The Knights' First Move

The Knights' First Move

Mar 4, 2018, 8:03 AM |

Just a few thoughts about opening Knight moves.

The most natural place to develop your Knight is towards the centre: c3/c6 and f3/f6.  But there are two other options, which may be played for very different reasons.  For simplicity, let's consider them from White's point of view.


Some Well-Placed Knights

        Nc3 and Nf3

On c3 and f3, the Knights are attacking all 4 of the key central squares, and after castling, they may also become great defenders of a2 and h2.  Putting them on such useful, all-purposes squares on the first move is a very logical approach, and indeed the most common.

That's not the end of the story, though.  A Knight on c3/f3 can be pinned by a Bishop on b4/g4, which can often induce a weakened pawn structure (either by doubling or over-extension).  Of course for the Knight to be present it must be unpinned, and White must be careful to keep the initiative in the process.  Some prefer to prophylactically secure b4 or g4 before playing their Knights to the centre for this reason.  The amount of theory surrounding these pins is staggering.


 Classic Knight Pins


         Nd2 and Ne2

On d2 and e2 the Knights can still be pinned, but usually shouldn't be since c3/f3 unpin with tempo, strengthening White's position.  The Knight may even choose to stay on d2/e2, as part of a solid defense.

There are two other strategic reasons why you might put your Knight on d2 or e2.  Firstly, it can look to jump into the c4/f4 squares, attacking deeper into Black's position, and secondly it may be thinking about going over to the other side of the board if that's where the action starts happening.

In this sense, the second rank is not the Knight's destination; it is waiting for an active way in.


        Na3 and Nh3

These are the weird ones.  In some instances these moves are simply provoked by threatening tactics on c2/f2.  If a Knight is here voluntarily however, he may be thinking about a few other things.

Like Nc3 and Nf3, these moves attack b5 and g5, but here they cannot be pinned, and they're difficult to oppose without foregoing the Bishop pair.    If Black pushes d4/e4, c4/f4 may become very attractive posts.  You could play the Knight a3-c2-d4, promoting to an Octopus.  Either way, it again looks to occupy more active squares later in the game.


An Octopus Knight


What do you guys think?  Where do you like to put your Knights in preparation for the middlegame?