The game of chess is a battle between two equally matched armies. Neither player has a decisive advantage over the other at the start of the game. The only way one can win a game depends on one’s opponent making bad moves.
So, what is an inaccurate move? Why do almost all serious players start the game by playing d4, e4, c4, or Nf3? Simply because of trial and error. As a result of the millions of chess games played over the centuries, players have found that certain moves are better than others. As a result of studies in chess, enough opening theory has been discovered to fill many, many encyclopedias.
WHITE’S FIRST MOVE
Over the years, players have found that control of the center is vital to winning the game. Control of the center can be obtained by preventing one’s opponent from controlling the center or jumping to the opportunity oneself. Therefore, 1. e4 and 1. d4, at first glance, are preferable first moves, since they occupy the center squares, put pressure on black’s position, and free the bishops. After even more consideration, 1. c4 and 1. Nf3 are also preferable since they deny Black the opportunity to control the center. For example, 1. c4 prevents d4, and 1. Nf3 prevents e5. Such openings are called flank openings.
While you should always be familiar with several popular chess openings, if you aren’t familiar with the opening you are playing, you should follow some general opening principles. The following is a list of opening principles you should try to follow in the opening. While some of these principles are occasionally violated in some opening lines, these principles apply to most openings.
1. Take control of the center. Often new players to the game will move their rook pawns forward early, wanting to develop the rook. However, such moves are terrible, and the rooks should be saved for castling and later developed when the other pieces have been moved out of the first rank.
2. Try not to move the same piece twice in the opening unless it is obligatory. In addition, don’t make unnecessary moves. If you take too long in developing your pieces, your opponent can immediately start attacking and prevent your development altogether.
3. Knights should generally be developed before bishops.
4. Try to avoid developing your knights to the edges of the board, where they will put minimal pressure on your opponent.
5. Don’t delay castling too long, and while castling, make sure that your king is put in a safe part of the board where your opponent cannot easily reach it.
With these guidelines, you should have no problem playing an opening you are unfamiliar with. Let’s move on to the more popular openings, starting with King’s Pawn Openings.
1. e4 …e5
2. Nf3 …Nc6
The Ruy Lopez is among the oldest openings known and is still widely used among Masters and amateurs alike. With 3. Bb5, White threatens to trade his light-squared bishop for Black’s knight, leaving Black’s e5 pawn undefended. However, this doesn’t mean the pawn is lost for Black. In fact, after 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. Nxe5, Black can use his queen to fork the pawn and knight, gaining a huge positional advantage and regaining material. In response to 3. Bb5, Black has a plethora of moves available, though most common is the Morphy Defense, 3…a6, which forces White to make a decision about his bishop. White commonly retreats his bishop back to a4, retaining the attack on the knight on c6 but avoiding the pawn.
1. e4 …c5
The Sicilian defense, 1…c5, is now the most popular response to 1. e4, played by Masters and amateurs alike. 1…c5 allows Black forces to get counterplay immediately and isn’t as passive as the Ruy Lopez. After the most common reply, 2. Nf3, which characterizes the Open Sicilian, Black usually plays d6, Nc6, or e6. After any of these moves, White replies with d4 in an attempt to take control of the center. The Sicilian has many different variations, including the Najdorf, Dragon, Taimonov, Paulsen, and Scheveningen.
1. e4 …e6
2. d4 …d5
3. Nc3 …Nf6
Not as popular as the Sicilian or Ruy Lopez, the French defense is a quiter opening where Black tries to close up the position. The main disadvantage of the French defense is that 1…e6 blocks Black’s light-squared bishop. With 1…e6, Black usually follows up with d5, though if White chooses to exchange pawns on the next move, White loses his positional advantage but avoids the complex positions of the French defense. Other popular replies by White on move 3 include Nd2, the Tarrasch Variation, and e5, which closes the position.
With the most popular King’s Pawn Openings covered, let’s move on to the popular Queen’s Pawn Openings. Queen’s Pawn Openings tend to result in more closed positions, and are good for more tactical players.
QUEEN’S GAMBIT DECLINED
1. d4 …d5
2. c4 …e6
3. Nc3 …Nf6
Gambit openings are openings where one side sacrifices a piece to gain a positional or strategic advantage. Though a pawn is sacrificed at the beginning of the Queen’s Gambit, the sacrifice is temporary, since White easily recovers the pawn and has a positional advantage. For this reason, the Queen’s Gambit is usually declined by Black with the move 2…e6. With 3. Nc3 White begins to develop pieces and put pressure on the center. Sometime in the near future, White plans to play e4, gaining even more control of the center.
KING’S INDIAN DEFENSE
1. d4 …Nf6
2. c4 …g6
Black’s reply to White’s first move, 1…Nf6, is characteristic of the various Indian defenses, a hypermodern development strategy. Instead of playing 1…d5, Black allows White to build up a pawn center and then attacks it first with developed pieces and future pawn advances. 1…Nf6 is a very flexible response, and can easily transpose into the Queen’s Gambit and other positions. With 2…g6, Black plans to fianchetto his dark-squared bishop by moving it to the g7 square. If Black manages to retain his bishop, it will become a powerful piece on the long diagonal and a good defensive piece after Black castles kingside. The King’s Indian Defense tends to be an aggressive but also risky opening for Black.
KING’S INDIAN ATTACK
1. Nf3 …d5
An idea similar to the King’s Indian Defense (above), White plans to fianchetto his bishop and take advantage of the long diagonal, another aggressive system.
With a good knowledge of openings along with opening principles, you will become a great player rather quickly. I hope you learned a lot from this article – good luck!