The very first openings to learn

Sep 21, 2011, 7:25 AM |


After my previous post, The first opening to learn, I got a lot of heat for suggesting the Ruy Lopez as the first opening for a beginner. My reasoning behind starting out with the Ruy Lopez (beginning with 1. e4 e5) was that it's rather common at the master level, and unlike the Sicilian (beginning with 1. e4 c5), which is even more common at master level, the Ruy Lopez doesn't have as many 80 percentile replies after the 4th half move as the Sicilian does. This should, mean less lines to remember. A good thing for a beginner. So, if not the Ruy Lopez, then what? 

Going through the comments in response to my previous post, there seems to be something resembling a consensus: a beginner should first learn the Italian Game or the Scotch Game. So, here I'll have a look at these two openings, using the same approach as in my previous article. 

Both of these openings begin with 1. e4 e5, 2. Nf3 Nc6, just as the Ruy Lopez does. After these first 4 half moves we are in what is called the King's Knight Opening: Normal Variation (C44), and it looks like shown below.




From here we have 3 moves accounting for more than 80 % of all White's next replies: 3. Bb5, 3. Bc4 and 3. d4. The first of these, 3. Bb5, is the Ruy Lopez (C60). This move is by far the most common at master level, being the reply in no less than 68 % of all cases. For a look at the Ruy Lopez see my previous article: The first opening to learn. Here, we will look at the second and third most common reply, which happens to be the two openings my fellow chess players here on seemed to agree are the very first openings a beginner should learn. The second most common reply, 3. Bc4, is seen in 14 % of the games in the Master Database, and leads us into the Italian Game (C50). The third most common reply, 3. d4, appears in 10 % of all master games, and is called the Scotch Game (C44). Together these 3 replies account for 92 % of all the replies to the King's Knight Opening: Normal Variation (C44). One more reply, 3. Nc3, is worth mentioning, since it appears almost as often as 3. Bc4 and 3. d4. This is called the Three Knights Opening (C46), and it's the reply in 7 % of the games in the database. However, in this article we'll only look at the Italian Game (C50) and the Scotch Game (C44).

The Italian Game (C50) 

The Italian Game begins like this: 1. e4 e5, 2. Nf3 Nc6, 3. Bc4. After this series of moves, Black has 2 common replies: 3...Nf6 and 3...Bc5. One of these 2 moves are to be expected, accouting for 92 % of all replies in this situation, 48 % and 43 %, respectively. Since these moves appear in more or less the same number of cases, we have to consider them both. The first, 3...Nf6, is called the Italian Game: Two Knights Defense (C55). The second, 3...Bc5, is the Italian Game: Italian Variation (C50)

After 3...Nf6, we will only consider one move: 4. d3. Of course, there are other replies, but 4. d3 is the reply in 57 % of the master games, and we are trying not to overload ourselves with too much too remember.