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Chess Openings: Which pieces should be developed first?

In the opening you will often face a choice between 2 or more pieces that you want to develop. Which one should be developed first?

To answer this question, you will consider 2 things:

  1. Which piece is the least active? (The less active piece should get priority)
  2. Which piece is more flexible in its options? (The piece with less options should get priority)

The least active piece

The least active piece refers to the piece that is doing the least of all your pieces and needs your attention the most. The answer to the question – “which piece must be developed first?” is in most cases “the least active piece.”

When thinking about development you should have 2 questions in mind:

  1. Which piece needs to be developed (which piece is the least active) ?
  2. Where should it go (where can its role be maximized) ?

Maximizing the role of the least active piece

You have identified the least active piece, but where should you place it? The answer is to move it to a square where its role can be maximized, of course whilst keeping in mind that its placement will affect the roles of other pieces. In other words, you want maximize the role of the piece without compromising the roles of your other pieces.

In the example below black is trying to find the best way of developing his pieces. Black has to choose between the Qd8, Bc8 and Nb8. Which one should he develop first?

Which piece should black develop first - Nb8 or Bc8?
Which piece should black develop first – Nb8 or Bc8?

Which piece should black develop?

The Nb8 is the least active piece and needs the attention the most. The knight’s options are also less flexible than the bishop, another reason to develop the knight first. The Qd8 and Bc8 already helps to control a number of squares and therefore they are already active from their current positions.

Where should the knight go?

On d7 the knight would obstruct the queen and bishop, therefore it would be a better to go to c6. Also, from c6 the knight will add control to important central squares. You might ask – but won’t the knight be better on b6? In other words, shouldn’t black play Nd7, followed by Nb6? The question is – is the knight better on b6 than on c6? And if he is better on b6, is it worth the cost of an extra move? In this case the knight is probably better on c6 in any case since it’s closer to the center and surely does not justify the cost of an extra move.

Next Lesson – Chess Strategies: Accumulating small advantages in development

Previous Lesson – Piece-development: How to give useful roles to your pieces

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