Aleksandr Rakhmanov

Aleksandr Rakhmanov


Tilbudet av ulike typer sjakkvideoer vokser dag for dag, mye tilsynelatende bra stoff, og minst like mye antatt direkte dårlig.

Forleden snublet jeg i «Rakhmanov’s Secrets of Opening Preparation», anskaffet på forsommeren i år. Jeg tror at for en klubbspiller med ambisjoner om å klatre litt på Elo-stigen, er dette ren hjelp til selvhjelp – satt intravenøst.

Rakhmanov gir forslag til et sunt repertoir-system, og er verd å lytte til. Hans Peak-Elo var 2721 i juni 2018. Jeg legger forordet/innledningen – hva ellers? – her.

My Style

The character of any player is reflected in their game. It also applies to choosing their openings. Therefore, for you to better understand what I’m going to explain in this book, I should describe my style. I play simple positional chess and like to play the endgame. I don’t look for complications for the sake of complications, but if the position requires sacrifices based on the situation on the board, then I will do so without hesitation. I like to control the course of actions; therefore, I would prefer to play with the initiative without a pawn than vice-versa. In general, giving the opponent dynamics is a bad idea.

In most cases, my game is built on pawn structures. I adore positions with weak-nesses, doubled pawns, and a better arrangement of pieces. I prefer to play short opening variations with a fixed pawn structure and positions with an open center.

In preparing the lines, I use the engine. But I consider it very important to study the games of strong chess players. Of these, typical ideas and maneuvers can be memorized; this is easier for a human than memorizing lines.

Preparation for the Game

I start preparation by viewing my opponent’s games over the last 2-3 years. Sometimes the last year is enough – if the opponent plays actively. Sometimes, if they are young and only have 30-40 games in the database, you can look at all the games (by the way, if you have only a few games in the database, this is not very pleasant for the opponent). I do it quickly, looking at about 20 moves, mainly focusing on the opening stage.

It is also worth looking at their games for the opposite color in order to understand whether they play the same thing that you want to play. This is especially important if you use several opening options; there is the opportunity to lead the opponent into a position less familiar to him.

An important point if you use the “Chessbase” program. You can use the “select to book” function, but I think it’s better to go through each game to understand which of the openings have been played recently.

Then I try to understand if there is a weak point. As the saying goes:
Once is an accident,
Two times is a coincidence,
Three times is a pattern,
Four times is a tradition.

Recently, I have noticed that if the opponent has played some line 2-3 times, even if the line is dubious, then there is a high chance that they will play it again. This line of play could be dubious from my point of view, but the opponent may think that everything is great. This may be a position without an advantage, but I would be pleased to play it against this opponent. Whenever possible, I always try to take my opponent away from the lines they know well as early as possible.

In general, my recommendation is simple if you play against a stronger opponent: play according to theory for as long as possible. It could be the theory in your own variation, and not the main lines. On the contrary, if the opponent is weaker, it is better that his theoretical knowledge is ended as soon as possible.

My Openings with White

I use three starting moves: 1.d4, 1.c4 and 1.Nf3. It is a good thing that they have a similar character and can transpose to each other. It’s not like playing both 1.e4 and 1.d4 – different things.

Generally, Black has two options of play in closed openings:

  1. Solid openings, based on the …d5-move.
    The Slav Defense: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6
    b. The Queen’s Gambit: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6
    c. The Nimzo-Indian: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6

I like to play against those openings. So, I usually use 1.d4. But depending on the situation, I can also play 1.c4/1.Nf3.

  1. Dynamic openings, based on the …g6-move:
    The Grünfeld Defense: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5
    b. The King’s Indian Defense: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7
    c. The Volga Gambit: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5
    d. The Benoni: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6

I don’t like to give the initiative to the opponent even if the engine shows a good evaluation. So, in most cases I use 1.c4 or 1.Nf3.

I play 1.d4 followed by 2.c4 when I know for sure what to expect from my opponent. I don’t want to get an opening surprise and lose as White for nothing.

A surprising note: I don’t have any special preparation against sidelines such as the Albin Counter-Gambit or the Chigorin Defense. Just because nobody plays it.

 My Openings with Black

Against 1.e4

  1. e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6

I have a solid option – The Petroff Defense, I use this against 2500+ players. Interestingly, it’s not necessarily a play for a draw. Yes, there are many ways for White to make a draw. But if he wants to play for a win, I’m ready to welcome him with his wish.

Another surprising note: I don’t know anything on the King’s Gambit. Of course, I have checked some lines, but I remember nothing. Why learn a line which nobody plays? Probably, I will have to learn it after publishing this book.

  1. e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 & 1.e4 1…d5

There are two options to play for a win against players below 2500: an immediate challenge, attacking the central pawn and taking our rival to unfamiliar territories.

Against 1.d4

  1. d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3/3.Nf3 a6

The same story as against 1.e4: one solid opening. Well, it is not strong like the Petroff, but solid.

  1. d4 Nf6 2.c4 d6

And a sideline to beat lower-rated opponents.

Against 1.Nf3/1.c4 and others

Being a player who loves to play on his own, I’m happy to see these “slow” moves. I don’t bother much with learning something against these.

In this book, I will mainly consider the games played with White, since I can safely recommend the lines played. The games played with Black are somewhat reminiscent of a note from an advertisement: “Caution, do not repeat at home. Performed by professional stuntmen”. Of course, you can try it if you wish. What is more important for the games by Black is for me to explain my point of view and how I outplay my opponents.

There is not much time for preparation in open tournaments. I play 2-3 openings with White and Black. My openings are not that common. Even in the Petroff, I choose my own options most of the time. Accordingly, it is unlikely that my opponent will succeed in preparing well against me.

Common Mistakes in the Opening

  1. It is bad to play from scratch, without preparation and training games. I play training games often – it’s better to feel the lines in advance.
  2. Working on the opening alone is not very effective; teamwork (or at least working in pairs) will bring much more benefit. I think that’s my Achilles’ heel. I could have achieved more if I started working in a team earlier.
  3. Believing the evaluation of the engine without applying a human perspective. A striking example is the King’s Indian Defense, where in some positions, the computer gives the “+1” evaluation in White’s favor, but if you get such a position in a real game, you would want to give up immediately.
  4. Playing a line that you do not like, even if the evaluation is in your favor. I think that your internal subjective feeling of a position gives you an additional half a pawn or even a whole pawn compared to the objective evaluation of the position.
  5. Attempting to catch “the master of the variation”. If your opponent is very experienced in some line, even if it is dubious, you need to prepare very seriously. You cannot naively assume that you have prepared well enough with the computer and will get an excellent position.
  6. Creating a potentially problematic pawn structure. Doubled/weak/isolated pawns will all be an issue in the long run.


Before Going to the Chess Part

The biggest problem when working on the opening for me is that when viewing the position with the engine, for White there is no advantage anywhere, and for Black there are problems everywhere. When I play against a strong opponent, the opposite situation arises: with White, they have the better hand everywhere, while with Black they have no problems.

It is important to understand that the drawish tendency is very strong in chess. One must accept that a draw is the natural result with adequate play. I believe there is a rule of two mistakes: in most cases, even one mistake is not enough to lose the game. This is the case with the opening too. Currently, Black does well in many openings. Especially in our time of accessible information, when the engine equalizes everyone. Of course, there are players who analyze openings better than others, and top chess players have them as seconds.

Even if White gets an advantage, then Black may have his own prospects. Therefore, most openings can be played. It is not necessary to get an advantage in the opening to win a game; this is not an easy task. You can transfer the intensity of the struggle to the middlegame. But at the same time, you need to understand the advantages of your position, from which you can outplay the opponent.

An interesting question is how many openings one should know. Young chess players are playing all the openings. They have a lot of time, the internet, the database, the engine. I like the expression: “You need to know a little about everything, but everything about a little”. I think that a good way is to be an expert in one opening, but at the same time know other lines in order to be able to apply them. If you play the same thing, then you need to go wide at least somewhere in the middle of the opening, otherwise it will be easy to prepare against you.

I don’t save my analyses in the database that often (of course, this is not good). For most of them, I just remember as much as I can – not concrete lines but mainly ideas. I keep a lot of important games on my openings in my head. I don’t analyze my games too seriously, usually a quick analysis is enough (this is not good as well).

So, I have commented on most of the games specifically for this book. The same story goes with the analyses. You can copy and use any of them. Don’t forget that this is a good base, but for the line to become your own, you need to spend time on it, check out important games, and play training games.

I haven’t commented on all the games completely. Everything depends on what happened in them. But at least I have paid attention to the middlegames. Because to study the opening without its connection with the middlegame is pointless. These days, it’s not uncommon for the opening to go straight to the endgame.

Aleksandr Rakhmanov
May 2021