By now I have either bought or borrowed all 4 volumes of John Watson’s series “Mastering Chess Openings”. This is definitely a very special project as the author combines the nearly encyclopaedic breadth of coverage with the extensive verbal explanation and analysis of the themes behind chess openings. From reading these books one can begin to understand the inner connections between various chess openings, something that no computer opening tree is able to show right now. Typical pawn structures, piece manoeuvres, and positional themes are discussed across volumes.
This is an essential reading for someone who wants to both improve their opening preparation, as well as their general understanding for the game of chess. Some authors like to focus on problems of the middlegame and endgame, but John Watson definitely has a taste for the philosophy behind chess openings, so it is great that he has expressed it all in these 4 volumes. This is not a repertoire book, so you can’t build a full repertoire based on this book alone. This is also not a full encyclopaedia, as some openings are omitted (such as the Sveshnikov Variation of the Sicilian), but these series should give you a guidance on which openings you should choose. In addition to discussing particular openings Watson focuses on general themes, such as
- pawn structure
- opening preparation in the modern age
- importance of transpositions and move orders
- reversed openings, and the role of the extra tempo
If you have read and enjoyed “Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy”, you should also enjoy “Mastering the Chess Openings”.