Principles of Openings - Part 1

Principles of Openings - Part 1

Mar 25, 2012, 11:09 AM |

"Chess first of all teaches you to be objective."
- Alexander Alekhine

Recently I've been studying various materials about chess openings. I bet you can't imagine how much knowledge can be obtained just by studying the opening part of chess. If playing chess is considered building a house, opening is like building its foundation. The first few steps can really determine the flow of the whole game.

There are various thoughts about how a player should play an opening. An aggressive player would most likely start by attacking crucial squares like the central squares and king's bishop pawn. A defensive player tends to provide cover for every single piece and develop his game slower. A conservative player might play his opening well by combining pieces into actions.

The idea of chess openings principles might require a player not only to memorize openings in Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (ECO), but also to think about what, how and why a move must be taken. However, chess openings are not set on stone. The principles are just serve as a guideline, tips or rule of thumb and it's okay for a player to sometimes break the principles as needed.

From what I've learned, there are a few principles to be kept in mind when playing a chess opening.

  • Control the central squares

I believe that most of chess coaches (if not all) teach chess openings to their students with this advice. The central square is like the heart of chess. D4, D5, E4, E5 - these are the promised lands to be conquered early in the openings if a player is going to control the game. Many popular chess openings such as Ruy Lopez, Giuoco Piano and Sicilian Defense are developed to meet this core criteria of an opening.

A beginner might think that controlling the central squares can only be done by moving a piece to directly attacking the squares like moving pawn to E4 or knight to C3. However, controlling the central squares can also be done by attacking opponent's pieces which control the square such as the move 3.Bb5 in Ruy Lopez opening. The idea is to eliminate the knight defending E5 square to later threaten the F7 pawn. 

  • Knights before bishops

When developing pieces to control the center, a newbie might get into a dilemma of what to do next. Which piece should be moved? What move can be taken to get into the tempo? Well, most of times, developing a knight first is better than a bishop. Why? Because a knight can be moved anytime. No other piece can block its path. A knight should be moved first since the further it is towards the central squares, the stronger it will get. A knight in the center can cover up to 8 squares and it can't be blocked.

An advantage of moving a knight before bishop is that you don't have to move a pawn to let it free. To move a bishop, you have to at least move a pawn diognal to it. Since pawns capture pieces diognally just like bishop, putting a bishop near opponent's pawn could be a bad idea.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. A bishop must always move before knight in the case of fianchetto openings, the bishop must immediately move to the second rank adjacent to the knight since a late bishop move might jeopardize the safety of rook of the same side. In another exception, a bishop move before knight is perhaps better if a bishop pawn has already move 1 square thus blocking the knight.

  • Never use queen too early

The character of Bruce Pandolfini in the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer had repeatedly advised Joshua Waitzkin not to let his queen out too early. Well, actually this advice stands on its ground since an early centralized queen tends to become a target of your opponents. Let me give you an example of my recent game in against an opponent named 1Grandmaster1.


There you can see that I've succeeded in trapping his queen in just 8 moves. The legal moves for queen are Qb8, Qc7, Qd6, Qxd5, Qe7, Qe6, Qxe4, Qf6, Qf5, Qxf4, Qg5 and Qh5. To make things worse, all of them are attacked by my pieces except for Qe6. However, Qe6 is a bad move since it opens up a chance for me to move 9. Nc7 - a royal fork threatening check, queen on e6 and rook on a8. The actual game continued with 8. ... Qf6 9. Nxf6+ thus capturing the queen.

In some cases, you might be able to save your queen by moving it times and times again. But then, compare your development and your opponent's development. He might have developed several pieces into action while you keep moving your queen over and over again. However, there are many cases where master players violated this principle and still winning. One of the grandmasters who were popular for the early queen move was Bobby Fischer.


"Chess is like a language, the top players are very fluent at it. Talent can be developed scientifically but you have to find first what you are good at."
-Viswanathan Anand