone tell you what to play may not give you the optimal repertoire.
There are several things to consider when choosing an opening, whether for white or for black; What types of positions do you enjoy playing? Are you a wild and crazy player or do you prefer slow, positional games?
Do you play OTB or online? Are you serious about your improvement or is chess just a hobby? I have tried to answer all of these and more in an attempt to help you play the repertoire that suits you best.

#chess

61 Comments

  1. Currently I'm playing the Jobava with the white pieces and I really enjoy it. As black though I'm trying the KID and the najdorf. But I'm not sure about it. I enjoy some positions which arise from them but sometimes I get very lost :/

  2. I actually think you put way too much emphasis on openings, both for yourself and others. I have about 2100 OTB strength and if I wanted to improve (I don’t have time/energy atm) I would practice tactics almost exclusively. Maybe paired with typical middle game positions and some endgame training.

  3. Stjepan could you make a video on memorising master games. I have been memorising games the past two weeks and over the past two weeks I have seen an explosion in my skill level I'm beating and drawing a lot of players stronger than me and am not getting confused by the weird schemes lower rated players pull on me. I would highly recommend it. It helps build chess intuition and as you are playing over the games over and over you start to see very clearly how masters think about a position you notice all the little details initially hidden.

  4. Hey Stjepan. I am 1900 FIDE, and have been playing chess for 3 years. I am currently 18, so I started late, but not super late. My goal is FM, hopefully somewhere in 5 years maybe.

    I consider myself balanced in terms of style, but I also enjoy complicated, weird positions. I like learning opening theory, and have a decent bit of spare time.

    I currently play the Sicilian (Sveshnikov and Dragon, but know neither super well), and the Kings Indian against d4.

    I’m looking for a new opening to add to my repertoire for black, what would you recommend?

  5. I am at 1730 FIDE right now, after having dropped from 1920 FIDE within a year. I enjoy playing all kinds of positions, but the strategic and positional ones the most. However, I often dream about being able to play the crazy aggressive and tactical positions better. I play the Reti with White, but I also like trying out all kinds of openings. I am least comfortable with 1.e4 against the Sicillian. With black I enjoy to play the Petrov, Grunfeld and Kings Indian. Against 1. c4 I try to go for the reversed Sicilian or a symmetrical English. In general my opening knowledge is rather broad, but not as deep as it should be. I pretty much exclusively play OTB. When I lose my games it is often because of a tactical blunder and not that much because of my opening choice. However, often I am not that comfortable in the opening and spend more time there than I think is good for me. Thus I get into time pressure and make blunders. I have about 2 hours a day max, on average more likely 1 hour a day. My goal is to make it to 2000 FIDE, with two smaller goals on the way, the whole plan looking like this: 1. Stop my rating decline. 2. Get back on track to my initial ELO rating of about 1920. 3. Push for 2000.

    Would you recommend me to stick to my openings and work on other stuff or do you think I should try some other specific openings?

  6. Obviously the Caro Kann at every rating. Btw, opening expert Ntirlis made an interesting twitter post where he analyzed amateur games of different rating levels that scores the best. For white 1.e4 scored the best but also the Catalan scored very well at the low levels!

  7. My problem is matching openings. For example, playing a London against a Kings Indian or a Benoni is going to be problematic. You can still win but you not play the best responses.How do you pair openings and defenses? What are the best opening to transpose into (for both White and Black) based on what has been played in the first few moves? What openings should you avoid based on the first few moves of your opponents responses?

  8. Hey Stjepan, I‘m around 1750 Rapid in Lichess, 1500 FIDE, I have maybe 6-7 hours a week for chess. At the moment playing the QG with d4 and Taimanov and Schlechter Slav against white. My problem are the black pieces :/ I think the Sicilian is too difficult and the schlechter Slav is meh

  9. In the Nethwrlands OTB games don't get in a database, I think onlh FIDE does this?

  10. Hey Stjepan. I am 1100 FIDE , and have been playing chess for 8 months. I am 16, . My goal is FM, in maybe 2 or 3 years

    I like to calculate complicated, weird positions. (but i'm hard to manage clock time) I like learning opening theory

    I currently play the Sicilian Najdorf angainst e4 and the Benko against d4 as black & as white d4 (Catalan.)

    I’m looking for a new opening to add to my repertoire for black & white both, what would you recommend for me?

  11. I have been analyzing games by grandmasters for learning the Caro-Kann. I start on move ten. How many moves should you study per game? Should you study to a win? Should you study games with a draw? Should you put a move limit on the games you analyze? How many moves a day should you study?

  12. I was redoing my repertoire a month ago: had been playing Acc Dragon and the Old Benoni as black and d4 fianchetto setups as white for a long time and realized that I was playing as black kind of on autopilot and wasn't really getting a good sense for the positions. Felt like I wasn't growing. So I switched from Benoni to Grunfeld and from Acc Dragon to regular Dragon. The Dragon stuff was absolute gamechanger, I got a much clearer picture of plans and themes to learn, started to play a lot more dynamically. I also found the opening 10x easier to learn because the moves felt intuitive. Meanwhile the Grunfeld was an absolute disaster. I couldnt understand the moves at all, memorization was impossible. So a few weeks ago I switched to the Benko Gambit. Another game-changer – the opening is teaching me so well how to play with initiative, how to make use of compensation. My hope is to get better and then at some point play the grunfeld again just to expand my understanding further.

  13. Hi Stjepan! Would you pair French and Caro-Kann against e4? Different openings with lots of shared ideas, or would you pick a completely different second defence compared to the main one?

  14. I'm 24 years old, I'm 1800-1900 rated in Lichess blitz, I don't have too much time to study openings, I would like to choose a repertoire that allow me just to play and get good position with that much theory so I can focus the little time I have to study chess in general. I really would like to play OTB but I think that's not gonna happen soon because of my location. Which repertoire can you guys recommend? My goal is at least to get 2100 OTB and be consistent there.

  15. I'm still playing whatever at 2100 (cc) lol. I keep playing positional openings and grinding without fully knowing how to grind…but, I'll have to admit, the games that I enjoy the most are extremely aggressive, dynamic and tactical games where I grab the initiative and attack like a maniac…I find that a lot more fun than my positional games. Sure, slow positional suffocation is enjoyable but directly destroying opponents is an awesome feeling. Yet, people usually know more theory than I do in the sharp openings so…oof.

  16. I used advice you gave in a previous video to select my opening repertoire: English, Pirc, Old Benoni. This repertoire forces me to be somewhat familiar with KID, Dragon, Closed Catalan, & Smith-Morra

  17. Hi!
    I've been playing 1.d4 for the last 2 years, basically just London System. I always mess it up if I start with e4. But! But I'm playing some Vienna Game lately, and honestly.. not too bad 😂
    Problem is many opponents respond with the French (which I hate) or the Scandinavian, or Sicilian (my weapon against it would be a Smith morra gambit). Little by little I'm learning those position, structures, thematic moves etc..

    Against 1.e4 I played the caro kann almost 100% of the time. Just recently I considered to switch to some "Scandinavian" altought I really want people enter into some Portuguese gambit lines. They never do. -> 3. Nc3. damn.😅

    Against 1.d4 I try to fianchetto by f8 bishop and play some sort of Grunfeld.. I really hate 1.. d5. I'm also trying to mess things up entering the Budapest gambit.. but again people just don't wanna mess their games and leave the pawn for me to recapture😮

    Rating is 1500 rapid Lichess.
    If you wanna say anything, I'm here to listen! 😉

  18. Stjepan, thank you so much for your videos and sharing your journey. I have been following you for quite a while and I wish you success in achieving your goals. I am at a different stage in life – I am in my 60's and retired so I have more flexibility with my time. I enjoy attacking chess the most but also a good positional game to squeeze my opponent and I've always been a tenacious defender. I played competitive OTB chess in my teens and early 20's but stopped to focus on a successful business career although I maintained an interest and some study of chess through my whole life. In my early days I played 1.e4, Kan Sicilian and Grunfeld. I returned to OTB chess with my retirement and entered a couple of senior tournaments and finished 2nd and 4th overall with a rating in the 1900's and my repertoire was 1.d4, French and King's Indian. I have good tactical awareness (my current puzzle rating is about 2200-2300) but my theoretical endgame knowledge is not too deep. However, as an older player, I recognize that my stamina can be an issue in a longer OTB tournament, and my memory of variations is not what it once was so I have tried to emphasize openings and structures that I understand (and hopefully would be less familiar for my opponents!) My goals are: 1. To enjoy chess; 2. I'd like to play in some selected OTB tournaments; and 3) Increase my rating over 2000 initially and potentially achieve National Master (2200 rating). Lately I've been exploring 1.c4/1.Nf3 as White to allow me to make my opponent a bit more uncomfortable with transpositions than 1.d4 and I envision 1.c4/1.Nf3 and 1.d4 being my primary openings as White. With Black I have a playable working knowledge of the Caro-Kann, French, Pirc and Kan Sicilian against 1.e4 and the King's Indian (which I seem to have a good feel for) and Semi-Slav against 1.d4 (and a weak knowledge of the Nimzo-Indian). I've probably vacillated the most on my Black defenses. I'd like to have two defenses for each major opening and I'm currently thinking Kan Sicilian + King's Indian for sharper defenses and Caro + Semi-Slav for more solid choices. Any thoughts or suggestions?

  19. Hey,
    I consider myself a rather positional chess player, lichess blitzrating is 1700-1800.
    I used to play 1.d4 almost always, lately I´m mixing it up with 1.Knight f3.
    I will take your advice and start playing the Caro-Kann against 1.e4 as I find it hard to prepare 1.e5 but will try anyway with the Berlin defense against Spanish.

    What should I play against 1.d4 or 1. Knight f3 with Black?

    Love your work and to follow your road to GM!

  20. As an online player, I play any opening that involves pushing my e, d, and/or c pawns 2 squares.
    King's Pawn, Queen's Gambit, Sicilian, Scandinavian, even rarely the English or Benoni (Usually I play Nf6 first if I want to meet d4 with a quick c5).
    Sometimes I transpose into French lines from Sicilian structures, which is fine by me.
    I basically just decide on the spot what sort of game I want lol.

    If I ever end up in unfamiliar territory I back myself to freestyle it, and then after the game I do research on that opening so I can familiarise myself with the ideas.
    And like that, my repertoire slowly expands.

  21. Playing a repertoire (scotch) leaded me to my highest rating online. But now, it's too difficult to play something else because opponents are better chess players (tactically and strategically) than me. So my win rate as black is very low. I 've learned the french but after a few theoretical moves, I am lost and i lose to an easy tactic I should have seen.
    So i created a new account where I started playing the Italian game and e5 as black without any theory knowledge. I started to learn, slowly, but what a pleasure ! I seen new things, new kinds of postions and it help me to learn basic chess !
    I am improving, definitely ! Even if my rating is lower, my chess knowledge is much better.

  22. Hi Stjepan!

    Two or three years ago I went back to playing chess. Now I am 1200 FIDE and I am "one trick pony" player. As white I am playing Vienna and as black Caro – Kann. I was trying to implement some new openings to my repertoir.

    I've already tried as white a London system (not bad results but still not as good as Vienna) and English opening (little worse results than London but I spent less time learning theory). I was thinking about Queens Gambit too.

    I have no idea what should I choose as black. Now I am playing only Caro – Kann for e4, queens gambit accepted and Steinitz countergambit against D4 (in some strange cases I just play London system as black if I dont know theory)

    As you can see I am trying to find what is the best for me but I am still hesitating what should I choose. Can you help me?

  23. I like aggressive, open play. Kings Gambit or Rousseau Gambit for preference, however I don't have a response I like to d4. At the moment I'm playing Old Benoni, but I tend to struggle for space. My rating is 1300. I don't have a lot of time to study. What would you recommend?

  24. Hi Stjepan!
    I enjoy both slow and sharp positions with my current repertoire being the KID/Benoni against d4, and the Najdorf against e4 as black and the g3 vienna as white against e5, Tarrasch (pawn sack line if opponent goes into it) against the French, and Open Sicilian against c5. I'm around 2200 rapid chesscom and 1300 FIDE in classical, and would like to focus on improving my over the board play. I have a reasonable amount of time, around 2 hours for weekdays and 5 hours on weekends. I believe if I manage to somehow convert my online strength into OTB play I could reach some 1600-1700 FIDE at least. What openings would you recommend to add or just replace in my repertoire?

  25. Hi Stephan Can I ask you? I'am 16 year old I started to play chess one year ago)I love to play Over the board Rated chess I want to become better I love Active play tactics and at the same time Solid (To be Universal)What shoud i Play?What I must read?What can i use to become better? Thanks If you read it!(I forgot to mention that i have such a bad memory i can't memorize the Variations)probably i might try to understand the plans…

  26. Enjoyed this very much. One note regarding online play & preparations, I would argue that you only know as much as their main account reveals to you. Perhaps there are rules against ghost / alias accounts for training purposes, but if I were competing, I would probably use my main account as subterfuge and do all my online training under an alias account. If I can think of this strategy as an amateur then you can be certain others have already thought of this and are doing it.

  27. Very insightful video, for the most part i feel happy with my repertoire, caro kann, alekhine, nimzo/bogo indian and italian game. I would like to ask though, seeings as you yourself have done this recently, on one of your last points about playing both e4 and either c4/d4 in order to improve in all types of positions, how do you go about building a 1.d4 repertoire from scratch if youve only ever played 1.e4, or vice versa? Seems a very daunting prospect to me

  28. My recommendation would be first with white choose between e4 and d4. And have mainline responses to each or blacks major defenses. I'd recommend you avoid gambits and obscure systems as they will hinder your long term growth.

    Then with black have a response against e4 and d4. And against less common openings like c4 and Nf3 pick a move or setup that goes along with your other openings. For example, if you play the gruenfeld then play a similar fianchetto setup against the London and Colle.

  29. You are too kind for putting all of this content out here for free. It is so nice to have someone provide this kind of broad coaching to help anyone who wishes to put the time in, improve.

    I really appreciate all the hard work you put in and thank you for helping me get better at chess.

  30. still playing najdorf and scheveningen, old and modern benoni and ruy lopez…

    but i need more save options since i have too many decisive games i feel.. maybe scotch like positions should i add..

  31. Going to explore chessbook now, this is super useful thanks!

  32. Hi! I'm in love with the French for black. But I'm mostly struggling with 1.d4. What could you advise me to take a look for black against white's 1.d4? I'm rated 1500 OTB. Want to get title some day, so it's more or less long term goal.

  33. I’m rated 1200, should I rock out to the Ramones?!?

  34. I've read and heard from many sources over the years that developing players should put a pawn in the center on their first move, with 1.e4 being best for White. It's not universally agreed on, but I like the idea in part because it matches the history of chess.

    My plan for improvement is to play the double king's pawn openings, a few variations of the French, multiple variations of the QGD, the English Defense, and the reversed Sicilian. For White, 1.e4 with everything from the King's Gambit to the Spanish, the Winawer to the French exchange, etc. I agree that mixing things up drastically is good, so I don't plan to study any of the openings very deeply. Instead, when I feel I've learned the major lessons they can teach me, I'll change them.

    I think my proposed repertoire has the potential for much of the rich variety of play that promotes understanding, but if there's something too limiting about it I'd like to know.

  35. My rating 2050 on lichess
    I will play otb soon in few months
    I play D4 and b3 as white
    I play carokan and slav and simi slav as black
    My best results online was with b3 and carokan
    My goal now is 2300 lichess and about 1900 OTB
    I had about 4 – 5 hours a day for about 3 – 4 mouths
    My plan is starting to build a repertoire give me some advices

  36. My approach was to choose one aggressive opening and one solid opening for everything, I play the caro-kann and sicilian against e4, I play the nimzo/queens indian and kings indian against d4. With White I play d4 almost exclusively, I played the london in the past, didnt work that well for me, I kinda settled on catalan for now, I know the queens gambit, jobava london also, recently I tried out some kings gambit for fun and grand prix against the sicilian, also some c4 and Nf3 c4. My question is, should I spend more time on learning e4 as a serious repertoire and if I should learn 1. …d5 against d4, like semi-slav or smth?

  37. How do you get a 70% win rate with the London? I swear every time I play it, the opponent just copies my moves, but instead of c6, they play c5. After that I feel like there's not much to do, and the best I can hope for is a draw.

  38. Hi, Stjepan! Thanks for all the excellent content as always! What should I play as Black against 1. e4? My stats: 1600 FIDE, 1-2 hours of study time/day, goal of improving stress strength (not so much chess rating, to the extent these goals become decoupled) as much as possible over the next 5 years.

  39. I enjoy the Center Game and Danish Gambit and open with white e4. I like the Dutch defense as black, but havent found what I like yet against e4. I like chaos and play mostly for fun online at 1100.

  40. That's a great video and very kind of you to help us !

    I started chess 3 years ago. And I enjoy games not to static or defensive.

    I like to watch YouTube content sometimes but I don't think I know much. Only classic stuff and one or two things.

    I'm 1250 and had one or two run in the 1300 but not long.

    I play only online. I'm not planning to play OTB.

    I really don't have a lot of time per day and really don't really know how to study "well".

    My goal is to get to the 1500 one day (maybe one year ?). And also "master" one openning with White and one with Black.

    Also I played a lot Italian and now I try London but I don't enjoy it as much. And with blacks I like Scandinavian.

    Thanks a lot for your time 🙌🙌

  41. Thank you so much for offering to advise players on their openings, and thank you so much for all the help you've been in my study of chess theory!

    I have no OTB rating as I'm preparing to go to my first tournament sometime this spring, so I need help choosing a repertoire. I would say I play at about the 1300-1400 level. I enjoy aggressive openings as I'm rather good at finding tactics but I struggle with positional play and closed games. I could probably put aside 2-3hrs for study each week and already have experience playing the Ruy Lopez, the Kings Gambit, the Queen's Gambit as white and the Slav Defence, the Caro-Kan, and very recently the Sicilian (and I'm loving it, though i don't know how to play against the closed variation) as black. My goal is to become a stronger, well rounded player and become better at positional play before I go to my first tournament this year. Do you have any recommendations?

  42. thanks for the video!! i'm a noob and i fell in love with the colle system and learned a lot about edgard colle, then i learned the semi slav from you. i'll continue with these unless they play e4 !

  43. "more fun, less serious, less sound"…that's me!
    "My goal is to get better at chess, not increase my rating"… also me.

  44. If I wanted to take a year to learn an opening deeply, what would be the best route?

  45. As an 1100 I have memorised the alapin, accelerated dragon, dragon, bowlder attack, Najdorf, Grand Prix attack as black but everyone plays Bc4 which really irritates me😅😅

  46. Hi Stjepan, I’d love your advice on something.

    I started chess in January 2020 and up until 1500 FIDE just played principled moves and didn’t stress over openings, using 1.e4 exclusively as white but playing all sorts as black. When I hit 1500 I defined my first actual repertoire. I studied the ruy Lopez as white and KIA vs the rest (using the two move by move books written by Neil MacDonald with only reading the first half of KIA book for Sicilian/french/caro and leaving the second half on 1.Nf3 for the future) and have been scoring brilliantly with this the last 3 years with roughly a 70% winrate as white vs on average stronger players. As black I decided to play 1…d6 vs everything with a Czech pirc/ wade defence / 1.d4 d6 2.c4 e5 repertoire that I’ve always scored around 50% with nothing better. In these 3 years I have managed to gain 300 points and have just surpassed 1800 FIDE. As I started chess in my 20s and work full time my long term goal is the fairly ambitious 2200 FIDE. I do not care for trying to push IM/GM. I’m very happy with my white repertoire and my rough plan is to keep things exactly the same until 2000 FIDE there, before further study of the KIA to also have 1.Nf3 in my rep as a second white option which will probably become my main repertoire. My question is what to do as black? I have about 4 hours a week for studying and usually play 1-2 classical rated games every week, with 6 month long breaks in the off season to instead study 8 hours a week. I am not sure if I am a dynamic or positional player, I think I have both of these aspects to my game.

    Option 1) since I’m not sure just keep using the same thing and try to push with that to a higher level before relegating it to a surprise weapon and learning some more mainline choices, ignore people who have prepped and try to outplay them from bad positions which could be a valuable skill in the long run. This could delay the choice until roughly 1900 FIDE whilst I work on endgames/tactics with all of my focus. Currently I’m studying DEM.

    Option 2) Improve my 1…d6 repertoire a little by adding an alternative such as the closed philidor (as the Czech pirc is the only area I’m struggling in openings wise and is where all prep players choose to hit me), so I can save some time for studying elsewhere and delay the choice of what mainline openings to play until roughly 2000 FIDE where I can then make a more informed choice before making 1…d6 my backup/surprise weapon.

    Option 3) Start developing a sharp black repertoire with the Modern Benoni / Sicilian Scheveningen and embrace learning some theory. Take advantage of modern books and chessable, which have fairly new resources covering the lines that interest me within both of these. This also has the downside of being the highest theory choice since I would have to learn lots about these unfamiliar position and also learn the symmetrical English as black.

    Option 4) replicate the success I had with white by picking black openings that harness my current knowledge. This would mean getting two fairly old books (Play 1.e4 e5 and Play the Leningrad dutch) since this repertoire allows me to use the same author I had a lot of success with as white via the Leningrad dutch book vs everything bar 1.e4 and is very similar in spirit to the KIA. The e4 e5 book also goes for all the exact lines that interest me there and gets lots of closed ruy Lopez positions which I understand and play very well, with the downside being these are the only resources here that would interest me and they’re both a little dated (mid 2000s)

    Thanks for taking the time to read this! I’m passionate about all of these choices but really want to get it right. I know there are multiple paths to reach 2200 OTB but I ideally want to achieve this in the next 4-5 years before I have children at 30 and add to my already busy life of full time work / both playing and watching football as my other hobby. I hope it’s possible but after taking 4 years to reach 1800 FIDE (albeit from the low starting point of being a 900 rated lichess player at 20) my confidence does wain a little.

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