How to Memorize Chess Openings and Variations – Without Forgetting Them a Few Days Later!

Article by GM Avetik Grigoryan
How to Memorize Chess Openings and Variations – Without Forgetting Them a Few Days Later!

A common problem that chess players face when learning openings is how to memorize new lines and variations.


Yes, there are apps and websites that promise to help – and some of them can be really useful. But in general, the problem is that while you might remember everything for a few days, you quickly forget it afterward. 
Have you ever asked yourself why exactly it happens?


Well, here’s why; your learning wasn’t deep enough!
Remembering variations isn’t just about memorizing moves; instead, you need to fully understand the position.


After many years, coaching students that have struggled with this problem, I created a 4-step technique that will help you to use deep knowledge to memorize lines effectively.
Let’s go!


Step 1 - Study with 107% attention


When I got my GM title at 19, I started to work with an elite Grandmaster Vladimir Akopian, (who had a rating of over 2700 at the time!).


I was super excited to attend our first lesson, taking my laptop, pen, and notebook with me to write down everything I was going to learn. Of course, I never guessed that he would forbid me from taking any notes during our lessons!


At first, I was confused. He was showing very long and complicated variations of the Sicilian Defense, and all I could think about was how on earth was I going to remember all of it? But still, he insisted that I make notes and PGN files at home. 


I was like “Coach, my memory is not as good as yours, I can’t possibly remember all off this...”
But I couldn’t resist. Akopian is Akopian.  


Vladimir Akopian


How could I talk back to such a high-level player? 
And because I didn’t have a choice, my attention span went from 100% to 107% smiley 


After the lesson, as soon I returned home, without having any dinner, I hurried up to open ChessBase and add all the new variations while they were fresh in my mind.


Surprisingly to me, I remembered far more than I thought I would. And while I didn’t remember everything, I did remember all the important things. 


Later, he explained his philosophy:
If you take notes while learning something, your brain is not paying full attention, because it knows that you’re writing things down, so starts to relax as it knows you’ll review it later. 


This was a great lesson for me. Especially later on after studying neuroscience when I started to understand the concept deeper.


So the first step, I recommend to my students whether they’re watching videos, reading a chess book, or working with someone is to pay 107% attention but start without taking any notes. 


Step 2 - Create your files


After having a lesson or watching a video course, it’s time to note down the chess moves that you learned. You can do it on ChessBase or other online platforms like Lichess. 


So how do I advise that our students memorize the ChessMood courses? 

1. If your memory is good enough, you can watch the entire course, then add what you learned to your files. 
2. If your memory is weak like mine, you can add your notes section by section. 
3. And if it’s weaker, you can work video by video. 


Whatever you forget, simply go back to the course again. 


This process will take longer than if you watch the course on one monitor while taking notes on another. However, by doing it the way I recommend, the knowledge you gain will go much deeper into your conscious and subconscious mind, helping you remember all the variations. 


Step 3 - Practice


After you’ve watched a course or finished reading a chapter of a book, it’s time to practice. 



For example, let’s say you just finished watching our Caro-Kann course and created your files. Now it’s time to practice.


If you go to play online chess, playing 1.e4 all of the time, out of 10 games, you’ll probably face the Caro-Kann 1-2 games. It’s not bad.
However, there is a better way...


Work with a sparring partner

For example, if you and a friend watch the Caro Kann course, afterward you can play a few friendly games where you only play the Caro Kann. Or, you ask one of your friends to play the Caro Kann for Black, and you challenge him. 


(If you don’t have a sparring partner, you can easily find one in our forum.)


Step 4 - Fix your mistakes 


The last step: When you learn and start practicing a new opening, there’s practically no way that you’ll remember everything and play it correctly.


That’s why it’s essential that you check your games and fix your mistakes. Otherwise, you’ll just make the same mistakes again and again. 



So how should you fix them?
Let’s say you played some online games. Just download them and compare with your files, which you created earlier in step 2. Did you do everything correctly? If not, make a note and move forward.


And if your opponent played a move that was not covered in your file (or in the course/book), try to think why that move may be bad and what it’s downsides are. Then, with the help of a chess engine, coach, or friend, you can try to work out the best solution for the future.


The cool part is that not only will you know the opening better, but you’ll start to understand it better, instead of blindly memorizing the moves.




Many websites will sell you the idea that you can easily memorize variations – and sometimes it may work. However, the problem is that as easy as you remember, as easy that you’ll forget. 
The key to remembering variations is not to blindly remember moves, but to understand them. 


This 4-step method will take you more time, but the result is guaranteed. What’s more, you’ll not just remember the variations and feel comfortable in the opening, but you’ll become a better chess player in the process.


P.S. Did you have problems with memorizing variations as well? 
Do you commit to doing this 4 steps method?
Share your thoughts and plans in the forum on how you’re going to use the takeaways from this article.


Article by GM Avetik Grigoryan