Note: This article was originally published on April 9th, 2015 on chess.com
Studying openings is, for some reason, a very controversial subject online these days. I feel strongly that learning a solid, consistent opening repertoire is part of becoming a strong chess player. Some will tell you to ignore openings until you are (variously) 1600, 1800, or even 2000. I've even seen one person say not to touch them until you are a master. To me, this is just silliness. I'm not going to get into that topic here, but suffice it to say, you should be learning openings.
Your first step should be to select a system to learn and grab some detailed resources about it. For my example here, I have selected the Hyper-accelerated Dragon (Sicilian) system and the book Chess Openings for Black Explained. The resource you choose should have recommended moves, of course, but should also include as much detail about why the moves are being played and what plans are being acted upon and should be put into action for the middle game as possible. A simple tree of variations is not really enough to learn a system for most people.
For this article, I am focusing on one of my favorite under-rated pieces of chess software Lucas Chess. Within Lucas Chess, if you go to Tools, Openings, Personal Opening Guide, you will find an excellent tool for organizing your opening repertoire.
First create a new opening with the "New" button on the top toolbar. For this, I named mine "Black - Hyper-Accelerated Dragon (CO4BE)." Next, go through your resource slowly, taking notes as you go. Make a tree of variations by making moves on the board. Make comments, annotate moves, mark positional evaluations, etc.
You can draw on the board by using the "Director" feature (right click on the chessboard's border and choose Director). This visual annotation really helps me, but I also include a text explanation.
Now, I have gone through an entire chapter of the book, inputting a tree of opening choices along with lots of notes and evaluations. I see many people recommending that that is all that you do, if that. "Don't memorize lines!" they say. Nonsense. Even after I did all of that, if someone sat down and played the white side against me, I would be clueless. You have to study something to truly learn it. Imagine yourself in a tournament 3 months from now needing to recall the information in this chapter. Not happening without study and practice. Luckily, Lucas Chess makes this pretty painless.
Click the "Training" button near the top right. There are lots of options here which you can explore, but here is what I do, and it works great. First, click "black" for the "Play with" option, because this is an opening you are learning for black. Next, we are going to limit the depth we start with for practice. I recommend a value of 19 (odd numbers work best for black, even numbers work best for white). So, change depth to 19. For name, I also just call it 19. Click accept, and we are ready to start practicing.
Exit the Personal Opening Guide feature of Lucas Chess and go to Training, Learn Tactics by Repetition. From here, find the opening you are studying, and select it. Each different training depth (you just created one for depth 19, next you can move it up to 21, etc.) will appear here. Select the one you want (here, we just have 19 to choose from). Click "New" to create a new training session. Select manual configuration and ignore all the options except "Blocks" near the middle left. Change the "Order" from original to random and click Accept. Now, try to recall the correct moves from the chapter for black. If you make a mistake, you can finish the line, but you will have to do it again immediately afterwards. It will work its way through all the possible lines you have entered. Once you are done, you can see how you did. The important stats are "Working Time" and "Errors." Just keep creating new training sessions (New, Copy configuration from current register) and practicing until you get your "Errors" down to 0 and your time down to whatever threshhold you want to set for yourself. Here's an example:
You have completed the first stage of learning your repertoire. What I do next is go back to the Personal Opening Guide and create another training module at depth 21. It will appear right under your 19 depth module under Training, Learn Tactics by Repetition. Practice that one until you get your errors down and your time down and move on to a deeper level. Eventually, you will be able to do it in your sleep.
The final step before implementing the system in actual games is to go back and re-read the chapter. You should feel much more comfortable with the positions and moves since you have commited the whole thing to memeory. During this and subsequent read-throughs, concentrate on the hows and whys the book is presenting. My experience is I understand so much more at this point than the first read-through.
Don't forget to come back to this opening and run-through the variations periodically to keep them fresh in your mind!