Chess Openings - The Game Begins

The first 10-15 moves are said to constitute the 'opening' phase of the game. Next comes the 'middle-game' and eventually the 'endgame', when a only few pieces are left on the board. Of course a game may end prematurely, for example due to a big blunder in the opening.

All three phases of the game have special characteristics regarding the way the chess player is thinking. 

In the chess opening game the major aim is to successfully develop one's forces in order to be ready for the middle-game battle.

To accomplish this, simple, yet important, guidelines have to be followed along with a common-sense analysis. 

These guidelines are the result of long-time experience, offered to the chess community by world class players.

These general principles will be provided in a descending order of importance, along with some short explanations to make them easy to follow.

1. Development. This is the most basic principle that applies in the opening phase of the game of chess.

A piece is developed when it is moved from its initial position to another. As a result, its mobility is increased, as does the number of squares it now controls.

It may threaten some enemy piece as well, which puts some pressure to the opponent.

Before any plan can be put to work development has to be completed. Failure to complete the development will almost certainly lead to a passive position with bad prospects.

2. Control of the centre. This is also very important, since most tactical battles take place in the centre.

A centralized piece is definitely very well placed because it controls many squares and can exert pressure on many other pieces when given the opportunity.

Pawn moves usually help control the centre. This is why central pawn moves are preferred to side pawn moves.

Control of the centre may also be assisted by normal piece development. For example, developing the Kg1 to f3 gives control to the central squares d4 and e5.

3. King safety. Castling should seldom be postponed. Castling increases the king's safety and also helps the rook develop.

There are rare cases in which one should consider to not castle at all.

Short castling is normally much safer. Failure to castle may give the opponent an opportunity to attack the king directly or indirectly; in each case defensive problems arise and the king can be difficult to protect.

4. Plan. One should try to mentally formulate a simple plan, then also try to follow it.

The plan should give a general idea of where the pieces are going to develop and what pawn moves are intended.

Move order is also important and should be examined as well.

Generally speaking, pawn moves are made first (to gain control of the centre), knight moves come next (because they have few possible squares to develop) and then bishop moves (because bishops can be developed on several possible squares one may be uncertain which one is best).

Castling should be done early, if possible, and finally development of the heavy pieces can also be done.

Early queen moves are not recommended, for the opponent may take advantage by threatening the queen whilst developing his own pieces.

Next comes an example of how one should think when playing the opening.

Suppose WHITE is preparing his first move. There are eight pawns, each of which may advance one or two squares. The other pieces are currently immobilized, except for the two knights, which can move to two possible squares each.

WHITE should recall the basic guidelines : development, control of the centre, king safety, a plan.

He may well move a knight to start the development. The moves 1.Nf3 and 1.Nc3 are equally good, however, a knight on a3 or h3 is badly placed, for it is away from the centre.

Usually pawn moves are made first, so 1.e4, controlling d5 and f5 is a very good choice.

Equally good is 1.d4 and 1.c4. The move 1.f4 is acceptable, but it weakens the king somewhat.

Moving the a, b, g or h pawns is not suggested, since they do not fight for the centre. Similarly, 1.e3 and 1.d3 are acceptable moves, but they are considered inferior for the same reason.

Suppose WHITE eventually decides to play 1.e4 and now BLACK replies with 1…e5, also fighting for the centre.

Now WHITE has more choices, since his queen and his bishop at f1 can also move.

WHITE should avoid playing the queen too early, as mentioned. He should rather try to develop his lightweight pieces.

His selection list should now include at least the following moves, which are consistent to the basic principles : 2.d4, 2.Nf3, 2.Nc3, 2.Bc4.

There are other good moves too, but these are probably the best.

WHITE should dislike for example 2.Bd3, because this move, though actually developing a piece, has two drawbacks : it does not increase the bishop's mobility and it prevents the d pawn from advancing.

The d pawn will need to advance sooner or later, or WHITE will have little freedom in his moves; so the move 2.Bd3 may be a lost tempo, if WHITE later needs to move the bishop again.

This mini example demonstrates how one should use his own judgment along with the general opening principles. Note that the general principles by no means are of universal validity.

To read more about chess and how to play well, you can return to the Chess Homepage, by clicking here

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