*This article is part of the DAT Chess lesson series; all content covered here was featured in an hour-long chess lesson.
(Note: if you are confused about chess notation, please see this webpage: http://www.chesshouse.com/how_to_read_and_write_chess_notation_a/166.htm. This webpage does an excellent job of explaining everything about chess notation, and should make this article easier to follow.)
The opening can be one of the most daunting areas of chess; so much time is spent by experts analyzing each little variation. Fortunately for you, however, the opening in chess is quite easy to master if you keep these rules and tips in mind while playing.
General things about chess openings:
- · The word opening refers to the first 14 moves or so of the game.
- · Over 50% of chess books written about openings.
- · Due to the vast amount of literature about the opening, its importance is very often overstated. You don’t need to memorize lines or variations; you just need to be acquainted with most openings and their basic ideas. Instead of memorizing lines, your time would be better spent learning more about the middlegame and endgame.
- · White has the slight advantage of having the first move, and the initiative (i.e. being able to move first, and causing your opponent to react to your moves instead of vice versa); White’s goal is to build on that advantage.
- · Black’s goal in the opening is to equalize, and secure some counterplay (i.e. opportunities to counter your opponent’s advantage, and start some plans of your own).
- · If you have a bad opening, it’s not the end of the world. However, to give yourself the best chance to win, you should make moves in keeping with your plan (see below), so that you will have winning chances or drawing chances. Think carefully before you make a move that you aren’t sure about, so that you won’t regret the move later. Does your knight really belong on that square?
- · If you have a general idea of the theory behind most openings-i.e. why which moves are played-you won’t need to memorize anything; you can develop a logical plan.
- · Benefits of being knowledgeable about openings: if you know your openings, you won’t need to waste time thinking about what move to play (see notes about time below).
- · Stick to openings you know-it is okay to play the same thing over and over again. You can even experiment with different openings, to see what works best.
- · This is the one part of the game that you can really prepare for. You know what the beginning position looks like; there’s no excuse if you don’t prepare for it.
Goals of the opening:
- · The goal of the opening is to control the center. This is because your pieces will have most mobility in center! For instance, a knight in the corner can make only two moves; if you move it one space over, it can make 3; one space over, it can make 4. You see that knights on the wings (one side of the board) have little mobility. In the center (c3-c6-f6-f3), the knight can make 8 moves. This maximum mobility also applies to bishops; the better position they are in, the more control over the whole game they exert.
Tips for the opening:
- · Keep king safe by castling, within first 10 moves or so. Don’t castle too early, though, before you have developed most of your pieces.
- · Accomplish whatever plan you have in mind by developing to support it. The importance of this can’t be overstated. If you do this, you will have all of your pieces in all of the right places, and you will gain strategic advantages. However, your plan must still take into account your opponent’s moves, and you must therefore modify your plan accordingly; you can’t just ignore whatever your opponent does, and make the same move no matter what.
- · Go for center before you go for the side. You need to concentrate on taking control of the center before playing on the sides; in fact, you may only play on the sides once you have control of the center, or have at least attained an equilibrium (i.e. both sides are equal) with your opponent.
- · It is okay to “copy” your opponent, if those moves are good ones. There isn’t anything dishonorable about doing this!
- · Usually develop knights before bishops; this rule is subject to change, depending on the opening that you play. It’s okay if you break this rule (for instance, the Bishop Opening (1.e4 e5 2. Bc4) breaks this rule on move 2!).
- · Use every move effectively. Don’t waste time! For instance, don’t play e3, then e4; just play e4 to start out with! As mentioned, White’s advantage lies in his extra move: don’t waste it!
- · You are allowed to exchange pieces if you think it will help your position. Don’t exchange pieces just because you can, though; try not to trade away your bishop for your opponent’s knight, since as more pieces become cleared off the board, the bishop will become more and more powerful.
- · Eventually, you should get your rooks involved; once you clear all of your pieces off of the bottom rank and castle, you should have your rooks connected; get them on open files if you want effective placement for them. The rook is an exception to the above-mentioned mobility rule: it can move an equal number of places from any square on the board. Thus, it doesn’t need to be in the center area; it should instead control the center from a distance, placed in the c1-f1 range.
Things not to do:
- · Don’t bring out your queen too early. It will quickly become a target, and you will lose a lot of time trying to defend it while your opponent is busy developing his pieces!
- · Don’t move a side pawn (a,b, g, or h-file pawn) in the opening; also, don’t play on the sides.
- · Don’t try the 4-move checkmate, or any quick-mating scheme. Take advantage of your opponent’s blunders, but don’t attempt to create them.
- · Don’t move a piece twice. Thus, in most cases, you shouldn’t play Nf3-Ng5, or something like that. Incidentally, you violate this rule when you move out your queen, since you will inevitably move it twice.
- · Don’t move out a pawn in front of your castled king; generally, don’t make moves such as h3 or h6 to kick out your opponent’s bishop, since those moves will usually weaken your king position. Also, don’t make a move like h3 to prevent your opponent from moving his bishop to pin your knight; that just wastes a move.
- · Don’t move out too many pawns, or otherwise make your pawn center too vulnerable. For example, in this variation of the Alekhine defense (1. e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.c4 Nb6 4. d4 e6 5. f4), White makes 5 consecutive pawn moves, not realizing that he is playing right into Black’s hands. Black wants White to push all of his pawns to develop a weak, unsupported pawn center, which he will soon attack. Don’t move out too many pawns!
- · Don’t mindlessly make “good” developing moves without having a plan. You know the feeling that you have when you think, “Great, I just developed all my pieces, now what?” You should never feel that way! Rather, your opening should seamlessly play into your middle game, and you should be able to use in the middle game the pieces that you just mobilized in the opening. You should be thinking, “Awesome, I just developed my pieces, now my plan can be implemented and eventually completed.”
- · Don’t exchange one of your stronger pieces. If you have a strong knight, for instance, in an outpost on e5, don’t trade it away easily, even though your opponent will try to.
- · Don’t sacrifice, even a pawn, unless you have a concrete reason to. Don’t play a gambit (an opening where you sacrifice a pawn) unless you have extremely strong compensation. For instance, in the Danish Gambit, a variation is 1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Bc4 cxb2 5. Bxb2. In this instance, White has sacrificed two pawns, but has more than enough compensation: black hasn’t developed any pieces yet, while White has two bishops trained at his king. However, in other cases/gambits, you shouldn’t just give away a pawn without either an expectation of winning it back in the near future, or strong positional compensation that you should soon be able to take advantage of.
- · Don’t lose a piece! You don’t want to get yourself into a hole that you will need to dig yourself out of later. Double check every move to make sure that it is safe. Don’t leave a piece “hanging” (that is, unprotected). Watch out for the squares that the opponent’s bishops and queens guard, and don’t put any pieces there if they aren’t protected!
Finally, you must break these rules sometimes as well! These rules apply to certain situations, but not each and every situation. If you think you should move a piece twice, go ahead (for instance, sometimes you attack another piece, forcing that piece to move twice, you have both moved a piece twice, so it balances out). These rules should be followed mostly, but if you need to break them for a good reason, go ahead!