Some people think chess must be doing great in Belgium as the new national champion Daniel Dardha is only 13 years old. However one swallow doesn't make a summer. If we look at other Belgian children below 14 then Daniel is 450 elo higher rated than the second one. We can't expect that Belgium will become a strong chess-county anytime soon based on just one very talented boy.
We lack well organised training-facilities for our Belgium youth to maximize their potential. There are many small initiatives which are mainly around a bunch of lower rated volunteers doing a tremendous job but that is not sufficient at all to fulfill all the requests. Many children live too far or simply are not aware about the existence of the classes. Besides those classes mainly consist of a basic training using the step-method (often only a few of them). It is a nice start but they lack practical knowledge of how to play a competitive game.
Mainly parents of foreign origin question regularly those training-methods. We have a lot of youth in Belgium with such parents (see memory) so naturally they compare between countries. Last I heard a father with Indian roots telling a coach that in his birth-country they start with endgames instead of immediately teaching tactics on a board full of pieces.
I think this is a clever remark from him as there are indeed many advantages to focus first at endgames. As there are less pieces on the board, it becomes much more easy to see the tactics. Also you get immediately a good feeling of how the pieces relate to each other in terms of value. Finally an advantage in an endgame is often more clear so it becomes more simple to distinguish wrong from right.
However another recurrent critic I often get is that endgames are boring. Here we see the difference in life-philosophy between people of different origin. In Western countries we believe fun should be given absolute priority so we let children play as freely as possible. However in Eastern countries the educative aspect of chess is considered as the prime-goal. I see many immigrants force their children to play chess as they think it is important for their intellectual development. Fun is rather irrelevant which sometimes creates some sad situations in the class when children tell the chess-teacher that they don't like chess at all but are forced to sit and wait till the class has finished.
I think most people agree about openings that it makes no sense to learn streams of moves at beginners. It is enough to know how to develop pieces, occupy the center with one or more pawns and castle to bring the king into safety. You often hear about children spending too much time at openings while other facets of the game still contain big gaps. It would be much more efficient to focus first at those weak aspects of the game. So it makes definitely sense not to teach any openings during the methods of steps.
Therefore sometimes young players till even a rather high level know very little about openings. From which rating onward should we start looking at openings? Is it ok as 2200 elo rated player still not having any theoretical knowledge of the played variations? There exist indeed such type of +2200 elo players which just play openings based on common sense only (I am thinking of e.g. the phenomenon Ashote Draftian is Flemish champion).
In my article how many games should I play published earlier this year I clearly demonstrated with some examples from the chess-literature that studying openings in an important part of reaching masterlevel. Between a beginner and a candidate-master there is easily 1000 elo but from somewhere in middle (+-1800) I think it does make sense to slowly start building a repertoire. By the way I heard something similar recently from the Belgian IM Tom Piceu. Also he advised an ambitious +1800 player to start working at a repertoire when it appeared he was lacking any basic knowledge of the openings he was playing.
Nevertheless I was a couple months ago shocked to find out the repertoire of the British grandmaster Daniel Howard Fernandez. Daniel plays just like Vladimir Epishin a very wide range of openings (see my article jubilee) but there exists a big gap of concrete opening-knowledge between them. I had the impression of Vladimir that he is very familiar with his openings contrary to Daniel seeming to play just something which is often total nonsense. It is a mystery how you can become a grandmaster with such repertoire. Well he is tactically extremely strong so I guess that probably largely compensates it. Still I don't understand why he doesn't want to work more at his openings when you clearly have a lot of talent. In our mutual game of the past Open Gent I decided therefore to avoid as much as possible any murky positions containing lots of tactics.
I exit the opening with a large advantage but played it a bit too safe to keep it. I did manage to keep the position simple although that almost wasn't sufficient either to achieve the desired draw.
You would expect that such repertoire wouldn't stand a chance against stronger players. I also thought so until he blew our Belgian top-player Bart Michiels from the board with an awful opening. Black extracted a big advantage from the opening but in the middlegame got tactically completely outplayed. This clash eventually decided that Daniel later became the tournament-winner.
If you would like to play like Daniel then think twice before giving up studying openings. Daniel started to play chess at a very young age (in 2004 -9 British champion) and has traveled continuously around the world (Singapore, Australia, Europe, ..) He clearly got hardened by this tough life. So copying his approach to chess successfully seems very unlikely to me.