In life, the way something begins often sets the tone for how the rest of it will unfold.
This is true also of chess, which makes sense since in many ways the game itself is an allegory for life and the battles we face while living. This is why the way you decide to begin a game of chess is so important – making a poor set of opening moves can cost you the game. Likewise, a strong opening can set the tone for the rest of the game and ensure a victory.
In this article, we will study why it is so important to play a strong opening, as well as go over some examples of famous openings and break down why they are so important to learn.
Since the game of chess is more than a thousand years old, most openings have not only been studied extensively, but many of them have even been named. This will make it easy for us to discuss them, as well as to analyze which opening moves – or sets of opening moves – are likely to be more effective than others. In turn, this will make it easy for you to notate which openings you like best for your play strategy, and return to study them further at a later time.
The first thing to keep in mind is that, like most aspects of chess, memorization is good, but it is not nearly as important as understanding the underlying concepts themselves. Opening moves are no different – it is of course a good idea to learn the most effective opening moves and memorize how they work, but learning why they work will serve you better in the long run. This is because you will often face positions where a set of moves cannot go as they do in your memory, and you will have to improvise a way around a challenge. So, as you progress, be sure to not just memorize the opening moves, but to actually understand them as well.
Next, it is important to determine what kind of chess player you are, and what type of strategy you like to implement. If you are more of a defensive player, there are moves which will serve you better. If you are an aggressor and like to take your opponent to task right out of the gate, there are a lot of openers which are tailored to that stance as well. Determine what type of game you are going to want to play, and then you can decide which opening moves are most relevant to each situation.
There are several common goals you may have with your opening moves. These are most often development of pieces, control of the center, ensuring king safety, and challenging your enemy. While the order of priority of these goals will depend on what your goals are, these will for the most part cover what you will most often be trying to accomplish with your opening moves. Control of the center is important for many reasons – but do not make the mistake of thinking it is the sole aim you should have.
Take, for instance, the King’s-Indian Attack opening system. This is a set of opening moves which do not aim to immediately establish control of the center and yet, the KIA is one of the most prevalent and widely used openings in chess. This is because the system is very versatile, easy to implement, and can be achieved despite virtually anything Black does. This opening aims to provide king safety as its primary goal, while also developing a pawn to allow for a space advantage on white’s kingside. Additionally, once the opening is complete, it allows for a very comprehensive all-out attack platform on the black king. The versatility of this opening – being able to switch up how you play it and on what you decide to focus your attention – is what makes it such an effective opening strategy.
Conversely, controlling the center is probably the most popular opening idea. Specifically, this is often initiated with 1.e4, or moving the king pawn two spaces to the center of the board. American grandmaster Bobby Fischer rated this move the “best by test”, and for good reason. Immediately controlling the center of the board and providing movement capability for both the queen and a bishop are what this move provides right out the gate. It’s easy to understand why this is one of the oldest openings in chess, and you shouldn’t write it off due solely to simplicity. Straightforward strategies can often be the best.
These two openings often work together – many choose to go for the King’s Indian Attack after playing 1.e4 and then seeing Black’s response. This may even be the way KIA is most often played, and that in turn may be because, again, of its versatility. You can choose to use the KIA against virtually any of Black’s opening moves, so many players use it as a standard opening. There are problems with this line of thinking, though. While it’s true that you could do this – you won’t be learning much. As we discussed at the beginning of this article, it’s more important to actually understand the moves that you are making, rather than just to memorize openings and play them.
While these moves are important to be sure, and studying them is just as important as studying any other opening, you should aim to have a broader knowledge on this particular skill. Rather than choose to simply use 1.e4 followed by the King’s Indian Attack, take the time to study the pantheon of different openings and strategies, and then use that knowledge to inform your decision. It is most often best to use a tool designed for the job at hand, rather than to just simply carry a hammer.
You can start by checking out our Openings Training Room. There, you will find resources to advance your knowledge of chess openings, as well as to learn more about how they relate to the other skills in the 7 Skills family. Take your time to study the common openings, and when you understand not just how they work but why, you will have a better understanding of how the game itself unfolds.