Opening principles are all well and good, but no doubt you want to know what moves you should be playing to start with. Opening theory in chess can be a daunting subject, as there are many openings which are mapped out to 20 moves or more. The good news is, unless you're going to play against grandmasters you really don't need to know all of that. So long as you know what to do in the first three or four moves, you can get to a playable position by yourself.
Early on in your chess career, it's a mistake to memorise too many theoretical moves, as you need to learn how to solve problems by yourself. For this reason, we will only be looking at the first five moves in this tutorial, and we will not be exhaustively covering every possible reply by the opponent.
There are 20 possible first moves for white, but time and practice has whittled these down to a shortlist of seven or eight that are any good. The best starting moves are 1. d4, 1. e4, 1. c4 and 1. Nf3. Behind these are a second tier of decent starting moves which are sometimes played, and these include 1. g3, 1. b3, 1. f4 and 1. Nc3. So that's eight possible moves, which is still a lot to choose between. So, what should you play when you sit down with the white pieces?
In this tutorial, we recommend that you play 1. e4. While the other moves previously mentioned are perfectly fine, they lead to different types of positions which are more difficult to handle for less experienced players. Playing king-pawn openings is recommended for beginners and novices because it leads to exciting fast paced games where the play is easy to understand. It's okay to try out the other moves from time to time - after all, playing different kinds of positions will only help you learn - but 1, e4 is a move you can rely on and play for your whole chess career if you want to. Former world champion Bobby Fischer, who is widely considered one of the greatest ever chess players, was a devoted 1. e4 player, and even called it "Best by test!"
Following the first move, you should bring out your kingside knight and bishop, and then castle. A common sequence might be like this:
Of course, don't just trot these moves out without watching what the opponent does. If they attack one of your pieces, you might need to play a different move to defend it. For example:
Black has other moves besides copying white. Like white, black has 20 possible first moves, but only a few of them are good enough to be worth covering. In general, if black plays some bad move that doesn't help develop a piece or contest the centre, then you should take the opportunity to occupy the centre with your own pawns and develop your pieces to good squares. Here is an example:
Of course, not all black's replies are as passive as this. Here are four of black's main defences, which you might see from time to time.
The Sicilian Defence is one of the most popular openings at higher levels, but it can be difficult to handle the black side. Black's move doesn't develop a piece, and only controls one central square (d4), so you might be wondering what's so great about it. You'd be better off leaving this one for the masters, but if somebody does play it against you, here are a few moves to get you going:
The french defence is known for being a very solid way to play, but the centre of the board can get blocked up with pawns, meaning the game can tend towards long manoeuvering struggles that can be difficult to plan for beginners. Although it's not often played at higher levels because of its simplicity, the easiest way for beginners to handle this opening is with the exchange variation, below:
Named after two obscure 19th century masters, Horatio Caro and Marcus Kann, this opening is somewhat similar to the french defence in that it allows white to take over the centre only to strike back immediately with a queen-pawn push. You can play against it in the same way, too:
Sometimes also known as the Centre Counter, this opening is the most direct way for black to challenge white's central pawn push. However, it should be simple enough for white to develop pieces and get a playable position: