When should one start studying opening theory?

On one of the Forums of http://www.chess.com someone asked whether it was necessary for him to study opening theory. My reply was something like:

I think players worry too much about opening theory and about learning by rote certain lines that they think will help them. Of course, at higher levels a knowledge of opening theory is pretty critical. But far more important is to have an understanding of opening principles – which you clearly do have.

Keep playing stronger and stronger opposition and if you keep winning you certainly shouldn’t worry about opening theory. I do recommend looking through some of the classic chess games of the old masters – the natural way people learn chess is to start off in the style of the old masters and then move through the 20th century. Studying some obscure variation of a hyper-modern opening is not going to be much help to a beginner or to a player starting off. If you can find some early games from pre-1900 – hopefully that are annotated and explained – and look at these it will help you in your understanding of opening principles and your tactical ability. Tactics trainer on chess.com is also very good – don’t know whether you have to pay to use it but it’s good.

Full article at
http://www.chess.com/forum/view/game-analysis/so-for-how-long-will-this-be-enough