42 Openings That All Chess Players Should Know

Do you feel bad about your lack of opening knowledge? It’s quite intimidating when you hear a chess player casually utter the bizarre name of some obscure chess opening and you feel left in the dark. It is, understandably, a fear of the unknown. For example, the Dragon Variation of the Sicilian Defence can sound pretty unsettling to anyone who never studied it!

On this page you can study the names and basic ideas of popular chess openings and variations. It will boost your confidence and help you overcome fear of the opening.

List of Popular Chess Openings

List of Popular Chess Openings

The primary objectives of the opening is to control the centre, develop the pieces, get the king safe and achieve a playable middle-game position. Over time, chess players devised unique plans to achieve these objectives–which led to the rise of many openings.

(Note that chess openings can be broadly categorized based on their shared characteristics. It will be a good idea to also study the lesson: 13 Types of Chess Openings.)

Below is a list of 42 popular chess openings and variations, with a summary of each. For easy reference they are listed in alphabetical order:

Note: This page is a work in progress. Check back soon for updates.

  1. Alekhine’s Defense
  2. Benko Gambit
  3. Benoni Defense
  4. Bird’s Opening
  5. Bogo-Indian Defense
  6. Budapest Gambit
  7. Catalan Opening
  8. Caro-Kann Defense
  9. Colle System
  10. Dutch Defense
  11. Giuoco Piano
  12. English Opening
  13. Evans Gambit
  14. Four Knights Game
  15. French Defense
  16. Grünfeld Defense
  17. Italian Game
  18. King’s Gambit
  19. King’s Indian Attack
  20. King’s Indian Defense
  21. King’s Pawn Game
  22. London System
  23. Modern Defense
  24. Nimzo-Indian Defense
  25. Nimzowitsch Defense
  26. Petrov’s Defense
  27. Philidor’s Defense
  28. Pirc Defense
  29. Queen’s Gambit Accepted
  30. Queen’s Gambit Declined
  31. Queen’s Indian Defense
  32. Queen’s Pawn Game
  33. Réti Opening
  34. Ruy Lopez
  35. Scandinavian Defense
  36. Scotch Game
  37. Sicilian Defense
  38. Slav Defense
  39. Torre Attack
  40. Two Knights Defense
  41. Vienna Game
  42. Wade Defense

Alekhine’s Defense

Alekhine’s Defense is a hypermodern opening from black’s perspective against 1.e4, the King’s Pawn Game.

The opening is named after Alexander Alekhine, the fourth world champion, who played it in two of his games in a tournament in Budapest, 1921. He scored 1.5/2 points with it.

Alekhine's Defence Main Line

Diagram above: 1.e4 Nf6 is Alekhine’s Defense. Black attacks the pawn on e4 and dares white to advance the pawn into black’s territory with 2.e5.

Note: When the word “defense” appears in the name of an opening, it usually refers to an opening from black’s point of view. When the word “attack” appears in the name, it usually (not always) refers to an opening from white’s point of view.

Alekhine’s Defense Theory

Black’s strategy in the Alekhine’s Defense is to dare white to grab space in the center with attacking pawn moves. Black then intends to attack and undermine these pawns before white can effectively support them. This implies black must act quickly and attack the white central pawns before white manages to effectively support them with their pieces, in which case white will enjoy a strong advantage in the center.

The most popular variation in Alekhine’s Defense is the Modern Variation.

Alekhine’s Defense Modern Variation

Alekhine's Defence: Modern Variation

Diagram above: 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 is the Alekhine’s Defense Modern Variation.

The Modern Variation is the most common variation of the Alekhine Defense. In this variation white decides to ovoid overextending his pawns and instead aims to settle for a modest approach, in the hope to more effectively hang on to a smaller spatial advantage.

Black would often continue with 4…Bg4, pinning the knight on f3. Black will often consider to trade their bishop for the knight because the white knight plays an important role in supporting the advanced centre pawns. The thought behind this strategy is to undermine white’s support of the central pawns.

Who plays Alekhine’s Defense?

Top players who made the opening part of their repertoire include Ernst Grünfeld, Bobby Fischer, Victor Korchnoi, Vassily Ivanchuk, Lev Alburt Alexander Shabalov, Levon Aronian, Micky Adams, Hikaru Nakamura and, of course, Alexander Alekhine. This impressive list of famous players gave a seemingly awkward opening a respectable reputation.

Since Alekhine’s Defense is a less common opening, there is a fair chance that your opponent won’t have an in-depth understanding of it. This can potentially give you an advantage–if you are well-prepared.

Interesting Note: Napoléon Bonaparte used this opening, and won, in the oldest known example of this opening that would later become known as Alekhine’s Defense.

Benko Gambit

The Benko Gambit, also known as the Volga Gambit or the Volga-Benko Gambit, is a gambit opening from black’s perspective. It starts with the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5.

benko gambit chess opening

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 is the Benko Gambit.

Benko Gambit Theory

The Benko Gambit is a rather unique response to 1.d4 where black wants to sacrifice a pawn in the hope to obtain lasting pressure–through active pieces and open files on the queen-side. Black’s strategy is then further enhanced by placing a fianchettoed bishop on g7 which can potentially heap immense pressure on white’s queenside. Black should approach these ideas energetically–or else risk losing the initiative if white finds the time to organize a solid defense.

The most popular response for white is to accept the gambit, leading to the Benko Gambit Accepted variation.

Benko Gambit Accepted

The most common response to 3… b5, is for white to accept the gambit with 4.cxb5, leading to the Benko Gambit Accepted.

Benko Gambit Accepted

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 cxb5 is the Benko Gambit Accepted.

If white accepts the gambit, black continues with the move 5.a6, attacking the pawn on b5 and helping black to develop quickly on the queen-side. If white declines the gambit then the game will likely enter a position resembling the Benoni Defense, and offers black a completely playable position.

Who plays the Benko Gambit?

The Benko Gambit, named after practitioner Pal Benko, has also been played by Magnus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand, Garry Kasparov, Veselin Topalov, Mikhail Tal, Vassily Ivanchuk, Michael Adams, Alexei Shirov, Boris Gelfand, and Evgeny Bareev.

Since the Benko Gambit is a very aggressive and risky opening (albeit still sound), it is an ideal opening for situations where black is willing to take on some risk–in return for increased winning chances. A well-prepared practitioner of the Benko Gambit will likely get exciting opportunities against all but the most experienced opponents and for this reason it is considered a very effective opening for club-level players.

Benoni Defense

The Benoni Defense is an aggressive opening, from black’s perspective, characterized by the initial moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5, by which black intends to exchange their flank c-pawn for white’s central d-pawn.

benoni defence

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 is known as the Benoni Defense.

Benoni Defense Theory

In the Benoni Defence, black’s overarching strategy is to create significant imbalances in the position. Imbalances will create more dynamic opportunities and thus black will get more winning chances than they would typically get from a more solid response. This benefit comes, of course, at the cost of increased losing chances too! That is why top chess players favor this opening in “must-win” match situations.

Note: After 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5, white doesn’t win a pawn with 3.dxc5 because 3… e6, followed by Bxc5 will only help black. Alternatively, 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.dxc5 e6 4.b4 a5! is even better for black.

The most popular variation in the Benoni opening is the Modern Variation.

Benoni Defense Modern Variation

White’s most popular response to 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 is 3.d5, to which black will mostly reply 3… e6, known as the Modern Variation of the Benoni.

benoni defence modern variation

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 is the Modern Variation of the Benoni Defense.

With the move 3… e6, black’s strategy is to capture white’s pawn on d5, thereby creating a majority of black pawns on the queen-side. Black then intends to play g6 and Bg7, from where the bishop will support the advance of black’s queen-side pawn majority. Black will control the dark-squares, particularly the d4-square, whereas white will have more control over the light squares.

The obvious structural imbalances in the Modern Benoni reduces the chances of the game ending in a draw and gives both sides more winning chances. This is also why the opening has a reputation for being risky.

Who plays the Benoni Defense?

Even though Frank Marshall invented the Modern Benoni in 1927, it was only popularized 20 years later, primarily by Mikhail Tal, the highly tactical player from Latvia, who scored many brilliant victories with it.

Other famous chess players who have played the Benoni Defense in top-level tournaments include Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov, Levon Aronian, Magnus Carlsen, Vugar Gashimov, Vassily Ivanchuk, Hikaru Nakmura and Veselin Topalov.

Bird’s Opening

The Bird’s opening is a flank opening from white’s perspective, starting with the move 1.f4.

bird's opening

Diagram above: 1.f4 is the Bird’s opening.

Bird’s Opening Theory

The Bird’s opening is an aggressive, imbalanced and rather unusual opening where white aims to control the e5-square, possibly with the help of a fianchettoed bishop on b2. The opening generally offers good attacking chances to white but comes at the cost of weakening their own king-side.

A popular response by black is 1… d5, known as the Dutch Variation of the Bird’s Opening.

Bird’s Opening Dutch Variation

If black responds with 1… d5, white usually plays 2.Nf3 and we reach the Dutch Variation of the Bird’s Opening.

bird's opening dutch variation

Diagram above: 1.f4 d5 3.Nf3 is the Dutch Variation of the Bird’s Opening.

In the Dutch Variation of the Bird’s Opening, white will essentially play the Dutch Defence with reversed colors. White can try to dominate the a1-h8 diagonal with a fianchettoed bishop on b2 (and pawns on e3 and f4). White can also opt for a King’s-Indian setup (g3, Bg2, 0-0), with an attack on the black king-side.

Who plays the Bird’s Opening?

Even though the move 1.f4 was mentioned by Lucena in a book from 1497, the opening was eventually named after the British master, Henry Bird, who first played it in 1855 and continued to do so for most of his career.

Top chess players probably feel there are better ways to utilize the first-move advantage, which is possibly why the Bird’s opening is not popular among them. Even so, elite grandmasters occasionally use it as a surprise weapon. Famous chess players who tried their hand at the Bird’s Opening include Aron Nimzowitsch, Savielly Tartakower, Jose Capablanca, Richard Rapport, Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura.

Bogo-Indian Defense

The Bogo-Indian Defense is an opening for black against 1.d4. The opening is named after the Russian grandmaster Efim Bogoljubow.

Bogo Indian Defence

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Bb4+ is the Bogo-Indian defense.

Bogo-Indian Defense Theory

Black’s idea is very simple–to develop their king-side as quickly as possible before shifting their attention to the centre.

The most popular variation in the opening is the known as the Nimzowitsch Variation:

Bogo-Indian Defense Nimzowitsch Variation

If white blocks the check with 4.Bd2, black’s popular reply is 4… Qe7, which leads to the Nimzowitsch variation:

Bogo Indian Defence Nimzowitsch Variation

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Bb4+ 4.Bd2 Qe7 is the Nimzowitsch variation of the Bogo-Indian Defense.

In the Nimzowitsch variation black defends the bishop with their queen, 4… Qe7. White usually avoids 5.Bxb4 Qxb4+, which may force white to give up a pawn.

Who plays the Bogo-Indian Defense?

An impressive list of top level players include the Bogo-Indian Defense in their repertoire. Frequent practitioners include Michael Adams, Viswanathan Anand, Magnus Carlsen, Leinier Dominguez Perez, Laurent Fressinet, Alexander Grischuk, Vassily Ivanchuk, Baadur Jobava, Alexander Moiseenko, Alexander Morozevich, Arkadij Naiditsch, Arkadij, David Navara, Evgeny Tomashevsky, Nikita Vitiugov, Hao Wang, and Yue Wang.

Budapest Gambit

The Budapest Gambit is a gambit opening for black that begins with the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5.

Budapest Gambit

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 is the Budapest Gambit.

Budapest Gambit Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Budapest Gambit Rubinstein Variation

p Opening Intro

Budapest Gambit Rubinstein Variation

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.Bf4 Nc6 is the Budapest Gambit Rubinstein Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Budapest Gambit?

Catalan Opening

The Catalan Opening is an opening for white that begins with the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3

Catalan Opening

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 is the Catalan opening

Catalan Opening Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Catalan Opening Open Defense

p Opening Intro

Catalan Opening Open Defence

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 e6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.Bg2 is the Catalan Opening Open Defense.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Catalan Opening?

Caro-Kann Defense

The Caro-Kann Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.e4 c6.

Caro-Kann Defence

Diagram above: 1.e4 c6 is the Caro-Kann Defense.

Caro-Kann Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Caro-Kann Defense Advance Variation

p Opening Intro

Caro-Kann Defence Advance Variation

Diagram above: 1.e4 c6 2.e5 Bf5 is the Caro-Kann Defense Advance Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Caro-Kann Defense?

Colle System

The Colle System is an opening system for white that starts with the moves 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3

Colle System

Diagram above: 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 is the Colle System.

Colle System Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Colle System Traditional Colle

p Opening Intro

Colle System Traditional Colle

Diagram above: The position illustrates The Traditional Colle System setup.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Colle System?

Dutch Defense

The Dutch Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.d4 f5.

Dutch Defence

Diagram above: 1.d4 f5 is the Dutch Defense.

Dutch Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Dutch Defense Fianchetto Attack

p Opening Intro

Dutch Defence Fianchetto Attack

Diagram above: 1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 is the Dutch Defense Fianchetto Attack

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Dutch Defense?

English Opening

The English Opening is an opening for white that starts with the move 1.c4

English Opening

Diagram above: 1.c4 is the English Opening.

English Opening Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

English Opening Anglo-Indian Defense

p Opening Intro

English Opening Anglo-Indian Defense

Diagram above: 1.c4 Nf6 is the English Opening Anglo-Indian Defense.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the English Opening?

Evans Gambit

The Evans Gambit is an opening for white that starts with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4.

Evans Gambit

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 is the Evans Gambit.

Evans Gambit Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Evans Gambit Accepted

p Opening Intro

Evans Gambit Accepted

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 c3 is the Evans Gambit Accepted.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Evans Gambit?

Four Knights Game

The Four Knights Game is an opening for black that starts with the 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6.

Four Knights Game

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 is the Four Knights Game.

Four Knights Game Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Four Knights Game Double Spanish Variation

p Opening Intro

Four Knights Game Double Spanish Variation

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bb4is the Four Knights Game Double Spanish Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Four Knights Game?

French Defense

The French Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.e4 e6.

French Defence

Diagram above: 1.e4 e6 is the French Defense opening.

French Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

French Defense Winawer Variation

p Opening Intro

French Defence Winawer Variation

Diagram above: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 is the French Defense Winawer Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the French Defense?

Giuoco Piano

The Giuoco Piano is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5.

Giuoco Piano

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 is the Giuoco Piano.

Giuoco Piano Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Giuoco Piano Classical Variation

p Opening Intro

Giuoco Piano Classical Variation

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 is the Giuoco Piano Classical Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Giuoco Piano?

Grünfeld Defense

The Grünfeld Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves

Grünfeld Defense

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 is the Grünfeld Defense.

Grünfeld Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Grünfeld Defense Exchange Variation

p Opening Intro

Grünfeld Defense Exchange Variation

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 is the Grünfeld Defense Exchange Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Grünfeld Defense?

Italian Game

The Italian Game is an opening for white that starts with the moves

Italian Game

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 is the Italian Game.

Italian Game Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Italian Game Giuoco Pianissimo

p Opening Intro

Italian Game Giuoco Pianissimo

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d3 is the Italian Game Giuoco Pianissimo.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Italian Game?

King’s Gambit

The King’s Gambit is an opening for white that starts with the 1.e4 e5 2.f4.

King's Gambit

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 is the King’s Gambit.

King’s Gambit Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

King’s Gambit Accepted

p Opening Intro

King's Gambit Accepted

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 is the King’s Gambit Accepted, to which white usually responds with 3.Nf3.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the King’s Gambit?

King’s Indian Attack

The King’s Indian Attack, also known as the Barcza System, is a chess opening system for white that starts with the moves 1.Nf3 d5 2.g3.

Kings Indian Attack

Diagram above: 1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 is the initial moves of the King’s Indian Attack.

Note: When the word “Attack” appears in the name of an opening, it usually refers to an opening from white’s point of view. For example, The King’s-Indian Attack resembles the same setup for white as the King’s-Indian Defense for black.

King’s Indian Attack Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

King’s Indian Attack Yugoslav Variation

p Opening Intro

Kings Indian Attack Yugoslav Variation

Diagram above: 1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 c6 4.O-O Bg4 5.d3 Nbd7 6.Nbd2 e5 7.e4 is the King’s Indian Attack Yugoslav Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the King’s Indian Attack?

King’s Indian Defense

The King’s Indian Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6.

King's Indian Defense

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 is the King’s Indian Defense.

King’s Indian Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

King’s Indian Defense Classical Variation

p Opening Intro

King's Indian Defense Classical Variation

Diagram above: moves is the King’s Indian Defense Classical Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the King’s Indian Defense?

King’s Pawn Game

The King’s Pawn Game refers to any opening where white starts the game with 1.e4

King's Pawn Game

Diagram above: moves is the King’s Pawn Game.

King’s Pawn Game Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

King’s Pawn Game / Sicilian Defense

p Opening Intro

King's Pawn Game Sicilian Defense

Diagram above: moves is the King’s Pawn Game / Sicilian Defense.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the King’s Pawn Game?

London System

The London System is an opening system for white that starts with the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Bc4.

London System

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Bc4 is the London System.

London System Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

London System Main Line

p Opening Intro; since it’s a system there various ways to continue. Mostly with e3.

London System Main Line

Diagram above: moves is the London System Main Line.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the London System?

Modern Defense

The Modern Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.d4 g6.

Modern Defense

Diagram above: 1.d4 g6 is the Modern Defense.

Modern Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Modern Defense Standard Line

p Opening Intro 1.d4 g6 2.e4 d6 3.Nc3 Bg7

Modern Defense Standard Line

Diagram above: 1.d4 g6 2.e4 d6 3.Nc3 Bg7 is the Modern Defense Standard Line.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Modern Defense?

Nimzo-Indian Defense

The Nimzo-Indian Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4.

Nimzo-Indian Defense

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 is the Nimzo-Indian Defense.

Nimzo-Indian Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Nimzo-Indian Defense Rubinstein Variation

p Opening Intro

Nimzo-Indian Defense Rubinstein system Main line

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd3 d5 is the Nimzo-Indian Defense Rubinstein Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Nimzo-Indian Defense?

Nimzowitsch Defense

The Nimzowitsch Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.e4 Nc6.

Nimzowitsch Defense

Diagram above: 1.e4 Nc6 is the Nimzowitsch Defense.

Nimzowitsch Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Nimzowitsch Defense Scandinavian Variation

p Opening Intro; can transpose to king’s pawn game

Nimzowitsch Defence Scandinavian Variation

Diagram above: 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5 is the Nimzowitsch Defense Scandinavian Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Nimzowitsch Defense?

Petrov’s Defense

Petrov’s Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6.

Petrov's Defense

Diagram above: moves is Petrov’s Defense.

Petrov’s Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Petrov’s Defense Classical Variation

p Opening Intro

Petrov's Defense Classical Variation

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 is the Petrov’s Defense Classical Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Petrov’s Defense?

Philidor’s Defense

Philidor’s Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6.

Philidor's Defense

Diagram above: moves is Philidor’s Defense.

Philidor’s Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Philidor’s Defense Exchange Variation

p Opening Intro

Philidor's Defense Exchange Variation

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 is the Philidor’s Defense Exchange Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Philidor’s Defense?

Pirc Defense

The Pirc Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6.

Pirc Defense

Diagram above: moves is the Pirc Defense.

Pirc Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Pirc Defense Classical Variation

p Opening Intro

Pirc Defense Classical Variation

Diagram above: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Be2 O-O 6.O-O c6 is the Pirc Defense Classical Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Pirc Defense?

Queen’s Gambit

The Queen’s Gambit is an opening for white that starts with the 1.d4 d5 2.c4.

Queen's Gambit

Queen’s Gambit Theory

Black must decide to either accept or decline the gambit.

Who plays the Queen’s Gambit?

Queen’s Gambit Accepted

The Queen’s Gambit Accepted is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4.

Queen's Gambit Accepted

Diagram above: moves is the Queen’s Gambit Accepted.

Queen’s Gambit Accepted Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Queen’s Gambit Accepted Main Line

p Opening Intro

Queen's Gambit Accepted Main Line

Diagram above: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.d3 is the Queen’s Gambit Accepted Main Line.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Queen’s Gambit Accepted?

Queen’s Gambit Declined

The Queen’s Gambit Declined is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6.

Queen's Gambit Declined

Diagram above: moves is the Queen’s Gambit Declined.

Queen’s Gambit Declined Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Queen’s Gambit Declined Semi Slav Variation

p Opening Intro

Queen's Gambit Declined Semi Slav Variation

Diagram above: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 c6 is the Queen’s Gambit Declined Semi Slav Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Queen’s Gambit Declined?

Queen’s Indian Defense

The Queen’s Indian Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6.

Queen's Indian Defense

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 is the Queen’s Indian Defense.

Queen’s Indian Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Queen’s Indian Defense Fianchetto Variation

p Opening Intro

Queen's Indian Defense Fianchetto Variation

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Ba6 is the Queen’s Indian Defense Fianchetto Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Queen’s Indian Defense?

Queen’s Pawn Game

The Queen’s Pawn Game refers to any opening where white starts the game with 1.d4

Queen's Pawn Game

Diagram above: moves is the Queen’s Pawn Game.

Queen’s Pawn Game Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Queen’s Pawn Game / Anti-Nimzo-Indian

p Opening Intro

Queen's Pawn Game Anti-Nimzo-Indian

Diagram above: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 is the Queen’s Pawn Game / Anti-Nimzo-Indian.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Queen’s Pawn Game?

Réti Opening

The Réti Opening is an opening for white that starts with the moves 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4.

Réti Opening

Diagram above: moves is the Réti Opening.

the Réti should not be thought of as a single opening sequence, and certainly not a single opening move, but rather as an opening complex with many variations sharing common themes.

Réti Opening Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

In modern times the Réti refers only to the configuration Nf3 and c4 by White with …d5 by Black, where White fianchettos at least one bishop and does not play an early d4. Else often transposes to other openings.

Réti Opening / Queen’s Gambit Declined (Transposed)

p Opening Intro

Réti Opening Transpose Queen's Gambit Declined

Diagram above: 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 e6 is the Réti Opening / Queen’s Gambit Declined (Transposed).

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Réti Opening?

Ruy Lopez

The Ruy Lopez is an opening for white that starts with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5.

Ruy Lopez

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 is the Ruy Lopez.

Ruy Lopez Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Ruy Lopez Closed Defense

p Opening Intro

Ruy Lopez Closed Defense

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 is the Ruy Lopez Closed Defense.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Ruy Lopez?

Scandinavian Defense

The Scandinavian Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.e4 d5.

Scandinavian Defense

Diagram above: 1.e4 d5 is the Scandinavian Defense.

Scandinavian Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Scandinavian Defense Main Line

p Opening Intro

Scandinavian Defense Main Line

Diagram above: 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 is the Scandinavian Defense Main Line.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Scandinavian Defense?

Scotch Game

The Scotch Game is an opening for white that starts with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4.

Scotch Game

Diagram above: moves is the Scotch Game.

Scotch Game Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Scotch Game Classical Variation

p Opening Intro

Scotch Game Classical Variation

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd5 Bc5 5.Be3 is the Scotch Game Classical Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Scotch Game?

Sicilian Defense

The Sicilian Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.e4 c5.

Sicilian Defense

Diagram above: 1.e4 c5 is the Sicilian Defense.

Sicilian Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Sicilian Defense Najdorf Variation

p Opening Intro

Sicilian Defense Najdorf Variation

Diagram above: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 is the Sicilian Defense Najdorf Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Sicilian Defense?

Slav Defense

The Slav Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6.

Slav Defense

Diagram above: moves is the Slav Defense.

Slav Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Slav Defense Modern Line

p Opening Intro

Slav Defense Modern Line

Diagram above: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 is the Slav Defense Modern Line.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Slav Defense?

Torre Attack

The Torre Attack is an opening system for white that starts with the moves 1.d4 e6 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bg5.

Torre Attack

Diagram above: moves is the Torre Attack.

Torre Attack Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Torre Attack Classical Defense

p Opening Intro

Torre Attack Classical Defense

Diagram above: Is the standard Torre setup that white achieves in the Torre Attack Classical Defense.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Torre Attack?

Two Knights Defense

The Two Knights Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6.

Two Knights Defense

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 is the Two Knights Defense

Two Knights Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

must also be ready to face the Fried Liver Attack

Fried Liver Attack

The Fried Liver Attack is an opening variation for white that starts with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nc6 4.Ng5.

Fried Liver Attack

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nc6 4.Ng5 is the Fried Liver Attack.

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Two Knights Defense / Giuoco Pianissimo (Transposed)

p Opening Intro

mostly transposes to italian game giuoco pianissimo

Two Knights Defense Giuoco Pianissimo

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 is the Two Knights Defense / Giuoco Pianissimo (Transposed).

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Two Knights Defense?

Vienna Game

The Vienna Game is an opening for white that starts with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3.

Vienna Game

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 is the Vienna Game opening.

Vienna Game Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Vienna Game Mieses Variation

p Opening Intro

Vienna Game Mieses Variation

Diagram above: 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 is the Vienna Game Mieses Variation.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

p summary/closing comment

Who plays the Vienna Game?

Wade Defense

The Wade Defense is an opening for black that starts with the moves 1.d4 d6 2.Nf3 Bg4.

Wade Defense

Diagram above: 1.d4 d6 2.Nf3 Bg4 is the Wade Defense opening.

Wade Defense Theory

p objectives summary; theory overview

p The most popular variation in the opening is the :

Wade Defense Main Line

p Opening Intro; The game usually continues…

Wade Defense Main Line

Diagram above: 1.d4 d6 2.Nf3 Bg4 3.c4 Nbd7 4.Nc3 e5 is the Wade Defense Main Line.

p variation objectives summary; theory overview

Who plays the Wade Defense?

How Many Chess Openings are There?

There are over 9 million possible positions after only 3 moves by either side. The vast majority of these moves will of course be nonsensical and it would be pointless to try name all the possible ways to play the first few moves in the game. In fact, only a small percentage of all chess openings are officially named (and not all of them are actually good). The Oxford Companion to Chess recognized 1327 named openings and variations. Over time this number will grow as chess players experiment with new variations.

How Many Chess Openings Should I Know?

It’s practically impossible to attain an in-depth knowledge of each and every respectable opening that exists. That is why many chess players opt to develop their own opening repertoire. However, it will boost your confidence to know the basics of all popular openings, and that is what you can learn on this page.

More on Chess Openings

Here’s a few useful links for further study:

  • Chess Openings by chess.com. A list of various chess openings with a short introduction to each. You will need a premium account to get full access.
  • Chess Opening by Wikipedia. The authoritative online encyclopedia has tons of information on chess openings.
  • Chess Openings by thechesswebsite. A list of 80+ different chess openings and variations, with a short summary and video of each opening. Some of the lessons require a membership to access.

Closing Comments

The list of chess openings on this page is not intended as an in-depth study of each opening (that would make the page impossible long). It is, however, a great way to introduce you to all the popular chess openings and variations that chess players should know.

Going through this list of openings a few times will give you a meaningful knowledge of the openings you are most likely to face in your games. It can also serve as a guide to help you choose the openings you want to study in-depth. The next step, then, would be to build your personal opening repertoire. (Even grandmasters often have their favorite openings that they specialize in.)

Feel free to contact me if you have any suggestions to further improve this list of popular chess openings.

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