Getting the Most from COW

One of the fears about Chess Openings Wizard, especially right after buying it, is whether you will get the most out of it.

Here’s my advice.

Don’t bother.

Do not bother studying the software’s features and functions to get the most out of it.

Instead, use this proven simple approach to get the biggest bang from your buck while preparing your openings.

When you first get the software (any version, iPad, Android, Macintosh, Windows), set aside some time for this simple exercise.

The first step is to guess how many positions you know for certain. That is, you know the exact move you plan to play for each opening position. (More on that later in this article.)

If I’m a typical 1700 rated player I might guess that I know 350 opening positions. Then I write my guess down.

Write your guess down.

Be honest about the number of positions (not the number of variations) that you think you have fully prepared. Pretend you are on a game show, and you get a cash prize for how close your guess is to the actual number. Do not skip this step.

Did you write your guess down? It’s important before you proceed.

Create a new empty ebook and call it My White Repertoire. On Windows and Macintosh that will be in the File menu. On iPad and Android that will be in the main menu.

Now play the move you usually play as White.

For me that might be 1.e4.

Now play all the moves you have seen your opponents play. Those might be 1…e5 1…c5 1…e6 1…Nf6 etc. (You’ll get used to using that VCR back button.)

Then play to each of those positions and put in your next move as White.

For example, I would play to the position after 1.e4 e5 and then I would play Nf3.

Then I would navigate to the position after 1.e4 e6 and I would add 2.d4.

You might find it easier to put in your “main line” first, the variation that you see the most often in your games. That’s okay. For me that might be 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cd4 4.Nd4 Nf6 5.f3 Nc6 6.Nc3 and then maybe I am a little fuzzy about what Black usually plays in this position.

If you want to start with your main line, back track to each position where Black has played a different move against you and add the move that you play. Repeat the process until you’re all the way back to the starting position of chess.

Remember that you are to play only the moves that you are certain you understand, the moves that you know you are prepared to play against your strongest opponents.

When you are finished fleshing out the tree of positions, check the number of positions in the ebook by choosing About This Ebook…

The About This Ebook… option is in different places depending on which version of COW you are using. For Windows, it’s in the ebook window’s File menu. On Android and iPad it’s in the main menu.

How did the number of positions compare to the guess you wrote down?

Often times this is a gut check.

For example, lets take that typical 1700 player who thought he knew about 350 positions. He will often find out that he only knows about 85 or so.


If you’re a typical master, you probably guessed that you knew more than a thousand positions. Then you found out that you really know only a few hundred.

(Grandmasters have the keenest sense of the exact number of positions they know by heart. It’s usually in the thousands.)

So now you know where you stand. Your task is to increase that number.

For example if I learned from this exercise that I know – with certainty – about 85 opening positions, I will want to set a goal of doubling that number. Knowing 170 positions doesn’t seem like a big deal – but you will see a difference in your games.

And if you’re playing daily on the internet? Use each game as an opportunity to expand your opening preparation by just one position. Where in your game did you not know by heart what to play next? What will you play if you reach this position again? Add that move.

Now comes the part about learning how to get the most from your new software. As a side effect of this ongoing exercise, you’ll know exactly what you want to learn about COW.

Let’s say you want to be certain your chosen move is a good move. Turn on the engine to validate the move you choose.

Let’s say you find yourself repeatedly playing an inferior move in a certain position. Use the dropdown menu (to the right of each candidate move) to mark that move with a question mark so that you know to avoid it.

Yes, it’s important to have the bad moves that appear natural or attractive. You’ll learn more from your mistakes than you will from your successes.

Hint: Place the best moves at the top of the list of candidate moves, and place any lesser moves below the best move. That will make using the Training Wizard much easier later. The dropdown menu next to each candidate move allows you to move candidates up and down the list.

After you do this exercise for a few weeks, you’ll be ready for more powerful ways to expand your repertoire, like importing PGN files of games played by masters in your favorite opening lines.

Did I enlighten you?

Please email me with your current rating, the number of positions you guessed that you knew, and the number of positions you were able to put in your ebook from memory. My address is mike at bookupmembers dot com.