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Repertoire Players – Kill “Hope” Chess

How shall I study chess?

This gets asked a lot online, especially in the lichess forum on Facebook.

Let me offer one approach for repertoire players, an approach used by the strongest players in history.

But first, why should you be a repertoire player? What IS a repertoire player exactly?

Bobby Fischer was arguably the strongest repertoire player of all time. At the peak of his career, any strong player could predict what Fischer would play, based on his previous games. That made preparing against Fischer predictable – but not easy!

And here’s why…

Fischer prepared by playing against himself. Yes, if you have read any books about him then you know that he would set up the pieces, start the clock, and then proceed to play a fair game against himself.

Imagine Fischer hitting the clock, and then changing sides of the board. He is now playing the other side, but he knows every single thing his “opponent” is thinking.

We’ve all played hope chess* at some point. We set up an attack or a trap and then we hope that our opponent will miss what we’re up to.

Fischer never entertained such hopes. When he prepared, he was playing against himself. His “opponent” knew every single thing about his plans.

When Fischer played other grandmasters, he obviously played the same way, always playing the best possible moves, always assuming his opponent could see everything about his plans.

I’ve talked to a few grandmasters who do things differently. They dream of Fischerizing** their opponents, but instead of concentrating on their own repertoire they focus on the recent games of their opponents, hoping to repeat part of those games and then reach a favorable position. Of course, their opponents might be doing the same thing to them.

Fischer’s success with his repertoire approach is legendary. To combat it, his opponents would occasionally try playing his defenses against him.

What do you think happened when a desperate opponent played the Najdorf Poisoned Pawn variation against Fischer?

Fischer was already well practiced in playing against himself in those sharp lines. His opponents… were not. Fischer destroyed the hopeful copycats.

So give up hope. Get to work on your repertoire.

Develop the best habits that will continually improve your strength by playing games against the opponent who will teach you the most: yourself.


*Hope Chess is a term popularized by the excellent chess coach and author Dan Heisman.

**Fischerize is a term used to describe how Bobby Fischer would play a candidates match and win 6-0, not even giving up a single draw to his match opponent.

If you want to get started with crafting your repertoire, may I humbly suggest Chess Openings Wizard Express for Macintosh or for Windows. You can download it minutes and enjoy step by step videos that will have you outpreparing your opponents in a matter of weeks.