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Understand the Main Objectives of the Opening

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In chess, the opening objectives refer to the specific outcomes that a player aims to achieve in the opening phase of the game. They provide a framework for developing a strong opening strategy.

In this lesson I discuss the top 5 objectives you should aim to achieve in the opening. Towards the end of the lesson there is a few exercises to help you memorize them.

But first, in order to avoid confusion, let’s clarify the difference between an objective and a principle in chess:

Principles vs Objectives

  • A principle is a general guideline or concept that is fundamental to successful play.
  • An objective is a specific outcome that a player wants to achieve in a particular situation or stage of the game.

For example, protecting your king is a general principle of opening play, but making the castling move is a specific objective that helps you achieve that principle and improve the safety of your king.

The 5 Opening Objectives

As already mentioned, the opening objectives provide the foundation for executing an effective opening strategy.

Here’s the list of the main opening objectives:

  1. Control the Centre
  2. Complete Your Piece Development
  3. Make the Castling Move
  4. Connect Your Rooks
  5. Create a Supportive Pawn Structure

Let’s take a closer look at each of these objectives.

1. Control the Centre

Controlling the center is often referred to as the “key to the game” because it allows you to restrict your opponent’s mobility, while also creating more opportunities for your own pieces.

The first and probably the most important objective is to control the centre.

Most of the movements on the chessboard pass through the center, so controlling the center is like controlling the access roads to the battlefield. It gives you an advantage in terms of mobility and coordination.

Here’s a few practical things you can do to achieve your centre-control objective:

  • Attack the centre with your pawns
  • Develop your pieces towards the centre
  • Neutralize enemy pieces that attack the centre

It’s important to understand that the opening objectives are all closely connected and interdependent. For example, when you seek to develop your pieces, the next objective in the list, you should aim to develop them towards the center of the board.

2. Complete Your Piece Development

In chess, each piece has a specific role to play, and completing your piece development means getting all of your pieces into the game and using them to their full potential.

Development is all about increasing the firepower of your pieces.

At the beginning of a new game, your pieces aren’t doing very much. By developing your pieces to active squares, you can increase their mobility and range of attack (firepower), as well as create new opportunities for tactical and strategic play.

It is usually a good idea to develop your minor pieces first. Start by moving your knights and bishops to active squares, as they are your most mobile and versatile pieces.

Once your minor pieces are developed, you can then decide on a strong and stable square to place your queen. It’s important to be careful when developing your queen, as exposing her too early can leave her vulnerable to annoying threats and unnecessary risks.

It important to realize that the purpose of piece development is to improve the usefulness (firepower) of that piece. When your pieces are developed to active squares, they have more mobility and range of attack. By increasing the firepower of your pieces, you can create more opportunities for tactical and strategic play.

3. Make the Castling Move

The king is the most vulnerable piece on the board and therefore it is important to keep him safe and well-protected against checks and threats from enemy pieces.

An exposed king is vulnerable and can be a liability in the game. Since the king can only move one square at a time, he is somewhat of a stationary target, making it critical to be proactive in keeping him safe. One of the best ways to do this is to make the castling move, which provides the king with added protection and places him in a safer position.

Meanwhile, if you get an opportunity to do so, exposing your opponent’s king can create opportunities to attack and gain a strategic advantage.

Why Is the King Unsafe in the Center?

The king is unsafe in the center for two main reasons:

  1. The center of the board usually opens up sooner or later, making it a dangerous place for the king.
  2. When the king is in the center, he can be attacked from any direction. By castling the king to the side of the board, you can provide him with more safety and security, especially if you have good control of the center.

Short Castle (King-Side) vs Long Castle (Queen-Side)

Short castling is generally considered to be the safer option because it allows the king to be moved away from the center more quickly, reducing potential threats. On the other hand, long castling is often seen as more aggressive because it involves moving the rook to the center of the board, which can create opportunities for tactical and strategic play.

However, long castling can also be riskier because it places the king closer to the center of the board, where it may be exposed to potential attacks.

Ultimately, the choice between short and long castling depends on the specific position on the board and the overall strategic plan of the game.

When Can You Delay Castling?

In general, it’s best to castle as soon as possible to ensure the safety of your king and to improve the overall stability of your position. However, there are certain situations where delaying castling may be advantageous.

For instance, if the center of the board is locked up with pawns and there are no open lines for your opponent to attack your king, you may choose to delay or even not castle at all (as long as the center remains locked up).

However, keep in mind that castling not only helps to ensure the safety of your king, but it also plays an important role in connecting your rooks, which is the next objective we will be discussing.

4. Connect Your Rooks

Once you have castled and developed all the pieces on your back rank, your rooks will be connected. There will be no obstructions between them, thereby “connecting” them.

There is a natural synergy between the rooks, which work best when they are coordinated and can support each other along an open file or rank. In addition, connected rooks can work together to protect each other and the rest of your pieces, making it much more difficult for your opponent to find weaknesses in your position.

Connecting the rooks is often considered a general indicator that the opening stage is complete. It signifies that all of your pieces are developed and your king is safely castled, and you can now shift your focus to executing your strategic middlegame plans.

Note: It’s important to remember that the objectives are there to guide us in executing a good opening strategy, but we shouldn’t be too strict about them. For instance, connecting the rooks may not always be necessary or possible in every game.

5. Create a Supportive Pawn Structure

A supportive pawn structure is a key component of chess strategy, enabling your pieces to move freely and strategically across the board while also limiting your opponent’s mobility.

Pawn structure plays a critical role in chess strategy. A supportive pawn structure will help you control key squares on the board, create open lines and routes for your pieces, all whilst restricting the mobility of your opponent’s pieces.

Although you generally want to minimize the amount of pawn moves in the opening, there are few valid reasons for pawn moves in the opening:

While minimizing the number of pawn moves in the opening can be a good general rule, there are many valid reasons for making pawn moves in certain situations.

Some of these reasons include:

  • controlling the center,
  • supporting other pawns or pieces,
  • opening lines or squares for your pieces,
  • preventing enemy pawn advances,
  • creating weaknesses in the opponent’s pawn structure and
  • chasing enemy pieces out of your territory.

However, since pawns cannot move backwards, it’s important to weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks of a pawn move, and make sure it fits into your overall strategy for the game.

Strategic Synergy – Achieving Multiple Objectives with Each Move

Synergy means that when two or more things work together, they can create a better result than they could on their own.

In the context of chess, the concept of synergy refers to the idea that a single move can accomplish multiple objectives simultaneously, creating a greater overall effect than if each objective were pursued separately.

Therefore, while we have discussed the 5 main objectives of the opening in isolation, in reality, each move should aim to achieve multiple objectives simultaneously.

For example, a single move may develop a minor piece, control a key square, and prepare to make the castling move, all at once. The ability to achieve multiple objectives with a single move is a hallmark of a strong player.

Exercises to Practice Recalling and Applying Opening Objectives

When you have a clear understanding of the opening objectives in chess, and are able to apply them instinctively, you’ll be empowered to make quick and effective decisions in the opening phase of the game.

Practicing exercises designed to reinforce the opening objectives can be an effective way to improve your understanding and application of these concepts, which in turn can contribute to the strength of your opening play.

The exercises below are designed to help you practice applying the opening objectives in a game-like setting. The 5 exercises provided here are free, but by purchasing additional exercises, you can continue to develop your skills even further.

By regularly recalling and applying the objectives in a variety of opening positions, you can develop your intuition and decision-making skills in the opening phase of the game, leading to better results and a deeper understanding of chess strategy overall.

Exercise #1

White to move. Suggest a few candidate moves, taking the opening objectives into consideration.

Scroll down for the solution.




Exercise #1 Solution

This is one of the most common opening positions and we can learn a lot from evaluating white’s most popular options.

  • Bc4 develops a piece, attacks the centre and prepares to castle king-side.
  • Bb5 develops a piece, prepares to castle king-side and indirectly attacks the centre by attacking the defender of black’s e5 pawn.
  • d4 attacks the centre aggressively and opens the diagonal for white’s dark-square bishop.
  • c3 prepares to attack the centre by supporting the d4-square, prevents black pieces coming to the b4-square and gives white the option to develop their queen along the d1-a4 diagonal.
  • Nc3 develops a piece, attacks the centre and supports the important pawn on e4 but blocks the pawn on c2.

Note: There may be other good candidate moves in the position but the purpose of these exercises is to train your mind to think about the objectives.

Exercise #2

Black to move. Another common opening situation that demonstrates various options. Suggest a few candidate moves, taking the opening objectives into consideration.

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Exercise #2 Solution

  • c5 aggressively attacks the centre and gives the black queen the option to develop their queen along the d8-a5 diagonal at some point.
  • e6 supports the important pawn on d5 and opens the way for black’s dark-square bishop to develop but limits the mobility of black’s light-square bishop.
  • Nc6 develops a piece and attacks the centre but blocks the pawn on c7.
  • Nd7 develops a piece and attacks the centre but blocks the path of both black’s queen and light-square bishop.

Exercise #3

White to move. Suggest a few candidate moves, taking the opening objectives into consideration.

Scroll down for the solution.




Exercise #3 Solution

  • Nf1 intends to improve the development of the knight by rerouting it to g3 or e3. At the same time would open the way for the bishop on c1. The downside is that this maneuver is rather slow and delays king-side castling. However, since white’s hold on the centre is stable at the moment, he probably has enough time to execute the idea.
  • a4 is an improvement to white’s pawn structure in that it attacks the b5-square, supports the possibility to play Nc4 (since b7-b5 isn’t possible now) and potentially supports the development of white’s rook on a1.
  • h3 uses the pawn structure to limit black’s option to play Bg4, pinning the knight on f3.
  • 0-0 completes the castling move to protect the king and prepare to eventually connect the rooks.

Exercise #4

Black to move. Suggest a few candidate moves, taking the opening objectives into consideration.

Scroll down for the solution.




Exercise #4 Solution

  • f6 supports black’s central pawn, prevents the white pieces coming to g5 and improves the mobility of black’s bishop on e6.
  • Be7 or Bc5 or Bb5 develops the dark-square bishop and prepares to castle short side.
  • Qd7 develops the queen and prepares to possibly castle long side.

Exercise #5

White to move. Suggest a few candidate moves, taking the opening objectives into consideration.

Scroll down for the solution.




Exercise #5 Solution

  • Qd2 develops the queen, supports the idea to play Bh6 and gives white the option to maybe castle to the queen-side or otherwise bring a rook to d1.
  • Be2 or Bd3 develops the light-square bishop and prepares to make the castling move.
  • a4 is a prophylactic move that serves to prevent black’s idea to play b7-b5-b4, harassing the white knight and also serves to increase the mobility of white’s rook on a1.

By doing more of these exercises you will significantly improve your understanding of the opening and improve your ability to find useful candidate moves in various opening situations. You could create similar exercises for yourself and/or you can purchase a copy of my personal selection below.


product with set of exercises

Next: Study the 5 Key Principles That Guide Successful Opening Play