- In this article, we look at a wide variety of openings for Black and for White in chess. A brief description is given, including main ideas, history, and other relevant information. A link to a more comprehensive guide for each opening is given.
- Note that this article is a work in progress and will comprise a compendium of most mainline and some offbeat openings in chess.
Chess openings are a crucial part of chess theory. Openings are where the game begins, where you choose your style of play. The possibilities are endless in the opening.
Games can be won and lost right away from the opening. Brilliant opening traps can be set up to trick your opponent.
The openings we choose say a lot about us as chess players. They are in a way our chess personality. You can tell a lot about someone by the opening they play.
There are 20 possible first moves in chess, and the possibilities exponentially multiply from there. In this article, we take a look at the main opening moves, their subvariations, and even the subvariations of the subvariations. The common, the sound, the offbeat, and, the risky, we try to tackle the basics of them all.
By far the two most important first moves in chess are 1.e4 and 1.d4. With these moves, White occupies as much of the center as possible (a key component in opening principles). Lines are opened for the queen and one of the bishops, and a potential square to develop a knight is made.
In addition to these first two moves, we have 1.c4 and 1.Nf3. White forgoes immediately occupying the center squares (e4, d4, e5, and d5), but they are nevertheless controlled from the flank, which is strategically just as important.
These four moves comprise the lion’s share of opening theory. Established opening theory also exists for 1.g3, 1.b3, 1.f4, and 1.Nc3, while the rest remain in dubious terrain.
The most popular first move in chess. This move was described by Bobby Fischer, one of the greatest players to ever play the game, as “best by test”.
Popular at all levels, everyone has played 1.e4 at some point in their chess career. It has been the most popular first move for centuries.
Though it may be a severe generalization, King’s Pawn games are often considered more tactical and attacking than Queen’s Pawn games.
King’s Pawn games are further divided into open games, when Black plays the symmetrical move 1…e5 and Semi-Open games, when Black plays anything other than 1…e5.
We will start now by looking at the open games.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5
This is without a doubt the most studied and theoretical opening of the Open Game, if not in all of chess. This is an ancient opening whose opening theory dates back to around the time of the codification of the modern rules of chess in the mid-16th century, and it is still the top variation of the Open Game in master play to this day.
While the theory on this opening may seem daunting for beginners, this should not mean you should shy away from learning the Ruy Lopez; the ideas and tactical motifs are more natural than in other heavy theory openings, making for both beginners and masters.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4
Before the Ruy Lopez came to dominate the modern Open Game, there was the Italian Game. For centuries, this was the chess opening, in fact, it did not even have a name for a long time. Although the Ruy Lopez has overtaken it in popularity, it still remains a bastion of sound, principled chess.
White immediately placed pressure on Black’s vulnerable f7 square, and almost all beginners have fallen for traps surrounding this. Many masters still use this opening, while it is probably the single best Open Game opening to play for beginners to learn the principles of tactics and strategy.
1.e4 e5 2.f4
Back in the 19th century the notion of romantic chess dominated the game, typified by this double-edged fighting opening.
In today’s positional and engine-tested understanding of the game, the King’s Gambit has fallen out of favor at the top level because it is so dangerous. However, those with a fighting spirit will take a shine to this swashbuckling opening. It makes for some seriously interesting games.
This is the second most popular first move in a game of chess, but this does not mean it is the second-best.
Today, choosing between 1.e4 and 1.d4 is a matter of taste. Again, speaking very generally, this is considered a more strategic-oriented first move. White’s plans are slower. They set out to devise a long-term positional strategy. As such, 1.d4 did not become a mainstream move until the 19th century.
Black has two main responses. 1…d5, the symmetrical approach, is called the “Closed Game”. All other moves fall under “Semi-Closed Games”, including the most popular response to 1.d4, 1…Nf6, a category of Semi-Closed Games called the Indian Game.
1.d4 d5 2.c4
The Queen’s Gambit is basically the opening of the Closed Game. White may play something other than 2.c4, but White chooses it in 55% of games after 1…d5. Even if White plays something else, they will usually play c4 later.
This is a great opening for players looking for a positional game. Ambitious without sacrificing safety, this is the opening masters and beginners have chosen for hundreds of years to learn classical strategic chess.
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6
This is one of the sturdiest defenses against the Queen’s Gambit. Whether you’re rated 1000 or 2800, you will find this opening. It does a phenomenal job of teaching beginners the principles of strategic chess.
By the turn of the 20th century, this became the most important opening in all of chess. Today it remains one of them, without a doubt.
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4
This can be savage torture for 1.d4 players, so much so that many times White will attempt to completely avoid it by playing 3.Nf3.
It’s flexible for Black, and can really leave White with problems if played inaccurately. After 3.Bb4 Black scores an impressive 48%. By playing this move, Black prevents White from playing e4 and threatens to saddle Black with doubled c-pawns.
There is no single best opening move in chess. Even engines do not fully agree on what the best opening moves are. However, moves that control the center, allow for development of pieces and attack your opponent are the best moves.
Simply put, no there is not. If there were a perfect chess opening that could not be defeated, the game would have lost its appeal.
The three basic principles of openings in chess are to control the center, develop your pieces, and get castled.
Out of the 20 possible first moves in chess,