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Opening mistakes and traps to avoid

Sometimes there are moves that appear to be following good principles but which are bad for specific tactical reasons. Of course, it's not possible to list all the possible opening mistakes here - chess has been around for hundreds of years, and top grandmasters are still refining opening play even today. However, there are a number mistakes commonly made by beginners and novices in the opening stages of the game which can easily be avoided with a bit of forewarning, and it's those mistakes we'll be looking at here.

Fool's mate

The quickest way to lose a game of chess is fool's mate, which happens after only two moves.

The early rook push

This one is very common among starting players, and it's a fairly simple idea - the player pushes the pawn in front of their rook two squares and then moves the rook out behind, often on the very first moves of the game. It looks like this:

Rooks are more powerful than bishops and knights, and so it's natural that new players want to get them into play first. However, being more powerful, the rooks are also more valuable, and therefore vulnerable to being attacked and chased around. In additon, the opponent's bishops are naturally placed at the start of the game to put a stop to this plan. Here's an example to illustrate this.

Even if your opponent lets you bring your rooks out this way, it's rarely a good idea to do so early in the game. The rook just gets in the way of the other pieces and is exposed to attack from enemy bishops and knights. Rooks like to stay at the back early in the game.

Blocking the central pawns

In the opening, you usually want to move your central pawns to control the centre and let out your bishops. This means it's usually a bad idea to move a piece in the opening to a square where it blocks the central pawn. Inexperienced players sometimes develop one bishop to a square where it blocks the central pawn like this:

The rook trap

In the opening, it's sometimes easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that nothing bad can happen while the opponent's pieces are still in bed. Watch out when you bring out your bishop that you aren't leaving yourself vulnerable to this trap:

The Noah's Ark trap

The Noah's Ark trap is so-called because of its venerable age - players have been losing their bishops to this type of trap for as long as chess has been played. Sometimes, in the opening (but take care - it can even happen later on in the game) a bishop with no retreat squares can be surrounded by a phalanx of pawns and captured. Here is a typical example:

To avoid the Noah's ark trap, it is usually a good idea to give your bishop a retreat square when your opponent has ominous-looking pawns in that sector of the board. You can do this by advancing a pawn to clear an escape route, as in the following example:

Playing copycat

Everyone has, at some point or another, been infuriated by an opponent that just keeps copying their moves instead of playing their own. It's okay to copy a few moves in the opening - after all, you shouldn't avoid bringing your pieces to good squares just because your opponent has played the same move on their side. However, players who carry on copying moves for too long risk sleepwalking into trouble, as the next example shows:

Suggested Books

For more information, why not try one of the suggested reading options below?

How to start a game of chess Back to Contents << First moves for Black
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