Can't Stop Switching
By Joel Benjamin   
July 13, 2007
Dear Joel,

I have been rated around 2150 for three years, and I think one of the largest obstacles impeding my progress towards master is my affliction with switching syndrome. I simply cannot decide on which opening to play with white, and I have tried almost all of them. I think it is fortunate for me to realize that I am not blaming the opening for my losses, but I admit that my unfamiliarity with certain positions leads me astray in tournament games, and eventually I reach an inferior position.

So I am humbly asking for your assistance on this matter, and I'm curious to hear the opinion of a GM who is essentially required to learn and understand dozens of independent opening systems: how do you find the opening that is right for you? Can you recommend any specific line or system that could benefit someone of expert strength in pursuit of master? Maybe a certain line that emphasizes tactics, or positional understanding? Thanks for your help.

-Evan Rosenberg, New York City

Your constant switching has brought you some benefit in greater breadth of knowledge. So many players today fixate on learning theory in a limited number of openings and consequently flounder when forced out of their comfort zone.

It pays to have a wealth of weapons, you should have deeper knowledge of a few bread and butter openings. You will improve your skills and confidence level in these first-string lines as you get more experience playing them.

Now we just have to decide how to go about focusing your repertoire.

I'm not sure if you can't decide between 1.e4, 1.d4, and 1.c4, or you don't know which lines to play within different openings. For the former problem, think about which defenses you like to play against and which you don't and how much. For instance, if you like most 1.e4 openings but don't enjoy playing against the Sicilian, 1.e4 probably isn't for you. If you like Sicilians but aren't fond of Caro-Kanns, you can live with that. Or if you are cool with the Nimzo or Queen's Gambits but live in fear your opponents will play the Grunfeld or King's Indian, 1.d4 may not work for you.

If you've already decided your first move, but are choosing lines against various systems, I think you just have to coldly assess the openings you have been playing and decide which ones made you feel most comfortable. Try to be objective about what type of player you are, and choose opening variations that accentuate your strengths.
Joel Benjamin