Lesson 5 – What you should do in the opening

The opening stage consist of the first few moves on the game where both players aim to develop their pieces and prepare for the fight ahead. It’s quite normal for beginners to wonder which moves are the best at this stage. If you follow the advice in this lesson then you will know how to find good moves in the opening and at the same time you will also discover the things you shouldn’t do in the opening and the pitfalls you should avoid.

Below the video is a transcript (with diagrams).


What you should do in the opening

At the start of a new game, all the pieces occupy their starting positions and the first few moves you are going to make is known as the opening.

The opening consists of the first few moves in the game.

You may be wondering – what is the best move to start the game? This is a good question to ask yourself because some opening moves are good, and others aren’t so good. In this lesson I will show you how to find good moves in the opening.

But before I continue I want to quickly explain that a chess game usually has 3 stages. And as I’ve just said – the first stage of the game is known as the opening. But once you’ve completed your opening moves, you reach the second stage of the game, which is known as the middle-game. The middle-game is when most of the action will take place and during the middle-game, most of the pieces and pawns will be captured or exchanged and eventually, when only a few pieces remain on the board, we reach the third stage, which is known as the endgame.

In this lesson we are going to focus on the first stage – the opening. Right from the start of the game you should aim to make good moves and avoid bad ones because if you can do this consistently, you will improve your chances of winning the game. To help you find good moves and avoid bad ones I am going to tell you about 3 things you should do in the opening and then I will also tell you about 3 things you shouldn’t do.

The first thing you should do is to focus your attention on the middle of the board. The squares in the middle of the board are known as the center and you should aim to control these squares.

In the opening you should focus your attention on the centre.
In the opening you should focus your attention on the center.

Now if I ask you – which opening move here is better:

Moving the pawn in the centre is a better move because it helps you control the centre.
Moving the pawn in the center is a better move because it helps you control the center.

You should realize now that playing the pawn to e4 (the one in the center) is a better move because it helps you control the center, whereas moving the pawn on the side wouldn’t do so. Now you may be wondering – why is it important to control the center? Well, of course all the squares on the board are important and you shouldn’t forget about the squares on the sides, but the center is more important because most of the action will happen in or near the middle of the board. And if you control these squares then it would be to your advantage.

Another reason why it’s important to control the center, is that your pieces can do more when they are near the center. Here’s what I mean:

A piece covers fewer squares from the side than it would from the center.

The bishop on the side of the board attacks only in one direction. But if the bishop was in the center…

A piece near the center attacks in many directions.
A piece near the center attacks in many directions.

he would attack in two directions, which means he is more useful to you. Here’s an example with a knight:

There's a saying in chess: "A knight on the rim is dim." There will be exceptions in some situations of course.
There’s a saying in chess: “A knight on the rim is dim.” There will be exceptions in some situations, of course, but most of the time it’s true.

The knight on the side of the board attacks only 4 squares, but if you place him in the center…

It's clear why your knight is more useful from the center.
It’s clear why your knight is more useful from the center.

he would be attacking 8 squares. You can clearly see that a piece is more useful to you when it’s in or near the center. So that is the first thing you should do in the opening – focus your attention on the center.

The second thing you should do in the opening is called development. Development simply means you should move out your pieces and bring them closer to the action so that they can help you fight. Here’s an example:

What should white do in this opening situation?
What should white do in this opening situation?

It’s white’s turn to move. Which move would be better? – to move the pawn on a2 to a4 or to develop the knight from b1 to c3. What do you think?

Which move seems better, and why?
Which of the 2 shown moves seem better, and why? The knight, because you develop a piece towards the center.

The knight is still on it’s starting square and we need to develop him. It is usually much better to develop a piece than to move a pawn. In fact, you shouldn’t move too many pawns in the opening, except for the pawns in the center, because moving them helps you control the center and also, opens up the diagonals for your bishops to develop. So, this is the second thing you should do in the opening – develop your pieces as quickly as possible – and of course, it would be even better if you could develop them towards the center.

The third thing you should do in the opening, is to make the castling move. Here’s what I mean:

It's usually a very good idea to make the castling move early in the opening.
It’s usually a very good idea to make the castling move early in the opening.

You will notice both players are busy developing their pieces and at this stage white is ready to make the castling move. And probably black will also castle soon. The reason why you should aim to castle in the opening is that your king will be safer when you move him away from the center and this move will also help you develop the rook that’s otherwise stuck in the corner. It’s also a good idea to connect your rooks, which means you need to clear the spaces between them. If white wants to connect his rooks here…

White can connect the rooks by developing the queen.
White can connect the rooks by castling and then developing the queen.

…he can move the queen, and now the rooks are connected, and being connected makes them stronger because they protect each other.

So, these are the 3 things you should do in the opening – 1) focus your attention on the center, 2) develop your pieces as quickly as possible and 3) make the castling move.

But now I will also tell you about 3 things you shouldn’t do in the opening. First, don’t make too many pawn moves. You should use the time to develop your pieces, because every time you move a pawn, you could have better used that move to develop one of your pieces. Look at this position:

Black made too many pawn moves and now he is behind in development.
Black made too many pawn moves and now he is behind in development.

White’s pieces have been developed and he is ready to start an attack on black’s territory, but black made far too many pawn moves and that means his development is incomplete. He also hasn’t castled yet. Instead of making all these pointless pawn moves, black should have rather spend those moves developing his pieces.

The second thing you shouldn’t do in the opening is that you shouldn’t develop your queen too soon – because if you bring out your queen early on, your opponent will often be able to gain time by making threats against your queen.

This is what I mean. If black brings out the queen here…

It's usually not good to bring the queen out too early because your opponent will attack her whilst developing at the same time.
It’s usually not good to bring the queen out too early because your opponent could attack her whilst developing at the same time.

then white can develop his knight and at the same time attack the queen.

White develops the knight and attacks the black queen at the same time.
White develops the knight and attacks the black queen at the same time.

If the queen moves here…

White can move the other knight into the center and attack the queen again.
White can move the other knight into the center and attack the queen again.

then white can gain even more time by moving the other knight into the centre whilst again attacking black’s queen. In fact, your knight is also threatening to capture the pawn on c7 and if black wants to save the pawn, the queen must go all the way back to defend it.

The queen must go back to defend the pawn on c7. Black lost a lot of time whilst white developed their pieces.
The queen must go back to defend the pawn on c7. Black lost a lot of time whilst white developed their pieces.

You can see that black wasted three moves with the queen and at the same time white managed to develop some of their pieces, whereas black made no progress. This is why you shouldn’t bring out your queen to early. It’s better to wait until the other pieces are developed, and then it would be easier to decide where to place your queen.

Look at this position:

White's development is making good progress but they must still develop the queen and connect the rooks.
White’s development is making good progress but they must still develop the queen and connect the rooks.

You can see white is making progress in his development and he has already castled, but he must still develop the queen. And because your queen is your most valuable piece, you ideally shouldn’t move her near danger. So here the queen can move to either d2 or e2.

White can develop the queen to a safe square and connect the rooks at the same time.
White can develop the queen to a safe square and connect the rooks at the same time.

And now your rooks will also be connected. The third thing you shouldn’t do in the opening, is that once you have castled, you shouldn’t move the pawns in front of your king because they act like a shield to defend your king against sudden checks or attacks.

The pawns in front of your king serves as a shield to protect him. That is why it's usually not a good idea to move these pawns away.
The pawns in front of your king serves as a shield to protect him. That is why it’s usually not a good idea to move these pawns away.

If you move the pawns, it will open-up your king and this could very well become a big problem in the middle-game.

To conclude this lesson let’s quickly summarise what you’ve learnt. In the opening stage of the game you should focus your attention on the centre, you should develop your pieces as quickly as possible and you should castle your king. Then you also learnt about three things you shouldn’t do in the opening – don’t make too many pawn moves, rather use the time to develop your pieces, don’t bring out your queen too early and when you’ve castled it’s better to not move the pawns in front of your king because that would expose him to much danger.

If you are unsure about your next move in the opening, think about the things you learnt in this lesson – it will help you find good moves. In the next lesson I’ll show you how to find good moves in the next stage of the game – the middle-game.

End of Lesson 5 – What you should do in the opening

P.S. If you enjoy this free chess course for beginners, please share it with your friends!