A fixed repertoire?

Last week’s poll question was: ‘What was the best non-QC chess book of 2015?’ It was a three-way fight all week between the opening repertoire books of Houska, Sielecki and Bologan, and in the end IM Jovanka Houska’s Caro-Kann repertoire edged out Sielecki by 5 votes. As it happens, Jovanka is an occasional 4ncl teammate of Jacob, Andrew and me, but I can assure you that all the counting was automatic and impartial.


We saw from last week’s poll how popular repertoire books are, but I am curious how you use them. Or how you use the repertoire you put together yourself. So my question this week is: Do you follow a fixed repertoire or play game to game? That question needs some explanation, so I shall expand on it.

Is what is in the book your complete fixed repertoire, and you follow it religiously? I know one player who for 30 years has always answered 1.e4 with the Caro-Kann, and the rest of his repertoire is similarly unchanging.

Or maybe you are at the other extreme, and make it up fresh every game? But even among those who change opening every game, there are differences. Some are trying to avoid all theory and all prep, while others are targeting a perceived weakness in their opponent’s repertoire.

Then there are those who always, for example, play 1…e5 against 1.e4, but vary which line they play against the main line Spanish. Does that count as a fixed repertoire?

Or there are dozens of other approaches, so it’s tough to be comprehensive in the list of options to click, but there’s always the comments box to explain.

34 thoughts on “A fixed repertoire?”

  1. I vorted for a ‘one fixed repertoire’, but I should expand on it:

    I normally get bored of a defense after some time, so for example I have played Caro, French and now back to Caro, and Ortodox (QGD with 2…e6 and Be7), Chigorin, slav, Tarrasch and now QGA.

    I have never studied much theory, so I never had a ‘repertoire’, I was more building it as I played it more than anything else.

    When my opponent would have a very fixed repertoire I have gone to study something for him, but normally that that would go in my repertoire anyway (so study the appropriate chapter in Khalifman’s books). Only once I deviated and played 1.d4 to answer 1…g6 with 2.e4 and transpose to the pirc.

    Now that I am taking theory seriously, I will go for the two complete repertoires. Against 1.e4 Caro (from Houska, which superseeds Schandorff) and French (from Ntirlis and Berg’s 3rd volume, so that is more than two choices each game), against 1.d4 Tarrasch (Ntirlis) and QGA (Delchev), and with white 1.e4 from Shaw (if it ever sees the light), French and Caro from Negi, and keep my old closed repertoire, maybe with the new books from Avrukh (but not Catalan).

  2. I use repertoire books as a backbone (they’re re ideal since the writer has done all the hard work of selecting the best / most practical lines), but I’m not religious about it. If I like a certain line better than the recommended line, I use that line in my repertoire. I put everything in a database and if there are new developments / books I update my repertoire. It’s a bit mixing and matching. And with black I have more than one opening in my repertoire (e.g. Modern Benoni and KID against 1.d4).

  3. I chose the vary sub-systems

    With the plethora of good 1…e5 books out there (Playing 1.e4 e5, Bologon’s 2, Opening Repertiore: The Open Games, The Open Games for Black, Attacking the Spanish, The Ruy Lopez Revisited, A Vigourous Chess Opening for Black)

    I tend to mix and match my defences but within 1…e5

    As Black I play KID and have Attacking chess KID Vol’s 1&2, Bologon’s KID and of course Kotronias on the KID.

    I believe this is the best approach

  4. My colleagues and opponents would possibly say I was like Ivanchuk, however at me lowly level I was advised by stronger players to tone down my numerous defences and put time into other aspects. This is my current plan!

  5. I voted for two complete as the closest fit for what I do. What I have is a low theory one I can rattle out anytime, and a mainline theory one which I like to be able to prepare, but can try without having done so after some time working with it.

    For example, I can wheel out the King’s Indian Attack against the French and Caro-Kann any time, but have been adding the Main Lines from Negi’s book as my second repertoire.

  6. It changes as I learn. Since I am a pure amateur and only play socially, my needs are different than most here. I use a very basic rep as “scaffolding” and slowly build up a better rep and replace parts of the scaffolding.

    For instance, the basic rep uses the Bishop’s Opening. I am in the process of replacing that with the Ruy, but cheat for now with an early d3 (if it’s good enough for Carlsen, it’s good enough for me). Eventually, I plan to go further into main lines, if my opponents cooperate. But if I cared to, I could still fall back on the d3 Ruy or the Bishop’s game.

    The plan is to move everything to something more mainline like Negi. So, eventually, I could have two or more reps, but not yet.

  7. Hello:)

    As White i play a fixed repertoar consentrated around Avrukhs repertoire. This gives me a positional repertoar that will always give me winningchances if I am the better player. It also contains great main lines that I can progressivily understand through all my active tournement life:

    *QGD: Catalan
    *QGA: 2.Nf3 and 7.dxc5
    *Slav/semislav/Triangle: Slow Slav (4.e3)
    *The rest: Fianchetto system

    As black I “vary sub-system whitin main defence”. I play QGD against 1.d4, 1.c4 and 1.Nf3 and Ruy Lopez against 1.e4. The main advantage of two subsystem (althought they are both mainlines) is that I can have both a dynamic response and a solid response:

    *Tartakower (3…Be7, 6…Nbd7 vs 5.Bf4, and 6…dxc4 vs. Catalan)
    *Tarrasch defence (GM10)

    Ruy Lopez:
    *Berlin Endgame (2…d5 vs KG, 3…Bc5 vs Italian, and 4…Nf6 vs Scotch)
    *Open Spanish GM13 (2…exf4 vs KG, 3…Nf6 vs Italian, and 4…Bc5 vs Scotch)

  8. I’m a fixed repertoire player atm. Caro-Kann against 1.e4 and Nimzo/QID against 1.d4. Similar story against flank openings and d4 sidelines. I may become a two complete repertoire in future because I want to be able to play the Ruy Lopez from the Black side in the future. Also add the QGD as a response against 3.Nf3. Furthermore, with White I want to someday be able to play all the 4 major opening moves for White i.e. 1.d4, 1.Nf3, 1.c4 and 1.e4. At present I can alternate between 1.d4 and 1.Nf3 with the latter being my preference atm.

  9. Vary. For instance play 1.c4 (or 1.Nf3 and 2.c4) on occasion, or even 1.f4 if your opponent is an exclusive 1.e4 player, as he’ll often land in reverse 1.d4 territory. Also as Black against 1.c4, it is nice to play the occasional 1…e5 or 1…c5 to avoid being a sitting duck.

  10. It also depends on your opposition, especially when they’re based and consistent with their repertoire. two real-life examples:
    1. an e4 player meeting OTB a super-strong correspondence GM always playing the Schliemann : go for the Schliemann, let him play for draw OTB with one or two pawns down.
    2. an e4 player meeting OTB a strong correspondence master who always plays long theoretial French in the French : play a delayed exchange French, see how he plays in real life.

  11. I vary,

    -a risky repertoire for Blitz: Modern Italian, Najdorf, KID
    -a sounder repertoire for OTB: Spanish, Kan, Grunfeld

    Does everybody play the same in OTB and Blitz?

  12. As I am correspondence player, I prefer to prepare against every opponent personally instead of playing a global/common one. At least it is very easy for my opponents to prepare against my systems. Varying in openings/systems allows me to surprise someone at least.

  13. As white I change a lot. As black I have used a 1..e6 against everything approach for a long time.

    I am starting to move to a 1..c6 based repertoire (Caro-Kann/Slav – not Semi-Slav). What to do against the English/Reti and other moves except 1.e4 and 1.d4 that are consistent with 1..c6? What QC books would give me a complete repertoire for this?

  14. Against 1.e4 I currently play the Sicilian using different subsystems or the Caro-Kann.
    Versus 1.d4, 1.c4, Nf3, 1. 1.g3 I currently use three setups: Leningrad Dutch, Kings Indian and Slav. So my black repertoire is fixed with two openings against 1.e4 and three against 1.d4, c4, Nf3, g3.

    As white I use Marins English repertoire. So my White repertoire is fixed with only one opening.

  15. I have one fixed repertoire, in which I change things every now and then. Two years ago I switched to the King’s Indian as black against non-1.e4, a year ago I switched from the Classical to the Kalashnikov Sicilian (I already played 2…Nc6 so all the antis stay the same, and I get them in the majority of my Sicilians), recently I switched from an ambitious 1.d4 2.c4 repertoire to a more patient 1.d4 2.Nf3 one.

    But in my 40s and have no time for serious chess work; my chess strength is slowly declining. I want to start broadening my repertoire so that in the rest of my life I will get many different positions, and when I see any new opening I want to play I can start playing it easily. So I want to add more defences, and 1.e4 and 1.c4, just for fun.

    The only thing holding me back is that I’m still in an ambitious team so I still play the stuff I know most about in OTB games, and those 1.e4 books I’ve been planning to use for this step keep getting delayed…

  16. I have a repertoire but it isn’t exactly fixed. I would rather describe it as ‘work in progress’, full of holes and borderline incorrect. Therefore I try to prepare against opponents if I find the time. The preparation is mostly about how to get them out of their book as quickly as possible.

  17. With White I play Reti / English (a bit of Kosten / Marin), plus (transpositions to) a d4-(fianchetto-)repertoire (Wojo / Avrukh).
    With Black my main defences are Caro-Kann (a bit of Houska / Schandorff) and the Slav (NOT Avrukh!), plus an occasional Sicilian (Accelerated) Dragon, Benko Gambit, Leningrad Dutch and Modern Defence.
    I vary per game depending on occasion, opponent and mood.

  18. I consider myself to be a Semi-Ivanchuk, I try and play everything, however I don’t know any of it!
    I suppose this really puts me into the ‘Just make it up as I go’ camp but I can’t see any other way of being compared with a super GM anytime soon 🙂

  19. I tend to vary between two main defenses and playing various subsystems in each defense.
    With black I usually go for Taimanov and French against 1.e4 and main line Slav and Nimzo/Tartakower against 1.d4. Against flank openings, I usually play the reversed Dragon against 1.c4 or 1..c6.
    With white, I try to play both 1.e4 and 1.d4 with not too aggressive continuations. I go for space advantage whenever possible.

    All in all it is a good recipe for me but I should add that I don’t play a lot of games (20 a year) so the notion of repertoire is a bit vague.

  20. John,

    I have Avrukh’s book, but my choices differ much with his. When I started playing the Slav I very much liked Sadler’s book and later on Vigus. I also like Pert’s DVD very much. Also Vigorito’s “Main-Line Slav”, but it is not a repertoire book. And I have Lakdawala.

  21. Mr Kasparov taught me to play KID and Sicilian, and I did for almost 20 years. But nowadays I take a different approach: I pick up a middle-common opening that is covered completely in a actual, decent book and hope that my information advantage pays off. I’ll stick to these lines until chessbase uncovers my repertoire. Having used some really nice Ntirlis-French lines and the Sherbakov-triangle for 2 years, I am preparing to change soon. With white, I will have to go for 1.c4 until Mr Shaw persuades me to change.

  22. I’m trying to stick to just one repertoire, but vary some sub-systems in the most important openings. What helps with sticking with one repertoire is that I changed most of the major systems since I last played any tournaments that went into Chessbase (even the second highest league in my country does not collect the game scores and major tournments publish boards #1 to #5 or so). I could not have engineered this better for messing up my opponents’ preparation – in particular my switch from the Grünfeld to the Nimzo still catches people out (with apparently considerable shock effect, according to some opponents!?). If most of my games were publicly available, maybe I would vary my repertoire more, but it seems unnecessary and there are some many other things to improve in my chess…

  23. I play and learn everything and my favorites players is ivanchuk and khalifman and it’s the reason why i buy all QC Books as ,everyman chess, chess stars, NIC yearbook, informator , chesspublishing and before chess evolution … My budget is consequent but i like to improve my repertoire with an objectif to be at 2400 (actually 2298) my test is to play in playchess in 3mn (with 22000 games in my actif) to see if openings can work well .
    With white 1.c4 and 1.d4 and finally 1.e4 (thanks negi )
    With black 1… c5, 1. … e6, 1. … e5, and 1. …g6 (modern caro Kann 2. … c6 3. … d5)
    Grunfeld, king’s indian, benoni, benko, triangle, tarrash (thanks aagaard), dutch Leningrad, slav
    I detect in my opponent repertoire the weakness and exploit with the Right opening but it’s neccessary to have time and a opponent chessbasable !

  24. This was a hard question, and much like others above it’s different for white and black.
    As White;
    It’s been solely based on 1.c4 for about a decade now, with d4 thrown in occasionally in blitz (haven’t looked at 1.d4 theory since taking up the english, so just for fun).
    Whereas with Black against 1.e4;
    The French (everything except the Winawer) three lines or so against each White plan. Ie with the tarrasch I know 3…c5, 4…Qxd5 and 4…exd5. 3…Nc6. 3…Be7.
    Similar story in the Pirc.
    Black against closed openings;
    I can play NID, QID, QGD TMB, QGA. Generally streering non-1.d4 towards one of those (Ie 1.c4 e6 2.Nc3 d5). Variety within each system not as much as the French, but more systems overall.

    Thanks for asking such thought provoking polls Jacob.

  25. I´m in my fourties and with a declining retention I need to play safe systems to survive.
    So I play the caro – kann and b6 – nimzo / Queens Indian with g6 with black and Rudels Colle-systems against Kings Indian; Grünfeld; Benoni-Systems and Dutch and exchange-systems against Queens Gambit .
    To increase preperation work for my opponents I added the 2-Knights-English (Pritchett: play the english) for white and Qd6/c6 scandinavian / a6-Slav for my black repertoire.
    The only drawback is that my games are always long and I have to “sit out” my opponents.

  26. I answered ‘two complete repertoires’ because I am in the middle of getting to know a new repertoire. I am mainly a correspondence player, so good repertoire books are very helpful.

    I used to have a sharp repertoire that I knew well (1. e4 and with black the Dragon and KID). Over the years, my positional understanding has grown, have come to like the positional side of chess more, and I discovered that I have more success with a more positional style of playing.

    So, I am moving towards 1.Nf3 and Caro and Slav with black. It will take a few years to get used to: at the moment I am enjoying the freshness of new positions, with the drawback of occasional losses because I do not understand the positions well enough yet.

    Every now and then, I fall back on my old repertoire just to mix things up a bit, so: two complete repertoires at the moment.

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