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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

IM Greg Shahade on Opening Books

     Back in 2012 IM Shahade published an article in Chess Life Online about opening books that was interesting and informative. Here’s the condensed version of his article:

     I think most opening books are not especially good, and laid out in an ineffective way. The layout of these books may be okay for a 2400+ player who is already very experienced in playing the opening, but not as digestible for a sub 2200 player, obviously the main customers. Let me explain the flaws I see in the majority of opening books on the market: For the most part, the main body of an opening book for a sub 2200 player should be no longer than 50 pages long (and even this is stretching it). Of course many people won’t want to buy such a small book…
     I’ve looked at some books on the Caro-Kann, Semi Slav, Najdorf and etc recently and seen so many absurd aspects to these books. First off, there will be a chapter on a relative sideline that you aren’t so likely to see. Then there will be some variation on move 6 where the book will break it into 6 alternatives for your opponent…Now if you are a 1900 player and you want to learn an opening, do you need to know any of this stuff? Of course not.
     Opening books should not be laid out in order of variations…The chapters should be laid out in order of rating. For instance if you want to play an opening at a 1400 level, the 1400 chapter should teach you everything you need to know in order to play the opening at that level. The 1600 level chapter should expand on this, and teach you in a little more depth. The 1800 level should go further, 2000 further and etc, or at least they must use this format within the chapter on each variation. …pages devoted to pretty much every single possible move that white can play. It’s just pointless….if you are likely to see one line 90% of the time, and another line 10% of the time, the line you are going to face 90% of the time should comprise approximately 90% of the material, or at least 75-80.
     I am an IM, so fortunately I understand that 90% of the chapter is completely useless and a total waste of my time to study…However how in the world do we expect a random 1800 who is just trying to learn a new opening to understand this? It’s impossible. I have not seen a single book that does a good job of directing new players as to what they actually have to know, and what is miscellaneous stuff that you can get by your entire career without ever looking at.
     For me personally, it’s just so much easier for me to mess around on ChessBase and come up with ideas. I suppose they are decent as reference works or to figure out what your book-prepped young non ChessBase using opponents are likely to play.
     My problem is that they just don’t seem to have any realistic understanding of what someone rated 2000 actually needs to know about the opening. The answer is not very much, and therefore the books should be directed towards making sure that every level of player knows exactly what they must know... Most opening books function more as reference books than learning tools.
     Every opening book lies: I have never seen an objective opening book in my life. If it’s a book on Winning with the French, in every single line black is either completely equal or slightly better. If you open up some repertoire book for white, it’s at least slightly better for white in nearly every line. It’s completely ridiculous. In the majority of respectable openings black can get pretty close to equality, and any white opening book that throws around the phrase “slightly better” all over the place, is basically just lying to you, or intentionally omitting or burying black’s best defensive tries.
     Many Books Are Outdated Quickly:. The only way you can find this out (Shahade was speaking of recent innovations) is by using ChessBase, making a database of some sort that covers only the last 2-3 years of games of strong players, and checking the stats under reference…The only way you can find out what openings are actually being played now and are in reality the main line, is to have an up to date database, and find a way to cull the games that are played by lower rated players and that are over a few years old.
     Many opening books are good as references, but keeping your chessbase updated and signing up for a yearly subscription to ChessPublishing (and ChessVibes) is key in today's game.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with IM Shahade.

    Even opening books that discus broad principles for "improving players" are usually not that good!

    The only opening books that have actually helped me to begin to truly understand opening PLAY! (not memorizing lines) are Watson's Mastering the Openings series from Gambit. Great explanatory prose on opening play! Very broad and vast BUT he is not writing a repertoire (thank heavens) and he blatantly skips some lines as he expects the player to do the work on his or her own after they understand the principles! This books are amazing!!