Thursday, September 17, 2009

Chess Opening Advice for Beginners

The following is an email I sent to a chess bud. I think it is enough to get you to a decent middlegame. It applies whether you are playing as black or as white. Of course I don't claim it is unique: it is the standard opening boilerplate prep talk.

There are two goals you want to aim for in the opening of a chess game:
1. Develop all of your minor pieces (Knights and Bishops), preferably so they control as many central squares as possible.
2. Castle and get your King to safety.

The four opening rules all follow from the above goals. They are:
1. Make as few pawn moves as possible, and preferably move either the d or the e pawn two squares forward.
Make as few pawn moves as possible because you want your pieces to do the heavy attacking (for the most part). Moving a central pawn forward two squares is the most permissive, and least restrictive move for your pieces (e.g., you won't block in a Bishop). It also gives you some control over the center.

2. Move Knights before Bishops.
This is because Knights almost always belong on f3 or c3, and we know that early in the game. However, we are often not sure where Bishops belong until we see what our opponent is up to. Also, the Knights move more slowly than the Bishops, so there if there is action somewhere on the board your Knights will be better able to reach it from the center.

3. Don't move a piece twice in the opening.
Use your moves to develop other pieces. Get all of your army into the board. You wouldn't just send the cavalry out if you have tanks and guns in your arsenal.

4. Castle early.
The longer you wait to castle, the more likely your opponent is going to harass your King. Castling is a very smart move, as it is really two moves in one. You not only tuck your King away into a safe place, but you get to develop your Rook at the same time! By move 10, if you haven't castled you better have a good reason.

Caveats etc
Of course, there are some tactical exceptions to every rule. Also, there are perfectly good openings that violate the principles, but if you follow the principles you will be OK.


Blogger Unknown said...

Great summary of the opening tips for beginners!

I learned a lot about these kinds of general opening guidelines from Purdy's "Guide to Good Chess". In particular, the parts that I hadn't absorbed as much from other readings on the topic were the idea that the queen also needs to be cleared off the back line (but not too far), so that the rooks are connected, and that at least one rook should be shifted to a (semi-)open file or a file that is likely to become opened, before development is considered "complete". (And thus before other plans - like attacking - should even be considered.)

One of Purdy's nicely concise formulations is: "As a rule, move the Queen only one square, just to free the Rooks, and choose the square on the file least likely to be opened. For example, in the Queen's Gambit formation, with white pawns on c4, d4, and e3, the white Queen should almost invariably go to e2."

I love how he adds that extra bit of useful information on how to post your queen and rooks more effectively without exposing the queen to early time-losing harassment by opposing minor pieces or rooks.

-- Hank

9/18/2009 01:48:00 AM  
Blogger Glenn Wilson said...

All good advice. The other opening general rule I consider essential is to pay attention to the center and aim to control or attack the center.

9/18/2009 06:39:00 AM  
Blogger chessx said...

Good sound advice.
How old is this chess bud?

If he/she is school age,most of this goes out the window and they look to attack.
Most times at the expence of defence.

Thats the problem i have with my school chess club,getting the players/children to remember these basic but sound rules.

9/18/2009 07:49:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Hank: good stuff on connecting rooks and I like what Purdy advises about the queen. I considered putting something about connecting rooks, moving queen, but erred on the side of simplicity.

Glenn: yes, that's goal one in my two-goal list (control as many central squares as possible). As I get older in chess, I appreciate the center more and more.

A strange aside, I read about the importance of the center in my first month of chess, but because I'm a contrarian, I always thought about exceptions and thought they disproved the rule. That probably hurt my performance a lot, trying to play "rule indepenedently" before I was ready.

ChessX: he's a guy I played last night, probably around 18 a freshman at Duke. By 'chessbud' I just mean someone I played in chess. :) It's the first time I met him, but it was clear he had some talent but hadn't heard these rules yet.

9/18/2009 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

That's a strange piece of advice from Purdy: the queen goes to c2 very frequently in that type of structure as well.

9/18/2009 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger Polly said...

Those are excellent rules. That's what I try to telly my students about the openings. I like your wording, and will probably borrow some of it when I do opening lessons with the kids this fall.

Sometimes I think I need to remind myself of these rules when I start pushing too many pawns early on.

9/18/2009 05:33:00 PM  
Blogger From the patzer said...

On behalf of the pawns:
- play one pawn (in the centre) not more then two.

The rest of the rules:
- develop your pieces. Dont play a piece twice unless you have to (is attacked and not good enough defended).

- Put your king in safety (0-0, 0-0-0)

are indeed correct but you forgot the most important rule of them all namely: "Have FUN".

9/18/2009 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger Chessaholic said...

I agree with Azirdine, Purdy's advice on moving the Queen is odd... but maybe he considers it appropriate for the beginning player.

9/18/2009 07:12:00 PM  
Anonymous linuxguyonfics said...

The corollary of this rule is that when someone moves twice in the opening, and knows what they are doing, it can be a devastating surprise - someone did this to me just the other day.

9/18/2009 11:08:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Eric's Tip:
Every beginner should play the czech benoni

9/20/2009 09:40:00 PM  

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