Opening

Bundesarchiv Bild 102-07977, Berlin, José Raul Capablanca bei SchachturnierBefore starting, I should note that it is a general consensus among strong chess players (such as Capablanca and Waitzkin), that a beginner should start by studying the endgame.

Of course, the time will come when it is logical to learn the openings. Before actually giving specific opening repertoire suggestions, I would like to first make some general opening rules clear. These are just general rules and are by no means applicable to all situations. For simplicity, I will use the white pieces as an example of opening principles.

1. Play 1.e4 or 1.d4 on the first move. These moves give the strongest central control and open lines for your diagonally-attuned pieces.

2. Develop knights before bishops. Knights reinforce the centre better and bishops tend to be somewhat more exposed when developed early.

3. Do not move a piece twice in an opening. More often than not, this is a waste of time.

4. Do not move your queen out early. The queen is the most valuable piece and if she is exposed early, your opponent can gain valuable time by chasing her around with his lesser valued pieces.

5. Castle early.  Typically the kingside is considered safer than the queenside because castling queenside often requires an extra Kc1-b1 to protect the a1 square as well as the a-pawn.

6. Move your queen forward to ‘connect’ your rooks. This is a sign that your pieces are coordinating effectively. The final point will elaborate more on this by presenting an example.

7. Remember to control the centre. In most stages of the game, the centre is the most important area because from the centre, you can eye both sides of the board and attack weaknesses in the opponent’s camp at will. Dominating the centre in chess can be likened to obtaining the high ground in a battle between two military forces.

8. The ideal setup for White from the opening is pawns on d4 and e4, knights on c3 and f3, bishops on f4 and c4, queen on d2, a castled king on g1, and rooks on e1 and d1.

Once a beginner has mastered the opening principles, he can move on to learning specific openings. I suggest beginners start their chess journeys by playing the main lines. English Grandmaster Nigel Davies warned against beginners taking up flank openings such as the English Opening (1.c4 typically followed by Nb1-c3 and the fianchetto of the kingside bishop) because they require vast amounts of positional knowledge to be able to execute successfully.

I believe playing the main lines will allow beginners to expose themselves to the widest range of tactical and strategical themes in the shortest amount of time. Here is a more detailed justification from Russian Grandmaster and winner of the 1999 FIDE World Chess Championship, Alexander Khalifman:

When playing the main lines [in chess openings] you are standing on the shoulders of giants, repeating moves and ideas that were found by better players than you are, and that automatically elevates you to the next level. Main lines go deeper into the middlegame than side-variations, thus the final positions are easier to handle. When this happens, your higher-ranked opponent often faces an unpleasant choice between following a theoretical line to the end, where the final position would leave him with no chances to win, and stepping aside (could be dangerous) by making an inferior move in order to avoid simplifications.

Of course, the ability to learn the theory regarding the main lines will take time. For many beginners, it will make sense to soon switch to a repertoire that requires less memorisation, but preferably one that still carries a venomous bite. I give some strategies for improving players in my Chess Opening Repertoire Suggestions article, which gives an overview of a main line, a system and a strategic repertoire.

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