How to Memorize Chess Openings and Variations in 4 Steps?

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  • GM Avetik Grigoryan GM Avetik Grigoryan

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

Discover a simple 4-step process to memorize chess openings and remember moves without forgetting the variations a few days later.

Openings | 4 min read
How to Memorize Chess Openings and Variations – Without Forgetting Them a Few Days Later!

A common problem that players face is how to memorize chess openings.

Yes, some chess apps and websites 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!
Memorizing variations isn’t just about memorizing the opening moves; instead, you need to understand the position fully.

4-Step Process to Remember Chess Opening Variations

After many years of coaching students who have struggled with this problem, I created a 4-step technique that will help you use deep knowledge to memorize chess opening 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 GM, 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 to write down everything I was going to learn. But, 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 opening, and all I could think about was how on earth was I going to memorize 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 of this...”
But I couldn’t resist. Akopian is Akopian.

Vladimir 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%?

After the lesson, as soon I returned home, without having any dinner, I hurried up to open ChessBase and add all the new opening moves and 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 it starts to relax as it knows you’ll review it later.

This was an excellent lesson for me. Especially after studying neuroscience, 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. For example, you can do it on ChessBase or other online platforms like Lichess.

So how do I advise that our students memorize the ChessMood opening 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 the chess opening variations section by section.
3. 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 watching 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 memorize the openings.

Step 3 Practice

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

Alexander Suvarov Quote

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

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 chess games where you only play the Caro Kann opening. You can also ask one of your friends to play the Caro Kann Defense with 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 new openings, there’s practically no way that you’ll remember everything and play it correctly.

That’s why you must 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 them with your files, which you created earlier in step 2. Did you follow the opening principles? 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), think about why the move may be bad and what its downsides are. Then, with the help of an engine, chess 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 memorize chess openings easily and remember moves – 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 memorize the chess 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 lines in your repertoire 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 opening variations as well?
Do you commit to doing this 4 steps method?
Share your thoughts and plans in the forum on how you will use the takeaways from this article.

Further Reading: You'll also find it useful to learn an effective and advanced technique Grandmasters use to memorize opening variations.

Originally published Sep 01, 2020

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