Tips for the Opening
Here are a few tips I've copied down for my own personal use, to help me with my openings. I used to get quickly destroyed in the first few moves of the game, but with the help of websites and articles, I've greatly improved.
- Get your pawns in the center. Try to control the center with pawns. The center of the board is the 4 middle squares d4-e4-d5-e5. Pawns create a more permanent presence than just having your pieces influence the center.
- Control the center with pieces. Even though it is more important to control the center with pawns than pieces, every bit helps. The center is where you want to rule. Your pieces (Knights and Bishops especially) should be pointed at the center of the board in the opening.
- Only move center pawns. Pawn moves in the opening should accomplish one of two things. Control the center, or free your Bishops to develop. As moving the center pawns does both there is seldom a need to move a wing pawn in the opening. Often moving wing pawns leads to loss of time or structural weaknesses.
- Develop quickly. Get your Bishops and Knights out as quickly as possible. If you get your pieces out fast and your opponent does not, you may be able to score a quick knockout. The sooner you develop the better your chances for success will be.
- Develop Knights before Bishops. Since we know that Knights should be controlling the center there is really only one good place to put each one c3-f3-c6-f6. As the Bishop has more options we should move the Knight first and wait to see where the best spot for the Bishop will be.
- Castle early. Since the center is where the heavy fighting will be, you do not want your king to be around there. Castling also has the benefit of connecting your rooks so that they can protect each other. If you wait too long your king may be forced to move and get stuck in the center.
- Don’t let your opponent castle. Castling early is good, so try to keep your opponent from doing it. Attack the king or rook and make it move. Also, attacking a square the king would have to cross to castle works as well. If you do manage to prevent castling, castle yourself and then try to open up the center for an attack.
- Don’t bring out the Queen too soon. You don’t want to trade her for other pieces, as she is more valuable. So every time another piece threatens her, you will have to move away. That wastes time.
- Develop Kingside first. We know we want to castle quickly, so it makes sense to develop kingside pieces first so you can castle quicker. Apart from taking at least one move longer, castling queenside is usually less safe. This is because the king does not get as far out of the center when you castle queenside.
- Develop with threats. You want to develop with threats, not only because your opponent might miss one, but because it forces them to react to you and not develop freely as they choose.
- Don’t play for early mate. Almost all of the quick checkmate traps rely on early queen moves, and we just learned that is not good. Besides, anyone who would fall into that would be easy to beat by regular sound play.
- Don’t block your Bishops in. Unlike Knights, Bishops can’t hop over pawns. You need to be careful that you do not block your Bishops in with your own pawns.
- Don’t move a piece twice. Speed is the name of the game in the opening. You want to get your pieces out as fast as possible, and that means not wasting time by moving the same one around. Be reasonable though; if your piece is attacked and can’t be defended…move it again!
- Develop rooks to open files. Rooks are very powerful pieces, especially late in the game. They have long range so they work well from the back row provided they can “see” up the board. Put your rooks on squares without your own pawns in front of them so the rooks can use their power to attack the enemy.
- If ahead in development, attack. An advantage in development will melt away if you do not take advantage of it while you can.
- If behind in development try to keep the position closed. If you find yourself behind in development, try to keep the board closed. Try not to give your opponent any open lines to attack you. Then when you get a chance develop your pieces to catch up.
- Beware of taking wing pawns early. One way people fall behind in development is by capturing a pawn on the side of the board instead of bringing out another piece. A lot of opening Gambits are based on getting people to lose time by giving away a wing pawn. You can take some of these—just be very careful. It is almost always worth taking a free center pawn as they are more valuable.